Welcome to the second interview on our blog, if you missed the first one with Scott from SEOmoz then check it out here!
This time we caught up with Hamlet Batista from, well hamletbatista.com! Although relatively new to the blogosphere he's no beginner and he often blogs about the more advanced aspects of SEO and internet marketing on his blog. I've learned a lot from Hamlet's posts and urge anyone serious about SEO to check it out.
I first came across the brand that is Hamlet Batista in the SEOmoz comments when he posted a link to a great post talking about how to automate passing pagerank between your low pagerank pages. Since then I've loved the technical and insightful posts he makes and look forward to many more!
But anyway, before I gush out my love for Hamlet on our blog let's move on to the interview. (Note: Rebecca - even though we have a microphone image there's no audio. Sorry to disappoint. Doesn't stop you clicking away to your heart's content though ;-) )
First up, can you introduce yourself?
> [Hamlet:] Hey, I finally got my first interview! I was wondering how many Youmoz promotions and front-page Sphinn posts it was going to take. :-) Thanks a lot; I appreciate the invitation and recognition.
> My name is Hamlet Batista. I suppose those who have seen my blog or my comments on other blogs have not been able to miss my name, as I use it in all my public profiles. I am a native of the Dominican Republic, a beautiful and tropical country that shares an island with Haiti. Spanish is my first language, but I learned English at school and by watching American TV via satellite. I graduated with Telecommunications Engineering (Ingeniería Telemática) in 1996, spent about five years in various jobs, and I’ve been running my own businesses now since 2002.
In your bio you mention that you have a strong programming background but that you moved to start your own search marketing company. How much did you know about SEO when you made the jump?
> [Hamlet:] Actually, I knew nothing about SEO when I made the jump. Everything was circumstantial—my original idea was to offer programming/consulting services. I learned about search marketing when my initial business idea didn’t work as well as I’d expected.
> I had quit my job as Director of Technical Services for iGlobalmedia (now PartyGaming) when they had their operation in my country. They are the owners of PartyPoker and several online casinos, and by now I assume many online and offline properties. I know the owners personally: Anurag, Ruth, Russ, Vikrant. They were in Forbes list of billionaires last time I checked. I can say I learned a lot about being competitive from those guys. It is amazing how they were able to move from a tiny room with a couple of servers and some desks to the operation they are in now. They were severely affected by the US law banning online gambling, though.
> I remember how some days we struggled to keep pace with those guys. They were able to work several days without sleep and were extremely demanding, which was an important reason driving me to move faster with my own startup plans.
> Prior to working for them, I was a Senior System Administrator, maintaining Solaris and Linux servers for the Internet operations of Verizon Dominicana (now Claro/Codetel). It was a more calm and corporate type of environment. I learned a lot about organization, things that I still try to do with my business.
And how did you learn about SEO and where did all this advanced knowledge come from?!
>[Hamlet:] He, he, he. It is really funny and interesting how I got started. As I mention in my About page, my initial market was Viagra. One day I noticed that one of my Adwords competitors was showing up in the regular search results as well. I was extremely curious as to what the guy was doing. How come he was showing up there? I decided I needed to understand how he did it.
>I signed up to several newsletters: Sumantra’s Roy, Jill’s HighRanking Advisor, and others, adapted my content to match his use of the keywords, and then I started following his links. Most of his links were from other sites’ home pages, but when I visited them I noticed that the links were invisible. To make the long story short, he was subscribed to a service called AutomatedLinks. I managed to sign up for the service and my site started ranking too. A couple of weeks after achieving high rankings (I was #15 for Viagra and higher for other variations) AutomatedLinks and all the sites in the network were banned, including mine.
>After that experience, and most importantly after seeing how profitable it was to be ranking so high, I decided I needed to learn more about search engine optimization. It was when I read the paper describing Google’s search engine that I clearly understood why AutomatedLinks was able to help us rank high: the ALT text in the invisible images was keyword rich, and served as anchor text. Understanding the power of anchor text when nobody was talking about it was a gigantic opportunity. The money I made during 2002–2005 when I had fewer staff was more than what I make now with more people.
>When you are targeting highly competitive markets, you need to know something that your competitor doesn’t. Back then you didn’t have Aaron Wall or Rand spilling the beans. In one way it was good because the limited knowledge provided a big competitive advantage. Now, it is a lot more difficult because a lot of people know how to game the search engines. But I can tell you that you will not find a competitive edge in public forums, blogs or e-books. You need to go to the source: research papers.
>The beauty of research papers is that they are really scary to non-technical types. I feel a great deal of respect for Bill Slawsky for the great work he does deciphering patents. Even so, if you are not a programmer or don’t know linear algebra you will miss some interesting concepts and ideas. That is still where I find my competitive edge today.
You mention on your about page that you got into SEO after hearing about "pay-per-click, Viagra, and the almighty dollar". Do you play in competitive markets for your own sites, or are you mainly focusing on client work at the moment?
> [Hamlet:] We play with our own sites and projects in highly competitive markets. We do mostly affiliate marketing. We refer customers to other merchants and we have our own affiliates as well. Our most profitable project to date was our online pharmacy affiliate network opanetwork.com. It’s been a tough industry as US laws and regulation keep getting more difficult and we’ve needed to adapt to stay in business. I am not sure I want to continue doing that specific business. I’ve missed a lot of vacation time the last couple of years.
You have your own search marketing company Nemedia but you don't promote them on your blog - rather you promote your own personal brand in the blogosphere. Why did you make that decision?
> [Hamlet:] Nemedia is not a traditional search engine marketing company. Our plan is not to focus on client work, but to support RankSense customers. The idea is to complement the product offering with a guiding hand of related services (PPC, Analytics, etc.). I am not convinced yet that offering consulting services is as scalable and profitable as selling a packaged product. And since RankSense is not yet released, I haven't had the need to promote Nemedia.
Further to that - what are your goals for your blog? What would you like to achieve?
> [Hamlet:] I am a serial entrepreneur, and sharing my ideas and experiences in my blog accomplishes several positive things: >
- I can build up authority in my domains of expertise.
- I can create/improve products/services based on the feedback/critiques I receive via the comments to my posts.
- I can gradually build a following that can potentially buy and/or recommend my products/services to others, as I have established a relationship based on trust and on delivering high quality.
- I can interact with my peers and meet highly-regarded figures in the industry. For example, I recently demoed my software via WebEx to Bill Slawsky, Andy Beard and Halfdeck. I received great feedback, critiques and ideas that I took back to the developers and we have implemented most of them. Those guys would not have listened if we hadn’t ‘met’ in the blogosphere.
> My goals are to keep growing readership, share and get more ideas, announce new products, both free and paid. Along with the feedback I hope to get some sales and recommendations.
You are currently building RankSense - a software suite for search marketers and business owners alike. Talk us through the product.
> [Hamlet:] I could probably fill out many pages talking about our product. In essence, RankSense has been a dream of mine for some time. A few years ago, I saw that SEO, while extremely effective, is a little hard to grasp for people with no technical background (even though I myself love the complex stuff ;)). Additionally, most home-based and small business owners are not able to afford the services of reliable SEO companies. We all know that good SEO costs a lot of money, but large companies that can afford SEO services or have the talent in-house can also afford other marketing channels. This leaves the little guy without many options. Books, training and seminars are a popular alternative at the moment. Integrated tools are losing popularity because they are still trapped in SEO 1997. How does submitting your site to thousands of unknown search engines help nowadays?
> We designed RankSense thinking primarily of the little guys, similar to the way you have accounting packages like Quickbooks and Peachtree that make bookkeeping easy and efficient for small businesses. In three years, we've invested more than 20,000 man-hours into RankSense to make the complex processes of today's SEO easy and accessible to virtually anybody.
> RankSense has integrated tools that can make your site search engine friendly, identify keywords opportunities, research competitors and do advanced link analysis and on-page optimization. It is fully integrated with popular blogging platforms and can work with your website files whether they are on your computer disk or on your hosting web server.
> You can learn more about the product by visiting the RankSense website.
Once that's out the way, what's next? Do you plan on releasing more tools or going in a completely different direction?
> [Hamlet:] We obviously will need to keep updating the software. Moving forward we've thought about getting into automated bid management, but I feel like Google will eventually make third-party offerings less attractive by incorporating more features (like portfolio-based bidding) into their paid platform. Another possibility is to create a version that focuses on social media, but I haven't seen any concept yet that does not look like spamming.
>We just started working on our next big project, which is an affiliate network with a radical new concept, but I don't think it is wise for me to share the details at this moment.
Now, you grew up in the Dominican Republic and still live there. That probably makes you the highest profile non-English-language search marketer out there (at least within my feeds you are!). How has being based outside of the US and the UK affected your experience of SEO?
> [Hamlet:] I am not really high profile yet, but working hard to get there! :-) The beauty of the Internet is that it is as if everybody around the world is sitting right next to you. I probably don't read or write as well as my native English-speaking peers, or have a full understanding of your culture. I live in a developing country where finding highly qualified talent is extremely difficult. That is not the case in developed countries and you also have many people to look up to and inspire you. My situation here is dramatically the opposite. My challenges haven't been geographical, but rather resource and cultural constraints.
As a result of that - have you had to deal with a lot of international or multilingual seo clients and projects?
> [Hamlet:] Not really. As I mentioned, at the moment I work primarily on my own sites and projects. I am just starting to work with a handful of clients. I chose to do SEO in English because that is where the biggest market is.
I feel geo-targeting is a hot topic right now, particularly with the release of the new geo-targeting tools within Google's webmaster central. How do you see geo-location affecting SEO over the next 12 months?
> [Hamlet:] We used geo-targeting a lot in some of our other projects and it is definitely an excellent tool when you think about delivering the right content to the user. From the SEO point of view, I'd use the new geo-targeting tools in Google’s Webmaster Central if I were trying to target a local audience. I am sure a lot of SEOs have clients with such requirements. On the other hand if you are targeting the wider audience, it might not be a good idea to limit the scope of your site and pages in the index.
You have mentioned PPC a few times in your blog but the main focus seems to be on SEO - do you see SEO as a bigger market? Is that where your focus lies?
> [Hamlet:] As I work on my own sites, the ability to generate revenue is critical. Personally, I always do PPC, even if I am doing really well with the organic results. I start my campaigns with PPC and use the information to better define my SEO tweaks. I can test titles, descriptions, positions and, most importantly, conversions. It is really nice to just hit start and start receiving traffic. If I were doing client work, I'd probably be doing mostly SEO because that is what they ask for. The ever-increasing bid prices are not appealing for many.
> I spend more time writing about SEO on my blog, because SEO poses greater challenges and is more interesting to study and research. Also, it seems that it is what my readers enjoy the most.
On a more personal note - you published some pictures of your golf villa on your blog and you have a pool table in there, if you're ever in the UK drop me a line and we'll have a game ;-) What would you class as your hobbies outside of search? What do you enjoy getting up to? Tell us a bit about the man behind the SEO guru!
> [Hamlet:] You will probably eviscerate me. Sadly, I bought that villa almost two years ago and I've only been there five times. I mostly rent it out. My main problem is finding time to do things I enjoy. I haven't had a decent vacation in a while :-(
>I guess my hobbies are little bit boring for many. I enjoy playing chess, going to the movies or reading science fiction novels; Michael Crichton is my favorite author. I am a churchgoer, but I don't think you would call that a hobby. :-). When I visit the States or Canada I like to visit theme parks, IMAX theaters, and eat crab legs (I love them). I've never been to the UK, but I went to Spain and I loved it, especially the great food. The cigar smoke was a little bit hard for me to take, though.
>Some things that I've never done but I'd like to when I squeeze in the time are skydiving, scuba diving and sailing.
Your new redesign has a speedboat in it. Do you own a speedboat? Is that yours!?
> [Hamlet:] Sadly, no. I put that picture up to remind me of my goal: free time to sail the world’s seas and experience new adventures!
>Thanks a lot for the invitation, Best, Hamlet
And thank you Hamlet for stopping by and answering all our questions! We wish you the best of luck with RankSense (and the speedboat ;-) )