Google+ is the social network. For me, the platform has proven to be an incredible tool for networking, content amplification, personal branding, and building new relationships with other users. Since joining Google+ in 2011, I’ve had the opportunity to get know some pretty incredible people on the network. Having a keen interest in Google Authorship, I originally met Mark in the Google Authorship and Author Rank community and have been able to get to know more about him by picking up bits and pieces through different interactions. I wanted to send Mark a few questions to help other users get to know the man behind the machine.
I remember reading in a Google+ comment you mentioning at one point you were a Swanson’s delivery driver? How did you get your start in online marketing?
Actually, I was a Schwann’s driver. Schwann’s allows folks to purchase frozen foods and desserts right off the truck, which comes by on a regular route. I held that job through one upstate New York winter. Reaching into a frozen food truck in -30 wind chill was enough to drive me into teaching, my next career!
I got into online marketing when I got hired to take a seminary bookstore online simply because I was an avid blogger. It was the proverbial being thrown into the deep end of the pool, but I soon found that I could not only swim, I liked the water! By the time I was done there I had taught myself ecommerce, PPC, content marketing, affiliate marketing, and influencer marketing. My success at the bookstore led to a job with Virante when we decided we wanted to settle in the Triangle of North Carolina. By that time I had plunged deeply into the then still-new world of social media marketing. Virante gave me the opportunity to be mentored in SEO by some people who are truly brilliant, and ever since my interest has been in the intersection of social media and search.
Talk to us about your musical projects. What instruments do you play, how frequently do you gig?
I was a total band geek in high school. Started out on the baritone horn, but picked up trombone so I could get in the stage band (jazz ensemble) which is where all the cool kids were. Along with everyone else in the ‘70s, I taught myself guitar, but soon tired of it and picked up mandolin, just to be different.
After high school, my only opportunities were playing for worship services at churches, but upon moving to funky Durham NC, I decided to get my music geek back on. After a brief stint with the Scene of the Crime Rovers, an avant-garde “sound painting” group, I became a founding member of The Bulltown Strutters, roughly patterned after “second line” bands you see at traditional New Orleans funeral processions. We’re a community band (anyone who can blow a horn or strut can join) and perform at community events, street festivals, and have been known to just show up at local pubs, hoping to play for beer.
Do you have a video of a live performance you’d be willing to share?
Almost all Bulltown Strutters videos online don’t have me in them, because I filmed them, but this one does. It’s a small group of BSers warming up before a performance at Motorco Music Hall here in Durham. I’m playing a melodica, which I alternate with mandolin in BS, depending on the song. I have a somewhat embarrassing solo at about 1:56.
What do you see as the key benefits for a brand or user starting a community on Google+?
I think the key benefit is the opportunity to lead the conversation in your topic area. Outside of my numerous blog posts, I’m certain my building the Google Authorship and Author Rank Community on Google+ – (now over 17,000 members) has done more than anything else to build my reputation as one of the leading experts on Google Authorship.
An added but little known bonus for brands that own a community: Your brand name and logo are shown at the top of the community’s page, and the community is also displayed on your brand page.
As Google says they are moving toward trying to identify and boost trusted authorities in topical areas, I wouldn’t be surprised if having your profile or brand associated with an active topical community might help Google make that determination.
Tell us about your new opportunity at Stone Temple Consulting.
I couldn’t be more excited about this if they were paying me a million dollars. Well, ok, that would increase my excitement a bit. But seriously, I have been following CEO Eric Enge and Stone Temple Consulting for some time now, and already had a huge respect for their philosophy toward digital marketing (which is thoroughly and unapologetically “white hat”) and the level of content they were producing. They offered me an opportunity to do way more of what I love best (producing content, engaging on social media, building brand awareness and trust, speaking), and said I could keep doing it from our newly-adopted home town of Durham. How could I refuse?
Who do you closely follow in the industry?
I dread questions like this, because I will inevitably leave people out. But my first value is from the relationships I’ve built with other brilliant marketers on Google+, including (but not limited to!) AJ Kohn, Martin Shervington, Ronnie Bincer, David Amerland, Eric Enge (not just because he’s my new boss!), Joshua Berg, Ammon Johns, Ryan Hanley, and of course, you, Brian! Eli Fennell is an up-and-comer for sure. My apologies to the many, many fine influencers I’m leaving out of that list just for brevity’s sake.
More broadly, Rand Fishkin of Moz is a mentor from a distance, because of his unique takes on our business and his ingratiating transparency and humility. For straight up SEO insight, I regularly read Jason Acidre, Phil Buckley, Pete Meyers, Gianluca Fiorelli, Cyrus Shepard, Ian Lurie, and Venchito Tampon, Jr. Other regular reads include Neal Schaffer, Jonathon Colman, Jennifer Sable Lopez, John Doherty, and Danny Sullivan.
As an established expert in Authorship markup, do you have any predictions on how Google may change the way it evaluates author or publisher authority in 2014?
Well, for the previous two years I was among those who predicted “this will be the year we see a clear implementation of Author Rank in the SERPs” so I should probably retire from my prophetic role. But I’ll go ahead and stick my neck out a little.
I think we are already seeing publisher authority in action. For example, the In-Depth Articles search feature introduced last year seems much more influenced by the domain authority and history of the publishing site than by the authors of the featured articles. And my initial observations of the December 2013 reduction in the amount of Authorship shown in the SERPs show that it also seemed weighted more toward factors about the publishing sites rather than the particular authors. Perhaps it is natural that Google would move on publishers first, as site and web page authority are already things they understand well.
Turning to authors, I now believe Google will implement author authority as a search ranking factor much more slowly and gradually then we had initially thought. Even though Matt Cutts continues to talk about wanting to identify and boost subject authorities, as recently as this past fall two other Google spokespersons (John Mueller and Pierre Far) both stated publicly that Authorship markup presently has no effect on search rankings.
Still, I believe Google is committed to Authorship, and that eventually it will be used in some way in search rankings. The recent reduction in Authorship showing in search I see as actually evidence of that commitment. They would have just eliminated Authorship if they didn’t care about it; instead they made a move to give it more value (albeit, for fewer users).
My prediction for author ranking in search is that, similar to what they seem to be doing with publishers, they will bring it in very gradually, and in the beginning only “big dogs” will get a boost.
What advice, if any, do you have for authors and publishers?
The best advice I could give was already given a year ago by AJ Kohn in his post “Build Your Authority, Not Your Author Rank”. AJ urged authors and webmasters not to fixate on trying to figure out how to “get” Author Rank and Publisher Rank (either of which may not even be a thing yet). Instead, if you are smartly applying yourself to the things that bring about real-world authority, you will have the double advantage of not only gaining more influence, fans, and traffic now, but be in the right place when and if Google ever does implement any such ranking schemes.
For years Google said to us “have a great, easy-to-use site and produce useful content,” but recently they have taken steps that make those finally actually necessary practices to get ahead in search marketing.
I know you’re a fan of Porters. Any favorites you’d recommend?
The guys that handle your luggage on trains? Oh, you mean beer! My overall favorite is not yet widely available: it’s Hogwash, a porter with a touch of hickory smoke flavor (dare we say it? Bacon!) from local Durham brewery Fullsteam. I’m also a fan of Edmund Fitzgerald from Great Lakes Brewing Company. But I’m really a fan of dark beers in general, so I need to give a shout out to Old Rasputin Imperial Stout. And when I’m in a decadent mood, Boatswain Chocolate Stout is like drinking a six-layer cake.
Mark, you’re a social machine and I’m constantly in awe of all the great content you share across your social networks. What, if any, sharing tools do you use and/or recommend?
I think curating great content into your social streams is almost as important as creating and sharing your own. To locate that content, I’m heavily dependent these days on the quality of the people I follow on Google+ and Twitter. But I often first view that content through other means, especially on my iPhone or iPad.
I start out every morning with at least an hour to an hour-and-a-half of reading through my feeds via Flipboard and Zite. I then feed content I want to share into Buffer, which spaces those shares throughout the day on Twitter, LinkedIn, and my Facebook page (I keep my Facebook profile for friends and family stuff). I prefer building Google+ shares separately as I put a little more care into those, but I sometimes use the DoShare Chrome extension to space them out.
I know using automation in social sharing is a controversial topic. Some experts say you should never do it, but I think that advice is as antiquated as the conventional wisdom that you should never tweet something more than once. I think automated sharing via Buffer or Hootsuite actually benefits my audience. I can be more efficient about finding the content worth sharing (which I usually do in time batches) but not spam my followers by sharing it all at once. Very few people live in their social streams all day. Most take quick dips. So spacing out your sharing makes sense to me.
What’s one thing on your bucket list that you’ve yet to accomplish?
Spending some time in Europe. I’ve done extensive touring in Eastern Europe (my wife and I taught in Hungary for two summers in the 1990’s), but I’d like to get to Western Europe because of the historical ties my culture and ethnic backgrounds have there. But I’ll wait until I can do more than just a quick vacation trip. I would actually love to live there for a while.
If you could interview any one person in the world, who would it be and what’s one question you would ask them?
Bill Nye the Science Guy. A true hero of mine. I would ask him how for the most important thing we could do to help our children become better critical thinkers. I see so much sloppy thinking out there today, and not just toward science. I actually got to hang out with Bill Nye briefly once, at the launch of the Mars Curiosity Rover, where my wife and I were guests of NASA’s social media team.
How would you consider Google+ different from other social networks?
It’s tough to keep that answer brief! Of course, I could point out the obvious fact that it is so integrated into all things Google that it makes it a no-brainer for marketers (or anyone who cares about spreading a message or influence). But those of us who have grown to love Google+ value it for much more “human” reasons. For some reason, Google+ seems to foster and encourage deeper discussions than other networks. It is my number one source of intellectual stimulation these days. Also its structure makes it incredibly easy to find and make new relationships, faster than any other network I’ve ever been involved with. It’s no exaggeration that Google+ has literally changed my life, and opened up most of the worthwhile opportunities I’ve had over the past two years.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Still working. I’ll be 61, but I hope I’ll still feel that anything like retirement is still way off in the future. But more specifically, I’ll be happy if my audience has grown, and I’m getting even more opportunities to write and speak. Doing those is when I feel like I’m contributing the most.
What’s one thing people should know about you but probably don’t?
That as proud as I might be of anything I’ve ever done in the past or present, my greatest joy right now is in what my wife Karyn is accomplishing as Executive Director of ScienceOnline. Science isn’t perfect, but I believe it holds the key to the future of the human race. However, especially here in the US, science has never been in more jeopardy, largely from rampant ignorance of what it really is and how it works. Karyn’s organization tirelessly works to help scientists, science journalists, and anyone with an interest in science, to better communicate science to the larger world. I think her mission far outweighs mine in importance.
Thanks again Mark for the interview, once again you never fail to impress.