Dennis Goedegebuure Dishes on SEO, from Enterprise to Pocket-Sized Sites

Posted in Interviews, SMX West

Dennis Goedegebuure, VP of Internet Marketing at Geeknet Inc., is an all-around SEO superdude. His current chief professional responsibility is to drive massive traffic to a variety of sites with fabulous names the likes of Slashdot, Sourceforge and Freshmeat. Prior to Geeknet, Dennis was on the eBay team for nearly a decade, donning various online marketing hats, ultimately crowned Director Global SEO. Dennis is steeped in organic search engine optimization on an international landscape to boot, from the Netherlands to sunny San Francisco.

On a personal note, he is a self-proclaimed addict of Innovation, Blogging, Chocolate, Travel and the Interwebs. (And on a tasting note, this combination pairs well with Sauternes.)

Dennis will take the stage next week at #SMX West to talk Schema.org, Rel=Author & Meta Tagging Best Practices. Prior to his presentation, aimClear stole some time for a candid Q&A with Mr. G, who had much to share on his background, SEO takeaways from working in an enterprise-level environment, and tactics to avoid a Panda rank-spank. We also gabbed about astrology and dessert wines. Read on for the full effect.

| aimClear: Loosen your tie, roll up your sleeves, and tell the dear readers at home a little bit about yourself. Howdidja end up in this industry?

Dennis Goedegebuure: It was the year 2002, after a 5 months trip through Central America, I had to face the music and start a real job. With the Internet Bubble burst still echoing through the economy and post-9/11 fear keeping hiring at a low in the still infant technology/Internet industry in Amsterdam, I took a short trainee job with Andersen Consultancy. After having shredded multiple documents multiple conversations for a real job, the Dutch part of Andersen got sold off due to the Enron accounting scandal, with a company wide hiring freeze.

In the last couple of days at the Andersen office, I used the fast Internet connection and the corporate laptop to hunt for other jobs. At the time, there was no LinkedIn, which made Monsterboard the go to site for finding a job. After just one day, I found a position as Internet Marketing optimizer at eBay.nl. I talked my way into an interview for 20 minutes, which ended spreading more like 4 hours, and got the job.

After 3.5 years working for eBay in The Netherlands, having all kinds of different responsibilities in the Internet Marketing team, I was up for a new challenge. I aimed to go work outside of The Netherlands, where eBay was the perfect company to give me that opportunity. With offices around the world, eBay gives top performers an opportunity to move around and get exposed to different parts of the business.

In 2006, I moved to San Francisco, taking up a global coordinating role in SEO for eBay. In this role, my responsibility was to coordinate the roll out of global projects for SEO within eBay. At the time, each country had its own SEO manager, focused on growing traffic for the country site. As the eBay site is being build by product teams located in San Jose, it made sense to centralize the efforts here. So in 2008, I took over the responsibility for all SEO for eBay Worldwide.

One of the efforts I always found important is to build a broad network and connect with people who at least understand what I’m talking about on what I do on a daily basis. The first conference I went in the US was SMX Advanced in Seattle in 2006. First night I met with my friend Scott Polk (now at ObsidianEdge) and Scott Skurnick (now at Sears), both at Edmunds at the time. We still keep in touch and get together when we attend the same conferences.

After an SEO session at the eBay affiliate day and eBay Devcon, I got the speaking fever. It became a personal development challenge for me to speak in public for large audiences. I’m still terrified to do this, so please be gentle with me at my session at SMX!

| aC: Hah! Let the constructive heckling commence :) . So, your position with eBay for the better part of the last decade afforded you glimpses of the SEO universe only those privy to an enterprise of that kind of volume can understand. Has this experience provided perspective for working on smaller sites? What were your main observations and takeaways?

DG: Yes! Working on large sites and global infrastructures like eBay give you interesting insights and learnings. What’s more, as I grew up at eBay, I’ve been schooled in thinking large scale and how to navigate political environments working with large-scale product organizations. Projects in such organizations can scale across multiple teams and geographic locations, which make it challenging getting all your requirements into the final product.

As I’m a data junkie, you probably won’t be surprised that one of my key takeaway is in how you can use data making better decisions. eBay is extremely data-driven, where the majority of product prioritization is based on business cases using test outcomes and future estimates.

However, as SEO is such a specialized skill, the way you visualize the dataset and outcomes of SEO tests in presentations or product concepts really determine your success factor in a large organization. You simply cannot assume all executives have a full understanding on how a search engine determines which page is most relevant for a search query. Even if the executive is very technical, and has a number of successful startups or large technology companies on his/her resume, SEO continues to be an art and science. Data can help you, but always remember how to package it: “Let my dataset change your mindset

It took me two years showing off the seasonal data on the Ugly Christmas Sweater searches on eBay, before I managed to get better pick up of the idea to merchandize these sweaters on the homepage.

Other insights include:

  • Politics are controlled at the top. Getting buy-in from key top-executives go a long way to get your projects funded, prioritized and shipped.
  • Brand factors can be your friend, if you have a brand! When I advise startups on SEO, I always include the branding value for SEO in the conversation. eBay’s brand is so strong and recognizable, that eBay’s colors and logo style even got used in a counter campaign against Meg Whitman when she was running for California Governor.
  • Never get intimidated, but rely on your skillset and expertise in relevant conversations. However, package the message in a way your executives don’t loose face (remember the first bullet here!)
  • Planting a seed in someone’s mind is much more powerful than pushing your own projects. Let others shine and execute on those seeds, you will be reaping the SEO rewards from the higher search visibility, branding or external link building which result in increased SEO traffic
  • Always be testing. Even if you cannot do sufficient testing on the main site, create your own testing playground to gain new insights. For instance, I created a blog insights tool a couple of years ago (tool has been taken down now), which gave me the insight of Socktoberfest, a lively community of people knitting socks in October. The socks are now being sold off on Etsy, where eBay has lost these costumers because there has not been a follow up from a community management perspective.
  • In large organizations you can branch out of your normal comfort zone, which allows you to pick up new skills or ideas. I’ve learned SEO while working at eBay, which was an example for me that it’s so important to keep learning and be curious about different parts of the business you are in. I worked on a large acquisition for eBay back in 2004, and got multiple ideas from thinking outside of the SEO box.

| aC: Awesome stuff. Moving from the past to the present – you’ve recently made some very significant career changes. What are you up to, Mister Man?

DG: As eBay gave my team a lot of freedom to experiment and test off the core site, we learned a lot about scalable SEO solutions, Internal link optimization and Raw PageRank flows using relevant keyword anchor text.

I specifically had a lot of fun creating stories around the search and sales data of eBay. Just imagine you can find out through a couple of simple data queries, for how much an iPad is selling in Switzerland vs the UK!

Although I had fun and comfortable in my position, after 9.5 years, I left eBay to join Geeknet Inc. At Geeknet I’m responsible for traffic for our main media sites: SourceForge, Slashdot, and Freecode. In this role, I’ve expanded my scope from only SEO to total traffic acquisition through all marketing channels.

I’m learning a lot of new tactics and SEO best practices, where the world of open source software and news aggregation is much different than eCommerce.

My main goal for the change in jobs was to learn more about software development, where SourceForge provides developers with a great set of tools for software development and distribution.

Since I joined Geeknet, a lot of new products have been shipped. I bet old-time SF.net users will not recognize our new browse experience, and we have extended our software catalog with a mirror directory, where you will find open Source Software likeApache HTTP Server, GimpShop or MySQL, and much more to come in the coming months.

Secretly, I still dream of following @TonyAdam, who just launched Eventup, and launch my own startup. I might have something in the cooker already :) .

In the mean time, I’m enjoying the time back in San Francisco, working with a great team on new challenges and projects for Geeknet, where we have a great list of priorities and roadmap ahead of us.

| aC: Splendid. Top 3 insider tips to screw the Panda- GO!

DG: I have not been exposed to the Panda fixes needed for websites who lost a lot of traffic as a result. This is why I have not been studying the recovery from the Panda as I should have done. I don’t consider myself as a Panda-recovery expert, which why I will defer to experts in this space to answer this question.

| aC: Well then… okay! The afternoon of Day 1 at SMX West will find you speaking on the Schema.org, Rel=Author & Meta Tagging Best Practices session. Care to share a sneak peek at what your presentation will entail?

DG: In the last couple of months I’ve been testing a couple of ideas using Rel=Author. In this SMX session I will focus on these cases and try to bring forward learnings which could be of value for the attendees. Again, something to do with Ugly Christmas Sweaters :) .

| aC: Noted. Now, onto the important stuff. If you could be any animal, which would you be, and why?

DG: In the Chinese astrology I’m a Tiger, so I would pick that naturally. Not only because of the characteristics of the Tiger, but it’s an incredible beautiful animal.

| aC: Me-yow! Bonus Fill-in-the-Blank: Your favorite dessert wine of all time is ______________________.

DG: This depends on the type of dessert! I’m a big fan of both cheese and sweet. And if I can have it both ways, I will. First the cheese, combined with a good port, after which I top it all off with the sweet desert, combined with a good Sauternes, preferably a Chateau D’Yquem (although this is a very rare and expensive wine). I still have a Sauternes at home for the next time Marty is visiting San Francisco.

| aC: Thanks for your time today, Dennis :) Safe trip down to San Jose – looking forward to the main event!