Interview with SEO Patent Expert Bill Slawski

by Stuart McHenry May 9, 2019

Today I have the pleasure of Interviewing Bill Slawski the Director of SEO Research for Go Fish Digital. If you happen not to be following Bill on Twitter, you are missing out.  Bill is known for his research and knowledge of patents of the major search engines.  Bill posts most of his findings on his popular blog SEO by the Sea.

Question 1: How did you get into SEO?

I helped a couple of friends start an incorporation business online, by creating most of a website for them in 1996. I then started promoting it. One of their sisters worked selling computers for Digital Equipment Corp, and she sent us an email, telling us about a new site that they had launched called We looked at it and decided to try to get into it. That was the first time I submitted something to a search engine.

Question 2: What was your 1st SEO Success?

The incorporation business I was acting as an in-house SEO for started seeing success. I submitted a classified to a Polish Newspaper, and customers from Latvia and Estonia responded to it, becoming regular customers, incorporating cargo ships for journeys to South America – return business that helped maintain that business. Content I wrote for the site was quoted in sources such as legal whitepapers on why people incorporated in Delaware. The site became one of the most popular registered agents in the State of Delaware for incorporations.

Question 3: I know you’ve been in our industry for 20+ years. In that time what do you consider your greatest failure?

My biggest failure ended up becoming my biggest success. I was trying to get a page to rank for the phrase, “Baltimore Black History” and was seeing poor rankings after three months. I asked a copywriter whom I was working with to rewrite the content on that page to focus upon entities in Baltimore, such as Famous historic Black churches and colleges, and people and other places in the City that were part of that history, such as a nine-foot-tall statue of Billie Holiday. The idea was to create a walking tour of the City that people could visit and follow in person. It became the 6th most visited page on the site (out of around 300 pages) within two months and drew lots of search traffic.

Question 4: What is one thing that readers probably don’t know about you and would be surprised to learn?

I went to college originally to study English, before law school, and SEO. I’m a big science fiction fan and would like to publish some science fiction.

Question 5: Lots of SEO’s including myself appreciate your time reading and analyzing the Google patents. Which patent do you feel is a must read and why?

I wrote a 10 part series about what I called the most important SEO patents a few years ago. I might add a few, but I think they are a good start. The series starts at: 10 Most Important SEO Patents: Part 1 – The Original PageRank Patent Application

Questions 6: It’s 2019, and SEO’s are still having the Google sandbox debate. (cough, cough, looking at @Sebald) Are there any specific patents that would mimic what some SEO’s would consider as the sandbox?

I can’t say that there are any patents that specifically describe a delay like the one that had caused people to claim that there was some kind of sandbox delay – some Google spokespeople stated that they have identified a delay that might be similar to what people were noticing, and were working on it.

Question 7: Can you explain what TF-IDF is and how Google might use it or something similar to score a document?

TF-IDF is a statistical way of identifying the most commonly used words on a webpage, and how common or rare those words might be on a corpus the size of the Web. It’s an older Algorithm that was updated by algorithms such as BM25 back in the days that Altavista was the Top search engine. It is likely that Google uses an Information Retrieval score plus an authority score such as PageRank to rank pages. John Mueller recently stated that TF-IDF is an old and dated algorithm, and Google has moved on from using something like it, but that there is value in studying Information Retrieval approaches when learning about SEO.

Question 8: Since links are still a significant ranking factor people love to learn techniques, tips, and tricks. They are based on Google patents what three things should people know about link building?

1. It is likely that Google is looking at text in sentences around a link (referring to it as “annotation text” to maybe influence the hypertext relevance that a link receives.
2. Links using related phrase that appear as co-occurring meaningful phrases on high ranking pages for the same query term, may be treated as “anchor hits” and they may be treated as if they as expert links from the page they appear upon.
3. Links may be scored based upon how much traffic they may bring to pages, being considered a link from a resource page.

Question 9: The Google Medic Update was huge. Now more than ever SEO’s are discussing E-A-T. Are there any specific Google patents that discuss E-A-T and how Google uses it in ranking websites?

I recently wrote a blog post which I titled “Trust Metrics” which mentions some Google patents that discuss trust, but I haven’t seen any patents that discuss E-A-T.

Question 10: What Google patent have you read that shocked you more than any other and why?

I referred to one patent as The Hummingbird Patent, and it took me three weeks to write about it. The name of the patent is “Synonym identification based on co-occurring terms,” and I published the post on the day that Google announced Hummingbird – reading the patent, and what Google was saying about it convinced me that it was about Hummingbird.

Question 11: OK, I think I’ve picked your brain more than enough on patents. If you have a budget of $10,000 for a new website, how would you spend that money?

I would be tempted to have brainstorming parties where people could spend time thinking about what they might create content about that would be interesting to the audience of that site. These parties could take place on things like an ocean cruise, a trip to the safari park, a visit to the Library of Congress, or the Air and Space Museum – any place that might inspire.

Question 12: What do I do for fun when I am not doing SEO or reading or writing about patents or whitepapers?

I like exploring new places such as small towns, or beaches that I haven’t been to before, and taking photos and researching things that I find in those places


Stuart McHenry
Stuart McHenry is a US-based SEO Consultant focusing on link building, content marketing, local SEO, and reputation management. Follow Stuart on Twitter @smindsrt