Danny - let’s get to the basics. Describe your path to what you’re doing today
It’s been a twelve year journey; actually starting in bar management and moving from drinks to websites, I was always interested in marketing and when the internet became accessible I was hooked. I worked at a (on and offline) computer store, we were trying to compete with the largest stores and online stores in the UK, people tend to have two sensitivities online; 1. Price and 2. Trust of the site (brand). By looking at where we were we could not slash prices to make a loss so I saw by creating the best possible landing pages, it created the right shopping journey and people would openly trust the highest results in search (back then the search engine of choice was actually Yahoo) engines and or eBay/price comparison site) (have a look at behavioural economics and look you could argue it's anchoring bias) I then went to work within finance, it was a sharp learning curve as my role was a mix of project management including SEO and integration of technical systems. Going from one site (and an eBay store) to having control of 555 mortgage websites really showed me the real web and the power search engines had. As it got more difficult I started to leverage social sites to gain audiences and answer peoples questions which led to a number of leads (part of my job at the time) and for me to blend social and SEO together. After administration I went to work at two very different agencies running multiple teams (and having the pleasure to work on some of the largest sites globally) until finally I ended up with the right opportunity to move back in-house at VoucherCodes.co.uk. I was given the opportunity to help a couple of start ups and really compelling companies which led me to take the leap of faith into self employment and not looked back since.
I remember the days of building links to pages either white hat, black hat or any hat - as long as I was getting the links it didn’t matter! The face of SEO has changed dramatically since then. So, what does a search campaign look like today for a business hoping to climb the ranks in search engines?
SEO has changed dramatically especially over the last 24 months and as search engines are algorithmically based it will continue to change, thats one of the good things about search it’s rarely a static industry to work in. There is no one winning strategy for everyone however for the right search campaign you have to have the fundamentals right, on page SEO (including the most accurate title tags) have the right site architecture, the right hierarchy is set and the right pages link to each, ensure you site works well and you have the smallest amount of errors possible (tools such as Google Webmaster Tools, Screaming Frog and Deepcrawl are your best friend) and ensure everything you do is seen as the authority within your space. Another important factor is creating the right helpful content on and off site, whether it is plan copy with images, rich media (video, interactives) or something bigger. SEO still relies on links and will do so for a couple of years. Earning and building high authority and relevant links are still essential as these acts as votes from other site and majority of major search engines are still reliant on links. Lastly page speed is really important so using page speed tools to reduce the load time will be vital.
Engagement in high quality content (videos, info graphics etc) is getting through to much larger audiences with far greater effect. How do you see search agencies tackling this problem and coming up with original ideas that will excite people?
Search engines want the best results so ultimately they want to reward the best content and best answers in any form. It is a huge opportunity for any agency or brand to now create really compelling content, to create interactive pieces of content that answers your questions without having to go across twenty different pages or numerous sites.
Mobile is vital for every business and businesses need to see it as an opportunity rather than hinderance, the smart phone has accelerated peoples desires for an answer to everything and created a thirst for instant answers, build for this and how it integrates the site, your product and your app to create the best content in people hands and at their desks and easily access the information on any device.
We’ve both seen companies at the mercy of Google’s ever changing algorithms for search terms. Personally, i’ve always struggled with the idea that a company can be so helpless for something that is incredibly important to the livelihood of their business. What measures would you recommend to young, fledgeling start-ups when relying on search engines to generate revenue?
The thing to remember is online we are victim and slaves to the algorithms and other peoples rules, a few examples
SEO: Google rankings
App: Apple, Microsoft, Google App store rankings
Email: Google/Gmail spam filtering and inbox “management”
Start off not worrying about search engines, start off concentrating on your product, build the best possible site, the best possible app and best possible messaging product (including email and social media). Your messaging will be as important as your site, get the best possible PR you can and then market the product in the right and most relevant way, really understanding your audience and your consumers.
Understand people’s intent and motives and you can answer questions before they are asked and are prepared to push qualified leads, sales or downloads. One last thing to get inline is to get your data and reporting in line.
Once you have got this you are ready to create the right optimised site that can work alongside your product to compete in search engines. Quality over quantity.
Apart from the big 3 social networks (Facebook, twitter & G+) what other social media platforms do you find exciting at the moment?
Personally I love what Instagram and Pinterest are doing, Instagram still is not overly saturated with brands (and parents) and there are no pressures on following people or interacting with strangers, Instagram also is a great touch point for brands, it enforces quality uploads rather than quantity that many other networks really struggle with.
I love Pinterest; being visual and a discovery engine it has really captured people’s imagination and has a huge ecommerce potential too. Pinterest is low maintenance and concentrates on interests, more importantly your personal interests so it’s one of the most personal social platform you will see and as the advertising platform is new, quality is still key.
LinkedIn are doing a great job moving from owning the b2b space to become an interactive media outlet and encouraging open publishing.
Which of these new social platforms would you recommend to your clients to invest time in?
I would always recommend understanding where your demographics are and ensure you understand how they interact and engage on each platform before investing time, money and energy on it.
I tend to break down into:
B2B - LinkedIn, build your audience through the content you upload and create an audience around you and your employees and your products.
Consumers - Visual networks that are ultimately controlled by the user, currently Pinterest and Instagram.
Something to remember is across all social networks you are building on rented ground so unless you can really push or pull back to your properties you will become victims of their platforms as they amend algorithms and the way we play on their networks. (just like SEO you can be a success and then no one sees your content in one tiny tweak over night)
Andy Travers at Traversty explained in a recent article that SEO will soon be accepted as more of an influential factor in the design process. As a UX’er myself I’m keen to hear whether you may be able to expand upon Andy’s point. What SEO factors would you consider valuable in the design process & how will this ultimately affect search ranking?
I think it is essential that SEO’s, product, devs and UX all speak a similar language and have a core understand how each persons job impacts the other.
The old rule of thumb, the uglier the site the better for SEO does not ring true anymore.
Andy’s points are valid and it’s something Google and other search engines have moved towards over the last 18 months. It all comes down to the best product and having happiest users possible - so design and UX are all crucial factors.
There are many things to consider, where search engines can go (if they are blocked from it), can they see and index the content, is the copy hidden or has to click to expand, whether you are using a particular code or coding language to hide or style something up and how links are being viewed (or there is an action before you see it) and are they crawl-able. Many people create fancy styling and it’s hard for users and search engines to view important internal links or navigate to crucial parts of the site.
Users are now used to touch and swipe and has ultimately changed the way we interact with websites so this is something a lot of product, UX and designers are incorporating, so creating a cheat sheet for these guys will really help everyone have the same page to work from.
What measures can both agencies & individuals take to future proof themselves from the ever changing digital landscape of SEO?
Plan, strategise, evolve and innovate. I have a mantra - "always be auditing, always be marketing". Always market yourself to the right audience and engage with them. The second side of this is constantly audit, audit the way your product works, audit your site (the why it works, how the site performs, are the users happy or searching for particular keywords on internal search field), audit your app and your staff - keep on top of issues and fix them and optimise at each stage accordingly.