Interview

August 3, 2011

Group interview with SA’s top SEO’S

Group

We at SEO Blog decided to conduct an interview with some of South Africa’s top seo experts. The result was a group interview with each of the experts receiving ten questions and having the chance to answer to the best of their knowledge and give their opinions on the matter. Below are all the answers from how they got into seo to what can we expect in 2012 in the exciting and ever changing world of SEO.

The Experts:

Francois Muscat:
Company: WSIOMS

Mike Perk:
Company: World Wide Creative

Goran Giertz:
Company: SEO Results

Neil Pursey:
Company: WebGrowth

Dewaldt Huysamen:
Company: iLead Online

Allen Jaffe:
Company: R.O.I Media

Francois Muscat:
In 2005 I realised that SEO was going to be an important factor for businesses wanting to market themselves online. I took as many online courses as I could as there was nothing available in South Africa at the time. I got certification through John Alexander’s SEO course in the USA and then practiced from then on. Today we rank consistently in the 1st two positions on Goole.co.za for the term “internet marketing”

Mike Perk:
My dad’s company got their first website back in the mid 90’s and he asked me if I would help with their online marketing. I’d always been involved in computing. My mum had been programming since the 60’s and I’d studied marketing at University, so there appeared to be a natural fit. I’m also a little OCD, so once I’d got started in SEO, getting better ranking became somewhat addictive.

Goran Giertz:
Since the internet first arrived in SA, I was struck by a passion for all things web related. As a lifelong entrepreneur, the possibilities inherent in the internet  fascinated me, and I had an immediate desire to build a website that worked. In fact, “Websites That Work” became our company motto in the years to follow.Since one of the fundamental principles behind an optimised site is that it should meet international standards and follow recognised best practices, we discovered that even websites we built without optimisation specifically in mind were optimising quite well, I started getting interested in how they would do if we optimised them intentionally.As far as official SEO goes though, we really started providing it as a service back in2004, when we offered a guaranteed Ananzi submission, and guaranteed first page results on Ananzi.co.za. (Back then, Ananzi was the search engine for SA.) We’d learned how Ananzi ranked results, and deliberately optimised to meet their requirements.Not long after, Google’s numbers increased to such an extent that there was obvious value for our clients in optimising for Google, and so we shifted our efforts in that direction.

Neil Pursey:
I was running another company at the time, back in 2005, when I came across SEO. We were looking into ways to get traffic to our website. I started doing research into SEO and realized that at the time South Africa had not been exposed to this industry. I took an immediate liking to it and bought the domain name webgrowth.co.za just in case the industry grew, which it did. For the next two years I worked hard at learning and understanding SEO, using webgrowth.co.za as the case study. In 2008 I went full time into SEO and officially started WebGrowth as a company.

Dewaldt Huysamen:
We were all part of a design company, but then in 2005 we began selling SEO as an add-on service to clients who were already hosting with us. After that iLead Online went from strength to strength, and as they say, the rest is history.

Allen Jaffe:
In 2000 I went over to Miami to setup Webhosting.net, once our site was developed businesses was relatively slow.  After exploring various advertising options I was introduced to a new form of marketing called Search Engine Optimization.  I started meeting various companies and was quoted $65000, I was told that the webhosting industry was competitive and this is what was required to compete with no guarantee’s. In the startup environment, this was something we could not afford  and decided to get my hands dirty and to discover  my new passion.  In under a year we were ranking #2 in the word “webhosting” in Google.com . Traffic picked up and so did conversions . After this I decided to try more industries which I achieved great success. R.O.I Media was born shortly after this.

 

Francois Muscat:
Concentrate on creating good, relevant content for websites. This is the best way to create natural links and not raise any alarms with Google’s algorithm. Make your links look chaotic and come from all over. That is what happens naturally on the Internet.

Mike Perk:
I don’t think this message has changed any in the last 5 to 6 years – relevancy, relevancy and relevancy. Oh… and Google +.

Goran Giertz:
If you’re buying links, don’t buy links from companies you don’t know, and don’t just buy a link because somebody says it’s a good one. Research the links on offer first, and consider them in terms of our list of what a good link should be.(http://www.netage.co.za/resources/105-searching-for-perfect-back-links)Whether buying or building your own, links should appear in content that’s relevant to your site, on sites that are local to your target market, and from pages that do not have many outbound links. Anchor text, it should go without saying, should contain your primary keyword phrases for targeted pages.Finally, remember that it’s better to have links than not have links, that quality is more important than quantity in the long run

Neil Pursey:
I recommend link builders to focus on competitive analysis i.e. where are your competitors getting links from? With this information you can communicate with your content generators that are working alongside you and build campaigns around the information that you retrieve. Link builders need to improve their marketing and PR skills. It will give them an edge over the generic submission link builders.

Dewaldt Huysamen:
It is imperative that you have informative and interesting content in order to gain natural backlinks as well as spread this content throughout the various popular social networks. Make sure, however, that you have control over these backlinks and that they are not seen by Google as bad, because this will do more harm than good. You can determine this first and foremost by the page’s PageRank; otherwise the amount of links going out and coming in to the backlink page will also be a good determining factor as to whether a backlink is good or bad by Google’s standards.

Allen Jaffe:
Link as if Google does not exist, get links that add value to your users and don’t get a link for the sake of it. Don’t worry about follow/no follow and pay special attention to Social Media.

Francois Muscat:
Web developers should first identify (with the business owner) who the main personas are that they want to come to their website. Then they must work out what these personas are looking for in the “research, validate & purchase” phases. Create content that satisfies these personas and you will get good conversion. So planning upfront for content and SEO is important in planning an effective navigation and page names.

Mike Perk:
Web developers as opposed to web marketers? Well, I’m not really someone who believes in quick win tips. Really take the time to understand how Google crawls your site, what turns it on and what turns it off. Some of the best results I’ve achieved over the years have been as a result of great programmers who understand the importance of the code, systems and CMS to the Googlebots.

Goran Giertz:
Ideally? Partner with an experienced SEO firm who’ll give you guidelines on building search engine friendly sites, and advice on the keywords you should be optimising for. Practically though, one of the biggest problems we come across is a poor URL structure. Ensure that the URL’s are relevant to the navigation and content of your site, and that they’re plain text readable. Avoid dynamic URL’s and URL’s with nonstandard characters in them.

Another important factor is to ensure that your title tags are in line with the page URL and H1 heading (which should in turn be in line with your primary keywords),and that you should use the H2 tag as well, (and teach your clients to use it.) If you’re taking over a site, analyse it in terms of its strongest pages, and implement 301 redirects from those URL’s to the new pages, to ensure you don’t loose optimisation when the site moves over.

Other things to keep in mind are to conform with international coding standards, andensure there are no HTML or CSS errors on your site. (Visit http://www.w3.org formore on this.)

Finally, pay attention to what Google has to say about building good sites. Things like load time are all something Google looks at in determining rankings. You can find their guidelines at: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en-GB&answer=35769.

Neil Pursey:
The key is to keep to the basics of correct site structure. The most successful websites we’ve worked on, the web developer was able to incorporate the correct title tag, meta structure, dynamic alt tags and insert heading tags where possible (without making it look spammy). Finally, they need to know how important friendly urls are, keeping them keyword focused but still remaining relatively short.

Dewaldt Huysamen:
Always implement the following:

  • On Site SEO – Ensure Tags are correct and present.
  • Ensure images have alt tags.
  • Add videos to your content.
  • Link to relevant resources within your content.
  • Ensure your interlinking and navigation is easy, optimal and relevant.
  • Learn more about and use Google webmaster tools metrics to identify what pages require more attention or needs to be removed from Google’s index.
Allen Jaffe:
One of the biggest issues that large sites face is indexation within Google.  Sites may contain thousands of pages accessed through search such as large property sites.  Google is unable to index these pages and therefore no rank can be applied.   The trick is to allow alternate crawling and indexing mechanisms that allow these sites to be indexed. Many webmasters think that the trick is just to include these pages in a XML sitemap. This may achieve part of the indexation dilemma but it does not sculpt pagerank and these pages will most likely never rank. Try make all pages no more than two to three levels deep from the homepage.URL structure is a big one , many sites have so many different versions of their URL’s such as:

Stick to one uniform structure and redirect all alternate URL’s to the primary one. Avoid canonicalization.

Francois Muscat:
I think that ranking factors will include social activities as this is what promotes word of mouth marketing is most trusted by many people. So having reviews, likes and Google +1 supports that. Google’s mission is to provide the content that searchers look for at precisely the moment they want it and they want it to be relevant. So one would need to have social profiles, local search, fast loading pages, reviews and good content to be ranked well.

Mike Perk:
Links will still remain the most important element. However, social interaction with content continues to grow in importance.

Goran Giertz:
Although content is crucial to site quality, it’s links that are king these days, and they will be until such time as Google changes their importance to its algorithm. SEO is a judicious combination of site, content and authority, and each needs to be done correctly in order to get the best possible rankings. If you really insisted though, I would guess that right now, (and in the foreseeable future), it’s 70% links, and 30% everything else. If I was making predictions for 2012, all I’d say is that it depends on Google themselves. They’ve got a lot going on there, and it depends on how some of their plans turn out. Maybe Google+ will Be the next big ranking factor. Maybe not.

Neil Pursey:
Google for a while now has been telling webmasters that we should be focusing on our brand. To build a brand online you need to use social media effectively, I say “effectively” because some companies create a Facebook and now again push content through to their fans. This won’t work. The key with social media is to be consistent with your message and offer content that is worth sharing with your friends. The other factor is to focus on what’s happening on your website, so design and content is crucial. Webmasters need to create websites that engage with the visitor immediately, which will improve click through rates.

Dewaldt Huysamen:
Author Rank, relevancy and content.

Allen Jaffe:
This has to be usage metrics and how a page &  site scores for a user. If your site has high bounce rates, badly written content and dismal click through rates, don’t be surprised if you don’t score too well. Social media has also been factored into Google’s algorithm. Likes, Shares, comments  on Facebook and twitter are helping as well as links for social media mentions & profiles.

Francois Muscat:
When the website technology is database driven and the pages cannot be changed to reflect the keywords. Ensuring that the link building submissions are accepted and not deleted soon after the request.

Mike Perk:
Practically, it has been some of the big changes to Google’s algorithm over the years. But often the most difficult task is managing clients’ expectations.

Goran Giertz:
Hahahaha, there are more than we can count. That’s why we love SEO: It’salways a challenge. Google made 550 changes to their algorithm last year. That’s 3changes every 2 days. SEO is never what it seems, or what you think it is. You canget good results with a certain technique sometimes, then suddenly it’s not delivering results, and you need to adapt your strategy.If there’s one thing that is a bit frustrating, it’s that you can never get 100%accurate data. No software can scan the web and find everything you need. For example, when it comes to link research, we use 5 different tools to gather data,which we then compare and correlate, and even then the data isn’t quite right.We’ve spent in excess of $100,000 dollars on various tools over the years, and to date, we know that none of them are providing us with the exact data that we want. So that’s frustrating.

Neil Pursey:
I’d have to say web developers lack of understanding of SEO. On many occasions we receive requests for on-site optimisation only to tell the business owner that their site needs to be redeveloped to make it SEO friendly. Unfortunately many of these are small business owners with limited budget and a redevelopment is out of the question as they have already spent their budget on the current website. If web developers had basic knowledge of SEO then business owners would get a good product first time and be able to leverage their brand’s authority online. Obviously not all South African web developers have poor SEO knowledge; there are some really good ones out there. My recommendation though to business owners is to initially educate themselves on the basic jargon of SEO and then ask the right questions to web developers and compare ‘apples’ with ‘apples’.

Dewaldt Huysamen:
People creating websites which can be construed as spam sites in order to get more backlinks to their main site; amongst other things.

Allen Jaffe:
I would have to say duplicate content. We always test new sites to see the authenticity of the content and never take your word that it’s original. Even if your content is original, we have had experiences where a site’s content has been ripped and Google is notified that the thief is the original.

We also sometimes see common mistakes such as developers not blocking their development URL’s and getting the wrong version of the site indexed.

 

Francois Muscat:
I would definitely consider using Google Paid search. After all this is the best way to generate traffic and identify which keywords will convert best. I would also include social media to create word of mouth marketing. So taking a few facebook ads that are specifically targeted to the demography of the persona would help.

Mike Perk:
First, I’d find a really relevant website with high link ranking, where your target customers are already hanging out – this is free. Then, I’d identify the owner and stalk them online – again, free. I’d then gather data about them and start stalking them offline – R30 for fake moustache, R100 for floppy hat to cover face, R250 for petrol and stake-out fast food. By now you know everything about them and you can move to phase two, which is to remove the moustache and hat and “accidentally” keep bumping into them at networking events, their supermarket, gym or favourite coffee shop. Strike up a conversation, let them know you are launching a new blog / website – and more often than not they’ll suggest the link and you won’t even have to ask for it. If this fails, kidnap their dog and hold it up for ransom – latex gloves, ransom paper and paper to cut out letters: R100. Remember, you can’t buy a single pair of latex gloves, you need to buy a box. So all in all, that’s less than R1000, and you’ll have enough left for an initial 30 minute consultation with a lawyer, should you need it.

Goran Giertz:
It depends on the type of site or blog really. But since we target businesses, I’llbase my recommendation on the assumption that that’s the type you mean.(Personal sites would have a different strategy.) For a company with a limited budget, I’d recommend Google AdWords as a targeted,short-term strategy that’s likely to bring better ROI than SEO would. SEO is a long term strategy, while AdWords is immediate, with almost immediate results. If they were looking specifically at search engine optimisation, it would depend on their in-house skills, so we didn’t needlessly duplicate and charge them for anything they could do themselves. Theoretically, R1,000 is too little to achieve much in terms of SEO that will have a measurable impact, which would in turn reflect negatively on us.If they have an existing site, the basics would be keyword research and ranking reports for the site, target the words that they’re performing the best for, and optimise those pages. We’d probably recommend some on-site modification, and if there is the budget, a few external links with optimised anchor text.I’d also suggest submission to the top 20 local directory sites, not for SEO purposes,but simply to drive a little extra traffic.

Neil Pursey:
If I think how I started, I would find an SEO person who is relatively new in the industry and build a long term relationship with that person. There is an element of trust in the beginning stages of the campaign so you will need to find someone who is honest and transparent with you. The last thing you want is to let that person lead you down the wrong road. We still have several accounts from the first days of WebGrowth. Over time their budget has increased as they begin to see more value in SEO. Unfortunately SEO doesn’t happen overnight though so that R1000 will need to be spent on a monthly basis. The other alternative would be to run a PPC campaign for R1000 per month, expect not to make too many sales in the first month though because it’s about collecting data in the beginning. Understanding what your visitors want to see is crucial so begin to learn analytics (use Google Analytics, it’s not too difficult) and constantly tweak the call to actions on your website to increase the leads through the website. These sales could then be used to re-invest into a long term SEO campaign, which is more sustainable and profitable over a period of time.

Dewaldt Huysamen:
Well contact iLead Online to consult of course.

Allen Jaffe:
Develop good content (link bait) and promote it through social media channels.


Francois Muscat:
I don’t really think that page rank is the end and be all of ranking. In many cases having good quality inbound links gets the results over a higher page rank website. One can become too technical sometimes. Its far more important to get conversion that be number one on Google and just get traffic.

Mike Perk:
PageRank is so over hyped. I meet people who think it is the be all and end all of SEO. They tell me they have PageRank 5 compared to one of my sites that may have PageRank 2. Um… so WHAT? I’d rather have relevant keywords and links bringing relevant traffic and higher conversation rates than focusing all my time worrying about getting a higher PageRank. In SEO we need to think more holistically than just PageRank.

Goran Giertz:
This remains a controversial topic, at least partly due to the frequency with which Google updates the PageRank. I still think that a domain with PR is better than a domain without it, but we look at a lot of other factors as well, including Domain Mozrank, AC Rank, Alexa, etc. to determine domain value. When it comes to PR for internal pages, we’d look at how many of the older pages have PR. If a site has 1,000 internal pages, and only 1 has PR, it looks pretty unnatural. If 200 of them have PR, that’s much better. We maintain several hundred analytics accounts, and many of the sites have no PR,but are still getting plenty of traffic.

Neil Pursey:
We prefer to study SEOmoz’s domain and page authority. We’ve found that SEOmoz’s domain and page authority measurements are more accurate and useful than PageRank. If your domain and page authority is high and your on-site optimisation is good. You will be able to leverage this (domain authority), which will increase your chances of starting to rank quite well for your chosen keywords.

Dewaldt Huysamen:
We think that PageRank is a good indicator for a website’s quality score. When Google Panda recently came into effect it made the importance of quality content even more significant than links from other relevant authority websites. PageRank as seen in, for example, toolbars is not the real current PageRank for any given website as only Google has those exact figures.

Allen Jaffe:
I don’t consider this a factor at all. Sites with 0 Pagerank outrank pagerank 5 sites.


Francois Muscat:
There are many SEO companies that have entered the market in the past few years. Many of these companies make promises on rankings that they can never fulfill. As social media becomes more integrated in search I see the SEO landscape changing from just link building to a more rounded approach which includes reviews, social profiles, video etc.

Mike Perk:
We have some great individuals and companies delivering good results and teaching enthusiastic learners. Importantly, we also have clients that are starting to ask the right questions of their web marketing service providers. These are both good signs for a positive future. However, education on SEO is going to be the key to ensuring that success.

Goran Giertz:
I think that, like the rest of the world, the SEO industry in SA is becoming very competitive. Not necessarily between SEO companies, but between their clients. In the old days, we used to be able to spend a few hours per site, and see good results. Nowadays, with so many people wanting to be in first place, this is changing. Not only is it becoming harder to optimise, it’s also becoming more expensive due to that competition between websites. Sooner or later, the primary keywords are going to be controlled by the people who have the resources and the infrastructure to make use of SEO companies to optimise their sites. The number of companies who make use of our SEO re-seller services in the last year has increased tenfold. Everybody wants to offer the service and make additional income, because it seems easy. And one big drawback of everybody offering SEO is that the people who really know what they’re doing are harder to find among the people who claim that they do.

Neil Pursey:
I feel that the future of South African SEO is bright, we are becoming an attractive country to outsource to from a digital perspective, especially Europe because of the similar time zones and favourable currency exchange rates. We still do have quite a way to go in terms of our knowledge compared to our US and UK counterparts though. The more talented SEO’ers South Africa can create the higher the benchmark will become, which is what we should be attaining for as an industry.

Dewaldt Huysamen:
That more people will realise the importance of SEO and SEM combined, focusing on online campaigns for Mobile and Tabbed devices.

Allen Jaffe:
Broadband prices getting slashed, more and more users are getting online which means more people are searching on Google which means more businesses need to be found.   There will come a time where people will only invest in SEO when their conversion rates are at acceptable levels.


Francois Muscat:
I think that companies who focus just on link building will struggle to retain the rankings they currently have. Referrals will be an important factor in ranking.

Mike Perk:
The impact has been affecting us for a while and will only get stronger. It feels like we are going full circle with humans helping decide what is important in the search results. I remember the days, pre-Google, of submitting sites to Yahoo directory and dealing with an actual human being… let’s call him ‘Dave’. I could actually have a conversation with Dave explaining that my client’s site was very different to anyone else’s and that he needed a brand new category to place it in. Dave then decided how valid the request was and indexed the site accordingly. Ahhh… the good old days of straightforward manipulation!

Goran Giertz:
Social media has an impact on the credibility of a brand, and if brand credibility and recognition increases, in theory, the authority of the site should naturally increase too. And since authority is one of the most important factors, (currently largely determined by who is linking to you), that should have an effect on rankings.Whether social media has a direct and measurable effect on rankings by itself, I’mnot too sure. But Google’s latest foray into social media might bring this into clearerfocus. If Google says Google+ will help with rankings, everybody starts figuring out ways to make it work for them, which in turn could lead to a success for Google+. Of course, just like links can be (and are being) abused, so too will this be. It’spretty easy to buy some proxies, create some persona’s and give them Google+accounts. It’s going to be very interesting to see where this takes social media in terms of rankings. I like the concept but if it’s going to ever be a bigger factor than links,well, we’ll see.

Neil Pursey:
It’s too early to gather high quality data but I will stick my neck out and say that Google will start favouring Google+ instead of Twitter results. It’s no secret that retweets are affecting rankings of posts but there are hints that the quickness of indexation of tweets is slowing down since the launch of Google+. Don’t dismiss Google+, it’s going to be a major player in social media and in turn with affect ranking in the months to come (my opinion).

Dewaldt Huysamen:
The impact has already been a great one. Google themselves made it clear that social media – whether it be social votes, social mentions or bookmarks from Google+ – will be an imperative factor that will heavily affect rankings. This was also made abundantly clear in Google’s public quality guidelines; something one has to focus on since Panda.

Allen Jaffe:
+1 is a sign of approval and a vote for a site. Google is always getting external opinions/votes to help rank sites and what better way than Google creating its own network to help even more with its rankings.


Francois Muscat:
Educate their clients to encourage customers to review their purchase and let everyone know what they thought. This type of testimonial will be strong going forward. So use your clients to promote word of mouth.

Mike Perk:
Make sure your listing is 100% complete.

Goran Giertz:
Top Tip? Create a Google Places Listing for your business. Seriously though,your address needs to be in the same city as the search is being conducted from,you need to be in the right (relevant) categories, you need to have reviews and citations, and the address and phone number need to be on your site, crawlable, and identical to the details on the Places page. There are other factors, but those are the most important I think.

Neil Pursey:
Can I say three tips? First, would be to optimise your title (company name), ensure that you have at least one keyword that you are targeting in the title of your listing. Secondly, insert your primary keywords into the categories (you are only allowed 5 categories). Thirdly, ask past and present clients to submit testimonials. Hopefully they’ll give a star rating of 5! These three factors will help you on your way to #1 for location based searches. Please bear in mind though that your domain authority will also help in Google Places search results.

Dewaldt Huysamen:
Ensure that all information is consistent with regards to contact details. For instance, make sure the contact details on your contact page is the same as the contact details to be found on other directories and/or maps. Also, ensure you get reviews from people, and add pictures and videos that are relevant to your site.

Allen Jaffe:
Get good reviews from the right places and make sure the citations in the reviews match as close as possible the information on your Google places page and homepage.

In conclusion I would like to thank all the interviewees for sharing their valuable knowledge with us. Please feel free to leave your comments and share your own knowledge on all the questions above.



About the Author

Darren
Darren
Darren has been working in the SEO industry for 3 years and has further enhanced his SEO skills on a daily basis. While improving his skills, he has also played a vital part in achieving better results for clients in many different industries.




5 Comments


  1. Jay

    Great set of questions and some nice insights – good job!


  2. This is very useful and insightful set of questions and answers.
    I know a couple of the companies in the list and I think they have given us a great amount of information from their hard work and knowledge, thanks guys.

    You can see where people are pushing their companies and where others are generally giving advise that is beneficial.

    Get them back in a couple of months when G+ has taken over the world and everyone puts their sites thru Google’s optimised hosting .
    Google wants to own the internet.


  3. David Philips

    Great Interview, some great advice that you dont often see being given out.


  4. Some great insights into the minds of some SEOs in South Africa.

    Thanks for sharing folks!


  5. Darren – great job on the Q&A….a good set of questions and a decent set of responses. It’s clear that the SEO scene in South Africa is vibrant and that there are plenty of knowledgable SEOs out there. I predict as broadband rolls out that you’ll see a massive influx of new enquiries from all sorts of businesses just as we have seen over the past 2 years in the UK.



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