I decided to join in on my UAE Digital Marketing Interviews series and interview myself! This is interview #4 and you’re about to get my thoughts on SEO!
How did you get started in SEO?
I got my first real taste of SEO in 2004 when a company I worked for at the time had co-run an SEO challenge around the phrase ‘nigritude ultramarine’ with contestants needing to rank #1 for the phrase by the competition end date. I saw all sorts of tactics used from exact match domain names, keyword stuffing in URLs & keyword cloaking and stuffing in content. I was fascinated by everyone’s efforts but also realised this was not really effective in a commercial space – would you really be doing this for a bank or major brand like Nike? stuffing keywords, putting white text on a white background? and so on. Shady tactics aside, it opened my eyes to the world of SEO and how to optimise content for visibility. When I was getting into more commercial web design at Diggy, I met Dan Petrovic who mentored me on the art of SEO and I’ve been hooked ever since.
What do you love most about SEO over other aspects of online marketing?
I got into web design in the mid 90s and loved hard coding websites so when I learnt more about SEO and how to make tweaks to websites to get better rankings and traffic, it all made a lot of sense to me. Plus doing your own SEO is pretty much ‘free’ and helps you craft a better website than say PPC would (in a sense). You get to be in charge of every aspect of the website and it directly impacts how people find you and how they use the site (and also whether they’d link to you or not). This is exciting stuff! Plus people still think SEO is some sort of crazy dark art that relies on magic to get results so I’m just enjoying the ride!
What’s the biggest challenge with SEO in the region?
There’s a general lack of expertise with Arabic SEO in the region. SEO has a very low barrier to entry so there’s freelancers all over the place offering sub par services primarily in English SEO – but Arabic SEO and multilingual SEO is still something that the region struggles with. There’s simply not enough people doing this at a bigger level that can confidently talk about it with ease. Couple that with technical SEO issues like hreflang tags, domain names and translations, and you see how things can get very messy very fast over here.
How do you handle Arabic SEO and multilingual SEO?
I can read Arabic but don’t always know what I’m reading. At propertyfinder.ae, I quickly learnt to identify Arabic words for things like apartments, villas, real estate, to rent, to buy etc so this helped a lot. We operate sarouty.ma in Morocco where the primary language is French and thankfully, there’s a lot of francophones in the office. It’s a great blessing to have this convenience but I know full well how hard it can be to rely on external parties – especially when they are bilingual but not skilled in SEO – sometimes they totally miss the plot (through no fault of their own). I follow the wonderful Aleyda Solis who is one of the foremost International SEO experts and that helps me stay up to date.
Where do you see search marketing going in the region?
I expect search marketing to grow in popularity though PPC will always lead the way I believe. As much as there’s a lot of SEO people in the region, I expect that the gap between the genuine experts and charlatans to widen even more. I see content marketing becoming huge with more investment and that of course needs rock solid SEO to be effective. So the future is bright!
What advice would you give someone looking to get into SEO or search marketing?
Look at your interests, create a website around that and then do your own SEO. Don’t worry about rankings, traffic or money at the beginning. I learnt by doing and you should too. Keep weekly records, take screenshots and make notes of all the changes you make. It makes for great case studies later and it’s also wonderful to look back to see how far you’ve come. I would also highly recommend reading industry websites to stay up to date viz. Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch, SEM Post, Econsultancy and Moz. All the great people in search do this and they’re also regular participants (follow them on twitter!). I’d also recommend joining some great SEO communities on Google+ where a lot of great search marketing folks hang out.
And lastly, do you have any pro SEO tips in general?
Don’t be afraid to be cautious with your SEO changes. It’s ok to go slow. Also, always check your robots.txt! I’d be very rich if I got a dollar for every time a website’s rankings were improved solely by fixing the robots.txt file! And always go with your gut!
Jaaved Khatree is an SEO expert in Dubai who was previously a Brisbane SEO expert. He’s been online since 1995 and refuses to disconnect. When not optimising content for discovery and conversions, he plays mini golf, brews Turkish coffee and practices Arabic calligraphy. He also realises he’s just talked about himself in the 3rd person…