John Den Haan recent head shot

John Den Haan

John Den Haan, from the Netherlands, is currently Head of SEO at Switched on Media and outside of work he is a successful Adsense marketer.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of working closely with John – he is one of the smartest people I know, is extremely passionate about the web and certainly enjoys a debate or two. I  wanted catch-up him and discuss his thoughts on the current state of SEO and where he thinks it might be going.

Here goes…

1. What are the key differences / challenges with SEO in Australia vs Europe?

Shipping costs here tend to be higher as well, which has a large impact on the ecommerce landscape.

Europe is a large patchwork of languages, cultures, political borders and open and closed markets. From an SEO point of view, this often necessitates mutilingual sites and changes in tone of voice from country to country. What works for users in France, might not work for your users in Sweden and vice versa. People spend their time differently, have different interests and have different cultural values that all translate to user experience and satisfaction. On top of that, Europe’s markets are often densely populated and sometimes extremely competitive.

Australia on the other hand is a large cultural and linguistic entity. Whilst there are regional differences, these are far more subtle and often don’t present major roadblocks in communication. Having said that, the large distances within the same language space breed a different type of problem, where localisation on a  city level becomes more important. People in Sydney don’t go to a dentist in Brisbane and Google knows that. Shipping costs here tend to be higher as well, which has a large impact on the ecommerce landscape. Making sure your website’s technical foundation and communication is optimised for your local region is therefore more important than ever.

2. Describe to us how you see 2014 panning out from an SEO perspective? What are you expecting to happen?

 Google is clearly on a war path against links.

As with any year I guess, 2013 was an interesting year in search. Google rolled out some high-profile updates including the infamous second iteration of penguin and several refinements to its panda algorithm.

We also saw the rollout of the in-depth article as a new type of news result. Google is clearly on a war path against links; the commodity they themselves created is now increasingly being devalued and as a result, link building is becoming more and more of a broad PR exercise.

Given these, I foresee the definitive death of ‘link building’ in 2014, combined with the rise of ‘influencer outreach’, a movement that has been going on for quite some time now. At the same time, deep, valuable content is more and more being rewarded. As for social, Google sort of dabble in it with Google+, but they are still a long way away from acquiring an accurate representation of the true social graph. Further forcing of Google+ onto businesses is therefore also something I wouldn’t be surprised about.

3. If you had only 8 hours to optimise one website what would you do?

I would look at the technical basics such as site speed, duplicate content, title tags, meta descriptions, etc. Don’t get me wrong, having a proper strategy behind social PR, online authority and content is very important, but without the technical basics in place, all of this effort will be largely in vain.

4. What do you like best about your current role?

The diversity of clients I get to work with.

5. What do you think is the biggest issue in the SEO industry?

People (often from developing markets or the ‘guy nextdoor’) who think they ‘get’ SEO and muck around with outdated and/or black hat techniques. These guys give our industry a bad, unprofessional name and give our clients and prospects a really distorted image of what SEO is really about.

6. For people starting out in SEO, what 3 skills do you think they should focus on?

  1. Communicating value; often times a client won’t fully understand what you’re doing for them. Expressing that in clear terms is a major asset.
  2. Basic web development skills; like it or not, the SEO is often seen as the ‘guru’. Whether it’s tagging, SSL certificates, domain-related issues or redirects, you’ll need to be across it. Running your own affiliate concepts is a great way to learn all these skills, plus it’ll force you to stay at the bleeding edge of the industry.
  3. Expectations management; SEO takes time. Ironically, it actually takes time and some diplomacy to get that message across to client.

Would you like to hear more from John? If so, follow him on Twitter: @jdenhaan