Q. You’re a well-known figure in the world of SEO, with years of hands-on experience under your belt. What’s more, you are a keynote speaker at many SEO conferences. However, there are probably loads of people who don’t know you: could you introduce yourself?
Sure – though I suspect my story is similar to many others in the industry!
I started out as a bedroom web developer many years ago, and became a bit obsessed about code quality, standards, accessibility, and so on. Tweaking titles, refining HTML, adding alt attributes, etc. I was doing technical SEO before I’d even heard of SEO, and I loved it.
My first exposure to ‘grown-up’ SEO was when I got a job at a digital marketing agency (I lucked my way through the interview with nothing but enthusiasm – thanks Ryan Scott), and then spent five years growing and leading a team of awesome marketers. We learned as we went when SEO was still a bit “wild west,” but we were always trying to be the good guys. We did some great work for some really big clients, and I’m proud of what we achieved.
More importantly, I learned a lot about business, strategy, and other technologies and channels.
From there, I’ve just kept learning. As SEO grows increasingly more ‘holistic’ and connected to other channels, I’ve kept pushing myself out of my comfort zone to learn new skills, embrace new ideas, and to grow as a person.
Q. What did you do at your previous employer, Distilled?
I was ‘Principal Consultant’ in the London office for just over a year, and it was a great time and experience. I’d wanted to work for Distilled for as long as I can remember – they were one of the big influences on my learning and thinking when I started out in the field – and they’re some of the smartest people I’ve met in the industry.
I did a bit of everything – mostly floating around the edges and tackling some of the more interesting, technical or complex briefs and projects which didn’t quite fit into the day-to-day flow of the agency.
Some of the most interesting projects ranged from owning and delivering enormous strategy pieces for big brands (“What should our five-year strategy be, to win the market?”), down to very technical stuff, like un-picking flakey Angular implementations across international, multi-domain, websites.
I’m already missing the team, and the kinds of projects which we worked on – but I’m excited to be doing something new!
Q. You know Joost de Valk quite a while, right? How did you meet and when did he offer you a job?
Embarrassingly, I was once very dismissive of both Joost and theYoast SEO plugin in a conference talk about web performance, blaming both for making website owners ‘lazy’ when it comes to optimisation.
I think word got back to him, and it made for an interesting rivalry, where I was just some upstart SEO geek calling out a legend. Oops.
I’m still a little nervous that many users of the Yoast SEO plugin just turn it on and forget about it, and how many missed opportunities that represents, but that’s something we can tackle together!
So when I first met Joost in person at SEOktoberfest 2016, I was a little nervous! But we had a great time. And after the 2017 event, we got chatting about joining forces – it all happened pretty organically, mostly over Facebook messenger in the middle of the Christmas break!
Q. What are you going to do at Yoast?
I think we’ll mostly work it out as we go! I’m keen to roll my sleeves up and start to prototype and play with some features and functionality in the plugin. I still find myself getting frustrated with parts of the WordPress editing and management experiences, so it’ll be great to attack some of that from closer to the inside. Gutenberg’s pretty exciting, too, so I’m looking forward to exploring what we can achieve in a block-based world!
I’m also going to maintain strong links with the SEO industry. I’ve made a lot of friends at agencies, tool vendors and organizations who’ll be important allies as we continue to strive to make SEO more accessible and to raise the bar on technical SEO. I’m looking forward to speaking at a bunch of conferences, too!
Q. What are you hoping to achieve at Yoast?
I really love the core mission –SEO for everyone. I want to make the web a better place, to improve the quality, accessibility and performance of websites, and just to solve technical SEO. It still astounds me how many sites have basic faults, broken links, malformed HTML, and so on. I’ll be in a position to make a measurable improvement to the quality of millions of websites and to help all of those people perform better in search. That’s awesome.
Q. You are both a search strategist and a developer, not unlike Joost himself. What does this allow you to do?
I’m really uncreative. I have no dexterity. I can’t draw, kick a football, or hang a shelf.
So joining up the ideation, strategy and business side to the development side lets me play. It’s incredibly liberating to be able to come up with an idea for a thing, to validate that it should work commercially/strategically, then to build a functioning, scalable proof of concept.
The drawback is, I’m a terrible finisher! I’ve piles of half-completed projects, where I’ve solved the problem in my head, but have got bored by the long-slog to the finishing line.
So it’ll be great to work with a team where I can do my bit, then let people who’re much better at rigorous, process-driven testing and development ship something complete!
Q. What’s your view on the current state of SEO and search in general? Which developments excite you? What should we look out for in the coming months?
I think that we’re finally starting to think beyond links, rankings and ranking factors. I’m seeing the spotlight gradually shifting to quality – conversations about rankings are talking about UX and brand/product quality, rather than links and click-through rates.
Google’s so close to having closed the gap on approximating and extrapolating ‘quality’ from link and site metrics, which means that improving that ‘quality’ means actually improving the thing you are/do/sell. That’s the kind of SEO I want to do and see.
There’s so much more coming, too – the web itself is maturing and moving forwards, and SEOs will need to stay on top of the latest tech and trends. I’m excited to see more people talking about Progressive Web Apps, and some of Chrome’s newest toys (like server-side timings) are really neat!
Q. You also call yourself an amateur futurologist, so I have to ask this question: Are robots going to take over the world?
They already have! Your mobile phone already runs your life, increasingly your Alexa or Google Home will run your home, and there’s more to come. It’s no coincidence that all of the big global players are investing in machine learning, in-home devices, and mobile hardware.
I don’t think we need to be too scared, yet. We’re still a long way from any kind of Terminator scenario, and before we get to that, we’ll get some really neat stuff in scaled computation and processing.
Having said that, if I was a robot from the future wanting to take over the world, maybe I’d do it by flooding the internet with a powerful piece of distributed software, which everybody used and relied on. Then I could subvert it, and control the web. Maybe I’d call it “JonoPress.”
You can find Jono on Twitter .