As part of SES London 2009 Epiphany met up with Jill Whalen of High Rankings. [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="87" caption="Jill Whalen"][/caption] Jill has been involved in commercial SEO for over 13 Years and founded her successful company High Rankings in 1995. She is a prominent figure in the SEO community, called upon to speak at industry conferences around the world and published in national and industry publications. We posed her some SEO questions relating to Google in the UK, agencies, in-house SEO and the state of our industry as a whole. No 'run of the mill' SEO questions here!
Epiphany: Google’s search dominance in the UK is huge, we don’t see anything around currently that could dislodge or even eat into Google’s market share. What are your thoughts on this? JW: Google has done a great job of working its way into the popular culture and therefore, I can’t imagine their market share doing anything but going up over the next few years. It’s been Google’s game to lose for quite some time now, and they show no signs of cracking. The thing is, even if they did do some really bad and dumb stuff, it would take many years (and something hugely better) for people to stop using Google. I just don’t see it happening. Epiphany: During 2008 there was a lot of doom and gloom talk in the SEM industry regarding a fall in the use of SEM providers in favour of in-house teams. The latest e-Consultancy UK Search Marketing Report and our own observations show that this predicted shift either didn’t happen or was very minimal here in the UK. What is your take on this? JW: I haven’t seen the numbers, but I do believe that smart companies will indeed (or at least they should) take their SEM in-house. It would be a much more cost effective way to do it. Unfortunately, it’s still very difficult to find people with the skillsets required to do SEM who are interested in going in-house. I believe that we will start to see more companies taking their SEM in-house, while also keeping an outside consultant or agency close at hand for those times when some specific expertise is required. Epiphany: What would you say are the main challenges facing companies looking to bring SEM in-house during 2009? JW: As mentioned above, finding people with the right skills is certainly a challenge. Beyond that it’s getting all stakeholders in the company onboard with the SEM program and working together to make it happen. So many SEM efforts are thwarted because different departments within the company don’t seem to always be able to work well together for the common cause. When bringing SEM in-house, it is critical to have someone in charge who can bridge the gap between marketing and IT in order to be successful. Epiphany: In the UK recruitment for SEO technicians is still difficult with a lack of truly experienced candidates and a lot of false claims in CVs. On the understanding that you could teach a new employee all they needed to know about SEO, what traits and skills would you look for when recruiting? JW: This is indeed a very difficult task. I’ve had to hire people for my SEO agency, and it’s nearly impossible to know from a few interviews and a CV how well they will learn SEO. It is one of those careers that seem to do best with extremely passionate people, so that’s certainly one trait I’d look for. I also feel that the best SEOs often have both sides of the brain working well, meaning they are often both technical and creative at the same time. They should like solving puzzles, as well. I’ve also noticed at the various conferences I’ve been to through the years that a disproportionate number of SEOs are also musicians, with many having been professional musicians at some point in their lives. So musical ability might be a good trait to look for as well. Epiphany: We are still seeing a lot of large companies that don’t understand SEO and even some who don’t understand it having employed an SEM agency for the past 12 months. This leads us to believe that SEO is still seen as shrouded in mystery with snake oil salesmen a plenty. Would your own observations agree with this and what would you say the SEM community as a whole could do to change this? JW: Yes, yes and yes! This is something that has plagued our industry since the very start. Unfortunately, the snake oil salesman label is never going to go away as long as there are still a ton of that type of SEO company around selling their snake oil. And there are many. Way too many, in fact. Nearly every call we get these days to our agency is from someone who’s been burned by a previous SEO company. They waste time and money performing tasks that are in reality just SEO myths and of course never seen any results. The only way to change this is to continue to educate the public as a whole on SEO best practices as much as possible so that they don’t fall for the scam artists. Google has helped a bit because they have made it harder and harder to get websites to rank, so many of the scam companies just start to disappear. But not without first having taken a ton of money from unsuspecting clients. Epiphany: There is no doubting your commitment to the SEM community with 13 years of running a successful SEO company under your belt and a contribution to the community that surpasses most. With so much on your schedule, do you still have time to relax and what kind of things do you do to challenge yourself outside of work? JW: I do have time to relax, although in general, there’s nothing I’d rather do then be at my computer reading about SEO! Over the past 2 years since I got out of my home office and into a real office with employees, I’ve found that I can finally separate work and home much better. I’ve finally gotten to the point where many nights after work I don’t even go on my computer at home. Of course, it helps to have an iPhone so that I at least still feel connected. I don’t have any particular hobbies, but now that my children are mostly grown, my husband and I are able to enjoy time away from home watching various Boston sporting events on TV and things like that. Nothing too exciting, but relaxing nonetheless!