Episode 4: Interview with Joost de Valk

Today’s interview is with Joost de Valk, famous for his WordPress SEO plugin.


OMReport.com - Joost de Valk

OMReport.com - Joost de Valk

You can find the podcast also on Youtube and on iTunes. Also the transcription is included in the post.

Transcription of the Podcast:

Alpar: So, today’s OM Report is with Joost. Joost, please introduce yourself.

de Valk: Hi, Joost de Valk. I do WordPress and a bit of SEO.

Alpar: Okay.

de Valk: And combining the two.

Alpar: Okay. So, what was first, WordPress or SEO?

de Valk: SEO.

Alpar: Okay.

de Valk: I picked WordPress because it was reasonably easy to SEO but… and then I started building plug-ins to actually make the SEO for WordPress easier, so… But SEO was there first. I had a professional career in SEO before I even started in WordPress.

Alpar: Okay, but you’re an engineer at heart, I mean, you studied something like Computer Science or something like that?

de Valk: No, I studied theology…

Alpar: Oh!

de Valk: …and International Business and Management Studies but I’ve been coding ever since I was twelve and built my first website in- when I was twelve in ‘94 so… I’ve always been a Coder, I’ve got- I’ve studied those two studies and dropped out and went to work as a Java Developer, basically. So, yeah, I’m a Coder at heart, but also the different markets here and the combination or- sort of makes me into what I am, I guess.

Alpar: Okay, so you have like a whole range of free products you’re giving away – how does that make- how does that work out? I mean, how does that pay off? You- just because of the honour and pride and the number of downloads, you know, it doesn’t earn money.

de Valk: No, it doesn’t. It does- it has generated a huge amount of visibility for me which generates a lot of leads every…

Alpar: Leads for?

de Valk: For SEO Consulting and WordPress Consulting.

Alpar: So what do you do more – WordPress Consulting or SEO Consulting? Or is it usually, actually SEO with WordPress Consulting?

de Valk: It’s usually both. Yeah, yeah, it’s usually both. So, although I do other platforms as well – I’ve done quite a bit for Magento – so I do, I’ve done the same…

Alpar: Onlineshops.

de Valk: Yeah, so I’ve done the same stuff there, released some free extensions, done an article on Magento SEO and so… I tend to think I could actually replicate it for any other platform should I want to.

Alpar: So, we’re all waiting for a Joost-Magento SEO Plug-in?

de Valk: Well, there is one already can- a Robots-Meta Extension for Magento that I built.

Alpar: It’s not as big as the WordPress one?

de Valk: No, my WordPress actually…

Alpar: In- functionality-wise.

de Valk: No, my WordPress SEO Plug-in is by far the biggest thing I’ve built so far. At least…

Alpar: Are you aware of how many people are using it?

de Valk: People? No, I know it runs on over a million sites now…

Alpar: Wow.

de Valk: But that is because it also… It’s run on a very large amount of multi-site installations, so…

Alpar: So like WordPress MU.

de Valk: Yeah, so there’s a couple of very…

Alpar: Would you say μ?

de Valk: Yeah, multi-site is the new name, yeah.

Alpar: Okay.

de Valk: So, there’s a couple of very, very big ones where…

Alpar: It started off with like the Greek letter, right? But then it was confusing, it was like the u.

de Valk: Yeah, it was the μ at first and they turned it into multi-site later on.

Alpar: It’s a little less nerdy and it’s a little easier to not make mistakes recording it.

de Valk: Yeah, it’s a lot more useful that way.

Alpar: And so how do people have to imagine your every day work? You have a fancy office with lots of employees, coders that do your stuff and you just attach your name onto it? Is that how it works? With a great view… Palace, basically.

de Valk: No, not at all. No I just- I, yeah work- No, no, I only started out on my own in October last year, so I was an agency guy before that and as most of your English listeners will know, agency people make their own. So, so I started out on my own in October, been doing very well but I work from home. I like that a lot. I’ve got two kids so I see them an awful lot, number three’s coming up so I have a lot of time for that and a lot of- I do outsource a lot to all over the world depending on what needs to be done.

Alpar: So like what kind of tasks? Like coding tasks or outsourced blog posts?

de Valk: Everything. No, not my own blog posts but I do outsource content writing for other stuff, yeah.

Alpar: Okay.

de Valk: So…

Alpar: But the coding you do yourself? Or you do some of the coding outsourced as well?

de Valk: I outsource some of the coding.

Alpar: Which countries do you outsource to?

de Valk: Depends on the…

Alpar: Like, off-shore or like near-shore or…

de Valk: No, near.

Alpar: Friends in Netherlands.

de Valk: No, that- most of it depends on what it is. So, if it’s sites or stuff for clients it’s usually in Europe. For instance, for my SEO Plug-In that I recently had an English WordPress Core Developer do some of the stuff in there because I couldn’t fix it myself. So, it depends a bit on what needs to be done. My experience with outsourcing to…

Alpar: So it’s pretty entrepreneurial, actually.

de Valk: Yeah. My- yeah. My experience with outsourcing to India and so have been less… good.

Alpar: Good.

de Valk: So…

Alpar: Others may have other experiences, that’s always okay.

de Valk: Yeah, so I really like working with a lot of the Eastern European countries and we have some pretty good experiences there, yeah.

Alpar: So, what- are the clients that you consult, are they, you know, are they big publishing houses because they use WordPress or do you- or like shops or do you focus on elements or themes?

de Valk: It- a lot of- no, everywhere. So, in the last year I’ve worked with eBay, SalesFirst, Tribune, I mean, but a lot of the…

Alpar: You seem to have more than one person talking to them, right? So, I mean, at least two of the companies you named, I know others who also work for them.

de Valk: Oh, absolutely.

Alpar: So how does that work? I mean, how do you collaborate? So you like…

de Valk: You don’t, because you’d usually hear after the fact that they worked there as well. That’s how big companies work, they just waste money. So…

Alpar: You think this is the case? Or does it probably also make sense because for people who look at fresh eyes at the same topics and then you get new input and then you get more…

de Valk: No, yeah, I do things – No, the thing is that I do things; I do other things, usually. So for eBay for instance, most of what I do for eBay is just training their Developers and SEO. So it’s more training that I do…

Alpar: Making them understand why the Marketers maybe want something?

de Valk: Yeah, making- and making sure that they don’t fuck up in the first place.

Alpar: So what is the kind of things that you make them look out for? How does one have to…?

de Valk: The funny thing is, most Web Developers really like developing according to web standards but they can’t really convince their bosses that they need to spend a bit more money and do everything according to web standards and I can usually show them that that is actually very good SEO as well, so they can sell it a bit better to their bosses and then they- when a Marketer comes to them, they say ‘Can we do this and this?’ they can actually implement it in a nicer web-standard-friendly way and it usually works very well for their SEO. Then I teach them the small little tricks where these things are different and show them that SEO actually makes money but what happens in a lot of companies where I come in is that SEO’s and Developers are fighting because SEO’s are in the Marketing Department and they hate the Developers and the other way around…

Alpar: Are they even separate, then they fight against other Online Marketers, against Product Managers, against Tech Guys and so on, and so on?

de Valk: Etcetera, yeah. So…

Alpar: That’s a very integrative, you know, kind of task – SEO – it’s more integrative. It has to do with all other parts of the company…

de Valk: Absolutely.

Alpar: Compared to SEO or anything else.

de Valk: yeah so I try to explain that to those Developers and because I come from a developer background and have some- well, I’ve got some things to my name that show them that I’m actually a good developer…

Alpar: So they trust your opinion

de Valk: They trust me and….

Alpar: You can take them on the journey.

de Valk: Yeah, it helps a lot. So, yeah that what I- I do that quite often and I really…

Alpar: Bit it seems to- if you’re focused on the Tech-Side of SEO, it must have been that your focus is mostly On-Page. Is that…?

de Valk: Yeah it is. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, so my…

Alpar: And we can always stay perfectly white-hat if you’re not cloaking around, which is also good for the image and good for the relations too, right?

de Valk: I tend to think I’m very white-hat.

Alpar: Yes, yes, yes. Okay, okay. So, why are you white hat? I mean, especially from an intellectual point of view it- wouldn’t it make sense to test other things and that as well?

de Valk: The thing is that most of the companies that I work with can’t even be bothered if I do on-page SEO, well, for big companies, it usually…

Alpar: They don’t even need the links; they just need it to be good on-site

de Valk: Yeah, the rewards of that are astonishing and then if there’s- if more’s needed, fine, then I’ll happily refer them to someone else. Usually someone here – who’s here now – and tell them like, ‘Okay, you probably need more links’ or something like that, they go work with him or her or whatever…

Alpar: Okay. So you have some- does it work the other way around? With guys who are more from the Link Marketing side of things – do they talk to you when they need deeper Tech-Stuff?

de Valk: Yeah, that happens quite often, you know, there’s quite a few Link Builders out there who don’t know that much about on-site SEO.

Alpar: Probably, it’s also a big difference, you know, if it’s like a short-hat kind of task which, you know many people can manage and then if you come to something that has several million products and it’s like a totally different story and that’s probably where they need help.

de Valk: Yeah and the thing is that my- the- it’s the technical side but it’s also the consulting side – to actually get those companies to implement what you want to do.

Alpar: So do you think that’s like a communication thing or is it- ‘cause you’re like a heavyweight and…

de Valk: It’s more politics and yeah, it’s a bit of coming in as a heavyweight, that helps because you usually end up higher in the…

Alpar: Hierarchy.

de Valk: In the hierarchy and it makes it easier to push things through.

Alpar: So you think it’s probably good that you’re in- a lot more expensive because it gives your words more weight?

de Valk: Yeah, absolutely. I think pricing has something to do with that, yeah.

Alpar: So, do y- is there- is the day-rate of Joost official or not so much?

de Valk: It is, yeah. My day rate is two-and-a-half thousand Euros which is not even that expensive for … measured by the German standards …

Alpar: No, I would think so, I know more expensive ones.

de Valk: Yeah, there’s come up quite a few in those …

Alpar: But then in the States, you know, it’s a whole different ball game, right?

de Valk: Well, two-and-a-half thousand Euros used to be not that much but it is now a lot in the States and that’s not because of the Euro, that’s because of the crappy Dollar, so…

Alpar: So now you’re going to adjust your rates?

de Valk: No it’s just…

Alpar: From the US it’s higher now.

de Valk: it’s just okay as it is, and I usually make project prices anyway or retainers for long periods but it’s around that mark.

Alpar: Okay. So, how would you think- you said you work mostly with US clients, so how do you think- what’s the difference between SEO in the US and SEO in Germany. Do you think there is a difference and if there is, how is it…?

de Valk: Yeah, there is a difference. Everything happens earlier in the US. So…

Alpar: Do you think like Google algorithms changes and so on?

de Valk: Yeah, yeah and…

Alpar: Then it doesn’t- then this is like a very small difference, I’d say.

de Valk: No, some stuff happens like six months earlier in the US and in Germany it’s a bit faster, in Holland it’s like waiting for years sometimes. Also, their language recognition in English is still so much better than any other language. So… I would say that the biggest difference is actually that SEO is somewhat different for these countries.

Alpar: Okay, because it’s just a little bit behind times

de Valk: Yeah. Yeah, it’s a bit more competitive in the States for a lot of Germans, although Germany can get very competitive for terms as well.

Alpar: So, what do you think about the inter-mining of Social SEO? Do you think that is different in the States and in Europe? Because, you know, it may be the same thing, you know, that the same thing will happen here, just a little bit later. Then again, it may be that they just use it differently. What do you think about that?

de Valk: I- a bit of both. It will happen because they’re probably the best signals Google is ever going to get for ranking.

Alpar: If they can get them from Facebook.

de Valk: No, they won’t get them from Facebook, but they’ll scrape them off of Facebook like buttons and stuff like that…

Alpar: I think there’s one company present here who’s going to show something like that.

de Valk: Yeah. But yeah they- they’ll use those signals and time will tell what will happen exactly. For now, I’m just focusing on all of them and just…

Alpar: On what?

de Valk: On all of them and just making sure that you have good links and do the social stuff well. Funny thing is it makes sense to do it all well because you getting normal links without doing the social stuff well is pretty hard.

Alpar: You think so? Why that?

de Valk: Because, if you want to white-hat, at least. Because you actually have to be talked about and I- for people to link to you, they have to talk about you and they way they talk about you right now is using those social channels so it all ties into one another and I do think that they will use them as checks and balances against each other so if you- if they see very little social traffic at your site and they see a lot of new incoming links, then it’s a very good way for them to see, ‘Oh wait, something weird is happening.’

Alpar: But then again, there’s stuff that people are shy to talk about. We just had- in that other presentation we had the example of online dating. People are usually still shy to admit that they would do online dating. So, yeah it will be different for several niches.

de Valk: Yeah. Yeah, for several markets and…

Alpar: And it’s like pay-day loans – who’s going to like a pay-day loan page?

de Valk: Yeah, or my mom for instance does relationship therapy. That’s not the kind of thing that people are going to be tweeting about

Alpar: No, no, no, no, no. They didn’t- won’t even add your mom on Facebook.

de Valk: No, absolutely not, so that makes that stuff harder then at the same time, that’s the problem that all her competitors have as well so it’s now a real problem.

Alpar: Okay. So it will be, there will be huge advantages depending on what …

de Valk: Yeah, that’s already happening anyways, I mean shop and search is completely different from… So Google does differentiate an awful lot between all of those things anyway, and basically, Google is turning into a lot of vertical searches.

Alpar: So, tell me one thing that really pisses you off in search. You- you know, the interview is calm so far, I’ll ask you something that really…

de Valk: Well there is quite a few things that piss me off quite badly and the thing that pisses me off most is people using ten-year old techniques – ten-year old black-hat techniques and still ranking with them because Google doesn’t bother to fucking fix it.

Alpar: Because it’s like in countries where Google has just sort of…

de Valk: Yeah, when I still encounter sites ranking with no frame-span, for instance, I- you see that happening in Holland every once in a while, and I’m like ‘Fuck it.’

Alpar: But does it- do you have the feeling that it at least works just for shorter periods.

de Valk: No, it works quite well for and it’s- and there’s a lot of stuff like that that just works and it annoys the shit out of me.

Alpar: Do you think it’s probably because it’s just- you know, Holland is not their focus and then… In Holland, this spam is such a little part; it just doesn’t make sense to take care of it because it’s in such a niche.

de Valk: No, that’s not entirely true. True, but it’s the same thing, I mean this idiot will do something that scrapers and I’d look at it in indeed.com on indeed.nl, these job-scraping sites, I mean those are incredibly big scraping sites.

Alpar: You mean, actually doing some good job on the metadata I think… Then again…

de Valk: Yeah, but they make their fucking results-pages look like Google. It’s like…

Alpar: As Google’s?

de Valk: Yeah, so I click on a search result and I get to a search result. I thought Google was against that but apparently that’s a different ball game for some of those sites, so that pisses me off.

Alpar: Okay. So, what do you think, how will that solve, because Google will do any vertical at some point I time and then the scrapers in that area will die as well?

de Valk: Yeah.

Alpar: So Google is the problem but they will solve it as well?

de Valk: Google will file the patent on job-search last week and so before job-search are- three to six months, before Google will release job-search, those sites will start dropping in rankings. You can wait for that to happen

Alpar: And then we’d have a mystic update parallel to that that will take care of some other stuff as well?

de Valk: Yeah.

Alpar: And then, accidentally all the job-scraper sites will go down.

de Valk: Yeah.

Alpar: It will just be a sad fact with a special update named after some other animal, right?

de Valk: Yeah, or engineer, or whatever it is.

Alpar: Or something in between.

de Valk: Yeah, absolutely.

Alpar: Alright. Thanks a lot for the interview.

de Valk: My pleasure.

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