Let’s get digital. An interview with Matt Sawyer of Datadial

This month, I’ve managed to grab a few moments with digital marketing expert Matt Sawyer (who was one of the first industry bods I ever followed on Twitter). Matt heads up the online marketing department over at digital agency Datadial. We talked about link campaigns, the best blogs to read and why is the SEO industry coming in for some flak?

Turner Ink: You’ve been head of SEO and digital marketing at Datadial for five years now Matt. What’s changed in the industry since you joined?
Matt Sawyer: Everything and nothing. I see a lot of talk about how SEO is constantly changing, but really the fundamentals have remained the same – good content in a well organised and well structured website.

Social media has really changed link development though, and it’s forced SEOs to think a lot more creatively about who will link to them and why.

TI: So where is the SEO industry heading? What’s it going to look like in 5 years’ time?
MS: I think we’re going to be a lot more integrated with other marketing disciplines. To a lot of people we’re always the geeks in the room at the end of the corridor that nobody really understands. I think the industry itself is partly to blame for that.

Over the last couple of years though, SEOs have become far more closely integrated with development, sales, marketing and editorial teams and we’re doing a much better job of educating people, not just on what we do and why we do it, but also how it complements their roles.

TI: That’s interesting. Because there’s been a bit of SEO bashing online lately. (This is the post that springs to mind.) What are your thoughts?
MS: I completely understand why people feel that way when so many people have had bad experiences with SEOs. I think there is a real knowledge gap between the marketing managers and SMB owners that are buying-in the services and the companies that are selling them. Unfortunately, this either leads to companies taking advantage of this, or services being mis-sold.

TI: Ok Matt, how do you execute an SEO strategy? What do you do specifically?
MS: Generally for us it falls into four distinct stages:
1. Site architecture – ensuring the site is technically correct. Everything from making sure all the pages are reachable by search engines, to checking for duplicate content issues.
2. Site structure – checking that the site is organised logically, with relevant category pages.
3. Keyword research and page optimisation.
4. Link building and social media strategy.

TI: Yes, links are a major factor in the success of a site’s SERPS positioning aren’t they? How easy or difficult is it to get quality links?
MS: Links are THE biggest factor in rankings for competitive phrases. Getting good quality links is easy. Getting them in large enough quantities is harder. Social media has made the process easier and more scaleable, but you still have to rely on great ideas to make things work.

TI: I’ve locked horns with a number of so-called SEO experts who are more concerned with the mechanics of SEO and don’t give a hoot about the quality of the writing. What are your thoughts?
MS: Always write for users. There’s no point getting visitors to a page if it looks like it’s been written by a 5 year old (or me for that matter). There is no reason why a page can’t be optimised as well as written with conversions in mind.

TI: Well, I totally agree with that! What SEO tools do you use?
MS: I think most people would be surprised how few tools SEOs really use. I think there’s a misconception that we automate everything. But really the only tools we use are those that speed-up fairly menial tasks or give us more metrics to play with in Excel.

For example we use a ranking checker to monitor site rankings changes. I also use the Open Site Explorer to pull link data and site metrics into Excel. Majestic should also get an honourable mention here. I also like using Xenu which can spider an entire site, extract page metrics and export all of the data to a .csv file.

TI: Do you only optimise for Google?
MS: Realistically, yes. In the UK, especially, they have such an obscene share of the search market that they have to be the search engine that’s at the forefront of your strategy. However, most search engines work in similar ways, so you’ll find that most SEO work brings similar benefits on all search engines.

TI: But is Bing becoming more important?
MS: Slowly. I’m seeing its search share gradually start to creep up, and before long Yahoo will start to serve Bing results.

TI: What other services do you offer at Datadial?
MS: We’re a full service agency. So we do everything from design, development and hosting, through to digital marketing, email marketing and ebusiness consultancy.

TI: I know you handle online PR and reputation management for clients as well and you’ve developed an in-house reputation monitoring tool. Tell us how that works.
MS: Our reputation monitoring tool works by pulling together lots of different data sources – such as Google (news and blogs), Twitter mentions, RSS feeds and several others, which it then parses for mentions of the client name. These are then displayed in an admin control panel. A lot of similar services tend to over-complicate things, so we have tried to go the other way and keep thing as simple as possible for the user while retaining functionality.

TI: You and I are both on Twitter quite a bit. Are you finding clients want to jump on the social media bandwagon no matter what their product or service?
MS: A lot of people seem to decide that they want to do social media before they have thought about why they’re doing it and what they want to get out of it. Some companies are made for social media; others need to think about culture change before they engage in social media.

The key thing to remember is that consumers aren’t always the best group for your company to try to engage with. Often, it’s better to network online with the bloggers and journalists in your industry.

TI: Talking of bloggers – you write for the Datadial blog Matt. And, of course, you write for own blog. What topics do you cover?
MS: With the Datadial blog we write primarily for our clients, on (hopefully) interesting topics and issues that affect them and their business.

My own blog has actually been around for several years in one form or another, and I tend to use it to organise my own thoughts and rants more than anything else. I have been known to post at 3am when I have ideas that I need to get down somewhere!

TI: I hate to think what I’d blog at 3am! What other blogs do you read or recommend?
MS: The SEOMoz blog is fantastic, both for advanced SEOs and novices alike. The range of topics covered and the resources that they have available really are second to none.

Other than that I regularly read (and recommend) EConsultancy, SEOptimise, Apple Pie And Custard (who also win the prize for the strangest name), Search Engine Land, Malcolm Coles and SEO By The Sea.

TI: And last question Matt. What does a normal day look like for you?
MS: Normally I get into the office by seven. I cycle into West London from Surrey and spend around an hour reading my RSS feeds and answering emails. These days I tend to get more involved in the technical and strategic side of SEO, so that will include everything from site audits to planning structure and then organising the link and content development and social strategy. It seems I spend a lot more time at client meetings these days, so I’ll be out and about for much of the day.

TI: Thanks Matt. See you on Twitter.

Matt Sawyer - Head of SEO at DatadialMatt Sawyer is head of SEO and digital marketing at London-based digital agency Datadial and is considered one of the most influential SEOs in the UK.

He works with a wide range of clients and industries: from internationally recognized businesses to small, niche brands. His specialities include integrated digital marketing, SEO (on-page and off-page optimisation)

social media, digital PR, PPC, link development strategies and online marketing consulting.

On Twitter he describes himself as a social media junkie, part-time blogger, and full-time timewaster. Follow Matt on Twitter.

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