Putting the ‘oh’ into SEO: An interview with Rob Dobson of SEM London

This month’s interview is with colleague and SEO consultant Rob Dobson of SEM London. Over a pot of hummus and some carrot sticks (true!) we chatted about a number of things including, why blogging is so great for SEO, the future of SEO, and why Rob still hasn’t got any content on his website!

Turner Ink: Ok Rob. Tell us a bit about what you do. You do more than keyword research don’t you?
SEM London: Well what I do is market a company on the internet. I increase a company’s internet presence. So that includes detailed keyword research, website optimisation and inbound linking. And then of course there’s PPC campaigns, integrating blogs into websites, and helping clients set up their Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages. So yes. It’s a bit more than keyword research.

TI: How has your work changed from a couple of years ago?
SEM: Well, I guess the use of social media has been the biggest change. Potential customers now expect companies to engage with them on different levels whether that’s blogging, Facebook, Twitter or other social media opportunities.

TI: What’s involved in the SEO process? Where do we start?
SEM: Of course keyword research starts the whole process off and is the most important thing to get right. Keyword research not only tells you what key phrases to target in your content but it can even dictate what web address you choose for your site.

TI: I wrote a post a while back about dodgy SEO ‘experts’. How do you differentiate yourself?
SEM: Well, when I’ve been approached by clients that have worked with other SEOs, the thing they have in common is the lack of proper keyword research. Without detailed keyword research it’s just a bunch of guesswork.

And I don’t bamboozle clients with loads and loads of reports that they won’t read. I’d much rather show clients how to use Google Analytics and analyse other metrics, so they can get a real feel for their visitors, customers and potential customers.

To be honest, I just don’t know how some of these SEO ‘experts’ justify £500 a month and then just chuck a fat monthly report at their clients. So many clients come to me having spent a few thousand pounds – and they’re not really sure what on! If a monthly fee is how you wish to charge then it should be clear exactly what you’re getting for that fee each month.

TI: There still seems to be a lot of smoke and mirrors around SEO. Why is that?
SEM: Well there shouldn’t be. It’s true that search engines like Google keep the algorithms – the criteria they use to rank your site – a secret, and, of course, they often change this.

But SEOs should be transparent. You should say what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it and the sort of results you’d expect to see.

TI: Is blogging important for SEO?
SEM: Definitely. If a search engine doesn’t see your site evolving with fresh content or increased backlinks then, rightly so, it decides your site should be given less weight over time. That’s why SEO and website content is an ongoing thing. A blog is a brilliant way to get new content quickly and easily on to your site. A website should never be ‘finished’!

TI: Do you make any promises about getting a client on to page 1 of Google?
SEM: No never. Because you can’t promise something that isn’t entirely under your control. Organic search results cannot be bought. But with proven techniques your chances are greatly enhanced. So when a company starts an SEO campaign they should realise that it needs its own annual spend and it’s an ongoing process. For large organisations this may even require a new role to be created. Website, Search and Social Media Liaison Manager would be a good title!

TI: Tell us a bit more about link campaigns. Why are incoming links so important for the Search Engines?
An inbound link is a vote of confidence. A vote from Site A to Site B is saying that Site B is worth checking out. But the quality of links is essential. A hundred links from non related or irrelevant sites is less valuable than five from well renowned and trusted sites.

So a link campaign consists of researching linking opportunities. On a basic level this can be links on free business directories or something like Best of the Web Blogs as well as paid-for directories. On a higher level there are things like article marketing.

TI: What’s around the corner for SEO?
SEM: SEO is still very much in its infancy. So I expect demand to increase and the job of SEO to become harder. Much of the real change will depend on the direction the search engines take. Improvements in localised search and possible changes within paid search will provide new opportunities.

TI: What does an SEO project cost?
SEM: Basic keyword research and website optimisation can start in the region of £1.5k.This will get you started on the road of an SEO strategy. Unfortunately marketing yourself online is an ongoing process and an annual budget should be allocated to it. A beneficial initial strategy may cost up to £5k.

TI: So tell us a bit about your background Rob. What did you do before you became an SEO bod?
SEM: In 1995 I was running a small company’s computer network and maintaining their website. I taught myself HTML and how websites should be built. I even did a few myself although I was never much of designer! I got into SEO back in 2003 as I felt the content and the ‘findability’ of the site was more important than all the design bells and whistles that were going on at the time.

The internet taught me about the internet. And I am constantly learning about this evolving industry.

TI: So what’s happening with your website Rob? When are you actually going to get some content on there?
SEM: I know, I know! I first need to find myself a good SEO copywriter. Ha ha! Time constraints and my clients’ success have meant I’ve been unable to practise what I preach. I guess in a way I’m lucky that I haven’t had time to get my own site – SEM London – sorted. But I will do soon. I promise.

TI: And finally, how can people get hold of you Rob?

SEM: Well I have managed to complete a LinkedIn page!

Rob Dobson, SEM LondonRob Dobson is a freelance SEO Consultant. He works with clients directly or via design and development agencies. He has worked for South West Trains, PayPoint, MTV, SITA, and Sanderson as well as many SMEs.

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