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Jakub Pepliński

Interview with Jakub Pepliński – SEO specialist / SEO Leader

What is your experience in SEO? Tell us briefly about yourself. How did you start and who is Jakub Peplinski today?

I’m currently working at a young and fast-growing IT start-up (Vue Storefront) that develops software for e-commerce, namely the frontend and the entire orchestration layer for headless commerce systems. As the only SEO specialist in the organization, I am responsible for increasing the organic traffic to various web assets. Additionally, I also provide SEO support for a massive French website comprising over 5M URLs. Before that I worked and gained experience in two agencies – one local and one international – where I managed a team of specialists. I have also co-founded an online store in a healthcare industry.

That’s a lot of experience. Where did you get the idea to get into this industry?

Before stepping into the SEO field, I handled technical support for events and conferences. I was responsible for all things audio and video. A cool and unexpected perk of this job was that I was able to get insights from people in various industries. The ones that fascinated me the most were all the lectures related to web development, UX and online marketing – this sparked an idea to get involved in these areas. Additionally, I already had some knowledge of web technologies picked up during my studies. SEO seemed like the perfect combination and I decided to get my first job in this industry.

Do you remember what tools you used back then? Do you currently have favorite ones that make your job significantly easier?

The core toolset I use has been relatively stable throughout my career in SEO. I definitely cannot imagine my work without tools from Google (GSC and GA), plus Excel and a text editor such as VS Studio Code. As for the pro SEO tools, I mainly use Ahrefs and Screaming Frog and, lately, SurferSEO. For keyword analysis, I additionally rely on KWfinder from the Mangools suite and AnswerThePublic for finding more long-tail keywords. In the meantime, I have tested a number of tools, but ultimately I do not use most of them because I have established certain habits and patterns. DeepCrawl, Sitebulb or MajesticSEO are some of the tools I don’t use that often nowadays.

Apparently, your toolkit seems to have evolved along with your experience. Can you tell us what your day-to-day work looks like now?

As I joined a new organization relatively recently in which previously there was no one owning the SEO, I’m currently dealing with some fundamental issues. I create the SEO content strategy, plan the information architecture, analyze the competition, perform technical audits of websites and design linking strategies – in general, I put all the puzzles together in order to build a long-term and effective strategy.

I was going to ask about the aspects we should take care of first when crafting an SEO strategy, but you have just described exactly that. So let me ask you – what are the key character traits an SEO specialist should have? Is this a stressful sector?

SEO is quite specialized into different sub-fields and it’s hard to give a straight answer to this question. On the other hand, if one’s goal is to be a full-fledged SEO specialist, it seems to me that there are a few such key traits. As far as soft skills are concerned, I think first of all you need to be patient, which helps you stay on track and consistently execute the strategies you set out at the beginning. Communication skills are also essential because although SEO is concerned to be a marketing branch, the skills required when working in SEO are quite technical. Not only do you have to be able to realise the campaigns, but you also have to be able to talk about them with clients, business people such as directors as well as copywriters and developers. The ability to analyze data and draw conclusions is absolutely critical. On top of that, you need some hard skills like HTML, CSS, js and php basics. And to answer your second question – well, I think SEO can be stressful at times, but a lot depends on your ability to be assertive and honest with other team members or clients.

So what is your advice for someone starting out in SEO? To develop hard skills, soft skills – or a little bit of everything? Which combination is the best?

Probably the most common advice of this type, and one I agree with, is to learn by working on an actual project. The best idea would be to set up your website, even on wordpress, write some content, optimize basic technical issues, maybe try to acquire some links. It’s helpful to set an achievable goal, such as ranking a page for a relatively simple long tail phrase. It’s a good idea to read a lot of tutorials from verified online sources. Such experience should allow you to get an internship or even a junior position in an agency. When you have already joined such an organization, you are able to improve your soft skills in a natural manner. You will have to provide explanations for underperformance, negotiate budget increases, or – more generally – talk to your clients. If anyone has a problem with such matters, it’s a good idea to seek out knowledge on how to establish rapport with others.

So we have the ready-made instructions. What do you find most interesting about working in SEO?

It is the variety of tasks that is most interesting. What I really like about SEO is that one week you can make changes in CMS or code, then jump to analyzing and processing data across tens of thousands of lines in a CSV file and, on top of that, analyze the structure of information on your competitors’ blogs. In between all this I also attend meetings where I talk about the effects of the strategy being implemented or deliver trainings. The good thing is also that the depth of knowledge is practically unlimited and you can grow in this line of work all the time. Alternatively it’s also relatively easy to switch from SEO to become, for example, a business analyst, programmer, copywriter, project manager – whatever you find interesting.

You speak quite highly of the industry, but I suppose there’s something about it that’s just boring, isn’t there?

This is a subjective matter and it all depends on one’s preferences and aptitudes. I’m most interested in issues around strategy, analytics in the bigger picture, technical issues, but I also appreciate the craft of copywriters and enjoy working hand-in-hand with content creators. What I personally am not particularly crazy about is the implementation of off-site SEO. For me, building link profiles through outreach, contacting domain owners or ordering articles and links from platforms and keeping an eye on those things is pretty tedious. On the other hand, I know that some people find it rewarding and can make very cool and sophisticated things in this area.

Has 2020 and 2021 changed the way you work and your approach to it? Did the virus have an effect on it?

When the pandemic started, I worked at the international agency I mentioned and it was possible to observe several phases over the following months. In the beginning, when nobody knew how the whole situation would evolve, you could see the fear reflected in the decisions made by businesses. In some cases, there were even some cuts to SEO budgets. On the other hand, after about 6-9 months, when the markets rebounded after a temporary slump, we saw higher interest in SEO. This was particularly true for e-commerce and B2B businesses which have relied heavily on offline referrals. Companies started to be bolder in their pursuit of new opportunities.

Have you also switched to remote work because of this?

I was already working remotely on a regular basis, so nothing has changed for me in that regard.

Do you find this way of working more efficient than on-site work, or is it because of the structure of the company you worked for?

I would agree with both statements. By the fact that I worked for a company where employees were spread all over the world – from London, through Copenhagen to Hong Kong, and there were offices in those cities, while several people in Poland worked remotely. This was my first job where I worked in this manner. This hasn’t changed until today and I enjoy it very much. I like the fact that I don’t waste time commuting and that I can focus properly, which is not so easy when working in an office. And besides, I now can have my coffee exactly in the the way I like it (laughs)

Well yeah, a positive attitude is half the battle. Let’s go technical – Link building or “content is King”?

It’s both. Content is key, but the tougher and more competitive the industry, the more important Link Building becomes. Technical optimization and UX are also very important.

And what do you think the biggest problem with SEO is?

I would say that, in general, SEO efforts are becoming more and more complicated and, therefore, more expensive. In order to be effective, your activities usually require more and more work. We’re talking about great content, which already increasingly often requires a team of content writers, building a great user experience and generally optimizing websites from a technical standpoint, building relationships with partners. In addition, your competitors don’t waste their time, so the cost of running campaigns that are supposed to be effective goes up. And when it comes to the SEO sector strictly, I think that one of biggest problems are the myths and misconceptions. There are a lot of SEO specialists who mindlessly repeat certain patterns and sometimes it turns out that they have no effect or can even be harmful.

What myths and patterns do you have in mind?

LSI is a good example. To this day, many SEO specialists believe that Google uses this algorithm to analyze content, whereas many of their patents indicate that this is a much more complicated process. Besides, LSI is an idea dating back to the 1980s, long before Google even existed.

What patents are you referring to?

There are quite a few, but in general, Google uses a vector model to analyze content, where each word is linked to others in a multidimensional space using vectors of different lengths. Passage indexing, for example, also comes into play, which indicates that Google can look at a given text not only as a whole, but also at smaller parts of it.

How do you think SEO has evolved over the years? I’m asking both in terms of how people in the sector have approached it, and also in terms of issues that have produced results but now have little relevance

SEO is evolving in parallel with algorithm changes. In general, Google has already become progressively more picky year by year and is getting better at evaluating quality, whether it’s content, links or usability. Of course, it is still just an algorithm and there are still plenty of ways to artificially deceive it, but it is certainly no longer as easy as it once was. This has the consequence of making it more time-consuming to improve the quality of the website, which affects the day-to-day work of SEO specialists. We have increasingly more work in many areas at the same time. Hence, specializations such as specialists in tech SEO, Link Building, SEO content, digital PR.

SEO is just Google?

Right! I would add that so far we’ve only really been talking about Google, which is the most advanced search engine at the moment, but we also have a whole bunch of other search engines that are leading the way in other parts of the world besides Europe and the Americas. Take Yandex in Russia or Baidu in China, for example. This also requires additional knowledge about each of these ecosystems.

Over the time you’ve been in SEO, have you been able to forge proven methods for optimization, or does SEO keep presenting new challenges?

I have my favorite tactics or even elements of strategy that I always consider. One such strategic issue is websites’ structure or information architecture. Dealing with it is one of the most important areas, which then affects the results in the long run. This is especially true for large websites, but also for medium-sized ones or even blogs that have a few hundred posts.

White hat or black hat SEO?

I would rather say whitehat. Personally, I’m more comfortable executing long-haul campaigns based on safe optimization. Besides, I also like to keep in mind the user and their experience.

Where do you think the value of local SEO is?

To be honest, I haven’t worked with local SEO for a long time because I’ve rather dealt with large websites or global companies recently. However, with businesses such as doctors offices, car rental companies, or generally all those that have their local offices where you can go and buy a product or service, then the local SEO is very important. For example, Google Maps has become a significant channel for such businesses. There’s a reason Google introduced paid ads in maps about a year ago.

Don’t companies with global reach use local SEO to reach their customers through this channel as well?

It depends on the nature of the business. If they have service points – then yes. I deal with, for example, financial brokers, large opinion aggregators or a B2B startup with global reach – in these cases it would be irrational, in my opinion, to pretend that you are a local business.

Moving on towards the conclusion of our discussion, what do you think 2022 has in store for SEO? Will we see many changes in search engine algorithms? This past year, Google introduced a great deal of updates. Can we expect that to continue this year?

Yes. I bet this will continue. The frequency of significant changes has been increasing each year. Usually they focus on a particular area, such as product reviews, link spam, or are limited to specific regions of the world. It is evident that Google has been gradually refining the algorithm to ensure that the top results include the best answers. Therefore, personalization of results based on user profiling will probably progress. SERPs will see more and more interesting enhancements. All such changes will address, in one way or another, the interests of the searcher to ensure that their experience is positive. On the other hand, Google will also test and introduce solutions for better monetization of their SERPs, so it is likely that some new PPC ad formats will appear.

Lastly, I would like to know how you optimize your work time – do you use any tools to help you with this?

If I have the opportunity to speed up some processes, I’m more than happy to do so. For example, I automate reporting using Data Studio and macros in Google Sheets, or use a lot of regular expressions for clustering when analyzing keywords.

In terms of SEO activities, do you think that current Boostsite features will be useful for you and will effectively reduce your work time?

Typically, tools are divided into those designed for technical analysis – typical crawlers like SF or DC, as well as those designed to support content creation processes. Boostsite offers analysis of technicalities such as speed or correctness of the rendered HTML code right next to the information about the content and keywords for which the subpage ranks. Such a summary presented in one place can be very useful.

And what do you think of the features we have scheduled on our Roadmap? Do they seem valuable to you?

I think the features planned on the roadmap could be very useful. Generating a title and meta description based on your competitors’ top URLs could be a great aid for large websites. Usually, at scale, these tags are generated based on some sort of pattern and this might not be the most efficient approach. If Boostsite can generate meta tags strictly for, say, a product using not only the product name but also specific keywords for which competitors’ sites appear in search results, it could be a game changer. I don’t recall such a solution being widely available on the market.

Thanks so much for your time and hope to see you soon!

We’ve covered a whole lot of cool topics. If any of our readers would like to talk more about SEO, please catch me on my Linkedin profile or at peplinski.pro. I keep my fingers crossed for the development of Boostsite and I’m already looking forward to implementing more features. Thanks for the interview, Marcin!

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