Digital Marketer Interview Series with Benj Arriola
Benj Arriola perhaps could be summed up as the most successful SEO in the Philippines, but what makes his success more defined is on how many people he personally helped doing SEO.
I have been skyping/YM’ing him since 2006 and never was a time did he not reply to any of my queries despite his busy schedule (he will just say “bro just send me anything and I will get back to you when my time is free, my apologies”). I mean seriously how down to earth is that?
It was great meeting up with Benj Arriola (digitally that is ^_^) during his recent visit to the Philippines during the SEO Summit organized by JCI Manila and SEO Hacker.
I took the opportunity to learn more about the distinguished Filipino SEO.
F: Hi Benj, great to meet you! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and how you became to be involved with the SEO industry?
B: That would be a very long story and I tend to go too far back sometimes and this may take us hours to go through, haha. Would you want me to start from after college or just from the day I decided to get into SEO?
F: Haha, we may not have enough time, let’s start from the day you decided to get into SEO, but just give a very brief summary of anything before that.
B: Ok, I’ll try to be brief. After college being chemistry major, I worked right away as a chemist and I didn’t like working in the laboratory even if I was still interested in chemistry and eventually started teaching college level chemistry at De La Salle University.
I was building computers as a hobby that eventually turned into a business.
Business didn’t last long and just broke even and evolved into a web design and development company and also did some teaching at Informatics Computer Institute.
Moved over to the US in 2004 and eventually the web design and development career led into SEO from that point mainly because the companies I worked for was offering SEO.
F: Interesting how careers change.
B: Interesting indeed, in fact I read somewhere, I can’t remember where, that most successful people change careers at least 5 times.
F: How many times have you changed?
B: I don’t know I think more than that.
F: So you are even more successful.
B: Maybe, maybe not. I think after 5 changes, the graph goes back down! Hahaha!
F: That was funny, I doubt that’s true since you look successful yourself. How do you personally keep up to date with the latest in SEO? It’s an ever changing industry so SEO consultants by nature need to be on the ball – how do you achieve this?
B: There are many sources of information there is (1) conferences, (2) blogs, (3) online forums and Facebook groups, (4) podcast shows. Mainly those are my main sources of information to keep up to date.
F: Is there any one you use more than others?
B: Yes, the blogs is the main one, since I subscribe to most of them, they end up in my inbox and if the headlines point out something new, I click on them to go to the blog.
Second are the online forums and groups. When it’s conferences I normally come equipped already with fresh knowledge and I don’t learn much but it is good to network and compare notes there.
Podcast shows I listen too to have fun since I would sometimes listen live on webmasterradio.fm and it is nice to interact with them in the chatroom while the live audio show is happening.
F: Let’s talk about Google algorithms this time, there have been a lot of changes over the last year. I am sure that you’ve had many potential clients come to you with ranking issues due to past SEO practices they might have undertaken. Do you have any top-level advice for people who have seen their websites take a dramatic hit recently, or incurred a penalty?
B: First is try to identify what is the penalty check Google webmaster tools for messages, check duplicate content on the site or on other sites, evaluate your content, check for bad inbound links and check if this might just be an technical indexing issue.
Once the problem is identified, then appropriate action can be taken. If it is a manual penalty, fix the issue Google is talking about.
If it is a suspected Panda or Penguin issue, depending on the severity, there are times when I recommend fixing the site, and there are times I recommend to just get a new domain because the damage is too great.
It all depends on what the situation is so it all boils down in the effective assessment of the situation.
F: What sets your SEO practice apart from the competition? Are there any unique aspects to your consultancy that gives you a competitive advantage?
B: Interesting question, at Internet Marketing Inc., I would say our main competitive advantage is adaptability, being flexible.
Since Google changes all the time, we try to be as proactive as much as possible.
Even before we see the effects of an algorithm update or possible penalty, we try to be agile in changing our process to fit within Google’s desired ways.
Although if you generally have good SEO practices, all the updates don’t matter, but all clients come in different shapes and sizes with different SEO histories.
F: If you were talking to a client in your local area who was unsure about the benefits that local SEO can bring to a business, what would be the key components of your pitch to them in order to convince them?
B: First is I will have to agree that local SEO does help them first because there are some businesses that don’t really need it like an online Ecommerce site that does not have a brick and mortar store.
But if they do have it, then the advantages are: (1) Customers look for local products and services, (2) Local results rank higher in search engines, (3) they rank higher in mobile search as well when the user is in the locality of your business, (4) the maps that appear in the search engine results page (SERP) is also more compelling to click on and (5) there is the opportunity to add reviews and ratings and other information on Google+ to increase the credibility, authority and trustworthiness of your company online.
F: For any beginners to SEO, what advice would you give them? It could be anything from how to set the business up, to winning business, or just some plain motivational advice.
B: Never stop learning and always be prepared to throw out the window everything you learned and change with something new is needed.
If you find everything overwhelming, then just start with 1 thing at a time, run your own site, a small affiliate site or a personal blog, it doesn’t matter.
Just apply 1 small SEO tactic at a time and observe the changes in ranking, traffic and conversions.
My main warning is also watch out for false prophets, or outdated teachings. There are tons out there, and listen to other reputable SEOs and find out who are the great sources of information.
F: During your career as an SEO consultant what has been your favorite or most interesting project that you’ve worked on?
B: Favorite project is a hard one since all of them are great projects. Most interesting… that is hard too since many of them is unique in their own way.
But if I would really choose a favorite, I loved the ones I worked on in my own freelance business. And the main reason is I worked on these projects from start to finish single-handedly.
That makes it more brutal and took more time, but it feels more fulfilling when you see the products of your hard work from start to finish.
So that would be for some dealerships of Honda and Mazda that I have worked with in the past. Unlike when I work in an agency, even if I am highly involved in some projects, there are many people working on the project.
That does not mean I am all for working alone and not in teams, in fact I am against working alone and I really want to work in teams. It is more efficient, it is faster, results are better.
But my favorite is still the once I did all alone just because of the greater challenge I needed to overcome, it feels more fulfilling.
B: I don’t have any current new projects outside of client work. As for client work, we normally do not talk about them while we are working on them and some have non-disclosure agreements.
And when we do talk about the, they are official case studies that are released on the website and linked from the homepage.
B: Ever since the last quarter of 2011, we have been using content marketing to help out in our SEO efforts for link building.
Since links should be as natural as possible, we do not even have this in mind as the main propriety when creating content.
Our main priority is to please the users, the readers, viewers, listeners of our content find our content to be compelling, interesting, informative, authoritative, credible, trustworthy, and try to make it spread online as natural as possible with the help of an initial promotional push.
As for guest blogging, I believe it still works, but a large majority of it does not work anymore. From the day Matt Cutts said to stick a fork in guest blogging, that is exactly what we did.
Although we still do guest blogging but it is more of a columnist contributor in a major publication and not really posting on random relevant blogs.
F: What do you think of Google’s approach to SEO? Are they being helpful by launching the disavow tool or do you think that this only gives more credence to negative SEO?
B: I think it is good that they launched it since there are links that just come in that is beyond the control of the website owner.
Now just because the disavow tool is there, it does not mean it is fully automated, they still manually review this and they also want to see the effort that you did do your best to remove the links first.
B: Great content with a social promotion. I know it sounds so “Matt Cuttsy” but that’s really it.
F: What is the best quick fix way in optimizing your website for SEO?
B: Are we talking on-page stuff, code and server settings?
B: Sorry there is no easy way. Maybe some would say use WordPress and use the Yoast plugin but in reality, not everyone runs on WordPress.
Many enterprise level clients use all sorts of CMS, from Oracle, Reddot, Typo3, ATG, Adobe CQ etc. and you cannot just tell them move over to WordPress. Many also use their home grown CMS.
Having said that everything has different issues and there is no quick fix to anything.
But what we do is when we identify all issues, we sort them in two ways, by level of impact in the SERPs and by level of difficulty to implement.
This way you can create a matrix and start with the low hanging fruit which is the easiest one to implement with the highest amount of impact. Then for the rest you schedule them out for longer term goals.
F: How do you measure your SEO success for a particular campaign?
B: Success is dependent on the goals the client business wants to achieve. Some profits, then we have to think about what products are more profitable than others, look at best sellers.
Some want revenue sales and we also consider conversion rate optimization to be included in the service. Some just want increase organic search traffic. We measure success looking at these metrics mainly.
There will be clients that are concentrated on ranking but I am highly against it for many reasons. (1) Ranking is not equal to sales even if it should eventually lead to more sales. (2) Ranking is different on different browsers, locations, influenced also by personal search habits and Google+ circles, etc.
Although we can approximately say that ranking changes proportionally everywhere in anybody’s view even if the exact ranking number is different, we still do not use it as a primary success measure. We use it more for analysis on what actions to take for further optimization.
F: What project that you’ve handled that gave you a hard time in optimizing yet you came out successful afterwards?
B: After doing on-page SEO stuff since 2004, and more SEO specialist task since 2006 then more enterprise level SEO stuff since 2007, and tons and tons of projects, I can barely remember all the projects that gave me a hard time.
But there is one specific one I remember because it was unique to only 1 client, and that is probably the reason why I remember it.
Here is the situation, the client is based in Canada and their product is sold mainly in the United States.
After doing everything possible, on-page, off-page SEO the site was just not ranking well in the US but was ranking well in Canada.
Even if they did not do local SEO for Canada, they did not use the ccTLD .ca, and they did not optimize at all for anything Canada based.
Although their about us page does mention that their manufacturing plant was in Canada, there were numerous offices in the US listed.
And the last thing we did and didn’t even expect it to be a strong factor, was just change the web hosting company.
The original web host was in Canada, and we moved the site to a US based web host. Just like that, overnight, the site was ranking well in the US.
Based on all my previous experience, web host is indeed a ranking factor, but I never considered it as a strong one until now.
But I notice it more for sites that wish to rank well in the US have to use a US based server. But for sites that wish to rank well outside of the US, it does not matter if they use a web host in the country they are targeting or not.
F: And lastly can you suggest any book, video, person, website that keeps you inspired in doing SEO?
B: Inspired to do SEO and sources to learn more about SEO are 2 different things. But you are asking what inspires me to do SEO. That is synonymous to me to what inspires me to work.
- Book: Rich Dad Poor Dad and Cash Flow Quadrant – Kind of far from SEO, this is more of a business book and more about the journey out of the rat race. SEO is just one of my vehicles to help me out of the rat race.
- Video: The Secret – SEO is a pay-it-forward type of industry. You learn from others and you teach others. This is the law of attraction at work here. It happens naturally and the more you teach, the more you learn.
- Person: My wife and kids, they inspire me to do anything, including SEO.
- Website: I have no website that inspires me. I have tons of websites that teaches me a bunch of stuff, including SEO, but I do not find them inspiring. I find them informational, very useful, valuable, but not inspiring.
F: Thank you very much, it was nice meeting you and I enjoy this interview. It was kind of different from the others I had, more free flowing, although I do have some template questions I ask everyone else, this felt more spontaneous in some way. Where else are you going after the conference?
B: It all felt spontaneous to me. I was in the Philippines since June 6 and spent my first 2 weeks in Gubat, Sorsogon where my wife is from.
This 3rd week is my last week in the Philippines and it was spent here in Metro Manila and it was mostly SEO meetups and preparing for this conference. Thank you and I wish you more power to you and Marketing Manila!