08Feb 2023

Acodie Interview Series: Mr Jono Aldrerson, head of SEO at Yoast

We had the honour of speaking with Mr Jono Aldrerson, head of Seo at Yoast. It goes without saying that it was a wonderful experience. Let’s get to know him a little bit before we kick-start the interview.

Jono serves as our head of SEO. He is a full-stack developer, marketing technologist, and digital strategist. He is interested in emerging technologies, brand strategy, and technical SEO.

He has worked throughout the years to fix websites, implement growth strategies, get ready for the future, and conquer markets with startups, agencies, tool vendors, and some of the biggest companies in the world. He makes choices at Yoast that affect the SEO of millions of websites on many platforms. He also mentioned that he was doing all of this after drinking enough coffee.

He specialises in PHP, SEO, CSS, conversion rate optimisation, analytics, WordPress, web performance, structured data, marketing technology, growth and a variety of other areas. Steve enjoys reading science fiction, using WordPress, building websites, studying the future, and drinking gin.

Mr Jono Aldrerson, head of SEO at Yoast

What do you think the new-age digital marketing would be?

I think the most important change is that you can now longer guarantee access to an audience. Historically, if you advertise, do marketing, or just shout loud enough, you can attract an audience that you can then try to influence (to enter your store, to buy, to take action, etc.). Now, before you can do that, you must convince a system (whether that’s Google, Facebook, or whatever comes tomorrow) that your proposition is a good fit for that audience. If Google doesn’t think that your content will solve their users’ problems, it’s going to be much harder to compete, both in organic and paid results.

What is your opinion about start-ups using SEO to stand up against big brands?

As many sectors and product types become increasingly commodified, it’s going to get harder to stand out and to compete on anything other than price. One of the ways that you might compensate for that is by getting cut through from being opinionated and differentiated. That’s much easier for smaller brands, which aren’t weighed down by complex processes, legacy infrastructure, or constricting brand guidelines. As a small brand, you can take risks, stand for something, and fail quickly. That can definitely be an advantage over larger, slower companies.

What recommendations do you have for putting up the SEO component of new projects? What do you believe will help our company stand out when competitors employ the most recent marketing techniques?

I’d recommend baking SEO into the business model, as deeply as possible. Instead of seeing it as a component or marketing activity, the big wins come from ensuring that everything the organization does has a positive effect on SEO. That might extend as far as influencing the product or service (e.g., changing the name, or even the attributes of the product to align with search demand/opportunity), or altering how other marketing activities operate (e.g., building recommendation and review flywheels, instead of investing in TV advertising).

If you decide what and how you’re going to sell, and then think about how to optimize it for search, you’ve already lost.

Google has been systematically downgrading various link-building strategies like press releases, widget backlinks, article submissions, and directory listings. Which class of links, in your opinion, will suffer the next devaluation?

Anything that you can buy; whether that’s directly, or via handing money to agencies and intermediaries. Anywhere where you can turn money into links, you’re cheating the system, and it’s in Google’s interest to devalue those links.

What is your opinion about Artificial Intelligence being the Big Risk for Digital Marketing?

We’re a long way from generative content replacing expertise, experience or opinion. Whilst it’s limited to mostly just regenerating existing content, it’s going to be rare for it to be as good as content produced by somebody who’s a subject matter expert, with insight specific to the topic, brand or product in question. If AI can write better content than your current quality, then you have bigger problems around brand value and quality.

How do you see SEO and PPC working together to improve results?

I think there’s a lot to be learned from both sides about how people search, what they’re looking for, and where there are opportunities. SEO is increasingly a brand channel (as opposed to a performance channel), and PPC is increasingly about audiences (as opposed to keywords).

Given that, it makes sense to have a clear strategy around trying to get the right audiences to the right places based on their needs. That means zooming out, and looking at user needs and journeys first and channels second.

How well is Yoast adapting to the recent sound search trend? What SEO tips would you recommend to others to make their websites relevant?

I don’t think there’s a huge difference between optimizing for voice, and ‘normal’ optimization. We already encourage users to ensure that their content is focused, readable, and well-structured. We also suggest that people use subheadings, FAQs and how-to guides to try and make things as ‘bite-sized’ as possible (whilst still being comprehensive), and we output structured data for all of that, too.

I think that if you’re doing good keyword & audience research, and making sure that your content is well-structured, then you’ve already done most of the hard work.

What are the biggest challenges you faced at Yoast over these years? How have you overcome them?

We have to choose what not to build, and we have to decide where SEO ‘stops’. Should we include performance and speed optimization tools in our plugin? Is security, or accessibility, part of SEO?  Should we support the IndexNow standard (even if Google doesn’t)?

These kinds of questions are tricky, and they all come with potential trade-offs. Those boundaries also change over time as SEO continues to evolve. We also want to limit the number of choices and controls that we present to users and be opinionated in where we just ‘get things right’ without overwhelming them with options. But we also want to give them controls where we don’t have the context specific to their website or business. It’s a constant challenge to decide where to draw those lines.

One last one, are there any new features in your product roadmap you can share?

We’re about to launch our brand new settings UI, which is a complete overhaul to our main admin interface. It’ll make it much easier to manage your key SEO settings, as well as making some of the more advanced settings a bit easier to find, understand and use. We’re really excited about that!

If you like to feature your story through an interview with Acodie, feel free to contact us. For more information and queries, visit our website.

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