Kahena Interview V – Bas van den Beld
To many, SEO is double dutch. That’s where Bas van den Beld comes in handy. The Dutchman is a prominent force in the SEO world. He writes, he speaks, he blogs, he podcasts, he trains, he tweets and he consults. He is one of the people behind Stateofsearch.com and is a respected voice in the industry. It is our pleasure to be able to speak to him.
Where do you think the industry will be in 2 years time?
Things change so rapidly at the moment that that is a dangerous thing to predict. You can be wrong quite quickly. It is an exciting time though! I believe that we are heading towards much more integration and personalization. Things are crafted to how we as a person are, and marketing will focus on that even more. This means that the search industry will have to go in that direction too, and integrate even more with other areas like conversion, for example.
Has anything in the evolution of SEO surprised you?
Most surprising to me is that Bing still hasn’t managed to roll out properly in Europe, which makes me think there is more behind that and that in the future, we might be surprised after all . But other than that, most things make perfect sense actually.
What has been your biggest mistake to date and what did you learn from it?
Oh boy, my biggest mistake! That would probably not following my gut feeling on some occasions. I have had moments where I instinctively felt something wasn’t right for my business, but I went ahead with it anyway. In the end that meant it didn’t work out, of course. So if you could learn a lesson from this it would be to trust your gut feeling in business as well as personal. Usually you know if something will become a success or not when you start.
How much more difficult is doing SEO in Holland when you have to work with two languages?
For me it is not that difficult, for a number of reasons. First off all you hardly ever ‘optimize’ for two languages on the same site on the same target audience, at least not more than you would if you lived in any other non-English speaking country in the world. For Dutch people you optimize a site in Dutch, for international you take English or the language which you are targeting.
When it comes to State of Search, the site is fully in English, which makes it easier when it comes to optimizing that specific part. However with State of Search we have another ‘issue’, which is that we don’t target just one country or region, we target them all. So if we would want to optimize for the local search engines or for example Google.nl we have a more difficult job since we are not using the native languages. There isn’t really a solution for that, just doing the best we can and writing great content
Can you give advice for people who do SEO for areas where English isn’t the dominant language?
There are two main things: when it comes to language. Please, I beg you, don’t just translate your pages in to the language you’re targeting, especially not with Google Translate. Use a native speaker to write the content or at least correct the language you use. Otherwise you will miss out.
That is closely connected to the second one, which is: do not forget about local cultural behavior. Each country has its own habits which you should take in account. Research them and use them to your benefit.
What is your favorite Ajax game of all-time? Who is your favorite Ajax player of all time?
Oh that would be two games actually, one I attended, the semi-final of the Champions League in 1995 against Bayern Munich, Ajax won 5-2, and I was behind one of the goals, probably one of the best nights in my life. The other one is Real Madrid – Ajax the season after. Ajax won 2-0 but also had 2 goals disallowed which should have been goals. But more importantly: they played so well they got a standing ovation after the game from the Madrid fans, that was quite amazing.
Favorite Ajax player of all time I would have to say Marco van Basten, that guy could do stuff, amazing.
A lot of people in the industry look up to you – who are the people you look up to?
I don’t know if people look up to me, but there are a few I look up to. Starting with Danny Sullivan, what he’s accomplished is great and an example for me. I got to spend a little time with him at SMX London this year, which was very nice and a learning moment for me. I also am impressed with Kara Swisher, someone I met a few years ago in Paris. She has so many connections and so much information which she gets from people. If she ever decides to write a gossip book, I think the online industry would fall over.
More closer to me I am impressed with SEO’s like Lisa Myers and Dave Naylor for example and someone like Bryan Eisenberg, very smart people and nice people at the same time, but I also love young people taking big steps. Keep an eye on people like Sam Crocker and Jon Quinton for example, they are the future leaders of the industry.
What things about SEO/SEM drive you crazy?
There is one thing which annoys me a lot, but I’m not sure that is specifically for this industry. But it seems as if people in the industry have a tendency to ‘complain’ a lot, either about Google or about competitors. Just look at the entire ‘outing’ discussion recently. If all these people who are so busy talking about these things, outing others and complaining about Google would take that time and invest it in new developments the industry would take huge steps forward.
You can invite any 8 people (living, dead, fictional) to a dinner party – who do you invite?
Oh boy, do I have to cook myself? This is a really difficult one because I would love to have dinner with so many, friends and non-friends. Since I get to have dinner with friends more often I’ll make a table with people I have not met yet or are not around.
President Obama, seems like a fun guy and would love to hear some of his tactics
Johan Cruijff, he has an opinion on everything
Winston Churchill, because he did more marketing than you would think (someone who has seen some of my presentations might understand)
Harry Potter, because I love some good tricks during the dinner
Cleopatra, I like a woman who knows what she wants
Scarlett Johansson, seems like nice company
Jackie Kennedy, I think secretly she was smarter than all the Kennedy’s together
My grandmother who passed away 10 years ago, smartest woman I ever met
Away from work, how do you like to relax?
First of all: I love my work, it sometimes can even be relaxing. But besides that, I like to eat and have drinks with friends, watch sports, hang out with my kids and read. I also like to play tennis and watch comedy shows.
What does a typical day of yours look like?
There are two kind of days: one on which I’m either training or speaking and one on which I’m working on State of Search or my sheets or other work. The second one is pretty simple: in the morning its chaos: getting the kids dressed, getting them to school. After that the day starts with a lot of reading on all things that went on during the night and digesting that. After that the writing starts and all the other work stuff, which is too much to write down here. I then stop working at about 5 to make dinner, get the kids, have dinner and get the kids to bed. After that, at about 8 I start working again for a few hours. Usually the night is reserved for State of Search update stuff, keeping things going so to speak . In between I try to find time to go to the gym or play tennis.
When it’s a day on which I’m speaking or training I usually do some work in the morning and then go to where I have to go. These days are immensely tiring because I tend to give everything I have. I sometimes compare it to playing a match: you focus and put all your attention there.
There is one funny thing about me speaking and training by the way. I absolutely love doing it (put me on a stage and I’ll talk), but the evening before a talk or a training session I am never feel like speaking the day after. Every time I have that feeling, which is only there for about an hour the night before, after that its gone. Some sort of pre-match tension I guess .
You’ve already achieved a lot. What are your unfulfilled goals?
I found an old diary last year in which it said what I wanted to be. It said: a professional football player or a journalist. As a kid I also always played imaginary games as if I was on the radio. Besides that I was expected to become a teacher because my entire family are teachers. Now I am sort of a journalist with State of Search and sort of a teacher with my training stuff and I am on the radio (webmasterradio) so I’ve reached most of them except for the professional football player, so that should be my goal I guess . But I doubt that will ever happen so I’ll stick with this one: I want to publish books.
Who are your favorite heroes in fiction and real life?
I don’t really have any ‘heroes’. If so I would say my family are my heroes.
What are your biggest indulgences?
I have a weak spot for potato chips and watching comedy shows. I watched all episodes of “Frasier”, “Cheers”, “How I met your Mother” and “The Big Bang Theory” for example. Give me a day with tv shows, nice food and drinks and I’m a happy man.
Given the demands of your position, how do you achieve the balance between personal and business?
I work from home so I luckily can spend a lot of time with my kids as well as do the household chores I need to do, so the balance lies in that part. When I am not traveling I really am around.
You speak at/attend a lot of conferences. Which are your favorite ones?
It all depends on what you are looking for as an attendee. Do you want to network with as many marketers as possible?? Then events like SMX and SES are great. But if you want to be between those actually doing SEO it is much more interesting to attend the ‘smaller’ events like Thinkvisibility, Brighton SEO or SASCON, while the International Search Summit is the best place to go if you are looking for international search information. So one favorite is hard to name, because they all have different elements I enjoy.
What qualities do you look for when you hire?
I try not to hire. I’ve worked as a manager before and I don’t want any staff I have to look after at the moment. But I do ‘hire’ in a different way: those who get to write for State of Search. Not just anyone gets to write for State of Search. Someone who wants to write for the site has to have met me in person and I must trust them and have a good feeling about them. Also they need to be ambitious and not have a ‘proven record’ just yet. I want them to grow on State of Search, using it as a springboard towards bigger things rather than seeing it as just another place where you can leave your content. So that process is kind of strict (though I don’t really ‘interview’ people for it )
Does Google have too much power?
For starters: we gave Google that power ourselves. So if anyone is to blame for that it’s us. I do believe that Google could use some competition. And Google does have a lot of power yes. I only don’t believe that that ‘power’ should be ‘controlled’ by regulations, but more by common sense of people: we have a choice, make that choice.
In what circumstances wouldn’t you work with a client or cease working with one?
When there is no trust or respect. I believe you should work together, which means you have to get along and trust each other. I once had a boss who called all clients ‘enemies’, which is the absolute wrong way to go in my opinion. I want trust and respect in both directions. If that is not there I won’t work with someone.
How do you think SEO is different from the Europe compared to the USA?
The biggest difference is the big number of different countries and thus languages and cultures in Europe. Whereas in the US you of course also have local elements, in Europe they are much more important and different. You really need to do a lot more research in Europe.