Interview with Antonio Fernandez, freelance consultant in Seville

Antonio Fern├índez: “The work of local positioning should be complemented with other actions, beyond keyword analysis and On-Page optimization”

The Blog is giving me the opportunity to meet very good people in SEO and is making me a privileged person in the sector. Since I started this journey I have been fortunate to see how one after another, I said yes to this section. Today we are going to the south of Spain that besides giving us sun, good food, beautiful cities and great landscapes, gives us great SEO professionals.

Today we are joined on the blog by Antonio Fernández Alonso, SEO expert and freelance consultant in Seville.

Who is Antonio Fernandez

He obtained his degree in Computer Engineering from the Polytechnic University of Madrid and the University of Seville; studies that he has complemented with specialized courses, such as “University Expert in Social Media Marketing” (University of Seville), “Entrepreneurship and Business Management” (Business Marketing School, ESIC) and “Certified in Google Adwords” (Google).

His relationship with the Internet began precisely during his studies at the University, when it was practically the only place in Spain where you could have access to an adequate connection speed and, since then,  his entire professional career has been linked to the Internet and its unstoppable expansion, as well as the advent of applications for mobile devices.

With this presentation, there is no doubt that today’s interview will make us all learn and benefit from his knowledge.

SEO Consultant afernandezalonso

Question: All our interviewees I ask this question in case any future SEO expert goes through them. How or why did you decide to make SEO your profession?

Answer: For more than 15 years I have been working on web projects, mainly design, development and implementation of websites, and, more recently, in the development of mobile applications, as part of a multidisciplinary team.

This journey allowed me to be a direct witness of the evolution of SEO and how it became more relevant, going from being a secondary factor in the project, whose execution was dispersed in the work team and without a direct responsible, to become an increasingly important element with resources specifically dedicated to this purpose.

In this context, almost 4 years ago, my working life took an unexpected turn and when assessing how I wanted to continue my career, I decided to focus on the two areas that then attracted me the most: mobile applications and SEO.

Although at the beginning of this new direction the mobile applications had more weight, little by little the SEO was “gaining positions” (if you allow me the pun ? ) to become my main dedication.

P: After many projects, heaven and hell will have knocked on your door with successes and failures. We humanize SEOs… What is your greatest achievement and what is your greatest failure?

R: Reviewing the major projects I’ve done, I can’t really identify any as a major accomplishment and a major failure. I think the experience I amassed before dedicating myself entirely to SEO, as well as my involvement in multiple web projects, has taught me to adopt a very realistic analytical view of projects, without falling into enthusiasm or catastrophism.

If you set realistic goals for each project, it is very difficult for it not to succeed. The main obstacle, however, is usually presented by clients, who want spectacular results in a very short time, but that’s my job as a consultant to clearly inform them of the reality of positioning, with objective data and reasoned arguments.

I haven’t had it happen to me yet (and I hope it never will), but if ever a potential client “demands” an impossible goal and doesn’t accept my arguments, I prefer not to embark on that project. Because, in the end, I know that I won’t get it, and not only will I lose that client, but my reputation will suffer.

Perhaps this is my greatest achievement: having established initial objectives for each project that were completed within the planned time frame.

This attitude has also protected me from reaping major failures, although it has not prevented me from making mistakes, some quite serious, especially when I started to dedicate myself full time to SEO consulting.

However, as long as they are occasional errors, they do not usually have too much impact on the positioning, although they do have an impact on our dedication to correct them (and, of course, we cannot pass them on to the client).

In this regard, I remember the first time I assembled the structured data of a website, with hAtom microformat. The task was titanic for me at the time: I had not developed that website and, to the effort of learning hAtom, I had to add that of understanding the developer’s logic. But, when I was about to finish, I found out that Google recommended using Schema and JSON-LD.

Although they are not mutually exclusive formats, Schema was much richer in semantics and I didn’t want to cheat or “upset” the client (it was bad enough that my pride was hurt), so I rolled up my sleeves again and implemented Schema.

The lesson learned from this mistake I keep for all my projects: before tackling a technique or method for the first time, I always investigate the state-of-the-art and make sure to use whatever has the most possibilities or prospects.

Antonio Fernandez Alonso SEO Blog

P: When analyzing your website, I noticed your high Google PageSpeed score. How important do you see this data in the current SEO? Will it be a trend or do you think that in the future it will also be a data to take into account?

R: Because of its impact on the user experience, the download and browsing speed of a website will always be an important factor in its organic positioning.

There are many studies that relate a significant reduction in the number of visits or conversions when a page takes just a few tenths of a second longer to download. A few tenths may seem very little time, but you have to think about the cumulative effect when a user navigates between the pages of that website, something common if you are comparing, for example, similar products in an online store.

However, speed, by itself, does not guarantee a good positioning. No matter how fast some content is downloaded, if it is not of high quality and does not satisfy the user, the user will leave as quickly as he arrived, negatively affecting other positioning factors (such as bounce rate or time spent on page).

Google, in this sense, recognizes the importance of a smooth navigation to improve the user experience and hence promotes, for example, the AMP project and positively values the websites that incorporate this technology.

P: In your SEO methodology (very interesting), you have 7 important points to perform it successfully, is it standard or does it depend on each client?

R: There is no “universal recipe” that is valid for all types of projects. It is not the same a small website than a big one, or an online store than a service website. Each project needs a plan according to its characteristics and to the needs and objectives of the client.

This said, however, there are some general guidelines, which I indicate in this methodology, that make up a roadmap of the project and that, as an SEO professional, I adapt to your specifications, either giving more weight to some points than others or selecting some or other techniques or strategies for its development and monitoring.

P: You are freelance, which has given you the opportunity to deal with all kinds of clients. Can you tell us an anecdote that has particularly marked you?

R: The most striking, and that has happened to me several times, have been potential customers who contact me because they have a project to create an online store and want to know “how much they will get the positioning”, but do not know what technology they will set up the store, or what products they will offer, or who will be their suppliers or if they will be affiliates, or how to send products to users…

But, in spite of that, I always try to take care of them and make them see that, at that moment, the cost of SEO positioning is the least of their worries and that they should focus on defining their business model and that, then, I will be at their disposal for whatever they need.

P: Speaking of customers, we know that our world is difficult and we don’t always get the marked results, how should we deal with them? What should we offer? We look forward to your valuable advice.

R: From my experience, I believe that the client is looking for two things (in addition to having the work done professionally, of course): frankness and sincerity. That is, that you tell him everything he needs to know and that everything you tell him is true.

With respect to honesty, I don’t think there’s any need for further explanation: never lie to the client, from the first meeting to the last, even if you know they won’t like it. Lies have that curious quality of growing over time, like a snowball rolling down the side of a mountain.

Explaining candor is a bit more complicated, so I’ll use an example. Not too long ago, a potential client contacted me to SEO their website and wanted to hire me for part-time. That’s about 85 hours per month. But, by my estimates and my experience, true dedication would require no more than 20-25 hours per month, and that’s how I explained it to him.

I could have just accepted his offer, pocketed a few quarters and wasted my time 3 hours out of 4 a day… until the client realized it and then he would feel cheated. Then I would lose the client and their confidence for other projects, not to mention the effect it would have on my reputation.

P: You define White Hat SEO and Black Hat SEO very well but have you ever used the latter?what problems can it give you in the long run?

R: No, I have never used it professionally, but I do try to learn and keep up to date on them. Without putting them into practice, I may not achieve the mastery and skill of the Black Hat SEO experts, but it does allow me to detect possible negative SEO attacks and be able to defend myself against them, which is another way to master them and also a source of teaching.

Also, many times, the best way not to incur in the “dark side” is to know it and avoid using risky techniques. For example, basic techniques such as Keyword Stuffing or Cloaking, very easy to recognize, have a quite blurred borderline  between when they stop being White Hat to become Black Hat.

On the long term effect, most of the time we focus the risk on Google penalizing us and how difficult it can be to overcome that penalty. However, I also focus on the effect on the users.

For example, returning to Keyword Stuffing, a very simple technique that is quickly understood. If I fill my content with keywords, so that each sentence or paragraph continuously repeats the same words, the result is a text that, when the user reads it, will seem too contrived and of little value: if we are talking about “women’s black shoes”, why do we have to repeat ad nauseam that we are talking about “women’s black shoes”?

I have given a very simple example to illustrate it, but it could be extrapolated to any other Black Hat technique: in the end what matters is the user experience and, if the content is not of quality and does not add value, the user will go elsewhere to find what he/she needs. And, then, the really difficult part will be to regain the user’s trust, even if we manage to avoid a Google penalty.

Q: SEO has evolved a lot and has become a profession, but it wasn’t always like this. How have you experienced this transformation?

R: I already commented in the first question, about my professional career, in which I have been a direct witness of the evolution of SEO. When I started there was no “SEO” as such and everything was based on exact word search and little else. Developers had to implement a website that worked smoothly, designers had to make it visually appealing and copywriters had to write about the topic at hand. And little else.

The arrival of Google changed this scenario and we had to “worry” a little more about filling the corresponding meta tags, getting external links, increasing the domain ranking … but it was still a work in the background, of which no one took the responsibility to do it and check results.

But, little by little, as Google improved its algorithms, it became necessary for someone to take on the role of analyzing and improving organic positioning, even if it was on a part-time basis and with a low priority.

Since then, I would say that there has been a game of “run and get caught” between Google and those who were dedicated to positioning, in which the novelties of the search algorithm required greater dedication, preparation and specialization of the person in charge.

While Google, for its part, continued to innovate its algorithms to, on the one hand, meet its maxim of improving the user experience and, on the other hand, counteract the effects of an “artificial” positioning by SEO’s.

And this is the point where we are today, with a total professionalization of SEO and search algorithms with much more satisfactory results for users.

In the end, in this kind of “arms race”, the biggest winner has been the user, who gets the solution to his problem or need more and more easily and quickly.

P: The  Local SEO is here to stay and its effects are already being noticed. How will it affect the SEO we know today of short keywords? And in monetization and to be able to benefit from it, how should our readers deal with this “new” Google approach?

R: The evolution of Local SEO is nothing more than a reflection of Google’s self-imposed mission, remarking on the “useful” section. Because what’s more useful than the user being presented with information in their vicinity about what they’re looking for

Google will use whatever data it can obtain from the user (such as the type of device they are using, their IP address, their GPS position, their browsing history, etc.) to present them with results that most closely match their search intent, even if they don’t explicitly state it in the search words. For example, a search for “best restaurant” will return different results depending on the user’s IP address.

This poses a new challenge for SEO Experts, who will no longer be able to limit their work to keyword analysis because users will not necessarily use one or the other keywords!

Thus, local positioning work should be complemented with other actions, beyond keyword analysis and On-Page optimization, such as optimizing the profile in Google My Business or Google Maps, a Social Media strategy focused on a geographical area or promotion and participation in local events and media.

In other words, provide Google with enough information about our area of influence so that, when a user searches for information linked in some way to that area, our link comes up in prominent positions.

P: Of all the current techniques, which one do you use, and which one do you never use?

R: I feel very comfortable with On-Page optimization and technical SEO, but paradoxically, given my profile and my professional career, the technique I like the most are the collaborations in blogs or other media (the classic guest post), because I think it is the one that is closest to how things work in the physical world.

In the physical world, as you gain prestige and make a name for yourself, you may be invited to participate in events which, in turn, can open doors to new opportunities, reinforcing your brand, as well as an opportunity to learn and broaden your professional horizons. Invited posts achieve a similar effect in the virtual world of the Internet.

I don’t recall any technique that I have never used. At least, of the ones I know of that can’t be considered Black Hat SEO. There in the middle, in no man’s land, are the PBNs: I have not used them professionally, but I recognize that they have a lot of potential, although you have to be very methodical and careful.

In principle, I would not use them for client sites, because of the risk involved. If a client expressly asked me to do so, I would have to analyze it a lot to decide. If I accept it, I would make the risks very clear and explain the uncertainty that Google, in the future, will be able to detect it and, consequently, penalize the entire structure.

P: But let’s deal with the future, what is the future of SEO, what technique will succeed?

R: The future of SEO is written in Google’s mission statement, which I have already named in a previous answer. Google wants to deliver useful results to users and is getting better and better at it. Therefore, our mission, as SEO consultants, is to make our products or services stand out so that Google considers them useful to users.

What does this mean? Beyond any techniques we might use, it means that we need to know our users, what they want or need and be able to offer it to them ahead of the competition.

In this regard, for the future we must take into account the impact of the latest innovations in Google’s search algorithms, such as semantic search, or of user preferences, such as doing voice searches via mobile, which radically change the landscape for keyword analysis.

P: Let’s touch the most precious thing of an SEO expert, I know it’s not an easy question but I like the risk, what foolproof technique do you have to do SEO positioning?

R: Haha, you have yet to ask what is the fountain of eternal youth. Seriously, I don’t think there’s any foolproof technique: what works very well for one project may fail miserably for another.

Instead of talking about infallible techniques, I would talk about two essential work guidelines:

  1. To know the user’s search intention, for which we will use the techniques we have at our disposal, such as keyword analysis, behavior of visiting users, web analytics data.
  2. Improve the user experience, so that when the user enters our website, he/she is comfortable in it and can easily navigate to the most outstanding contents almost intuitively. In this case, A/B tests or heat maps can be very helpful.

P: Among all the techniques you’ve used throughout your career, is there one that you’ve never stopped using?

R: In an industry as dynamic as SEO, it’s hard for me to think of any technique that has survived the continuous updates and improvements to Google’s search algorithms unchanged.

It is true that many techniques still survive, and will probably continue in the future, such as keyword analysis or link building. However, they have changed so much in their execution that almost the only thing they keep is the name.

Imagine, for example, doing a keyword analysis today with the same mindset as a couple of years ago: it would be doomed to failure!

That said, I do not keep a detailed record of all the techniques I have used for all my projects, but I would not conceive of a project that did not meet the following three conditions:

  1. Having quality content. This is not a technique per se, but all other techniques would be futile without content that brings value to users.
  2. Perform On-Page optimization and technical SEO. Although they are two distinct areas, I unify them because they both affect how the website is implemented and, therefore, are directly under our control.
  3. Conduct a keyword analysis, the scope of which would depend on the objective and scope of the project.

P: Social networks are important to generate visits to a website, how do you deal with them? How important are they for you?

R: From my point of view, I would say that, more than generating visits, social networks serve to generate relationships and those relationships, if properly cared for and cultivated, end up generating qualified visits.

As a Social Media strategy I would not establish as a main objective the search for visits, because it has the risk, very common, of flooding social profiles with links that, yes, some visits may end up generating, but does not ensure a significant percentage of qualified visits, those that convert. These are the ones we are interested in and we can only get them by encouraging and taking care of that relationship and interaction with users and followers.

For this reason, I do not limit myself only to share or forward messages or links through the RRSS, but I also try to participate actively with contributions of value, either by commenting on what other users have shared or by contacting them directly.

It is true that this activity implies an additional effort and a greater dedication of time, always a scarce commodity, but with time they are more fruitful than becoming a mere automated link sender.

For example, this strategy, in addition to providing me with more visits, has also opened up new possibilities for collaboration and business opportunities with other professionals or companies in the sector.

P: For future specialists in the sector who have not yet decided, how would you convince them to take the plunge and do SEO? What courses, websites, etc… would you recommend them to start with and what advice would you give them?

R:Before embarking on the adventure of SEO, I would give them advice that could be applied to any other profession: make sure you know what you’re getting into

Haha, that sounds a bit strong, but how many people have gotten into a specialty and then months later, when they really saw what it was all about, were disappointed?

It would be important for them to first find out how far it can go and what professional dedication to SEO is all about. Although reading blogs or other media may give them a rough idea, I believe that they cannot convey the true scope of this profession in its entirety.

Thus, I would encourage them to also attend events in their locality related to Digital Marketing and SEO, listen to presentations from experts in various areas and interact with others in their same situation. Sometimes they are organized by the very entities that provide specialized courses.

These types of events don’t happen every day or everywhere, but most post their presentations on YouTube and can also serve as a reference. However, it is still important that they seek direct contact with people in the industry, for example through Meetups on SEO in their locality.

If you are still sure that SEO is your thing, then I would advise you to study the training offerings in your area, both from private and public entities (universities offer both masters and university expert courses)

In this case, the difficulty is to separate the wheat from the chaff and keep the quality courses. I can’t make a concrete recommendation because I don’t know all the courses or all the entities, but I can make some guidelines for deciding if the course is worthwhile:

  1. Sometimes, entities convene presentation events of their courses, where we can get information and impressions from other attendees.
  2. Search the Internet for alumni from previous editions of the course and get their opinions about it (they may even have a Facebook group).
  3. Evaluate and compare course schedules in different entities.
  4. Evaluate the practical activities offered (for example, the realization of a positioning project). Theory is all very well, but who learns to drive just by reading the instruction manual of the car?

Finally, if they finally take this last step, encourage them not to give up along the way. SEO can have many ups and downs and, at the beginning, there are many disappointments, but, step by step, you will see how you will achieve your goals.

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