Antonis Konstantinidis leads SEO for EF English Live!
Antonis graduated from The American College of Greece with a degree in mass communication, and followed it with a masters in Sport, Leisure & Business Management from the University of Bedfordshire.
When he’s not flexing his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu skills, it’s like a combination of judo and wrestling, Antonis is in West London, driving the SEO strategy for EF English Live!
This post is part of a series called ‘Conversations in Search’. I discuss the current state of SEO practice with other SEO experts and discover their views on the future of SEO.
Damien: Tell us about your SEO background, you’ve got a unique experience, starting in a very competitive part of the SEO market in sports and betting?
Antonis: Yeah. I have a ten year background in SEO, in different in-house companies, around 15 years more or less in online marketing. My first introduction to SEO was at Betfair as a Marketing Manager. Part of my responsibilities was to work on the Greek local Betfair Blog .
I was creating content and pushing it to social media and on the main website. As the traffic grew, I started to wonder why, and just like that I got the introduction to SEO and what it was all about.
My first real SEO position was in Pokerstars, as an SEO manager first in Greece and then, UK. Those were exciting times, just before the Penguin and the Panda update.
Back in that time, I’m sure you remember when Google had an update everybody was worrying, shaking trying to find out what’s going on and it was only once every three or six months. Nowadays, you have noticeable updates nearly every week, so it’s hard to keep track of those changes. There are so many updates happening that, at least for me, I keep my focus on optimising the website based on business value, and don’t spend so much time on what each update brings. I stayed in PokerStars for four years; I had some great times over there.
Then I moved to a different company, then in a startup called TransferGO before being here in EF English Live!, now for three years.
Damien: From the outside, EF looks to be doing great things for folks to learn new skills and experience new cultures. What’s it like from your perspective?
Antonis: Yes, it’s a huge company; it has different products and offices all over the world. English Live!, is the heart for many other products of EF. We are the B2C part of the company and try to help people all over the world to learn English online. We provide teachers online for the students and give them the ability to join a lesson: a private lesson or a group, whenever they want in our online school.
Damien: Where do you think we are with SEO right now as an industry?
Antonis: Well, I think there is a much better understanding of SEO than it was before. There’s a lot of business owners that understand the need for SEO, and that they need to work on SEO to make it a part of their overall plan.
The problem is that still, some businesses don’t know how to do that. There are a lot of different views about how to best incorporate SEO into the business plan. That’s, I guess, partly because of the business, the marketing people and the SEO managers needing to be better aligned.
But, it’s improving, and I think it’s going more to a technical focus rather than a content focus than it was before.
Damien: Two questions on that. Why do you think businesses find it challenging to integrate SEO? My second question is on the shift in skill focus, why do you think that might be?
Antonis: On integration, I think it’s because a lot of people are confusing it with other parts of the marketing mix or with short term revenue needs rather than long term revenue growth.
Very few people can see the broader value that you can get in other areas, other than just conversion. Areas like brand recognition, virality, and generally direct traffic to your website are of enormous value.
Businesses are now appreciating those broader values a bit more.. Still, the problem is that SEO is long-term, and a lot of business owners get distracted and disappointed if they don’t see what they view as ‘proper’ increases [in traffic] in the first six months.
As far as your second question, in my opinion, an SEO needs to be aware of everything. I think that is an essential part of being a successful SEO. To be an all-around SEO manager that has skills in creating content, content marketing, link building, and technical implementation. Everything.
Damien: There’s a whole lot of skill you’ve just unpacked. How do you orchestrate your SEO team to make sure that you’re able to cover all of those skill areas as well as you can?
Antonis: I think it comes down to training. I don’t expect anyone to be fully aware of all those things, having all of those skill sets at the start.
Maybe, you expect if you’re looking for someone at a higher level, that person would have most of these skill sets.
I think it’s vital if you have, let’s say, an SEO executive on your team to slowly train them in all those skill sets and make sure that they understand all those areas correctly to be successful in the industry.
I came from a marketing background. I had a pretty good knowledge of all the marketing areas.
Some other SEOs have started as developers and have different kinds of skill sets. At some point, I feel that SEO people will have to work with other business units.
They need to understand how they work and how to incorporate the SEO into the needs of those business units. I think that’s the biggest, let’s say trick when you’re working in-house SEO, to understand what other business units do, and to try to suggest solutions that could help SEO.
You need to give them a solution because nobody wants to hear only about the problems.
Imagine, you need to go, for example, let’s say to the affiliate manager, and they need to track all the links from their partners to measure conversions.
You need to offer them a solution of how you can create a content marketing campaign that maybe has let’s say efficiently tracked links and captures SEO value. That’s the sort of thing you’re facing every day in-house SEO.
Damien: Some brands are building their SEO competencies in-house; others are using specialist SEO agencies. What are your views on each?
Antonis: It depends on what is essential for you when hiring an agency. I think it is crucial to be successful in one area – delivering on goals. The problem many agencies face is they try to do anything. Whatever you ask them to, they say yes. That isn’t ideal, because the quality is not assured.
Specialist agencies add value when the right goals are established and monitored to measure success. I don’t think it’s new for brands to use agencies to work on specific projects, and that’s good at least you know [as a brand] what you’re getting.
Damien: The SEO industry is relatively young when compared to other aspects of a business. What is the future of SEO practice?
Antonis: I think, mainly, what people need to know is that Google will always try to provide one answer, they don’t want to give a bunch of solutions, and they don’t want to have a lot of results, they want to make it easy for their users.
SEO needs to understand how to put all those things together and get to position ‘number one’ in whatever format that may mean. Is it a video, an image or maybe a rich snippet and not a typical search result space.
It doesn’t matter, we as SEO’s, need to understand that if Google’s providing you with an opportunity to be in that area, you need to exploit and test if it is bringing results.
Unfortunately, all those features by Google come with a price. As less traffic might be coming to the website because of all those features and the big G is keeping a bigger share for themselves. A couple of years ago, if you were in the number 10 organic position, you would get, like, 2% or 1% of the traffic. Number 10 now is most probably on page two.
I don’t know if something new will come up in the next few months, but I think as an SEO you need to consider all opportunities and make sure that you are at the top of the list. It is there for the taking for the person that moves faster.
Damien: Big enterprise, it can be tough to get buy-in to develop an SEO item and to attack an opportunity. How do you get past any inertia that may exist?
Antonis: You don’t. It’s complicated, it can be nearly impossible. I think you need to come up with a plan to target specific opportunities. It is not something which focuses on particular keywords.
Usually, inside companies, they will look at rankings still on a couple of keywords. But, create a longer-term plan and list of actions – eventually, it will get done.
Show the incrementality by providing data, all the time. The team will continue to invest in your plan if you show them how it is working.
Like the movie “Any Given Sunday” where Al Pachino gives the motivational speech, SEO is a game of inches.
So, you know, “so long as you close some of those inches” every day you will reach that big goal. That’s the state of mind you need to build to continue investing.
Damien: If you were to suggest to a site owner the top three SEO things they should focus their energy on right now, what would those three things be?
Antonis: Build an excellent website with a robust technical structure. That can mean a lot of things and, but I would specifically recommend focusing on schema.
Focus on creating valuable content on your website that is unique.
The third one is to try to get the word or the word out to either create a sort of social media or with a PR, or, you know, what are you doing here. Basically follow the Google guidelines :)
Damien: What aspect of SEO have I not asked you about that you’d like to mention?
Antonis: The only thing that we haven’t talked about is links, and everybody talks about links at any point in their career in SEO.
They are still important, and I think they will continue to be important for some time now. I think Google is getting smarter to understand big brands without getting more links.
They will be needed from Google to give them a hint, let’s say, in the future.
Google measures a lot around brand mentions. They want to make sure that on the top of results, there are leading brands because the best brands improve customer satisfaction and make users happy in Google.
Then the question is, how do you make yourself become a brand? You need to create content; you need to have social media coverage, an excellent website for people to visit and most probably some of the times, people link to them. Maybe at some point, they [Google] don’t take into consideration links. I don’t think completely; maybe they don’t put the same value as they did before.
Damien: Thank you, Antonis, I appreciate the time you’ve taken, and good luck with the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu!