We’re excited to have interviewed San Francisco SEO Expert Alastair Nee from Firebrand Communications for the next installment of our Featured SEO Expert Series!
Alastair Nee is head of digital marketing at Firebrand Communications in San Francisco, CA. With more than 12 years’ experience, he combines creative with performance marketing to drive positive results at scale for clients across search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), paid social, display and content creation. Firebrand Communications is a public relations (PR) and marketing firm that specializes in public relations, demand generation, content marketing and digital marketing for tech startups.
What would you say is unique and/or challenging about the current SEO industry?
“One of the greatest challenges in the SEO industry today is taking the immense amount of data available from Google and Bing and turning that into actionable insights.
“Now more than ever there are some fantastic third-party SEO tools for keyword research, technical site optimizations and competitor analysis – even Google is actively improving Search Console – yet all of this data only really provides a glimpse into how the search engine algorithms actually work or understand your site content. The challenge for SEOs then becomes combining the research phase data, with historical performance data, widely accepted SEO best practices from authorities in the industry and good copywriting to create and evolve a particular SEO strategy that meets the actual needs of the client or domain. It’s not a one strategy fits all approach, doing SEO for an eCommerce site is a whole different beast than doing SEO for a business-to-business (B2B) software-as-a-service (SaaS) tech company.”
How does your agency stand out in a crowded market like the Bay Area with many identical firms?
“Firebrand stands out from other Bay Area SEO agencies for a couple of reasons. One is that our agency structure is different in that we have mostly senior-level marketing and PR experts, with lots of experience with tech companies. So yes, we know battle-hardened SEO best practice, and we combine that with deep domain expertise in our client’s space. So when you are writing SEO content, it’s accurate and more compelling – and published at a fast cadence.
“Another reason is that we are all experienced copywriters, trained in the ancient art of SEO copywriting. This involves programmatic SEO content creation that is readable and accessible to both users and search crawlers. This gives our clients’ content the absolute best chance to rank highly for targeted keywords while also fulfilling a great customer experience, driving organic search users towards desired actions. Content doesn’t rank until it’s published, and clients want strong copywriting – that’s why we have former reporters on staff.
“This focus on Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (E.A.T.) content has helped Firebrand’s SEO clients win first position on the search engine results page (SERP) rankings and enjoy increased SERP visibility and traffic for high search volume, high value and competitive keywords.”
“A networking startup that provides software load balancing, web application firewalls and ingress controllers needed to improve its SEO in a space with several large competitors, as well as other startups. Firebrand developed a holistic white-hat SEO strategy with tactics used across all the main SEO disciplines (information architecture, on-page optimization, SEO content creation, technical SEO and link building/off-page optimization). Although implementing SEO tactics across all these areas is important, success for this client really leaned on superior content creation that allowed for more keywords to rank highly across different categories and style of content.
“Firebrand was able to help this startup realize a 504 percent increase in organic traffic, 75 percent increase in ranked keywords, 170 percent increase in position-one rankings and ultimately more qualified B2B leads after about two years. We like to think this was a big win, especially after this client was acquired by a huge company in the networking space, but kept us on as their SEO agency.”
What is the best advice you ever received in business as an entrepreneur?
“Some of the best advice I have received in my marketing career has been about integrity. Having high standards of integrity means being honest with yourself and your clients. This also means providing proven results in as little time as possible without compromising quality or taking shortcuts. The saying “work smarter and not harder” is nice, but some things just simply take time to get right and to be able to work smarter you need to back up your ideas with logic, data, experience and constant learning.”
What do you think is the most important quality that makes an agency truly great?
“What makes an agency truly great is superior communication. It seems like a no-brainer, but unfortunately, it’s not. This encompasses everything from how we communicate an idea or concept in discussions, how we amplify client’s brand message across various channels, how we optimize content on websites to communicate why people should care about your product or service and how we derive insights from all the data sources at our fingertips to help us make better decisions. Firebrand always has the client’s best interest in mind, when they succeed, we succeed and sometimes that means telling clients no, when we think they can get more value out of their effort and investment elsewhere.”
Any predictions for the future of SEO?
“Since SEO is always changing, Firebrand is constantly learning to improve our SEO services. We monitor our clients’ data meticulously and analyze often, we experiment and try new ideas, read all the latest thought leadership pieces from the most respected experts and keep a close eye on algorithm updates.
“Between Google’s BERT algorithm update in October 2019 to the broad core update on Star Wars Day (May 4th, 2020) we have a pretty clear picture of what the future of SEO looks like.
“Content will reign supreme. The BERT update now allows for a better natural understanding behind the intent of user search queries and has a non-directional natural language processing (NLP) model as opposed to the previous left-to-right or right-to-left. This means that website content needs to have good information architecture with strategic keyword insertion, advanced HTML markup and a compelling message for good user experience (UX). Achieving good UX will give Google positive behavioral signals which it relies heavily on to decide where your keywords and URLs rank.
“Additionally, having your site optimized for speed and trustworthiness will be more important in the future. Google has even shared new metrics for which it will be measuring technical health with the introduction of the Core Web Vitals (Largest Contentful Paint / First Input Delay / Cumulative Layout Shift). Finally, accelerated mobile pages (AMP) will become even more critical with more users on mobile and should provide an entirely different, fast, and minimal experience to mobile users – not just responsive design.”
What is your reaction when you hear that “SEO is dying”?
“That is simply not true. Nine out of 10 websites get the majority of their traffic organically – search engines are simply the first place people go to find or research something. However if you are looking to win top spots in the SERPs and scale up traffic and business in an ever-growing field of competition, there is probably no digital marketing channel with a higher return on investment (ROI).
“Gone are the days of simply stuffing a bunch of target keywords into your meta keywords tag and expecting top rankings. SEO is a long-game that takes dedication to generating an authoritative domain. That’s partly why we see more content creators becoming proficient in SEO compared to the developers that used to rule the realm of SEO.”
What do you think is the most important contributor of keeping clients happy?
“Results and relationship. Obviously every client wants to see positive results and to get good value from their investment which means being transparent and data-driven. Developing a good relationship with clients also generates goodwill and trust which helps everyone to be more efficient and enjoy the process.”
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