Jason Fortt is the Head of Digital Strategy over at Designer Websites in the UK. He’s an accomplished software engineer and technical SEO specialist, who started Designer Websites back in 2006. Jason has a first class software engineering degree and is a Microsoft certified developer. He’s been developing web based solutions and working with SEO since the mid 90’s.
Jason considers himself a guru of all things technical when it comes to SEO, spending much of his time writing code tweaks and testing for optimisation. A coder with a penchant for optimisation he enjoys finding ways to make a difference.
Jason has dedicated the first 2 hours of every working day, for the past 10 years, reading about, learning, and testing SEO techniques, and also has written a comprehensive 10 day training course for advanced optimisation.
Please introduce yourself and where you work.
Name: Jason Fortt
Company: Designer Websites Limited
Roles: Managing Director and Head of Digital Strategy
I have a 1st Class Degree in Software Engineering and I’m a Microsoft Certified Developer. I have been working on websites and search engine optimisation since the mid 90’s.
I started Designer Websites in Jan 2006 and we’ve worked with hundreds of companies over the last decade or so, developing web based solutions, digital strategies, and marketing campaigns.
I am an SEO expert but I consider myself guru of all things highly-technical when it comes to SEO. I get to spend a lot of time testing techniques and writing algorithms or test harnesses for optimisation. As a software engineer with a personal interest in SEO, I enjoy finding things that make a difference!
How do you think SEO has changed over the last 10 years?
Interesting question, on the face of it SEO has changed a lot, but perhaps largely because of the experts in the industry and their interpretation of guidelines from the likes of Google. Actually, Google have always advocated quality content, natural links, user friendly pages, etc. A quick glance at their SEO Starter guide from back in the day will paint that picture. The issue is that previously their algorithm’s allowed SEO’s to get away with overuse of keywords, introducing masses of links, thin/fat content for no good reason, etc. The reality now is that their algorithms have improved and don’t allowed this so much. So, the general purpose of SEO has not changed that dramatically.
I think the change relating to how SEO’s provide their service has changed, but the fundamental aims of Google have not.
Having said this, a significant change is ongoing, and has been changing the face of Google SERPs for some time now. I mean of course the AI developments to their algorithms, and the structural changes of the SERP’s. Google are getting much better at ‘interpreting intent’ and showing varied results, snippets, adverts, based on our searches, and this is a significant change for the industry. It plays to the strengths of technical SEO’s like ourselves, because it requires expert technical knowledge. Good news for the industry I think because those who are just keyword pushers, link builders and content generators will find themselves struggling in the near future to make a significant difference.
How did you get introduced to digital marketing, more specifically SEO?
In the 90’s and early 2000’s, I worked as a software engineer for a major global holiday company, as well as a couple of other large e-tailers; during this time SEO became more and more prevalent and as software engineers we found ourselves constantly tweaking solutions to improve performance in the search engines. This became more and more intriguing for me until in 2006 when I setup Designer Websites to focus heavily on high quality web solutions with built-in SEO.
Initially we found ourselves recommending a couple of external digital marketing agencies for the likes of off-site SEM, but in fact these became problematic when these companies would just build links, or over-expose keywords, etc. So, a little later we took on a digital marketing team inhouse so that we could complete this work ethically and prevent our client sites from getting penalised by borderline black hat tactics. To this day we will only work with our website clients and do not offer SEO to anyone who does not have a website developed by us. This means we’re not competing with the masses of SEO firms, and we control all of the clever technical know-how gleaned through years of testing.
What are the services you provide to your clients?
We primarily develop optimised web solutions, and these tend to be the more complex website solutions like booking systems, ecommerce sites, comparison engines, etc.
We also offer a comprehensive range of online marketing solutions, and advertising programs (PPC), for our customers to further enhance their rankings, traffic, brand reach, etc.
We also consider ourselves very specialist in terms of AdWords because we not only have AdWords qualified technicians but we also develop tools to allow our customers to take advantage of some of the very deep functionality of AdWords.
We develop proprietary tools to assist with tracking, measuring, landing pages, Google taxonomy control, AdWords campaign control, IP tracking, sample-to-order tracking, etc. These tools are unique to ourselves and allow us to better track performance based on our marketing efforts.
What strategy according to you will prevail in 2017 for SEO?
More focus on quality and AI. I believe Google will continue to push hard on fast loading pages, secure content and quality user experience. I think the lean towards more detailed rich snippets for courses, events, restaurants, etc. will continue, and we’ll see more of these structures being released. I think Google will continue to change the face of the SERP’s with knowledge boxes and meta data to improve their concrete their offering as the best search engine.
They may be some changes coming in terms of the advertising spots in the SERPs, but let’s see how that goes because they’ll resist but will probably realise it has to change in some way, to shed them I a better light.
What would your advice be to people who are looking to take up digital marketing as a career choice?
I guess I would advise that a good SEO will thoroughly understand the various elements of what makes a website optimised. I meet a lot of SEO’s and frankly most of them don’t really appreciate a lot of the technical elements of optimisation because they think it’s the web developers job, but it’s not. How can you optimise a website that has poor coding structure, or fails to handle errors, or doesn’t employ robots, sitemaps, etc. Research and get to know the mistakes that so-called SEO’s have made, and avoid making these same mistakes. Focus on a quality website, that is really useful to the end users, and really understand what this means. Don’t just try to optimise a website, or develop a marketing plan, before getting the foundations right.
Also, take everything you read online from SEOs with a pinch, a lot of it is guesswork of course, so you should always formulate your own opinions. There are some great knowledgeable people in this industry, some of them very vocal too, but there are also some people who push their opinion as fact, which is often nonsense. Understand this and keep an open mind.
Lastly, keep a very close eye on the latest changes from Google, they of course lead the way, follow them, and always ask yourself why they have these algorithms and what are the reasons for any changes they introduce.. there’s always a reason!