Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Interview with Kevin Gibbons, MD of Quaturo

Kevin Gibbons is the Managing Director of the content marketing agency Quaturo. Previously, he was the founder and director of strategy at SEOptimise. I bumped into Kevin at the international A4U Expo, an affiliate marketing conference, in Barcelona this year and after a brief discussion suggested he might be interested in a Q&A style interview for this blog. He very kindly agreed.

Q. Why did you leave SEOptimise?

I wouldn't say there was one big reason to be honest. But it was more a build-up and combination of different smaller factors.

I spent six years growing SEOptimise into a very well-respected search agency - so I definitely look back at this as a positive experience. It's a great business, and will continue to perform very well, I'm sure.

But I think I'd reached a point (both personally and professionally) where I questioned the right route to achieve my goals and ambitions moving forward. My first choice was always to have remained at SEOptimise and taken the company in the direction I would have liked. But as with any business there's often compromises to be made - so I felt it was a good time to start afresh and go for the opportunities that were more in-line with the way I saw things heading.

Q. Quaturo got off to impressive start. Your “About Us” page lists four recognisable industry names in addition to yours; Chelsea Blacker, Gillian Cook, Pak Hou Cheung and Sean Revell. Where did all these people come from? Did you launch with enough clients to keep them all busy?

Because I was co-founder and director of SEOptimise, my exit involved selling my equity in the company - this worked as a split of cash and clients/people.

It sounds quite complicated, but it really wasn't - and was made much easier by the fact that we had two offices (in Oxford and London) - so it worked as a split, meaning I took the London team, office and clients with me - while Oxford did likewise (also keeping the SEOptimise brand).

So Chelsea, Gillian and Pak Hou were with Quaturo from day one - and we've strengthened our team further with Sean joining us last month. And with a couple of big client wins, alongside the existing accounts we brought with us from the SEOptimise split, we've definitely kept them pretty busy!

Q. Did you take SEO clients off SEOptimise which you're now servicing with content marketing solutions?

Yes - in many ways it worked as a split - so we took the clients with us that our London team worked with previously. That way all of the client relationships we built remained with the same people - so it limited any disruption.

Q. Quaturo isn’t an SEO agency. It’s very clearly a content marketing agency – with outreach. Have you turned your back on SEO?

Not at all. I definitely think link building has evolved towards a more content-focused approach. But that doesn't mean there's not a place for SEO - it's more a case of prioritisation over what is working best and achieving results with a small team.

Were a content marketing agency because great content is what we've found to be getting the best results for our clients. But I believe the best marketing campaigns should have an integrated approach - and content should be at the centre of this. Although our team has a strong SEO background - I don't see content as being just about search. You should be creating great content for PR, social media and branding reasons - with SEO and links a by-product of online success - not the main goal.

Q. Do you think the natural search industry needs to shift towards better content and outreach strategies?

Absolutely. I think if you analyse the winners and losers from panda and penguin updates during the last year, it's no coincidence that the brands coming out on top are those who having been focusing on building great content.

The SEO quick wins are disappearing and link building is getting harder. So great content and relationship building/outreach is clearly the way I see things heading - it's hard work, but it does work - and it's far more defensible in my opinion.

Q. Do you think all SEO agencies find themselves in a position to offer modern, content led, SEO now? Ben Potter's Will Panda kill the freelance SEO star? comes to mind. In other words; can an agency without content and outreach even offer SEO?

I think the term SEO has just evolved a bit more (doesn't it always?!). I think if anything it's perhaps just become a bit too broad as a term now. And to cover all angles you need to specialise in several key areas, not just one.

The way this is heading, is with SEO falling into two categories, 1) strategic consultancy and technical SEO - and 2) content marketing.

So I still see a place for SEO consultants/freelancers - it's just on it's own it misses the bigger picture of building reputation upon the platform of on-site structure. But the same can still be argued the other way too - you still need both to succeed.


Q. What do you think Quaturo’s biggest challenges will be in the next 6 months?

Scaling the team, growing our service offering and keeping the quality of our delivery very high.

The first couple of months has been all about shifting towards a more content-based approach - using everyones skills within the team where they fit best (there's some more information on this in a similar interview I did with affiliates4u last week) and having the right mix in strategy to ensure we're getting the best results possible for our clients.

We're still a small team - which is one of the reasons why we are specialising in content marketing right now. We don't have any interest in being just another search agency. I want us to be the best at what we do - and right now that is content marketing. Also the main reason behind the name Quaturo is that it doesn't mean anything! This allows us to adapt and pivot our focus - so that we can build into a more integrated approach, rather than trying to do too much before we're ready.

But we have big plans in place - I have very clear ideas on the type of people I want to bring into the team to help us grow - and we've been working hard behind the scenes on some very exciting things to really push things forward!

Q. Do SEO agencies, PR agencies and content outreach agencies essentially look to exploit bloggers?

In some ways, yes.

But I think with Google authorship especially, it's become more a case of working alongside great bloggers, as opposed to exploiting them. I think you'll see that if you can get hold of a good blogger with a strong social profile, they're worth their weight in gold. So rather than using copywriting services to place blog content - you should be approaching great bloggers and leveraging their existing relationships and contacts instead. Plus if they're that good, pay them a premium and take them off the market, away from your competitors!

Those longer-term relationships are going to pay off much better than one-off guest blogging placement requests in my opinion.

Q. Do bloggers have a realistic understanding of their value to brands?

Definitely, bloggers are becoming very switched on towards the value they have to brands.

We've found travel bloggers especially know their worth when it comes to approaches such as guest blogging. That's why you have to build strong relationships - or at least be more creative and create content that's so good they can help but link to you or share it!

Q. So bloggers which expect a few hundred pounds to post about some news or who charge to post infographics are offering good value?

I would almost try to distance myself from the SEO value of a link when assessing this. That can easily get you into the paid link game, when content should really be about building a defensible, natural strategy.

As a general rule, if it's a link that sends you significant traffic and high visibility to a relevant audience, it's likely to be worth the advertising cost. If it's just placed for the purpose of a link, it probably doesn't represent good value, certainly not long-term anyway.

Q. What’s your view on infographics?

I think infographics are still a great way of getting your content generating a social buzz and of course attracting links.

It's obviously a very popular tactic right now - so you really do need to stand out amongst the crowd by creating something very good if it's going to perform well. We're seeing HTML5 infographics getting a lot of attention at the moment and these certainly seem to be the biggest thing right now.

I think it's fair to say infographics have become a bit overused by SEOs - which led to Matt Cutts saying they may be de-valued in the future - but if you focus on creating something that's really good for your audience and look to generate natural links via social promotion and outreach I think this is a sustainable tactic. I'd expect to see the submission-based infographic galleries getting devalued in the near future though!

Q. Do you think outreach agencies and bloggers understand rules around disclosure of internet? What do you think the chances of some brands or bloggers being hit by the OFT for nondisclosure before the end of 2013 are?

Honestly, no - I don't think they do yet. And I'm not sure they will until we start seeing examples of people being hit heavily by the OFT. I'd like to think agencies are taking this more seriously, but I'm not sure if bloggers even consider this as a risk at the moment.

Q. Thanks for your time. Let's leave on a high - can you make one positive prediction for the evolution and growth of content and outreach marketing?

I think that SEO is getting harder, and link building will become solely content-based. Old tactics and easy submission-based or paid links just aren't having the SEO value anymore, especially post-penguin. So the focus has to shift towards great content and relationship building/outreach.

That can only be a good thing in my opinion and as a result the industry is becoming more grown-up - with conversations focusing on content as it should be, a key marketing strategy.

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