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Fireside chat with Jono Alderson, Special Ops at Yoast

Who is Jono Alderson?

I’m a digital strategist, marketing technologist, and full-stack developer. I’m into WordPress, SEO, web performance, structured data, analytics, PHP, CSS, science fiction, and gin. I work for Yoast, which is best known for our WordPress SEO plugin – though we do loads of stuff beyond that.

Tell us more about your role in Yoast BV?

My time is a blend of R&D, product feature development, and opportunity spotting. A big part of my role is helping to make sure that Yoast SEO remains at the cutting edge, that we keep up with new and emerging trends, and that we continue to level the playing field for our 12+ million users. That makes a lot of the day-to-day quite reactive; if something big happens at Google, I need to be an expert before our users start asking questions. Outside of that, I try and spend some time regularly contributing to open source projects; like WordPressAMP, the Web Almanac and schema.org. I also maintain our own SEO and analytics ecosystems, and I speak at a bunch of conferences and industry events – on topics ranging from technical SEO tactics, to brand strategy, to analytics and measurement frameworks.

What is the most difficult part of your job? But the most rewarding one?

Prioritizing! Yoast has an ambitious mission – to enable all websites and businesses to be able to be discovered and competitive in search. Given that search plays such a huge role in how people learn, shop and play, we (already) have an outsized impact on the world. That’s scary, exciting, compelling. But we’re a relatively small company (~150 employees) in the grand scheme of things, so choosing which projects and features we don’t currently want to prioritize is always tough. It’s really rewarding to scope features and to contribute to projects which turn into code that ends up running on millions of websites. Outside of that, it’s also always hard to prioritize what to learn next. But it’s a treat to have so many options!

Is there anything that you would change about your professional path?

Not a thing. I’m enormously lucky to have fallen into the web development and digital marketing industry at just the right time, with little more than passion, luck, and determination. I’ve built a career without any formal education (other than some flunked college exams),¬†and taught myself everything I know. So much of the¬†digital marketing and web development industry is still a ‘wild west’, but in a very positive and empowering way. The technologies, possibilities and opportunities move too quickly to wait for formal training and recognition; you learn and experiment by the seat of your pants. That’s incredibly exciting.

What’s your key strategy for the development of your company?

At Yoast, we believe in the “Victory of the commons”. We spend a huge amount of resources working on open source software, code and resources which benefit not just us and our users, but improve the whole internet. We enrich the ecosystem that we operate in, which helps it to flourish. That’s paired with a culture that puts family and happiness before revenue, and which rewards innovation and creativity. Of course, underneath that, we have an incredible team of engineers, product managers, and support staff which collectively provide the absolute best-in-breed solution in our space. Those things are all connected!

What do you think about the next period of time, keeping in mind the pandemic and the new business climate? How will your industry be affected?

So many businesses have been forced to finally mature their digital strategies and assets (or to finally come online). To reach their audiences, they’ve had to change how they think about digital marketing, and actively promote their presence and offerings. But this is just the beginning. As users, we now rely more heavily than ever on search – for products, information, entertainment and more – and it’s harder and harder to compete in those spaces. Businesses will need to continue to invest in content strategies, platforms, and building their online reputations. They’ll need to prove to Google that their products, services and propositions are a good fit for users if they want to be discovered; never mind considered or selected. For many brands, that gap is still very wide.

Please name a few technologies which have the greatest impact on your business.

The most significant impact I see is how Google (and to a slightly lesser degree, Facebook and others) are influencing the brands which don’t end up in our consideration sets. They’re increasingly able to understand what a ‘good fit’ looks like for a given user’s search or social interaction, and, choose which websites and resources to exclude from our results and feeds. Historically, marketing has meant attracting people to your platform, then convincing them that you’re a good fit. Now, you have to convince an omnipotent AI that you’re a good fit before you can even access that audience. Many brands don’t have the content, reputation, platform or stories to prove that – and they’re hurting.

What books do you have on your nightstand?

I’m a huge sci-fi and science fiction nerd. I’m always neck-deep in some epic 9-book series or other, the best of which I keep track of on my recommended reading page.

Because of the current economic climate our publication has started a series of discussions with professional individuals meant to engage our readers with relevant companies and their representatives in order to discuss their involvement, what challenges they have had in the past and what they are looking forward to in the future. This sequence aims to present a series of experiences, recent developments, changes and downsides in terms of their business areas, as well as their goals, values, career history, the high-impact success outcomes and achievements.

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