Expert Interview with SEO and SEJ Contributor Ben Oren

ben-orenWith over 10 years of experience handling SEO at the highest levels, Ben Oren has seen it all and done it all, twice. He has worked in medium and large agencies managing the internet marketing strategy for super brands like WSOP, Babylon and more, which he now combines with consulting and strategy for various medium and large clients after co-founding an internet marketing agency. Ben has also tackled marketing under start-up conditions, as he is the co-founder and CEO of an innovative e-commerce app.

Ben has truly tackled online marketing from every angle – conversion, SEO, PPC, E-mail, UX, content, and more – and the insights he’s accumulated have made him a regular contributor at leading industry publication Search Engine Journal.

Q: Over the years, you’ve worn many ‘hats’ and fulfilled different functions for different clients: in-house, agency, consultant, auditor. How do you feel that has contributed to your professional development?

A: I believe anyone interested in ascending to the top of their field today can’t settle for only one type of working experience, be it in-house, agency, consultant or other.

Personally, this variation in work type has greatly contributed to my professional development, and particularly, enhanced my ability to adopt a broad perspective when assessing problems and ways to tackle them.

There are usually two main variables to consider when faced with a business dilemma: the first is the industry itself, which in our case is internet marketing. It’s dynamic by nature and constantly evolving, meaning that there are countless solutions to every problem.

The second variable is the client’s niche, and everything having to do with their positioning within it – company size, marketing budget, online readiness, online state (penalties, priors, filters, etc).

Every single stakeholder has their own interests, limitations and special considerations when facing a business decision, and having an in-depth understanding of these can only help communicate and strategize better to reach an optimal solution.

Q: As an experienced marketer and entrepreneur, what is the greatest misconception you’ve come across among start-ups trying to use social media in order to ‘break’?


A: I can actually think of two basic assumptions which are misconceptions that lead start-up heads to choose social media marketing.

The first wrong assumption is that it’s free, and if we invest efforts into building a large audience then it’ll be free to advertise to said audience whenever we’d like to push our product and company. The second wrong assumption is that building a large, loyal follower base is relatively easy.

To address the first assumption, social media marketing is far from free, both when considering (1) the cost of producing high quality content by a dedicated content professional, and (2) the drastic downsizing of organic post reach in favor of paid advertising, carried out by social networks such as Facebook.

The current trend is to move towards a paid model, whether it’s by impressions or clicks – meaning that posts on a business page will only reach a very small percentage of that page’s followers unless you pay – ending up in a miniscule chance for a positive ROI.

As to the second assumption, a truly engaged, sizable, real audience that’s interested in a product or service rather than only having followed in exchange for a one-time offer, is challenging to achieve. Community growth takes time, resources, clear strategy and long term commitment towards gaining potential customers through social media, and retaining existing customers through social media. It necessitates a level of social media presence that not every start up realizes: real time response, professional outputs and engaging storytelling.

Unfortunately, time and again I see start-ups entrust no-one with the task of maintaining social accounts, ending up with deserted business pages that never took off and serve as a sad, outdated reminder. In the worst examples, the page is also flooded with questions and complaints that go unanswered, several damaging reputation.

In short, my recommendation to any start up interested in using social media is to build a sustainable strategy and be realistic about what it entails in terms of budget and man-power. Social media is a tremendous, powerful vehicle with many advantages, but for those to materialize it takes serious performance, patience and persistence.

Q: In your early days in the online marketing industry, you mainly handled SEO, but now you’ve branched out into content, user experience, conversion and a well-rounded understanding of marketing for large organizations. Do you believe that SEO’s future is questionable, and is that why you’ve distanced yourself from it?

A: I didn’t leave or distance myself from SEO. SEO is here to stay and will be around for a very long time; it’s just changing and developing, requiring us to adapt our methods and practices accordingly.

In my career development, I chose to expand my knowledge by tackling different aspects of online marketing, never neglecting SEO. I don’t think the future of SEO is questionable, but I don’t think it’s necessary or appropriate for any business.

SEO has undergone a transformation both in the way it’s performed and in the way it’s perceived. It is no longer regarded as a stand-alone channel, but rather as an integral part of a holistic marketing strategy. As a result, an SEO professional needs to be considerably knowledgeable about content strategy and social media, otherwise effectiveness will be hard to assess or measure.

Another component that’s constantly changing is Google’s algorithm, growing more and more sophisticated with every passing day. Links don’t behave as they used to, relevance is no longer measured the way it was, and engagement level holds greater weight, leading to the marginalization of spammy practices. If one fails to keep up regularly with all of these changes, it can be impossible to move forward and understand exactly what works and how.

Q: You’ve started and managed a start-up; do you have any tips to share from your experience, particularly regarding marketing a start-up?

A: Co-founding and managing my start-up, I encountered three main limitations:

  1. having a limited budget
  2. limited man-power
  3. limited time
On one hand, you’re constantly feeling like you’re behind and that, any moment now, you’ll stumble on an article about an unknown competitor doing exactly what you’re trying to do, but better. On the other hand, you lack the budget and financial justification to recruit more personnel in order to accelerate development. These two lead to a shortage in time – there’s never enough time when working on a start-up!

This is shared by all start-ups I know, and it often leads to the irresponsible misplacement of valuable funds in dubious marketing shortcuts publicized in who-knows-where. The combination of lacking real marketing know-how and not investing in expert guidance, is a sure way to throw time and money down the drain without any results to speak of. Therefore, my best recommendation is to hire a marketing consultant – someone with rich, varied experience and results under his/her belt – to guide the existing team on the best uses for their time and money.

Marketing efforts will still be carried out by the existing team members; however, they’ll be monitored by a professional and form part of a strategy that’s been tailored to the start-up’s niche, state, budget and competitors. Sure, it’s an expense, but it yields results and, more importantly, it can be thought of as an investment: empowering the existing team to handle marketing and slowly decrease dependency on external consultants and agencies.

Q: Outside of your experience with start-ups and small businesses, you’ve handled online marketing endeavors for enormous, international corporations such as WSOP, Caesar’s Entertainment, Babylon, Bouclair Home and more. Please highlight the professional methodological and executional differences when working with both types of companies.

A: Methodologically, surprisingly enough, there isn’t much of a difference. The difference lies in the ability to execute more advanced methods, and the subsequent quality of said execution. Larger companies have a clear advantage thanks to their budgets and recognizability, lending them greater possibilities that small and medium businesses don’t have access to.

For instance, if a large, leading corporation is interested in a partnership with a well known figure, its clout and deep pockets mean it’s likely it will come to fruition as long as there’s agreement between both sides. Small and medium businesses often don’t have the means or access necessary to even garner initial interest.

On the other hand, small businesses benefit greatly from a shorter decision process and a quicker, more efficient turnaround time. Corporations often struggle with miscommunication between different departments, sometimes yielding mediocre execution for otherwise brilliant campaigns. For example, the content and marketing department may not have direct, ongoing communication with the sales department, ending with a marketing campaign that isn’t optimally geared towards the company’s actual end clients.

Choices in How to SEO a Multilingual Site

While growing businesses by expanding to additional countries or languages is a great way to increase your income, it is more complicated than you may realize – especially when it comes to SEO.

This site for a southern California criminal defense attorney has content written in English using Google Translate to create pages translated into Spanish. Notice the choice in the top right corner for English – Espanol. Click on the buttons and you’ll see that the pages change between English and Spanish.

In this example, a separate site is not needed because both languages are targeted at ranking in the U.S. If this attorney had a second location in Spain, then ideally he would have a separate domain registered with a country code TLD and hosted in Spain. With locations in two countries, the easiest way to rank is on separate domains.

How much effort is the company willing to invest in ranking in separate countries? Will you register a country specific domain for each language or use languages in directories?

More expense and work is involved with separate domains:
  • Building additional sites
  • Paying to host multiple sites
  • Renewing multiple domains
Even international sites as large as Wikipedia do not necessarily use separate domains. If you look at Wikipedia.org you will see that when you click on a country you are taken to a subdomain that uses the country code as the name of the subdomain. For example:
  • es.wikipedia.org for Spanish
  • de.wikipedia.org for German
  • it.wikipedia.org for Italian
These subdomains use the same letters as country-code domains for Spain (es), Germany (de) and Italy (it), but they use en for English rather than us for U.S. or uk for the U.K.

Read How to do Multilingual SEO for WordPress Sites to get a better idea of your choices. The WordPress multilingual plugin available on that site makes translating and doing SEO for multiple languages much simpler.

How Search Engines Recognize Languages

While search engines can detect languages, it is best to use the <html lang=”xx”> tag to indicate the language a page is in. For more details, read Multilingual Sites and Search Engines: Part 1.

According to that post, “global corporations as a rule have separate sites (and most often separate domains) for the countries they operate in.” While that is the most effective method, it does require more work to create and maintain.

SEOChat Supermod GabrielG suggests you can even “get sophisticated and detect a user’s language, geolocation, or other characteristics and serve the appropriate language site, in case Gooogle doesn’t do that automatically.”

Why Machine Translation is NOT Good Enough

While using Google translation or some other machine translator is the least expensive way to go, these translations are very inaccurate and sometimes impossible to even understand. While there are translation plugins, do not use them unless you just cannot afford a human translator.

Do not sully your brand’s reputation by skimping on content in additional languages. Using human translators is a must. If you do not have someone within your company capable of accurately writing in the language, contract with a company that specializes in language translations for business.

Keep in mind that being able to speak a language does not guarantee a person can write well in it anymore than assuming that everyone who speaks English can become a paid writer or editor.

If you use machine translation, you will end up with major brand reputation issues. See this infographic from Understanding and Avoiding Communication Blunders.

Poor translation communication blunders Hopefully you now understand why machine translation can never take the place of using the best human translators who are excellent at both translation and content development.

Duplicate Content on Multinational Websites

If the languages involved are totally different (English and German, for example), there is no duplicate content issue. Having the same content on pages written in languages that are closely related – such as UK English versus US English – would definitely create a duplicate content issue.

See the Brick Marketing post Duplicate Content on Multinational Websites for more details about duplicate content. Nick Stamoulis wrote:

“If your site takes a massive hit in visitors and rankings for at least three months (enough time to call it a trend), your site might have been flagged for duplicate content.”


The goal is to SEO a multilingual site so that it will rank in each location. For that, separate sites are best, but even with one site your goal should still be to rank each page if at all possible.

Improve Your Conversion Ratio and SERPs with Images and a Blog

There are two things that every online business is looking for: the highest possible conversion ratio and a top ranking on every applicable search engine results page (SERP). These components go hand in hand because a high SERP ranking will push more traffic to your page, which in turn gives you the opportunity to increase your conversion ratio and profit margin.

This concept is rather simple, but the execution can cause many businesses to falter. After all, this is no longer the early days of the Internet when you could use unsophisticated practices to raise your SERP ranking. Instead, you need to use a targeted SEO approach that acknowledges the latest Google algorithm changes. It is also vital to utilize inbound marketing to get the most out of your marketing budget.

To turn your dream of combining a high SERP ranking with an increased conversion ratio into a reality, you will need to need fully embrace the following tips.

1. Blog on a Regular Basis

If you start a blog, you will be able to maximize inbound marketing and boost your SEO ranking. According to HubSpot, your odds of enjoying a successful ROI from your blog are 13 times higher than other inbound marketing techniques. Additionally, 82 percent of companies that blog daily have experienced an increase in customer acquisition.

Business blogging stats

In other words, maintaining a blog should definitely be an integral piece of your marketing and SEO strategies. Always remember that driving more qualified leads to your website should be your ultimate goal because this will result in a better conversion ratio. By posting high quality, relevant blog entries, you can more easily attract the attention of qualified prospects.

2. Use Images and Logos to Your Advantage

Studies have proven that there is a strong link between recognizable brand imagery and sales, which makes it critical for every business to place a big emphasis on logo design. When creating a logo that will define your company, it is necessary to ensure that the image is eye-catching, unique and memorable. This logo should then be proudly displayed on your website and social media pages, along with having a spot on all of your packaging materials.

The other images that you use online will also play a major role in your bounce rate. In fact, the caption that you put underneath each header image on your blog will receive a 300 percent higher engagement rate than the rest of each entry. With this in mind, you must choose imagery that is interesting enough to make people take in the associated caption.

If you do this successfully, consumers will be more likely to stick around long enough to make a purchase. As an added bonus, the title and caption of each image offers yet another place to harness the power of SEO in order to boost your SERP ranking.

3. Widgets Can Boost Sales

Now that your images, logo and blog are pushing more traffic to your site, how do you take advantage of the influx of prospects? It is helpful to be aware that positive reviews have an impact on 90 percent of the consumers who read them. In other words, if you can get positive reviews in front of your website visitors, you should naturally experience a noticeable boost in your conversion ratio.

But how do you put reviews in front of consumers without getting them to click on a testimonials page? The answer is simple: use a conversion rate optimization widget. This will enable you to put positive reviews on your homepage without having them be the focal point at all times.

Instead, the widget will pop the reviews on top of your other content until the visitor minimizes them. This is effective because consumers will have easy access to your reviews, which will make them feel more encouraged to commit to a purchasing decision.

The ultimate end goal for employing all of these techniques is to make it easier for people to find your website and buy something during their first visit.

Images, regular blogging and an eye-catching logo will all be beneficial, but make sure that you have the proper conversion tools in place to take advantage of the increased attention that a high SERP rank provides. A review widget is a great place to start, and you should also strongly consider using a responsive, mobile-friendly website design to make your site as accessible to consumers as possible.