Interview With Guest Blogger Yuri Filimonov

I’ve been mentioning changes to this site for the last week or so, and one you may have noticed is a navigation link at left for guest Blogger Yuri Filimonov. Before publishing any of Yuri’s posts I wanted to introduce Yuri and post an interview I did with him so everyone could get to know him better. Yuri has posted a similar interview with me on his site as I’ll be guest blogging there.

Yuri and I have run across each other on several forums and share many of the same views on how to design and market websites. He posts regularly as A.N. Onym so if you visit any of those same forums you may already be familiar with his ideas about websites and search marketing. Yuri is a freelance website optimizer, which means he may be found making a site more usable or optimizing it for search engines or just about anything else that can improve a website. You can learn more about Yuri though his own site and blog Improve the Web.

The following is the interview I conducted with Yuri via email. Please welcome him to TheVanBlog as I’m sure he’ll make a great addition.

How big is your family? Do you have any brothers or sisters and what was life like growing up in the Filimonov family?

The close family isn’t that big. A father, mother and a son. No brothers or sisters. I had and have quite a number of grandfathers and grandmothers in law, though. Back in the days having a lot of children in a family was quite common.

Being the only child sort of added some opportunities to being spoiled by the rest of the family, so it was always a trick not to ask for much or to ask carefully.

My father is engaged in sport somewhat (he skis and loves biathlon), so I skied a lot back in the days. Now I have switched to running.

What made you want to improve websites? What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen on a website?

Well, I started as a part-time SEO (assisting the Director of Marketing with seoing a site), so that made me study ways of improving the websites for the search engines. Then, as I read the forums, articles and blogs, I understood that it is all about people. This, in turn, broadened my area of interest to usability, accessibility, marketing, etc.

You know, there are so many things that may sting you on a crude website. I won’t be original and will join the majority of the online population here: a pop-up for something I don’t need. With a pop-up, a site owner lost me without me even seeing what he has to offer.

Other things I’d like to improve are:

  • make sites speak the language of the customers
  • make sites load faster
  • create, develop or optimize sites for their visitors to find what they want easily

For me the deal breaker is any site that resizes my browser. If a site attempts to make any changes on my end of things it loses all of my trust. I think the world of seo is moving more towards a holistic and user centered approach to marketing. Would you agree with that statement? And what other ways do you see seo changing in the near future?

Hopefully, I have rarely met websites that take control of my browser. Not being able to use the “Back” button isn’t convenient, though.

Yes, I’ll agree that the whole world of website development and optimization goes towards user-centered approach.

I can’t say that marketing is as user targeted as it should, though. Some still fall for ‘link bait‘ (the recent wave) instead of simply providing value, but it is going in the right direction now.

The reason for such changes is not only that the website development people reached another level of education and started focusing on the website visitors. I think the industry evolves due to heavy competition and website owners just have to seek new ways to gain competitive advantages. The real breakthrough lies in understanding site visitors, so the outcome of such battle for customers is self-evident to me.

When it comes to strictly SEO, I’d say that the SEO we knew back in the days (text-book SEO, simple focus on using meta tags, search engine and directory submission, etc) is slowly evolving into site optimization for the people with the search engines in mind. This not only allows site owners to reach maximum conversions, but to get the bonus traffic from the search engines as well.

The examples of this would be effective copywriting (when the text is focused on the site visitor and is written with the keywords in mind), search-engine friendly (crawlable) websites, site usability and accessibility.

Can you give an example of what you think is an effective website and why you think it’s effective?

Not going to be original here either. Google is quite efficient in providing search results. You can only search from the homepage and Google delivers quality results as well.

This simplistic approach, though, works only for the search engines. Informational, education or e-commerce websites need their own, case-specific, site structure and page layout.

An effective website is a website that helps the visitors find what they need and do what they want to as easily and quickly as possible. Different websites will have different ways in achieving this, naturally.

I think you’d agree that the nature of the site and the type of visitors that site gets help determine what a site needs to do to make it effective. Are there certain things, though that all websites should do to make them more effective and what might some of those things be?

Yes, I’d certainly agree with that. Let’s just say that the site will always have certain aspects to it, such as website design and development, copywriting and usability, and the difference lies in how various aspects will be used, depending on site goals and demographics.

Right now, being good is not enough. Being the best is what every site owner should aim for. That’s why every site should have:

  • search-engine friendly design (text preferred over images, static-looking URLs, internal linking, etc)
  • good website copy (focused on the visitor and the benefits of the product/service to the visitor and the right keywords are used)
  • site usability (the visitor can find what he/she wants easily and quickly)

But sometimes even this isn’t enough. To become the best, it is important to:

  • have quality content to provide value to your site visitors
  • have an accessible website
  • market the site as if the search engines don’t exist

It is impossible to mark one aspect as the most important. If anything slacks, the whole site underperforms. That’s why paying attention to all aspects are vital.

With so many aspects to website optimization is there one aspect you enjoy working on the most and what do you typically find websites need more help with?

As I started as a basic SEO, I enjoy the process of finding the right not-too-competitive, not-too-low-demand keywords, creating a page for the keyphrase and seeing your page rank at #1. It is not only exciting, hard work, but a challenge. Perhaps this is the thing that makes my work enjoyable – hard work and great rewards.

Most off-the-path sites I have seen were created as if SEO, usability and accessibility didn’t exist. Normally, a site will be good enough, if:

  • it is crawlable
  • loads fast
  • the right keywords are placed in the right places
  • site structure and page layout allow visitors find what they want easily
  • text is used wherever possible (instead of text images, for instance, audio and video transcriptions)

If the site has all of the above, you’ll only need to optimize it for maximum performance by testing and improving other less noticeable aspects

As a freelancer do you have steady clients you work for or are you always looking for new projects?

I have been working full-time until recently, so I only have one local client I’ll be working continuously with.

Ideally, I’d want a healthy mix of 3-4 constant clients to help them develop new content and tweak the site for maximum efficiency and new clients to help them get started with website optimization (to get local traffic, for instance).

Where do you look for new clients? Word of mouth? Are you actively pursuing clients you would like to work with?

As I only launched my site at the end of July, I have only been creating content for my site. Generally, I hope my clients will find me by looking for answers to their questions and via word of mouth.

I am not seeking clients actively, though. Maybe I should try that to get my first freelance client, though. Truth be told, I approached several forum members with an offer for assistance, but didn’t get any job from there.

What was the first computer you had and was it capable of getting online? When did you first find the web and were you hooked that first moment or did it take time before you wanted to spend all day online?

My first computer was bought in 1997 and it was a Pentium 100, 8Mb of RAM and a 850Mb hard disk. It was pretty fast back then.

I got online in the summer of 1997, but I didn’t see much and stayed away from it for a while. I did play a Multi-User Dungeon (an online text game) on and off, though, which taught me how to communicate, how to type fast and learn lots of new words (which helped in my studying of the English language in the university).

Generally, I started spending a lot of time when I started working as a SEO two years ago. I was spending 3-5 hours a day reading articles. To tell the truth, I still spend 1-2 hours a day reading interesting SEO, usability and such. To think of it, I’ve spent more hours on reading SEO articles than studying English in the university for four years, so I consider myself somewhat educated (and the results show, too).

I think I spend a similar amount of time reading. What are your favorite sources for seo learning. Blogs? Forums? Searching for articles?

Let’s see. Blogs:

These are the blogs that I check regularly to find valuable knowledge I don’t have. Generally, you can find them in my blogroll as well.

I do read other blogs, too, including yours, but generally I am scanning those for interesting stuff, really.

Forums for learning:

Forums to learn what people ask about:

What was the first blog you read and what made you decide to become a blogger yourself?

I don’t think I remember the first blog I read, honestly. Back then I barely knew what blogging was most likely and didn’t identify it as a blog. But I can surely say, as my first forum love was Cre8asite Forums, that I entered the blog from the Cre8asite forums. Most likely, it was the Cre8pc blog run by Kim Krause Berg (Cre8 founder and a usability consultant).

I launched my blog when I understood that the project I was working with wasn’t going in the right direction. The partner had been pressing a tad too hard so I thought I’d just have my own blog and lead it as I please.

Note: though you may see a lot of ‘get a blog or bite the dust’ stuff everywhere, blogging even once a day isn’t something you aspire to. For a non-web-developer like me creating pages and fiddling with WordPress plug-ins was some feat. So if you want to start a blog, think if you can fill it with valuable information and spend at least an hour or two a day.

We’ve run across each other on quite a few forums. I won’t ask which forum is your favorite, but do you have a favorite thread on any of them. Is there one or a few that stands out more than the others. What’s the question you least want to see asked in a thread?

Each forum is unique and well worth the read, though you may guess to which my heart belongs to by the above comments.

Here are a couple of threads I found remarkable in one way or another:

By the way, you may note that those threads have a common author: Ammon Johns (Black_Knight). I’d guess he’s one of the Internet marketing people that inspired me a lot. You can learn more about Ammon here.

One of the things I learned at Cre8 was that any thread (even a link-drop or a clear spam one) can be turned into a gem by a quality discussion. While some view such thread starters as junk, some view it as a way to make the forum better (Hi, Bill, Ammon). So I’ll welcome any question.

Where do you see the internet evolving in 10 years? 20 years?

You know, it’s pretty hard to predict on something that I’ve been in on and off for 9 years maximum. The Internet evolves pretty fast so it surely won’t be the same as it is now, too.

As the Internet begins now to form around the customers (quality search results, online product reviews, the Long Tail of anything, website usability, etc), I’d figure the sites with the budget will be successful in providing their visitors with an astounding experience and the back of the pack will be better off than the very best of current sites.

Now, of course, a lot of technologies will be used with the Internet and it will integrate into everyday life a lot. We have iTunes and iPod to listen to music, Google Local Search to find local shops, Google Maps to check the surroundings so it’s a matter of time other aspects will be affected by the Internet.

For instance, people should gain mobile Internet and use it as efficiently as they can do it now. Ok, enough prophecies, let’s live and see for ourselves.

I, for one, would be interested to see how people will communicate with each other without the Internet.

I agree about the offline communication. Since you asked me I’ll ask you as well. Do you think the ability to communicate so easily online means we’re all communicating less offline? What do you think we can all do to make sure we still maintain relationships in the real world?

Well, as a matter of fact, there was a study earlier, showing that people did start communicating less offline due to spending more time online. I’d say that comes from simply being able to reach a wider circle of people online and that people are becoming lazy to go out and talk.

I think we shouldn’t forget that we are real people, not some robots that pound stuff into the keyboards. The online world, as you said, is just 0′s and 1′s, while the real world is much larger. I suppose we should just find the interesting stuff in the real world, such as engaging in any kind of sports, traveling or sight-seeing, simply meeting to talk and such.

Real life communication can’t be replaced by online chat, however some might try to have it. Humans need communication (at least some), so it is a matter of time before some begin to realize this.

I’ll finish by asking the same question you asked me from a slightly different perspective. What do you think are the odds that two people from different backgrounds and environments who end up sharing similar viewpoints about web development and marketing would meet online. Is it just coincidence or is it inevitable because those people would naturally find themselves in the same place due to their shared interests and points of view?

I’d say it is quite natural and no coincidence. In fact, I don’t believe in coincidences, but it’s another story.

First, our interests led us to learn our work and visit many forums to gain a different perspective, learn more and share our knowledge with others.

Then again, our points of view chose the forums we visit, so it was only a matter of time, I suspect.

There is a saying, similar to “Like attracts like”, so there’s nothing surprising that we found a way to collaborate as guest bloggers, too. Finding more ‘think-alikes’ might be an interesting endeavor, by the way, as well.

Thanks you for the interview Yuri and welcome to TheVanBlog. I’m sure you’ll make a great addition to these pages.Look for Yuri’s first guest post here tomorrow.

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

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