I interviewed, David Degrelle, founder and owner of 1ère Position, an SEO/SMO company in France. We conducted the interview via modern technology, ie. skype as David was not in Paris when I visited last month. I wanted to find out about the search market in France and the challenges of running your own search agency in France.
What is the search market like in France?
We always look at what the UK and US are doing in terms of SEO, but we also develop our own knowledge because of the language difference (eg the accents) and the user behaviour in France is unique to our country.
In the past, one of the first difficulties was put strategy in place where Google.fr would recognize accents. They did not recognize the accents. At the beginning, Google just saw the search as an international behavior without taking care of the specificities in certain countries.
In terms of market share in France, Google has the majority with 90%, followed by Bing with 3% and Yahoo with 1.5% according to atinternet.fr
Do you often have to optimise your sites for English and French?
We optimise the sites in French and sometimes in English as we have native English speakers at 1ère Position. When we have international projects, and where we need to optimise the site in different languages, we work with our partner company in that country. For example we have a partner in Germany, Spain, Italy, China, Japan and Russia. We can implement SEO in all countries in Europe, but within our partner network, ensuring we have native speakers for that language optimizing the site and link building.
Do you work much with the other European countries?
The majority of our clients are French, with their offices in France. However, in the past few years the number of international clients at our company has grown. Sometimes our clients in the United States view Europe as one big country, when in fact there are 25 different countries and cultures. Our clients understand more and more that if they want to tap into a local market, they need to go through a local SEO company. It is very important to have a relationship with the agencies in each country where you want to operate in. Not only to make contact with native speakers, but also to take advantage of their network of relationships at the local level to make such partnerships.
Are there many SEM events in France?
Unfortunately, many French companies do not want to pay for SEO training and development and some of them do not understand the value for going to SEM conferences. SMX Paris has been around for 3 years and this past year there were 200 people, which was an improvement from their first conference when 50 people attended, by reducing the amount of the registration.
There is an SEO organisation called SEOCamp which works really well. At the last “SEOCampus” event, there were between 500 and 600 people. There have also been some ecommerce/emarketing events with a small part dedicated to search marketing.
What link building do you do and do you conduct this in English or French or both?
We conduct link building in French by providing users with high quality content. We advise our clients to get buy in from inside the organisation the reasons for link building and the important role in plays in SEO. It can be seen as a form of Community Management.
What are specific tactics that work in France?
The last time the Google Search quality team came to SEOCampus, they said France is one of the most countries where they do spam link building and can get away with it. In France people are crazy about link building and some of them do carry out black hat link building.
Before Google Penguin, we had seen a very bad link building strategy, directory submissions and a lot of SEO press releases with poor quality content.
Now the situation is changing thanks to the recent updates from Google. We recommend to our client a « back to the roots » strategy where we encourage them to return to the basics, building a blog with great content which their users will find interesting and useful. This is a way of showing clients the importance of social media and allows us to develop this channel when users like the different posts and attract traffic.
If you were to put France on a timeline and the US is “2012”, the UK “2011” and France for example “2010”, where would France be?
I cannot say we are behind US or UK, when there is something new in US, UK, 1-2 days later we see it in France. In offline (before the internet) business we used to say we were 5-10 years behind the US but now we have internet, things have changed a lot. France SEO is more dedicated to the user, there is high end content and it helps if the company updates their site regularly.
In France we are very active in the SEO forums and blogs. We like to discuss every kind of topic.
What does your company specialise in?
1ere Position started in 1999, specializing in SEO from the beginning. We then developed our PPC product in 2001. From 2004, started doing SMO. We develop the strategy for the different sources of traffics with a multichannel approach. When we work SEO, we optimize website for Google Web, Images, Videos, Shopping, News, Maps. In PPC we improve the quality scores which in turns helps the PPC campaigns ROI and cost of conversion. When we engage in social media, we create synergies with SEO. We control these three strategies in parallel which differentiates ourselves from our competition: SEO+PPC+SMO = better ROI.
Do you do any SEM/SEO outside of work?
Yes, all the guys in my company are passionate about SEO. They love SEO, they spend time on it outside of work, myself included. I used to have 4 or 5 websites that I used to test different SEO techniques. However I do not have time to work on these sites now.
How did you get into SEM?
In 1995, I was a student and a keen photographer (as I am now). I was in my room and I had just connected to the internet for the very first time. I was so excited and I wanted to put something on the internet. I decided to make a website for my photos. At first no one except my family visited the site. By chance I heard about the word “referencement” which means SEO in French. I read a book about SEO and off the back of that, I optimised my personal website and then I started to get 500 people visits a day. Once I had optimized the site, I could use the results to show others to build my own company, 1ere position.
What is the future of SEO in France?
It is very difficult to answer this question. I do not know. The only thing I know is that SEO will survive forever, even if every year and almost every month now, I read about the end of SEO and Google hates SEO guys. I cannot say what the future will be but it have SEO in it somewhere. Everytime you see something digital, it will need SEO or will have needed some SEO to make sure it was optimized for computers to understand it, and for user to see it on top.
What do you like about SEO the least?
The area I like the least about SEO is the fact that often, the recommendations are not implemented by the client. Sometimes clients are scared by our recommendations and strategy. One client said they did not want to have so much traffic to their site as they would not be able to deal with the number of visits and orders and therefore did not implement the SEO recommendations.
I also do not like the fact that sometimes we are not able to implement SEO technical changes as it is not seen as a priorty by the tech team.
What do you like about SEO the most?
What I really like about SEO is that I am able to change the organisation’s adaptation to internet culture. I love it when I can make SEO an important part of the company’ s strategy and when the CEO wants to do SEO and social media.