Joost de Valk is the man who will help your site achieve success
Joost is a 36-year-old web developer, SEO, and digital marketer.
In the early days of his career, he worked in several IT companies, ranging from enterprise hosting to online marketing agencies.
This allowed him to work with several large brands around the world.
In 2010 he founded Yoast, which has as its mission to allow as many people as possible to build a findable website.
It empowers people through software (most notably its Yoast SEO plugin) and training.
Team Yoast currently consists of around 90 people.
Yoast SEO is currently available for four open source platforms and active on more than 8 million websites.
Joost and his wife Marieke live in Wijchen, near Nijmegen, where Yoast also has its main offices.
Joost and Marieke have four kids: Tycho, Wende, Ravi & Borre.
Outside of work he enjoys reading, photography and playing board games with his kids.
His talk at Wordcamp Europe 2018, which will be held in Belgrade, covers Technical SEO to grow your WordPress Business.
How did you get interested in technology, and what was it like building your first website?
I started getting interested in the web in 1994, I was 12 years old at the time. The web was still nascent, but I liked the ability to build something. I was learning how to code and playing with HTML and CSS.
My first successful sites came years later. In 2006 I started css3.info, which was, at the time, a very popular resource on the topic of CSS3.
How hard was it to get into IT, and what was your first job?
It wasn’t hard to get into IT. In 2001 I got a “side job” at a small Java agency and I’ve really never left the IT space since. I dropped out of university in fact and started working full time.
What was the moment you decided you want to start your own business?
In 2010, I was driving back and forth between home, in Wijchen, and Breukelen. This is about 80 km but would easily take me 1.5-2 hours one way. Doing that 4 days a week really didn’t work well with wanting to spend more time with my family. When I started Yoast I thought I’d be doing consulting mostly. My WordPress plugins were mostly a hobby. I’ve also famously said I never wanted to employ anyone… That kind of went the other way.
How different was owning your own business compared to working for someone else?
Very different, although we try our very very best to be the kind of boss we’ve always wanted ourselves. While I really didn’t have “bad” bosses, they always put work before family and I think it should be the other way around.
You started Yoast 8 years ago, what was it like telling people about the future of internet and websites at the time when everything was still relatively young, and all the things that were happening at that moment were considered the future?
I started Yoast 8 years ago, but I’ve been in the SEO world for over 12 years now. I’ve seen Google go from very easy to spam to where it is right now: pretty good in most languages. Pretty hard to spam in the more popular / larger language areas.
I feel much more at home in SEO now as it sits much better with how I and in fact how we as owners of Yoast approach the world. We want Yoast to be a driving force in making people write better content and build better websites.
Funnily enough, some of the advice I was giving ten years ago is still true today. In terms of information architecture, how you should approach internal linking and even in keyword research, not all that much has changed.
In certain parts of the world, like Serbia, internet knowledge is still very low. How important are the plugins for a successful business, how hard is it to build one and why do we need them?
The more competitive your space is, the more important it is that you get all your details right. The single most important thing is that you think about the words and phrases people use when they search for the topics you want to be found for. Then you need to have content that can rank for those topics.
As competition in your niche increases, you’ll need to focus on details more. There are basically two types of SEO details:
– technical SEO details, Yoast SEO can take care of 99% of technical SEO issues on a WordPress site automatically;
– content SEO details, internal linking, readability of your content, how well you’ve optimized. Yoast SEO can help with all of those but it requires you to work on the content yourself. We cannot auto-optimize content. That simply doesn’t work.
So, plugins allow you to spend less time worrying about the technical SEO details of your site. Yoast SEO is relatively unique in that it also helps you optimize your content.
One of the most important things for websites today is SEO. What are the biggest mistakes people make, and how they can correct them? And most importantly, what is an SEO? What is your advice to young developers who wish to follow in your footsteps? How did you get interested in SEO? How did you get interested in SEO?
The biggest mistake is using your own words, not your customers words. I don’t usually care how you describe your product, or what you call your product. I care what your customers call your product. How they think about it. How they describe it. If you don’t get into that mindset when working on your site, your SEO is doomed from the beginning.
Of course there are lots and lots of technical issues you can run into when building a site too. That’s one of the main reasons I think people should always use a system like WordPress.
All the stuff you could run into that can break, people have already ran into.
The out-of-the-box SEO of WordPress is better than any other CMS out there.
How hard is it to build a brand today, and what do people need to do to become one?
It’s hard to stand out. You need to do a lot of things right, but I think first and foremost, you need to be genuine in what you want to achieve, and genuine in your interactions with people.
Is there really a quick fix that will boost someone’s visits, unique visitors, sales…?
Fix a problem that people have. It’s that simple. And that hard at the same time.
What is your advice to young developers who wish to follow in your footsteps?
Is there such a moment in someone’s carrier when a person can say “That’s it, I made it”? And if so, how can you recognize it?
I don’t know. When have you made it? I still don’t have a good answer to that question. I think we’re doing quite well and we have financial independence and freedom, which is awesome. But there’s lots more I want to do, lots more I think we can offer the world. The money doesn’t drive us, which is one of the reasons I’m so incredibly proud of the team of directors that Yoast has.
In your opinion, what is the next big thing people should pay attention to when it comes to the internet, technology, and programming?
The combination of voice search, AI and digital assistants is bringing us to a very exciting, yet scary future. Technologies like Google Duplex, in itself but also in combination with self driving cars and trucks, can really change what we think needs to be “human work”. That’ll bring all sorts of changes in society, and will probably have both very positive and very negative side effects. I’m looking forward to playing a positive role in that.