In our “Industry People” Series, we regularly talk to interesting individuals from the Online Marketing world. This time, we had a great chat with Fili Wiese.
Hey Fili and many thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Most people in the SEO-Scene know you as a former Googler and current Co-Owner of Searchbrothers with your friend Kaspar Szymanski. But maybe some of our readers don’t know you yet, so maybe you can tell them a bit about yourself?
Hello Oliver and thank you for having me. It’s a great pleasure to contribute to your “Industry People Series”.
My name is Fili Wiese and since 2013 I am an international SEO consultant with SearchBrothers.com. Before becoming an a professional SEO, I worked for seven years as a senior Google Search Quality Analyst and senior Google Support Engineer, primarily focussing on spam detection and Google webmaster guidelines violation prevention. This rather unique experience is a great asset nowadays in helping my clients to achieve their online objectives. I’m very passionate about SEO, programming, and crunching big data sets, and I commit a lot of my time to these passions which happen to be my profession as well. I am a regular speaker at online marketing conferences all over the world. Whatever time is left I commit to family life, scuba diving and my childhood passion: Science Fiction, in particular Star Trek 🙂
Let’s start with your experiences at Google. How did you get there in the first place, and how did you end up at the Spam Detection Team?
Towards end of 2005 I successfully applied for a rather cryptic job application at Google, that basically said “we can’t tell you much but you will deal with data and it will be a cool job”. It was around the time when the European Google Search Quality team was in it’s infancy, a very exciting time which also offered tremendous opportunities to learn and improve both my own skill set as well as the product I felt so passionately about: the Google Search.
My educational background paired with a passion for coding made things easy for me and I was able to quickly move up, eventually becoming the senior Google Search Quality Analyst in the Dublin office. Early on I focused on identifying and analyzing spam and policy design, as well as training and mentoring for the rest of the team. It has been a tremendously rewarding experience to educate and build up generation after generation of spam fighters from all over the world. I maintained close ties with the webmaster community, constantly publishing and speaking at conferences on behalf of Google. That’s something I’m still committed to, sharing my experience and expertise, not only with clients but also with wider audiences while speaking at large online marketing events such as SMX or PubCon.
Fighting spam is surely one of the most interesting areas at Google. What do you see as you three greatest achievements in that regard, and why?
No doubt it is! The opportunity to work on Google Search, a product everyone uses and loves, alone is thrilling. For someone as much into technology and information as I am, it is comparable to the hunt for the Holy Grail. I had the opportunity to work for Google Search Quality for a comparatively long time, so there were a good few initiatives I both felt passionate about and compelled to lead them to success.
On the top of my personal list -and of the initiatives I can talk about in public- I see the streamlining of the Google Webmaster Guidelines, both the publicly accessible document every webmaster should be intimately familiar with and the internal documentation that had become the cornerstone of the international web spam operation. Having penned these documents many years back is something I can honestly say I take pride in. And something that our clients hugely benefit from 🙂
Another one, although I must remain vague about the exact details in this case, is investigating backlink patterns, specifically private backlink networks on a massive scale. This has not been a one-off effort, but rather a task force zooming in on specific language markets and verticals over time and taking appropriate action when justified. At the beginning, it is really surprising to see mainstream media reporting on something you have been working on. Over time I got used to that, it became another indicator that the efforts are visible and that we make a positive difference. Besides the opportunity to gain incredible insights into competitive markets all over the world, the staggering volumes of data to work with were both a challenge and hugely exciting at the same time.
The other end of the penalization cycle – I was on the reconsideration request team for a long time – is likewise high up on the list. It was my first chance to experience how gratifying aiding committed webmasters can be. Approving manual spam action removals for webmasters who really meant changing their ways was quite possibly what made me become a full time consultant several years later. Many other webmaster educational initiatives followed over time, expanding European outreach efforts, speaking at conferences, organizing site clinics and publishing on behalf of Google, all of which were a supremely satisfying experience. I suppose everyone likes to help and it’s no different for me.
Since you already hinted at that: I assume that there are many things regarding your work at Google that you can not talk about in public. While in many cases that is surely justified (we all know that many SEOs jump on every bit of information in order to circumvent the guidelines), do you sometimes wish that Google would be more open? And if so, regarding which kind of topics?
In my opinion, having experienced both perspectives – Google’s as well as the point of view of a professional SEO, transparency is not the problem. Google has been constantly improving their outreach and providing more and more specific information to individual site owners. Nowadays, they share countless clues on how a website does in Google Search Console, including details regarding applied manual spam actions, which is priceless in the recovery process, something I still deal with on a regular basis. We have to acknowledge that all that information and data is made available free of charge.
The problem that presents itself is often not that information isn’t available, it is a question of how to use it. The volume and the complexity tend to overwhelm a site owner who wants to focus on driving their business rather than to deep dive into technical SEO issues.
That challenge is often magnified for non-English speaking users, who are occasionally confronted with very generic translations. In my book, it is not that Google does not provide enough information. But I do think they have the potential to improve their localization and international outreach efforts to address target audiences that are not English language proficient.
That sounds like a good direction. It seems to me that some SEOs tend to forget that Google is a private company that offers a service – and thus does not “owe” them any information. What is your take on why this topic is still so sensible and causes so many complaints and discussions? Because as you say, Google offers vast amounts of information free of charge – and that they don’t tell the world how their Algos work in detail is pretty understandable.
That topic seems to be a bit of snake pit. It often attracts less skilled however very vocal industry people to try and make their mark. The battles fought between these folks and the rest of the industry resemble religious crusades, with each side claiming to know better.
Personally, I see no point in fueling these pointless debates and making already very agitated people even more angry. I believe that it is good for my sites and my clients’ websites to be present and visible in Google’s private index which everyone can use free of charge if they wish. Because I believe that, it is my profession to make sites that add value for their target audiences and which are well accessible and understood by users and search engine bots alike. While I continuously push the efforts to improve sites, I am aware and accept that there are no guarantees for incoming traffic from search engines. The online business is not different than the offline business world is. There are no guarantees and if you fail to live up to your own performance expectations, chances are you have taken a poor business decision at some point. There’s really no reason to blame Google or anyone else for failed visibility expectations.
That sounds like a purposeful approach. On that basis: What are the three main things you look at first when you start working with a new client? And why?
The first thing to look for is whether we share similar values, based on which we can establish a trusting a mutually beneficial relationship. There’s no point in trying to bend vastly different work styles to make them match somehow. To me, the prospect of succeeding in working with a client is absolutely fundamental.
Once that’s established, the first question often is: “how much data can be gathered and shared so we can be most effective?” For example, if a client is able to confirm that server logs for the past twelve months are available, that is a very good signal for all stakeholders. It promises in-depth findings which will in return lead to actionable results.
Lastly, I tend to listen to what the client has to share. Most business partners will not hold back for long with what is on their mind. The more of their SEO and Google Search pain points are raised, the better of a service we can provide.
And once those points are established and you begin working on the website: What are your first actions in that regard?
Initiating crawls, reviewing data shared by the client, looking for patterns: The process is very much data driven. However, at some point one does develop an instinct. Often it is a hunch that points the investigation in the right direction. I suppose the Google Search Quality experience is a huge competitive advantage in this regard. Working on spam detection and prevention at Google was a very analytical task, focused on uncovering patterns and signals. Technical SEO audits and risk evaluations, which I do nowadays, are very similar.
On that note, what prompted you to leave Google and to form your own company with your former colleague Kaspar? It seems to be a road that many former employees of Search Engines choose eventually. And I imagine that many clients come to you simply because you know “the other side” as well?
It seems to be a road a lot of people with relevant corporate experience choose, among them a good few former search engine employees. Everyone has their own reasons for leaving the comfort and security of a corporate environment to pursue a new objective. For me, the idea to build a service that clients appreciate and to apply my SEO expertise at the same time was an exciting prospect. With Kaspar, we go a long way working together at Google, starting when he joined in 2006. We knew each other well, shared a drive to improve and a passion to help online businesses to improve while we were still at Google. This close collaboration sort of naturally morphed to the idea of creating our own brand and a new service. And in 2013, the moment seemed perfect for the big step, which in hindsight turned out to be indeed a fortunate timing.
You are right, some business associates are keen on seeing our rather unique experience and the ex-Google Search Quality mindset applied to their website. We gladly apply all our skills and expertise to make their sites better for users and search engines alike. In a way, we still contribute to improving the Search experience.
Sounds like you are very much enjoying both sides. Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Maybe back at a Search Engine or somewhere completely different?
Back tinkering with a global search engine, developing my own search engine, running a chain of scuba diving shops in a tropical paradise or just spending all my time with my children, who will be young adults at the time! It could be any of these passions that I will be primarily focused on. In life as much as in our industry, 10 years is an incredibly long time span. I look forward to exploring the future. Anything is possible.
You will certainly have an interesting life ahead of you. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us, Fili!