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Bastian Grimm about how to offer 20+ SEO languages from only one location; Berlin.

17 December 2019

Today we talk with the Director Organic Search at Peak ACE and the greatest expert for large-scale, international SEO for highly competitive industry Websites. With a background as software and webdeveloper and nearly 20 years of experience in online marketing, he still enjoys a huge range of all aspects of SEO. Peak ACE is an 100+ employee, award-winning, Berlin-based full-service Performance marketing agency with a strong focus on “all things Search” that serves customers in more than 20 different languages. Today we talk With Bastian Grimm.

Hi Bastian, congratulations on your birthday! Too many candles for you? Or don’t you mind the aging part of birthdays?
Thank you Gerk – much appreciated! However – yeah – way too many candles. I mean, thinking about it for a bit, I guess I really don’t mind aging that much. But I also have to say I am kind of enjoying my mid-30s. I’ve seen a lot, done a lot and I’ve been in the industry for almost 20 years now; I sold my first business at 16. Nevertheless, still super excited about all things search and the next 20 years!

Anybody who knows you can answer the next question for you: when you went to bed last night, how full was your inbox? ? Be honest…
You got me there. It was hardly an empty inbox! In my defence, we had a Peak Ace AllStaff meeting in our offices in Berlin starting at midday, follow by our annual Christmas dinner and closing out with the infamous Peak Ace Christmas rave. So I didn’t touch my inbox for hours – which is a very rare thing to happen. Generally though, I religiously follow an inbox zero routine with the help of Outlook and a fantastic product called SaneBox.

For all who don’t know Bastian that well, can you give brief introduction of yourself which does not include the words “dynamic”, “decisive” and “team”? ?
Absolutely. Hi – I am Bastian, born in Hoya/Weser (which is in the north of Germany, close to Hanover) in ’83. With a background in C/C++, I started my career in software development building fan websites in ‘99 (covering cheats, walkthroughs, etc.) for online games such as Half-Life, Delta Force and the like. I got frustrated because those sites didn’t get any traffic. So I started spamming Fireball, Altavista, Lycos and later on Google. ?

So profession by practical need, you’ve came a long way! How do you manage your business nowadays? Your company has scaled up a lot, do you depend much on others to lead teams? Or is it still you running the company?

That is very true; Peak Ace has seen tremendous growth in the last few years. We’re currently close to 130 people in staff. My partner Marcel and myself have basically divided the responsibilities. From a channel perspective, he oversees all performance advertising, while I am responsible for organic search, which means our SEO consulting business as well as performance-driven content marketing. Both teams have department heads who run day-to-day operations. Also, I oversee business development and sales, as well as our marketing efforts. All in all, these are five direct reports – which I think is somewhat the limit of what you can “manage” effectively. I am sometimes partially involved in some of our very large SEO accounts and I do run a handful of workshops myself. The rest of the time I spend travelling for either conferences or pitches. ?

We have all had that moment when we said “YES” to our occupation, so getting traffic to your own built websites was yours?
When those aforementioned fan websites suddenly got crazy amounts of traffic from my organic search “activities“, I was like: “yeah, this is actually quite cool!” So I continued playing with search, obviously got involved in affiliate marketing before moving inhouse for a while (amongst other things, I built SEO for a little ringtone company called Jamba/Jamster which got “famous” for stuff such as Crazy Frog… yeah, I know!) and then moved on to consultant/agency-side.

Crazy Frog ?, So it was part you? Thank you haha. But Jamster must have been a cool brand to be involved with, old school! Nowadays, what is the most challenging part of your job? Did you beat hreflang? Are you fully focusing on JS? Or are you all-in on conversational search?
Pretty hard to just name one challenging part, to be honest. I feel most sites have their unique challenges and it very much depends on each setup. If I had to pick just one topic though, right now, I’d go for all things render – the implications of Google reading and processing information that has not been available previously has significantly changed how we do SEO. And it’s not only JavaScript, which – I think – is a massive topic in itself, but rather Google’s general understanding of the visual representation layer, developments in crawling technology and much more. However, going back to your question, I honestly think hreflang is one of the most complex things to get right – only very few sites manage it. And it’s broken at its core, to be honest. It works almost as well as canonical tags. ?

As a full-scale international SEO manager, what are the biggest challenges you face with your clients? I can imagine that the content part of a multilingual, multi-country domain can be very challenging on resources internally at Peak Ace and at your client’s side. Can you share your secret?
Efficient, streamlined communication, strong project management and proper localisation. Peak Ace has always been set up to serve international clients and accounts; by now we’re serving 20+ languages with native speaker expertise – all from a single location, Berlin. We never believed in pure translation or working with freelance resources for projects like this. Quality will suffer, no matter how hard you try. So, from early on, we started hiring native speaking staff and getting them to Berlin; this seems to work quite well for us. ?

Some of your colleagues are very sceptical about the near future of digital marketing. Fili Wiese thinks we are all screwed by the filter bubble; Jono Alderson says we are too late to anticipate AI, our jobs will soon be obsolete and we should all become affiliate marketers; and Rand says we are all slaves to Google and get a bad deal out of filling their index. What are your thoughts about the future of search and the role of marketers within the process?

I suppose our roles are going to evolve even further and faster – but that’s nothing new. Looking back to what I was doing even five years ago, it was drastically different from digital marketing today. But I can see the ways in which each of my esteemed colleagues are correct; the amount of info that’s available online can be quite overwhelming and depending on which circles you’re in, it might be biased. But let’s face it: the cat and mouse game is nothing new – in fact we’ve been doing this for years and years now. I get that it can be frustrating when Google “all of a sudden” changes something, but it would be insane to just depend on one single tactic to acquire traffic. As long as you’re optimising for Google, you have to play by their rules and those are liable to change.

If you could get back one “SEO technique” from the past, what would it be?
You know – the past is the past; I am happy to leave it behind me. Some stuff was just way too easy (even though I’ll be forever thankful for all the money I made selling links back in the day.) ?

If you could share just one piece of advice with our readers, what would it be?
Test, test – and test. SEO is only ever getting more complex and, in my opinion, people rely way too much on either (unvalidated) third party opinions, meetup discussions and/or tweets from search engine representatives. However, the reality often looks very, very different; again, because you don’t have the context. Test everything for yourself, draw your own conclusions and only implement after. And only once you understand the “whys” of it!

10 years from now, do you still see yourself in the digital world? Or are your dreams bigger than the Internet?
10 years is a long, long time from now – frankly, I have no idea. But I’ve heard retirement can be quite fulfilling as well…?

Why should everyone see your presentation at Friends of Search?
That’s a tricky one – I don’t want to spoil you guys too much, but I have to admit I’m super excited about returning to FoS! I still vividly remember the first edition in 2014, when I did a well-received talk entitled “Hardening WordPress”, a presentation that has been referenced a lot in the years since then. 2020 will be very different though – we at Peak Ace have built something really exciting with our SEO and development team. I’ll be premiering it exclusively on the Friends of Search stage – and no, it is not a new SEO product and yes, I will be sharing everything with the community afterwards. And I can promise that it will change aspects of how you do technical SEO in the future. Stay tuned!