In part 1 of our SEO Companies in the Philippines series, the spotlight is on a link building-focused SEO company based in Cagayan de Oro City. In this installment, I interview Michael Turner, CEO of Harvest SEO. The inteview gives a glimpse of how the Florida-based company came to set up shop in the City of Golden Friendship.
How did Harvest SEO come to be? Can you give us a historical profile of the company and its founders?
About 3.5 years ago I was hired to webmaster a group of sites. I examined the competitive space for that industry and saw that it was wide open, but the amount of work required was more than I could do on my own. The owner of the sites had limited faith in the Internet and would not allocate enough funds for me to hire anyone, so I ended up hiring some people from The Philippines to do the work for me and just paid them out of my paycheck. That’s how it all started.
Actually, it started back in 1996, when I read an article in Wired Magazine (Mother Earth Mother Board by Neal Stephenson). To write the article he had traveled around the world to see some techie events that were well off the beaten path, and watched fiber optics cables being dragged ashore by scuba divers in The Philippines. Much of the cost of laying fiber optics is in burying it. The Philippines’ volcanic origin over a deep see floor makes it easy to bring fiber to many points in the islands, since not much of the cable needs to be buried.
This meant that the Philippines would quickly become one of the most wired nations on the planet, and that it would be prime location to roll out wireless services to millions of people. The wireless Philippines is not here yet, but it’s coming rapidly.
In addition, to me, it meant it was the dawning of a new age in which intellectual value can be delivered over the Internet, and that it could be of the same quality as that of American made intellectual value. By “intellectual value” I mean a lot of things, but most easily, I mean that traditionally countries have exported raw materials and finished good, by ship. Expensive stuff might go by plane, but most stuff is sent by cargo ship. In the digital age it is now possible to export services that are more abstract than oil and textiles. Accounting services started being outsourced some years back and a lot of programming services went to India. Call-centers are a good example of intellectual value that can be exported over the fiber.
So, for me, I was already seeded with this idea, but it wasn’t until several years later that I started webmastering and doing SEO.
The main thing I needed too was to build links and write content. The first person I hired was Marisyl “Syl” Castillon, a 25 year old grad student, who I met online, at www.filipinofriendfinder.com. She had asked me for a job. Most of the Filipinas I had made contact with by then had all asked for money. Syl was the first one to ask for a job.
So, I hired her and her first instructions were to find me a programmer and a writer. It took her a long time to find them, because we didn’t have an office or anything. They were Gus Rodano and Jeedo Aquino, writer and programmer, respectively. I had Syl and Gus working from net cafes, and fortunately, Jeedo had a PC at home.
Gus previously worked as a reporter for the local CdO paper there, the Sun Star. Jeedo was an instructor at Informatics Computer Institute. Both are still with us, and the four of us together are “the founders” of Harvest SEO.
Can you give us a rundown of the services being offered by HarvestSEO?
We started out mainly doing link building and creating pages for hundreds of keyterms. Our first clients were for link campaigns. We still do link campaigns for those same clients. For some reason they keep coming back. However, I really don’t recommend our link campaigns to new clients anymore, rather I recommend they hire a couple of dedicated linkers, who have been trained via our linking campaigns and understand the whole process. I believe a dedicated linker provides a much more natural link growth profile. I don’t mean to imply that our link campaigns don’t work, they do, very well, but I just think that dedicated linkers hired for a long period bring the best value to the client.
We are not a regular SEO company, and would never advertise something like “we submit your site to 301 search engines for $29 per month” and provide you monthly ranking reports. We are not looking for retail SEO clients. We cater to the needs of SEO companies that are thriving and who are interested in being competitively priced, while maintaining high quality services.
I would say we are SEO wholesalers. I prefer the client that says, “I need 2500 links across 3 domains and 90 different pages, here’s the breakdown with anchors, descriptions, and URLs”. That’s an order I can fill. While I have the SEO knowledge to prescribe plans for sites to rank, I try to steer clear of doing so completely. The main reasons for this is conflict of interest. As a wholesale provider, I don’t care what industry you are in, if you need links or content I want to be able to provide it to you. An analogy would be if I sold fuel to airlines or sold racing fuel at a race track. I am going to sell this fuel to your competitors, the same fuel.
There an idea that an SEO should only represent a single company in any particular industry because it could create a conflict of interest otherwise. If I took clients under my wing and prescribed a treatment for their site to get them to #1, then there would likely be a conflict of interest if I got a 2nd client in the same industry, competing for the same terms.
Our best service is the dedicated outsourcing, and we provide various clients with with writers, web designers, programmers, project managers, bloggers, linkers, editors, and we’ll be adding some graphic designers and editors soon.
The dedicated outsourcing is where we provide a client with 40 hours of productive output for each employee, 5 days per week, 8 hours per day. We do require our employees to work 6 days per week, but Saturdays are reserved for self-improvement, team building, leadership training, sport fests, classes in HTML, SEO, effective communications, and things like that.
While we hire the best people we find, we also prefer to hire from our existing pool of employees to higher rated positions, and thus we need our pool of employees to continue to improve their stills and qualifications.
What are the company’s main strengths as far as outsourced SEO goes?
We can pore on a bunch of links. It is pure delight to watch the changes in the SERPs from a robust link campaign, if that kind of thing turns you on.
Our main strength is our focus on quality. A lot of people try to automate tasks that shouldn’t be automated. We recognize that, and we are not afraid to throw brain power and man power at a project to make sure it is done right. We can do this because of the low labor rates in The Philippines. That’s why we’re here, to be able to do just that. We do the dirty work, the grunt work that nobody else wants to do.
Your company’s focus is on link building which is considered central to any successful SEO campaign. What sets HarvestSEO’s link building service apart?
The individual review of each and every site is what sets us apart. We don’t email spam for links.
I get the impression that not too many people in the Philippines are “into” SEO, in fact it’s only now that SEO is entering the mainstream. Did you have a hard time “transferring” knowledge to your people?
Yes, and no. I mean, of course, but it really wasn’t so bad.
In devising this plan to do SEO in The Philippines, I set out to inform just my core people of how to do things and then had them pass that knowledge on. I do spend a lot of time IM’ing staff.
What were the initial challenges encountered by you and the other founders?
The challenge is the same as it always has been. By providing a discounted service, by taking low margins on what we do, which is what makes us so attractive and brings us the work, is that it doesn’t allow for a lot of extra capital to expand. Managing growth still is our biggest challenge.
Do you think the Philippines has what it takes to compete globally in the SEO outsourcing realm?
Absolutely, and we intend to lead the way.
As far as SEO goes, what specific areas do you think Filipinos have a distinct advantage in?
Their distinct advantage is that they speak English, and the American version of English, not the Commonwealth or Queen’s English of India, Australia, and South Africa. In addition, I would say that Filipinos are very open minded to the Internet, and hungry for it. Plus, the country is wired to the teeth with fiber.