Dutch search engine optimisation (SEO) guru, Joost de Valk, has earned himself a bit of a reputation in the industry. Many consider him somewhat of a trend setter. So much so that when he starts talking SEO, people sit up and take notice.

The big brands don’t seem to phase de Valk or his agency, Yoast. His site boasts about how he has consulted with the likes of Facebook, eBay and the Guardian on SEO and WordPress implementations.

In advance of his Amsterdam appearance at a4uexpo Europe in early July, we managed to grab a few minutes of his time to discuss his two main specialisms: SEO and WordPress. Read on to hear more from the SEO aficionado in this quick-fire interview.

How difficult is it for content bloggers to make a unique WordPress site?

Joost de Valk: What makes a site unique is a combination of design and content. You can have a perfectly designed site with bland content and you’ll get nowhere. You can have the best content in the world but a very poor design that prevents people from enjoying your content properly and you’ll get nowhere too.

What are your thoughts on Dutch SEO practices compared to other European countries?

JdV: They’re not that different, but the Netherlands is small, and therefore it’s a lot easier to rank here for queries that are more competitive in larger countries like the UK and Germany. Of course there’s also less money to be made.

How can SMEs compete with the big brands that invest so much time and money into SEO testing?

JdV: By not going for the obvious short-tail keywords, but by going for the long-tail and, more recently, by taking the ‘local’ angle. After Google’s Venice update more and more search queries now show local search results versus country specific or global search results. That’s a huge chance for SMEs and it spurred us to push harder on releasing our local SEO plugin.

How do you go about working with big clients like the Guardian and Facebook?

JdV: I just do it. In all honesty, these aren’t people that fill out my contact form or find me through a Google search. Friends of friends recommend me because of work they’ve done with me and then they introduce me.

What do you offer these entities that they can’t call upon internally?

JdV: My brain, my contacts in the industry and my experience with other large websites. Also, it’s often easier to have an outsider tell people that they’re ‘doing it wrong’, than to have someone do that internally. Lastly I think the fact that I never pull any punches helps a lot. I’m not afraid to point the finger at the bigger issue at hand, which, especially within publishers, often leads to painful but fruitful discussions.

What’s your biggest tip for WordPress bloggers?

JdV: Learn keyword research. Become the best in the world at it. Find keywords that you can rank for that bring you traffic easily, instead of going for the keywords that everybody’s going for. Then use my WordPress SEO plugin and optimise your content for those keywords. You’ll find SEO is a lot easier when you’re targeting the right keywords.