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Meet the team – Syed Ali, Head of Search

Blog Article

Meet Syed, Head of Search here at iThinkMedia. Syed chats us through his experience within the Search industry, how he keeps up with industry trends and his top tips for anyone wanted to work in SEO. Take it away Syed! 

iTM: What was your first ever job?

SA: I completed my MSc in Computer Networks and joined a flooring company as an IT manager. As you can tell from the title, my role was quite broad. I was responsible for the management of all IT equipment along with management and promotion of services through their website. I was thrown into the deep end but little did I know that the small search part of my job would define the path of my career in digital marketing.

Syed Ali

iTM: How did you specialise in search?

SA: It was relatively easy to get good visibility of your website in search ten years ago. There was less competition and search algorithms were not as smart. When I was given the responsibility to manage a paid search account I also read up on how to optimise the website for organic search in my spare time. I would then apply these recommendations and anxiously wait to see the impact. I used to check the results so many times in day that I was able to almost predict when a Google bot would come and visit a particular page of the website.

Although I wanted to develop my career in IT and networks, all of this was quite new and exciting to me. Having a broad role is good for you but at the same time, I wanted to focus on one area to progress my career. I decided to create two versions of my CV, one for roles in computer networks and one for search. Luckily, I got offered a role in search and have never looked back.

iTM: What have been the most exciting projects you’ve worked on so far?

SA: I have been fortunate enough to work with some very clever people in our industry, giving me an opportunity to work on exciting projects.

These projects include award-winning outreach campaigns, audience profiling, development of SEO tools to handle large-scale projects, and developing search strategies for some of the top brands in the UK.

Nothing is more satisfying than delivering a project that exceeds client expectations. I was given the responsibility of managing a new challenger bank with a very weak search profile. The finance industry is very competitive by nature and the fact I had to compete with established banks like Barclays, Santander, Lloyds etc. made my task even more demanding.

My strategy was to focus on one area that will get consumers into the ecosystem, giving us the opportunity to cross sell other finance products. It took a few months but we were able to deliver 190K+ incremental visits through organic search. This campaign also got us shortlisted for quite a few awards.

Syed Ali

iTM: iThinkMedia works with some exciting brands already, but who would you love to sign up and work with, hypothetically speaking of course?

SA: I enjoy working with e-commerce and retail clients because it’s relatively easier to attribute performance to your effort. That said, I would love to work with Disney again. They were a client a few years ago, every desk in their office is full of Disney characters but most importantly, they were a really nice team to work with.

iTM: You’ve contributed to some great sites, including Search Engine Watch – what do you read to keep up with the industry?

SA: I am a big fan of Twitter and that’s what I use to keep up with this fast-paced industry. All you have to do is to connect with the right people. Other than a few Google engineers, my top three recommended people to follow are:




iTM: What is the next big shift in the SEO industry?

SA: AI and machine learning are the new fashionable words in our industry. Everyone wants to talk about the use of machine learning in search but things are moving so fast that no one fully understands the new landscape. That said, I think, voice search is on the rise and we all need to prepare for it. The interface we use to search something will be alien to the next generation. Teens are already using voice search more than adults which means we will have to adjust our strategies to optimise for voice search in the next few years.

Virtual reality is another area that needs our attention.

iTM: What is your advice to anyone wanting to work in SEO?

SA: SEO is great for people who like to push the boundaries and try new things but it demands a lot of patience at the same time. There is no rule book so most of it comes from experience and best practice. If you want to work in SEO, don’t rely on theory, a test and learn approach is perfect for anyone who wants to develop a career in SEO.


iTM: If you could name a Google algorithm what would you call it and why?

We’ve already seen Hummingbird, Panda, Penguin, Pigeon and as far as I am aware all other updates are being called ‘Fred’ so there’s no room for a new name I guess.

iTM: If you didn’t work in search, what would you be doing instead?

I could have ended being in IT support. I also love sports and if I didn’t work in search, I would like to be a professional table tennis or a cricket player.

iTM: What do you do in your spare time?

It’s quite difficult to find spare time when you have a four-year-old daughter but when I do get some spare time, I like reading up on international politics, staying up to date with the industry and watch a box set – I just finished watching Season 1 of Salvation.


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