Operating in the heart of the Philippines’ booming service industry, Jason Acidre remains an unshakeable international force of nature in the world of digital marketing.
Living up to his online alias, Kaiser the Sage, Jason moves swiftly through the modern digital landscape with the speed the market demands.
His ability to maintain a sense of deep calm and old-world concentration, intimately connected to his continual cycle of self-engineering and professional growth, make him unique as a thought-leader in SEO.
I’ve been following Jason’s fascinating career since about 2009, when I was struck by his insightful early blog posts – and unique usernames.
Woj: Your handle, Kaiserthesage, is pretty memorable. Where did that come from?
Jason: Kaiser was actually my codename back when I was still active in contests like Pro Gaming. And the concept of the sage has just stuck with me back in college since I did a comprehensive research paper on Confucius and Lau Chu.
So, those things really stuck in my kind of mindset and way of life.
So Sageness and Taoist teachings have been major philosophical forces in your development?
Jason: The main thing that really stuck within my personality was how I think about other people and about things. Basically Sageness is about clearing your mind and pushing out all the negative thoughts from your mind. I’m actually not sure I got to really perfect the practice but it just came to me very naturally.
Like every time I encounter something that should typically phase most people, it just doesn’t really affect me negatively. I’m kind of really grateful that my professor back then assigned me to that term paper.
Woj: Do you think it’s given you a stronger sense of self-awareness and empathy?
Jason: Yeah, and I think it really helped me a lot in dealing with people, especially in this business. I don’t really get that stressed.
Woj: There’s a lot of psychology that goes into outreach and link building, understanding people and anticipating them. Do you think your philosophical study has helped?
Jason: A bit.
Mostly for outreach. Sometimes you really have to explore more of yourself rather than sticking with your own personality since there’s so many different people you encounter while doing outreach.
You’ll find someone who’s really easy to get along with or talk to while the rest are just so straight edge and really doesn’t have the time to really expound on the relationship you’re trying to build into. So yes.
Woj: And that’s a key thing. Like relationship building. People forget that it’s a real human at the end of the keyboard.
Jason: I agree. The main thing about outreach is you really have to be more focused on the human side of the practice itself rather than the science.
I read you used to be a pro Counterstrike player?
Jason: I started playing back in 1999 up to 2008. So that pretty much moulded the future me. Personally, I think 70% of my habits now were formed when I was in the pro gaming scene.
Can you give me an example of one of these habits from gaming?
Jason: The one best example is in our industry you have to adapt real quick with everything that’s happening and changing. And to the way search evolves. With Counterstrike you also have to strategise in real time. That basically helped me learn to think faster, how to adapt to things that you should at least have assumed or have anticipated before it actually happens.
Woj: Yeah, definitely. Let’s talk about leading up to your transition into SEO.
What were you doing after university until you started in SEO?
Jason: I was a part-time writer then. Back in 2006, one of our managers for Counterstrike introduced us to this new business writing for the web, but back then we didn’t really know where or how were the things we wrote were being used.
Eventually, I was promoted to editor until I become the operations manager for the consulting business. Then from there, I encountered SEO. But I wasn’t really interested in SEO yet. I took a one-year leave of absence from work since I had to deal with a lot of personal things first. Then when I got tired just hanging around doing nothing, I applied for a writing position for an Australian SEO agency. But the recruiter thought that I’m a better fit as an SEO. So they ask if I’m interested to try it.
Woj: When was that?
Jason: Early 2010. But my transition was really fast. Like I worked for that agency for a month and a half. Then after that, they fired me. The client fired them so they had to lay me off. A week after that I started my own blog, did a lot of research, wrote my own case studies, then took it from there.
Credit: Jason Acidre Facebook
Woj: What motivated you to start it Xight Interactive? And how has it changed?
Jason: So back in 2010, I was a solo consultant. I actually had no plans for starting my own agency but I met my business partner back in 2011 in a local conference. And since we were talking about business and I mentioned to him that I was getting a lot of enquiries but didn’t have the bandwidth to work on most of them.
So from there we decided to merge and build Xight Interactive. For the past six years it’s been really difficult. Every year we encounter a whole lot of different challenges but so far we’re surviving. And actually, we’re more profitable last year and this year.
Credit: Jason Acidre Facebook
What do you think was the turning point? Was it putting your systems and processes together?
Jason: The main turning point was just focusing on the things that we can actually deliver. Before, we were providing services on social media, PPC, even web design and web development, which aren’t really our core business.
When we started just focusing on link building, content marketing, and technical SEO, it became easier for us to get clients and to deliver good results.
Woj: I remember you actually released a lot of those processes. Do you think that transparency has contributed to your success because clients can sort of walk through it and go, “I want that but it’s too hard to do it on my own?”
Jason: Yeah. Even way back then, I think that’s one reason why we’re getting some good leads because I’m sharing some really difficult parts to do on their own. So instead of copying the parts I’m sharing they’re just hiring us to do it for them.
You’re a prolific blogger. How has your commitment to a written world shaped your career?
Jason: I don’t really see myself as a good writer or a blogger. I just really enjoy writing about things that I like learning about. And it just came to me that I really like exploring SEO more and more. And the only thing that can actually help me remember the things I’m trying to study or learn more about is to write about them. That’s why I really focused on blogging back in the day.
Woj: So it’s a way of almost like documenting the journey.
As an SEO-based in the Philippines, do you enjoy any special benefits or face any kind of unique challenges?
Jason: A lot of benefits since it’s easier to hire people back in the Philippines because labour is cheap. The literacy rate is really high, around 97%.
Plus since we’re working with 100% of our clients from the US, UK, some in New Zealand, and we’ve got some clients here in Australia, we’re getting paid more than the average in to the Philippines. So yeah, it’s more profitable for us being there and just having the operations 100% being there.
But the challenge is the time difference with the US clients because when we schedule calls, I have to redo all of my week schedule, like turning my working schedule for this week for the night times just to be able to work closely with the US clients. And then since we also have clients in UK I also have to adjust some weeks that will accommodate those clients too. I guess that’s the main challenge.
Credit: Jason Acidre Facebook
Woj: A few years ago I looked into setting up an office in the Philippines. But I found it’s really hard to find where people’s real skills are. On resumes from about 2012 people changed their position titles from SEO Link Builder to SEO Keyword Researcher Assistant. And it makes it so difficult to find the right people. You mentioned that it’s easier for you to find people to hire but do you have to change your mentality sometimes? From doing something like shitty link-building to doing it completely differently?
Jason: Back when we started in 2011, 100% of our hires have no background in SEO. It’s easier that way. And up to now, most of our people are friends or friends of friends who were just looking to build a career out of digital, you know. So, and although we get a few applicants who have backgrounds in SEO, we don’t really like getting them on board in our grand process. So that’s why we just prefer people who have zero knowledge about SEO but have at least an above average writing skill.
Woj: What about people with good people skills as well, good relationship skills. People who have like experience in maybe sales or working even in shops? Do you ever have to do outreach over the phone or is it all sort of email-based?
Jason: We tried that before. But right now what’s really working for us is either email or via social.
You just have to build a rapport via social then it makes it easier to be more remarkable or easily be remembered by the prospects when you start reaching out via email.
You’re a master link builder now but do you remember what it was like trying to ask for links when you first started?
Jason: When I started doing link-building, I was in house before I started my own agency. So it wasn’t really that hard for me because, maybe, because of how my brain is wired when it comes to finding prospects and finding something or a gap that I could actually use as a leverage to get them to respond to my request.
And nothing’s really changed. Although I do still get the challenge especially when working on really competitive spaces like insurance since most of the prospects there charge a lot for content placements. So it’s something that I don’t really do but whenever I get those types of responses, like offering paid placements instead, I just forward them to the clients so they can negotiate on their own without our help.
How do you stand out and get noticed with an outreach email?
Jason: Since the majority of our clients are heavily relying on content, we just rely on the content. As long as we have something that we are sure that the majority of our prospects will actually like, we spend a lot of time in following up; because we know that their audience will actually like it or find it useful.
Woj: What do you think is the most overused link-building tactic at the moment?
Jason: Guest blogging and broken link building.
Woj: What do you think is the most underestimated, untapped opportunity?
Jason: There’s a lot of opportunity in actual partnerships collaborating on creating content, like using other companies’ data where you create the actual content.
Then once you publish it, you give the proper credit to where you’ve gotten the data. There are only a few who are trying to do it these days. Since it takes a lot of time to really create something that’s from a collaboration. But that’s what we’re trying to build right now.
You wrote in an article once, “Be the first one to break a story or be the best one to tell it.” Can you elaborate?
Jason: Even in our industry, the ones who can really get tons of links are the ones who break something. Like, discovered something and are the first to publish it. They become the instant resource for that particular thing. For instance, do you know who invented or coined the broken link building technique?
Woj: Is it Jon Cooper?
Jason: No, it’s Napoleon Suarez. He used to work at SEER Interactive with Wil Reynolds. I think Lisa Myers originated the process for actually finding broken links but Napoleon Suarez was the one who invented the approach by doing the outreach to replace links from pages that have defunct links.
But the thing is, they didn’t really bank on that idea. So the ones who are really making a ton of exposure from broken link building methods are the new ones who have created really extensive guides about it. Like Russ Jones, he did the Broken Link Building Bible. Jon Cooper is also well known for that very same tactic.
But few people really know who invented it, and it’s Napoleon Suarez.
Woj: Oh wow. YouTube really seems to be exploding as an alternative career for gamers now.
As an SEO and a gamer, what advice would you give to YouTubers?
Jason: Actually, why don’t you see YouTube SEO? I think it’s pretty much the same with how the actual SEO works. I believe the most important factor for YouTube SEO is the amount of time spent watching the video, which is pretty much the same with what’s happening in SEO. The more people are engaged within your content or the more time they spend on your website, the more Google sees how relevant your page is for a certain query or the more they see that your content is actually something that would be viable to a lot of users. So the same principle pretty much applies with YouTube.
You’re interested in music as well as SEO, can you tell me a bit about your music?
Jason: Even back before I became an SEO, I was playing drums for a couple of bands. I didn’t really see myself doing it for the long term but since I’ve always been close with a few friends who have run big music festivals and concerts in the Philippines, and I just wanted to give back to those communities.
That small community of Philippines experimental rock and progressive rock has really honed me into someone that I was actually surprised to be, to become someone who’s been looked up in the SEO industry.
And with Magdalena – the band I produce – basically we were just childhood friends who just decided to do it. Most of us are already in the early thirties and we kind of have figured out our professional lives. So it’s easier to actually be more serious in getting an album out. So yeah, we’ve decided to just launch this, although the problem with us right now is most of us are really busy with our other aspects of our lives. Like half of us have our own families, one is also in SEO.
He works for an American agency. And the drummer is a well-known Magento developer back in the Philippines. He was one of the first five certified Magento developers in the Philippines so…
Credit: Magdalena Facebook
How has the internet empowered countries like Philippines?
Jason: Well for one, it really changed a lot of things especially in Manila, because before internet there weren’t really options for many job seekers. So it’s one of the things that are actually helping to lessen the traffic in Manila. If only the government would have a better infrastructure when it comes to internet speed and maybe improving the other cities down in the Philippines, especially in Visayas and the Mindanao region.
But right now, internet has been helping a lot of people like me to really thrive in the information technology industry. Even the biggest industry right now is BPO. So call centres and even SEO is within that sphere right now. So it’s changing our economy, helping us become more adept to what Westerners have focused on in the past 10 years or so. So yeah, it’s slowly transforming our lifestyle.
Woj: Here’s a hypothetical question: you’ve been approached by Netflix to make a show about the history of SEO. There are three episodes and each will feature the life of someone who has shaped the SEO industry. Who would you pick and why?
Jason: That’s a difficult question but I’d probably pick Russ Jones. Ever since I started, I’ve been following his works and I’ve been a huge fan of it. Most of his past writings have actually really changed how I look at SEO. I don’t really know a lot of personal things about Russ, so I think that’d be interesting.
Episode two. I think Jon Cooper is interesting since he’s the youngest one I’ve known who did really well in SEO. Plus it must have been a very difficult decision to make since he pursued SEO instead of his college degree. So that would be interesting.
Woj: That would be very interesting. I remember I interviewed Jon Cooper when he came down to Australia and he’d just turned the legal drinking age here, but was doing so well.
Jason: And the third one. I guess I would probably pick myself.
I think it’s worthwhile for people to learn how third world countries are trying to do or make something, like from the Philippines, in a international or global scene like SEO.
Is there a question that no one ever asks you during an interview that you’d like to be asked?
Jason: Something that people don’t really know about me, I guess. And the answer to that is I used to be a breakdancer.
Woj: That should be your opening move when you go on stage.
Jason: Yeah, like Mike King.
Woj: That would be pretty cool. One last question for you:
What does the future of marketing look like? And what does the future for Jason look like?
Jason: The future of marketing definitely is going to be harder, especially if you don’t have the technical background. But I guess if AI starts taking over some of the menial tasks, that could really change the whole environment of the industry.
The ones who will remain in marketing will be the ones who are on the top level of strategy, positive development, more technical consultants.
So, I think it’s gonna be more challenging. And the entry level will be high compared to this era of marketing. Though it’s gonna be easier to measure success. And it will be more aligned with other marketing channels like traditional channels.
And as for my future, since we’ve started to pivot our company to building our own web properties, in the next couple of years we’ll start maybe getting out of the service space model because it’s getting tiring.
Woj: So you want to become more of like a Software as a Service provider?
Jason: I’m so for having SaaS, having our own e-commerce websites. In the next five years I think that’s when e-commerce will start to really be more profitable. Although there are players now in the Philippines who have started to launch their own e-commerce websites.
So we’re trying to get into that game right now. And yeah, since the only way to really sustain an agency is to make sure you’re keeping your good people around or having a really easy to follow process for new hires to scale your processes. But it’s really tiring and I don’t really see ourselves doing this business for the next ten years. So that’s what we’re looking into.
If you enjoyed this interview as much as we did, please share it with others who will enjoy it too using the buttons below and be sure to hit Jason up on Twitter. You can also check out some of our earlier interviews here:
- John Cooper (Point Blank SEO) – Don’t Link Like You’re Not Impressed
- Paddy Moogan (Distilled) – Link Building Lessons
- Rand Fishkin (Moz) – It’s Kind of an Empathy Thing
- Larry Kim (Wordstream) – Finding the Unicorns Amongst the Donkeys
- Gary Illyes (Google) – Let me Google That For You
- Lewis Howes (The School of Greatness) – You Matter