CEO Insight: Christopher Mills of iMOD.co.za & iMOD Digital
From an award winning blogger at iMod.co.za to Director of iMod Digital: “a digital marketing agency with a team of digital fanatics who share a love for the online space.” Chris Mills is a guy that has mastered many challenging, and technical parts of online business and now helps other businesses do the same. Along the way he has also coded a few web apps that provide valuable SEO (Serperture.com) and social media insight (Social Robot) for businesses looking to raise their online profile. His latest instalment is an investment comparison tool called IFIII.co.za (If I Invested In) which takes a “what if” scenario on a range of popular local investments/funds, displaying the return you would have seen, had you invested your money there for a period of time.
My earliest memory of Chris is receiving a call, late one afternoon, in the early days of launching Mantality, to let me know that the site had gone down. Fortunately it was just an intermittent server issue that corrected itself soon enough- but this is Chris’s character: warm, genuine, down-to-earth and with a real concern for those around him.
Christopher is the Director of iMod Digital, a digital marketing agency with a team of digital fanatics who share a love for the online space. For two decades, Christopher has helped hundreds of companies with their eMarketing strategies, enabling them to reach more clients and establish their brand online.
Christopher is also the founder of Serperture.com, a bootstrapped start up founded in Cape Town. The Serperture software allows a person to run a comprehensive, and automated, audit on their website. Christopher is an entrepreneur and a lover of all things in the digital industry. He studied Information Systems at the University of Cape Town and then Computer Science at Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
Some of his achievements include:
- Chosen by Moz.com to speak on Experts Panel 2014
- Nominated for Tomorrow’s Leaders Convention 2013
- Winner 2008 SA Blog Award
- Winner 2009 SA Blog Award
- Best SA Blog about Technology and Science | 2009
- Best SA Blog about Technology and Web Development | 2008
Here’s the interview;
Imod.co.za is a multi-award winning SA blog – what made you get into blogging?
Nostalgia! If I remember correctly, there were two main reasons. The first reason was from a programming point of view, I wanted to challenge myself to build something. This combined with a hunger to express myself online lead to me building my own blogging platform that I could share my thoughts and opinions on. It was never about making money though, which is what most people think. I merely wanted a place to be able to express myself and my learnings.
What hands-on tips can you give others out there looking to improve the reach and position of their personal blogs?
Dedication. The World Wide Web has changed a great deal since I started blogging and what used to work doesn’t necessarily work now. When we talk about reach and position, we’re effectively talking about getting more people to the blog. When it comes to getting more people we generally focus on Search Engines and these days, Social Media. Because Search Engines have changed so much (i.e. Google), it is no longer enough to just produce article after article. These days bloggers need to write compelling and engaging articles if they wish to attract visitors via Search Engines. One incredible article can easily trump 20+ short relatively pointless articles. When it comes to Social Media, amplifying articles through the likes of Facebook and Twitter can result in great traffic, but the same applies about great content – people don’t share pointless articles, you really need to write something that when presented to someone on a social network immediately has them wanting to share it with their friends. Finally, newsletters are hot again – incubating your visitors into a newsletter and sending them great content can often lead to a strong following and through that other people will come.
I see that recently you opted to cull a lot of your older content on imod.co.za – what was the thinking behind this and did it affect your SEO efforts and web traffic?
There really wasn’t much of a fancy game plan behind my changes. My focus is on my agency and I was no longer able to blog as effectively. On top of that, I took a great interest in financials and decided to share my journey of learnings through my site – if you think about it, that was one of the main reasons I started blogging so I’m almost coming back to my roots. I also found that blogging about marketing and technology was becoming increasingly difficult because of how many sites there are on the Internet that target these niches.
What is the best bit of SEO advice you can give to aspiring bloggers?
Produce excellent content first, worry about SEO later 😉 Takes a lot for me to say that because I pay my bills by selling SEO services, but at the end of a day a blog is all about content, you can’t replace great content with highly optimised poor content. Of course, there are basic SEO principles that can be applied, such as ensuring that your meta titles and descriptions are unique and interesting for each blog post you write. You can make sure that you have an SEO plugin installed such as Yoast on WordPress and you can make sure that you have a Google Analytics account and a Google Webmaster Tools (Google Search Console) integrated so you have access to suggestions and statistics.
Your new blog has a big push toward finance and investing. Can you tell us a bit more about IFIII.co.za and what this can do for the man on the street?
IFIII was honestly just a fun project, but there were a few reasons behind deciding to build it. The first reason was that I wanted to build a web app / tool that wouldn’t take too long but would be interesting for the team and perhaps something a little different and inspiring. Secondly, with my interest in financials I’ve realised that the biggest problem at the moment is a lack of education and a fear of financial advisors. So this tool gives users the ability to see what they would have earned had they have invested money 1, 3, 5 years ago. It’s historical data so it isn’t about seeing which fund / investment vehicle is the best for going forwards, but rather to understand that compound interest is a big deal and that there are a lot of useful funds available. Interestingly, and I’ve never said this publicly before, the tool has put us into several meetings with financial institutions who want us to build them tools too.
iMod Digital is now your primary focus. Can you tell us a bit more about the company and what a typical workday looks like for you at Imod Digital?
My dream come true. For as long as I can remember I wanted to run my own company. I have worked as a freelancer and I’ve been employed as a senior developer, head of marketing and operations manager. I’ve had some good experiences and some bad, but I never found a place that I felt truly created an environment that was fun and inspiring to work in. I wanted to provide that, I wanted to create a place that was awesome to work at – start working a little later so traffic isn’t an issue, have a fixed staff lunch on a Friday that never gets missed, buy cool gadgets for the team and so the list goes on. I’m nowhere near having it all right and I’m far from being an expert but I like to think that the incredible team here enjoys being here. I can tell you one thing though, I’ve been hugely flexible and as fun as possible, so when something incredibly important comes up, the team will be there to support me through anything and that right there is a feeling I cannot put into words.
A typical work day is different for everyone here, but I can share a little about what mine is like. I try to arrive at work and have a chat to everyone in the office, find out how they are and how their evening was – I love to hear what everyone is up to, it keeps things personal and it removes that horrible corporate work environment feeling. After that I grab my headphones and usually spend quite a while handling email – When I started my company I decided that one of the most important things was to not have a whole lot of account managers, but rather handle client service myself. This is tiring, but I believe it’s a huge reason for the success of iMod Digital. Our clients have a relationship with me and not a junior who doesn’t know half the answers or have the ability to have decisions on the fly. This is a massive differentiating factor in my opinion. The rest of my day involves quite a few tasks, from writing some code to launching marketing campaigns to having discussions with the team about a specific project. Each day is different though and that keeps me on my toes!
With so many plates spinning, productivity must be crucial. What are 3 key productivity tips you’ve learned over the years that you wouldn’t mind sharing?
Spot on! I must be honest, we work on a lot of different things at the company, but never for a split second do I forget what is most important – our clients. So we might be working on Serperture, IFIII or launching a new product, but the minute something has to be done on a client project, those products take the back seat for as long as necessary.
Productivity tips are very circumstantial, but these are mine:
- Always remember what is most important and never let anything get in the way. It doesn’t sound like much of a “productivity tip”, but it really is.
- Manage processes and work flow incredibly carefully! Find a tool such as Asana, take the time to learn what it offers and then get the company excited about it. We use Asana every single day and it’s been a huge assistance with productivity (and an assortment of other things). There are many software options such as Basecamp and Trello, but we’ve found Asana to be fantastic.
- Enjoy what you do! Again, like point 1, this doesn’t sound like a productivity tip, but if you think about it you’ll realise that it is. If you’re working on a project that inspires or motivates you, it’ll take far less time and the result will be far greater than one that doesn’t. I cannot stress this enough!
What is a common mistake you see South African businesses making in the online space?
Not hiring great SEO Agencies? Just kidding, or am I? I think a lot of South African businesses are rushing. The online space presents a great deal of pressure because things are changing continually and I think businesses need to slow down a little and get the basics right before trying to be the next big thing online. I appreciate the pressure and we face it every time we launch something online, but we’ve found that a sturdy foundation goes a long way – just like building a new house.
What has been the most interesting or fun client/project to work on at iMod Digital?
Clients and projects aside, for me the funnest part is staying up to date with the digital industry, specifically topics around digital marketing. The learning side of things gets me out of bed every single day, feeling inspired by something and then being able to apply these findings to a client’s campaign or project is such a wonderful feeling of success. A lot of the fun for us comes from great results through an implementation. For example, we’ve been working with a company that takes investments from alumni at prestigious universities around the world and then uses the investments to pay for other alumni-to-be. We’ve achieved organic growth that is quite rare and we’ve truly affected their bottom line.. this is an incredible feeling.
What is an emerging trend you’re seeing that online businesses in South Africa should be focusing on?
I think that everyone knows how important mobile has become. I say “has become”, because it is no longer just coming. Mobile is here, Google have announced that they’re taking it more seriously and that officially there are more people searching on mobile devices than desktops. It’s not so much a trend in terms of the next big thing, but it’s a trend in terms of importance. Company’s need to embrace mobile and spend the money on ensuring that their web assets are mobile friendly. To the same extent, content creation and local search are two other areas that company’s need to focus on. A combination of mobile-friendliness, optimised content and local SEO are three of the most important factors that businesses should be focused on.
What was the size/weight of the biggest fish you’ve ever caught on a fly – truthfully Chris? 😉
Hahahaha. I’ve pulled out a 2.5kb rainbow trout on fly, it was a such a fat hen that it could hardly give a fight! It took several minutes to get it back into the water and swimming off again.