Freelancer.com – Willix Halim on SEO and Thai expansion.
For many developers and designers they are great platforms to make some additional bucks and for Startups they are great to hire (often cheap) help from all around the world. Freelancer, Odesk, and Elance are highly popular in South East Asia, particularly in the Philippines and Indonesia. Freelancer.com decided that it’s time to enter Thailand, support the local Startup community and help local freelancers and employers to find each other’s easier. Reason enough to speak with Willix Halim, VP of Growth & Analytics for Freelancer.com, about how to make the platform the go to place for Thai employers and freelancers, and SEO in general.
Can you tell me a bit about Freelancer.com?
We were founded in May 2009. We bought a company called GetaFreelancer.com from Sweden and turned it around. It had about 500.000 users. We have about 9 million users worldwide and about 5 million projects have been posted.
We’ve already attracted 20,000 Thai users…
There is currently no presence of freelancer in Thailand?
Before we began setting our sights on Thailand, the website was already running on its own globally. So far, we’ve already attracted 20,000 Thai users. About 3,000-4,000 are actually employers and the rest of them are freelancers. They spent as much as 1 million USD – even before we’ve start. We are looking to see some growth here.
In order to achieve this you will set up a team here?
This will be step two. First we have to finish the translation, but that will be done in no time. Then we are ready to hire a country manager to represent us. We do have Evan who is based in Philippines and takes care of whole Asia, but we have country managers in Indonesia, Philippines and definitely Thailand.
How are you going to differentiate yourself from Elance, Odesk and alike?
It depends on your perspective. One thing is to look at the projects. We have a lot of quick and easy projects, starting from 25 USD. As we’re also the largest in our community, we provide more opportunities to collaborate. So it’s easier for employers to choose the freelancers they need for their Startup.
I’ll give you an example: someone out there may have an idea of building an e-commerce store. They know the logistics but they don’t really know how to build it. They go to our page. Potentially for 250 USD you will get a simple but functional e-commerce store.
So you are more interested in one term projects, rather than long term?
Not necessarily, but we acknowledge the possibility that a short term project can lead to another project. In fact, 70% of our projects are posted by returning users. The focus is really providing employers with high-quality freelancers and allowing them to collaborate through our platform, whether it’s for a small task or a larger, more long-term job.
Which projects work best in Thailand?
PHP and Article Writing works best. IT & Creative skills are among the top skills by Thai professionals.
Two of our Top 5 countries are from Southeast Asia, Philippines and Indonesia.
Do you see this as a pattern across SEA, or is this Thailand specific?
The pattern is very similar across Asia. The other pattern I see emerging, even though it is not statistically significant yet, is that freelancers spend as much as employers on Freelancer. That being said, Thailand is still on the bottom of the list and we have to grow the market here. Two of our Top 5 countries are from Southeast Asia, Philippines and Indonesia. It would make sense for Thailand to join them.
Are you going to focus on attracting more freelancers or more projects?
Definitely more projects. We don’t have problems with freelancers. We have enough freelancers now and make the operationalization easier. We want to enable Thai projects to actually be in Thai and/or English so that projects can go the local and international way.
What do you think are the Top 3 channels to grow the Thai community?
We haven’t spent a lot on SEO – we are very optimized internationally but not in Thailand. That is what we are working on at the moment. The second is building awareness for Freelancer.com in Thailand, to educate employers and freelancers on how to use the platform to grow their businesses. Third would be to support Startup events, and tap stakeholders – we want to be at the forefront of building the Thai Startup community.
About 45% of the traffic comes from organic SEO
Do you do any social media marketing?
We have a Facebook page but we don’t do many other things on social media. We still see a big potential in SEO. We are currently ranked among the top 300 pages by Alexa, globally. About 45% of the traffic comes from organic SEO. In Thailand, for example, we will focus heavily on SEO because the market is wide open, and we have the capacity to approach this on a big scale.
As a founder you have your instincts and then you A/B test this and act on the results
If you don’t have a huge data science team, like Freelancer, what are the data points one should focus on?
Data science is good to have but there is an easy way to do SEO. You can just A/B test and that will show you how your different sites do in comparison to each other, in terms of variation, retention and so on. As a founder you have your instincts and then you A/B test this and act on the results. The insights could actually be achieved intuitively not through data, but you actually want to test your hypothesis.
Do you have any tools that you would suggest?
Do you have any SEO sources everybody should read?
Moz.com is definitely the go to place for SEO. Matt Cutts is somewhat the SEO expert. I’d recommend to follow him on Twitter. You will be surprised. Some things are as simple as H1 has to be above H2. The normal stuff will help a lot. Start with the basic SEO 101 and then go to the more sophisticated ones.
You also should not necessarily go for whatever other people do. When everybody is using the same approach you get information symmetry where you don’t have an advantage over the others anymore. Sometimes it is better to find a new way. There are so many companies working on SEO and as a Startup you don’t really have the capabilities to fight with those guys. It might be better to find different ways. When you are the first to do it, given it works out, you have the best return.
What do you do in terms of retaining customers? How do you make them come back?
Our freelancers are very engaging. When they finish projects they will tell the employer that they would like to work on the next project with them again. This way it grows organically. E-Mail campaigns with projects when due dates are close. We offer and recommend you other projects.
Do you provide information on how to price your projects?
We don’t provide that directly, I’d say. We do provide a repository of completed projects and users can go through the projects and can estimate realistic pricings.
Do you help in the following up process, escalation path and so on?
We offer a Milestone Payments system. Employers will pay the money and we withhold the money until both sides have agreed on completing a milestone. This system is very safe and fair. We also have a dispute system which is essentially a team of about 10 people who review cases and help to solve problems.