We had the pleasure to exchange with Raphaël Richard, CEO and founder of Néodia, a French digital player expert in SEO aspects of your websites, but also in Digital Marketing.
You can find here the video of our exchange and the written interview resulting from this exchange.
[Emmanuel M] : Hello Richard, thank you for accepting this interview, to talk to us about Neodia and
SEO. Could you summarize your career path that brought you to where you are today? And could you introduce us to Neodia, and the services you offer?
[Raphaël Richard] :
Neodia is a digital marketing agency, which intervenes in three complementary fields: acquisition campaign (natural referencing, Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Tik tok ads), improvement of the commercial performance of sites (optimization of the conversion rate) and automation.
It differs from other agencies in three ways
1/ It only recommends levers with proven profitability and does not follow fads
2/ It creates original models and methods that maximize the profitability of operations through a holistic approach that works: receptivity of Internet users to the advertising messages of the various platforms, optimization of the campaign itself, optimization of the conversion rate on the site, implementation of tracking tools to measure the performance of the action finely.
3/ We distinguish ourselves by the fact that we go against certain digital marketing trends: we build sustainable and profitable strategies, based on the respect of Internet users (nature of the messages elaborated, limitation of the level of commercial pressure, no recourse to intrusive commercial networks, transparent and limited personal data collection).
Across the board, we have developed strong tracking skills: Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, Google Data Studio, as these skills are essential for measuring campaign performance and for the visibility that the agency’s clients expect.
Neodia has also developed a training program in person and via its e-learning platform 24pm Academy. 24pm Academy has taken up a challenge: to offer a complete 220-hour training course for senior executives in digital marketing, artificial intelligence and ecommerce, for less than €200/month.
The two activities (service and training) are complementary because the success of a commercial development strategy on the Internet depends on the competence of the partner agency and also on the knowledge of the client.
[EM] : Referencing and SEO, what is behind these concepts?
[RR] : Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a discipline that consists in attracting customers by capturing the first positions in Google, when potential customers are looking for a product or a service.
We can distinguish natural referencing and paid referencing, also called SEA (Search Engine Advertising) which consists in buying positions to the advertising network of Google, Google Ads.
Google ads for search are one of the forms of advertising on the Internet best tolerated by Internet users because it only pushes ads when Internet users are looking for the product. The advertising then renders a real information service.
The other form of referencing, the natural referencing, also called SEO (Search Engine Optimization) consists in going up “naturally”, without the first results of Google, without going through Google Ads. To do this, it is necessary to understand how Google works, which is constantly evolving, and to adapt the site to be referenced to the functioning of the Google algorithm.
The SEO expert must work on 5 areas: the optimization of the technical structure of the site and its code, the writing of texts with a style optimized for Google, the multiplication of the network of links from other sites, the commercial optimization of the pages that are positioned and the identification of keywords that generate the most conversions (online sales, request for quotation …) in order to recalibrate the SEO strategy.
It is a very interesting work which is part of the time: the referencing generates more and more results with the time which passes.
[EM] : What data is used/collected by browser and commercial trackers ?
[RR] : SEO also has the virtue of not needing to collect personal data to function, unlike most other marketing levers. The only personal data, i.e. the keyword captured by the Internet user, is anonymous.
In the framework of other campaigns managed by Neodia, on the other hand, three types of personal data are collected: the profiles created by the advertising agencies (Facebook Ads, for example) which allow campaigns to be targeted more effectively, data relating to the sales generated by visitors who clicked on the advertisements and the profile of visitors to the advertiser’s site which allows them to be retargeted via campaigns or to target consumers with a similar profile.
[EM] : What changes the decision of the European CNILs declaring the use of Google Analytics as illegal ?
[RR] : Due to a complaint from an Austrian activist who believes that CNILs are not enforcing the letter of the European RGPD rigorously enough, several CNILs had to analyze in detail the functioning of Google Analytics and determine whether it complies with the principles of the RGPD. The CNIL and another European counterpart came to the conclusion that this was not the case. The sites against which the complaint was filed, were given formal notice to bring Google Analytics into compliance with the RGPD within one month (decision dated February 1, 2022). Our agency has managed to find a solution that technically allows to block the transfer of personal data to the United States, provided that the advanced settings of Google Analytics are renounced.
But the legal context may change as a result of new negotiations on data exchange between Europe and the United States.
[EM] : How to manage the contradiction between your customers’ need for data and the protection of Internet users’ data ?
[RR] : First of all, it must be explained that the increase in data collection does not necessarily improve the performance of online promotion actions.
There is a kind of myth that was created at the time of the big data and AI craze in the early 2010s. This myth was largely supported by digital professionals who, in order to differentiate their offer as much as to improve the targeting of campaigns, different actors in the industry (advertising agencies, CRM specialists, software publishers, personal data vendors…).
It is this myth that justifies positions such as the one that asserts that the collection of personal data is desirable in order to provide a better service to Internet users. According to some studies, Internet users want to receive personalized ads (instead of non-personalized ads). However, this is not the problem of the majority of Internet users who never spontaneously complain about the non-targeting of ads, but about the overexposure to advertising messages on the one hand and the fact that they are spied on without authorization on the other.
Another sign of this is that the advertising campaigns best tolerated by Internet users are the Google ads for search, the ads that appear at the top of the search results. These highly targeted ads, most of the time, are not based on any personal data.
[EM] : What changes the democratization of the use of vpn, in the collection of data ?
[RR] : I think it shifts the data collection techniques, but does not fundamentally change the game: the use of VPNs adds a layer of protection, but does not exempt the use of browsers like Tor, for example.
Moreover, it is important to keep in mind that if the VPN scrambles the user’s IP address and if private browsing prevents cookie tracking, there are identification and tracking methods based on the cross-checking of data from the browser and the connecting computer (such as fingerprinting) which do not totally prevent identification. The decision of the CNIL concerning “the non-compliance of Google Analytics with the regulatory framework is based largely on the possibilities of identification by Google analytics of visitors to a site by cross-checking “metadata”.
On the subject of anonymization, the virtual ban on cookie tracking imposed by Safari has had a much greater impact on the collection of personal data. The development of VPNs has never significantly reduced the amount of personal data collected by Facebook. Cookie tracking restrictions coupled with the requirement to get iphone users’ permission to access their IDFA (the equivalent of cookies for advertising applications) has had a much more significant effect than the development of VPNs.
[EM] : For you, digital marketing actors, what does Digital Sovereignty represent ?
[RR] : There are as many conceptions of digital sovereignty of digital actors.
For my part, I believe that too much dependence on the outside world is detrimental to the functioning of the economy (reduced growth potential), to the construction of a political system independent of outside influences and often leads, in the end, to a widening of the wealth gap (between countries, within a country) because a growing part of the added value is captured by a handful of foreign companies, the trade deficit worsens, jobs are less well paid and the economic fabric does not develop as it should.
The fight for digital sovereignty has in this respect two aspects:
1/ The absolute protection or construction of sectors considered as strategic because they guarantee our independence on the regalian subjects
2/ The guarantee of a balance of market shares between foreign and local players, for the other subjects.
[EM] : What do you think of the mobilization of digital actors, in particular through the collective PlayFranceDigital?
[RR] : I am one of the 4 initiators of this movement. I remember that one Sunday afternoon in April 2020, during the lockdown, Alain Garnier and I were moved by the fact that officials from the Ministry of Health thought it was desirable to host all the patient data from the AP-HP and Health Data Hub on American servers, even though it was sensitive personal data that would not be protected.
We therefore decided to launch a movement, open to all professionals, to raise the issue of digital sovereignty.
Play France Digital is part of the organizations that have played a decisive role in raising awareness of the need for our country to become more autonomous on digital issues, in order to be less dependent on foreign countries, to promote job creation and to contribute more greatly to growth…
[EM] : What do you think of the agreement in principle between the European Commission and the US on a PrivacyShield2?
[RR] : Under pressure from the American authorities, themselves subject to strong lobbying by companies such as Google and Facebook, the United States has probably exchanged liquefied gas in exchange for secure access to the personal data of Europeans, via a new version of the Privacy Shield, a sort of legal bridge between two incompatible systems of personal data protection (the RGPD and the American legislation).
This text, the details of which are not known, apparently aims to return to the situation that existed before the invalidation of the first version of the Privacy Shield in July 2020.
This text will probably be attacked by the defenders of personal data protection in Europe, but in the meantime, the American services will have gained time and protected their market share to the detriment of European software publishers.
[EM] : For you, what are the challenges in the next 5 years of digital?
Awareness of the acceleration of digital technology
Contrary to popular belief, digital is not the future, but the present. On the other hand, digital has intruded into the heart of our, into the heart of businesses, into the heart of public services and even into the heart of conflicts. This was not the case during the take-off period of digital.
The paradigm is therefore gradually changing. There are no longer any boundaries between the real and the digital. The two are irrevocably linked, which is helping to redefine everything: marketing strategies, ways of collaborating within the company, management methods and, above all, the way we exchange, the way we conceive the world.
Digital reshapes the world on the surface and in depth: on the surface, because of the new perception it creates of things and people. In depth, it redefines what the world is: what states are and what sovereignty means, how individuals project themselves into the world, how networks of relationships are structured, how objects function …
Creating a digital economy
The corollary of this is the emergence of a totally digital economy: 100% digital products are created, like NFTs, crypto assets, online training, virtual objects sold in video games…
There is a huge potential and I predict that countries will specialize their economy in digital, not to increase the share of digital to 5% or 10% of GNP, but to 40% or 50%, in the same way that some economies like Gabon’s depend on the oil sector for more than 45%.
The flip side of this opportunity component is the security component. There are many signs that a connected economy is an exposed economy at every level.
For example, U.S. intelligence agencies have reported serious threats of large-scale attacks on targets (utilities, government agencies, businesses in countries with sanctions against Russia) sponsored by Russia in parallel with the physical offensive in the Donbass. Cyber criminals targeting individuals have moved from simple phishing attacks to hybrid attacks that combine phone spoofing (impersonating the phone numbers of anti-fraud services of banks), social engineering and remote control via Trojans. Young hackers can obtain hardware on the dark web that can trigger contactless payments by messing with subway riders. The list of attack types seems to be growing as the attacks become more difficult to detect.
Individuals and companies will gradually realize that digital transformation must go hand in hand with the adoption of new behaviors, new software and new protection hardware.
Fight against futile uses of digital technology
Technological innovation seems to have become an imperative: doubting the usefulness of certain digital innovations such as crypto currencies is often perceived today, as a sign of intellectual obsolescence. And yet, there are many reasons to doubt: overconsumption of precious raw materials, overconsumption of electricity in data centers, acceleration of innovation cycles out of sync with the innovation cycles digestible by humans.
I think it is important to state, loud and clear, that only a part of digital innovations serve the community, while other innovations contribute to aggravate pre-existing problems or create new ones: concentration of wealth, widening of the digital divide, hysterization of relationships between people, aggravation of the energy crisis…
Prevent digital technology from worsening the ecological crisis.
We know that the development of digital technology goes hand in hand with an increase in the consumption of so-called rare earths and an increase in the consumption of electrical energy, essentially produced either from fossil fuels or from nuclear energy. The extension of the cloud, the 5G (energy intensive) and the multiplication of connected objects (often permanently) aggravate this problem.
However, these topics are relatively taboo in the digital industry and are often discussed in a partisan way, not to say dishonestly: for example, 5G was created to increase data consumption. However, the increase in data consumption (which comes from the data center, in one way or another) increases the consumption of electricity and materials.
This is a taboo subject, and it must be lifted, otherwise there will be painful awakenings.
Digital technology gobbles up colossal amounts of energy and raw materials and, contrary to what we hear here and there, is in no way a solution to the ecological challenge. At most, some algorithms can help to limit the increase in energy consumption, but only at the margin and in no case to reduce it. But the overall balance of digital development is negative from an ecological point of view.
But it is very difficult for an executive, as well as for a normal user, to become aware of the problem: the media, social networks and gurus broadcast contradictory figures and speeches on the subject.
[EM] : We are coming to the end of the interview, what would be your conclusion?
[RR] : The battle for a desirable digital, which meets the essential needs of humans and financiers, which contributes to solving the ecological challenge instead of worsening it, and which does not degrade exchanges between human beings, but rather makes them more fluid, is going to have to be waged, if we want digital to be at our service and not the opposite.