Starting & Growing SEO Teams

“Tell me, who/what do I need to hire to run our SEO program? What is the first hire for a new SEO team?” Questions I often get, usually followed by: “Do you know anybody for our team?”. As so many companies around the Bay Area are hiring it makes sense, which also makes hiring harder. I’ve previously blogged about writing a better job description for SEO roles but I also wanted to shed some light into what I’d suggest as good setups for an SEO team and what roles + seniority to hire for depending on your company structure.

Why need SEO support?

Most startup founders or early employees don’t have an extensive background in Marketing or specifically SEO (and they shouldn’t). Most of the time, they have been too busy building the company, getting to product-market fit and iterating on their product/service. In a lot of growing B2C companies, you need to establish plans for long term growth. That’s what SEO can usually bring to these companies: a sustainable long term growth strategy. But in order to get there, you’ll need to bring in extra help to make sure that it actually is sustainable. Instead of employing short term SEO tactics that might put your growth more at risk if you approach it wrong (as many startups also do).

Why create an SEO Team?

So why do you need to create an SEO team, for many of us this is common knowledge as we’re in this on a daily basis? But let’s say you’re getting started, these could be some of the objectives:

  • Dedicated focus on SEO, there are too many other channels to take care off.
  • Need to grow a long-term channel to success.
  • Too many tasks, need to specialize with its own dedicated specialized IC/team.
  • Build out more brand awareness for the company (SEO is a great way of doing this long term).
  • Grow revenue & transactions at a low Customer Acquisition Cost.

Consultant versus Hiring Inhouse

Hiring an SEO Consultant versus an Inhouse SEO

Some teams can’t always hire talent right away (think about the Bay Area where basically all the bigger companies constantly have a need to hire SEO talent) or it might take too long to ramp up SEO. In some other cases, it made more sense for the company to hire a consultant in the short term to take care of some issues and figure out what’s actually needed instead of just hiring somebody with potentially the wrong skill set for the long term.

My take on this is usually that if you already know what you want your SEO team to work on & are able to wait another 2-3 months that you’re better off hiring somebody in-house (if resources are available). In other cases: you have a short term need, you need a technical SEO but want to hire a content person, etc. You’re likely better off starting with a specialized consultant in an area to make sure your issues around that are covered.

Also, read my blogpost on levels & seniority in SEO roles.

Hiring SEOs isn’t good enough: resources!

The Skills of an SEO Leader

Provide them with resources, when I joined Postmates one of the questions that I wanted to make sure was that they provided me with not just resources to set up some tools but also that I had engineers available to run the actual implementations and a designer to create the new pages that we needed there.

  • Engineering: It’s important, as you the SEO can’t make all the changes yourself, you’ll need the team to make actual changes. Most SEOs that I meet don’t have the knowledge about their infrastructure to actually push code or design something that complies with brand guidelines.
  • Design: You need to add additional content, you need more blog posts, but they can’t just be text. There need to be visual add-ons to it, so you need design support.
  • Content: In a bigger company there will be an actual huge need for content (either new or to edit existing content). 

How have you been growing SEO teams, what is missing, what should SEO teams really focus on? Leave a comment!


Announcing my Technical SEO Course on CXL Institute

If there was one thing that I could teach people in SEO, it was always the technical side of SEO that came up first. Mostly, because I think it’s a skill that doesn’t suit too many SEOs and there is already enough (good or bad, you’ll be the judge of that) content about the international, link building or content side of SEO out there. As technical SEO is getting more and more technical and in-depth about the subject itself, I’m excited to announce that I’m launching a new technical course with the folks of CXL institute.

The course will cover everything from structured data to XML sitemaps and back to some more basic on-page optimization. Along the way, I show you my process for auditing a site and coming up with the improvements. I’ll try to teach you about as many different issues and solutions as I could think of.

It’s not going to be ‘the most complete’ course ever on this topic, technical SEO evolves quickly, and likely some things will already be outdated now it’s published, while we have worked on it for months. But I’m going to do my best to inform you here and on CXL Institute about any changes or any improvements that we might be able to make in a future version. If you have any questions about the course or want to cheer me on, reach out via Twitter on @MartijnSch.


Keyword Gap Analysis: Identifying your competitor’s keywords with opportunity (with SEMrush)

Keyword research can provide you with a lot of insights, no matter what tool you’re using they all can provide you a great deal of insight into your own performance but also that of others. But while I was doing some keyword research I thought about writing a bit more about one specific part: gap analysis. In itself an easy to understand the concept, but it can provide a skewed view of your competition (or not). To demonstrate this we’ll take a look at an actual example of some sites while using SEMrush’s data.

What does your competition look like?

You know who your competitors are right? At least your direct ones, but often people who work in SEO or the level above (Marketing/Growth) don’t always know who the actual players are. I worked in the food delivery industry, but more often than not I was facing more competition from totally random sites or some big ones than our competitors (for good reason). So it’s important to know what your overlap is in the search rankings (it’s one of the reasons you should actually be tracking rankings, but that’s a topic for another day) with other sites. This way you know what competitors are rising/declining in your space and what you can learn from their strategies to apply to your own site. But this is exactly where the caveat is, is that actually the case!?

So let’s look at an example, as you can see in this screenshot from SEMrush the playing field for Site A is quite large. They’re ‘ranking’ for tens of thousands of keywords and are placing in a decently sized industry. While they’re ahead of their competition it’s also clear that there are some ‘competitors’ in the space that are behind them in search visibility.

So let’s take the next competitor, we’ll call them ‘Competitor A’. What we see here is that they rank for 250.000 keywords. A significant number still, compared to what we’re ranking for. It doesn’t mean though that all their keywords are what we’re ranking for. So let’s dive into gap analysis.

Keyword Gap Analysis

In short, there are three ways to look at keyword analysis:

  • What keywords am I ranking for, that my competitor is also ranking for (overlap)?
  • What keywords am I ranking for, that my competitor is not ranking for (competitive advantage)?
  • What keywords am I not ranking for, that my competitor is ranking for (opportunity)?

Today we’ll only talk about the last one, what keywords could I be ranking for, as my competitor is already ranking for them, to drive more growth. When using SEMrush you can do this by creating a report like this (within the Keyword Gap Analysis feature):

Screenshot of: Creating a keyword gap analysis report in SEMrush

You always have the three options available to select. In this case, we’ll do the Common Keywords Option. And the result that we should see looks something like this:

Screenshot of the result, with a list of keywords.

What are the keywords with actual opportunity?

So there is apparently xx.xxx keywords that I’m not ranking for (and likely should). That’s significant and almost leads me to believe that we’re not doing a good job. So what the problem often is, which is not a bad thing. Is that the majority of these keywords are being driven by the long tail (specific queries with very low volume). So what ends up happening is that I’m likely looking at tons of keywords that I don’t want to focus on (and hopefully will benefit from by just creating a little bit more generic good content). So when I did this for a competitor and filtered down on keywords that were for them at least ranking position <20 and had a volume >10 monthly I had only 2500 keywords left. That’s just a few % of the keywords that we got started with. It’s required to add that I’m not saying to ignore the other keywords, but now you have the keywords that you have a real opportunity to drive actual results. In the end, you should be able to rank well, as your competitor is already ranking (position: <20), there is actual volume (>10) and you’re not in there at all.

This is just something that I was playing with while exploring some industries, and it’s a topic that I haven’t seen a lot of content about over the last years. While the data is often available it will both help you get new content ideas but also helps you identify the actual value (keyword volume should turn into business results: impressions x CTR x Conversion Rate == $$$) on the revenue side.


Calculating Click Through Rates for SEO, based on Google Search Console Data (in R)

Updated June 4, 2019: Added a YouTube video which will guide you through the setup process in RStudio and how to run the script yourself.


Averages lie & average click-through rates aren’t very helpful! Here I said it. What I do believe in, is that you can calculate click-through rates (CTR) for your own site in a great way though. With data from Google Search Console. Especially while using R, so let’s dive in on how this works and what you can do with it!

Why ‘Averages’ Lie?

Look at the graph below, a great CTR for position 1. But for example, this research shows that the average CTR for position 1 is: 24% (AWR data, Feb 2019). Which one is correct? Neither of them. As it really depends on the industry, what features show up in the search results that might decrease CTR (think rich snippets like local packs, news results). All of this is making it really hard to make a good analysis of what you could expect if you rank higher for a bunch of keywords in your industry. So while I was working at Postmates on ranking certain category pages better we decided to calculate our own CTR and were intrigued by how far CTRs were off from research (the research isn’t wrong! It’s just generalized across industries). Eventually, with the data in hand, we were able to make better estimates/forecasting of how much traffic we could expect when rankings would increase in that segment. In the rest of this post, I’ll go more in-depth on the specific practice on how we calculated this.

Using Google Search Console Data

Visual of Google Search Console Report (this is not RVshare data)

You’ve seen this report in Google Search Console, providing you with a detailed view of the performance of your keywords and the average position for your keywords. In this graph, we see something positive, a CTR & position that go up slightly over time. But what if you would want to know the average CTR for a certain segment of keywords per position. That’s way harder to do in the interface. Because of that, I used the R script from Mark Edmondson that he wrote about here almost three years ago.

It will help you extract the data from Google Search Console in a raw way so you can use it to digest it and create your own visualizations (like the one we’ll talk about next).

Visualizing CTR Curves in R

CTR Curve visualized CTR per Position (note: this is randomized data for an unknown site)

So let’s dive right into how you can do this yourself, I’ll provide you with the full R script and you will need to download RStudio yourself in step 1.

  1. Download and Install RStudio
  2. Download the following .r script from Gist
  3. Run these commands to install the right packages for RStudio:
    1. install.packages(“googleAuthR”)
    2. install.packages(“searchConsoleR”)
    3. install.packages(“dplyr”)
    4. install.packages(“ggplot2”) if necessary
  4. Line #21 – Change this to the property name from Google Search Console
  5. Line #25 – Not neccesary: If you want the CTR curve for positions over 20, change the number.
  6. Line #40 – Recommended: Exclude the word(s) that are part of your brand name. So you get the right CTR curve for non-branded keywords only
  7. Line #41 – Not necessary: This script is taking a ‘sample’ of 50.000 keywords to calculate your CTR curve of. You can increase this limit to more if needed, if you have less than 50.000 keywords it’s not an issue
  8. Run the script! The output should be a visual as shown earlier in this post

Want to take a deep breath and let me help you go over this again? I’ve made a quick screen share video of what to do in RStudio and how to use the R script.

Hopefully, now, you’ve had a better chance to understand what the actual CTR is for your own site and you can use this to visualize CTR curves for specific parts of your site or pages that have a similar META description. Over time you could use this, for example, for measuring the impact on CTR.

Credits where credits are due! There are many use cases for using CTR data by visualizing it with R, and I’m grateful that a while ago Mark Edmondson opened my eyes about this + credits to Tim Wilson’s documentation on using R and improving visualizations.

Want to read this article in Spanish? Read it here.


Love and/or Hate?! – SEOs & Developers

“I hate my developers”, “We deployed the wrong thing(s)”, “Somebody put up a Disallow in my robots.txt”, “The whole site is deindexed”. Just some of the quotes that I’ve heard over the years on the relation between developers/engineers. Where usually the developers are the ones that receive all the hate. It should stop, usually, I try to reflect what I would do in a situation like that. Which often means that I think the SEO should have a little bit more reflection and figure out what they could have done to avoid a situation like that. In most cases, the answers that I get back is that they’re having a hard time working with their development team and that they don’t have a very good understanding of each other’s work.

How to work together & Creating a better understanding with developers

Speak their language, Learn their language, Use their tools/platforms, Ask for their input. Embrace their new technologies and ideas. Have a ton of fun!

  • Github/JIRA: How is work assigned to your development team, what tools do you use for this and do you leverage the tools that they like using or do you require them to be stuck in a tool that they don’t like. I’m quite confident that they rather use the tools that are already part of their regular development cycle.
  • Retrospectives, Lunch & Learn: How often have you joined a retrospective of a development team or have been part of their lunch & learn. You don’t always have to know all the details about what they’ve worked on. But it for sure helps build up your own knowledge by learning more about their process/terminology and codebase/technology.
  • Pull Requests: Have you ever gone through the code that was about to be merged into your codebase to see specifically what kind of changes your developer made. It will help you double check if this is what you meant and gives you a good understanding on where certain parts that matter for SEO live.
  • Specs & Technical Requirements: Do you write your developers requirements, are you involved, have you ever read them to better understand what an integration takes? If you’ve always been used to rapid development on platform X doesn’t mean that platform Y is just as fast to have new implementations build for.
  • Embrace new technologies: Often developers have a better insight into what new technologies can help the platform that you work with. When I had no idea how a certain database + API could help us and started to get frustrated our engineering lead was happy to tell me that it would make rollouts of future landing pages way easier and avoided them having to use an old API that sometimes took days to deploy. Their efforts to implement this paid off big time already in the quarter after they had launched that (both in speed of the site and development time).

Educating Developers

Give your developers 1 fact a day about something that is relevant to them and SEO. You all care about certain topics already: user experience, speed, etc. But can you really expect from them to know about canonical tags or the inner workings of HREF lang integrations? I’m convinced they shouldn’t know anything about that until they’ve met you. In the end, it’s not part of their education/learning curve and it likely should never be there. If you guide your development team and tell them about why certain improvements need to happen you’ll likely over time build up a valuable resource with your developers. Hopefully in a way that they can actively contribute to your actual SEO strategy. That’s why I want to share two stories of how SEOs and Developers could also work together:

500 Server Request

A few years ago, when I worked internally with the TwitterCounter team at The Next Web (it was one of their sister companies), the development team was planning on temporarily having to shut down the service for a few hours (2-6 hours depending on the progress). Not great as a user experience, but it was inevitable as the servers were about to hit their limits and needed to be upgraded. Specifically for SEO, this meant that tens of millions of pages wouldn’t be accessible (including crawlers) for the duration of the maintenance. Not great, but obviously for SEO you can take the right precautions. As our development had been sitting together with me for months I had the chance to slowly educate them on a lot of SEO topics (including dealing with maintenance shutdowns). So when the time came to shutdown the servers the amazing question that came up was: “So, I imagine that we’ll put up a temporary 50X status code so we will tell search engines that we are doing server maintenance).” I don’t think there was ever a better moment in time where developers stepped up with the right mindset and understanding about SEO.

Title experiments

At Postmates we wanted to run experiments on title tags on different kind of templates. As page were crawled very frequently and there was enough traffic it meant that we could run a few dozen experiments potentially on a yearly basis just on that. Which meant that it would be a lot of work every few weeks to create/update experiments. Instead, she approached us with the question if it was Ok to build a tiny CMS so we could run title experiments ourselves. A great case to show that it took a developer a few more days to build this on top of that but that it also provided us with the ability to work without her on this so we could leverage her (or others in our organization) for other (likely more high leverage)  projects.

Celebrating Success

Are you celebrating success with your development team, have you showed them the results of their ideas and the work that they’ve done? How consistent do you share these learnings? When we launched projects at Postmates, we went back to them on a regular basis to show them how a canonical change or an additional category index page had helped our efforts to push another page. In the best cases, we could tell them how much additional revenue this had resulted in because we initiated either new pages or the updates were significant enough to measure impact.

TL;DR: I believe that developers and SEOs should work better together and that mostly needs to come from the SEO side so there is less hate on developers. Learn more about your development teams procedure, work, codebase, programming language and what they value in their work. That way you can educate them on important SEO topics over time and celebrate success when you have successfully delivered a project or improvement.

What other ways do you see to improve the relationships between developers and SEO? Leave a tip in the comments.