Growing as an SEO (3/4) – Training & Personal Development for SEOs

The previous two blog posts in this series talked about writing better job descriptions for SEO roles and levels and seniority for SEOs. In this blog post, I want to mostly talk about how to grow as an SEO: the fundamental part of this series, how do you get better, what do you grow in, but mostly what tools and resources do you have available.

“It’s not about resources, it’s about resourcefulness” – I’ll leave it up to you to Google who this quote is from. It’s not that hard, it’s a quote that hit me a few years ago. I felt I was stalling in a role and needed to move forward. There is so much that you can do yourself to advance your career and learn. That’s why I wanted to focus in this blog post on the things that I’ve used, and in most cases are still using to learn more about SEO.

I’ve tried to list as many different learning options as possible, in the end, everybody learns in a different way. It’s one of my favorite questions to ask in interviews what the best way is for people to learn. If they’re aware of what it is, it for sure adds a bonus point to the candidate.

Conferences & Meetups

While I was still living in Amsterdam, at some point I felt like that I didn’t miss any meetup related to online marketing in a while. I went to a ton of them, and they were great. There is so much to learn at an event: soft skills: networking, talking, socializing, small talk. All skills that are just as important (I’d argue even more important) than the on the job skills (crawling, technical, content, etc.).

Blogs

So let’s give you a selection of the blogs that I’ve been following over the years that helped me build my SEO knowledge. These are some of the ones on the list (read: it’s far from complete, I’ll keep updating the list with specific SEO blogs).

Mentors/Coffee/Twitter/Hero(ins)

Follow people, follow experts. You can learn so much from the approach from that other people are taking. Just to get a different insight or to learn a new tool. SEO is a rich field where everybody has their own tactics and I feel strongly that every week I pick up on some new tactics in SEO that I’ve never thought of (mostly around research or authority building). We can’t know everything but it’s a good tactic.

Talk to people, they can tell & learn you more. I’ve asked people at companies that I admire for years if I could have coffee with them. If you’re reading this and one of them, I thank you again!
Don’t ask for trade secrets, but if you do your research it will strengthen the conversation. So let’s expand a little bit on that …

Research

After I’ve just mentioned that having coffee is great to learn more, but make sure you come prepared. As we’re talking about SEO, run an audit. Ask them why they’ve done certain things this way. I’ve learned a great deal just analyzing and researching the best sites trying to figure out what their SEO strategies are after which I got that confirmed by their teams while having coffee with them. I’m not telling this to brag about it, but to give you an insight into what you can do to get more out of the meeting too. It will strengthen the conversation. You’re using somebody’s time and she or he will likely appreciate it if you know what they’re talking about in more detail.

Creating Playbooks / Keeping track

Recently I shared for the first time the idea behind building a playbook in a presentation that I gave at a conference. It’s something that I’ve actually been doing for a few years now. For about a five years now I’ve been saving job descriptions, not of jobs that I wanted to be hired for (at least mostly not). But Marketing roles that I thought I was going to hire one day or grow into. They’re a great archive (I have close to 200!) these days for whenever I need to fill a specific role.

But the same methodology applies to most parts of somebodies work, most content teams have a style guide, when you’re working in CRO you have templates to document and hypothesize your experiments. But I felt that most of these ‘standards’ were missing across functions within Marketing and specifically (in-house) SEO teams.

What’s missing?

What other tools are out there for others to use as well? What learning options have I missed and should I add to the post? Leave a comment here or on Twitter: @MartijnSch and I’ll make sure to keep this post updated, just like the others.

Growing as an SEO – This series

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Growing as an SEO (2/4) – Levels & Seniority in SEO Roles

Since I’ve joined RVshare, I needed to think a lot about these questions (again): what people do I need to hire? What experience level do they need to be at? This made me reflect back on hiring for my teams at Postmates and The Next Web and my views on different levels in certain functions. As my background is, mostly, in SEO I started to think about what levels I would form within a big SEO team and what their differences are. This is my first attempt at this framework and part of the series about growing as an SEO, the previous blog post talked about how to write a proper job description for an SEO role.

In this blog post I want to talk more about the different seniority levels, what do they mean? What kind of role are you looking for: specialist or generalist? What level are they at? And what kind of levels do you need for your own team and what might be the different responsibilities for the different roles and how do they change (over time).

Generalist versus Specialist

Are you a smaller or bigger company and how big is your SEO team? What are you really looking for on your team? What is your own background? Do you know enough about SEO yourself to successfully guide & lead an SEO person?

You’ve probably heard of the idea behind a T-shaped role. Do you expect somebody to know a lot in one specific area (specialist) or do you want that person also to know a lot about the other areas that have a relation with SEO. This visual is just the tip of the iceberg o other skills that you can expect from an SEO.

Generalist

I started myself as a generalist in my career, like most people. Back then, Springest had a need for traffic acquisition and I worked on their SEO, Affiliate Marketing and later on their Paid Acquisition (mainly Adwords). Next, to that, I worked a lot with Google Analytics to learn more about the keywords that were driving performance (this was before ‘not provided’ got introduced).

Mostly in smaller organizations, I see marketing leaders or founders hire for this type of person. In most companies, you early on need somebody to test the waters for all the channels and need to be able to manage more than just one thing. SEO isn’t usually the fastest growing channel for a company as it takes a while. That has a huge impact on why there aren’t a ton of people with a dedicated focus on SEO in most startups.

Specialist

Later on, when I left Springest and joined The Next Web I was much more of a specialist. I focused solely on SEO, although later on, I added analytics and CRO (all before I lead their Marketing team). This meant that I needed to be proficient in all the areas that were part of SEO: technical SEO, content (we had tons of editors to work with) and figure out how to build out our authority at a big scale. All this type of work was very much only focused on SEO and didn’t have much impact on other channels.

Most SEO roles these days that I see are similar, they’re usually part of a digital marketing team and/or are the only person on the team with a dedicated focus on SEO to help that channel. They have often contact with a product manager. Marketing manager and the needed people focused on content, design, and development. But they’re the ones driving the specific roadmap for SEO.

Individual Contributor (IC) & Management (M) Roles

Not everybody is a generalist or a specialist, neither is everybody a manager or wants to focus on just one discipline. But for most people, it makes sense to belong to a specific ladder.

Individual Contributor Roles in SEO

With most companies, you’ll start at the bottom of the totem pole when you start your career in SEO. Most people will start right around the title of SEO Associate or SEO Specialist at the beginning of their career and work their way up the ladder. After a while, most of them will need to make the decision to either continue to be an Individual Contributor (IC) or move into the role of manager where they start managing (or better: leading) people.

  • SEO Internship: We all need to build up experience and what better way to do that than with an internship/apprenticeship. This role will usually get the support of the SEO team while you learn how SEO works. Most people that I’ve seen enter this role have a passion for online marketing and are studying something in a related field (or totally not, sometimes even better). You’re never long in this role (at most 5 months), you either tend to like or not so you can move up on the SEO ladder.
  • SEO Associate: In some cases, this role comes in between an internship and having the title SEO Specialist. This usually happens within enterprises where you’re dealing with bigger SEO teams. There is not a ton of difference between the role of an SEO Specialist and the SEO Associate. But usually, SEO specialists tend to have a little bit more of experience (1-2 years as a maximum). They’re starter positions and sometimes the titles are intertwined.
  • (Senior) SEO Specialist: For most people, this is where they’ll start, the SEO Specialist. I’ve been and done there myself when I joined TNW this was my job title. I was the only person on the Marketing & Sales department dealing with SEO and was answering to the (at the time) CMO. This meant that I was working on all the aspects of SEO and was working with a development. When you’re getting more experience and depending on the size of the organization and HR structure it could be that you get the title Senior SEO Specialist after a while to claim the more experience that you have.
  • (Senior) SEO Manager: You’re growing, you’re basically now sort of managing the SEO process and you’re not answering usually to somebody who’s leading the SEO team anymore. You’re the one in charge of SEO but you’re not leading anybody specifically on the SEO team itself.
  • (Senior) Head of SEO: The highest level that I usually see on SEO teams as an Individual Contributor. It makes it that you’re not managing other people but work deeply on SEO and have the fundamental knowledge and resources around you to manage the whole process from start to finish. There isn’t a ton of companies that I know that are able to support this role as in most companies they’ll require you to become a manager.

Management Roles in SEO

Some people chose to go the route of the manager, they want to lead a team and be responsible for multiple people. This is where management & leadership skills are becoming more important as they’re not working 100% of their time hands-on on SEO anymore.

  • SEO Team Lead: This role likely makes sense by reading the job title. You’re part of a small SEO team and you’re the lead. I like to apply this seniority level on a team when it’s small and the ‘manager’ isn’t very experienced yet as a leader. It’s usually the case when they have moved over from the level of SEO Specialist and you decide to hire another SEO Specialist. Somebody has to lead the wolf pack and decide on a strategy. If the 1st SEO person has the ambition to step over to a more managerial role over time, this is a good start.
  • (Senior) SEO Manager: You’re managing the SEO team and you work with some people outside your own team to get things done. Usually, the case when you’re part of a bigger Growth or Marketing team and you’re the one deciding on what work is important to help the bigger team achieve its goals.
  • Director of SEO: You can strategically think about SEO and you’re part of a bigger organization. That’s what my last title was at Postmates. Our overall Growth organization of which we were part of was around 50 people and we had multiple Directors of different functions (Growth Product, Growth Engineering, Paid Acquisition, etc.) report into our VP of Growth. You lead a team that can also work cross-functionally with other teams within and outside the same group.
  • VP of SEO: Likely the highest seniority title that I’ve seen in SEO for in-house was that of VP of SEO. There are a few companies, mainly in the United States, that use that title. They’re enterprise companies (in all cases that I’ve seen at least). Where they differ from a Director of SEO role is that they’re focused on the bigger picture. They lead a team that is usually  1.5-2 times as big as the level lower and are responsible for just more than SEO. A position like this is usually also heavily involved in functions like Public Relations, Brand Marketing, and Content Creation depending on where that might live in the rest of the organization.

‘Global … Head of SEO’ – Global companies & reflecting this on titles

Through Twitter (@micahfk) reached out, with a good point about the title: “Global Head of SEO”. I’ve seen this level a few times myself as well and I agree with his point that this title can in most cases have more weight than a title on a Director level. In companies at scale, there will be a global team managing all of the enterprises’ SEO strategy where on the local level (usually countries or regions) teams will work on the local execution (and often strategy). They’ll have similar titles, but usually, the people who will head up a Global team will rank higher on the organizational chart.


This framework is simplified and not perfect. It’s a first shot at assessing what roles there are in an SEO function from an in-house point of view. As I’ve never worked with/for an agency I’m sure their views on this would be different, I won’t blog about that. It’s up for grabs for somebody who has extensively worked on that side of the fence.

Work in Progress: This blog post is a work in progress. I hope to extend it over the upcoming weeks with more information on the responsibilities and areas that the different roles work on.

Growing as an SEO

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Experimentation for Product instead of Conversion improvements

Over the last years, I’ve had many (healthy) debates with product, brand and growth teams on what experiments to run and for what reason. In some cases, it was easier to run brand or product experiments just like a regular experiment to improve conversion rate. But in the some of them there was fear that either brand or product changes might hurt conversion rate. The main question that usually came up was: what is acceptable? And at the same time for product improvements: is this improvement going to impact anything? And do we decide that speed of testing is more important than the actual learnings? That’s what I want to cover in this blog post.

Experiments: Isolation & Exploration

So when do you run multiple experiments to explore what combination of features is working and when do you focus on one specific feature to isolate what really makes your audience tick. I think the majority of discussion around testing for conversion rate optimization is focused around that.

Combining Product Changes

A discussion that I’ve had with multiple teams over the years, what if we add feature X, Y, Z to the page. But what then, in some cases it’s easy to add all of these new features to the same page and run individual experiments or it’s a product improvement and in any case, it would be good to have that feature.  In most cases, I would recommend running 1 experiment and stacking all these changes together.

Exploration: You explore if the product changes are going to have an impact on the user and what they’re doing. The argument against it is that you basically haven’t learned much and that you only know if the impact has been positive/negative. The upside is that you have good insights into if the product changes have an effect at all by rolling them out. The downside is that it might be hard to analyze the individual changes that you have implemented.

Isolation: In this case, I really want to know what the impact of a CTA, Image, text is on the user and if making changes to it will have any impact on the users’ behavior. If that’s the case, great! You really learned something that you can leverage again for future tests. And in case of the multiple changes, you would run multiple experiments to test the effect of all the changes on each other. The big downside could be in this case that it will take longer to achieve the results that you want.

What other methods have you seen, or what could be improved? How do you test faster when you do not always have enough traffic for multiple experiments.


Joining RVshare!

I’m joining RVshare, a two-sided marketplace for RVs and motorhomes, as their VP Marketing! Over the last few weeks, I’ve talked extensively with the founders and part of the team. It became clear that this was a great opportunity for a few reasons.

Why RVshare?

  • They have great product-market fit and proved this concept clearly works.
  • They’re wanting to build out a world class (marketing) team.
  • They’re a marketplace business as well, connecting the supply of RV owners to the demand of renters who want to explore the world.
  • They had backing from a great investment partner making it possible to grow fast.

All of this got me really excited, after Postmates I decided that I wanted to work not just on one channel (SEO), but on multiple to create a strong diverse set of acquisition channels and build out a world class marketing organization somewhere. That’s what I’m mainly going to focus on for the next year (which means I’m going to be hiring soon for various roles, reach out to me if you’re interested in joining RVshare). In addition, I’ve always wanted to work for a company that is operating in the travel industry, as I consider it one of the most competitive industries and a joyful one, who doesn’t love bringing more travel to people. And what better ways are there to test your own skills than in an industry like that.

What is the challenge?

  • Build out a world-class marketing organization.
  • Create a diversified acquisition strategy to drive more new RVs/Motorhomes on the platform and acquire more renters who want to explore the world with an RV.
  • Trust data! Build and improve everything that the team has built out in the last years and help it grow to the next level.
  • Create an even stronger brand and build out renting RVs as an option for people traveling.

I’ll do my best to try to document parts of the journey here on this blog and on Twitter (@MartijnSch), if you want to get a hold of me, reach out to me via martijn@rvshare.com


Measuring Content Performance: Content Engagement Metrics

What is the effectiveness of our content, how well does our content work? Who is writing the best content? What should we be writing about next? These were the top X questions I received on a weekly basis while working at The Next Web. And I’m probably not the only one, I hear a lot of companies that are asking the same questions. We were a publisher, with a big editorial team (~10 FTE editors) and publishing around 30-40 blog posts on a daily basis and had so for the past ~10 years. Which meant that there were over 65.000 articles in our archive that we could learn from. One of the hardest projects in the end.

“Tons of page views doesn’t always mean this post is doing well or is of the highest quality/the best journalism”. If one of our post hit Reddit, HackerNews or was a top story in Google News we for sure celebrated this but the impact on the business wasn’t always that big as we were hoping. Traffic from most of these sources has very low engagement and basically only brought in money through display advertising (with incredibly low CPMs). Overall, this meant that we wanted to find a better metric to score the performance of editors and find out what kind of quality really worked well for the business, not just for engagement & visitor metrics. So we got started looking into this…

Usage Metrics, Useful & Useless

What I still see a lot of companies do, and in all honestly you can’t always blame them for that. Is look at the basic usage metrics of content. How much time has a user spend reading this article, what is the bounce rate, etcetera. Which isn’t great as most of the time you don’t know the context. Is a good blog post one that has been read for 2 minutes, or 1 minute. Obviously the length of the blog post and if it has videos/images has an impact on this. All data that is usually easily overseen when analyzing content performance. Even with taking this into account it’s making it hard to come up with recommendations while working for a publisher. Are you really always going to recommend to use at least 2 ¾ images in a blog post and require a video that is exactly 23 seconds long so we know for sure people will watch it? Probably not.

Business results

Most of all, these metrics don’t align with your business goals. How often does the CEO/COO/CMO ask you what the bounce rate is of your articles so they can calculate the return on investment. Never right? That’s why over time we need better metrics that align with the business and that provide useful insight into what content really helps and what content is just good for vanity metrics like page views. You’ll be surprised in the end how many companies are still driven by these.

Capturing Goals in Google Analytics is important to measure impact of performance.

Creating a Content Engagement Metric

It’s going to be about the monetary value that content represents for your business but we won’t be setting it up that way. In the end you need to be able to evaluate the way you calculate this and over time this will likely change with your business. That’s why it’s important that we can make the decisions in an open and honest way so we can make changes later when we think they’re needed.

Setting up Goals

If you want to get started and do this on your own it’s going to be important to know what kind of events are important to your business and site. In our case we looked at, for example: newsletter subscriptions, article shares on social media (they bring in more visits, so useful for more revenue), ticket sales, ecommerce sales, etc. But also in general we wanted to know what the value for us was with a pageview. I’m not going to walk you through the setup of all these goals in this post, but if you’re unfamiliar with setting up goals in Google Analytics, read & watch this.

Custom & Calculated Metrics

So now you have determined what the goals are that matter to you. What is going to be important in this step is making sure that you assign ‘points/value’ to all of the goals. You don’t have to edit the goals for that (probably even better not to, to not interfere with the page value metric). So for example, think of it like this:

  • Pageview: 1 point
  • Article share: 5 points
  • Newsletter subscription: 10 points
  • Ecommerce sale: 150 points (or varying on the product value)
  • Ticket sale: 250 points

Now it’s time to set up a calculated metric to take this into account. Why a calculated metric? By using this we’re able over time to adjust the formula to our needs but also individually assign values to the goals if we wanted to (in that case we’d use goal completions as well).

When you get started with this, know what numbers you are using for the goals that you have setup. You can find that in the Goals interface within Google Analytics.

  1. Name: Content Engagement Score.
  2. Formatting Type: Integer (you can change this to Float or Currency if that’s more applicable)
  3. Formula: {{Goal1 Completions}} * 1 + {{Goal2 Completions}} * 5 + {{Goal3 Completions}} * 10…

In the end that should look something like this:

Reporting & Dashboarding for Content Quality

Now you have successfully created a calculated metric that we can use for reporting and informing other teams in the company about the content performance.

Trial & Error: Formulas should always be up for discussion

This formula isn’t going to be good the first time, you’ll have to tweak it and assign values that make more sense in your case. That’s why I also didn’t share the actual values of TNW (they were different from the example) as it matters to your specific business and goals.

To talk a little bit more about how things worked out for us, we tweaked it 3 to 4 times over a period of two months to get closer to our actual goal of measuring performance. In the end we could have editors who still would write for a ton of pageviews so get hundreds of thousands of points through that but editors who did great on business results weren’t rewarded value through that. So we upped some of the points assigned to our business goals to align them better.

Custom Reporting

Just setting up the goals probably already gets you quite far. It will allow you to create a page + goals report in which you can see how many goals have been hit for certain pages. Very useful if you want to measure the performance.

Dashboarding: Google DataStudio/Chartio versus (Google) Sheets

You need to share the reporting around this in an easy way, depending on your teams it will depend what works best for them. Sharing spreadsheets or making it easy for people to immediately take a look at a dashboard in a tool like Chartio and/or Google DataStudio.

Performance by day/editor/topic

Now you have all this data you can hopefully combine this with the data that you also have gathered through your custom dimensions. Previously I have blogged on The Next Web about all the ideas that I have around custom dimensions. Give it a go, it will be surprising to see how much easier it will become to report & analyze the performance across topics, time of day, team members when you can really align this with your business goals.


This is just an example of how we were measuring the performance of content for the business. There are many other ways to do this and you will have to customize the formula for your own business. What other metrics and ideas would you take into account to analyze and report this? Leave a comment or reach out on Twitter: @MartijnSch