I’ve worked with many companies who’ve shown exceptional growth, triple digits year over year that brings them to the next levels in their industries (music, education, marketplaces, etc.). But… in some cases, it wasn’t as good as it should have been. Because the main channels that they were using were vastly too big for what they should have been. So let’s dive a bit deeper into what that means.
When 80-90% becomes a problem
For some of these top performers in their space, they all had one fundamental problem: They were far too much relying on one specific channel that was driving their growth. If one channel (which is/was often Social Media or Organic Search) is driving over 80% of your traffic and/or revenue you might be growing but you’re also in immediate danger. As you can see in the following graph, this company was growing greatly for years before this. However what they weren’t realizing is, that they were not particularly setting themselves up for SEO success. They weren’t doing anything wrong, but they also weren’t doing anything in a way that I would consider a world-class SEO program. Then Google decided to change their approach to certain sites in their algorithm and this happened in the span of a few months. They lost over 40% of traffic and with that approximately 20-30% of their business.
So ask yourself, does your site/business have a healthy divide in traffic? Have you looked at the difference in channels for new and returning visitors? Looking at it the wrong way (combined) will likely skew your approach.
What channels this applies to
- SEO: If the majority of your traffic is coming in from SEO you have a serious problem. Remember the company that I was talking about at the beginning of this article. They saw their traffic drop with over 90% overnight! I repeat: overnight! This meant that their revenue streams itself crashed with over 80% (they weren’t solely relying on SEO at their revenue driver at the time).
- Paid Search & Social: When you’re thinking about this channel you’re likely thinking about Google AdWords, Bing Ads and for the social channels; Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. It makes sense, I do the same and because of that, I can’t blame you for it. But most companies aren’t even using Bing Ads, or only look at one of these channels. Even with, for example, Bing just being a few percents of your spend it will help you diversify your strategy a lot and protect you from Google changes that might hurt you in the long run. In addition, there are also tons of other networks out there which you could combine that could easily drive a few percent of your PPC spend. We looked into this recently and decided to move part of our display budget over to another platform/vendor just to ensure this, they were able to drive the same ROAS metrics and it felt safer to move a few percent of traffic to a smaller player.
- ‘Email Marketing’: In most cases, I don’t think this is really an acquisition strategy at all. Because from what source are these people actually signing up to be on your newsletter/mailing list? Likely one of the other channels that have been mentioned in this article.
- Social Media: Think about all the publishers who doubled down on social media a few years ago (Vice, Buzzfeed, etc.). Social media was a great driver of engagement, branding, and traffic for them. But have you noticed that trend over the last two/three years? Most of them have for sure not seen a traffic increase over that period. The reasons why: the social networks decided to change the way they ranked content and are likely less interested in sending more clicks to publishers instead of keeping them on their own platform.
In all these cases, still focus on these channels, they’re great drivers of growth for your business. Don’t rely on just one of them!
Why not other channels?
In my opinion, the problem doesn’t apply in most cases to referral traffic, affiliate marketing, and multi-level-marketing. As the majority of traffic from these is spread (it should) across many different partners and sites.
Valid Traffic Model
To marketers and founders, I would say, think more about the divide of your traffic and what is bringing in the actual revenue. Explore other channels, it’s not bad to kickstart growth on one channel (social/community, SEO, paid acquisition), in most cases I would encourage founders & startups actually to focus on this. It’s better to take a leap of faith and double down on a channel then to suck at a few channels.
Recruiting, Hiring and building out marketing teams has been what I’ve focused on for the last years. While starting at RVshare in June 2018, my latest role, I wanted to have an impact right away and read into how to best onboard myself in a new environment. But it was also important to provide a direct impact on the rest of the organization, I was their marketing leader after all.
On the flip side, I also spend over the years a lot of time onboarding marketers on my teams and obviously have learned a lot of lessons on that front as well. That’s why today I wanted to spend some time talking about this and provide a framework for how to onboard marketers and what to look for when you’re the newest marketing hire to a team. For this blog post, I’ve only looked at the first month, in the end, you can make a lot of impact in the first 30 days on the job if you approach it the right way!
Before getting started & Day 1
- Hardware/Software: Depending on if your newest hire will be in an office or will be hired remote it’s going to be important to figure out what they need.
- Order a laptop
- Order a screen and all the needed cables
- Accounts: What kind of tools does your company use, what can you set them up with so they can immediately hit the ground running with the software and SaaS tool that your team is using on a daily basis. Some of the examples of that could be:
- Google Account/Google Drive
- Communication: Slack, Email, Outlook?
- HR & Expenses: Too many vendors in this space to mention
- Google Sites/Atlassian/Confluence/JIRA/Github
- Video Conferencing: BlueJeans/Google Hangouts/Zoom/etc.
- Productivity: Calendly, Grammarly, TextExpander, Monosnap, 1Password/LastPass, etc.
- HR, Paperwork & Introductions: In most bigger companies you’ll spend a significant amount of time on the first day filling in all your paperwork, receiving your laptop and getting onboarded on the company’s IT systems and an introduction/class into the company(‘s history).
Month 1: The first 30 days of a new marketing hire
The first month is important, a good beginning will help support the future success of a new hire. That’s why I started listing out the things that I try to help out with once somebody new starts.
- In the first week, you can only get this started, but you want to make sure that you meet as many of your direct colleagues as possible. In our case, as part of the company is remote (including myself) we try to get somebody new out to one of the offices (Ohio/Texas) to meet the teams there.
- Plan in a regular one on one with your direct report/manager.
- Explore all the content that is already out there in your function. Read what you need to know, but also don’t feel bad about skipping things that are likely not going to help you right away.
- Prioritize: After 2-3 days in the first week you have an overload of new information landing in your lap. Can you figure out what information is urgent (you need to know it right now!) or what is a priority (it’s important but nobody will die if you don’t touch it today) in the short term.
- Introduce yourself to the rest of the company and meet with other teams to get to know them and learn what they’re working on.
- Make your first improvement/change: As a manager, I really like to make sure that in the first week a new hire has made a change that has an impact to the business. Usually, it’s a small thing that can be done, but often it’s great to show it to the rest of the organization.
- Vendors: Time to start connecting with the vendors that you might already have in place for this function. If this is a new role it’s unlikely that you already have figured out what tools & vendors you would need in your role.
- Industry research: Potentially you have already done a bit of research into what the industry looks like, but nothing is more interesting than getting to know the big players and all the industry facts then reading industry reports. The more context you have about the space that you’re operating in, the better.
- For most marketers, it’s going to be important to get familiar with the Analytics infrastructure (Google Analytics, Mode Analytics, Looker, etc.) to get a good understanding of how they should be measuring their own performance, and that of a channel when they manage that.
- Deep dives: If there was an existing team, start doing deep-dives on the work that they’ve already been doing. Otherwise, do deep dives with the other channel managers on the team.
- Customer understanding: Have your new marketer talk to the right people internally that know everything about the customer journey and the biggest pain points that your customers are facing. At RVshare, for example, we have multiple experts that most new people talk to, to get a good understanding of how the product works in detail.
- Your first 1-1: You’ll have your first actual one on one with your (new to you) manager. In the first weeks, it’s the right time to get any questions answered and get a better understanding of how the team around you will operate. For the manager, it’s a great time to make the goals for the role clear and guide you around the people that you need to work with.
- Meet with the rest of the team: Depending on the size of the Marketing team you likely haven’t met the people that you won’t be working too closely with. As an example, it’s likely not the top priority for a PR manager to meet the PPC manager in the first hours of the new job.
- Meet with all your important stakeholders: What other teams is this role working on, in most companies there will be at least overlap with roles in Product, Design, Engineering, Communications, Sales and/or Customer Service.
- Meet with vendors, part 2: After you have spent a couple weeks on the job and have met your existing vendors you likely have a better understanding of what you would need and what you’re currently missing. That means, that it’s likely time to find some additional vendors to fill in the gaps.
- Customer research: Have you had a chance yet to talk to customers. We’ve previously talked about the deep dives with other teams and getting a good insight into the pain points of customers. But set yourself up in some meetings/calls with customers and you likely will get a totally different insight into what goes on in the market and what their approach is to your business.
- First results: Think about the hands-on work that you’ve done so far and the approach that you have followed. Has it brought some early results that can help drive growth for the business (short/long term)? Evaluate what you have done and make sure that you always keep this in mind, it’s a great win if you early on can show the results of your work.
- Create a plan: After your first 30 days, you should have a better insight into what you can influence, what impact you have and what needs to be done. This plan shouldn’t be static at all and should constantly evolve over the next months on the job. But after 2-3 weeks you should have a good idea on what the low hanging fruit is to pick up.
- Start rolling out your ideas and set everything in motion to start picking up your projects. Create a 60-90 day plan of what you’ll be working on for the longer term. It will provide the basis of what you’re doing in Month 2 & 3.
- Write a job ‘profile’ with your manager: Something that I like to do after 30-60 days is to sit down with a new hire, and write down the responsibilities, goals, and support that they’re getting. Think of it as a longer & more detailed version of a job description in which you lay out what is expected of the role. After these many days on the job, you have a better idea because of early insights into what you.
What you have accomplished in Month 1?
A few things are important in the first month of a marketer:
- Do they feel comfortable talking to you and their new coworkers about the problems that they face? In the end, it’s your job as a manager to make sure they feel OK with what they’re doing.
- Do they have a better insight into how your business is operating and what your industry looks like? Have they explored the content that you can provide them with the business itself and the industry that you’re operating in?
Execute, Execute, Execute! That’s what likely the main topic will become after your first 30 days on the job. You have picked up enough knowledge to start to become useful for the organization and you can actively contribute to projects that are already running or that you will start up yourself.
Overall, this list isn’t complete yet. I’d like to keep it up to date with all the new learnings that I see with my new hires and myself over the next years. With that, I’ll try to update this post as much as possible to hopefully provide a useful resource for other hiring managers and/or marketers.
What happens after Month 1?
You’ve done a great job so far and already made real progress that will help the team. Time to keep on doing what you’re doing and have an even bigger impact on our progress/growth! Many things on the role will change and you will more continuously evolve. Hopefully, in a future blog post, I’ll shed some light on the second and third month in a new role. As you’re likely not fully ready to operate independently and understand the organization in that period. Food for thought for another blog post in the future!
Some books that I have read over the last years that I think are great in this specific use case.
- The First 90 Days: It’s a classic book, but does its work.
- The CMO Manifesto: It’s focused on higher level marketing executives, but at the same time it also touches on a lot of areas that are applicable to people that are starting in a new role.
“I hate my developers,” “We deployed the wrong thing(s),” “Somebody put up a Disallow in my robots.txt that wasn’t meant to be there,” “The whole site is deindexed.” These are 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 on what I would do in a situation like that. This often means that the SEO should have a little 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 are that they’re having a hard time working with their development team and 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. Then, have a ton of fun!
- Github/JIRA/Confluence: 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.
- Write requirements yourself or write a testing plan: An SEO feature didn’t turn out what you expected it to be? Well, did you actually exlain how it was supposed to work and wrote all the edge cases for it? Did you provide the specific for the texts that you wanted to show up. I bet you didn’t. So work with your product managers on writing requirements and help guide your QA engineers on how this could be tested. There should always be a way for you to test business logic in releases besides the functional/technical aspect of it.
- 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).
Give your developers 1 fact a day about something relevant to them and SEO. Of course, you all care about certain topics already: user experience, speed, etc. But can you really expect 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. On the other hand, 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 (RIP 🙁 ) team at The Next Web (one of their sister companies), the development team was planning to temporarily shut down the service for a few hours (2-6 hours depending on the progress). It was 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 for 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 (literally, they sat right next to me), I had the chance to slowly educate them on many SEO topics (including dealing with maintenance shutdowns). So when the time came to shut down 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.
At Postmates, we wanted to run experiments on title tags on different kinds of templates. As pages were crawled very frequently and there was enough traffic, it meant that we could run a few dozen experiments potentially yearly 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 to 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.
Velocity == Magic
Most developers are motivated by velocity, they want to see progress just as much as you want to. An easy way on how to achieve this is to break SEO workup. When you come in, I totally get it, you want XML sitemaps across different templates/sections, etc.. It’s not realistic to all put that work together as you just created a project yourself that will takes weeks to months to build. And there is no way that builds a business case and quickly your reputation is gone. Break up the work, start with an easy XML sitemap for a subsection. Show the value and expand from there: show them what an XML Sitemap Index looks like, have them add it to the robots.txt. Next: have them GZIP the files if they’re getting out of hand, after that you have a robust setup and meanwhile a bunch of releases that helped you get out the work.
Are you celebrating success with your development team? Have you shown them the results of their ideas and the work that they’ve done? How consistently do you share these learnings? For example, when? When we launched projects at Postmates, we went back to them regularly 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 team’s 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.
Update March 2019: I’ve gone through a lot of the books rather quickly this year, that’s why I’ve added a couple of other books that I’d like to read to the bottom of the list.
For the last years, I wrote blog posts (2018, 2017 & 2016) listing the books that I read in the past year and that I wanted to be reading in that specific year. As always, the past year I didn’t read all the books that I’ve listed out in the blog post as I discovered some new ones and changed my focus during the year. But I did read a lot, wherein 2017 I read maybe 10-12 books in the last year (2018) it really took off and I read around 18-20 books.
What books I didn’t get to in 2018 and have re-added to the list:
What books I’d like to be reading in 2019:
- Measure What Matters: I already started in this book by John Doerr. So far it’s a great read about everything OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). Starting at the history with Andy Grove and going into a lot of detail about how and why companies are using the goal-setting system these days and have been over the last decades. At multiple companies, I’ve worked with this system and it’s by far my favorite so I thought it wouldn’t hurt to get there.
- Thinking in Bets: It got recommended to me by my good friend @RickDronkers who said it was a great read on game theory. Having heard more rumors about how cool this book is, I’d say it’s worth a shot :).
- Blitzscaling: The latest book Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh that summarizes most of the information that they’ve worked on during their research into how companies do Blitzscaling.
- Chief Marketing Officers at Work: On the road to becoming CMO I always want to hear more from people already in that position what they value most and what they seem to work on and direct their attention to.
- Conspiracy: The story about how Peter Thiel set up ways to get back at some of his ‘enemies’ is very intriguing to me and likely the main reason why this book is on my shortlist.
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things: This book was on the shortlist for the biggest part of 2018 but I never got to reading it. Hopefully this year I finally read this Silicon Valley classic by Ben Horowitz.
- The Strategist: On the business versus in the business, and being tactical versus very strategical.
- Own the Room: Last year I read the book: Executive Presence which was very informative on what kind of personal skills one must have to become a better leader/manager. That’s why I don’t think it can hurt at any time to read more books on this topic. Own The Room has been on my wishlist for quite a bit for that reason.
- Good to Great: It was on a list of books read by product managers at Google and came highly recommended from some other people.
- Becoming: After having read multiple books about political figures (of both sides), I’d like to read Michelle Obama’s biography.
As always, leave your recommendations in my Twitter feed (@MartijnSch) as I’d love to know from others what I should be reading and what you recommend should be on the list or removed from the list.
The previous three blog posts in this series talked about writing better job descriptions for SEO roles and levels and seniority for SEOs but also but growing on a more personal level. In the last blog post in this series, I want to talk about either being a generalist or specializing as an SEO. But also, what does it mean to be a T-shaped marketer and especially in SEO. How does it change your role in the team, what skills are expected, etc.
All in all, these are questions that I ask/I’ve asked when interviewing SEO people. If I’m looking for a very technical SEO I’m likely not going to achieve great results if I hire somebody who’s really passionate about content or link building. It doesn’t mean that they’re not great SEOs, it just means that they’re not the right ones that I’m looking for at that moment.
The topic of T-shaped marketers isn’t a new one, Rand and Joanna have blogged about it before. And for years it’s been a topic that comes back on a regular basis in blogs/podcasts and at conferences.
A (simplified) example of a T-shaped SEO role with a deeper focus on the technical side.
Local, Public Relations, Content, Analytics, Technical, International, Social, Link building, UX, Statistics, Paid Acquisition, Partnerships, Business Development, Psychology, Research. Just some of the areas that I could think of in a 2-minute brainstorm when I think about other skills that SEOs could/should/must have. They’re not all as important and it depends on what you’re looking for in an SEO role (from both sides: employee and employer).
So what other skills do you need as an SEO, I have some ideas on what would be useful. It’s far from the truth but some of the skills that I see always come in handy. These are some of the examples that are on my list and that I usually look for:
- Web Analytics: Can you use a tool like Google Analytics or something else for analytics to prove the value of your work. Can you show me what works and what doesn’t? I wouldn’t make the GAIQ the centerpiece of your resume, but it at least shows that you have worked with it before.
- Other Channels: Social Media/PPC: It doesn’t really matter what channel they have worked on, but it shows that they at least.
- Understanding the funnel: Most SEOs focus on the top of the funnel > acquisition. But do they also realize what happens with their value and users once they convert (or don’t).
- Research: Can you find the right information about an industry, do you know a ton of shortcuts on finding information (through Google) or not. All of this will help you find more opportunities (for authority building), data, insights, etc.
What isn’t required in my opinion? It’s an unpopular opinion, likely: writing. I’m not a great writer, but everybody can write (although I realize not at an excellent level). But I’ve also noticed over the years that writers are easy to hire whenever you need them. So this makes it something that I don’t value that important.
Specializations / Disciplines / Areas
So what kind of specializations or disciplines are there in SEO, I think there is about 5. There might be more depending on how specialistic you want to go within a certain area (I know technical SEOs who can go super deep in a particular area). For me, this doesn’t take into account which business model or industry you specialize in (legal, gambling, real estate, marketplaces), but more about what area in SEO you’re good at. For example, I’m likely best at Technical SEO but for sure know how to align Content and Authority Building good enough to really benefit from the work that is done in that area. I know a fair share about internationalization, but likely not good enough to call myself a true expert. Local SEO, well I would advise you to talk to somebody else if you want to optimize 100 local business (at scale, Yes I can ;)).
You can have the best site in the world but at some point, you need to start building authority for it to really get attention and awareness. Do you know how to work with brand marketing and/or teams focused on Public Relations (PR), do you hire a link builder? What links do you really need? What mentions would be great to have? What kind of press would you really like to get: NYT, The Next Web, a local business magazine covering your CEO? And if you’re small how do you stand out, what’s your messaging, how do you scale outreach, etc.
What content works well for a search engine, what keywords do you focus on? How do you select & hire freelancers? What kind of visuals do you need for blog posts, how do you structure your blog posts. What kind of keywords are (not) important?
Over the years I’ve worked a lot with editors, writers, etc. and almost always had somebody on my team to deal with content. It pays off to have somebody work on creating excellent content that also easily gets picked up by publications. It makes authority building easier but also ensures that the content itself can be found, indexed and higher ranks in search engines.
Do you know how a sitemap works, do you know how to deal with structured data, can you talk me what a log file looks like and the information that you can retrieve from it? These are just some of the questions that SEOs in this area ask themselves on a daily basis. You’re basically working alongside engineers/developers to build out features that can make the site more accessible and easier to understand for a search engine.
“Local SEO”, sometimes this also means dealing with hundreds of stores for an enterprise. Or are you able to deal with a local business that just needs more promotion and they’ve been wanting to grow their SEO traffic as it can help them be the next big store in their city? How do you get more awareness for a local store, how do you add 400 listings to GMB, etc. All kinds of questions that come into play when you’re thinking about local SEO.
How do you deal with different languages, do you use different TLDs/subfolders, etc. These are the questions that these people keep themselves busy with on a daily basis. How do you optimize for the scale of different languages and regions and how do you optimize for that. What language/region needs its own content and how do I link pages together across languages (with hreflang and/or sitemaps). Do I hire local SEO teams/agencies?
Usually, internationalization is a topic that comes up at bigger companies, barely ever do small startups go overseas and have to deal with multiple languages from the start. But these are some of the important topics to think about when you want to specialize yourself in this area.
Growing as an SEO – This series
In this series I’ve also blogged about: