There have been many challenges over the last few years that have impacted SEO careers. So how do you advance your SEO career in a challenging in-house environment?
That’s what we’re discussing today with a lady who began her career as a social science mythologist. Data hygiene has been the thread through her 15-plus years in website development and digital growth strategy. She is currently the Senior Technical SEO at Lumar. A warm welcome to the In Search SEO podcast, Anne Berlin.
In this episode, Anne shares how to advance your career as an in-house SEO, including:
- What career challenges are in-house SEOs facing?
- Should you accept a career path where you aren’t doing the things you love?
- Building an aspirational community
- Adding value beyond your role
- Focus on things that will move the needle on conversion
Advancing Your Career as an In-House SEO
Anne: Thanks for having me, David.
D: Thanks for coming on. You can find Anne over at lumar.io. So the question of the day is, why Lumar instead of Deepcrawl?
A: I will say that in my heart, it will always be Deepcrawl. I think a lot of power users of the enterprise crawler feel the same way. But from a SaaS growth perspective, the company is expanding the platform beyond purely tech SEO applications to accessibility, web health, oversight, and dashboarding. Things that are a little bit more accessible to a more generalist audience. We wanted to target CMOs, directors of marketing, PPC, and other arms that relate to SEO but don’t have that deep technical experience. They wanted to work with a name that had more of a broader appeal. Deepcrawl can have a bit of a blackhat SEO, cybersecurity type of connotation that wasn’t resonating with a larger audience.
1. What career challenges are in-house SEOs facing?
D: Interesting. Thanks for sharing. Well, we’re not majoring in branding today. We’re talking more about SEO careers. What challenges would you say the in-house SEOs are facing with career development at the moment?
A: Well, this topic has been near to my heart in the last several weeks in particular, just looking at the ways that successive layoffs and leadership changes have made the in-house SEOs’ job particularly tense and frustrating in this economic moment. I’m not an in-house, but I have spent most of my career as an in-house. I’m currently taking my stint as an agency consultant. So I have particular visibility into the dynamics of senior in-house SEOs at companies of a variety of sizes and verticals. I think what’s driving the challenge is this push to attach revenue goals to SEO investments and initiatives, which pulls my stakeholders away from getting to spend time on the research, strategy, and tactics that got us into this field in the first place.
D: Do you think that certain SEO activities should have revenue goals next to them, but certain SEO activities shouldn’t?
A: I think the answer is that all operational activities need to have revenue goals attached to them. As an SEO, I have a penchant for site hygiene, and recognize in myself that I have a bit of an OCD attitude towards a very clean site that is perfect in every way, even if some of those improvements don’t have short-term measurable improvements for SEO. That is part of navigating being an enhanced SEO. How do you set aside your personal desire to have the cleanest possible crawl and the cleanest possible audit for focusing on what’s going to measurably improve conversion. However, I think having to project-specific incremental revenue in advance of doing SEO could get in the way of revenue growth.
D: So how do you explain that to business leaders?
A: That’s a big challenge that many in-house SEOs are facing right now. There is an expectation from the top to defend existing SEO budgets and headcount, and to say, “What have you done for me lately?” That can be a hard place to ideate strategically and come up with bold initiatives.
2. Should you accept a career path where you aren’t doing the things you love?
D: So if you’re an SEO that is mid-level in a company but looking to climb the ladder, looking to go to some kind of director or head of type level, and perhaps you’re a little bit concerned about the fact that you won’t be quite as actively involved in doing all the things you love to do as an SEO on a day-to-day basis, is it worthwhile making that move? Also, if you do make that move, how do you build the skill set required to do the different tasks required?
A: That’s a great question. Many folks, want to advance their careers to support their personal goals or their family needs, and this isn’t isolated to just SEO, but find that as they move up the ladder in their career, the tactics and daily activities that brought them into that career become a smaller and smaller part of their day. Managing up, sitting in meetings, and putting together impact reports becomes a larger and larger part.
D: Are firms getting better at providing training to people who are significantly changing the rules like that?
A: I have not seen that to be the case. But there is a very active community of SEOs in various Slack communities and forums on Reddit and as well as on LinkedIn and through platforms such as this, where there is an environment of mutually lifting each other up. I think there are ways to upskill ourselves to make that transition that doesn’t necessarily have to come directly from our HR department. I think it is much more of a personal reckoning. How do I shift from looking at large datasets and figuring out how to query an API and focus with gratitude and enjoyment on the difficult task of building long-term trust-driven relationships with colleagues across the aisle and figuring out how to attach ourselves to the projects that do have momentum. It’s as much of a project of personal maturation as it is anything else.
3. Building an aspirational community
D: Interesting. It sounds like a two-fold approach. It sounds like educating yourself on the different skill sets required to be an upper-level operator within whatever business you’re in, to be able to talk to directors in a language that they prefer. But also, as you mentioned, having the maturity and the developed personality to be able to relate with people in a different way. And I certainly love your idea of reaching out to a fellow community of SEOs and seeing what kind of challenges they’re going through as well. I guess in the ideal world, it will also be nice to reach out to a community of managers or people who already have the skill set you’re looking to develop yourself.
A: Yeah, I think that makes sense. It’s sort of building an aspirational community. And in that sense, untethering a bit from the community of entry and mid-level individual contributors, and moving into the community space of strategic leaders and operational managers. Bridging both worlds could be hard. But the idea that I had for this particular talk is more around small things that we can continue to incorporate in our day as we face this longer challenge of dealing with the tensions of advancing our career and losing the bits of being an individual contributor that drew us into the career to begin with. That we can find some levity, positivity, and joy so that we can cut through the frustration.
I hear a lot from clients these days. And we were talking before and we kicked off about how this has sort of always been the nature of the industry and everything comes around again. But I hear a lot of how difficult it is to get buy-in for new SEO initiatives. How it’s an uphill battle to get the dev team to implement any larger technical fixes. And that can be a frustrating environment in which to have creative thought and a growth mindset.
D: It’s certainly a different set of challenges that SEOs have to face nowadays, or perhaps even an additional set of challenges. And one word that I kept feeling when you were articulating your thoughts on the skills of enjoying what you’re doing, I was hearing, “Be present.” Be present in what you’re doing, and try your best to find joy in it. Even if it’s not necessarily what you initially wanted to do, perhaps as a way to develop joy in doing something that will assist you achieving the final outcome that you want to achieve.
A: I think that’s lovely. That’s a great way to summarize my thinking here. And I can think a couple of examples there. If we’re thinking about this environment of difficulty or challenge, and rather than constantly trying to push upstream and find a way to get the resources to implement the project that you think would move the needle, where there’s just no buy-in. Rather than that, can we pivot and find the initiatives that are resourced? Find the projects that are supported, and figure out how to attach ourselves to those so that we get that gratification of being part of a project that’s moving and add our expertise or SEO thinking as part of contributing.
Or can we find time to mentor and train? Finding the ability with my junior colleagues to set aside an hour and say, “Hey, I just figured out how to query this API, and it’s been helpful. Let me share my screen and walk you through how I did that.” And then they think you’re a magician. There are ways that we can continue to advance the organization and enjoy ourselves.
4. Adding value beyond your role
D: I loved what you touched upon there about finding the budget that exists elsewhere in the organization. Because I think many SEOs will be thinking, “Okay, it’s my job to come up with a strategy of how to achieve SEO success, doing certain things, and then approaching upper decision makers about getting a budget to do what I want to do.” But, there are probably other people in the organization, maybe other content marketing teams, people in social teams, perhaps even email teams who have a budget, maybe outreach teams, who are thinking to themselves, “What are we going to do to use those budgets?” And it’s by simply having those conversations with people you can find out what their goals are, what their challenges are, and hopefully use SEO to assist them.
A: And an SEO’s skill set is very wide-ranging. We understand data, we understand conversion rate optimization, and we understand what Google is looking for. There are not just a discrete set of skills that only apply to SEO. We can be valuable with teams that are looking at onboarding a new CMS platform or with teams that are working on web performance, addressing tech debt, or figuring out how to improve the user experience. SEOs can find a way to plug into those initiatives and add value. And even if it’s just on the margins, showing up to a project that has momentum and saying, “I’ve got skills and time, how can you use me?” can be personally rewarding. Also, start to show that you’re a good organizational citizen. And then you will be thought of later and trusted if there is an opportunity. And that’s the slow game.
D: And obviously, if you’re used to working in a large organization, you’ll be used to having one-on-ones with people, either your own team or people above you as well. And there’s that opportunity to think about how using SEO can help other departments. I think you mentioned CRM or that there are other marketing-related departments. Or not even necessarily marketing, but it could be technical or customer-facing teams that you could assist in some ways.
So maybe having some sort of idea about how you can assist with them, and then arranging a one-on-one. And don’t approach it in a manner that you’ve got to sell your idea to them. It’s all about listening and then seeing if what you can offer is suitable at that moment in time.
A: I find it’s effective to say, “Oh, you know what, I read a cool tutorial about that recently.” Or, “I found an interesting conversation about that in this thread.” And share it and show that you are part of this community of knowledge, that you are an active learner. And this sharing of geeking out over how to build and maintain websites can be fruitful, common ground for a relationship that you can build on later to find alignment to get some of your SEO initiatives moving again.
5. Focus on things that will move the needle on conversion
I wanted to come back to what we talked about at the top with my sort of OCD for site hygiene. A big part of my advancement and transformation is moving from, “I’ve got a hand over this 40-page audit and I want to tell you everything I found on this site that could be improved,” to curating recommendations, ruthlessly prioritizing, setting aside my personal desire to fix every problem, and only surfacing the ones that I have a high degree of confidence are going to move the needle on conversion. I think that that’s part of that professional maturity, learning to be okay and that some things are always going to be maybe broken. But let’s focus on just a few.
D: I love it. That’s a real sense of maturity. And I think a real reason why even though as an agency SEO you just love working with different clients and like working in the fast-moving world of agencies, it’s sometimes a good idea to work in-house as well and get that experience of moving things along slowly and understanding management and what you have to do to to get buy-in for key areas.
A: I think that’s brilliant. That is the name of the game. As you said, win the slow game. Find ways to keep your love of SEO alive and find joy in the little things along the way. Through mentorship and relationship building.
Pareto Pickle – Crawl Budget Optimization
D: Superb. Let’s finish off with the Pareto Pickle. Pareto says that you can get 80% of your results from 20% of your efforts. What’s one SEO activity that you would recommend that provides incredible results for modest levels of effort?
A: Tech SEO is my love so I’m going to go with a tech SEO play. I think there are incredibly easy wins to be found in crawl budget optimization, particularly on large sites. If you go into your crawl stats report and you find that there’s a file type or a site section that’s getting an inordinate amount of attention, repeat crawling, crawl volume, and that isn’t part of your priority for transactions or indexation, and you find a way to disallow or noindex and pivot Google bots attention away from that area, page indexation often increases. That’s a low effort, high reward.
D: I’ve been your host, David Bain. You can find Anne Berlin over at lumar.io. Thank you so much for being on the In Search SEO podcast.
A: I enjoyed it. Thank you.
D: And thank you for listening.