Linkdex Think Tank – Lessons Learnt from Operational SEO

How are the companies and agencies doing SEO brilliantly set-up and structured to succeed? How are they ensuring they are focusing their efforts on the activity that impacts performance the most?

At the Linkdex Think Tank in May, there were leading speakers from agencies and bands who shared their strategies and tactics that will help you increase your organic search visibility, influence and reputation.  State of Digital attended the event and summarised the tips and takeaways.

This event is a follow up on the SEO e-book published by State of Digital and Linkdex.

Lesson 1: Businesses need their teams to play in harmony to improve SEO performance

Up first was Rik Turner from Propellernet who presented “Fine tuning instruments to create an SEO symphony”.

SEO Symphony

Rik spoke about how businesses need their teams to play in harmony to improve SEO performance.

  • Rik has seen a lot of changes since being in SEO and shared with the audience his experience.  Rik mentioned SEO used to be a one man band. Propellernet envisaged a team and they were the first to have SEO PR team.
  • Generating the content and outreach should be left to the experts, such as the PR experts, social experts.
  • SEO is still a young industry. SEO is not always right. This can often lead to resistance especialally  with the more established teams and also with the big brands.
  •  Many SEOs get perceived as the bossy person forcing people to get things implemented.  PR have relationships quite high up in organisations and when SEOs come in, those in PR can sometimes feel threatened and this can lead to friction
  •  Small SEO tasks can make a big impact

So who should be the conductor of the orchestra?  Who should lead the team?  It should be the insights and ideas that drive everything.

  • With any ideas, it is important to think big.
  • It is the big ideas that get through but can take up big budget.
  • So test with smaller campaign to test and justify the campaign.
  • Take the lean start up process

Lean Startup

Ideas -> build -> product -> measure -> data-> learn ->ideas

  • Go through this cycle as quick as possible.
  • So how does all this work in practice?
  • Everyone has to have shared objective.  So need to focus on the customer  which is the shared objective).
  • The focus on customer can get lost.

Propellernet had a client where wanted to help new parents.  Therefore they created the hub team around these new parents.  The team comprised of PR, Brand, Social, SEO, Content and Social.  Companies get focused on the channel, but they need to focus on the customer.  Need to create great content for the customer.

  • Processes are key.
  • It is still important to have catch ups with SEO and Social team etc but it is important to put the client at the heart of the process.
  •   Culture bring s everything together. Having an open culture of learning and sharing knowledge is very important.  It is also essential that your team are happy and healthy.

This was a great presentation by Rik, his slides from the day can be found on slideshare.

Lesson 2: Have the Right Team and Structure

Daniel Bianchini, @danielbianchinim the Director of Services at White.net shared his lessons learnt from running an SEO department for two years.

The ever changing SEO landscape means that we need to be on the ball more than ever. Daniel went through three key things to consider when running an SEO department.

  1.  Brand – understand the brand, it is not just about rankings, but conversions and traffic.
  2. Tools – many tools want to utilize to get the best data
  3. Team – and the people that are going to deliver it

Daniel built up a team to deliver great SEO.  However, in Oxford it can be hard to find the right people as the talent pool is much smaller (than it would be in London).

How can you attract great employees?

1. Understand what talent is in the area to get the best from these people.

  • So Daniel and his team ran a meetup group – Oxford Digital.  Daniel always looks at what people are doing on line, he crawls Linkdex.

2. Don’t always look specifically for those in SEO

  • Developers and journalists are not just the only ones to hire.  It is important to look for good talent and nurture them.

3. Make relationships, it is important to educate the next generation of young people.

  • Provide a training/intern programme for these people so they have a good foundation.

4. Having the right structure

  •  It is important to have the right structure in the company.  Daniel ensured they had the right people in the right team.  They wanted to bring everyone together.
  • There is no correct structure for SEO team. Make sure choose the one that works for you.

5. Tools

  • Use the same tools across your teams and ensure they are used in the same way.
  • Use the same processes across all teams. Every project is completely different.  Give them a structure to wok to.
  • Don’t stop your staff challenging those processes which can make them better.

6. Utilise templates

  • For common tasks, it is important to have consistencies across the team. For example templates used as a guide.

7. Time optimisation

  • This is about monitoring work doing and at what level. For example we are spending too much time on reporting.
  • Use tools, process and templates as guides, but allow your staff to challenge them.

8. Communication

  • This is key to every project.

9. Use project management tools such as Osana. Only use outlook for external communication.

  • It is better to move tasks from your inbos to this project management tool Osana.
  • However, use a tool that works best for you.
  • Automate duplicate tasks (Zapier does this) Take the tasks from internal teams to put the big tasks to the client

10. Provide a forum for discussion/feedback – talk about what is going on in the industry.

11. Team Development

  • Try and stay ahead of the curve.  At Whitenet, they allocate, one day for learning and development to come up with new ideas. They also encourage their staff to go to conferences.
  • It is important to upskill in all areas. SEO is just one part of onlijne marketing.  Need to be able to talk about different channels.
  • Conferences/Meetup – we all need to go to them to learn and keep ahead of the industry.
  • Give your team the power to create side projects.  Don’t want to learn on a client’s site so create own sites.  Try and test things out, what worked etc.
  • Train people well enough so they can leave, train them well enough so they don’t want to (from richardbranson).

Summary:

To deliver market leading SEO

  • Have the right team
  • Use a structure that works for you
  • Good communication
  • Ability to grow and evolve

More details of Daniel’s presentation can be found on slideshare.

Lesson 3: Technical SEO is Important to SEO Success

Petee Ecob, @peterecob, from MoneySupermarket spoke about The Importance of Good Technical SEO.  Pete shared how Moneysupermarket is delivering good technical SEO.

Moneysupermarket used to be very off page focused.  This worked extremely well for many years, but then the Google updates made their lives difficult. Now, for the first team, they have a dedicated technical SEO team which is completely focused on their own site.

Peter from Moneysupermarket

Technical SEO, What is it Important?

It is the foundation on which to build the organic strategy. There are four ways to incorporate it into a company’s SEO strategy.

1. Address the legacy

  • Technical aspects of the site is something that had been neglected for a while. They knew they were going to inherit some challenges.
  •  Razorfish did technical audits and Moneysupermarket implemented the changes.
  • There were many surprises.  Razorfish found Moneysupermarket had 1300 redirects.  This was because in the past, there was no one was governing the process and as a result they had many loops and chains.
  • Now they had a plan to clean up the links.

2. Focus on the 1,000 little things

  • Moneysupermarket looked through the audits and saw the quick wins like canonical tags to fix.
  • They are now conducting regular audits to prevent the build up of technical issues.

3. New opportunities

  • How to take it to the next level, what are we not doing?
  • For MoneySupermarket it was structured data and Rich Snippets.

4. Educate and influence the rest of the business

  • In order for the tech team to achieve and implement all the SEO recommendations, they had to get buy in from the rest of the company (even those people who did not know anything about technical aspects of a website).
  • The tech team got buy in from the rest of the company by putting together a Tech SEO best practice document and taking the rest of the team through it
  • The key is to define what those best practicesa are, getting into business, running workshops and training sessions.  Getting involved in the business making sure tech SEO is replicated  end to end – baked into the process.

MoneySupermarket were able to establish tech SEO as a mindset across the organisation.  They made sure it was part of everyone’s job

Summary:

  • Tackle big legacy challenges head on
  • Make sure you have regular audits to find and fixe those 1,00o little things
  • Take advantage of new opportunities
  • Educate the business to become best in class
  • That is why good technical SEO is essential in modern day digital marketing.

More details of the presentation can be found on slideshare.

Lesson 4: Big Organisations Can Operate and Respond Quickly to Change

Jose Truchado, @TruchadoSEO, spoke about Small Thinking in a Big Organisation.Jose spoke from experience how him and his team applied small thinking in a big organisation to generate great SEO results. Startups are able to change, this is what working in a big organisation was failing. Jose likes and implemented the start up strategy.  He shared with the audience how he is implementing the start up strategy at Expedia.

1. The Team

  • The first challenge was knowing the team well. Jose recommended us to read about Myers Briggs to help understand ourselves and the people in our teams.  This helps to identify the strengths and pitfalls of the individuals in the team.
  • Jose has the best team in the world. Every manager should have the best team in the world and believe in it.
  • Jose hired 5 people to manage 12 countries with 7 million pages.
  •  SEO creates a strategy, what needs to be done.  This then leads to having an in house team, in house collaborators, having local collaborators and vendors.

2. The Process

  • The strict process within Expedia led to a lot of  frustration with the team and Jose.  It took 3 months to change a title tag on the page as there was no CMS.
  • Therefore Jose implemented the lean start up approach.
  • Expedia is not a start up, but they way he manages team is in the same way as a start up. Jose said the way to do this is to:
  • Be more innovative
  • Flexibility to build, measure and learn
  • Speed in implementation
  • Be reactive to the market’s needs

3. Working in Silos

  • Working in silos is a big challenge in every company.   Expedia were 5 partners and then 5 years later 60 people working at the company
  • It Is very easy to work into silos.

Things that create Silos:

  • KPIs – this can lead to working in silos
  • ROI  so focused on meeting the ROI without looking at big picture
  • Process – well established processes hinder spontaneity
  • Loyalty – people become defensive and loyal not collaborative

Why shouldn’t we work in Silo?

  • We should meet, brainstorm to get the most benefit from all projects that do.
  • Eg PR do blogger outreach, SEO do blogger outreach

4. Breaking the rules

Jose got into trouble for breaking the rules, but it has generated results.

1. Scalability

  • Working in large organisation you are always asked to work on scalable project.

2. Maximise ROI – SEO benefits not so obvious. Profits of SEO may come 6 months after.

3. Branding guidelines

  • At Expedia, things have to be tested for months.

4. Team Structure

Jose could only hire 4 people, but he hired 5 and can now hire freelancers.

OVERACHIEVING

  • Building content that is not scalable but not for robots.
  • Eg London Videos – made a video of London at $400 for each video.  The rankings for London went up in every market.  The videos were translated in 9 languages.
  • This proved to the Expedia, that Jose and his team could do the project well.

Expedia UK has increased its exposure by SE by 766% since Jose has begun working at Expedia.  More details on Jose’s presentation can be found on slideshare.

Lesson 5: Organisation Hacking

Jono Alderson – Head of Insight & Collette Easton – VP of Enterprise, Linkdex spoke about Organisation Hacking

Jono said he doesn’t think it is possible to take a legacy organisation and truly integrate SEO effectively.So therefore he recommended the audience to CHEAT and ask for forgiveness instead of permission

Collette and Jono

Challenges of Working in a Large Organisation

The CEOs of these organisations is that they do not understand Digital.  They see the whole of Digital as a bolt on. This is what leads to problems in house.

In House

  • It is getting harder to effect change without changing stuff.
  • Cannot make disruptive changes to make changes to do big things. .  But need to have this change to  see difference
  • For agencies, it is getting harder to outsource SEO as a stand along or compound service.
  • This is very hard for agencies – eg deliver 20 links
  • It can be hard for the company to understand the content and get sign off for campaigns.
  • It is difficult to get the technical improvements done.

The biggest challenge is legacy organizational structure.  People do not talk to one another.  Some organizations can’t and never will have a content strategy. It is hard to do new and complex tasks.  Even if a company wants to do a redirect, there may not be processes in place to do this.

YOU ARE RELYING ON PROCESSES WHICH DO NOT EXIST

  • Many organisations don’t have mechanics for any kind of structured change.
  • Therefore the todo list is too much.
  • All of this culminates in peoples experience and entrenched behavior. They are scared of change. So what can you do?

Strategies to Winning

Collette shared her strategies to winning:

1. Don’t underestimate politics in getting people to change their behavior.

  • Need to understand those relationship. Make it safe.  Do not go in and dictate to people to get stuff done.

2. Stakeholder Impact

  • Understand how to impact the KPIs.
  • Speak to all the different stakeholders such as IT, Web Development etc.
  • Try and talk to them in their language and understand what they are trying to achieve.  Their campaigns are important.
  • You are there to support them.

3. The ultimate in change management

  • Pope Francis transformed how Catholicism is viewed worthwhile.
  • Now people are coming back to the church.

4. To align stakeholders, start at the top

  • Find out how the CEO is viewing digital.
  • Make compelling stories, make sure these people are coming along for the ride.

5. Stakeholder Buy in

6. Create a plan

  • Identify the opportunities, embed yourself in with organisation.
  • Create the building blocks, make it safe and make the stakeholders feel safe.

Some Tactical Thinking

  • It is about overcoming objectives.  So beat them, anticipate what the objectives are and wow then. Get off the defensive.
  • Show the numbers and show the workings  so you can get the budget.
  • People struggle to maintain an understanding of complex concepts.  Visualise it.
  • But also focus on Opportunity Cost – Fear, greed and loss aversion.
  • Equity is a sext concept and equity loss is scary.
  • Join up your strategy with your tactic and metrics
  • Get the CEOs to articulate what they want to achieve and then you can do hat  Eg be seen as thought leaders, do work on the blog.
  • Define what competitor strategy looks like before pitching your own.
  • Define what tactical success looks like with specifics
  • Create a UVP instead (Unique Value Proposition)
  • There are complex decisions so make it simple
  • Create roadmaps and the elements that are dependant on others to get there
  • Technical briefings – write them for the CEOs and marketing people and state why they needs this, why care and what to achieve.
  • Practice with the easy stuff first
  • Play games to solidify understanding = play guess the site with link audits, technical errors etc.  If they get it wrong it gives you the opportunity to reconfirm your strategy
  • Work the basis that things will not work out, that things will not work out

Summary:

  • Align your expectations and Behaviour with wider business needs
  • Engage with stakeholders in their language in their world, in a way they understand
  • We’re human, we struggle, make it easy to consume, share,
  • Be transparent, confident, and in control.
  • Get the right people to tell compelling stories in the right language

More details on Collette’s and Jono’s presentation is on slideshare.

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About Jo Turnbull

Jo Turnbull is the organiser of Search London and the founder of SEO Jo Blogs, which provides practical advice and tips for those in SEO.

  • Great article! – funny to see that moneysupermarket is still using keyword spam in the keyword tag…menu in javascript, breadcrumbs not corresponding with url, room for improvement 🙂