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Episode Overview: In order to take a confidently informed step forward with your SEO plans and goals for the next year, it’s important to take a retrospective look back to ensure your plan starts off on the right foot. Join Ben and Jordan as they examine the best method to formulating a SEO strategy for next year, explain the benefits of inter-departmental goal setting and the different ways you can develop new career paths within SEO in 2020.
- The best way to begin planning for next year is to evaluate the goals that were accomplished this year including measuring lead generation, examining how much traffic was generated, etc.
- It’s vital to consult other departments in your business when considering aspirational SEO goals for the coming year as it will be easier to set achievable goals, execute initiatives easier and accomplish cross-departmental goals that will grow your business.
- Positioning yourself as a go-to role in your organization that provides useful data other teams can utilize will help build a stronger relationship between search and content marketing and demonstrate your role’s value to your company, creating new career pathways and opportunities in the process.
GUESTS & RESOURCES:
Ben: Welcome back to the Voices of Search Podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and this month we’re starting the process of thinking about next year, in what we’re calling Planning November.
Ben: Joining us today is Jordan Koene who is the lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc., and today Jordan and I are going to talk to you about what you need to know to understand what happened this year and make the most out of your SEO plans for next year. But before we hear from Jordan, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise-scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data-driven decisions.
Ben: To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a free trial of the Searchmetrics software suite and Content Experience tool. So if you’re ready to optimize your website content and SEO strategies, go to searchmetrics.com/freetrial. Okay. On with the show, here’s my conversation with Jordan Koene, Lead SEO Strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. Jordan, welcome to Planning November on the Voices of Search Podcast.
Jordan: Hey Ben, let’s figure out how we can help our audience here. I think this is one of the most underserved topics for many of our listeners.
Ben: I want to take a second and pop some champagne…
Jordan: Oh, boy.
Ben: … because this is one of the first episodes, Jordan, that we’ve already recorded what’s-
Jordan: Oh, we’re just going to redo it again?
Ben: We’ve been doing this for over a year. Yeah, we should have just played last year and just recorded the word, “2019,” and dubbed it over 2018, but a lot has changed in the SEO landscape, so let’s run it back and let’s talk a little bit about how do we evaluate what has happened in the changing landscape of SEO, and how should SEOs be thinking about getting ready for next year? Let’s start off at the top. How do you think about how you should evaluate your content and your performance from the previous year’s work?
Jordan: Yeah, I think that there’s a lot of ways to do the retrospective, and I think that that’s one of the things that you want to start with in terms of your planning. Maybe it’s fortuitous or fortunate that we have done this episode and passed and so we can look back. But one of the key things that I always liked doing with my teams is looking at what has been accomplished. So what did we accomplish in the past year? How many tickets have been cleared? How many pieces of content have been produced? How has traffic has been generated? How many leads have we created? Just so you can get a good view as to what you’ve accomplished and what you’ve done the previous year.
Ben: What’s interesting to me is you’re talking about this from a very quantifiable perspective. Hey, you’re an SEO. That’s expected. But there’s another side of the coin, which I sort of think about the qualitative aspect of, when I set my goals for my podcast production business or my consulting business, I think about things, first and foremost, less from the quantifiable perspective. My goals for my podcast business this year were first and foremost to understand who my audience was, to provide value in different formats of content to get these milestones accomplished in terms of learning and then backing that up with the qualitative stuff. Is this chicken or the egg, you do one and then the other, or how do you think about your non-quantifiable goals that fit in with the things that you can actually map to from a metrics perspective?
Jordan: No, I absolutely agree, Ben, and actually, you’re dead on. It is a concept that I did not address in my various metrics-driven examples, but there are various aspirational goals that we have as SEOs, including aspects in terms of how we build relationships and partnerships within internal teams. How is our relationship and partnership with product engineering team, with the data and analytics team?
Ben: With leadership.
Jordan: Or with leadership, even better. Yeah, yeah, and these are topics that SEOs often just don’t even address. They don’t even think about this component of the job, but it’s probably the most important because when things get difficult or when there’s an opportunity that needs to be taken advantage of, these are the relationships you rely on, merge, execute, and ensure that you’re delivering on your goals. That’s one component of aspirational goals that you might have. There are others that may be more connected to the holistic nature of your business and sitting down and looking at what are other channels, other departments … What’s the paid search team doing? What is the overall marketing team doing?
Jordan: And connecting SEO to those, it can be often hard to measure. One great example, and I think that many large enterprises struggle with this, or even agency businesses struggle with this, which is what’s the relationship of SEO, with PR team? We still talk about awareness in the market as a key lever for SEO. Sure, we could talk about it in backlinks, but there are other aspects there in terms of brand awareness that are critical, but very few times do the SEO talk about how you impact or influence a PR cycle.
Ben: I think that there’s two things that I do in terms of valuation of your goals, and I think that it’s useful for SEOs as well in I will go back through and actually look at my calendar, first and foremost, and then I will map out in each given month what were my main priorities, where was most of my time spent to try to understand what my performance and my team’s performance was, and then I’m building my business evaluation, like what were the number of backlinks in every given month? And I’m charting those out so I can start to, not just backlinks, but what was the traffic and visibility and all the KPIs that I’m looking at.
Ben: So I can also get a sense of not only what was I working on but was the thing I was working on having a business impact. And when you lay those two charts over each other, you could see, I executed X project in January. February, we had a step forward in terms of business results and you can kind of get a sense of what worked and what didn’t.
Ben: So do you have any recommended ways to evaluate your performance as you look back on, a relatively long period of time when you’re looking back over a year?
Jordan: You know, I think that there’s a couple of ways to do this and I’m not here to dictate what the right way is. As a leader in the organization, or as a member of a team, what I encourage our listeners to think about is, “How will this message be received? Who is the audience that I’m trying to pour this message to?” And many times when you’re doing this retrospective component of planning, you’re looking at different mechanisms to evaluate your previous performance. You’re looking at things like red, yellow, green. You’re looking at high, medium, low. You’re looking at more of a visual representation of what’s been accomplished that your message can be conveyed to the audience that you’re passing that to.
Ben: So step one is really understand what the heck happened. Look back over your year, evaluate your KPIs, your performance. Look at your qualitative and your quantitative data, and the second thing is think about how you’re going to communicate this to the rest of the organization, which leads us into, “Great, I understand what happened this year. Here’s where we succeeded. Here’s where we failed. Here’s the narrative that we created in terms of what our team has done and whether it should or should not be prioritized. How do you take figuring out what your performance was and spin that into a message to help you perform better and continue to grow in the next year?
Jordan: Absolutely. So one of the first steps in this process is collecting the feedback. What I’ve noticed from a lot of teams that we engage here at Searchmetrics, we’re very fortunate. We get to sit down with our customers and listen to their plans and see how these things unfold is that oftentimes, SEOs are not listening. They’re not listening to what the business’ priorities are. They’re not listening to what their partner’s objectives and goals are, and they’re often pushing the agenda that they might get from the SEO community, from maybe peers, and so, you might have something like a goal around, say, optimizing a set number of pages, and you missed that target the previous year, and then you talk with the various stakeholders about optimizing those pages for next year.
Jordan: And what you’re getting is, “Hey, that’s not going to happen,” but you still set the same goal. That’s not really a great way of going about your planning. It’s setting yourself up for failure, and I see that often in our community and our space, and I think that that’s where it requires a leader to identify, “Well, what’s a better path forward here? Do we need to change the goal? Do we need to talk to other members of the organization to find another way to achieve this goal?” It really requires you to start to take a step back and listen to that partner’s expectations and find a way forward.
Ben: I’m going to stereotype SEOs for a second here, so everybody don’t be offended. I think people think of SEOs as being the geeky guys in the corner, and I say guys, because predominantly SEOs have been male. Ladies that are listening to this podcast, we appreciate that you are a huge and important part of the SEO community, obviously. Goes without saying that being the technically-savvy, introverted person sitting there, optimizing keywords in the corner leads to the typical SEO not being great at storytelling, upward communication.
Ben: And so building that narrative in terms of what your performance was in telling the story and delivering that message to the right person, I think is a lesson that a lot of SEOs can probably, should hear and something that needs to be practiced, and a skill that needs to be honed. So, as you are putting the story together and, you mentioned, hey look … and we started off by talking about evaluate all of your content and evaluate your performance and get your qualitative data.
Ben: You said get feedback from your peers to paint the whole picture. I think there’s an important step here before you start thinking about going forward. You have to think about, a, what your roadmap is and what you want to accomplish, but building the narrative and building the story is incredibly important, and I think that it’s something that’s probably overlooked by a lot of technically-focused, non-storytelling operators in marketing in that it seems like a binary thing. We perform this. We got this result, we need these resources to get that. And in reality, the way to get those resources is by painting a picture building the story. What advice do you have for SEOs to be able to tell their story more effectively?
Jordan: You know, Ben, you’re absolutely right. There are a variety of tools out there to tell your story, and I think that … I don’t think. I know for a fact that SEOs are often reluctant to use these tools. It’s largely because it doesn’t fall in vein with the character of SEO, but let’s just take a few great examples. Many companies use an OKR system, or goal-setting system. Why not encourage your business to connect their goals, their key results to your SEO ambitions? So the more you’re able to tell that story and connect other people’s goals to your goals, the more likely you’re going to be able to succeed. A more rudimentary or more specific example that I see working a lot in many organizations, especially ones where there’s a heavy emphasis on technical SEO, is outlining a product roadmap that actually shows key milestones throughout the year and the impact that they will have on traffic or revenue basis.
Jordan: This is something that many SEOs don’t do. They, they kick and scream and say, “I need this technical change done,” but there’s actually no view into the impact of that. Now, here’s the funny thing about creating a roadmap that way. Number one, if you don’t hit the goals, that’s not a bad thing. You need to go back to business and understand what happened. Do the postmortem here and figure out, “Why did we not get those goals and those targets?” But there’s often this lack of understanding around what accountability is when it comes to setting these goals.
Ben: Jordan, this is what makes you my favorite SEO is that you’re a great storyteller and you took the words right out of my mouth in terms of, the ability to do a postmortem. And I think that there is a process to follow when you’re communicating what happened previous year and to use it as your advantage, whether it was positive performance or negative. Let’s spin this back a little. We both worked at eBay a while ago. Hey, and 2008 when Jordan and Ben were working on SEO at eBay, we were focused on optimizing our search results pages, and we made these changes, and we saw that we had great performance in this category but subpar performance in this category, and our net gain was flat, and we executed against what we wanted to. We saw good performance in some sides and saw a negative performance, and here’s what we learned.
Ben: We learned that these are the categories that we need to focus on, so we want to build out more resources that are category specific because that maps against the company goals to verticalize more in 2019. So here’s the reason why we want these resources. Here’s what we think the impact is going to be and here’s why they are aligned with the rest of the organization’s goals. I’m obviously making this story up. That wasn’t exactly eBay’s business strategy and nor did Jordan and I work … I’m not sure if it was 2008 or when it was, but you get the idea of how you’re taking the business performance, positive or negative, getting your learnings out of it and coming up with a reasonable conclusion for why you need resources to move forward. That’s what I mean by telling the narrative, by building a story. It is not just, “Our performance was X. We need Y.” It is the rationale behind that, which is something that I encourage you in the SEO community to think about as you’re building out your roadmap and selling it upward and horizontally.
Jordan: Yeah, there’s no question and a lot of our listeners right now, especially the more junior folks, may not feel like they’re sitting at the table making these decisions. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be speaking up. In fact, this is exactly when you should be speaking up and you should, in some cases be asking for help, in other cases, be sharing your input and opinion, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the SEO is largely forgotten because they’re not even heard. So being heard is oftentimes the first step.
Ben: So Jordan, you mentioned that the SEOs are often forgotten, the geeks that are sitting in the corner, that are just doing some keyword black magic. Last question for you today, as you’re thinking about planning for your next year, it is not just about thinking about what the business’ roadmap is and what resources it is. It’s also career positioning. As you’re looking back on your performance and where your career should go, how do you advise SEOs to try to take a step forward in the next year?
Jordan: Great question. And you know, you put me on the spot here.
Ben: I got you, didn’t I?
Jordan: Yeah, you did. Well, for our listeners out there, I want you to really take this as an opportunity because as I said previously, being heard is one of the most important aspects here, but how you’re being heard is just as important to that recipe, and in many cases, how we’ve been heard in the past has been in a way that isn’t constructed to building our careers, building the true impact narrative that’s happening in the business, and isn’t really connected to what Google’s objectives are for their consumers. Often, it’s been about tactics, and it’s been about quick wins, and it’s been about low cost, high return, and all those narratives often lead to short-term gains without any material long-term impact to the business. And so what I encourage our listeners to do is build relationships, build partnerships internally.
Jordan: Your paid search counterpart is not the evil enemy. In many cases they might be your best ally because they can help you understand how to get ROI because I’m sure that that PPC manager is talking ROI every day with their manager because that’s how they’re evaluated, and maybe that could be a ticket in for you to communicating about SEO in your company. And so build these relationships. Find a narrative that’s genuine, that’s not about screaming at the top of your lungs, that’s not about, always asking for things without delivering something in return. But find a genuine way of being heard through your organization that connects to the company’s objectives and goals.
Ben: A lot of career development is about networking, and is about relationship building, and creating value for other people in the organizations, obviously, in addition to producing your own results. There’s so much data at our fingertips as SEOs that can be useful to other teams. We understand what is interesting to Google, which is a great signal for what is interesting to the end consumers. And that is powerful for your PR team, for your performance marketing team, for your leadership. Understanding where you fit in within this competitive balance as content marketing and search marketing become more and more intertwined, that’s really powerful and really valuable.
Ben: And so positioning yourself to be an ally for the other people in your organization, and as a go-to resource is going to do nothing but help you build those stronger relationships, help people, play nice in the sandbox, get the resources you need to show the business results to keep moving your career forward. So if I had any advice for you, play nice in the sandbox, try to understand what’s happening with the other people in your organization, and support them by providing them with the type of data and analysis that you’re doing to boost the SEO performance.
Jordan: Absolutely, Ben. There’s no question that that fostering of a relationship is what makes you successful in any career track, but absolutely in SEO.
Ben: And take Jordan and my relationship as living proof there. He was the geeky SEO in the corner and I was the guy that was exiting eBay just about to start his own startup. We got put in the same room and, what, 10 years later, here we are making one of the world’s best SEO podcasts.
Jordan: I don’t know if we want to go with that script.
Ben: You never know how it’s going to go, so play nice in the sandbox. So Jordan, you have some tips and some advice that are a little bit more proprietary, not necessarily something that we want to say on the podcast, but why don’t you give people a … We normally say your contact information at the end of the podcast. Tell everybody how they can get in touch with you if they’re looking for some sort of a tip or a template for doing their yearly planning.
Jordan: Absolutely. Well, first of all, we have some great resources here in Searchmetrics when it comes to planning, whether it be more technical focused or content road mapping. We’ve got some great resources. Happy to share those with folks and happy to encourage you to use these resources once you get down to the more granular, “What am I going to do,” level of your planning process. If you’re at more of a higher level and you’re more thinking about “What is my strategy? How am I going to partner with certain teams in the organization? How do I develop my career search?” Reach out to me through LinkedIn or on Twitter. I am always happy to spend some time, have conversation and encourage our fellow SEOs in their journey.
Ben: All right, Jordan, putting himself out there, helping the SEO community, getting ready for 2020 in their new decade. Excited for it to come and hope we can help you do your planning, and that wraps up this episode of The Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, Lead SEO Strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes, or you can send him a tweet where his handle is @jtkoene. That’s J-T-K-O-E-N-E. if you have general marketing questions, if you want to talk about this podcast, if you’re interested in being a guest on the show, you can find my contact information in our show notes, or you could send me a tweet @Benjshap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P.
Ben: If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, or to gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com/freetrial for your complimentary trial of our Searchmetrics Suite and Content Experience software. And if you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed soon to continue to talk about how to plan for 2020. All right, that’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.