There simply is no substitute for well rounded experience over a period of time to give a search marketer perspective and the skills to handle a variety of problems. Add to that “sink or swim” SEO training and you have a guy like Matt Evans, SEO Manager at Monster.com. In this interview, Matt is generous with sharing his experiences working agency side and in-house, insights toward code SEO, the new Google design, social media, advice for marketers that want to enter the Search Engine Marketing field and how SEO is a lot like Rugby.
You’ve worked both on the agency side and now as an in-house SEO Manager for Monster.com. Can you share a bit about that journey and what are some of the big differences between working on the client side vs. agency? What do you like most about working in Search?
Previous to Monster I was with a search agency for 6 years. In those 6 years I saw both the organization and the industry grow tremendously despite the bubble burst of the early 2000s. At a time when friends were jumping from job to job it was very easy to stick around because I believed in the services we provided and the future of the search marketing industry. I believed whole-heartedly (and still do) that search is the best way to build an audience, connect with customers, and drive business online. I think the best part of working in Search is the vibrancy of the industry, the smart people, and the value that we can bring to our organizations.
One of the biggest differences in client side versus agency is being very involved in the software development life cycle. On the agency side of things you typically provide recommendations to clients, they take them off to their Product people or Engineers and most work happens behind the curtain. Being an in-house SEO means being involved in a project from concept to release – and all the “fun” in between. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s tedious, but it’s all a very good learning experience. If I was ever to go back agency side it’s the type of experience which would give me a huge advantage in dealing with clients.
Another major difference between agency and in-house is the feeling of ownership you have over your site/s. Because you’re completely invested in one site, you feel so much more accomplished when SEO enhancements are released.
What in your past work and education experience best prepared you for your journey as a Search Engine Marketer? What advice do you have for budding SEMs to make themselves more valuable and empowered to motivate change?
My initial year or so at the agency was by far the best experience in terms of preparing me for the diverse journey as an SEM. In 2000-2001 SEM was still the wild, wild west. For some perspective, we were still submitting pages to Lycos and HotBot, doorway pages were a legitimate and successful tactic, and GoTo.com was the only paid search engine of note. The company was still small and resources were non-existent, so account managers did EVERYTHING for their clients – from keyword research, to copywriting, to directory submissions, to project management. You learned real quick that you needed to focus your energy on the tasks that were going to get you results fast. Getting results fast was even more important back then because your clients were less likely to understand the nature of search, the fluctuations, and how long it takes for content to be indexed and ranked. As a result, much of our time was spent educating the client, which forced me to learn on the fly.
I would urge budding SEMs to think less about tactics and think more about strategies. The tactics will flow from those strategies naturally and you’ll have a much easier time selling executives a strategy rather than trying to explain to them why 301 redirects, XML sitemaps, and verification meta tags are necessary. They don’t care! The strategy should take into account how search traffic will drive bottom line results, because that’s what they care about. It’s also essential for SEMs to understand the value of a search referral to their business. For instance, at Monster we measure the value of organic referrals by equating them to the cost savings driving the equivalent qualified traffic through paid search or online media buys.
Ultimately, SEMs should be trying to get away from the perception that we’re one trick ponies. Aim to create a perception in your organization that you’re a well-rounded business person rather than an niche expert in the “dark arts of SEO.” Understand the parts of the business that intersect with search – PR, offline marketing, usability, etc. Too many times SEO experts are pigeonholed and viewed as only a small part of the business when many time the impact they can have on a business is much greater than any other person in the organization. Just ask the businesses who have had their site banned from Google to understand how important SEMs are!
What tips do you have for reporting SEO performance within an organization? What KPIs do you pay attention to? What overall performance goals are most important? Any tips on reporting that agencies give their clients?
The key to reporting in an organization is to provide tiered reporting based on your audience. The reporting that me and my SEO team review is far more detailed than the dashboard that the SVPs see. Also, we provide more specific reporting for our ecommerce team, Content team, and Product Managers. It’s important to get feedback from all these groups too so that you’re providing data that is interesting and actionable and you’re not wasting your time reporting on useless data.
At Monster the KPIs we pay attention to around SEO are pretty typical: visits, UVs, page views per visit, time on site, referrals by engine, and referrals by keyword phrase. The SEO team is mainly measured on the amount of overall traffic we drive, however, in order to prove our traffic is valuable and targeted we also track the number of job searches, job views, applies, new accounts, and new resume uploads that result from SEO traffic.
Agencies need to focus less on month to month comparisons and look at year over year. Seasonality is usually a large factor in search trends, so comparing MoM trends provides little insight into actual performance. For Monster, January is our biggest month for search traffic due to New Year’s resolutions to find a new job. December tends to be one of our lowest months due to the holidays. Comparing December to January may look great in the chart, but to get a real understanding on SEO success you need to look at year over year most of the time.
How important is ongoing & proactive SEO vs triage? What do you think companies should be paying attention to on an ongoing basis to achieve, maintain and improve their SEO performance?
I need to balance between both triage and proactive strategic planning due to the speed at which the industry changes and the size of a company like Monster. Try as I might to be aware of all changes that happen to the site in a given release, it’s just not humanly possible to know everything. Also, since our site is so large it takes a while to figure out how search engine algorithm changes affect us. Much of my time is spent understanding how these changes might have affected our SEO performance. Monster is a global organization and has many, many priorities and a very competitive development roadmap. As a result I need to also be proactive and be thinking about what we need to launch 6-12 months down the line in order to hit our goals. It makes it busy, but very interesting.
Companies need to leverage the webmaster tools offered by Google, Yahoo, and Bing in order to maintain and improve their SEO performance. Beyond SEO, these tools give a company valuable information about how your site performs for users (which includes search engine spiders). Google especially has been adding a lot of great tools to their console to improve SEO performance and we’ve been trying to spread the word throughout our organization about the kinds of information that can be mined. As a result we have Product Managers in all the countries reaching out to the SEO team with problems they’ve found and it really creates a great sense of teamwork.
There’s some debate about the future interplay between code level SEO, structured data and sitemaps versus page content and social media. How do you see SEO evolving technically in the next 2-3 years?
Ultimately, because links are still so important to search engine algorithms I think that content and social media will continue to be king when it comes to SEO. Great content will always lead to more links and social is just the latest channel to distribute those links. However, I believe the number of technical levers search engines will provide to SEOs in order to improve and tweak how their site appears in search results will continue to grow. I think search engines need all the help they can get in crawling, indexing, and presenting the best results to searchers and giving more control to webmasters is one way to go about it. I predict we’ll see many more announcements from the engines supporting new technical innovations like we’ve seen in the past with canonical tags, XML sitemaps, rel=”nofollow”, and RDFa tags.
What are your thoughts on the new third column Google design? Do you see any SEO opportunities that weren’t there before? Are you planning on or doing anything differently? What are your top 3 signals of SEO influence?
As a power searcher I don’t find the third column design nearly as offensive as some users do. I see it as redundant navigation that’s aimed at luring the average searcher into exploring Google’s different engines before going back up to the search box and modifying their query, which they tend to do. I’ve found it useful when I’m trying to understand what type of content exist out there on a given topic.
I wouldn’t say there are new opportunities, but I think the opportunities that have always been there are magnified. If blended search results didn’t convince you that a universal search strategy is important, the new left hand navigation should.
There are new plans to change our strategy. We’re already on a path to improve our PR SEO and our Social Media presence to correspond with the emphasis the engines have put on real time search. We’ve built out a strong team in those areas and the SEO team regularly partners with them on initiatives.
What SEO (and/or PPC) tools would you recommend to an in-house marketer that wears a SEO hat among others? Do you have any SEO project management tools that you like?
They absolutely need to use Google Webmaster Tools if nothing at all. The data provided is just too valuable. I also am a big fan of the SEO Book toolbar for Firefox. It’s a great tool for a quick snapshot of what’s going on with a page.
What resources do you use to stay current? (Blogs, conferences, newsletters, books) What role do direct observation, testing and networking play for you in staying current?
I find Search Engine Land’s SearchCap newsletter the best source of news for the industry. It compiles all the best blogs and forum threads in one daily email. As for books, Search Engine Marketing, Inc. is my bible. It sits on my bookshelf and I pull it down from time to time to refresh my memory on certain topics. The forecasting/modeling information is invaluable for those SEOs who are continuously asked to quantify the opportunity of an enhancement or new content.
If you were to compare SEO to a sport, which would you pick and why?
There is no question on this one – Rugby. I’ve played many team sports in my life – baseball, soccer, basketball, dodge ball – but none of them comes close to the ultimate team sport of Rugby. I played for 4 years in college and 5 years after and you learn pretty quickly that a team’s success is completely dependent on execution by all 15 players on the pitch (that’s a field for the uninitiated!). The backs can’t score tries if they don’t receive the ball from the scrum half, and the scrum half can distribute the ball unless the forwards ruck and secure the ball.
Everyone depends on each other to do their job. SEO is much the same way. The SEO can’t drive traffic to the site if the UX folks don’t design the architecture of the site right, or if the developers don’t code the page correctly, or the copywriters don’t use the proper keyword phrases in the copy. You are dependent on others within your organization to execute properly, and with a large, global organization like Monster, this is what makes the job difficult. It’s also what makes projects that much sweeter when we are successful!
Matt Evans is SEO Manager for Monster.com, the premier global employment solution for job seekers with a presence in over 50 countries.