Si Shangase says:Focus on the next generation of SEOs that are coming into the space. This is important now more than ever, due to what has happened over the last two years. The lockdown has really shaped how we do business, how we work, and how we come together as groups. If you look at the juniors that have come straight out of university, they haven't had the opportunity to work in groups in an office environment, where you can learn through osmosis. It's been a challenge for them. There is a lot that we can do with Teams, but we all get Teams fatigue. More can be done in the SEO community to bring the next generation into SEO. We know that, with the rise of social media, SEO is not the 'cool kid' anymore.
Has the pandemic affected recruitment in terms of the types of people that are being brought into the profession?
I think so. SEO is a broad spectrum, but the biggest stress for people who are recruiting is that they don't hire people outside of the traditional norms. Most businesses always recruit from the same university, and the same channels, so the diversity of people working in that space is shrinking. During the pandemic we also saw a decline in the number of women working within SEO. That could be for several reasons, such as childcare responsibilities, but the pandemic has caused a shift in the demographic that's been coming into SEO. The younger generation need access to the things that we've always known to do in SEO. We need things like Meets after work, including those sponsored by companies or organisations, to bring new people into the space. That's been a lot more challenging.
What can more senior SEOs and recruiters do to make SEO more appealing to the younger generation?
It isn't one-size-fits-all. You should become more aligned with universities, and have workshops that can involve junior members coming into the SEO space. Also, offer more work experience with team members, which could be structured as well. We have platforms that allow structured training, such as EdX and Coursera, where we can upload and record our knowledge. That can help bring more people in. We also need to show the potential of what can be done with SEO, especially with a lot of business going digital and having a digital transformation. Show the career trajectory, and the successes of people that have actually come into the space. We can do a lot more to highlight that. Also, look at where society is going, and things like ESG, so that we can highlight how SEO benefits the wider community. Bring people up to speed on the fundamentals there, because that could be a huge selling point for us as an industry - and as a community. Young people coming from university are going to be big on climate change and social equity. We, as a community, need to highlight how we are a lot more forward-thinking than most industries.
Because of the current SEO climate, is there an issue with retention or is it more about training?
It's a bit of both. It's an issue with a sense of feeling connected. When you're a junior starting off in your career, working from home, your space hasn't really changed. You've been doing that throughout university. When you have an opportunity to go into the office, the space does change, and you have an ability to learn from people who have been there for a long time. You don't get that kind of contact when you work from home, especially starting off. A lot of businesses weren't ready for this new transformation - working from home almost full time for the past 18 months or so. There weren't processes in place for training, particularly for the younger generation who haven't been in SEO for a long time. That meant that new people coming in have become dissociative learners. They don't get any positive reinforcement, or an arm around the shoulder. There haven't been senior members of the team giving mentorship on a regular basis. Some things can be done online, but you miss out on daily opportunities - those 'water cooler moments' that can't happen on Zoom or Teams.
What's your sales pitch for encouraging someone to choose a career in SEO?
SEO is life changing because the skills are transferable. You learn a lot about how digital works. There are also so many pathways. If you're creative - become someone who creates amazing content marketing campaigns. If you're really into data - become an analyst, deep diving into analytics and looking at user behaviour through numbers. If you like to build things - create code and build new tools and applications within SEO. All those skills are transferable to any part of your life. Even if search engines cease to exist, the skills that you learn in SEO are ones that you can use for the rest of your life. SEO is a great place to start your career because it gives an insight into all areas of digital. Starting out elsewhere, like social media, you wouldn't get the same big-picture view of what is happening in digital, and in marketing as a whole. At Moz they call it a 'T-Shaped Marketer', and SEO sits centrally at the top of that shape. Underneath, you've got all the other different channels, and they form a support for what you can do. SEO is a foundation, from which you can branch into other channels. The learning curve will be much longer for someone entering SEO from another channel than it is for someone transitioning elsewhere from SEO. SEO is the gateway.
How do you encourage other people in an organisation to have a better understanding of SEO, and to keep it at the forefront of their minds?
Consider the different stakeholders. If you're thinking about business executives, from an agency side, the key is demonstrating how effective SEO can be as a performance channel. Show how much business can be incrementally generated for your clients or customers, and how much they could drive their business as well. Also, communicate how SEO can support other channels. You might have a paid social budget running on Facebook or Instagram, but once users have landed on a website, how are they navigated to the information that they need? Once you have users engaged with content on a web page, how can they convert? SEO needs to be working with other channels, such as CRO, to support business growth. It's business metrics that matter. Once you can show the benefits and impact of your SEO work, at the business and revenue level, you will get buy-in. SEO is effective, and it's not a medium that is 'paid for', which is quite attractive. Well-executed websites, information, architecture, and design can hold the business for years to come.
Should we focus less on rankings, and more on the revenue that a business is getting as a result of SEO?
In this environment, yes. The last couple of years in particular have been about cold, hard cash. It's about metrics that matter. Some businesses don't just want to drive incremental sales and revenue. They want to have a voice and be at the forefront of consumers' minds when they search for a particular subject matter. Digital can allow them to have their voice shared. SEO is a much more long-term approach to that, both from a training and a buy-in point of view. A lot of the work that you do with junior members of the team should be looking at least five-years ahead, instead of at short-term horizons. Fast-acquisition channels, that are paid, are driving almost quarter by quarter metrics that are easy to measure. With SEO, you're looking at a much longer period - three years plus.
What's one thing that senior SEOs should be doing less of to spend more time developing their team, and supporting the next generation of SEO?
Reduce your manual tasks. For a head of SEO, or an SEO director, you need to find out what you can outsource that you are spending a lot of time doing. If recruitment has become a challenge for you, as a senior member of the team, focus on recruitment - outsource everything else. You need to have the right processes in place so that you can delegate, to the point of abdication, to your team members. If you are a head of SEO, the way you do a technical audit should be recorded, or trained to your team members, so that it can be outsourced to them. A lot of SEOs are just focusing on optimising their websites for Core Web Vitals at the moment. Pay attention to your competitors, plug it into an automated dashboard, like Google Data Studio, and just measure how you're doing against the competition. Spending a lot of time trying to optimise for the best benchmark, using live data, is not the most efficient use of your time. Try and automate that through an API, and a good dashboard - but also train the team about the metrics that are being displayed. Then, when you do see a competitor is making changes and optimising for something, you can prioritise that. The key thing at the moment is to focus on the growth of the team. Google's given us so much time this year to plan for Core Web Vitals. It's time to start training your team.
You can find Si Shangase over at si-shangase.com.
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