In Search [Episode 64]: Life as an SEO Agency: The Ups, The Downs, The Ins and Outs
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March 24, 2020 |
The Ins and Outs of Managing an SEO Team and Running an Agency: Summary of Episode 64
[This is a general summary of the podcast and not a word for word transcript.]
Rachel Slovin of Kahena Digital chats with us all about how to push your SEO agency and/or SEO team forward:
- How to handle hard times while maintaining a growth trajectory
- How to best allocate resources and teams and stay current so your team doesn't become stale!
- And when times are good... how do you know when it’s time for your SEO team to grow?
Plus, we get into life under the weight of COVID-19 and some tips on working at home from two serial remoters… our own hosts!
In Search SEO Podcast [Episode 62]: Balancing SEO, Your Life, & Mental Health
In Search SEO Podcast [Episode 60]: Systematically Onboarding New Clients
Aleyda Solis Help Group
The Corona Pub
New Schemas Related to Covid-19
Bing Releases Covid-19 Tracker
Google Removes Right-Hand Side Featured Snippets
Site Speed Metrics to Become More Granular
Google Will Not Hide News Behind Paywall
Local Reviews Temporarily Disabled
Tips for Working at Home During the COVID-19 Crisis [00:06:23 - 00:20:25]
Welcome to Mordy’s world, folks. Four out of five days a week Mordy works remotely. The only difference is now he’s working remotely with 4 kids at home because his wife is a nurse and she is very much not working at home.
In general, Mordy likes working from home and the flexibility it offers. It’s also more productive with less distractions and less time traveling which means more time working.
Our very own co-host, Sapir, also often works from home and finds it also has its unique advantages.
Here are some tips from Sapir to consider when working at home as the result of COVID-19:
1. Let your family know your working schedule
If you live alone, this isn’t relevant to you, but if you live with a family, roommates, or whoever, let them know your working schedule. Sapir, for example, lives with some family members and they all know when exactly she starts and finishes. This way they know when not to interrupt or when they should be quiet.
2. Find a quiet working space.
Sapir has a small room in her house that she uses as her working space and she feels that she concentrates better there.
3. Know what is essential for you to work efficiently and make sure that you have it at home.
For Sapir, she can’t work without coffee, so she always makes sure she has enough and that she won’t get stuck without it if she has to work from home.
Mordy had his own set of tips:
1. Set a schedule
You might hear this a lot, but here’s the real take on this. You don’t have to stick to the schedule exactly... enjoy the flexibility of working from home. Mordy has it on his schedule to start the day at 8 am. Very often, he starts at 8:30 whether it be he got back late from dropping the kids off or if he just wants a few minutes to himself to catch up on the wide world of sports or whatever. Mordy has that flexibility and as long as he has a general structure, he’s good.
What’s more important are ending times as it’s very easy to just keep working and working and working. It can be very disruptive to your work-life balance as we just discussed when Kelly Stanze joined us.
2. It’s okay to take a break
Again, set a time. Mordy eats lunch at the same time every day and doesn’t work through it. Don’t feel guilty. Mordy thinks there’s a lot of guilt that goes into working at home. It’s okay to throw a load of laundry in the washing machine. Do you feel guilty when you chat about whatever stupidity with your coworkers? No. It’s just how it goes. You’re with other people so you’re going to chat a bit. As long as it’s within reason that’s fine, we’re humans, not machines. At home, it’s the same, just instead of chatting about The Bachelor, you’re cleaning dirty laundry.
On the whole guilt thing, Mordy wants to put something out there for all those folks at home with kids who don’t have school. Look, it’s not easy to put the same energy and focus and perhaps even time into work the way you did when your kids were not at home going bonkers and creating endless havoc. If your workplace doesn’t get that… then they suck.
Don’t feel guilty, adjust the best you can and deal the best you can.
3. Don’t work in chunks
In general, don't do the whole, "Let me work a few hours here and then I’ll go back online at night.” Unless you have a certain unique disposition don’t do it. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to certain people, but having work always looming or pending over your head does create a lot of stress and you won’t realize it until it’s too late. If you do have to work later at night then try to do those simpler tasks that you have to do but are not as complicated.
Just to wrap it up, having a home office space is a good idea especially with the kids around. It sort of tells them what’s up with you at the moment, but also when you don’t have a set place it can lead to emotional stress.
The general point is, there’s a lot of opportunities to be emotionally frazzled working from home, especially now. Look out for that, whether it be having a good schedule with flexibility, having a set workplace, or to avoid work as a constant thought. Try to do things that avoid that sort of harried feeling.
There are some resources out there that should help. Aleyda Solis has a group where we can share ideas and resources. You can also check out the Corona Pub and MobileMoxie’s UberConference. So definitely look around for some help and support.
How to Run an SEO Agency & Lead an SEO Team: A Conversation With Rachel Slovin [00:20:25 - 01:00:41]
Welcome to another In Search SEO podcast interview session. Joining us is the pillar that holds one of Israel's most respected digital marketing agencies together. She is the managing director of Kahena Digital. She is Rachel Slovin.
Thank you, Mordy for having me today.
Absolutely. So you currently live in Israel, but you're from Chicago, right?
That is correct. I moved out here about 14 years ago with no SEO background, came from Chicago and have learned this crazy, wonderful industry over time.
Okay, so we're going to talk about life as an SEO agency. I'm going to ask you for a favor. A lot of the questions I'm going to ask you can take them in two directions. You can either offer your general best practice advice or you could tell me what you actually do. Please, if you could, I don't want to know your best practices. I want to know what you actually do. I want to be messy.
Yeah, I will give you as much as my NDA from my company allows.
Right, I don't want to get you fired.
No, Ari Nahmani
is the best. Everything I've learned over the years has come from him. it takes a village, it's not just one person and being the managing director there's no way that I would have been able to do anything that I'm able to do without Ari. So I do want to say a huge thank you to him for investing in me, training me, and taking me from an SEO analyst or associate or whatever my position was at the time and building me into this managing director. Just a huge thank you.
Just to get people on the same page, what goes into running an SEO agency day-to-day? What are some of the foundational things that you're doing?
There are really two parts to it if not three. There's the people stuff, which I like to joke about is just getting people to be happy at what they're doing and invest in what they're doing. At the end of the day, it’s the people who really make up the agency. I would say that 60% of my job is really just investing in people and that means anything from working with them on their campaigns to negotiating with them what their vacation days will be because everyone on the same team wants to take off at the same time yet you have clients to service and we need to make sure that's happening.
Running an SEO agency requires a lot of moving parts. You have the demand of clients who want work to be done, you have the demand of people, and you have the demand of life and making sure that you're always on top of and looking through the hiring schedule. Meaning, if we have this client coming on then we need this many more people in the future because we still want to have more clients come on. That means that we would need to hire now because if a hiree is at a job they need to give their job a month’s notice. You have to always think of this calculation. I think sometimes we had to learn it the hard way where we're like, "Oh crap, we need to hire someone tomorrow.” The problem is you can't hire tomorrow. You have to hire six weeks ago. You need to make sure you're following that cycle.
There's a lot that goes into it. I would say organization is key. We've learned a lot over the years to make sure things are transparent with team conversations. There is so much that takes place in a quiet office that you forget sometimes to actually tell the team what's involved. If I jump on a phone with a client because they had a question about something and I forget to update the account manager, then that's a really bad position to be in because now they get on their weekly call and they had no idea what happened! So make sure that there's that line of communication.
How do you check yourself on that? For me, I’m bad at this. I have a terrible memory and the only way I get through making sure that I remember to do what I'm supposed to do is by having all these backups in place. What do you do to make sure that you don't do that?
We use Slack. We use Monday internally. It's a great platform. Big fan.
Personally, I like Google Tasks just for myself as it helps me stay organized. I'm like an ass about agendas to make sure that everything has an agenda and follow up with it that way. Otherwise, it completely gets lost. And just make sure that you've got it written down someplace. If it's in my head that's not good enough and I will lose it and forget about it until two weeks later.
I swear I still write with a pen and paper a list for my weekly plan that I still use. I have these spreadsheets, but at the end of the day, if I have a piece of paper in front of me I literally can't forget about it. It’s literally in front of me all week long. That's how bad I am.
Yeah, no, I ditched the pen and paper ages ago. Everything's on my computer. It all lives there until death. I'm a late afternoon person so at five o'clock I'll be sitting in the office just trying to remember and sending out the emails of all the things that happened throughout the day. But that's just me and I'm not a morning person. So it works better that way.
I’m not a morning person either. At the same time, I'm not really an afternoon or evening person either. So that's kind of weird. Anyway, you mentioned new hires. It sometimes can be hard to find new hires so what do you do? How do you pull it off?
It's really interesting that you say that. We are trying to figure that out now. I think we're at that pivotal point within our agency to be transparent where we maybe have not necessarily tapped out all of the local audience, but maybe we need to start thinking creatively. So we're not necessarily looking at outsourcing, but we weren't necessarily looking at hiring full-time employees remotely. We do have an office out in Glasgow so we're trying to think of maybe building up there because there's some interesting talent that exists in other locations. When we look for a hire, we want someone who has digital marketing interests, whether they've worked on content or they've done social, but also that they have a digital marketing bug in them because if they’re just looking to switch careers and maybe I'll check out SEO it doesn't keep them. I think that in the early years of our agency we found that we were hiring people who did a great job for a short time period, but when it came to staying with the agency and really growing within it and looking to expand their career it wasn't necessarily the right fit for them.
It's funny that you say that because we have the same issue. We've had the philosophy of being happy to take you if you have an interest in digital marketing, no background necessary. We will train you and so forth. I find that's really hard and I found that it doesn't tend to work out long term. But then the problem, and this is like my personal problem, is how do you find somebody who can write content and knows SEO at the same time?
So that's when it comes to the T-shaped marketer where we find that different people have different interests. Maybe one person is more analytical and really enjoys the data analysis with it. So they will really enjoy looking at monthly reports and helping and being involved in the reporting structure. Writers we don't necessarily typically work with... We actually had a case, and I hope Ari doesn't kill me for sharing this, where we hired someone to be a content writer and she was fabulous and an excellent writer, but the minute she got her hands dirty in SEO she actually really enjoyed SEO and wanted to grow within SEO so using her only as a content writer didn't work out within our team.
We look for people who have a widespread skill set and have that interest in all those different areas. When we're hiring someone we give a practical test that involves those different things because we want to test them in all those areas because that's all part of the day to day work. A lot of our clients are Fortune 500 companies with multiple locations so maybe it doesn’t require one set of skills, but rather multiple different skill sets. We need someone who can talk to developers about SPAs and then we'll also need someone who can write content for category pages. Within that team, we have different people with different strengths just to make sure we're covering all of our areas.
So when you're looking for somebody, you’re casting a wide net to see what comes in, who’s good, and where they will fit or are you specifically looking at the onset to find one profile?
We’re probably casting a wide net to see where they fit because these things also surprise us. You'd be surprised that maybe someone doesn't even know what they don't know and they pick up something else much quicker or it becomes more of an interest to them. So we’ll cast that wide net and see where it comes down.
I want to jump back to what you said about outsourcing that you don't do it. I'm curious, is it an ego thing? Like we're an SEO agency, we don't want to outsource anything. Is it a money thing? Or is it, for now, we don't do it?
I would say we don't do it because we really invest in our clients and our clients are hiring "us” and not for us to hire someone else. We have that trust within our clients. We want it to be that the person that they're talking to and face-to-face or getting in a meeting with is someone who works for Kahena and Kahena alone. We have a really personal relationship with our clients and outsourcing would just take away from that relationship.
That makes a lot of sense
Would you hire a freelancer? Or is that just not worth it?
Freelance is a little bit different and maybe we’ll consider it in the future, but internal hires are definitely the best. We've typically worked with clients who have their own content writers so content is maybe an area we would consider outsourcing.
It’s not always so simple. Sometimes we get these documents from clients like brand guidelines and it could take two hours just to get through that understanding of using this word and not this word, that we sell things for this but not this, and two words that mean the exact same thing but it’s just how they want their brand image to appear. A lot of that stuff we really need to own ourselves because it's really hard and difficult to outsource that and make sure someone writes in the same way that we would want it.
I was talking to Kameron Jenkins and she had the idea of finding the full-stack content writer, the writer who can do everything, which is mythological. When you’re looking for a writer, even within SEO, are there full-stack personalities or full-stack capabilities? Are they really out there?
I would say it's a nice idea, but you're not going to find it. It's really hard for a person to have everything. I joke that I would never be hired by Kahena now because my writing is so terrible. We require people to write for a test and I wouldn't have even passed. I think that what we look at and understand is that different people have different skills.
When you're deciding to hire somebody, how do you know what's the right time to hire somebody?
You don't know, you have to take a risk. We look at our business development pipeline or look at how long people have been around and look at a zoomed out approach. Where are we at? Where do we want to be? What are our goals for this quarter or this year? We are very able to decide that for ourselves.
Another topic, which I'm sure we'll go into is we've never actually done any active business development. It's all kind of been reactive and word of mouth. So if we decide that we want to go on a proactive biz dev approach, we need to make sure that we have the bench line that's ready to accept that. That means hiring earlier because you have to have the training time and we work with an associate and make sure that people are ready for when we have those clients come on.
I want to ask you a far more sensitive question. How do you scale back? You don't have to speak from experience. How would you know when to do it? When would you do it? Imagine a scenario where you lose a really big client (which would never happen to you). What would you do? How would you know when to scale back? Is it worth it to scale back if maybe someone else will come in and then you’ll have to rebuild again?
Maybe I shouldn't say never, but at this point, we've never scaled back just because a client left. When a client leaves we instead use the time as a learning experience. We do an internal post mortem to see whether that’s their own business and there's absolutely nothing we could have done or there is something we could have done and maybe if we noticed the flags or if we had started biz dev earlier and tried to fill that gap then this wouldn’t have happened. But we would never fire or let people go just because a client left. We’ll use this as a chance to work on ourselves internally. Maybe we’ll come up with and develop better templates and better systems. Maybe now's a good time to update our monthly report template or work on something else that would help future clients. We’ll work on things that before we didn’t have the capacity or the bandwidth to do because we were so busy with the clients’ work.
That's interesting. I don't know if it's too awkward to talk about, but for what reasons can you tell us did you lose clients? And this is not to say that you’re bad because you lost clients because everyone loses clients.
Right, it's natural for clients to leave. We lost so many clients for so many different reasons that there's no one-size-fits-all reason that clients decide to leave. But I can tell you this, clients never leave because of results. Results are just a part of the general relationship and if a client leaves it's because maybe they've had some internal shifts and the director of marketing has decided to move on to another company and the person they hired has a team that they've worked with in the past and therefore has decided to bring that company with him or her. Or maybe a client left because they've decided that this is going so well that we're actually going to hire someone internally because we realized that we want someone who can manage it from start to finish in-house.
There have been so many different reasons. Sometimes clients have left because they feel like we're sending them so many recommendations and so many things to do that they don't have the bandwidth to work with us. I feel bad that they're getting these monthly or weekly calls and they see the recommendations but haven't approved them. It's just not worth it for us. If we're sending them so many things and they’re not replying maybe now's not a good time within their own structure to work with us.
Yeah, that's a whole different question we could talk about. I recently did an episode with Heather Physioc about making sure your clients are on board with you.
How do you evaluate when you lose a client? What was your process? How do you figure out why they left?
So we'll actually jump on a call with them and say, "Hey, do you have a few minutes to chat? We'd love to try to get an understanding.”
Well, that’s awkward.
It's really awkward. I will say that it's not me who does it. We hired a client engagement manager about a year ago because we realized that there are so many things that were going on that sometimes we needed someone to ask those tough questions as they might not give you that same honest answer. We gain so much insight from the feedback she gets. She'll ask these pointed questions and she'll do a write up for the team with all that feedback. Sometimes her response really is just there's nothing we can do. They just don't have the budget.
I will say, for the most part, we have really good partnerships and really good relationships that last a long time. But when those things happen, you do want to understand why.
How do you find new clients? I know you don't want to say because you don't want other people listening, but really, how do you do it?
The real truth is we have really strong client relationships and advocates who send our contact information to their friends or they've moved to a new company and bring us with them. I would say that we probably have six or seven advocates or brand ambassadors or influencers.
All of those people share our names with groups they're in and within their places. If I'm in a Facebook group and I see that someone is looking for an SEO agency or a PPC agency then I'll comment on those posts. But I would say the majority of our clients really come from the relationships that we build and how those people share our information with their friends.
Have you ever thought of hanging out at the Country Club when the big CEOs are playing golf and be like, "Hey, does anybody need an SEO agency?”
A little bit. The only reason that I've thought of that is because of my mom. She was a president of a country club in Chicago so I thought of asking her if any of those people would want to see our agency. But you don’t want to mix family and work.
Because we're talking about business in general, I want to try to focus a little bit on business as SEO. It can be complicated with SEO and PPC, there are so many things to do, so many aspects, and it's all changing at the same time. I'm wondering how do you stay updated on it all? For example, I cannot stay updated on PPC and SEO at the same time. You're a complete agency, right? So how do you do that?
We have our director of online advertising so it's in his sphere to be up to date on the PPC. I leave it to him. In our weeklies, I'll check with him and ask if there’s anything I should know about. Maybe he saw a PPC article that impacts SEO.
One thing I would say is if you're doing solid SEO and you're doing solid work, most of the changes aren't things you necessarily need to worry about. The core of what SEO is like on-site optimization, internal linking, page text, title tags, etc., hasn't changed over time. It's when you're looking at the more gray areas of the types of link building, nofollow, yes follow, etc. that's when you really need to stay up to date on the industry.
I just had this conversation with a client about an hour ago where we were honest that things are really changing within the industry and that we wanted to keep them updated.
We keep clients up to date, we inform clients when things happen, we'll send out an email. The first thing I'll do when I see that there's any change within the industry is I'll write something up for the team and make the team send it out because we want to make sure that our clients know what's going on. We don’t want them to read some article in The New York Times about some change with Google and wonder why didn't my SEO agency tell me about this. We need to make sure that our clients are aware of what's taking place.
But how do you do that when it gets complicated?
Most of the time our clients really do understand it enough that we're able to give them that one-liner and they get what we're talking about. But if we have to dig in, I would say screenshots are key. Showing them a picture of what the SERP looked like before works well.
Before we end off, life is full of regrets. Looking back in your career at Kahena and building up your agency, what do you regret? What do you regret that has not gone right, if you could redo it again?
I think the thing that I've learned over time is how much the "people stuff” matters. It's really understanding what's important to people when you're hiring them and what will keep them on long term whether it's flex-time or ability to work from home here and there when things are important. Just noticing that their lives change over time and really understanding what keeps them on and what keeps them a part of the team is so important because it doesn't matter that they're doing awesome work and they have the top clients that they could ever work on, if they're not happy because of something that is so changeable had you have that conversation, it just doesn't make a difference. So understanding what's important to each person is one regret.
Some of the regrets are the small things like I really wish we would have caught that earlier with that client and we could have kept them on. At the end of the day, they're an important client and every client matters, but something that was so fixable had we had this conversation at the right time… those are the things that I think I'm still learning and trying to continue to learn from.
Optimize It or Disavow It
When running an SEO agency, what’s more important for an SEO agency to have… good leadership or good employees?
I would joke and say good clients, but I will skip that as an acceptable answer. I would say good employees turn into good leadership. It's usually the people that started off as employees who become leaders. All of the leaders at Kahena are people who have started off within the weeds and grown into the positions that they're at. So when they're able to say I have walked the walk, I know what it was like when I was in your shoes, and therefore I'm going to help you because I know that x, y, and z is what's important and making sure that they can see both sides of the coin. You can see what is on the employee side and you also know what comes from the leadership side of what we need out of our employees. I think that it helps our staff also to see that there is room to grow in the way that we're not just hiring someone to work over them. We're giving them the opportunity and giving them the chance to grow into their roles.
Thank you so much for coming on. This has been awesome, fantastic, and tons of fun.
Thanks for having me.
SEO News [01:01:12 - 01:05:58]
New Schemas Related to Covid-19:
We live in a coronavirus world. As such, Google has added support for new elements to event schema to help you indicate an event has been canceled or postponed… and so forth.
At the same time, schema.org has introduced markup specifically related to the coronavirus such as markup to indicate if the site is a testing facility.
Bing Releases Covid-19 Tracker:
Bing has released a tracker that will show the number of Corona cases per country and how many of those cases have recovered, etc.
Google Removes Right-Hand Side Featured Snippets:
Per our SERP Feature Tracker
, Google has removed the right-hand side Featured Snippets. These snippets have moved to the main results column.
Site Speed Metrics to Become More Granular:
Google said that it may take a more nuanced approach to site speed as a ranking factor.
Google Will Not Hide News Behind Paywall:
Google will not prevent news content hidden by paywalls from appearing on the SERP.
Local Reviews Temporarily Disabled:
As a result of COVID-19, Google has disabled leaving local reviews or replying to them.
Tune in next Tuesday for a new episode of The In Search SEO Podcast