Mon Slater is Head of SEO at 7 Stars and has been working in the search industry for more than 15 years both here in the UK and in Australia. She shares her insights about leading SEO teams, how technical SEO teams are good breaking SEO out of its silo and getting clients to implement these initiatives, leading to great results.
1. What are the most important aspect of SEO for you and your clients? For example organic traffic,rankings, schema? What are the most important aspect of SEO for you and your clients?
First and foremost, SEO needs to focus on getting stuff done. This means we need to understand the commercial aspects of their business, the role of search within their overall marketing activity as well as their ways of working. Each client is different with different challenges or requirements and there is never a one size fits all approach.
We work with numerous clients undergoing large scale migrations, so understanding the capabilities and nuances of the platform and technology they are deploying is critical to not only maintaining organic visibility, but also to scale for future improvements. For example; platforms like Sitecore and WCS can be very complex, so it’s really important that anything we recommend is applicable to that platform rather than generic best practice recommendations.
It’s also critical that we understand how each client’s audience behaves online, this goes beyond keyword research and delves into purchase journeys, intent and behaviour, this way we can help clients understand what content is needed as well as how that feeds into to user journeys.
2. You previously worked in Australia; how does SEO in Australia compare with SEO in the UK?
That was a very long time ago, almost 13 years ago! Seems like a lifetime ago. At that time SEO was very different to what it is today and wasn’t seen as a serious acquisition channel so it often got overlooked in client and agency budgets. Hopefully things have changed for the better in that respect.
Also, the world of enterprise CMS’s hadn’t matured yet, so making any technical or content improvements was not only costly for the client but also laborious, it often didn’t get implemented, meaning you were restricted to meta data and offsite content.
Since moving to the UK, I’ve worked alongside numerous international agencies in partnership as well as handing over/onboarding clients. What I can say about the UK SEO industry is that is does seem to be slightly more mature than some other markets. I hope that doesn’t upset anyone. Technical SEO teams in the UK are particularly good breaking SEO out of its silo and getting clients to implement progressive SEO initiatives. In addition, many UK brands have invested in creating large in-house technical and content teams that sit at the core of their digital hubs – not great news for agencies, but overall great for the industry.
3. Can you share 3 features that are most important for you with regards to an SEO platform or tool?
Accuracy and clarity around the metrics are critical for any tool I use. A lot of SEO tools used for analysing performance have some type of visibility over time metrics which are great to look at trends and overall performance, but integration of historical analytics and GSC data is more robust. Often, we can get bogged down competitor visibility data, which often is only used to quantify how well/poorly a site is performing. It’s important, but shouldn’t be the key feature.
It’s also really important to us that the platforms we user are not just used as an expensive ranking tool. Teams need to be continuously trained and upskilled in new features and apply that to real world client situations, so training and support from the vendor is important to me as a platform is only as good as the person who interprets the results.
We use multiple platforms and tools. Some try and be all things to all people, technical, reporting, research, content and workflow management. I like tools that are great at just doing a few things.
4. What process do you follow when you first win a new client? How has this changed since you first started working in search (can you name 3 big changes)?
When onboarding any client, I think it is important to understand their challenges and pivot activity to accommodate that. In most cases the “roadmap” of activity produced for a pitch or proposal is not useful once the client is onboard as it is done from the outside looking in. Once you start working with a client you gain more context as to why legacy issues exist.
The way client teams working practices has also changed. Many clients are not working in a more Agile way. So, for technical implementation it is critical to understand how they plan and deploy website changes. If they are working to an Agile methodology, then we join their sprint planning sessions which makes it easier to identify where fixes can be made or to feed in improvements and features.
When working with clients, particularly new clients its is important to educate and keep them up to date with all things search. In the past I’ve had clients describe SEO as a dark art, but it’s really not, nor has it ever been. Keeping clients informed, without overcomplicating it with jargon as well as working with them to understand the commercial benefit can empower them to champion SEO throughout their organisation which can only be a good thing.
5. What do you think we should focus on within SEO in 2020 and why?
That’s a tough question! Often what we expect Google to do and what actually happens is very different, so if anything, we should prepare to change and adapt and change quickly. In the last few months there have been a lot of updates, more than I have seen in many years, but the good news is that Google have become more transparent and share more information about updates than they have historically.
What is clear is that Google is increasingly introducing new features into the SERPS, so the real estate is becoming more crowded and competitive. In addition, personal assistance/voice search adoption is increasing which means that more effort needs to focus in how capturing users at the start of their search journey, rather than just appearing for “buy” search queries.
Also, let’s embrace change. It’s a good thing.