My journey to becoming an SEO Executive spans over 14 years, working for leading agencies and improving some of the biggest brands in the world. I also spent a few years working as an in-house SEO at some mid-sized companies.
Today, I work for Acronym as a Senior Vice President of SEO. I’ve been at the agency for 7 years and manage their global SEO team, which consists of over 20 SEO professionals based in the US, London, Singapore, Berlin and Canada.
Working for an agency can be both challenging and rewarding.
I hope sharing the story of how I got to where I am today and what being a Senior Vice President of SEO means will help you in your career journey as well.
Get started with search engine optimization
I first learned about SEO and Internet Marketing in 2003, when I was earning my master’s degree in online business from Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York.
Prior to that, I worked as a QA specialist in the pharmaceutical industry doing audits and computer validations. However, I was fascinated by the Internet and so I decided to go back to school to learn more about the World Wide Web.
I started my own pharmaceutical job board in 2006 and needed more traffic, so I reached out to an SEO company for help.
After watching them improve my site, I learned how interesting and complex it was. Intrigued to learn more, I was inspired to start doing more myself.
I landed a job as an SEO specialist at Digitgrit (now Zeta Interactive), built up a successful SEO practice at Havas Media, and the rest is history.
A typical day in SEO leadership
Being a senior leader in the agency, I do a lot of business development – for example driving shows, creating strategies, showing how SEO works with other channels, for example.
I manage the team to ensure we have the right tools, resources, staff, processes and services to manage clients and leads, as well as generate thought leadership material.
I also read a lot to see what’s going on in the industry. It is important to stay on top of other perspectives and new technology when we collaborate with global vendors and international teams.
My master’s degree in e-commerce helped me gain the basics of how the internet works. It has changed dramatically over the years, but I’ve learned that understanding the basics will help you gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the history and backbone of how things are connected.
Being in this industry for so long has taught me a lot, especially about working with both international and domestic clients.
Finally, I also realized that you should always do your due diligence and dig deeper. Focus on the high-cost items and strategies that will drive business results.
Many agencies offer similar services. Why should a client go with your agency instead of the other 5-10 that are on the RFP?
Always distinguish yourself. Listen to your customers and make sure you understand their goals, objectives, challenges, KPIs and what they hope to get from the engagement.
Plan to show who is doing what and set realistic expectations ahead of time so there are no surprises later, eg things not being done, etc. Build compelling case studies and provide unique perspectives on updates and changes to SERPs.
Managing SEO challenges at the executive level
Managing SEO in a global agency is no easy task with clients and SEO across time zones, different languages and multiple search engines running, and more.
Prioritization, strong communication and processes are vital to success.
Being able to take into account cultural and language differences, as well as identifying countries that will offer the best return on investment, is essential.
Another challenge for executives, particularly at the enterprise level, is that some clients have incredibly complex needs.
One day you may be dealing with a failed migration when they worked with a previous agency.
You might have a new customer who is losing a lot of traffic and revenue after being negatively impacted by a core update.
It can work with limited resources, etc.
Once a client insisted on using a whole bunch of keywords that were used within the company, but not by their audience. Educating the client on why this wasn’t a good idea was key, and this requires tact and people management skills.
Working with web developers that some brands hire, we often have to use techniques that go against common SEO wisdom and so workarounds have to be found.
SEO in principle has a basic approach – but each new client adds their own twist to it.
That’s the beauty of working for an agency with strong leadership and a focus on training and education. This means that they are frequently challenged and constantly developing solutions.
Find inspiration and thought leadership
The most admired person in the SEO community is Mike Grehan. Mike is a pioneer in space and a great visionary. He was talking 20 years ago about things that are bearing fruit now.
Other people I look up to in the industry are Brian Dean from Backlinko. They provide great content and do great research.
I also have a lot of respect for Hamlet Batista, who sadly passed away. I learned a lot from him in a short period of time and we had plans to do a few get togethers.
I am also a big fan of Jim Boykin From the internet marketing ninja.
I advise all SEO professionals to stay up to date with the latest technology. We live in a dynamic world where automation is key. There are some great platforms and solutions that are making a lot of noise in the space and really help streamline the SEO process, so we can focus more on strategy.
Evaluate them to see if they can help you reach your KPIs both internally and externally.
Also, evaluate and test different methodologies to see what drives overall business goals and objectives, and most of all, conversions.
If you don’t, it’s time to refocus. SEO is all about getting qualified traffic to a site that converts into customers.
Don’t be afraid of failure and accept new challenges; This is part of being innovative and inclusive.
Do your own research. Try to gain as much experience as possible with paid search, software, social, and analytics, but don’t forget to build skills in leading a team as well. You need to see the bigger picture, because it’s all linked at the command level.
Tips for potential leaders in the search engine optimization industry
To be successful as an SEO executive, you must be able to hire and build a solid team, listen and listen to feedback, and motivate people who have the potential to be rock stars for your company.
Provide a creative and consultative work environment, and set a clear path for your employees to advance their careers. Empower them to work on different accounts across different verticals to broaden their experience.
Always be humble and include your team to get their views on each issue, whether this is why they feel low traffic, how to improve rankings, how we can win this idea, etc.
No man is an island. A great leader is only as good as the team he leads.
Also, remember that numbers don’t lie. Always show results and keep bringing innovative ideas to clients and prospects, even if they seem strange.
If you want to move up the ladder, you need to be able to articulate how your leadership translates into business results, too.
Keep working on that plan to grow new business at 20+% per annum, get additional revenue from existing clients by offering new services, think creatively – and be ready to prove it.
Also, if you are lucky enough to write a column for the most popular publication in the search industry, definitely go for it.
Being an SEO executive for a leading agency can be a rewarding career. It provides not only longevity, but also all the rewards inherent in helping colleagues grow in their careers and clients reach their KPIs year after year.
If you had to pick just a few key areas of focus to drive your SEO driving career forward, I would say these are the “secrets” of my success:
- Always hire the best talent.
- Collaborate with your team.
- Never be afraid to try new ideas.
- Keep up to date with the latest technology.
- Test different optimization methods and strategies on your own.
- Read industry publications and follow thought leaders in the space.
- Be innovative and strive to differentiate yourself from the competition.
- 7 things I wish I knew earlier in my SEO career
- The 15 areas of SEO knowledge you must master in order to be successful
- SEO for Beginners: An Introduction to SEO Basics
Featured image: Shutterstock/Gorodenkoff