Or get it on:
In this week's episode, Jack Chambers-Ward is joined by freelance SEO consultant Luce Rawlings to discuss:
Jack: Welcome to Episode 37 of Season Two of the Search with Candour Podcast. I am your host, Jack Chambers Ward, and joining me this week is Luce Rawlings. Luce is a freelance SEO consultant, a judge at the UK Search Awards and one of the data journalists working with SISTRIX. So if you're a long term listener of Season Two of Search With Candour, you might actually recognise Luce's name. We have mentioned her a few times on the show already through her fantastic work with SISTRIX. There's lots of stuff for Luce and I to talk about SEO, careers and a potential career path for you in SEO.
Search for Candour is supported by SISTRIX, the SEO's toolbox. Go to sistrix.com/swc if you want to check out some of their fantastic free tools such as their SERP Snippet generator, hreflang validator, checking out your site's visibility index and the Google update tracker, which we know is very important with the helpful content update and the September core update that's recently happened. And of course you can go to sistrix.com/trends to subscribe to the Trend Watch newsletter and you can go to sistrix.com/blog to keep up with all of their latest content and data analysis. And we will actually be diving into in great detail the Visibility Leaders piece on the SISTRIX blog because Luce was one of the authors of that article. So we will be diving into a lot more detail about that later on in the show.
And without any further ado, welcome to the show, Luce Rawlings. How are you?
Luce: Hey, it's nice to be here. I've been thinking about this for a little while actually, seeing as you mention me so much.
Jack: I was about to say, you're a name a lot of the listeners are probably already familiar with, but in fact, you told me just before we start recording, this is your first ever podcast.
Jack: So welcome to the podcast. Welcome to podcasting in general.
Luce: Thank you very much.
Jack: You've kind of been a star of the show without actually being on the show, so now it's your time to stand into the spotlight.
Luce: Absolutely. Yeah. Wow. No, I don't really know what to say to that. I guess it's an honor.
Jack: I'll take that. I'll take that. And it's an honor to have you on because we've got a lot of interesting stuff to talk about. Obviously we will be covering a lot of your work with SISTRIX, our partners who we talk about a lot here on the show. And obviously we've covered your work previously. We are talking about a pretty, pretty big data article to do with SISTRIX and discussing a lot of visibility leaders and all that kind of stuff later on. But before we get to that, before we even get to the main topic, why don't you give a little intro about yourself to the listeners who might not know who you are and what you do.
Luce: Absolutely. So for those that don't know me, my name is Luce Rawlings. I'm an independent SEO consultant and I'm also part of the data journalism team over at SISTRIX. I've been working in digital since 2015 and before I started freelancing in April last year, I spent roughly four years working agency side. In between agency roles I also worked in marketing at an online travel agent. And when I'm not working, I'm usually binge watching a TV series, researching future holiday ideas or cuddling up to my two Cockapoos.
Jack: Nice. We often have Snoop, the Candour dog, make an appearance. We've had a couple of the other Candour dogs make appearances before, so we're very pro pet here on the show.
Luce: I think just generally the SEO industry is very pro pet.
Jack: Honestly, I don't trust people who don't like cats or dogs. And from the other side, if a dog or a cat reacts badly to a person, I'm like, that animal's reading some vibes I'm not picking up here. Oh, that dog reacted really badly to you. I'm like, yes, it did. Interesting. The dog knows.
Luce: What does the dog know that we don't know?
Jack: Exactly. Right. Yeah, dogs and cats just know things. They just do. They have this sixth sense.
Luce: No, absolutely. Absolutely. I'm such a dog person. I mean I wouldn't have two otherwise, would I?
Jack: What are their names, if you don't mind me asking? I'm intrigued now.
Luce: So I've got Ralphy and Ruby.
Jack: Nice. I love the double R alliteration there. I appreciate that.
Luce: Yeah, it's great.
Jack: Are they Ralphy and Ruby Rawlings? Like the double R, double R. That's kind of amazing.
Luce: Yeah, they are. I know it works really well. I didn't do it purposely, but yeah, no, I obviously just love the R names.
Jack: And I guess to kick us off, what TV shows have you been watching? You mentioned you've been watching some stuff recently. What's been on Luce's recent binge watching kick?
Luce: Oh goodness. I mean, it's not necessarily new stuff. I find that I run out of stuff to watch, so I tend to backtrack a bit. So I actually started watching Ugly Betty again, which I watched years ago.
Jack: Oh wow. Yeah.
Luce: Which is fantastic by the way, if you've not watched it. Even my boyfriend likes it, which is saying something. But yeah, Ugly Betty's been one of them and I just generally love getting stuck into crime series and crime documentaries. I find it so fascinating.
Jack: It's you and the rest of the world. Everybody is just addicted to true crime at the moment. I know my wife is, I've told the story a couple times. I don't know if I've told it on the podcast before, but I had a migraine quite a few months ago and it was one of those proper, I had my hoodie over my face trying to keep as dark as possible, just sleeping on the couch. I can't do anything, kind of migraines. And I was basically coming in and out of consciousness and my wife was cross stitching while looking after me and also listening to an incredibly graphic true crime podcast at the same time. So I'd wake up and be like, and he ripped out his entrails with a rusty spoon and then I'd fall asleep again and then I'd wake up and be like, and the children were killed as well and I'd fall asleep again. This weird semi-conscious experience.
Luce: This weird escalation of events that you just missed half of.
Jack: Yeah. It was terrifying for me coming in and out of consciousness and just hearing these 10, 15 second clips of horrifying crime and then going back again and then back up again.
Luce: You must have been so confused, Jack, so confused.
Jack: It was quite the experience and I'm trying to think if I've seen any true crime since then. Maybe I've just been scared off of it since then.
Luce: Maybe. I wouldn't blame you. I wouldn't blame you for that.
Jack: On the subject of female led stuff, my wife and I have been watching Gossip Girl for the first time recently as well and having...
Luce: The original series.
Jack: The original. No, definitely not watching the spinoff remake sequel thing. Apparently that's awful. But yeah, we're watching the original and having a lot of fun, so yeah.
Luce: That's brilliant.
Jack: Anyway, we should probably talk about some SEO stuff, right?
Luce: Yeah, we should actually get onto the topic of the podcast.
Jack: We probably should. And the listeners might be wondering like, oh, we breezed past your career and your path so far because usually when I have a guest on the show, we'll spend 5, 10 minutes talking about your career and oh you worked agency, you've worked in-house, blah blah blah. Well, that's the topic of the show. We're talking about how to sculpt out your career path in SEO and essentially my first question is, why'd you want to talk about this Luce? What was the plan bringing this topic to the show?
Luce: Well, I'm going to turn the tables actually on you, Jack.
Jack: Oh, okay.
Luce: When you hear the words professional development, what kind of words and general feelings come up in your brain?
Jack: Training was the first thing I thought of, to be honest. Two words, specifically two words.
Luce: What about more like feelings? What feelings come your mind?
Jack: Apprehension and aspiration. There you go.
Jack: Two words, there for you. Is this some weird psychological analysis now?
Luce: No, I'm going to tell you my two words that come to mind now. So my two words are excitement but stress also.
Jack: Okay, that's fair. That's very fair.
Luce: And the fact you've said that apprehension was one of yours, I'm sure there's someone out there that can relate to any of the words we've just said.
Jack: Yeah, I feel like we gave the same answer but with slightly different variations.
Luce: Yeah, absolutely.
Jack: Excitement and stress because there is totally that the exciting side of it is, you're going to grow, you're going to learn things and I think it's such a common trait in SEOs for us wanting to be learners for life essentially. Even if you've been in the industry for 10 years, so many people I've had on this podcast before have been in SEO for 10, 15, 20 years and are still learning new things every week on their job. And that's a huge part of this industry I think. And I think you're totally right, that you get the kind of stress side of it. There is that apprehension and then there's also the excitement of learning new things and growing and promoting and making more money and all that kind stuff as well.
Luce: Yeah. And I think as a topic as well, unless you're talking to someone in your HR department or you're talking to your direct manager, it's not really something that you discuss openly either because it's so personal.
Jack: Yeah, definitely. I know I talk about it with my wife. So she recently left the NHS, but worked for the NHS for years and years and years and we were comparing our career paths and that SEO can be so chaotic with all of the weird job titles and one day you're an executive, next job you're a manager, next one you are a head of, and then quote unquote, back down to manager even though you're more senior in this company, there's no kind of consistency there. Whereas my wife being an NHS nurse was like, you have band four, band five, band six, band seven, band eight, it's just laid out in a number by number kind of step. And I find it so fascinating talking to people in SEO and you and I in our careers, having gone in so many different directions, you don't really get that in a lot of other industries. And I think that's why SEO careers are so interesting and why I think this is going to be a really interesting topic for us to dive into different paths and different ways of doing it.
Luce: Absolutely. And I think it's very relevant to the times we're in and what's going on in our industry as well. Unfortunately over recent months obviously we've seen quite a few companies have to make tough decisions about letting people go as well. And for some of those people they're going to be in that phase of exploring new opportunities. And I think when you're exploring new opportunities, naturally you have that period of reevaluation of do I stick with what I know? Do I become more specialist or do I change my working environment completely?
Jack: Yeah, definitely. Again, I'm not sure if I've told this story on the podcast before, but that's pretty much how I ended up working in the agency I did before Candour. I was let go from my essentially in-house job before because of COVID and stuff, and went through that process of okay, I was doing a bit of everything. My official title was Digital Marketing and Office Manager because I was also managing all of the office stuff. It was a tiny little office of three of us. And I would've done everything from fixing servers to answering customer emails, to cleaning toilets, literally.
Luce: You were literally a Jack of all trades.
Jack: I lived up to my name being a Jack of all trades. Exactly, exactly. And then I thought, with the skills I've developed and built myself over the last couple of years in that role, the stuff I really enjoyed was the digital marketing stuff, working on the website, writing content for that website, all that kind of stuff. Maybe I should go and do that as an actual full-time job, but I wonder if I can get a... Are there many agencies around? Turns out there's dozens of agencies, even in a tiny little city of Norwich, but yeah, I can definitely relate to people who have been through that process because me, I had that job for seven years, I think it was the majority of my 20s were in that.
Luce: That's a long stint.
Jack: Yeah. Pretty much every job I've ever had, apart from the agency I left to join Candour, was a stay with the company until they go bust pretty much. So I was loyal to a fault. But how about you and your path? Now, like you said, you're working as a freelancer, you're this independent SEO consultant, but you've had roles in-house and agency as well. What was the process for you first getting into SEO and then moving through those different parts?
Luce: Well, it's actually quite an interesting story and it's quite interesting that you shared your story because I feel like there's similarities in mine as well.
Jack: Oh, okay, cool.
Luce: So I actually finished university in 2013 doing a completely different degree to marketing.
Jack: What's your original degree in by the way?
Luce: In photography.
Jack: Oh, I have a degree in astrophysics. So another similarity there has nothing to do with the digital market.
Luce: And I think with quite a lot of people they fall into marketing. It's something that people either study and they pursue or they just completely out of nowhere suddenly they land in it.
Jack: Yeah, definitely.
Luce: And you're probably going to find this next bit quite interesting as to how it led to eventually working at my first agency. So when I first left university, obviously I was living with my mom and dad and I was really keen to move out and obviously any job would've done to get some money in so I could rent. So I actually worked at a secondary school.
Jack: Oh nice.
Luce: So I worked there and I did facilities management. So I was basically responsible for getting people in to rent out the facilities at the school and make some additional money. And through that I actually ended up sharing an office with a lady who used to be a marketing manager at Microsoft.
Jack: Oh wow.
Luce: So yeah, shout out to my friend Nicola for getting me on the path to greatness. But yeah, so I basically shared an office with her and through working with her on marketing for the school, she saw potential and at that point I was feeling very lost to where I actually wanted to go. I had no idea what career path that I wanted to go down and she saw what I was doing and thought actually I think you'd be quite good at this. So then it led onto us sitting in the office when it was quieter, working on my CV.
Jack: Excellent. That's always a good time when you're in a job, right?
Luce: Yeah. I mean to be honest, at that job it was getting a bit tough and I was looking at leaving anyway, but I was clueless as to what I wanted to do. So she really helped me to cement marketing as a path. So yeah, basically I had an interview at a full service digital agency near me and I didn't necessarily have the digital experience, I'd only really done a bit of social media. So my experience was very limited, but I really wanted to do a CIM qualification and I really showcased my passion and my keenness to learn and I think that's ultimately what got me in the door to be honest.
Jack: Yeah, like I said, I think that's a common thread through so many SEOs I've spoken to over the years, is that oh, I might not know how to do this thing but I want to learn and you have the drive and the ability to learn it. Then you stand a chance of getting hired or being promoted to that role and being trained up to it or whatever it is. I think that's a lot of cases, like I said for me, coming from, funnily enough, working in a school as well.
Luce: Oh amazing. We have more in common.
Jack: I know, right? We're just like parallel lines. Mine was an international language school so I'd done a lot of, like I said, the stuff around the office and all that kind of stuff. And then we thought, oh, we need to update the website and that was the moment for me. I was the most techy person in the building basically. I was always the one basically being a TA and fixing the interactive whiteboards for the teachers and all that kind of stuff. So it just fell on my shoulders. Yeah Jack, you could do that. And I was like, sure. I'll look up some tutorials and stuff and just wing it and hope for the best. And we did actually end up working with a design agency here in Norwich and it worked well but it was that kind of process of being a self-taught SEO, which I think so many of us are. Just reading articles, starting off watching YouTube videos and all that kind of stuff. Was that a similar sort of experience for you when you were first learning those things? As part of that agency I guess you got some on the job training as well, but did you also go through that path of branching out and watching YouTube videos and all that kind of stuff as well?
Luce: Yeah, it was a mixture of getting that firsthand experience, making most of the knowledge that those around me had, but also doing my own kind of research as well. Definitely a combination.
Jack: So thinking of both of us coming from essentially a school background, which is weird. I didn't realise we had that in common. Coming from a school background and then going through to digital marketing, what do you think is not necessarily the best, but an interesting way of learning about that? Do you think people are better off starting in-house and learning that way or agency and then going in-house later in their career? Is there a right answer at all? Is it totally dependent?
Luce: I hate to say these two words, but it depends.
Jack: Oh no, everybody drink!
Luce: I know.
Jack: That's the rules.
Luce: But I think it really does depend on the learning style that you have and also the team structure, whether that's in-house or agency side as to how best you can pick up knowledge and really learn quickly. I think the common problems with smaller businesses, so in-house and agency side, is that marketing teams generally are made of generalists, not specialists. So when you're really trying to learn about a particular area like SEO, it can prove quite challenging because you are usually chopping and changing between different things.
Jack: Yeah, definitely. Like I said, with my role back in the day I was doing literally everything else and then also SEO on the side and a little bit. And then even within SEO you then have specialists as well. You have people who then specialise in tech SEO or content based stuff or digital PR and outreach and all that kind of stuff as well. And I think it's an interesting position. I think especially for me now working two and a half years in agency side, having a specialist can be really important for having a wider team. And I'll ask you about your opinion as a freelancer, because that's something I don't have experience with is doing it by myself and being independent. I've always worked in a team. But from my perspective as a team member, having specialists there to lean on and say oh, I'm not the most technical but I know this person who sits next to me in the office is more technical so I can refer to them with their expertise or bring them on this client call or this project or whatever it is.
And there's the learning opportunity there again. You understand and learn from your team members there. So I think there is a lot of value in at least working in a team to start with. Again, I'm going to ask you your opinion in a minute because I feel like I'm speaking as a freelancer even though I'm not a freelancer.
Luce: Speaking for me.
Jack: Yeah, exactly. But I think there's value in learning and working with other people early on in your career while you are getting your feet on the ground and understanding, grasping the essential concepts of SEO before you can then branch out and do your own thing and become a freelancer. Would you agree with that? Am I talking complete nonsense here?
Luce: No, you are not talking nonsense at all. I completely agree with you on that one. I think particularly when you're in those early days where your knowledge is very limited, being surrounded with people that are experienced and knowledgeable is a no-brainer in terms of being able to progress in the direction that you want to.
Jack: Yeah, definitely. Do you think there are any big similarities or differences between the in-house and agency learning experience? Like I said, is there a right way of starting off? Should you start in-house and then go through that process and then move to an agency or the other way around? What are the main differences and similarities I guess from your experience?
Luce: I think one thing that really feeds into this is how big and how specialist your in-house department is, because there's a lot of bigger businesses obviously that have bigger budgets that generally will invest specifically in SEO and will have a dedicated SEO team. And in those instances it is a very different kettle of fish really because you are essentially getting that close collaboration and that knowledge from people that are experienced and people in the team are going to have a mixed and differing experience and ability in SEO as well. So I'd say in that respect, that's quite similar to working in an agency where it's very collaborative and you're working together.
Jack: Yeah, definitely. And thinking about now you working, as an independent freelancer, what was that transition like from you? Like you said, you went agency, in between the agency stuff went in-house for a bit, then agency again and now for the last year and a half, two years or so working as an independent consultant. What was that process like for you? And I want to dive into when do you think is right in a person's career, I guess? Is it about having that confidence? Is it about having the flexibility? Is it all of those things?
Luce: I think with freelancing it was a natural progression for me just because throughout all of the roles I'd had, even the in-house one, I was very much involved in that client relationship management phase, which obviously in an agency and even in-house, communicating is so important. And I think definitely working agency side for as long as I had solidified that I was able to do that kind of stuff for myself. And also working in an agency also helped me to understand how I could easily approach things as an individual as well. Although working in an agency there's a particular kind of consistencies, essentially you are working with an individual and their team. And every SEO manager and SEO director is different and how they will approach things is completely different. So with that in mind, I built the foundations of how I worked client relationships then. So really it's just been me taking myself out of that situation and transferring it into my own business and how I operate.
Jack: Yeah, I think client relations is something we talk about a lot on the show. I know I talked about it with Chloe Smith when I had them on the show a couple of weeks ago. Had a big discussion with Tom Critchlow about it many, many months ago at this point. And I think it's such a key one of those soft skills, I hate that phrase, but I can't think of another way of... Communication skills essentially. And how important that is to, especially like you said, if you're going to do this all on your own, you need to be able to communicate stuff from every which way and every which perspective.
You need to be able to talk to different types of clients and people in different positions within your client business. You might be talking to their content writer who has only been with the company for six months, or you might be talking to the marketing manager who's been there for a couple years, or you might be talking to the founder of the entire company who owns the whole thing and you need to understand different relationships and different dynamics there and all that kind of stuff.
And yeah, I think that's really interesting coming from an agency perspective because I've seen, even in my only two and a half years or so of experience in agency, how different agencies handle the client communication side of things. Some people have account managers that do all of the communication and the SEOs are just left in the corner in the office and they just get on with their work and don't really get a chance to say anything or do anything. Some people have the SEOs who are also the face of that project. So you're an account lead essentially and you're working with them and like you said, you're then able to build up those skills and stuff like that. Do you think there's an advantage there from an agency side of things? That path, if the listeners out there are thinking, oh, I'm in agency and I might want to go freelance, I'll follow in Luce's career path and follow in her stead, do you think there's value in having that kind of experience in agency first and be in that kind of face of the project, face of the company for that client? You think that's an essential step? For me, I think it is, personally. But again, I'm not a freelancer so I don't want to speak for you.
Luce: I think it is essential. I think in an agency obviously there's different levels of roles, so as a director or a manager, client relationships, you really have to swim in those instances because ultimately you are overseeing their account and their progress. So you do need to be able to have those soft skills and really be able to build relationships. I think when you're at an executive level, so where you're supporting on an account, you don't really get as much exposure to the client management side of things. So I think if you are an exec and you are looking to maybe freelance, then I would say that having some SEO manager background would help you in that instance where you can get a bit more deeper into the management and the comms.
Jack: Yeah, it's something Tom Critchlow talked about is if you are looking to do this, and like I said, if you want to get more involved in the client facing side of things, something the senior people can do is essentially, he worded as leave the door open for you, let you get your foot in the door. So say for example, there is one person that does all the proposals and the pitches and stuff for that company, and all the junior SEOs are just doing the day to day work but not actually involved in that client process, bring them into that process. Give them that experience and like you said, professional development there. That is a perfect example of that kind of thing without it being super formal and having to sign up to a training course or sending you off to a conference or whatever.
Just including somebody in a meeting that they might not have experience with to understand this is how I communicate to this type of client, they're this size, they are a director, they are a marketing manager, whatever it is. I think that experience can be so valuable for junior SEOs learning the ropes essentially and growing to be independent themselves and whether you are training them to then go freelance. I don't take any responsibility for that. Don't blame me if all your junior SEOs suddenly leave your company and become freelance.
Luce: Don't blame me either. But yeah, I think when I've had people working with me on accounts, I've always given them that open door of, after so much time where they feel comfortable or they're near that point of comfortable to do so, giving them ownership of an account to a degree is really good to get them acquainted with that kind of process.
Jack: Yeah, definitely.
Luce: And help them improve in those areas.
Jack: Yeah. So let's talk about some freelancing, shall we? And this will lead us on to the second half of our discussion, I guess. Your journey as a freelancer, what was your kind of process when you thought, okay, now's the time. Now I'm feeling ready to go and take that big step, and essentially take your business into your own hands and work with clients independently?
Luce: I think there's not really ever a right time to go freelance. At the time that you think about it, it's the right time. You've made a judgment call. For me it was like, I felt like I'd hit the ceiling in terms of what I could learn agency side and I felt that I knew enough to be able to take ownership and run my own business. And also at that time as well, it was early 2021, so things with the pandemic were getting better and the demand for SEO services was just insane around that period as well. So it was a good opportunity for me at that point.
Jack: And how have you found freelancing? Obviously you're enjoying it, you're still doing it. But I guess, like I said, from me coming at the perspective, I've spoken to freelancers but I've never ever done it myself, it's something I essentially have no experience in and I hate working from home, so I'm a bad example of this kind of thing. So I guess what are the big advantages from your perspective and what kind of things does freelancing afford you that an in-house role or an agency role wouldn't necessarily afford you to do?
Luce: Well, there's probably more pros than cons. So I think probably better to highlight the cons first.
Jack: Fair enough.
Luce: Obviously one of the main cons is that you are every team. So you're business development, you're marketing, you're accounting, and because of that you end up working long days sometimes. But it does balance out because equally you get the opportunity to have half days. So it's not all bad, but it's just temporary pain for long-term gain.
Jack: Short pain, long term gain. That's the Luce Rawlings motto right there.
Luce: Honestly, it really is, yeah. You've got to think about the bigger picture.
Jack: Yeah, definitely. Definitely. So thinking about the pros now, what are the advantages, do you think, of freelancing compared to in-house and in-agency stuff?
Luce: I mean firstly you have more control, which for me is fabulous because I get so anxious when I have so much uncertainty. So the fact that I can control that to an extent, obviously can't control what Google does, but I can control things within reason. So that in itself for me is a pro, that might not be a pro for other people, but for me I see that as a pro. And off the back of that, really that means that I can choose clients that I want to and I'm very particular about who I work with. If a client doesn't have the same passion and motivation as I do, then they're not really going to hit my set of criteria for me to want to work with them.
Jack: That's a common thread I've heard from a few freelancers I've spoken to, is being able to be selective and not just taking the client who offers you the most money. Actually working with people who align with your core values and your beliefs and all that kind of stuff. You have the ability, like you said, you are the head of the company, you're the business development, you're the management, you're the client relations, you're everything. So the decision is yours at the end of the day.
And I can definitely see that from a negative side of oh, the pressure, but also a positive side of yeah, you get to make your own decisions and you don't have to do work you don't want to do, you don't have to work with clients you don't want to work with and stuff like that. And I'm sure any of us who have worked at an agency before, you've had that client when you've been, oh God, not them again, I've got to do it, oh, this industry. Or oh God, they seem a bit dodgy. Are we sure this is a... Yeah, not sure I should be working in this thing, this niche. Oh dear.
Luce: I think everyone can relate to you with that client. There's that one client and over the period as well, if you're unfortunate you can get that one client several times over as well.
Jack: Oh God, yeah.
Luce: But to be honest I've not had any that are too bad. So I feel like I've been let off lightly there. But yeah, another thing that I really like about freelancing is obviously, like I said before, flexibility's great and it's helped me with my work, life balance tremendously. I'm not a very good sleeper anyway, but having more sleep in the mornings has improved my mental health and my productivity massively. And it's just great that I can pick to work a bit later and work later into the evening when it suits me and my body clock.
Jack: Have the ability to work 10 till 6 or whatever, instead of, and I have to be in the office by 8:30 and finish by 5 and all this kind of stuff. That's even more flexible than the flexi-time a lot of companies and agencies have. You can take a day off if you want to. Again, the freelancers I've spoken to before, yeah, I just had a day off because I wasn't feeling well or had a bad mental health day or whatever it was. I let my clients know and no issues. And I was like, wow, there's so much flexibility there. And something you talked about before we started recording and it was really interesting and it's going to lead us into the big SISTRIX discussion and it's something I hadn't really thought about, again, me not being a freelancer, it gives you ability to do other work that isn't client work. I was like, oh, of course. Yeah, it never occurred to me in a million years, but the fact that as we know you are part of the data journalism team at SISTRIX, we've talked about you plenty of times on the show and I thought, oh yeah, of course that's a thing you do as a freelancer. That totally makes sense. Why didn't I make that connection before you mentioned it? So yeah, have you found that experience, it gives you essentially flexibility to take on more opportunities, right?
Luce: Absolutely. I mean when you're in an agency setting and in-house, obviously 9 to 5 you are doing what you are there to do, which is essentially servicing your company or clients. Whereas for me, I have a bit more flexibility where if I want to dedicate so many hours a week to doing something completely different, then I can do that. And equally it can be another revenue opportunity for me as well. A lot of common ones that people do, obviously courses, which Kristina Azarenko and obviously your very own Mark, have dabbled in. Affiliate seems to be a big one as well. And a lot of freelancers also collaborate with agencies and do white label work as well. So there's a lot of opportunities there to dip your toes into different areas really.
Jack: Yeah, definitely. It wasn't, like I said, the fact that you brought it up so casually in our conversation before we started recording, I was like, oh yeah, of course your work with SISTRIX is another side of your job. Is another, again, learning process, stream of revenue, all that kind of stuff, and isn't directly working on client stuff, but it's actually handling data and you're totally right. Some other SEOs go off and do courses and stuff like our very own Mark Williams-Cook has and you get this flexibility to do, and again, to work with companies you wouldn't necessarily get to work with. What has that process been like for you working as part of the data journalism team? And this is going to lead us into our big SISTRIX discussion about the recent visibility leaders and rising leaders topics we're going to talk about in a sec as well.
Luce: I mean I've absolutely loved working with the data journo team at SISTRIX.
Jack: Thank God for that. I realised I just set you up to say terrible things about our sponsor.
Luce: Steve will be delighted. No, honestly, I've really enjoyed it and it's just amazing. It's just so nice sometimes to break away from the day to day with clients to nerd out on SISTRIX data. Yeah. And it's just so fascinating and I feel like in doing that it's a learning process for me as well. I feel like, like you said, with SEO, learning never stops. And yeah, I feel like I've learned so much about SISTRIX. I mean, I knew quite a bit about SISTRIX as a tool before, but as I'm diving into it more and more I'm learning more about the tool.
Jack: So won't you give us a little intro for the listeners who don't know what the Visibility Leaders' Data is and cover, I guess we'll talk about a bigger picture kind of thing, and then dive into specifically what you've been talking about and give a little tease for what they can find in the full article on SISTRIX's blog.
Luce: Yeah. So it's been a very cool and extensive project that quite a few of us have been working on. So obviously I've been working on it along with Steve Payne, Charlie Williams and Callum Lockwood, who's actually recently joined our data journo team. And basically, between us, we analyse the top performing retail oriented content hubs to understand visibility wise who is absolutely thriving. As part of that as well we also called upon retail SEO expert, Kevin Indig to give his thoughts on things as well. So in terms of the different elements we've covered, Callum delved into the retail visibility leaders, four of which we've actually sent awards to for their visibility achievements. Charlie looked into the leading domains around game consoles, which are one of the most searched retail products on the internet. Who knew, right?
Jack: As a gamer, I'm not surprised.
Luce: And then I looked into the rising leaders, which looks into specific directories that experienced a notable visibility de-increase. And a part of that I reflected on both small and large content hubs. So I thought whilst I'm here, I might as well give you a taster of some of the insights from the rising leaders stuff.
Jack: Like I said, I've seen the SISTRIX data from my side of things so much, I am fascinated to get your insider knowledge on it and really get your perspective on all this stuff that you spend so many hours covering from your perspective. So yeah, let's dive in. I'm excited.
Luce: Awesome. So in my article I covered seven different directories. These were across six domains and we actually extracted the data from over 130 high performing content directories.
Jack: Wow, you're really narrowing it down there. That's really impressive.
Luce: So the two risers that I found particularly interesting were actually Argos, which had a double victory actually because they had two directories which experienced great growth. And Tesco Real Food. So two different ones there, one large and one small. So in terms of Argos, one of the directories that saw the most growth and is classified as a larger content hub is their directory, which is slash SD. And this saw an increase of 38.3% in visibility year on year. So this was really interesting because along with their browsing section, they have these SD pages which essentially are product pages, but they're internal search pages.
Luce: Which typically many SEOs would turn around and say, well, why are internal search pages being indexed?
Jack: Quick, no index that search result quickly.
Luce: For many, that would be the typical thing that would come to mind in regards to internal search pages. And obviously with that as well, you've got risks like index bloat, duplicate content and keyword cannibalisation as well. So it can cause massive issues. However, I did look at a sample of keywords from both browse and the SD directories and I discovered that actually only 5% of those keywords rank across both areas.
Luce: So actually they've got quite a lucrative setup there because with the SD directory, they're actually gaining visibility for valuable long tail product keywords that aren't covered in the core product categories.
Jack: Yeah, I think that's really interesting. I've heard the advice, you can turn certain internal search pages into these kind of category pages, for want of a better phrase, like you're saying, these PLP product list page kind of things. And it's really interesting, like you said, coming up with that almost like a two pronged attack there, right? Coming at it from one side of things with the more general category pages and then you are totally right, having those long tail keywords being targeted with those SD pages is so key, because as we've talked about it, Mark did a talk about it at Brighton SEO, we talk about it a lot. Those long tail, quote unquote, zero volume keyword searches can be so valuable in this kind of thing. Those kinds of people that are searching for incredibly specific stuff, want an incredibly specific answer and if you've got that answer and you can serve it up to them, chances are they're going to be a very high converting kind of audience. So that's going to work really, really well for them. I'm not surprised that it's working.
Luce: Yeah. No, a really good tactic on their part.
Jack: Yeah, definitely. Kudos to the Argos SEO team or agency.
Luce: Yeah, great job guys.
Jack: I don't know if they have an in-house team or agency. I'm not sure.
Luce: No, I'm not entirely sure either, but whoever you are, well done.
Jack: Bravo. Well done Argos.
Luce: Yeah. And then a smaller content hub that I looked at as well was actually on the Tesco Real Food subdomain. So this is a subdomain that sits off the main Tesco root domain. And it specifically contains recipe content and a particular area called category saw a significant increase, in fact a 345.3% visibility increase and continuing increase. And basically this category contains basically all the recipes that you'd want to search for under the sun. So chocolate cake recipes, sausage recipes, insert food here recipes. So amazing uplift over the last year and 42% of the keywords associated with that category directory rank in the top 10 Google SERP positions.
Jack: That's a very, very cool statistic for them. That's awesome.
Luce: Yeah. Also when you compare the category directory's visibility to other recipe orientated directories on competitor sites, like the Guardian, many of them have actually seen a major visibility drop off by comparison.
Jack: Oh, interesting. We talked about The Guardian not too long ago because they had seen such growth recently and I know Steve has covered that a lot in the recent winners and losers and things like that. The Guardian is often high up there with the top 100 visibility domains in the UK. So interesting to see Tesco just absolutely smash it out the park there.
Luce: Yeah, based on the fact that obviously the domain is a subdomain, I think what's happened here is that Google has deemed the sub domain as higher relevance to some of these sites like The Guardian who have a designated recipe area, because obviously on those sites the topical coverage is very broad rather than specific. So essentially that recipe content will be diluted in value. So I think that is what has happened here.
Jack: Interesting. Yeah, I love it when you guys dive into the directory side of things because seeing different tactics in an industry pay off and then other tactics just not working at all, I find that so fascinating.
Luce: It is truly fascinating. Some of the stuff I see sometimes I'm like, whoa, what happened there?
Jack: I like the ones that really surprise you as well. If you'd asked me like, oh, what's more visible? Tesco Real Food or The Guardian food section? I'd be like, well, The Guardian's more visible in general, probably The Guardian. Nope, Tesco completely smash them and dominate them for all those recipe kinds of queries. And it's like, wow, okay. And now we know why and I love understanding why because that's the kind of knowledge I can take away as an SEO and be like, if that comes up in a conversation with a client, I have some eCommerce clients or you have certain clients who are wanting to build this kind of content hub strategy, then you can come up with like, oh yes, I have an example of that and here's how it works and I've got the data to prove that it works and all that kind of stuff.
This is the brilliant thing I love about you guys working with SISTRIX and the whole data journalism side of it is you're then giving those real world examples of this is proof that it can happen. Here is the data, unquestioned. Not like a, oh, I like the design of that or something. You've got the data to prove it and I really, really... I'm a data kid, like I said, I've got a physics degree, I love this kind of stuff.
Luce: I can only imagine. And I'm sure there's lots of people out there that love it as well.
Jack: Definitely. So talking about the visibility leaders as a general kind of thing, you said you work with quite a few other people and I think that is a really interesting topic. We've talked about a lot of different things. We've talked about the Primark website, I think we did touch on Tesco a little while ago. I can't quite remember. I know we've talked about a few different retail side of things. And to spoil one of the winners here, if you haven't already read the article, dear listeners...
Luce: A spoiler?
Jack: I know.
Luce: You can't do that.
Jack: I know. It's available! Go to sistrix.com/blog, you'll find it there. It's nice and easy. Links for it in the show notes. You know the score by now, listeners. You know how it works. Go to search.withcandour.co.uk, you can find links to all the stuff in the show notes.
But Healthline is there, and I talk about Healthline quite a lot on this show. And I know my interview with Katherine Watier Ong, she talked a lot about Healthline and the fact that they are basically the world leaders in what they're doing essentially, especially when it comes to EAT and how they're implementing that. And I found that fascinating, really diving into the health and medical side of things and how important, obviously we know your money, your life is such a key factor in EAT and the fact that Healthline are just like, we are going to put every article is reviewed by a medical doctor, we have got the full change log of who has reviewed that article and when, when it was last updated and a full reference essentially for anyone who has ever updated this article, who they are, what their credentials are. Now that is how you do it. I wish every client and every SEO had the time and the resources to just do that because that is spectacular.
Luce: It really is. They are amazing. They are doing fantastic things at their side of the moment. They're absolutely smashing it out of the park.
Jack: Yeah. When I spoke to Katherine, she said she knew a few people who had worked or currently work with Healthline and it's a big team and they know what they're doing. And I was like, yeah I can tell that.
Luce: It really goes to show them what we can see. That's for sure.
Jack: Definitely, definitely. So like I said listeners, if you want to go and check out these articles in full, go to sistrix.com/blog. You can find both the rising leaders and the visibility leaders there for you in full. We haven't spoiled everything, I promise. There's lots more stuff to talk about, but we didn't want to spoil the whole thing for you so you can go and find that out for yourselves. And of course, like I said, links as always are in the show notes at search.withcandour.co.uk. So speaking of you working with SISTRIX and having that flexibility and all that kind of stuff, you as a freelancer, do you feel like you have to generalise a bit more or do you feel like you are specialising in a particular thing? Because I know some freelancers are content focused, some freelancers are technical focused. Do you think there's an advantage or a disadvantage there for being specialist or being generalist where we are now and where the industry is now in 2022?
Luce: It's personal preference really.
Luce: I think it depends on who you want to work with and where you are looking to go directionally as to whether you should stay as a generalist or whether you should be more specific.
Jack: That's fair. Yeah, I think that's, like I said, I've seen it from both sides. I see some people who tackle a bit of everything from a freelance perspective and some people who really hone and focus in on, I want to be the best content writer or the best technical SEO or whatever it is. And do you think there is that... I feel there's a push and pull. Like I was saying about the agency side of things, to oh yeah, build a team of specialists. So you have one person who's the content person, one person who's the technical person, one person who's doing all this kind of stuff, whatever it is. Do you think there's a right time in your career to be, okay, now's the time I need to commit one way or the other. I like technical SEO, but I also like content. So do I go down this path or do I go down this path or stay as a generalist? Is there a sweet spot there where you need to... for want of a phrase, pull the trigger and be like, okay, now I'm this for the rest of my life.
Luce: Well, it's quite interesting you talk about that because for me, I'm in that situation now of “Right, do I stay an all rounder or do I go more specific?” So it's very relatable to where I am now. I think in certain instances being more generalist is valuable. Obviously if you're working with smaller businesses on SEO as a freelancer, they're going to want someone that can tick a lot of the boxes because otherwise it's more money for them to spend on more resource essentially for the different elements. But then you have businesses, perhaps medium and large size that also want an all rounder, but you might have some as well that also have bigger budgets, have SEO specialists, but are looking for someone that really knows their stuff about eCommerce, for example. And I think depending on the size of clients you want to work with generally, I think sometimes being very niche within SEO can almost be a competitive edge over other freelancers in your area.
Jack: Yeah, I've seen some instances of even people working in specific industries. So like, I am an SEO who works exclusively with supermarket chains or whatever it is. You have a specific thing, even a niche within a niche there of supermarkets are part of the eCommerce industry, but you're even narrowing it down even further and going for that specific niche there as well. And I think there's a lot of similarities there between SEOs and freelancers for other roles as well. I'm hearing what you're saying here and knowing my friends who work in completely different industries, whether they're independent artists or podcasters or whatever it is, the same rules apply, when you are thinking about where you want to go in your career and where you want to push yourself. I think there's a lot of similarities between freelancers and the whole gig economy kind of thing that people find themselves, like we said, post pandemic, whatever situation, mid, post, semi pandemic, whatever the hell we're in at the moment. I think that's a common thing for a lot of people branching out and doing side hustles and side jobs or making it their full-time career, whether it's doing SEO or doing something freelance. Would you agree with that from your experience?
Luce: The freelance culture has definitely got under the skin of more people and more people are going that way now. That's for sure. But yeah, even as a freelancer, your journey of learning and exploring and experimenting never really ends. And I think that's really beautiful actually, I think. Because naturally, I think that was one concern I had actually, that I was taking a risk really. I'd hit the ceiling, but actually freelancing, was I really going to expose myself to what I needed to level up? And fortunately the stars have aligned for me on that respect and I feel like I'm more knowledgeable than ever. But one thing I would say, particularly for those that have come from more of a digital marketing background is to dabble in different areas before looking into SEO as a route. I found this personally really beneficial having my broader marketing background, because there's so many close correlations between SEO and other areas and it can really help in terms of strategy, but also when it comes to the client relationship side of things, you can sometimes, based on your experience, say, oh, well, I've had experience with this and when I was doing this, this was the case, and help with troubleshooting in other areas as well, which obviously helps with relationship building and shows that you are there to fully support the client and you're interested in other areas, not just SEO.
Jack: Yeah, definitely. I know I've again had stories of people being able, not realising, oh, I worked as a journalist before I came into SEO. And then their client going, well, why didn't you say so? Oh my God, we could do this and we could do this and here's extra budget and here's an extra project or whatever it is. Like you said, being able to have that, testing the water and going in different directions and seeing where your heart lies, essentially.
Luce: Yeah. And I think it's worth noting as well that there's no specific way to get into SEO. Some of the best SEOs that I've worked with have never had that broader digital marketing background. They've just gone into an entry level SEO role and just smashed it and worked their way up. But I do feel like that knowledge can give you a bit of an edge sometimes and be really beneficial on the client relationship side of things. But then there's equally people that come from a completely different background. I mean, we did at some point, going into digital and it's the same with people going into SEO as well. So I think for those that have the opportunity, I think definitely if you are in a more broader digital role, just make sure that SEO is where you really want to focus your time and effort before you delve in. Because once you're in, it's really difficult to get out. I mean, I don't know about you, Jack, but before I got into SEO, I didn't realise how deep everything was, how much stuff.
Jack: Absolutely. Yeah. Even just being on Twitter now, and partly that, and through doing this podcast and stuff, previously I wasn't really actively part of the community. I'd never been to a conference, never really put my face or my name out there or anything like that. And then suddenly going to Brighton SEO early this year or being active on Twitter or LinkedIn or whatever, there is so much knowledge and chatter and gossiping and drama.
Luce: Oh, the drama.
Jack: Oh, the drama. Good lord. I know there's debates about how to pronounce things or really quite serious industry shifting stuff as well and all kinds of things going on. And I think you're totally right.
Luce: Sometimes it's a hot mess, isn't it?
Jack: More often than not it feels like sometimes. Sometimes, maybe. So let's round things off. I think if somebody is thinking about coming a freelancer, they've got that, like you said, that thought in the back of their head you said at the beginning there. Oh, maybe I want to think about trying it. What are some of the resources that you use to continue learning while you've been a freelancer and push you over to that next step to finally take that leap and go yeah, I'm going to go in all on myself and see how this goes?
Luce: I think that this advice is applicable to people at different stages of their journey. For learners, I would actually think about what you are researching in the initial instance of learning SEO. More often than not, I see people jump in two feet first, go onto YouTube and watch videos about SEO and how to do this, how to do that. But there's no point of looking into that until you actually understand how search works. So I always think it's a really safe bet to take time to actually understand how the search engine works. And the best way to do that in terms of Google specifically, is to read their documentation. They actually have an SEO starter guide and also I'd say working through the algorithm updates back to front. So you're aware of what's happened more recently and you work your way back to some of the bigger developments, which now are essentially ingrained in the core algorithms that we have going on today.
Jack: Yeah, definitely. That's again, advice I heard from Jenny Abouobaia talking about that specifically saying, if you're unsure and you haven't read Google's documentation, go and read it. Go and read the search quality rater guidelines. Go and read all their advice and their guidelines on, they have eCommerce specific pages, all kinds of stuff. You can read all the blog posts you want. You can follow your SEO heroes. We've all been there, we've all done that, and all that kind of thing. But to get that raw, potentially firsthand information from Google themselves, I think you're totally right. Going back to basics and actually reading through those documents can be so relevant. Even if you're... I was probably three years into my career before I did that. It was part of the previous agency where I was like, you know what? I've never actually gone back and done that. And I was talking to a friend of mine who I also previously worked with. We were the two digital marketing people at the school we worked at, and he was saying, oh yeah, have you ever read this? I was like, no, I probably should, shouldn't I? That's a really good point.
Luce: Maybe I should read that.
Jack: Maybe I should. Yeah. So yeah, I definitely recommend that for everyone. I think you're totally right, having that kind of absolute foundational knowledge that you can then build upon is so key at any stage of a career, really.
Jack: Yeah, definitely. Definitely. Well, that about wraps us up for this episode and we've been going about an hour or so. Welcome to me hosting the podcast, listeners. This is going to become a regular thing now. Every interview I do is an hour long, so you're welcome, I guess.
Luce: More quality content, right?
Jack: Exactly, exactly. That's what I like to think. Well, it's been an absolute pleasure finally talking to you Luce after talking about you for so long and your work with SISTRIX.
Luce: I know. It's been a pleasure to be here.
Jack: Finally have you on the show and listeners can put a voice to the name, finally. And yeah, where can the listeners keep up with your work and get to know a little bit more about you if they wish to follow your exploits outside of what we talk about here on the podcast?
Luce: So I'm mainly on LinkedIn and Twitter, but I do dabble in a bit of TikTok now and then. It's a combination of useful and a bit of fun content. So take that very lightly. But LinkedIn and Twitter, I'm usually pretty active, LinkedIn more so.
Jack: Fair. Fair. Well, like I said, links for Luce's Twitter, Luce's TikTok, I'll put TikTok in there as well, I will. Your TikTok, your LinkedIn, your Twitter, and of course your work with SISTRIX. Links for all that stuff, and your website will be in the show notes listeners, at search.withcandour.co.uk.
Thank you again to Luce Rawlings for joining me on the show. What an absolute pleasure that was. Fantastic conversation all about really interesting career stuff. Again, something I don't know about, going freelance and when the right time is to do that and all that kind of thing. So I'm hoping, you out there listeners are feeling inspired in your SEO and PPC careers. Of course, the links for everything Luce and I have talked about on the show will be available at our show notes at search.withcandour.co.uk. There you can find all of the show notes, all of the links and a full transcript of this episode and all the previous episodes as well.
If you'd like to contact me, I am @JLWChambers on Twitter and LinkedIn. Please feel free to message me on there if you're interested in coming on the show. I'm always looking for new guests, as you know. If you have something interesting to say about SEO or PPC, please do let me know. I am, like I said, looking for interesting guests and interesting conversations, especially from people in underrepresented and marginalised groups as well. So please do contact me if you are interested in being a guest on the show in the future.
In the meantime, I'll be back next week with more SEO and PPC news. Like I said, Mark and I have been working on the live q and a side of things as well, so we're going to be launching that very, very soon as well. Stay tuned to our Twitter and our LinkedIns. Stay tuned for that. We will announce all the details of that coming up soon, and of course I'll be back in the next few weeks as well with some more fantastic guests and interesting conversations as well. So thank you very much for listening and have a lovely week.