Candour

Stoicism and SEO for Headless CMS with Alex Wright

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What's in this episode?

In this week's episode, Jack Chambers is joined by Alex Wright, the Performance Marketing Director at Clicky Media.

Jack and Alex discuss:

  • What is a headless CMS?
  • What are the pros and cons of a headless CMS?
  • What are the pros and cons of a hybrid CMS?
  • The importance of planning the end before you start at the beginning
  • Server-side rendering vs static site generation
  • How stoicism can be beneficial to you and your career in digital marketing
  • Resources for learning more about stoicism

Show notes and links

Examples of headless CMSs:

Transcript

Jack: Welcome to Episode 18 of Season 2 of the Search with Candour Podcast. My name is Jack Chambers and I am your host for this week. And this week, I am joined by Alex Wright, the Performance Marketing Director at Clicky Media. Some of you may know Alex already from his recent BrightonSEO talks and we'll actually be discussing a couple of the topics he touched on in those talks, including headless CMSs, as well as a healthy sprinkling of ancient philosophy.

Jack: Search With Candour is supported by SISTRIX, the SEO's Toolbox. You can go to sistrix.com/swc if you want to check out some of their fantastic free tools such as their Instagram Hashtag Generator, Google Update Tracker, Page Speed Comparison and tracking of your site's visibility index. At sistrix.com/swc for free SEO tools and sistrix.com/trends, if you want to sign up for the monthly TrendWatch Newsletter.

Jack: So, welcome to the show, Alex Wright. Hi, Alex.

Alex: Hi, Jack. Thanks for having me.

Jack: Absolute pleasure. So, as the listeners have just heard from the intro, you are the Performance Marketing Director at Clicky Media. First of all, what does that mean? What is your role at Clicky Media? And tell us a little bit more about Clicky in general as well.

Alex: Yeah, so my role, I guess, performance marketing usually means a lot more to do with paid media side and that sort of stuff but my role is actually basically involves anything to do with acquiring traffic or driving demand. So I tend to head up our SEO content, PR, paid social, paid search. All that sits underneath my remit so quite a broad scope to be dealing with.

I mean, my background's in SEO. I started out with SEO and I broadened out from there. Broadened out to paid search and SEO, so just search marketing as a whole, and then got a whole lot bigger over the last couple years. So that's the role, the remit of that.

I guess Clicky as an agency, we are a digital agency that specialize in scaling D2C brands through mostly search and CRO so our agency is split into two areas from that perspective. So we've got, like I say, the acquisition side of things, where we look at traffic and drive and demand, but then we've got another side of the business, which focuses purely on strategies, CRO, web development and creative. So we tend to keep those two departments working together. So most clients that work with us will have services from either side to drive performance, basically.

Jack: Cool. So you said your background's in SEO. How long have you been in SEO for, if you don't mind me asking? I don't mean to put an age on it or anything that. You can say you're 21 with 10 years' experience, that's allowed. That's fine.

Alex: It's about eight years now. The majority of it at this point, I think has been spent agency side as well. So started off client-side, it was a bit more content-led SEO to start off with and then just broadened out into technical and I've gone agency side for the last four and a half, five years now so just tipped over that halfway point of the eight years of being in SEO.

Jack: You're now well and truly embedded in the agency side of things.

Alex: I am, yeah. I'm struggling to remember what it was like being in-house. I can't remember life before agency. It seems to have just swept everything up.

Jack: I'm about the same. I'm about halfway, so I was two and a half years in-house and two and a half years now agency side. So I definitely feel more like an agency SEO person than an in-house SEO person now, especially if I went back to it and I'd be two years out of date with being in the in-house stuff as well.

Alex: You tend to forget, don't you? All the different things that you think of when you're client-side to agency side. I always refer to people as clients or businesses as clients and things that and it's just those little things that you get used to doing in agency world.

Jack: Definitely, definitely. So we're here to talk about a couple of different things actually. We've got a couple of topics to cover on this episode, but let's kick off with something we haven't really touched on the show before. And I think it's something a lot of the listeners might know a little bit about, but maybe not have dived into in too much detail. Some of you listeners might be experienced in this, but I know I'm not. I've played around with it a little bit. I've dipped my toes into the water a couple of times, but let's talk about headless CMSs, shall we dive into that topic? Which you actually covered in a recent BrightonSEO talk, right, Alex?

Alex: Yeah, so last June, July at BrightonSEO, I covered an intro into headless CMSs and what that means for SEO. Like you say, it's a really niche topic. Some people have had experience in it, other people haven't. I feel like it's still quite dev focused at the moment. There's there's still not a lot of the SEO community that have had the chance to work with headless CMSs, so they've not seen the need to have to think about them really.

Jack: Yeah, definitely. I know I'd played around with headless CMSs because the agency I previously worked at, one of their primary CMSs that they rolled out to clients from a developer perspective was a CMS called Cockpit, which is headless, and so I had suddenly had experience going from working in WordPress and Shopify and all the usual stuff previously to suddenly being like, "Here's this headless CMS."

And three years ago, I was like, "What's a headless CMS? What are you talking about?" So for those of you listeners who don't know, why don't you give us a little intro, Alex? What is a headless CMS?

Alex: To understand what headless CMS is, I always find it's really helpful to talk about what the opposite of headless CMS is first. So the typical CMS we're all used to using, so things WordPress or Magento, Shopify, out of the box, they're usually not headless. Some would call them monolithic, that's the term that I see thrown around in the community a lot, but essentially a monolithic CMS is where a CMS and the front-end or the back-end of a website are intrinsically linked.

So the database, the CMS that you input data into. Like I said, WordPress, or Shopify, or Magento, or something like that and in the front-end, actually builds the website. That's all linked together. That's all packaged up. It's inseparable. There's quite a lot of resources being used between the three, everything relies on each other and you can't have the front-end without the back-end or the back-end without the front-end. When we come to headless, headless is a lot different. So the back-end and the front-end of a website in headless are completely separate so the database and CMS is separate to the front end. So what would usually happen is, users would use a CMS as they would normally, I'll go into a little bit about that in a sec, but you would input content or you create pages in your CMS. Typically, what would happen with a monolithic CMS is that the CMS would just build those pages and serve that to the front-end as part of the overall package. What actually happens in headless is when you create pages or content in your CMS, it packages everything up into an API call. And then the API call then sends out that data to a front-end framework and they're completely separate so you can use a variety of different front-end frameworks and what the front-end frameworks do, it's things like React, Angular, Next, Nuxt, Vue, there's quite a few at this point. They translate that API call or the data that's contained in that API that's come from your CMS, into HTML. And they build that out as an endpoint. So typically a website, but it could be a mobile app. I've seen examples on smartwatches and other devices. It gives you the ability to be very, very flexible with that.

Jack: It's interesting, because I think the term headless is almost, it gives the wrong connotation. It almost should be like Hydra CMS, something multi-headed CMS and when I was thinking about it, like I said, when I was introduced to it a few years ago, I was thinking "Well, what do you do without a head?" And that's not what you should be looking at. It's actually more flexible, more adaptable and I know coming from my background in podcasting, you can turn your content into podcasts or audio form or video form, all this different stuff. It gives that flexibility to then produce one type of content and then is going out in various forms, like you said, straight to an app, straight to your smartwatch, all that kind of stuff without having to worry about changing different developments and going through this different process. You can kind of then work through that front-end to adapt to that specific thing. Have you found that from your experience talking to clients and stuff, that's the big sales point for want of a better phrase, the unique selling point of a headless CMS?

Alex: Yeah, definitely. I mean there's loads of benefits to them, but one of the big things for clients is like you said, you can change the front-end completely to whatever you want to be. Tends to be really popular with developers because a lot of developers, you'll find will have their own complaints about certain platforms.

Jack: Really? Developers? No, surely not.

Alex: Yeah, so they might not like certain things about a platform, but with a headless CMS, they can create a front-end that suits them, so they can create a specific front-end for a website or for a desktop device. They can create a completely separate one for a mobile device, a completely separate one again for a different device so there's loads of flexibility there.

And then when you start to think about companies who maybe want to develop apps in the future or who have an existing app, you can create a different interface for your app and your website, but still have it controlled from the same place and it makes it just so much easier to scale. It's not for everyone so you tend to find that a lot of larger organizations or ones that really, really want to go cross-device are the ones that will go headless. Whereas if you're just a small SNE or you've got a more local site, having a headless site is probably a bit over the top. I'm not saying you shouldn't do it because I love headless sites. I always recommend it to people, but it does seem a little bit overcomplicated for some sites as well.

Jack: Yeah, especially if you're working on a small budget, you don't necessarily have, like you said, because it's developer-driven in so many ways. If you don't have an in-house team or working with an agency from a development perspective, it's going to be too expensive for you. Maybe start off on Shopify, WordPress, one of the more traditional CMSs and once you're a multinational, billion-dollar company, then start branching out to headless stuff as well. But what are some of the other benefits from an SEO perspective? What can you expect from a headless CMS?

Alex: So one of the biggest benefits that a lot of people cite when they're looking at moving to headless is performance and speed. I mentioned before that the back-end and the front-end in a headless site aren't linked. That means there's less resources that are used when loading pages. So things tend to move a lot more quickly. If you are using static site generation, which is essentially where sites are built at a specific time, so everything is rendered and built and then served to a user, they're even faster because everything's already there, everything's been rendered in. So that's one of the biggest things that you tend to find that the people cite as a benefit when they're moving to headless, is that big improvement in speed and performance.

Interestingly, and I covered this in my BrightonSEO talk, that the visual perception of when you load a headless site a lot of the time is that they're really, really fast if they've been built correctly. However, I still see them failing things like Web Vitals tests and the Page Experience and things that. So to a user, things can look really, really fast, but then when you actually hit them with some tools and things that, they actually don't pass certain elements of, like I said, things like Core Web Vitals. But yes, speed and that sort of thing is usually a big draw for them.

Jack: So is that Core Web Vitals tests more down to how it's built by the developers themselves when it's actually being implemented rather than the specific CMS you choose, it's more about the team that's building it, right?

Alex: Yeah, a hundred per cent, so that's all to do with the front-end usually. And what you'll tend to find is because the front-end is built in JavaScript framework, so like I said, React or Angular or Vue, Nuxt, Next, whatever you use, there's just one big, old piece of JavaScript that gets served to a browser or to a client when you're trying to access a page that then needs to be rendered.

What can happen is that all tries to load at once, for example. So that's one of the pitfalls with it is that it just will try and load this huge script and that can cause a bit of an issue with Web Vitals' assessments, things like LCP and that sort of stuff.

There are ways around that, but it's just something that I highlighted in my talk is that there's definitely a misconception that they're just going to pass these Web Vitals tests altogether. Actually, they just change the things that you've got to optimize and they make it a little bit more niche in the way that you've got to deliver content.

Jack: Interesting. So do you think that, like we were just saying now, does it particularly matter which headless CMS you get? I kind of intended there that it doesn't particularly matter, but from your experience, do you think it matters much which option you go for in the grand scheme of things?

Alex: Personally, I don't think so. I think it's just the same as choosing a CMS when you're not using a headless one. So if you're an e-Com site, you want to make sure you've got an e-Com led CMS. If you are more content, you want more content-led CMS.

So it's just picking one that suits your goal and then one that your organization can adopt easily as well. So one thing that you could consider is that there's headless specific CMSs, like Cockpit that you've mentioned, or Storyblok is a really popular content-led one. Contentful is, and Netlify, those two are really, really popular as well, but they're really headless focused.

You can actually use CMSs that are more traditional in a headless manner. So things like WordPress are actually available in a headless manner, so you can package up content and send it through an API from WordPress. So if you are thinking about transitioning to a headless CMS, and you've got an organization that is really used to using WordPress or Magento, because Magento's got an API call as well, you can actually use those CMSs in a headless manner, which means that actually for your users nothing changes. They input content as they've always done and they don't need to learn a new CMS. They don't need to find out where everything is, everything is still very native to them. It's just the way it's built on the front-end, that changes quite significantly so that would be a consideration, I guess, if you're thinking of moving to one.

Jack: Do you think it's worth having that as a transitional period? Or do you think it is easier in some cases to just make the jump from traditional straight to, like you said, you've been working on a WordPress site for five years and it's time to make the big move, time to migrate to a new thing and "Oh, let's just chop the head off the WordPress and see how we go from there." Or do you think it's worth jumping straight to headless and diving in the deep end, for want of a better phrase?

Alex: Interesting question, actually. I think, I guess it's personal preference almost?

Jack: Yeah, yeah.

Alex: I think because, I mean, I love some of the headless CMSs that are out there and they're obviously natively headless, so they are built for it. Whereas if you use something like WordPress or Magento, it will work and it'll probably work well, but also it's not going to ever be as native as the ones that have been built specifically to serve headless content. But then there's some headless CMSs that are really hard to navigate through and they can take a bit of getting used to, so if you are going to make that transition over, then you just want to make sure you've got the full training for people. So like I said, Contentful is one of the ones that I found really easy to pick up and it's kind of like a logical format. Storyblok is the same, but there are some out there that are just a bit tricky sometimes, because even Netlify, you can create custom CMSs inside that and they can come in all shapes and sizes. So it's definitely one to consider, is that training aspect.

Jack: Are there any other disadvantages to the hybrid approach you can think of, advantages or disadvantages for that matter?

Alex: Yeah, when it comes to the disadvantages of it, one thing that I have noticed from working on a hybrid eCommerce and content-led CMS is that they're both separate. Obviously, you're sending data from an e-Com part of the CMS and a content part of the CMS to a front-end, but they both sit separately as their own separate entities. It can get a bit confusing when you're trying to manage them. So as an example, on an e-Com site that I work on, we control product pages through one CMS and therefore the listing pages or majority of listing pages, and then the rest of the site is controlled through a different CMS so you've got to switch between the two as you're working. It can get a bit confusing, particularly because there's functionality that's available in one that isn't available in the other.

Jack: You suddenly start using the wrong mark up or something like that and it all goes horribly wrong.

Alex: And it does get a bit messy, but I guess the other thing with those two as well is, it's just that the fact that some things just don't talk to each other either. So for example, we've got a search function on this eCommerce site that I work on, the search function only pulls out product-led data. So you can search for products, but you can't search for content. So the search function just inherently won't pick up something from one side so it's built-in from one of the CMSs. So when you're considering that stuff, you've just got to have that in the back of your mind that you've got to get people used to two different CMSs. So if you are, again, if you are moving from traditional, if you're trying to get people to learn one CMS, it's difficult trying to get them to learn two new CMSs is a little bit more tricky.

Jack: So we've touched on flexibility, adaptability, performance bonuses, all that stuff. I think that leads us quite nicely into our other topic. We're going to kind of weave the two together here, listeners. So please do bear with us. It's a bit more philosophical, a bit less technical, but something you've also spoken at BrightonSEO early this year, stoicism and bringing that to digital marketing and SEO in general. So I guess as an intro to stoicism, before we get into the details, what is stoicism for the listeners who don't know?

Alex: Stoicism, as you said, is a topic I spoke about at BrightonSEO. So like you said, completely on the opposite end of the scale to headless.

Jack: We're going to try and connect them, listeners, we're going to try our best.

Alex: Like the flexibility segue, that's perfect.

Jack: Professional podcast, ladies and gentlemen, you're welcome.

Alex: It's an ancient, philosophical movement so it was from Ancient Greece, founded in the Third Century BC, should I say. It's essentially a way of trying to live a logical and ethical life, and how that can actually impact other elements of your life. There's Wikipedia descriptions you can get of it, they're really long-winded and they're a bit obscure, but I actually use a resource called The Daily Stoic, which is an easy way to get into this topic if you're ever thinking about branching into stoicism, which just gives you little snippets of stoic teachings and you can understand and can get a bit of narrative on them, bit of commentary. But the way they describe it, it's pretty perfect so I'll actually read this word for word. It's a philosophy designed to make us more resilient, happier, more virtuous, and more wise, and as a result, better people, better parents and better professionals. So it's a system that allows you to just manage yourself a little bit better. So it focuses on self-management, and self-development and then almost just focus as well.

Jack: I think that does definitely, I know we are going to try and like I said, pull on threads and try and connect everything here, but that definitely does connect through to, I think people come at digital marketing and we touched on it when I talked to Tom Critchlow when I've talked to Claire Carlisle previously in this season, thinking about how you bring nontraditional thinking to digital marketing. And I keep using the really cheesy phrase of 'undigital your marketing', which I hate myself, but I don't know how else to express it. Bringing, like you said, ancient philosophy into SEO and PPC and digital marketing is an incredibly modern industry that's only been around for a couple of decades really, and something that was around 2,500 years ago, I think it's a brilliant idea to bring the two together. And I think talking about the modernity of it all as well, I think there's a lot of misconceptions around that term, 'being a stoic' or stoicism as well. You think of it as the dour-faced people who don't laugh at anything and they're kind of like, "You just you bottle it all down, you don't react to anything." Right? That's what a stoic is, but that's a pretty common misconception, right?

Alex: That's a common, it's a bugbear of mine a little bit, obviously having read up quite a lot on the subject.

Jack: You're a stoic, but you're smiling, Alex, what's going on?

Alex: Stop that. Yeah, I get that quite a lot.

So the dictionary definition of stoic is still correct in its own right, so that does describe someone who is quite stony-faced and deals with emotion in a very different way to a lot of people. Stoicism is very different to that and I think it's important to make that distinction between the two, because what stoicism actually is, is a way of being able to process things a little bit better and it's rather than not react to something, you are reacting to things, but you're choosing how you react to them. You are putting things through-

Jack: React. I see the pun you're making there. We talked about React five minutes ago, we're talking about reacting right now. It's all coming full circle.

Alex: That was completely intentional but I guess the difference between the uncaring, unfeeling dictionary definition of it and the main stoic movement or stoicism as a philosophy is like I said, that you're applying what happens to you, what happens around you or you're applying your own filters to what happens around you so you're processing things a different way. It's not that you're not processing them, it's that you understand how to react to things or you have complete control over how you react, everything going on around you. And I think that's one of the best descriptions of actually, is that it is just a way to control your own reactions to things.

Jack: It sounds like you're describing a headless CMS to me, mate. That's...

Alex: It's exactly the same thing.

Jack: Exactly. And I think having that extra control and being able to bring that to both your professional life and your personal life and all that stuff is very important. Obviously, we're still in the pandemic as much as we don't want to be. COVID-19 is still a thing at the time of recording, I hate to say it but I think it's been particularly difficult over the last couple of years for, thankfully a lot of us have been able to work in the digital industry and be able to work from home and stuff like that. But it's been a lot of bad news happening over the last couple of years and I think bringing something like that can really help a lot of people. So I think it's a great message to bring to the table in terms of thinking about your professional career and how you can apply some of those things and bring it to career progression and dealing with difficult times at work and things that.

I know there's a quote I've always thought about where particularly who you are hanging around with and all that stuff and your workmates and how if you work with ambitious people, you become more ambitious. It's the, "If you live with a lame man, you will learn to limp," is the quote.

If you are unhappy in your job and you're working with people who you don't vibe with ever that's ethically or politically or philosophically or whatever it is, you're not feeling enthused about your job, you're going to do a worse job at your job. You're going to have a bad time professionally. Do you agree there, Alex? I can see you nodding away, but obviously the listeners can't.

Alex: Keep forgetting it's just audio. Yeah, so I completely agree and I think looking at something like this allows you to just take that step back and understand your own feelings and the way that you process things. There's a similar line to what you've just cited, but I think Marcus Aurelius has one of his teachings, one of the rough translations is that he learned to read carefully and not be satisfied with a rough understanding of the whole and not to agree too quickly with those who have a lot to say about something. So almost kind of pulling back to that, being a product of your own environment and not trying to let external factors influence you. I think it's a really powerful thing and like you said, the last two years have been awful for a lot of people. There's the obvious, the pandemic, but there's so many other things over the course of the last two years, that's caused people so much stress and a lot of it unfortunately is beyond our control. It's stuff that we physically can't get a grip on. The pandemic is something we can't individually. We can as a collective, we can try and try and mitigate some, but we can't individually control things, but we can control how we react to things. We can control how we deal with things on our side and try to make that a little bit easier and that's what this philosophy tries to get us to do.

Jack: This week's update from SISTRIX, we're going to expand upon some of their content features. So we have the content planner, which you can access if you are a SISTRIX user at no extra charge, by clicking on the content button in the main navigation at the top.

In the first step, the content planner basically collects potentially interesting keywords for cluster articles related to your main topic. And in the second step, the list of potential cluster keywords is evaluated and analyzed such as things, are they far enough away from the main keywords to justify their own articles? Should they be included as subheadings within the main article? All important information about the pillar article can be found in the large title in the top left, such as things like how high is the search volume, how many organic clicks are there? Information even on things such as ad click prices and things that as well, and search intent, which of course we know is very important these days in SEO.

The other tiles on the content planner also shows suggestions for other cluster articles. So these keywords are thematically far enough away from that main topic to justify their own article, but are nevertheless related to the overall cluster in terms of content. So you can find all the relevant information for evaluating your keywords in the content planner.

And as I said, the content planner can now be used as a complimentary component of the Content Tools suite in SISTRIX for no extra charge. I'll put links in the Show Notes for all of that. If you are a SISTRIX user, you already have access to this. If you're interested in trying it, there is a free trial available and you can go and check that out at the links in the Show Notes. And in fact, I will actually be talking about topic clusters a lot next week with my very special guest Andy Chadwick. So stay tuned for that episode next week as well if you want to learn more about topic clusters.

Jack: Well, let's transition back into headless CMS and talk about some of the difficulties there as well then. Thinking about whether we're transitioning from a traditional CMS to a headless CMS, or going straight in with a headless CMS from the start, what are the common difficulties you think some people might run into with their sites?

Alex: So if you're moving straight over to a headless CMS and you're getting a new site built, there's quite a few things actually that people take for granted in your current out of the box CMSs that headless actually doesn't give to you on default. And if you're working with developers who are pure developers, and they've not had as much exposure to SEO... Actually, I met quite a lot of developers over the last few years who are really SEO-focused, but I know there's still those that just work in very specific development spaces. But if they haven't had access to a lot of SEO resources, then they won't build things in by default. So for example, if you were to use some of the frameworks, Angular is one that I would probably cite for this, they don't render or they're all client-side rendering out of the box.

So everything renders in the browser, which we know officially, apparently isn't an issue for search engines because they can pass, they can execute, they can understand content that's client-side rendered but if you want to optimize the site, you probably want to server-side render it. So things like Angular don't actually do that out the box so you have to make sure to start off as a fundamental that your site is using something server-side rendering or static site generation so that's one thing.

And then we've got things like meta tags and stuff that we take for granted. We'll use something either WordPress, Yoast or RankMath or something that to implement them. They actually don't exist in a lot of headless builds so you have to make sure that they're actually being built-in, there's ways to do that and it differs across a few different frameworks as to how you do that. But things like titles, descriptions, canonicals, all that thing, doesn't actually come by default. So when you are planning a build for a headless site, think about the rendering of it first, but then also think about the things that you might take for granted, like titles and descriptions and that stuff.

And then I mentioned that when you create content in a CMS, it sends data to an API, which sends that to the front-end. That actually means that they don't create proper URLs by default either. So all the URLs that are dynamic, that are being sent from the CMS to the front-end. So one thing your developers have to do is create actual, static URLs for pages to make sure they're actually being indexed correctly or called correctly. And then there's loads of other little things and there's nuances, so if you use a JavaScript heavy framework, then you can easily slip into the habit of adding JavaScript links instead of actual hrefs.

Jack: We've all seen that.

Alex: The dreaded on-click. I'm pretty sure I've seen a post about it today or yesterday.

Jack: I was reading what I was linked on Twitter the other day, I think it was early this week.

Alex: And it's an easy thing to do. So seeing things on-click events to link through to different pages, that could be pretty easy to do when you're in the mindset of, "I'm creating a JavaScript framework and this is exactly how you link through JavaScript so I'll do that for everything." And you tend to lose a bit of crawlability there. And then another thing, less for an SEO issue, more of a team issue, but a lot of headless CMSs don't support previews either. So in WordPress, for example, you can preview a page and then you can do that on various other CMSs as well. You can't do that headless by default. So there are some headless CMSs that do have the function there, so Sitecore is one actually that I know of that has a built-in preview function, which is quite rare.

But then also if a headless CMS supports drafts as part of their overall process, developers can actually use that to create a preview function. It's not necessarily an actual preview function, but it's close enough to be able to preview content. Now that, like I said, it's a user thing so users want that when they're editing content, they want to be able to preview something before it goes live. Particularly if you are using something like static site generations. So if your site rebuilds at, let's say 8:00 AM and 3:00 PM, and you change a piece of content at just after 3:00 PM, you can't preview it and the site isn't going to rebuild until 8:00 AM the next day. So you can't actually see if that's okay, if that's worked, if you've completely broken something. So you are quite literally, and I've been in a situation, just sitting there nervously waiting for a build to be able to-

Jack: Did you get any sleep that night?

Alex: Very little. Luckily if you do run something like a static site and you do get something horrifically wrong, you can typically force a rebuild, but it's just making sure that if you are even semi sure that something might have gone wrong, just let a developer know so they could be on hand to rebuild the site pretty quickly or roll something back and rebuild it because it does happen.

Jack: Especially when like you said, you're building stuff on the site, always wise to have a developer on standby, just in case to fix any problems, us lowly, mortal SEOs, make...

Alex: I still do it on any site, to be honest. I've always got a developer on hand, I'm like, "This shouldn't break, but in the case that it does, can you just help me?"

Jack: We were literally having that conversation in the studio the other day. We had some time with one of our client's developers, had some time available from their retainer. And they were like, "Do you want to use this for anything?" I was like, "Keep hold of that because we're making these big changes and we might need them to fix the things that will be broken in two weeks' time."

So definitely always wise to have a backup plan, have developers at least looped into the plan and be like, "By the way, there is going to be a change," whether you are in-house or whether you are agency side or anything that, if you are making big changes, if there are, especially when it comes to headless stuff and you're rebuilding sites, definitely worth keeping some of the development team not necessarily on standby, we're not expecting them to be on call at three o'clock in the morning, but at least make them aware and loop them in.

Alex: Yep, 100%.

Jack: And speaking of looping things in, I'm going to try and transition back, here goes. Here goes my segue once again, we're going to talk about the key principles. We talk about the building blocks of having developers help building our sites and all that stuff. Let's talk about the building blocks of stoicism. From what I understand, there are four key principles that govern the whole thing in a very wide sense, right?

Alex: Yeah, so you can definitely split it up into those four principles. The first step is courage, so the stoics encourage people to have the courage to take on difficult challenges and circumstances and not shy away from adversity because actually they believe that tackling that adversity and those challenges head on give you the chance to change, to develop, to get a greater understanding of the world and continuous as your development as a person.

There's also one called temperance, which is quite nice to follow on from courage. So temperance actually gives you almost a way to measure other virtues or to understand how much of each virtue to use at any given time. So for example, having the courage to go against diversity and to accept those challenges and to push through them is absolutely brilliant.

However, if you have too much courage, you can get a bit reckless, you can make some rash decisions. So it measures those and gives you an idea as to what to do or to what extent.

The next one is justice and this is the real simple one that I just love. And it's just about doing the right thing so it's nothing to do with laws or anything that. It's just doing the right thing by anyone you come into contact with. So yes, you should do that.

Jack: Especially your developers.

Alex: Especially your developers.

Jack: Treat your developers right, SEOs.

Alex: Yep, never get into arguments with your developers. You're always going to rely on them at some point. So justice is about doing the right thing, just having that moral code almost.

And then the last one is wisdom and it just guides everything else, it brings everything else together. It relies on things like calculation and thoughtfulness and it basically allows you to understand when to act with courage or how much courage to use or when temperance is going to have to play a part. And then it just governs everything else and packages it up quite nicely and gives you just a way of thinking basically.

Jack: Nice. Well, I know you mentioned The Daily Stoic earlier, I especially like what Ryan does on YouTube as well. The host, Ryan Holiday, on YouTube... Well, I'll put links for all this, by the way, in the show notes if you want to go and check them out, dear listeners, at search.withcandour.co.uk. You can find all the links for all of, pretty much everything, we're discussing, all the CMS stuff, all the stoicism stuff and links to all of Alex's stuff, as well as you can imagine.

And I really like the little, digestible things that you get. You get these five to ten minute videos on YouTube and similar with the newsletter as well. You get these nice, little daily pointers from, just easier ways to... I think you can really get stuck in like, "Oh, I'm going to buy a book on stoicism."

Or even a book if you're looking to progress your professional career, "I'm going to buy a book on SEO. I want to learn more JavaScript. I'm going to buy a JavaScript book or subscribe to a JavaScript course," or whatever it is, having those little digestible things I know certainly helps me digest stuff. I'm very much a kind of, "I need a to-do list. I need a task list," kind of person. So being able to tick the thing off for the day is always beneficial to me.

Do you find a similar thing for you when you have that Daily Stoic stuff and even in your professional life as well, having that kind of structure, being able to compartmentalize things into smaller chunks and then being able to achieve them from there?

Alex: Yeah, a hundred percent. I think when it comes to The Daily Stoic stuff you mentioned, Ryan comes up with a lot of snippets and things that on different mediums. There's the actual book, The Daily Stoic, is a really good one because it's one teaching a day. And what he encourages you to do is literally just read that one and then try and reflect on that throughout the day, which I think is a really powerful thing to do is just try and keep it really short and focused and just try and think about things as you move through the day.

And they're similar, because it's kind of similar to where I would read now after having exposure to that or how I would learn is I tend to, if it's a book, I'll just read one chapter. So I'll just read one chapter and then reflect on that throughout the day.

When it comes to professional development and personal development and learning, I do a similar thing. I try to focus on one thing at a time and then just allow myself time to digest that. I know a lot of agencies, including Clicky, we have a day's worth of training time every month that we give to people to work on whatever is in their PD plan but I tend to split mine into really small, bite size chunks, just because if I spent eight hours or a full day just actually trying to learn something, about 20% of it might stick. I think it's all about just taking things, like you've said, in those bite size chunks, working on one thing in particular or reading one thing in particular and giving yourself the time and breathing room to understand that to the fullest as well.

Jack: So has your virtues in stoicism, have they influenced your managerial style and your role as a Director at Clicky as well? Do you think that has benefited you helping your team? Like you said, whether that's with training or whether that's with appraisal processes or helping people to get through difficult times? Say they've had a bad call with a client or they've got a client who's leaving for whatever reason or something, they've pressed the wrong button and they've rebuilt a website, it's all gone horribly wrong. Have you found that's been useful for you in a more senior role in the company?

Alex: Yep, definitely. So for me, I guess that the one big thing is that control what you can control angle from stoicism. So understanding that certain things are just going to happen and you literally, you can't do anything about them, that's just a fact of the matter.

Jack: Like Google updates.

Alex: Yeah, that's a cause of stress for a lot of people. A lot of times I've been described as the meme of the dog and the fire, the "This is fine," meme?

Jack: And this is fine, yeah.

Alex: I feel that's a modern-day example of stoicism. But no, it's helped me to just take a step back from things. So obviously dealing with changed management in a large company or an organization, there's a lot of things that can affect you. You just got to understand that you can step back from those and can change how you react to things, particularly when you are leading a team, when you're in management. If your manager is panicking about something or if they're stressing, or if they're giving off some really aggressive or angry vibes, because something's not going the right way, it affects the team massively. So when it comes to my management style, I'm always quite, I try and keep quite calm on the surface and then just try and process things and just measure my reaction almost. And it helps when I'm talking to a lot of the team as well because you tend to find, and I'm not sure whether it's a symptom of the industry itself or whether this happens across a lot of industries, but a lot of the people I work with tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves and I feel like that just is counterintuitive.

So one of those things that stoicism or learning the principles of stoicism has allowed me to do, is get people to just take that step back to breathe, to understand that you don't have to put all that pressure on and you tend to get a better environment as well for doing it. You tend to find that people are just a bit more relaxed, they do better work, they enjoy things more and that's how it's helped my management style in the main really.

Jack: I think it's a lot of, and there is a lot of pressure that there is, especially with the job market we're seeing at the moment. So many people are wanting to move into more digital roles, moving away from traditional media. Sorry, traditional media people, if you are listening, your industry is dying. It's not my fault. I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

But a lot of people throughout the pandemic and stuff, obviously shopping has moved online in so many ways. And even outside of the pandemic over the last couple of years, that's the way the world has been going. More and more people are shopping online and doing business online and all communicating online, recording podcasts online virtually like we are now, for example. And I think it's really interesting to bring, like we said, 2,500-year-old philosophy to a very digital mindset and actually be able to combine the two in a functional, useful way in 2022, it feels like a weird thing to say.

Alex: And the great thing is as well, you tend to find that when you actually look at the principles of stoicism, a lot of the teachings, they've been reused and rehashed by loads of business coaches and mindset coaches. Jack: Of course.

Alex: I mean the one example that I think I used at BrightonSEO was from Steven Covey, so he wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which is absolutely fantastic. It's a brilliant book, but one of his habits is start with the end in mind. And there's actually teaching from stoicism, which is let your efforts be directed to something, let it keep that end in view and it's pretty much the same thing. So it's very, very similar and you tend to see these things are reused and rehashed and recycled. I know a lot of people will say, there's no original ideas anymore.

Jack: These ideas are over 2,000 years old, they're pretty original.

Alex: Yep, exactly. But you tend to see it filtered in through that. So if you actually do try to look into stoicism, you'll probably start to connect a lot of the dots between things that you might have read over the last couple of years and these teachings that have been around for thousands of years and it shows how useful they are, no matter what your circumstance or what you're trying to apply them to, you can apply them to so many different things.

Jack: I think that's definitely true, whether that's building a new website or migrating to a new website, having an idea of what you are aiming for at the end of that project is a great way to start that project. I know that's especially true in content, from my background in content and writing and things like that. I know when I go into a new writing project or into a content piece, or even into a brief in the early stages there, you have an idea of what is the deliverable for this going to be? What is the output of this going to be? And how am I going to get there through this process? Applying that to that, even granular things as like, "Oh, I've got to produce four content briefs for this client this month. They want one every week. Where am I even going to start?"

Think about what it's actually going to look like, how it's going to finally be produced. Think about all the elements that are going to be there at the end and how you can get there from where you are now. I think having that end goal in mind, I know a lot of professional writing friends of mine who are comic book writers and novelists and all that kind of stuff have given me loads of advice over the years that has been, "If a character's going to die, you need to know that from page one. If somebody's getting married, you need to know that from page one." Because that will influence their journey. If you suddenly kill a character, Game of Thrones, Season 8, hello, spoiler alert for the end of Game of Thrones.

Funnily enough, there's a quote from George R. R. Martin, that is talking about his journey through Game of Thrones and it is, "If you've been telling the audience the butler did it for a decade, the butler probably did it." So having an idea and following through with that plan and following through with that journey, you don't need to suddenly go off in a different direction and do something just to try something different and try something new. Sometimes having that clear call from the start, still be flexible, don't get me wrong, still be adaptable, but having an idea of where you're going to be, I think is a really, really useful guide on a macro scale and on a micro-scale as well, for sure.

Alex: Yeah, a hundred per cent. And if you think of it from a business perspective as well, so if you're thinking from my position is, we've got a goal as a company to get to X point.

Jack: Yes, exactly.

Alex: We just need to make sure everything we do keeps moving towards that, and then you can apply it to client workflows as well. The amount of, and I've done this many times, I've put together a strategy for a client and then I've sat back and looked at it and thought, "Well, that's where they want to get to and I probably don't need to do what I've put in for three months' worth of stuff." So you end up rewriting everything, but it's always useful to just go, "Is that actually going to help or am I doing it just because I kind of like doing it?"

Jack: And I think us as SEOs and I'll totally hold my hand up and say, I've been guilty this in the past as well, thinking about what the client's goals are or if you're in-house, what are the shareholders' goals or the directors' goals and the company as a whole and thinking about is this a revenue-driven thing? Is this a visibility driven thing? Are you looking to grow brand awareness and things like that?

Having that clear goal in mind of when you, first, if you're an agency, first did the proposal with a client and say, "Okay, we want our organic traffic to contribute this certain amount of revenue by the end of next year," whatever, have that in mind every time you're working on a piece of content, have that in mind when you are doing your six-month review or your monthly reporting call or whatever it ends up being and have that like, "Well, this is why we've done this and this is how it contributes towards that goal." I think has been so key for me growing in my career and understanding bigger picture stuff and strategy stuff and a longer term, rather than just, "I will write a blog post because writing blog posts are good."

Alex: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. I mean, I'm going to segue a little bit, but when you think about those goals and things like that as well, it's you all that are reporting to certain people, trying to understand what those ends are for certain people. So for example, you might have a marketing manager that's got KPIs or objectives and that's their end goal they're working towards, but they will feed upwards into the company. So you might have, for example, website performance for a marketing manager or an e-Com manager. And then as you get up the rungs, you actually speak to the MD who's actually measuring the percentage that online revenue generates as a percentage of the overall revenue of the company and growing that percentage. And it's understanding those goals as you're talking to different people in the organization, as well, is I always find a really useful thing.

Jack: Yeah, definitely. I touched on a lot with Tom Critchlow about that, talking about the kind of different communication skills you have to have with people who are higher up in companies, if you are working in an agency, whoever your contact person is, where do they sit in that company structure?

Like you said, are you talking to the marketing manager? Are you going straight to a marketing director or a managing director or are you working with the content writer who has been there for two weeks and they haven't got much sway, but they know what they want to achieve? Having different communication styles, understanding what their goals are and then the wider terms of not only your project, but the business as a whole, you're totally right, Alex. Thinking about how the managing director says we want to grow the percentage of our online revenue. I didn't even realize they had non-online revenue. What does that mean? You kind of can forget the bigger picture and realize, "Oh, yeah, they have shops on the high street. I didn't even think about their shops on the high street and how that can be affected by it as well."

Alex: It's just something, it's easy to do when you get caught up in the nitty gritty as well, isn't it? And Tom's stuff is absolutely brilliant. Just as a side note, his SEO MBA is fantastic.

Jack: I will always recommend Tom's SEO MBA. Like I said, links for that episode and links for the SEO MBA in the Show Notes as always, dear listeners. So that is a lot of stuff to think about, whether that's headless CMS stuff, whether that's stoicism. I hope you've taken a lot away, listeners, from Alex being here and joining me this week. If the listeners would like to follow up with any questions for you, whether that's headless CMSs or stoicism or anything in general, how can they follow up with you, Alex?

Alex: So I'm pretty active on Twitter, so my handle on Twitter is Wrighty with two underscores or you could find me on LinkedIn. Again, pretty active on LinkedIn. So you just search my name Alex Wright, you should be able to see it, I'd hope anyway. But please do get in touch because I think there's loads more to discuss on headless and stoicism and if you've got any questions, I'd love to chat to you, but if you do come and ask me some questions, be prepared to have your ear talked off. Fair warning in advance, but yeah.

Jack: We have scratched the surface, listeners. So if you have been interested in anything, please do contact Alex. And if you have any questions, please do ping them our way. I'm sure we will have you back on later on sometime in the future, Alex, to discuss more things, both stoicism, headless CMS and maybe something else in the future as well.

Alex: Sounds perfect. Thank you very much for having me.

Jack: Thank you for coming on. I really, really appreciate it.

Jack: That's all we have time for this week. Thank you again to Alex for joining me and thank you, dear listener, for listening. I'll be back next week with another fantastic guest, the co-founder of Keyword Insights, Andy Chadwick so stay tuned for that next Monday. And until then, I hope you have a brilliant week.

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