Candour

Tom Critchlow, Tom's SEO MBA course, Google Search Console's URL Inspection API and Deepcrawl launching on Wix

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What's in this episode?

In this episode, you will hear Jack Chambers talking about:

  • Google Search Console launches a URL Inspection API
  • Deepcrawl launching their technical SEO app on Wix
  • An interview with the fantastic Tom Critchlow about SEO careers, his SEO MBA course and much more

Show Notes

Tom Critchow

Transcript

Jack: Welcome to episode four of season two of Search With Candour, recorded on Wednesday, 2nd February, 2022. My name is Jack Chambers and today, I will be talking about Google Search console's new URL inspection API, Deepcrawl launching on Wix, TrendWatch from SISTRIX, and a fantastic interview with the one and only Tom Critchlow.

Search With Candour is supported by SISTRIX, the SEO's toolbox. Go to SISTRIX.com/swc. If you want to check out some of their excellent free tools, such as checking out your visibility index, Google update impact, keyword research, and page speed checker. You can also find the monthly TrendWatch data, which I'll be talking about later on in the show by going to SISTRIX.com/trends and signing up for the TrendWatch newsletter. That's SISTRIX.com/swc for free tools, and SISTRIX.com/trends for TrendWatch.

Jack: I thought I'd start off the show by talking about something that took over SEO Twitter earlier on this week, and that is the launch of a new URL inspection API integrating with Google Search console. Well, at the moment, you can only use the URL inspection tool on Google Search Console on a single URL at a time. Bringing in an API allows us to inspect URLs in bulk, which is a big time saver. I think it's something that's been a long time coming, and I know all the regular SEO tools were scrambling to try and get a solution for this and trying to be the first ones to get access to it, essentially, and make a functioning version of it on their platform.

Jack: I’ll actually read the documentation from Google here. Of course, links as always, are in the show notes at search.withcandour.co.uk. Here is the newsletter from Google dated 31st of January, 2022: "Today we're launching the new Google Search consult URL inspection API, which gives programmatic access to URL level data for properties you manage in search console. The search console APIs are a way to access data outside of search console through external applications and products. Developers and SEO tools already use the APIs to build custom solutions to view, add, or remove properties and site maps, and to run advanced queries on search performance data.

With this new URL inspection API, we're providing a new tool for developers to debug and optimise their pages. You can request the data search console has about the index version of a URL, the API will return the index information currently available in the URL inspection tool. Unfortunately, there are some limits to it. It can do 2,000 queries per day and 600 queries per minute.

So it's not an unlimited thing if you're looking at a website with millions and millions of URLs, but what we have seen already, and I think it's pretty impressive, two tools from this API have already emerged within the last day or so of this being announced.

Like I said, I'm recording this on the 2nd of February, and this news broke on the 31st of January, so two days ago at time of recording. The first one that came on my radar through Twitter was from keywordsinsheets.com. I don't know if you guys are aware of that. That is a fantastic tool for bringing different SEO tools into Google Sheets and really increasing the capability of Sheets for use on a day-to-day SEO basis. This is actually a guest contribution from Mike Richardson, an SEO consultant from the UK. He's helped integrate and build a template for this Google Sheets integration with the URL inspection API, and it is pretty, pretty impressive. The other one that really caught my eye, funnily enough, somebody we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the one and only Valentin Pletzer who built that fantastic bit of JavaScript that you view your text fragments and redirect chains a couple of weeks ago. Valentin has been added again and has built for what is my money, the most intuitive version of this tool I've seen so far in terms of doing URL inspection on bulk URLs. It's all browser-based from Valentin's side of things. Again, links in the show notes, if you want to go and check that out. And you literally connect it to your Google Search console, you authorise, you confirm the property you want to use and basically paste in a bunch of URLs, and it will very quickly bring out some really interesting information such as the last time Google crawled your page, your current coverage status, whether or not robots.txt is blocking the page, whether the page has been indexed, and the canonical, which is both the user-declared and Google canonical of that page, all in one lovely little spreadsheet that you can then export and include in your reports and include in your data.

I will link to both of those options in the show notes, if you want to use a Google Sheets or a browser-based option. I think this is very, very big news for a lot of the tools and platforms we use for our reporting and our crawling and things like that. I know Screaming Frog, I believe, is working on something. And I'm sure companies like Semrush and Sitebulb will also be working on their end of things as well. But yes, links to two of those in the show notes. I particularly recommend Valentin Pletzer, who again, has been featured on the show twice before, and is definitely someone you should be following on Twitter for building fantastic tools and really interesting stuff like that.

Jack: Earlier on in the season, we talked about how Yoast was coming to Shopify, and it's very interesting seeing a variety of these different tools and platforms coming to different CMSs around the SEO world. And the most recent launch that flagged up on my radar was Deepcrawl launching a technical SEO app for Wix. I'm sure plenty of out there are familiar with Wix and how much it's grown recently in terms of its SEO capabilities. I know Mark did a questionnaire on this, and actually had some of the teams from the SEO side of Wix on the show previously. But I think Wix has really, really grown over the last few years in terms of its capability. And it's getting out of its bad reputation that it had a few years ago.

I think a lot of people were very hesitant to use Wix for any significant websites in terms of looking at SEO and SEO capabilities of that site. And now with Wix improving it from the internal perspective, you also now will have a Deepcrawl app on Wix that will basically let you monitor the technical health of your site in a really, really nice way. It will give you any broken links, ideas, redirect, server errors, all that kind of stuff, and that is available on Wix right now for $7 per month, which I think is still a pretty reasonable amount.

I know we talked about the Yoast Shopify app being much more expensive than the WordPress app, but as a person who runs some Wix sites myself, I think I'm actually very interested in trying this out. Maybe in a few episodes' time, once I've tried out on a few of my sites, I'll have a look and get you guys some feedback and see what we think. But again, links in the show notes. If you're going to read up more about the Deep Launch technical SEO tool that has just launched for Wix.

Jack: So it's time to talk SISTRIX, because SISTRIX sponsor this show and also provide us with some really, really interesting data for us to talk about. And this week, I'd like to talk about TrendWatch, which I teased at the top of the show. You can find that by going to SISTRIX.com/trends and signing up for the newsletter there, you'll get that delivered to your inbox straight away. The first three pieces of TrendWatch are posted two days before the newsletter, and then you get a full 10 trend analysis every month in your inbox if you sign up to the TrendWatch newsletter. So I highly recommend it.

I'm going to touch on a couple now. And the fantastic Nicole Scott, one of the new data journalists working with SISTRIX has compiled this one for us. She is fantastic. Again, another fantastic follow on Twitter. If you do want to follow Nicole, links in the show notes, as always. TrendWatch this month has some particularly interesting, potentially controversial things. I was speaking to the guys at SISTRIX earlier about how some of these topics I may not particularly want touch on, because they can be quite controversial. But my top three I think are particularly interesting, and are particularly interesting to me personally.

Jack: If you see anything else in the TrendWatch or anything else you'd like to see covered, please do let us know by contacting us on social media. So to dive into the top result here on TrendWatch this month, we have the word boujee. Funny enough, I was showing this to the guys in the studio earlier, some of our Account Management team and our Strategy team, and we were going through quizzes about dictionary terms and what kids are using as parlance these days, and boujee came up and we were trying to work out who knew the definition of boujee.

And according to Urban Dictionary, boujee means people who pretend to be rich or people that think they're rich when they're not, it's kind of the opposite of classy and the opposite of swagger. There's this negative connotation to it, very influenced by Instagram and TikTok and things like that. It's a very typical social media based phrase. The word returned into people's vernacular and the zeitgeist thanks to the trap artist Migos and in the lyrics, he mentions the word bougie and then people start reintegrating that into their vernacular. It's really interesting to see such a huge spike on the trend graph.

You really see the search volumes spike in the beginning of May last year in 2021, really take off when that song came out and people started using bougie much more often in their vernacular and in their day-to-day life. The second one I wanted to talk about is something that is, I guess, near and dear to my heart in a way, is air fryers. And yes, I am talking about air fryers on Search With Candour. Mark is away for one week, and I'm taking over and talking about air fryers. It's basically a kitchen appliance that mimics the results of deep-frying using basically no oil and nothing but hot air, so it's a healthy alternative to deep-frying things. But you still get the crispiness, but is actually through a countertop convection oven, essentially.

It's a small appliance compared to a full-scale oven or cooker, as we here call it in the UK. It's basically a top section that holds a heating mechanism and a fan, and you stick the food in this little fryer star basket down below, and the convection currents of the air cook it all very evenly and make everything lovely and crispy. I'm very guilty of this myself, I've owned an air fry fryer for a while, bought to me by my future mother-in-law, my partner's mother, and we use it on a very regular basis. I hate to admit it, but I am one of those people that owns an air fryer.

And the trend has been pretty clear from the data here on TrendWatch, you can see it really spikes up at the end of November, 2020 coming through to January 2021, and has resurfaced essentially again for the Christmas time towards the end of December, 2021 coming into January 2022. Some really interesting statistics brought here by Nicole on TrendWatch. Nearly 40% of US homes have an air fry in their kitchen as of July 2020. And I can only assume that has gone up more since then. So this kitchen gadget really seems like a staple in a lot of people's kitchens. And if you don't have one yourself, let me know why you haven't. If you do, let me know what you think. I'm very intrigued to see. Let's talk air fryers, hit me up on Twitter and see what people think. I'm sure people want to discuss SEO and things like that, but let's take a break and talk about air fryers. Why not?

Jack: And sticking on the food-based thing, I'm sure many of you don't know, but by myself, I'm a lifelong vegetarian. That means I don't eat meats or any fish or anything like that. I'm a lacto-ovo-vegetarian, so I do drink milk, eat eggs, and consume animal products, but I don't eat animals themselves. So no meat, no fish, essentially. The reason I bring this up is because pescatarian is trending, very much an upwards trend here.

A pescatarian is someone who follows a plant-based diet, but doesn't eat meat, but does eat fish, so slightly different to a vegan who eat an entirely plant-based diet with no animal products and different to myself, I'm a vegetarian, so I eat a plant-based diet with no meat and no fish. Interestingly, during the pandemic, I feel like this has spiked. And like I said, myself, growing up over the last 30 years, I've seen a huge growth in people around me, my friends, my colleagues, moving towards less meat in their diets and moving towards a more pescatarian based diet, a vegetarian-based diet. I know some people we have here in the... are long time vegetarians now gone vegan over the last few years.

I think it's becoming a gentle way to try and ease the impact that a lot of the food industry, particularly the meat industry, has on the climate and the world. And a lot of people are a lot more conscious of that now in 2022 than they were five or 10 years ago before. I don't know, from my personal experience, that's very much a driving factor. My ongoing vegetarianism is trying to be conscious and leave a little impact on the world as I can from my diet perspective. As also, and very interesting from a health perspective as well, because I know more people are moving towards the diet, not just for environmental reasons, but also for health reasons as well.

It's getting more and more attention as people plant-based diets are becoming less likely to get ill, and particularly with times around the pandemic, as I mentioned, there's a study that says that people with a pescatarian diet are 59% less likely to get severe COVID. So actually, having a benefit in your health directly, especially as we are in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic that has taken over the world for the last two years. So both environmental and health reasons there to be moving towards a pescatarian diet, and the trends back that up. I'm glad that my anecdotal evidence of being a vegetarian and the actual trends, according to SISTRIX, are backing each other up.

And like I said, if you would like to get on TrendWatch and have this delivered, all 10 of them delivered to you straight to your inbox every month, you can go to SISTRIX.com/trends. And if you're not sure and you want to preview it, you can go there a few days before the newsletter goes up and preview the top three results straight away on their blog before you sign up to the newsletter as well.

So as we had the final guest of season one, Mark had Will Critchlow from SearchPilot and we thought we'd do a little mirror and have another Critchlow join us as the first guest of season two. Welcome to the show, Tom Critchlow.

Tom: Thanks for having me on the show. Out with the old, in with the new. That's what I like to say.

Jack: Exactly, exactly. Mark got to have Will, but I get the better Critchlow brother. I get to talk to Tom.

Tom: I am better in, I would say at least 50% of attributes.

Jack: There you go. That's what we're aiming for in season two. Absolutely. So for those of you who don't know, Tom is very interesting, and we can talk about a few different things. We're going touch on your SEO MBA course, but before we get to all of that stuff, Tom, why don't you introduce yourself to our lovely listeners?

Tom: Yeah, sure. I got my start in SEO back in the UK in, oh, who knows? Early 2000s. I worked with my brother, a company called Distilled, that was SearchPilot spun out of. That actually led me to New York, so I opened the New York office for Distilled in 2012, which is a fun experience. I worked at Google for a couple years doing very non SEO things. I was working for their creative lab, which is like an internal innovation agency. And then for the last seven years, I've been out on my own as an independent consultant doing, broadly speaking, whatever anyone will pay me to do, I guess, working on a wide range of projects, trying to operate a bit more as a freelance management consultant rather than a specific kind SEO consultant on a wider range of digital strategy, product design, and yes, a lot of content and that kind stuff as well.

And then, I launched the SEO MBA last year as a new experiment. It's an email list and an online course, and it's been going pretty well.

Jack: Yeah. I think it's really interesting because I think so many people do come from that SEO background and they go into SEO mentoring and that kind of thing, but you've really taken a different approach to it, going for the executive presence and the management side of things, which I think is something that a lot of people who come up through the more technical side of things and they're really focused on SEO, I find from my experience, at least working for people throughout the years, whether that's in-house or agencies, you get those people where they don't have experience in management skills or leadership skills necessarily, but they are suddenly the most senior member of staff in the SEO or the digital marketing team or whatever it is. And they're just like, "There you go, you're the manager now." And I've experienced this myself frequently in an in-house role. The office manager left and I was the digital marketing guy, and they were like, "Well, you're the manager now." I was like, "Oh, okay, sure." So was that conscious decision for you seeing a gap in the market, for want of a better phrase, in terms of SEO and digital marketing, things like that, to focus on that management and leadership skills?

Tom: Yeah. There's a lineage that goes all the way back to my brother, not to make this whole episode about him, but he's been a huge influence on my life. He actually started out as a real management consultant before he got into web design and then later SEO. When we were running to Distilled, we always had this focus on that consulting style, which was really trying to break out of what we were supposed to do from an SEO perspective and really just focus on, what is the business problems? How does the business function? How do the people function? How does leadership function? And really get close to those questions to try and embed ourselves with their clients, do good work for them and so on.

And then that grounding or training, I guess, stuck with me. And so my entire career, I've always been frustrated with you work, deliverables, reports that just sat on a shelf, not going anywhere. So as I've gotten more senior in my own career, so much of that has become this pragmatic approach to leadership management, consulting, communication, and really trying to focus on, what are the things that actually work? What are the things that matter? And how do you learn them? Because like you said, so many people have so little training in this space. And I'm biased, obviously, now that I have a course.

There's just so much of that training as like, you're forced to watch a webinar, it doesn't really tell you anything, it doesn't really answer the real questions that you have. And I think that's a real shame. So my course is at attempt, at least, trying to teach some of those intangible skills or what some people call soft skills, the kind of skills that are very rarely taught explicitly are the things that you learn by watching over somebody's shoulder or being in a meeting with somebody who's more senior than you, or watching, observing how they behave, that kind of thing.

So yeah, I've become fascinated with this tacit skills, a field of knowledge and trying to understand, how do we teach people how to do those things when people aren't even talking about it? People don't even really talk about this stuff. And so, how do you even make people care that they should be good at this? How do you teach them how to do it well? That's been my focus for a long time in my career, and certainly, over the last year and a half launching this course.

Jack: I think it's really interesting because I know from my experience, I started off my first couple of years were in-house. Like I said, I was just winging it and happened to be the most technical person in the room, so I just self-taught some digital marketing stuff and went from there. And then eventually moved into agency stuff after a few years. It was very much that, when I moved to an agency, I got the job title of digital marketing executive, and I was like, "Executive? Wow. I'm going to be like board of directors. This is amazing." The word executive to me before I came out of that little bubble of in-house stuff and really experienced the wider world of SEO and digital marketing was like, "Oh, that's a really high ranking person. That's a decision maker of the company."

No, this is a junior role. Oh, okay. I think that SEO in particular, from my experience, has a weird relationship with just a lack of clear guidance for who's in senior positions, what does each job title mean? You'll get like growth manager and SEO guru and stuff, and none of that means anything. Do you think that factors into the fact that we have so many people that do end up moving up into more senior roles that don't have that experience? They, for want of a better phrase, of just winging it along the way, and then hoping for the best, and then, oh, you end up as a manager or a whatever. I guess, what could agencies and in-house departments as well do to help guide people from junior perspectives and then going through to a more senior role from your perspective?

Tom: Well, that's a big topic. I actually wrote an SEO MBA email recently why there are no VP of SEO jobs. And it's a slightly nuanced topic, but certainly, in-house, let's treat that first, in-house SEO is often this it's lone wolf role. SEO is sandwiched somewhere between product and marketing, but not really a full member of each. And I think that if you want to be serious about getting senior roles in-house, you really have to think clearly about, do you want to go down the marketing path? Do you want to go down the product path, some other path? And then more formally, assimilate yourself into those career paths and those job titles. I think that there's a new job title that I've seen getting increasing popularity, which is the SEO product manager.

Jack: Oh, interesting. Yeah.

Tom: And I think that, although it doesn't sound particularly senior, I think that it's a really fascinating role because it's no longer just the SEO person, you're actually officially a product manager. I know from my time at Google product managers, it's a highly coveted role, very senior, you get paid a ton of money. So getting that formal product manager designation is actually a really meaningful step on the way to VP of product, CTO. There's a real career path there that you can get into once you get into the product role. In the same way, like getting into VP of marketing, you want to try and get more formally inside the marketing organisation, try and look at those roles and so on.

Because honestly, in-house in particular, there is no senior pathway while remaining a pure SEO. In the same way that there's no VP of UX, Or VP of user research. Occasionally there are, but for the most part, those roles don't exist because they get subsumed by VP of product, VP of marketing, The more well understood traditional roles. So as you get more senior, you have to expand your horizons outside of pure SEO. Now, agency side is a whole different ball game. It's almost the opposite problem at the agency side where you can be an account executive, a junior SEO, a midway SEO, a mid-senior SEO, a senior SEO, a senior, senior SEO, senior VP of SEO. There's just like a million different job titles, and there's very little standardisation between agencies on what those mean, etc, etc. I think if you're agency side, what's most important to focus on is a skills matrix. You have a few of these floating around. I think my brother might have brought one a few years ago, which is really trying to understand, what are all the components of the role? And as you get mostly senior inside an agency, it becomes less about just driving success for the clients you're given, and it becomes more about, are you mentoring juniors? Are you helping with training? Are you actually bringing in leads and clients to the agency? Are you helping in pitch processes? Are you helping refine processes and operations?

And you can get better at each one of those things independently, you can get better at sales. You can get better at operations. You can get better at training, you can get better at leadership. And again, articulating those things in a way that allows them to be somewhat transferable. So when you go and interview for a new role or a new agency, you have a way to talk about each of those skill sets and have some demonstrateable examples of how you've been able to do those things. Because honestly, the job titles are just really all over the place.

Jack: Yeah. I totally agree. I think it's interesting when you're coming from, again, having seen both sides. And I know many people in the industry like yourself and me to a lesser extent have seen the industry you from both sides. It's weird seeing people of a similar level that with this seemingly much more senior job title, and then how is their relationship to a head of marketing or a marketing manager, whatever? Do you answer directly to the head of marketing if you are an SEO person or is that a separate thing?

I think SEO Product Manager is a really interesting title. I'm glad you brought that up actually, because that can mean quite a few different things. But I think that really does help to clarify a bit more of the position. And like you said, whether your product or marketing, it helps to clarify the definition there for that role. I think that we're going to see this moving a bit more as digital marketing and a SEO and PBC and everything else under that umbrella becomes more and more integral and more integrated into everything we do and we move away from like traditional marketing.

I guess that will become more standardised eventually. And I know, even though someone like yourself has been doing SEO for 20 years, it's still a very new thing compared to brick and mortar, for want of a better phrase, marketing that we've had for hundreds of years. You are at the forefront of that, I think.

Tom: Yeah, we've already seen some of that fragmentation as well. Even things like digital PR is an offshoot of what was traditional PR. You get service journalism. The New York Times has SEO editors now who are actual editors of The New York Times, which again, is highly coveted role, but they're an SEO editor. We're going to see a lot more of that fragmentation and specialisation because SEO is no longer this monolithic single skillset, it is a piece of lots of different things. It's a piece of PR, it's a piece of content, it's a piece of product, etc, etc.

Jack: To move on to thinking about more in-house stuff, but I think it applies to agencies as well. You have a great,gain, talking about blog posts, you have given some fantastic advice during the course and through your blogs as well about presentations and slides. And I think that is something that is so misunderstood or ill-educated in SEO and digital marketing in general, whether you are presenting to the board of directors and managers internally or you are presenting to clients. Even those people you are presenting to in a client-facing role can be very junior themselves, or you could be owner, founder of the company and all that sort of thing. How can more junior people coming into the roles get a better idea of how to improve the quality of their presentations and think about how they're presenting to people higher up in the organisation? And how would that affect their growth, do you think?

Tom: Yeah, yeah. I'm hugely passionate about presentations. It's one of my favourite topics to talk about. So I'm glad you brought it up. I think the first thing to understand is that almost all of the presentations that you see working at an agency, almost all the presentations that you see are terrible. And what I mean by that is, you are either looking at conference presentations and things that people are posting as like entertainment, they're telling a story, they have a big narrative arc, they have big flashy images, they're designed to be presented on stage. It's either that kind of presentation, which is absolutely not the right format for presenting to a client, assuming you're a senior stakeholder, or you're working at an agency and a lot of agencies have a very templated glossy approach.

Tom: They have this flashy, slide design, they have all of these nice slides you're supposed to use. They have a lot of filler content where it's like, this is 15 slides about our capabilities, and so on.

Jack: When Mark's doing presentations, he always describes it as the “propaganda for Candour”. The “Candour propaganda” is like, who we are, what we do, and why we do it. And credit to Mark entirely, he always says “You can read that in your own time. I won't go through that now. Let's get to the interesting stuff.”

Tom: Yeah, yeah. And certainly, at bigger agencies, if you work at one of those bigger agencies as part of a holding company or an agency that does multiple things like SEO and web design etc, etc, you get handed these templates and you have to slot in your slides in the middle of a 200-slide presentation, whatever. And that is also absolutely not the right way to present information, certainly to senior decision-makers. And I think that when you realise that most of the presentations you're looking at are terrible, you have to start looking elsewhere. You have to say, "Okay, well, where can you find a good example of a presentation?" And for me, a lot of that has been just understanding like McKinsey presentations, management consultant presentations. They have been obsessing about this stuff for a long time, and specifically presenting them to senior executives, boards, CEOs, etc.

Tom: And there's some great resources you can find online. There's actually a really great core thread kind deconstructing McKinsey PowerPoint presentation, which we'll put in the show notes, which has been something of that keep going back to, it's kind of a canonical reference to me about how to do this stuff well. But so much of it really just boils down to, you have to communicate the entire idea, five to 10 slides. Now, you can have more slides after that goes into more detail, that has more context and more of the working out or the thinking, more the rationale, but you have to be able to articulate the core idea in a smaller slides. And that's important for a couple reasons. One is, if you're presenting to senior executives, they probably don't care about all these details.

What they care about is making a decision, they care about saying, "Okay, so you need how much money to invest in what initiative?" And if that information is on slide 45, you forget about it. So you want that core information of, what is a decision we're trying to make, that needs to be like at the front. And the second reason that you need to put that the front is that when you're presenting to senior stakeholders, they're going to derail the presentation. We've all been there when we present 40, 50 slide presentation, we start going through it and we're about 10 slides in and the CEO says like, "Hang on, I'm just going to stop you there. Let me just talk about blah, blah, blah."

And suddenly you're sidetracked, you're trying to get the room back on course, and you never even get the full idea out. You have to start with what is the whole idea from start to end at a high level, including the ask, and then you go down, then you go and expand in all the detail afterwards. And once you understand that model, I think that your presentations in turn will get better. Now, there's a lot of other details you can do about good slides, bad slides, individual slide design, putting data in slides, all that kind of stuff that is too much to get into it in this podcast, but I think the basics is really just about that structure of condense the entire ask into a single clear point of view, put that at the very start of the presentation, don't start with a fluff and your presentation will instantly get better.

Jack: Yeah. I know you've talked about the importance of an executive summary before, and I think that is so key, especially me now working at Candour, is something that I do, reporting to my clients and things like that. I emphasise that and just like, "Oh, here's the data if you really want to look at it, but here is one or two slides," like per month or whatever it is to say, "This is the progress we've made, this is what's been changed. These are the next steps and all that kind of stuff.

I think there's a weird parallel, and this is going to sound weird, listeners and Tom, I appreciate, it's going to sound weird, but my background in journalism and comic book writing also ties into really getting to the key piece of information as quickly as you can. And really driving the point home and being able to summarise, the “elevator pitch” in the movie world in that sense as well, having the ability to summarise your thoughts and be able to say, "Okay, this is what we need to do, this is what we've done, here's what's next," and not have to go like, "Okay, there's 80% here and 70% there and blah, blah, blah." Unless they're very, very data driven themselves, you lose people pretty quickly with numbers and stuff like that.

And I think that ties into human attention spans, psychology, all that kind of stuff. And again, I think that ties into, like you said, those soft skills that you don't really think about. So many people get bogged down and like, "Oh, I need to improve my technical skills." Or, "I need to think about my content writing." But actually thinking about the psychology being sat in front of someone, whether that's over video calls like we're doing now or sat across a board meeting in front of somebody, actually getting their attention in person and through video calls is different to them just, "Here's a bunch of slides, read it in your own time," kind of thing.

Tom: Yeah. And I think one of the hard things is that when you do this wrong, when you put a bad presentation together, or you send a confusingly worded email, you don't get immediate feedback that you did it wrong. It's almost like a hidden failure. The consequences of those actions cascade over time where maybe the CEO doesn't come to the meeting next time, or maybe the client starts answering our emails less frequently, or you get punted from the head of marketing to the marketing manager, or the CEO comes back and says, "Well, it's great. I really enjoyed the presentation, but we're not going to invest in this next year."

It's an invisible failure mode where you think that it's hard to pinpoint back to the mistakes that you made. And I think that's why things like mentorship and so on is so important because specifically in the agency environment, I think the agencies, they live and die on their ability to put juniors in the room, to put juniors in the situation, to observe and watch more senior people in action. It's not enough to just do training, it's not enough to tell them how to do it, you have to expose them to the work in action so that they can see this stuff, they can see the consequences of this play out in real time of like, "Wow, it seemed like the CEO was really paying attention. How did you do that?"

And I think if you're a junior it's really important to ask, again, I spent a lot of time last year or so studying tacit knowledge and understanding how knowledge transfer happens. It's really important to specifically ask the question. So step one is getting in the room to be able to observe. And then secondly is to just basically run a simulation to say, "How would I have done that presentation? How would I have answered that question? How did they do it?" And then explicitly look for the gap. So ask the senior person who is in the room say, "Why did you present that slide that way? Why did you answer that question this way? I would've said this. Is that right or is that wrong?"

And what you're doing is you're extracting the knowledge out of somebody in a way that allows you to change your mental model, change your understanding of how this all works. Because again, until somebody already sits you down and explains it to you, it's almost impossible to understand this stuff. And I've got a ton of sympathy for junior folks, certainly during the pandemic. I think that the pandemic and work from home has been incredible in many ways, but it's just destroyed people's ability to observe other people in action, to watch over somebody's shoulder or to be in the room when something's happening.

And so I have a lot of sympathy for juniors who are sat there, just not really understanding how the whole thing works, not really understanding how the system works. They don't really understand what the CEO cares about, they don't understand what happens behind closed doors, etc, etc. So I think, again, on the agency side, this is true in-house as well, but on the agency side in particular, it's imperative that if you are more senior inside an agency, you have to bring the junior a lot. And it's not just about sitting them down for training, it's not just about giving them critique on their work, but it's about showing them your work in action, inviting them to the meeting so they can watch, watching you put a presentation together, watching you put a report together, that's where the good stuff happens, I think.

Jack: It's kind of ‘you don't ask, you don't’ receive from the junior perspective. If you're not speaking to the more senior members of the team, then you don't get those opportunities. You don't even get your foot in the door to get in the room, let alone ask those questions about the presentation itself. But also from the more senior role, it's about transparency, I think as well, like having an understanding of “I want these people in my team”, whether that's in-house or agency, but I think this is particularly true in agency as you said, "This is how I do it, why I do it. I'm going to say this, we're going to talk about this. This is my plan for this client, for this meeting." And just be honest about it.

And I think again, to Mark's credit, I know I'm just crediting my co-host and boss here, but think he is very honest in his presentations and like I said, he's allowed me to be in the room with him a few times and things like that. And I think particularly from an agency point of view, there is this, I don't want to say like sleazy underbelly of there's a bunch of shells in SEO basically who are going to fake the fudge statistics and lie about stuff just to get your money and run away with it. I've seen PBC campaigns that should never have existed that cost thousands of pounds and have made no money and resulted in nothing for the client. And then people like Rob on our team or somebody else comes in and reviews it and says, "What has been going on for the last six months? You've done nothing thing," kind of thing.

And I think transparency from the senior point of view is something I feel like we're seeing a bit more of, again, I feel like the industry is moving in a positive direction. And again, thanks to you and your influence, I think Tom as well. But it's an interesting thing to talk about it from the in-house perspective. Do you think there's a particular advantage to being in-house compared to agency side, because you've already got that foot in the door in that way?

Tom: I think there's definitely pros and cons to working in-house versus the agency side. I think the biggest thing that you gain being in-house is you gain a better understanding and a better awareness of how the rest of business operates. You're no longer just SEO, it's like you get involved in product meetings and marketing meetings and you might get more time with a CEO. You might understand how like a quarterly earnings report comes together or you might understand how rebranding exercise happens. There's a peripheral understanding of how business works when you work in-house, which I think is super useful, but you can't get that oftentimes with an agency.

The flip side, unfortunately working in-house is that you're often the only SEO person or in a very, very small team. So you have almost no one to learn from in terms of the SEO work. And so if you are certainly, if you're more junior, your ability to see different situations work on different types of projects, understand different types of situations is limited. I think that's the big advantage working in agency is you get so many exposure to so many more situations. You get to work in travel, and finance, and e-commerce, and media, you get to see different edge cases, and you get to see different CMSs, and you get to see different product teams and so on. So I think in the arc of a career, I think it's useful to have both sets of experiences, I think you gain something from both, but more importantly, I guess, is really just understanding the limitations of both. And again, when I worked at Distilled and I was working agency side and I spent most of my career working at an agency, I could feel quite keenly that I wasn't getting the exposure to how business worked in the way that I wanted to. And that was one of the primary motivations for going to work in-house at Google, not to learn anything about SEO, but just to get a different understanding for how businesses operate, to really be in the belly of a beast.

Jack: And there are a few bigger beasts than Google.

Tom: Yeah, certainly. I didn't choose a representative example.

Jack: Oh, we're just going to pick one of the biggest corporations in the history of the world, that's fine.

Tom: Well, and also one of the weirdest, they work in all kinds of weird and wonderful ways. So I don't think I can extrapolate too much of my time at Google, but it certainly gave me exposure to senior stakeholders, to decision makers and certainly broadened my horizons in terms of, like I ran a TV ad while I was there, I worked on internal innovation stuff. It was kind of projects that I had no experience with working at an SEO agency. And that was exactly what I wanted. I didn't necessarily enjoy my time at Google, we can talk about that another time in therapy, but-

Jack: I'm not a licensed therapist, I'm sorry I did need to be more transparent about that before we do these podcasts. I'm sorry, Tom.

Tom: Yeah. I just enjoy talking about it. I didn't necessarily enjoy my time at Google per se, but in hindsight, I certainly don't regret it. I think that experience of understanding how businesses work and also just understanding how one of the biggest things I got from working at Google, I think was how little organisations say yes to. And I think this is one of the classic frustrations SEO professionals have as in agency side and in-house as well is, "I have my stuff, it's really important, why isn't nobody doing it? Why isn't it getting done? Why isn't it getting budget?"

Jack: Every department thinks they're the most important department, right?

Tom: Yeah. But you understand just the focus required at the senior levels of business to just say no to stuff all the time, to just be like, "No, we're not doing that. No, we're not doing that." Just stay focused because it's almost impossible. To get anything done, to get a large organization to move in a particular direction and actually execute and actually launch a set of projects is so phenomenally difficult, you have to say no to almost everything else, "No, we're not doing that. No, we're not doing that. No, we're not doing that. Focus, focus. I just what this thing done that is really important to the business."

Tom: And watching firsthand executives have that struggle and that mentality was really useful to me as an SEO professional with an SEO background understanding and having an appreciation for like, "All right, our stuff really isn't that important relative to some of these things. And we really have to work harder to justify our existence, to justify why we should be investing in these things," because that we think there are no brainer, we think there are a slam dunk, but the business just does not see it that way.

Jack: Yeah, absolutely. And something else you've touched on before is shifting the mindset for strategic SEO and again, tying into the transparency side of things as well, as opposed to doing the one off audits and all that kind of stuff, moving towards a more iterative and repetitive project like audit testing, and in-depth continual benchmarking processes and stuff like that. Do you think that is an easier or harder sell for certain companies and executives of different sizes? Because I think some people can see that our work is never done style thing as like you're just trying to get more money out of me kind of thing if you're coming at it from particularly from an agency side, I guess.

Tom: Yeah. I think it's really important to understand that you can only build that ongoing iterative model once you've established and trust, whether you are in-house or an agency, you can't leap to, "Hey, we need a dedicated SEO, QA engineer and we need two full-time writers dedicated to SEO and blah, blah, blah. You've got to establish some baseline and some trust first before you can get there. The flip side of course is I think you absolutely have to have at this mindset, whether you work in-house or agency is you have to focus on what the SEO program looks like. So not just what the individual projects are and what the outcomes of those projects are, but what is the shape of the program?

Are we investing correctly against the things that we need to achieve the long term results? And that's why I think I'd be banging the drum about this total addressable market mindset, which is slightly different than keyword research that I think a lot of SEOs come at this from, which is, it's more like saying, well, what is the absolute best case? What's the ceiling of the market that we're going for? And using that to justify the multi-year investment. So we're not saying, a competitor, for example, that has five times as much organic traffic as us. And so we say, "Well, listen, we're not going to 5X our organic traffic this year. We might not even 5X organic traffic next year, but if we make a serious commitment, that is the ultimate goal. We know that is possible because our competitors doing it."

And again, you have to choose your competitors and your analog wisely there, you can't just choose Expedia. Well, Expedia does it. So you have to choose your competitors smartly, but then once you have that anchor, that becomes a thing on the multiyear horizon, becomes your investment plan, to be able to say, "You know what, look at them. If we really want to get serious about getting 5X organic traffic, we have to put in, that requires a serious investment. That isn't going to happen on its own, that isn't going to happen with us just adding some SEO tickets, the product backlog occasionally, or take some content resources when we can etc, etc." So I think that this is true, again, whether you're working in SEO or any other discipline, you have to have this mindset of the time horizons. The things that we're working on immediately in the business that are critical and like this week, week on week, quarter on quarter. And then there are the things that are like this year versus next year. And then there are the things that are even longer strategic plans that the CEO might have and so on. You have to have a recognition understanding of each of those different time horizons. You can't just get stuck in one of them. You can't get stuck just working on the five-year horizon, otherwise, you're going to get fired. You can't just work on the week to week stuff, otherwise, you might not get fired, but you won't get budget.

So you have to remind yourself to work on these things. And again, one of the things that I thought I learned working at a big organisation was that there's a very specific cadence to when planning season comes around. It's like, "Okay, what we're going to do 2022, planning now." And if you're not ready for 2022 planning with a budget and a resource ask, you're just not going to get your resource. And so you might come along in March the following year and say, "Hey, I've got this great idea, can we just throw $100,000 to this thing?" And the business is like, "Nope, wait till next year. That was what planning was for. We just had a planning exercise when everyone asked for all their money and the people that asked for their money got their money. You didn't ask for any money, so you didn't get it."

It's not rocket science, but again, that kind of mindset and that kind of thinking it sounds obvious when you say it, but when you're more junior in your career, when you've only worked at agencies or even if you're in-house and don't have exposure to that stuff, if you have a bad manager who is shielding you from some of those things that are going on, you just don't really understand that that's how it works. It becomes like the organization is like a black box and you're struggling to understand how it works. I have a lot of empathy and so on for those situations because I was there, I've been there and I've made bad asks and I've been frustrated that clients didn't do what I want. And I've been frustrated that I seemed stupid when I was in the room with the CEO. I've had all those experiences.

And so again, that's really been my driving passion with the SEO MBA is just trying to bring some visibility and some discussion and try and help support folks who otherwise have a limited set of experiences.

Jack: Kind of circle back around to some of the reporting stuff as well. Perhaps my favorite piece you've written recently is the, your bus cares more about reporting than you do. And I think that's such a fascinating topic. Do you think we need to rethink about how we're again, how we're presenting it, but what expectations you should be setting and how to define success and KPIs and stuff like that? I think a lot of agencies, and I know I've experienced this at the agencies I have worked at in the past, going in with this big idea, like you said, going in with the five-year plan and it's, "Yeah. We're going to 5X organic traffic over the next two years. And then in five years' time, we're off to the moon kind of thing."

Jack: What could people be doing better in terms of defining that success more clearly, getting better KPIs, understanding who they're talking to better and how to present that to them?

Tom: I think there's two big things that I really care about here, one, above and beyond the numbers, the metrics of success, you have to care about strategic alignment. I wrote a post about that using Etsy's quarterly earnings reports as an example, trying to understand what a company cares about, what the CEO cares about at any one time. And I have yet to meet a business that cares about optimisation and incremental gains as a strategic initiative, like, "2022, our big three initiative is optimising what we already have." I've yet to meet a business that has said that, even though that might be the right answer, that might actually get them the right thing, it's just not what anyone gets excited about. The narrative of that-

Jack: That's not the sexy stuff, right?

Tom: That's not the sexy stuff. And so you have to care about what they do care about. What are the big three initiatives, what are the big five initiatives? And that could be on the one-year-time horizon or the five-year-time horizon, depending on the business and how fast they move, but you absolutely have to find alignment. So you have to find a way to make SEO a strategically important part of those three or five initiatives. And that might sound again obvious because SEO is of course fundamental to business. It's how we drive traffic, it's how we drive revenue, blah, blah, blah. It's actually not that simple and it isn't that straightforward. And you'd be surprised at how often SEO gets relegated and doesn't get the budgets because it's not seen as directly supporting these big three to five initiatives. The good news is that because SEO is like a Swiss army knife, there's always a way to frame SEO as supporting those initiatives, whether it is improving user experience, whether it's improving revenue, whether it's improving costs, whether it's improving whatever it might be, whatever the initiatives are, we can position SEO as supporting it. So that's my big thing is above and beyond just the metrics that we're talking about, we have to care about alignment. And then the other thing that I think we really have to care about is when we talk about KPIs and modeling, like forecasting growth, putting targets in place, we have to make sure that those targets are directly linked to inputs. Again, this is something that I talk about in the course, but is a very, very common problem I see with SEO folks, because of that technical nature is the financial models and the projections that we put together are overly complex. And what I mean by that is it's not uncommon for us to be... Like Easter happens here, so we're going to down weight a little bit here. And well, there's some seasonality involved and I exported 100,000 keywords and did some regex analysis. And that means I'm going to change this model to have this dampening factor in month six."

And it's like you're trying to do science, you're trying to do this absolute, most accurate projection that you can, but in the process it becomes a black box, it becomes unexplainable to a senior stakeholder. The CEO looks at it and it's like, "I don't really know how you made up these numbers, but all I can see is the numbers. So all they care about is the numbers." Instead, it's really important to make sure that the output, the numbers are related to the inputs, which is what are we going to do? So you have to be able to say, "Well, we're going to make 200 pieces of content and we're going to upgrade core product pages with a significant investment from the development team. If we do those things, then we can get this results." And you need that explainability so that when things don't go as planned, when you are not getting the results that you said you would, you can go back to the model and say, "Well, listen, we didn't make 200 pieces of content, for whatever reason, we made 50. So we need to update our model." Or, "You know what, the development team never gave us the resources they said they would and so we haven't updated our product pages. And so we haven't seen the results from any of that work." So it's really important to have that explainability. A financial model or traffic model is only as good as its ability to be a communication tool, it's only as good as its ability to be explained and understood and agreed to by the stakeholders.

Again, I think that sometimes there is this failure mode in SEO of trying to think that we have to have the answer, we have to say, "This is what we are going to get," instead of presenting a range of outcomes of being, "Well, with our expert understanding of the space, there's a range of possible outcomes depending on how we invest and depending on how much we get out of them. And so you create this framework that allows other decision makers to agree to it, to buy into it and to say yes, and to be able to say, "Yeah, you know what, we are going to make that investment. We are going to make that content. And I do want to see those results." "And I understand how that works and I understand that if for whatever reason we take away your content team halfway through the year, then we're not going to get all the results that you said you we were going to get." And so I think again, when we talk about reporting and KPIs, so much of it just comes back to communication, come back to framing the reporting, the KPIs as being strategically aligned with the business, so not just the numbers, and then framing them as inputs and outputs so that we can actually understand how things work. I think those are the two things that I really care about when we talk about reporting KPIs.

Jack: Yeah, definitely. I think I'm definitely guilty of falling into that hole of feeling like you need the answer, especially if you are there in the meeting and they ask you a question and you need to be on the ball. I think you're totally right. And I was talking to our Head of Marketing, Brendan, the other day about how you don't need to have the answer to absolutely everything, but you need to have at least thought about the possibilities and the options that are there depending on, like you said, depending on resources and budget and all that kind of stuff. I think that's a really interesting approach because I know a lot of people, especially more junior roles are intimidated by that.

You feel like, especially in-house like you said, if you're in a very small team or you are the only SEO person, "Well, I need to know all the answers, I need to be representing Google straight away," that kind of thing. And I think conveying value of SEO is really difficult as well, especially coming, again, coming from the agency side. And a lot of people you try and balance it with like, "Oh, how many conversions did we get from organic traffic." Or equating like, "If we got this many clicks through a paid equivalent, this is how much this keyword is worth per this many clicks," and all that kind of stuff. Do you think there is a better way to demonstrate the value of SEO? Or do you think you need to be adaptive in that way as well?

Tom: Well, you always want to talk about revenue wherever you can, but that's easy said than done. Certainly being agency side, sometimes your ability to actually look at the attribution modeling and track leads or track conversions is poor. Again, I'm going to come back to a similar answer to the previous question, which is, it isn't about having the exact revenue figure that organic traffic generated, it's about agreeing on a model. So it's about agreeing with the client and saying, "You know what, we did a bunch of data analysis, we looked at historicals, we looked at your analytics, etc., etc. We think that organic traffic drives this much revenue and we think that per visitor value is this, or the per lead value, is this. Can we agree on that?"

Once you get the clients buying into that, then you can use that everywhere. So then you can go back and say, "Well, now in our financial model, we're going to estimate that organic traffic is going to drive 2.5 million. Under the hood, that 2.5 million number comes from a set of assumptions." You're not talking about actuals, you're never talking about actuals, even if you're looking at a well set up analytics property, you're never actually looking at the real data. You think you are, but you're never actually. And so it's really important to just make those assumptions explicit and agreed upon with the client so that you can have the conversation about revenue.

If you can't talk about revenue, everything becomes harder because suddenly you have this unbalanced equation, you're like, "Well, we need to invest this much in content to get this much traffic," but you're talking about dollar on one side and traffic on the other. And it's just a hard equation of balance. It's hard to get an investment if you can't demonstrate what the revenue impact is going to be on the other side. So I think, again, it's one of these areas that I think is exactly the kind of thing that you can learn by watching a more senior and understanding like, "Well, why did you make those assumptions? Why didn't you make these other assumption? How did you back into that calculation? Doesn't seems a bit simplistic.

Jack: And also knowing, I think the SEO senior people don't necessarily have the answers themselves either, there could be other answers as well.

Tom: 100%. Yeah. And this is also where when you see the final thing, sometimes you look at a presentation and you're like, "Where did those numbers even come from? I've actually already pre-agreed this, or I know that we're using these figures or I'm using the same figure as PPC is using, or I'm trying to find... " Again, it's these kind of tricks that you use of communication and agreement and client management to be able to create certainty and clarity, because again, the thing that you're driving towards is not the truth and it isn't science, it's just making decisions, business decisions. And so what you need is clarity of communication. What you don't need is an exact regression tested scientific instrument, which is going to tell us the truth because that just isn't how businesses operate.

Jack: Awesome. Thank you very much coming on.

Tom: It'd been pretty fun. Yeah, a good conversation.

Jack: Where can people find you if they would like to follow the SEO MBA course, your blogs, your Twitter, all that good stuff, Tom?

Tom: Tomcritchlow.com, seomba.com, those are the two primary hubs. I'm probably more active on Twitter than I should, which is just @tomcritchlow. And you can find me in all those places. Reach out if you liked something about the podcast or something that didn't make sense or something you disagree with, those my favorite ones when people are like, "I don't believe that's right." Slide into my DMS, shoot me an email, I love to chat about stuff.

Jack: Brilliant. Thanks very much, Tom. I really, really appreciate it.

Jack: That is it for the show this week. Thank you to Tom Critchlow for joining me this week. What a fantastic, interesting interview that was, I really appreciate Tom's time. As he just said, please do follow him on Twitter and follow his blog posts as well. They are really interesting stuff. Some of my favorite writing in SEO right now is coming out of Tom's blog. So I couldn't recommend that highly enough. If you are someone that's junior and looking to move into a more senior role, I'd very much recommend trying out his SEO MBA course as well, whether you're in-house or whether you're agency side, Tom has it covered from both sides. So I very much recommend that.

Jack: And as I said, links are in the show notes for all of Tom's links and everything I've talked about on the show this week. Don't worry, Mark will be back next week. I'm not just taking over the show forever, I promise. I'm sure many of you are missing Mark right now. He will be back next week. Until then, I hope you have a lovely week. Thank you so much for listening.

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