INTERVIEW WITH RIC RODRIGUEZ, CROUD
In our latest interview, we're firing some questions at Ric Rodriguez, Senior SEO Manager at Croud.
Croud is a digital marketing agency that combines in-house strategy specialists with a network of freelance channel experts; all powered by proprietary technology. They have bases in London, New York, Sydney and Shrewsbury - and access to digital experts in over 100 countries.
What does your role as Senior SEO Manager involve in terms of responsibility and the day-to-day?
At Croud, we do things a little differently. A key part of our business is working with freelance channel experts - whether they be SEO, content or beyond - and so the role of a SEO manager is slightly atypical.
My role is split broadly into two halves - defining the SEO strategy for my clients and keeping Croud at the cutting edge of digital innovation - and arguably, this is similar to many senior managers in the industry.
Where my role differs is in how I achieve this. Instead of managing a team of executives who carry out the analysis and implementation of tasks, I work with a team of freelancers around the world.
It's an efficient way to work - for example, if I need a piece of content written urgently, I can work with a 'Croudie' (freelancer) in Australia to have this turned round overnight. One of our larger projects is split across 107 markets and we currently work with a team of over 120 different experts on this; giving us on-the-ground support and local industry expertise.
It's also incredibly enjoyable, because you have the opportunity to learn about different cultures and regularly speak to people that you'd never do so in any other capacity.
What do you think are the biggest challenges in SEO at the moment?
Consumer search habits are changing at an incredibly fast rate - and this is being made possible through new technologies, such as smartphones, virtual assistants and the IoT. As such, the search engines (Google particularly) are having to adapt to stay relevant. This involves providing more personalisation, more relevance and less steps to query resolution.
For organic search marketers this means it's getting increasingly harder to measure the results of our activity. We have quickly moved from a world of 10 blue links to a results page that includes more ads, better maps, answers and direct information. Rank tracking tools may show an overall trend, but users will still see tailored results, the data from which we have less and less access to.
This ultimately means we have to focus more on driving traffic as a whole (and in whatever format that may be relevant), and less on visibility across specific keyword portfolios. In the long-run this is a far better way to work but it's going to take some time for the industry to adjust and create the tools we need to evaluate our approach.
Which peers / industry figures do you look to for inspiration re: your job?
I've always been inspired by Rand at Moz. His Whiteboard Friday videos were what made me interested in SEO to start with, and Moz's blog is a great source of ideas for someone looking to broaden their knowledge. There are a couple of 2017 trend articles by Gianluca Fiorelli that I'd really recommend reading if you want a perspective on where SEO could head this year and beyond.
To keep up-to-date, I check Barry Schwartz's blog out at least once a day - if something is happening, Barry usually has a good point of view before anyone else. I also read Search Engine Land and Watch regularly too for PPC developments. For campaign inspiration, I usually head to AdWeek or The Drum - they're great for learning about the innovative ideas of other agencies / brands.
Currently, I'm also digging what Greg Gifford is doing in local SEO - I've seen him speak at Brighton SEO a couple of times, and he's always a conference highlight - I mean, anyone that can get through 120 slides in 20 mins deserves a medal for that alone!
What advice would you give to someone new to a career in SEO?
Never stop asking questions!
On the surface, SEO is no longer a channel that exists in a vacuum and has touch points with many of the major digital disciplines. An SEO may work across digital PR, content and web development directly, but we are influenced by PPC, brand awareness channels and social. This means there's always something to learn.
It's deeper than that though - to drive results we need to understand, evaluate and adapt - and so the very best SEOs will never 'just do' something. They will investigate the options, find out what works best for the client and apply their knowledge in the way that best solves the challenge they've been set.
I've been lucky in that the agencies I've worked at throughout my career have always been accommodating of an inquisitive mind - but regardless of your level, you should never be afraid to constructively challenge the strategy. In SEO there are very few definite answers and it's only through discussion that the best ideas are created.
What are your ‘go-to’ online tools to help you get results?
I think people really under-utilise the tools that Google offer - between Search Console and Google Analytics (GA), you can find out a lot about a site and plan how best to fix the issues and grow - there's an initial level of complexity around GA which can be off-putting, but once you get the hang of how to use it, it's probably the most powerful tool we have access to.
In addition, I'm a massive fan of Cognitive SEO and Majestic for backlink analysis. The former has a simple interface which makes chopping the data really easy, the latter has useful outreach prospecting metrics that tell you a lot more than just 'this is a good site'. However for any audits, I'll also use data from GSC, Ahrefs and Moz for a more representative data set.
In terms of rank tracking, I've used most of the major names; my favourite so far is SEOMonitor as it does what it says on the tin; provides accurate ranking / visibility data without any complications or add-on services; their visibility score is also useful for a daily snapshot of how a site is performing and any identifying major issues.
Do you see any emerging digital trends which you’d expect to see more of during this year?
A lot of the industry is talking about voice search as the next major development - and while I agree, I think the subject is a little more complex than users speaking into their phones. For me, this is part of a broader shift towards 'parsing optimisation' - or understanding and improving how search engines make sense of, and categorise your pages.
It's this that drives Google's answer results (which includes voice), which I feel will become ever more important as users expand what and how they search for information. As such, marketers must start looking to understand user intent and provide a response ahead of their search. This will become more intrinsically linked to being visible and is something we're already seeing become more and more important for longer tail searches.
Related to this will be the continued shift towards mobile; with more brands using accelerated mobile pages and progressive web apps to build sites.