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O/SEO/O E5: Opinions About Hiring SEO Talent

Published on: 
January 11, 2022
Updated on: 
January 17, 2022
by
Begüm Kaya
Begüm Kaya
Sam Torres
Sam Torres
Tory Gray
Tory Gray

Thanks for joining us for another wonderful episode of Opinionated SEO Opinions™.

This month's topic: Opinions on Hiring SEO Talent. We're joined by the amazing Roxana Stingu, Head of Search and SEO for Alamy. We're sponsored by Ahrefs - so go check them out!

Here's what we're covering today: 

You can find your hosts here - reach out to further discuss what we covered!
Tory Gray

Sam Torres

Begüm Kaya
Follow TGDC on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Video Transcript

Begüm Kaya   0:09  
Hello, everyone, welcome to another episode of Opinionated SEO Opinions™. And this time we are joined by wonderful Roxana Stingu to discuss everything about hiring SEOs is and what awaits our industry in the future. Welcome, Roxana.

Roxana Stingu  0:25  
Hello, everybody. Thank you for having me.

Begüm Kaya   0:28  
Yeah. Thank you for joining us. Would you like to give us a quick intro?

Roxana Stingu  0:33  
Yeah, sure. I'm Roxana Stingu. I am currently Head of Search and SEO for Alamy; if you don't know what Alamy is, it's the most diverse stock photography library. We also have stock videos. And when I say Head Search and SEO, I mean that besides SEO, I also overlook the internal search engine, which has ranking factors and things. Quite, quite fun.

Begüm Kaya   0:57  
Yeah, definitely. Wonderful. And our hosts, Tory Gray and Sam Torres are present, as always.

Tory Gray  1:06  
Hello, and welcome back!

Sam Torres  1:09  
Yeah. So before we get started a quick word from our sponsor. So this is actually sponsored by Ahrefs. And so anybody who's new to the industry, or looking for tools to help them, they actually have a free tool that you can use for website auditing. Go to Ahrefs.com/Webmaster-Tools. We'll include a link in the description so that you can check it out and start using their platform for making your effort that much better. Highly recommend, we use Ahrefs at The Gray Dot Company - love it as a tool. So definitely check it out.

Questions #1

Begüm Kaya   1:46  
So let's kick it off with the existing trends and experiences that you're seeing right now in hiring SEO team members.

Roxana Stingu  1:54  
Well, I think it's clear that since the pandemic has started, it kind of accelerated the shift of media and retail toward the internet, maybe except for certain websites. But along with this, there's an increased need to hire great SEO talent.  Even though the demand went up, I don't think the the supply has. So it's kind of - you know - the same number of people going into SEO but more SEOs are needed.

I'm kind of seeing a lot of big companies poaching people from other companies, convincing them to come over offering better packages than before, which is absolutely awesome for the SEO industry, because - kind of the salaries - have gone up on average. But I think the problem is for people like me who need to hire experts. And I'm having trouble finding people. It's not as easy as it was before, for sure.

Tory Gray  3:00  
Due to the competition now.

Roxana Stingu  3:02  
Yeah.  

Tory Gray  3:03  
We're also seeing a lot more senior roles than ever before.

Roxana Stingu  3:08  
Yeah. I'm also seeing a lot more people calling themselves seniors, but maybe not being there quite yet. Because I was hiring for a senior level and a lot of the applicants were not up to par.

Tory Gray  3:22  
Yeah, definitely a challenge. Just on the whole - is that more in terms of hard skills or soft skills, or both?

Roxana Stingu  3:29  
I'd say both because there are a certain set of soft skills I'm looking for in any candidate no matter what level they are. But then there's a set of skills I'm looking for based on the level I'm hiring. And I would expect certain things to appear in a CV and then be able - for the candidate to "kind of back them up" when asked about. And what I noticed was a few things added in there that seemed to be more than they were. Because when I asked about it, you know, for example, you'd have React listed in there. And when I would ask details about working with React website, it's like, "Oh, um... I crawled the React website once". Like, that's not something you put in your CV. So it didn't happen a lot. But it does happen.

Sam Torres  4:19  
sure. Then I feel like this, that that kind of practice is pretty common, unfortunately, in the tech space, because you know, you've seen the same things with developers as well as the need for senior developers. So I wonder if it's a tech thing or if it's just when the industry is growing faster than it can supply? Right. I feel like that's definitely going to happen. Yeah, and also just, you know, on the flip side, like you said, our excitements - it's, it's a great time for SEOs, because I feel like we're finally getting recognition for what it is that we bring to the table. But that doesn't always necessarily translate to the reality of what people can do. So, it's always interesting to see.

Begüm Kaya   5:06  
And there are so many pros to it, like with all the development in the AI, and also data fields, and like everything is coming into one place, and we generate lots of different viewpoints. So it's very important to have all those skills combined.

Tory Gray  5:25  
Yeah. I mean, also on the flip side, I definitely see SEO roles that like want you to be a Python engineer, and want you to do all of these other things. Or, you know, maybe even they don't *want* you to do that but the HR manager, or whoever is hiring, doesn't really understand SEO. And so just sticks a bunch of acronyms on the job posting, not really understanding what it is that you need to know.

And again, that's another thing that happens in development. It's– "here you should know all 15 languages back and forth, right?" But really, your job is only front end; and you know, you don't even touch any of those pieces. So I I feel like maybe there's also a disconnect with people that feel like they need to game the system in terms of like - the tools that you submit the resume to, that might just punch you out, if you don't just include the name like WordPress, or React, or SPA, or whatever, other of those things are... whether or not you actually need to use them. Weird. Anywho.

I also wanted to ask about how much are we hearing or seeing things relating to the "Great Resignation"? Like, are people "moving more, do we think, in SEO? Are people - why do we think they're leaving? Where are they going to? Is it just for money? Are there high-level insights you have there?

Roxana Stingu  6:49  
And yeah, I heard this term quite recently. And I thought that is wonderful, just wonderful. I wouldn't be able to tell you, but from - you know - just talking to some of my, my acquaintances, and some people I talked to, who have changed jobs recently, most of them didn't go because they were unhappy; they went because they could get better opportunities. And that's sometimes more responsibility. It could be more money.

You mentioned before, you know, people put Python and everything in a resume, which is not necessarily a problem if you can back it up with the salary that goes with it. So you can't ask, you know, a middle-level SEO to have Python and God knows what skills when you want to pay them as a mid-level. So I think some people have kind of scaled up, and they realize "I can get paid more elsewhere, for my new skills, then if I stay in this company"; other people got poached, so they resigned because they received a better offer. And you know, I had to put a job on the market because my, my previous colleague received a better offer, and he just couldn't say no to it. And that's why I had an available position in my team. And I'm not even upset because he did skill up and he did get better. And this was an opportunity, you know, I would have told him he's stupid to not take. So I can understand the situation. It doesn't mean I'm happy about it, but I can definitely understand it. And I think, you know, if there are better opportunities, you should go for them.

Tory Gray  8:25  
For sure.

Begüm Kaya   8:29  
And one of the reasons that I joined The Gray Dot Company was because I could get better projects. Because in Turkey, the clients that we had were limited. So I was like, "Let's go!" Join an international team who can like support me with different projects, and both on the tech side and also like on page, etc., like everything. So that's another angle that I think really puts a cherry on top.

Sam Torres  8:55  
We are very happy you did that, by the way. So.

Question #2

When looking for a Junior SEO, what are the main qualities and qualifications you would pay attention to?

Begüm Kaya   9:00  
Yep. So another question is coming from dear Anett Pohl and she's asking– "When looking for a Junior SEO, what are the main qualities and qualifications you would pay attention to?"

Roxana Stingu  9:12  
Oh, hi, Anett. First of all, like, I think I want to answer this but um, it doesn't matter if it's a junior or super senior or any level in between, as I said before, there are a few traits I look for in an SEO.

One of them is logical thinking. So you know, I think because of the nature of our jobs, with search engines, we only get like the tip of the iceberg when it comes to information and how it works. So it takes a lot of critical thinking in order to do an educated guess on what the rest of the iceberg might be hiding. So if you're not a logical person - and not everybody is! - you know that that would be a downside for me.

And I do also try to test how logical people are during interviews. I'm asking a couple of "what if" questions where I make up SEO situations that don't normally happen, just to see how the candidates would logically figure out a new situation, but using existing information that you know, they already have.

And to give you give you an example, for instance I would ask, "how would Google handle crawling over website if upon fetching the robots.txt, Google gets a 403 Forbidden status code". So you know, it's something you don't really see happening. But most candidates have never seen that situation happened before. So they kind of have to figure it out. But they already know how Google handles robots. txt, they already know how Google handles crawling, it's just for them to kind of put together all that information and be able to find the answer, even though they've never seen the situation before.

Tory Gray  10:59  
Love that.

Roxana Stingu  11:00  
I have a lot more but I'm not sharing, I'm keeping them for interviews!

Tory Gray  11:03  
Oh, yeah. But I think one mistake sometimes people make is asking very specific questions about a specific way to hire, err not hire, but answer a very specific use case, and then don't hire people because they don't already know the answer off the cuff, even if they could logic their way through it, which feels like such, such a miss! Like, not everyone immediately, who's never been in eComm knows exactly how to handle handle facets and filters, right? And so I've seen incredibly smart people get turned down for eComm roles, because they didn't know off the top of their head how to answer that. And that is so ridiculous to me and frustrating. Like, what a *missed opportunity* that that business missed out on... some brilliant people, because they expected them to just, know.

Roxana Stingu  11:59  
You don't have to keep questions around the role you're offering, right? Like you shouldn't be asking at about... you shouldn't be interviewing people with no eCommerce experience for an eCommerce website, if that's what you want. Or you should be more open minded if you do interview people who don't have that experience. But you can't expect somebody who clearly states in the resume that they haven't done it to be able to answer those kinds of questions. So I'm with you on that one.

Sam Torres  12:25  
But I think it's also very short sighted, to Tory's point. Because our job now isn't what it was six months ago, it's definitely not what it was five years ago; God remember all the times we had to make like separate pages for the different spellings of words? God it was awful! Like, so.... Which actually, at this point might be more than five years ago, I'm getting old. Um, but I think it's really short sighted.

Because what you need is somebody who can take the knowledge they have and apply it to an ever evolving situation, because that's what SEO is, you know. Our job is never going to be the same. That's one of the reasons I love it. And it's awesome. One of the reasons it's exhausting. But you know, it's just... because it's not the same, and it's gonna keep evolving as the consumer mindset evolves. Like we saw everything that happened with COVID, consumers, mindset and behavior had a major shift, and it's not going back to what it used to be.

And so, you know, I think just the way that we have to evolve with that, you know, our job really just depends on what are the questions that people are asking? And what answers do they need to find? Right, that that's the crux of our job at the end of the day. And so if we're not shifting where the market's going, then you're never going to be able to keep up. So I think, you know, trying to find that specific answer without like, seeing the reasoning, you know. And maybe, you know, the person gets it wrong, of  what's going to happen to that 403. But if you can hear what the reasoning......

Roxana Stingu  13:54  
I hired people who didn't get a right, all the time. But that's because they took me through the reasoning. And I'm like, your reasoning is right, maybe your base information is wrong, but that you can learn;  but you are thinking about it in the right way. Well, I'm not expecting a right answer. A detailed answer.

Sam Torres  14:12  
I think there was even, um I read a tweet from John Mueller this morning on, I don't know if I don't know when it was posted, to be honest. But just how SEO sometimes you have to try things and see what works and sometimes you'll never actually know if it did or not. And I think that's just so true. Because there's also you know, what works for one industry, may not work for another, and it may not even work for the same industry, but a different brand. So that's my diatribe about how much we change.

Begüm Kaya   14:43  
So, yeah, definitely an older edition. Okay. That's something sorry.

Tory Gray  14:49  
Oh, I agree. Yeah.

Begüm Kaya   14:51  
Okay. So and this brings me to another question, what are your favorite and recommended tools or resources for someone who's starting out. Who would like to keep up with this changing and evolving environment?

Tory Gray  15:04  
Actually, I have more to say on the previous one; I didn't realize we were moving on.

Roxana Stingu  15:08  
Yeah, I can go back to the previous one as well. So I, you know, we covered logical and also add to this list Analytical. And I don't think that depends on what type of SEO you do. You just have to be an analytical person. And again, it's just because of our, the nature of our job, it's identifying patterns in traffic and seasonality and grouping keywords together and analyzing backlinks... whatever it might be. So you know, there's also a lot of data we need to analyze, we need to be able to understand - what's a normal fluctuation and what's a change in trend as well. So it's, you know, it's a trait that SEOs should have.

Tory Gray  15:55  
Some other things that I look for are curiosity. Like, I don't want to have to spoon feed you every single answer every time - that's going to be problematic. You need to be curious to look up your own, to ask your own questions, to have the initiative to look them up. And then to come discuss them; I don't expect you to have the answer based on your internet research because - lord knows that can go badly sometimes! But you should be able to do some your own legwork and bring those discussions to us, so we can have a better and deeper discussion.

Ownership is really, really critical for me. Again, it comes down to - if you said you're going to do something, I need you to do that thing. And then if you can't do that thing, I need you to raise your hand pretty early on and tell me things are not going according to plan.

Roxana Stingu  16:48  
I think that's for anybody who works on a team ever.

Sam Torres  16:51  
I think that's— Do you have a job? Okay.

Tory Gray  16:55  
Yeah, but it's also something sometimes you don't see.

Sam Torres  16:58  
It's so hard to find!

Tory Gray  16:58  
Yeah, I feel like people are too focused sometimes on hard skills to the detriment of some of these, like, really, really critical pieces of like - can I just trust that if things are going off the rails, you're gonna raise your hand?

Sam Torres  17:13  
Mm hmm.

Tory Gray  17:14  
Nope. Sometimes you just ghost. Sometimes it's... you shoot an email an hour before it's due and say like, "Oh, sorry, it hasn't gone according to plan", like, not good enough. Like you knew it was not going according to plan... you need to plan for that. And, you know, to some extent, I think that's even more aggravated in a remote work environment, because we don't necessarily have the opportunity to check in with people. And - or the sort of visual reminder of "Oh crap, I owe them that thing I need to get on that." Like you have to do that for yourself in this new remote world. But that's hypercritical.

And the last thing would be communication skills, like if you can articulate what you want to happen; if you're not asking questions, like certainly a junior level, I wouldn't expect you to be as good as someone at a senior level, because at a senior level, I have high expectations around ability to communicate. But I think that's really critical.

And actually, a last one I would throw in is empathy. Um, we're in the services business. So if you're not kind and thoughtful, and thinking about where your clients are coming from, and where they are in their situation. If you're so focused on yourself, and how smart you sound, and how many acronyms you know, and getting frustrated, because people aren't listening to you, like - there's a disconnect there, right? Like, put yourself in their shoes. What are they going through? What do they need to figure out? How do we help *them?*

Roxana Stingu  18:45  
That is such a good point. And it applies to agencies going you know, some some people, even though they have in-house SEOs, they might hire an agency to help out during busy periods, or just as extra hands. And I, at least in my experience, I've had agencies come in and try to trash the in-house SEO team as their first thing on the agenda.

And it's like, be empathetic to these people. They've done all the work, you're coming here to kind of take over, you know, from a good point on. You don't have to do all the hard work that they've already done. Of course, not everything is perfect, but it's way better than it was for sure. So yeah, definitely for agencies and also in-house. You work with people, you work with stakeholders in different teams. So you kind of have to be empathetic to their needs as well, not just yours.

You work with developers. And we all know there's always this, we either love developers or we hate them. You know, developers are the new Marmite. You either love it or hate it, there's no middle way. So you know, you have to be empathetic to their needs as well and how they work, and what they need to do, and don't send them 40 pages of an SEO audit - they don't have time for it. So yeah, I guess empathy is a big one.

Sam Torres  20:00  
Yeah, I think it's huge. Like you say it's across all angles. And internal - you know, you have to think about your team as an internal SEO. It's definitely your customer. And then I would also say for agencies... God I feel like if you're getting hired to support an internal team, like your job is to make them heroes.  

Tory Gray  20:24  
Yeah!

Sam Torres  20:24  
That really saddens me that agencies are in there just trying to trash the in-house.

Roxana Stingu  20:30  
Let me tell you a story about this. I'm not gonna name names, but a very big SEO agency, who came in and said, "Oh, we found all these pages that have been 404 that have 1000s of backlinks pointing to them. And your team has done nothing about it."

Sam Torres  20:50  
That's totally not necessary!

Roxana Stingu  20:50  
I stood up and I said, "Have you even checked any of those links? They're all automated spam. And we 404-ed those pages on purpose to get rid of the links." And it's like, you know, that was the end of it. We didn't talk to that agency anymore.  I'm just saying like, why would you do that? I mean, we're colleagues, give me a heads up at least, you know, just say we found this. Can you give me some background, anything?

But on a positive note, I think the industry has improved a lot.  People work together more; we don't work against each other as SEOs as much. It still happens, I guess a bit, but it's definitely gotten better. I mean, look at all of us in one room talking about hiring people. And 10 years ago, I would have never imagined this happening.

Sam Torres  21:35  
That's true. I would agree with that. And and I will say I feel like I'm seeing more and more collaboration across agencies, which used to be like a no, no! Right. And I do think part of it is just because you know - Begum, you mentioned this earlier, SEO is so broad, right? There's tech SEO, there's content. There's testing, there's analytics, like, there's so much that an SEO could possibly touch that it makes sense to bring in different parties to own the different pieces, whether it's building a team, having multiple vendors, you know what, whatever it is.

It's just making more and more sense to get that collaboration. And then also just kind of have that, like - I think as a professional, this is probably true for every industry. But definitely for SEO, like you just have to have your moment with yourself as an SEO of like– "This is what I do. This is what I know. Nothing is set in stone. And so I'm going to try to help where I can and I need to be open to everybody else, because they're experts in their own rights as well."

Ideally, right? Ideally. So I think I think that's something that definitely the industry is getting better at doing. As you know, really just our profession kind of ages and becomes more, more tangible as far as the value that we bring. I feel like for, you know, when I first started in SEO, it was so like, "black-box magic, we sacrifice goats to Google," kinds of conversations, right? It did put you on the defensive - because you were having to defend your position and the reason of why you mattered *so often*, and thankfully, I don't feel like we're there anymore.

But um, but it's not super surprising to me that the industry is aged the way it has, just because - like Tory said earlier - HRs have no idea what we do. They have no idea how to classify us. And so there's just kind of that education that needs to go across all different verticals, and all different departments. And it just happens because we're - it's a young profession, we're young. You know, like Tory, and I, because 12 and 14 years experience... we're grandmas. That's crazy to think about for almost any other profession. So. Yeah.

Begüm Kaya  24:00  
I just rolled my eyes. And I would like to add something, especially when it comes to collaboration and like improving one another. I remember Roxana giving this edgy, like, training session on RegEx for the Women in Tech SEO community. And I picked it up from there. And it was like it has become one of the daily things that I do like either in Google Search Console or Google Sheets. I use it everywhere! And it was basically my passion that enabled me to start freelancing. Like I was like pitching to someone. And the person asked me like what I really like doing when it comes to Google Data Studio report. And then I opened all the RegEx codes that I built like, like including casements and everything and she was amazed with what I do, and so it was like, "Thank you, Roxana!"

Roxana Stingu  24:54  
That makes me feel so warm up inside, you have no idea.

Begüm Kaya   24:59  
Yeah definitely. Thank you so much, because it brought me a lot of knowledge on a professional level. And literally, I use it every day. And I don't know if I would have picked it up if it wasn't for your training session. So thank you again for supporting the industry.

Roxana Stingu  25:14  
I think it was just good timing for both of us, maybe, but everybody who knows me knows I love Regex, and I know how useful it can be. So I'm so happy you, you learn to love it as well, and that it is useful to you. So yeah, thank you for sharing that.

Begüm Kaya   25:27  
Yeah definitely, of course. All right, lovely stuff.

Sam Torres  25:33  
Do we feel like we've covered the qualities? Okay. I would say just add, my number one is definitely curious. You have to have a hunger; I can fix everything else. Everything else! But I can't fix that. Um, alright, so I think we're ready for what you have.

Question #3

What qualities and qualifications do you look for in Intermediate to Senior-level SEOs?

Begum Kaya  25:56  
So the next question would be: intermediate to senior level SEOs and the qualifications you look in those levels.

Roxana Stingu  26:04  
An interesting one, I think it's because I only hire technical SEOs and have been for the past five to seven years. I'm always looking for technical qualifications, of course. And I think I'm looking for similar qualifications, no matter of level, but then I'm looking at different levels of expertise in those qualifications.

So for instance, I'm looking for any person that applies for a technical SEO job to be able to use a crawler, but the question is, how are they using it. I would expect the junior to just kind of take the feedback from the crawler and pass it on. But then I would expect the senior not to do that because they know better. So they would use the crawler just as a tool for them to quickly do some checks, but then they would analyze what the crawler came back with, and they would actually provide the result of their own analysis that's put in context of that website.

So you know, but both should be able to use a crawler just in different ways, I guess. And it applies, it's the same for data. So for instance, you know, I would want the junior to have basic skills in Excel or Google Sheets or whatever. But then I'd expect the senior to have, you know, to have very good command of Excel or even be interested in SQL or Big Query or anything like that. Of course, based on their previous past experience, if they work with a lot of data, or not, because you don't always need that.

So I think, you know, it's - and even just knowledge of the industry, I would expect both of them to be able to tell me how Google crawls, but a junior would just kind of give me a big highlight of how it works. And then a senior could actually go into a lot of detail - talk to me about the rendering process, and everything. So that's also how I kind of trained my team, I don't care what level they are, they all should be able to learn all the same stuff and be able to kind of grow in the same stuff, but then I have different expectations of them based on their level.

We'd be remiss if we didn't also point out LearningSeo.io - fabulous resource.

Tory Gray  28:12  
Um, I think I have probably higher expectations [for senior roles.] Also, in terms of context setting, the more senior you get, like, not only should you be able to communicate, but you should also be able to, like - quickly, more quickly, pattern match, and understand, or frame of conversation for someone about what we want to do and why. So it's like that next level communication. So,"this is what we're doing and why" and how that pertains to your specific situation, like what's wrong? Or the strategy, you know, you need to start being able to connect those dots a little bit more, I think at that level.

Sam Torres  28:54  
I would also expect to senior to be asking the right questions; as far as how like to set that context and understanding what's really going on behind the scenes as far as like business objectives, business goals, what's actually going to drive any kind of change? Like I will say, I don't expect to junior to be able to do much in the way of prioritization, but I definitely expect that of a senior.  Right?  Um, because, yeah, I think it's just being able to really connect it to the bottom line for the business. That's, a learned skill. I'm not sure that's very often something somebody comes out the gate with, like, you just have to get how that works. So.

Tory Gray  29:46  
Agreed. Um, yeah, I mean, I extend that - like, you should be able to also - push back and ask questions. So definitely a thing that happens all the time, if someone comes to you with, "this is how it is and I need you to do this".  So you need to be able to kindly and empathetically say, "Why are you trying to do that? Tell me more about your situation, what you're trying to accomplish". Because if you don't know SEO, you might not be telling me to do the right things.  Right?

And so you need to be able to - so I mean, internationalization for SEO is the classic example of, "Hey, we're going international; we're launching all these web sites; I need you to do the implementation of hreflang". Right. And so I have to call up and say, "Is that the right thing to do? Should you be launching that? And what are your goals? What are your timeline?" Like... that might shoot you in the foot! So let's talk through the the reasons why, and what you're trying to accomplish first, without pissing anybody off, hopefully.

Sam Torres  30:45  
Ideally, yeah, yeah. No, I would say on the flip side, just because this is my soapbox, we as SEOs have to recognize that the same is true for developers. If we tell developers something to do, we need to be open to them asking us why. What do we ultimately want? Because they might come up with something far better, because they know their ecosystem? Yes, oh, I'll get off that soapbox. For now...

Tory Gray  31:15  
No, I've seen that, too in these roles.  Like, I've been a product manager working with marketing teams and engineering teams and seeing - and marketing ask for a very specific thing that they thought would accomplish what they wanted. And then they got built, and then it didn't do what they wanted. It's, it's problematic. But yeah, we all need to listen to each other and understand the goals and build stuff, period.

Sam Torres  31:41  
So funny how it always comes back to communication and just... relationships, whether it's like......

Begüm Kaya   31:47  
I was going to say the very same thing!

Roxana Stingu  31:50  
It comes back to communication and developers, apparently, but it doesn't matter.

Tory Gray  31:55  
Yeah. I mean, developers aren't perfect either. Like, I've definitely heard them, take in requests with goals, and then build something else entirely. Like we are all human. And we all make mistakes, and we all need to get better at communication.

Roxana Stingu  32:11  
That should be something that seniors should be able to do better than a junior - be able to admit mistakes, learn from them, and grow.

Tory Gray  32:19  
Yep. Good one.

Question #4

What are your recommended resources for learning more about growing into intermediate and senior-level roles?

Begüm Kaya   32:24  
What about the resources for this one.  For example, when I first started out, I was reading all the articles that I could find about technical SEO and everything. But unless I went ahead and crawl the website, I was unable to put the things that I learned into practice. And when it comes to senior levels, it's even harder to like find those prospects and have the time to - or maybe even motivation to - go on and do this thing as an extra, on top of all your projects at hand at the agency or in the in-house team.

So what would be the best resources that you would recommend for these people to experience bigger projects and kind of come to that senior level?

Roxana Stingu  33:05  
I think the best resource is going to our manager and saying, "Hey, I want to level up, how can you help me"? and that's because I do that for my my team as well. And we sit down we discuss- where do they want to get to, where they are now, and how we can get them in between.  

In terms of resources and doing it on your own, it's kind of hard because when you're on your own, and it's the same with learning SEO (a lot of us have learned on our own) and then when we started learning from other people or with other people, we realized, wait, there's a whole bigger world that I didn't know about! So it's the same when you're trying to level up.

I think the easiest way is to find somebody who can kind of tell you where you're at, and kind of give you that, you know, that "view" on if you want to get there, you have to go through all of these things that you might have not thought of. And that kind of brings me back to, you know, mentorships and mentoring because you need to find a person who's willing to invest that time in you. And that's why I said go to your manager... because they're paid to invest in time with you, so they're more willing to do it.

The internet is full of stuff. The more senior you get, the less you read SEO websites, and the more you read developer blogs.  I'm just saying... you find more information there that you might be interested in. And I do find developer blogs have better experiments, because developers usually have access to the stuff I would like to experiment with, but don't have access to; so I highly recommend, you know, even Google Developers, Mozilla has their developers subdomain with a lot of information.

And then you have all these random people that kind of combine development with SEO as well, so it makes it easy, easier to transition into that. But the best way of learning is to do it. So you have to just open you know dev tools and have a poke. See what your website does and see where it doesn't do it right, or doesn't do well. Talk to all your developers that you get in touch with and just ask questions and just say, "Hey, this is new to me. Can you talk to me about this?"  Like, crazy! As we don't know everything, although we act like we do, but I don't know, I think I do.

Sam Torres  35:18  
Don't give away our secrets!

Roxana Stingu  35:21  
Just ask questions. Anytime you hear something new, just ask about it, don't let new information just pass you. Because you're never going to learn new stuff, if you do.

Tory Gray  35:31  
Also, like - say, don't be afraid to *focus.* I know for my own personal growth journey, like - when working with great people who are willing to give me feedback on the things that I needed to grow in, it can be really overwhelming, because that list can be long, you know, what is actually required to get up to the next level.

So the willingness to just, you know, not take it personally, and to step back and say, "Okay, well, this is the thing, I'm going to focus on first" and go hard at that one thing, and then pull up... when you feel like you've made progress, and then go with the next thing, and then keep going in kind of a cyclical manner. And not beat yourself up, because you're not great at everything immediately, because that's just not reality or life. Sometimes that's picking the thing that's easiest to grow in. And then following that thread of "this is easy. Okay, this is interesting, this helps me understand this a little bit more better. So now I can dig into this thing over here." So to some extent, that path of least resistance can really help you just get things done, instead of procrastinate and never do anything.

Question #5

How do you grow SEO talents beyond beginner levels?

Begüm Kaya   36:39  
Get ready for this talk in February! And I was going to jump right into cultivating and growing SEO talents once you're working with them - because I think they quite overlap. How do you feel about that?

Roxana Stingu  36:55  
Well, when it comes to my team, I've always seen continuous learning as the only way to produce good SEOs. Because everything changes all the time. So if we don't keep up, we were kind of behind, and not doing our job as well as we could. So training for me is very important. And it can take different forms. And especially with SEO, it can be so many different things.

So to give you an example, if there is - let's say a new area of SEO, that doesn't quite, is not a priority for the work we're doing at the moment, I still don't want this to kind of go past my team without us acknowledging it. So I usually just have one of the team members, go out there, learn about it, do a synthesis of it, the summary, and then come back and tell the rest of the members what they learned and only kind of keep it to the the main things and take out all the noise.

So this way, only one person is kind of sacrificing their time. But everybody can learn about it, even though it's not the main thing we're working on. So we stay up to date that way. If it's something more complex, so for instance, my team said they want to learn Python, but you know, it was their choice, I swear I didn't force anybody. You know, it's something more complex. So we would try to kind of approach it.

For instance, we found projects that other people did, and like their collabs and Jupyter Notebooks that they shared. And we decided– okay, here's a list of things that if we learn how to do it make our life easier, or day to day. So they, they spend time on those, trying to understand them, modifying them, making them work for what we need them to do, and trying to understand how they how they work. And then, about once a month we meet up and we discuss this project, see if they got stuck anywhere.

Or if you know, is it ready to save it as a solution, we can share with other people in the business that might need to do the same thing. Because that's the beauty of collabs - you just run them and they work right? Once once you set them up. But there's also the day-to-day learning. And I do stand ups with my team. And we kind of all share what we're working on. And I do encourage everybody to say if they discovered something new or if they learn something new, so it could be something you know, stupid, like some feature in Excel they didn't know exists, and they share it with the team and all of a sudden we're all using it. Or it could be, you know, I read this article last night and I found it fascinating. You guys should read too. It can be anything... but it's continuous. It's every single day.

Tory Gray  39:33  
Um, some things I'd say we're working on in that capacity. We're not - we're small - we're not there yet. But you know, I'd be interested in really growing like a dedicated sort of an apprenticeship program. Like because what I've often seen is either it's one end of the spectrum or the other.

It's either incredible micromanagement and incredibly detailed, like, "this is what you need to do" constantly on top of people... and not giving them the freedom in the room to do things. Or like, you throw them in the pool, and hope and like, don't care if they drown, right? Like, "figure it out or don't get out", right? So in terms of an apprenticeship program, it's a more concerted effort around a more mentorship-focus of management around, okay, "Here's your ongoing feedback, I want you to try this new thing, this new audit, this new presentation, this thing you are uncomfortable with right now."

I want you to do it for yourself and put it together, and maybe present it to me first. And then I can give you feedback. And then when you feel like you're in a better place, like maybe at that point, we give you actual "at-bats" in front of clients. So once you then have gone through this feedback rounds, you've gotten the feedback on your presentation. Now you can talk to clients, but you still have someone there that can step in and support and answer questions or, you know, if things start going off the rails, you still have "guide rails", you still have the support along the way. Like maybe that's a way to actually help grow people... instead of shoving them in the pool.

Roxana Stingu  41:05  
And kind of just sounds like good management.

Tory Gray  41:08  
Yeah, but it doesn't happen anywhere. I mean, not anywhere, but in a lot of places, too often. Especially if you're in a startup environment, you know, it's sink or swim - very much. It was my experience. What about you guys?

Roxana Stingu  41:24  
For me, it depends, again, on the level. So if it's a junior, I'll be definitely micromanaging a lot. But that's because they they don't, I don't, well, I put it on me and not on them. I don't have the trust yet that they can produce pristine work that can get out of the team without me looking over it.

But when it comes to a senior, I'd expect them to go do all their work without me and only come to me when they have questions or they want to talk about something or they want to debate it, or they want to second opinion and just kind of throwing ideas. But um, I wouldn't expect them to come you know, I wouldn't check if ask them to do a report. I wouldn't go over it again. Just being like, "Did you do it? Right?... You're a senior? I mean, you got here because you can do it right." Right. So I think it's important to trust your people based on their skill.

And it's important to know their skill, as well!

Tory Gray  42:15  
Agreed.

Sam Torres  42:16  
I would say an agency life, because that's been most of my career, it was very sink or swim as well. Um, mostly because you'd have salespeople who would say yes to things, you're like, "we don't do that".

"Well, you have to figure it out." Now. It's like, "oh, okay, let me, let me jump on that". Um, but I will say, I've been fortunate to be on teams where we actually put together like, I think it was 120 hours of training videos for just teaching SEO.  So my poor team had to get to work, like, I think we started at 8:30 every morning, and I would be on camera teaching for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half, on whatever the subject was for that day.

Um, so, you know, thankfully, we got to build that program. But I will say, once we made it, there wasn't a whole lot of effort to keep it up to date. So I think that's something that we're definitely challenged with, for any kind of education programs that you want to build, whether it's, you know, in-house, in-agency, you know, just some kind of internal education platform.

It's a huge responsibility to keep it up to date. So I think, you know, it does make more sense to, you know, just be pulling in people on certain projects, where they've said, "Hey, I want to learn these things". And so you just kind of, you know, just - just do it together, and get through it. Because then that also means that eventually you get to delegate and offload things. Ideally! So I think that's really the the hardest part is just how do you how do you find a program or a solution that at its core is going to be consistently updating? And that's kind of a hard thing to do.

Roxana Stingu  44:04  
That's usually paid courses; but are they advanced enough? Because I think that's the problem. There are so many great courses out there. But if you're really advanced, then you want to take it a level up.... you can't really find anything, you still have to go on your own and just kind of, you know, do your own research.

Sam Torres  44:22  
I also feel like for SEO, especially with tech SEO advancement, it's not SEO courses that we end up taking. It's completely different disciplines that we're trying to integrate into SEO. And I'd say even on the content side, you're probably taking courses that are aimed at UX. Right?

Tory Gray  44:43  
Or strategy. Right.

Roxana Stingu  44:47  
You're already combined. You know, you have people like Lazarina Stoy, for example. And you know, she's combining machine learning with SEO and it's already next-level and we talked about accessibility way more than we did before. Even as technical SEOs, we mention it all the time. And even with speed! Speed wasn't something that SEO would do, it was more development. But now SEO has come up with all these extra things you can do for speed to make it faster. So yeah, we're definitely taking on more disciplines than just SEO.

Sam Torres  45:21  
Yeah, I actually had a sales lead, who asked us if we would be handling network and infrastructure, like if, if we're admins for that. And I was like, "No, we're not networking specialists." I'm not like, I don't do security. I know like _this much_ in a pool that's probably five miles long. Like it's....

Tory Gray  45:43  
You know enough to know that you should go talk to an expert.

Sam Torres  45:45  
Yeah!

Roxana Stingu  45:47  
But you do keep an eye on it, right? Because this... this is why Search Console updated showing us crawl stats, and errors, and everything because you do keep an eye on it. And if you see a spike or anything that shouldn't be there, you're the first person to signal it. I mean, sometimes even before the networking people even notice it.

Sam Torres  46:04  
Yeah. But it is funny to me, like people are like, "Can you be our admin for AWS"? ... "No, I know, that's like a whole 'nother job!"  

Tory Gray  46:25  
Wanna be a DevOp engineer, Sam?

Sam Torres  46:25  
No! So people who are in DevOps, real MVPs... you guys are so necessary, but God, I would hate that job. So much. Um, yeah, it's, it's just it's so interesting, the - the number of things that we touch, and then that's why I say like, also, for someone who's senior when you're looking to level up... it's usually not aimed at SEOs. Because we're just trying to really, like just take in a whole 'nother discipline and bring it under our wheelhouse.

Tory Gray  46:59  
It's the T-shaped marketer, right? It's the beauty of that. Anywho it's 11, and we need to wrap it up.

Sam Torres  47:10  
Begum you want to do your thing? I'll cut that part out.

Begüm Kaya   47:13  
Thank you. So yeah, thank you for all the little.. [blah.] Okay. That's the word that we should be having. Definitely. Yes. Well, thank you, ladies, for all the opinions. Do you have anything else that you want to add?

Roxana Stingu  47:38  
Can I add... anybody working in SEO, please, please, just after after some of the things I've seen, no matter what level you are, what SEO you do: learn how to gather data. Learn how to handle and analyze data.

And most of all learn how to present data to different people who are not SEOs. Because I think once you're able to do that, everything else you're learning on top of it.

Tory Gray  48:03  
Beautiful takeaway.

Begüm Kaya   48:04  
Wonderful insight. Yeah. Thank you so much for your time, Roxana. It was a very insightful conversation.

Roxana Stingu  48:11  
And for me, it's been fun.

Begüm Kaya   48:13  
Thank you. And to our followers, we are still expecting your questions at TheGray.company/ask-seo-questions. So looking forward to seeing you in the next episode.

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