O/SEO/O™ E10: Opinions About In-house Enterprise SEO

Published on: 
September 12, 2022
Updated on: 
September 13, 2022
Tory Gray
Tory Gray
Sam Torres
Sam Torres
Begüm Kaya
Begüm Kaya

Another day, another episode of Opinionated SEO Opinions! Today the Gray Dot Company team discusses the day-to-day life of an enterprise in-house SEO with all its transparency with Paige Ford of Netflix.

This episode covers multiple angles of (in-house enterprise) SEO & content strategy: from communication with stakeholders to prioritization, the involvement and co-operation of other teams in SEO processes, to top tips for in-house enterprise SEOs and using SEO as a research tool to help other teams in the organizations.

With tons of insight, it’s going to be a fun ride, so buckle up everyone!

This episode contains special shoutouts to Tom Critchlow's SEOMBA Newsletter and the always amazing Roxana Stingu!

Don’t forget to follow TGDC on LinkedIn and Twitter, and submit your SEO Question/Guest request for our next episode!

Video Transcript

Hi, everyone. Welcome to another episode of Opinionated SEO Opinions™. And this time we are joined by the wonderful Paige Ford of Netflix. And everybody should know that we really want to talk about the productions of Netflix. But I was told that this is going to be an enterprise in-house SEO-related episode. So welcome, everyone, and thank you for joining us, Paige.

Paige Ford  0:28  
So happy to be here.

Begüm Kaya  0:31  
Wonderful, not more than we are, I think. So would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Paige Ford  0:37  
Of course. So my name is Paige Ford, and I currently lead SEO strategy at Netflix. I have worked in SEO for the past 11 years now. It's been 11 years. And I've worked in agency roles, in-house roles, both at enterprise companies and startups. And in between roles, I've also done consulting—SEO consulting on the side. And so just really excited to be here and talk about enterprise SEO.

Begüm Kaya  1:03  
Yay, perfect. So we also have our host, Sam Torres, and Tory Gray of The Gray Dot Company. Welcome ladies. How are you feeling today?

Sam Torres  1:11  
Hello, I'm ready. I'm so excited.

Tory Gray  1:14  
Happy to hear about all your tips and tricks, Paige for... for enterprise SEO life.

Question #1

What does the day-to-day life of an enterprise in-house SEO's life look like?

Begüm Kaya  1:21  
So let's dig right in without further ado. So Paige, what does a day in an enterprise in-house SEO's life look like for you?

Paige Ford  1:30  
So I think throughout my career, I like to call myself an SEO Generalist. I do both Product SEO strategy, a little bit of Technical SEO, as well as SEO Content Strategy, even within Netflix, and so on. I like to, I like to do a typical week because I feel like the day-to-day is so varied. So in a typical week, for my role, I would say about half of what I do is really on the planning aspect of SEO.

Paige Ford  1:59  
There's things like, you know, developing roadmaps, cross-team planning, really understanding what we want to do for the next quarter, the next year, and even three years ahead of time. So it's a lot of fun of, you know, project prioritization, getting the right teams in, budgeting, in terms of you know, the different projects you want to tackle—is probably about 50% of the work that I do in a given week because I do both know, technical SEO, product SEO as well as content strategy.

Paige Ford  2:25  
The other half of my time I'm working with either an engineering or product team and designers. We're doing sprints, and I'm reviewing or writing specs and technical requirements for SEO. For SEO for new features we're launching, we might be doing some QA-ing that week for any type of feature we're releasing.

Paige Ford  2:41  
And then the other part of my time I'm meeting with a lot of writing teams. So I'm, you know, meeting with editors, we have various writing teams for the different types of content we're creating. And so within those types of meetings and doing things like SEO best practices across the company, or SEO training, we're looking at, you know, how is our content performing from a more content strategy perspective? What's working, what's not working? What type of direction do we want to take?

Paige Ford  3:05  
A little bit of a mix of everything. I mean, I'm with engineers some half the time, I'm with writers and creatives, some other times, you know, folks like PR and marketing. So very, very generalist when it comes to that to the SEO world. And I would like to say maybe like the last 5% of my time, once in a while, maybe once a month. Lately, it's been like once a week—we're dealing with some bugs. There are some issues on Google, we're exploring what's going on. It's... it's sometimes my favorite part of SEO is like, hey, it's something's broken, how do we go about fixing it? And sometimes it's the most frustrating part of SEO like this is really broken, and I don't know what's going on. So I think that's about you know, what my week looks like.

Tory Gray  3:44  
Putting out those fires?

Paige Ford  3:46  

Question #

What team are you embedded on?

Tory Gray  3:47  
Always fun. What team are you embedded on right now? Or have you been embedded on? Like are you on product, or?

Paige Ford  3:55  
Mm hum. I'm currently embedded in a product team. But throughout my career, I've been embedded in both marketing orgs and product teams.

Tory Gray  4:03  
I'd love to hear more about your experience in one versus the other and how they're different and like, what maybe things you emphasized or what was more and less successful on each side of the fence there?

Paige Ford  4:12  
Yes, I think both can be very, very successful. It really depends on the business model essentially. And where it SEO team can have the most success. And where you see those challenges is when your SEO team is embedded within part of the company where they can't have that much impact. So when I've been embedded with marketing, we've had great success because it made sense for SEO to be closer to those teams. And when I've been embedded in product, also great successes have made sense to be there.

Paige Ford  4:42  
I'm gonna throw out some examples where I think it makes a lot of sense for SEO within product. I like to say that maybe the business itself, the product itself, is really about content discovery. I'm gonna throw out some fun companies I admire in terms of their SEO: things like Amazon or Yelp, Pinterest or Wayfair, I know they have a really amazing SEO team. When you can have the biggest impact, embedded with your engineers and with your designers and your product teams. That's where I think it makes a lot of sense for SEO to be.

Paige Ford  5:13  
In other cases, let's say your business is just a service, maybe you have two or three products in your core, the core value "SEO brains" is really all about that community building, that content strategy, how you're embedded with your marketing and PR teams—then it probably doesn't make sense to have SEO embedded in a sort of product team. So I think it works really well if you really understand how SEO can have an impact.

Paige Ford  5:35  
And I know in some other organizations, they're in both. You have a purely content-focused SEO team, really embedded with your writing teams, really embedded with your marketing teams, and your separate product SEO team driving more of that product strategy. Personally, I speak from a personal aspect, I really love product strategy and how you can use SEO to really scale your efforts across multiple teams and maybe even multiple regions. So I personally really love being embedded with product teams and having an impact in that way.

Tory Gray  6:07  
Yeah, I think I mean, we've chatted about this before, but I've also had a similar experience being like... successful being embedded on the product team, especially from the technical perspective, or like when scale matters, because then technical SEO matters a lot more, right? So making those bad decisions. Things happen in QA, you need to be embedded with engineering to investigate and figure out what the core cause of that thing is whether it's directly on Google or if you know, something broke on the site.

Question #3

What's the most interesting "SEO Fire" you've helped put out?

Tory Gray  6:37  
If you don't mind sharing this, I'm putting you on the spot a little bit here. But I'm curious. What's the most weird/fun fire you've put out… at any work?

Paige Ford  6:47  
Oh, wow. Where to begin?!

Tory Gray  6:51  
I just love the stories. So bring them all.

Paige Ford  6:53  
Yeah, so there's been fire.... the worst is when you have to put a fire out that you are the cause of. So I will share a fire that I caused, and that I had to put out this was years ago, this is when I was still learning how parameters really worked. And how I think I don't use it much today. But back in the day, Google Search Console had an ability for you to like, even control, the blocking and crawling of parameters.

Paige Ford  7:20  
A long time ago, on one of the sites that I worked on, we used parameters for language. And it was a redirecting parameter. So what happened was: we would detect your language. And we would redirect you. Say you came in with an English page and say, oh, your browser is in French, we would redirect you to the French page. And we had a local parameter, that said like, you know, French. And so we were blocking those parameters from search.

Paige Ford  7:42  
The problem was because we were blocking those parameters, sometimes Google would hit a Europe parameter, and it was blocked in search. So half our pages weren't being crawled, we just had pages blocked from Google's search engine. So I had the great idea of "how about I just stopped blocking those parameters," and we stopped using them. So I want to stop using parameters and stop blocking them so all of our content can be indexed. I mean, we had millions of parameters, and we supported a lot of different languages.

Paige Ford  8:07  
Once I unblocked these parameters, ALL OF THEM got indexed. And what happened was, you would search say, you're searching like, you know, "what is Google"? And you see in English, it says, "What is Google" but it had a parameter of French. Folks that click that link and automatically be redirected to the wrong language. And this happened across like millions of pages. And it was... it was such a nightmare. I remember that day spending hours just like removing pages from the index because all of our users were getting to the wrong language. And I learned a very, very strong lesson I learned is don't unblock parameters until you've completely cleaned up all your internal linking all of your... the way these pages are indexed. And it was a fire of my own cause, causing.

Tory Gray  8:55  
Yeah, we've all been there. But that's, uh, yeah. When must have been fun to sort through. But I mean, it also sounds like there were technical complications there. The... many people's mistakes coming together to create chaos.

Paige Ford  9:10  
Of course. Yeah. But we definitely solved it since then. So all of a, for that once I worked on—it was... we stopped using language parameters. we had actual localized URLs.  We did no-force redirects. We cleaned up all of our internal links, but it took a... it took a week. I think it was a week of me manually de-indexing, like hundreds of pages.

Tory Gray  9:30  
Yeah. Whoa. So fun.

Sam Torres  9:33  
That's wild.

Tory Gray  9:34  
Also, in general, the dangers of what Google says not to do: the redirecting people based on language things… this is why things just go awry. Or one of the reasons, one of the ways they go wrong.

Sam Torres  9:49  
Yeah. But still, it makes me kind of like... I miss some of those tools. Like what...

Paige Ford  9:57  
I know... We have so much... we had so much control. Yeah.

Tory Gray  10:02  
Yeah, I could tell it [Google] whether it [the parameter] was pagination, or: no, this is a filter versus a sort. I always thought that that was like the level of granular detail of like, what kind of parameter is this? And what sort of page changes are happening here? And I never really got the sense that it made a difference? I don't know. But it was fun to sort out and to think about, like, what is the difference between like a filter... Maybe it wasn't filtering and sorting, it might have been filtering versus segmenting. So like, what's the difference there? And how does Google approach this? It's fun to dig into weird angles like that.

Sam Torres  10:40  
And at least made me feel like I was having an impact. And you know, maybe it was just a placebo effect. But at least I got to feel like I'm DOING something. Yeah. And I'm helping Google better understand us. You know, who knows at this point.....

Tory Gray  10:59  
Who knows! They took that away, anyway. It'd be interesting to see what they come up with next, because they're doing stuff right now. Right? They're deploying new things. And that's why everything right now in GSC, we can't fix any errors. None of the... not the Inspect, but none of the Validation processes are working right now. It's very annoying!

Sam Torres  11:20  
It is. I agree.

Question #4

How do you prioritize your work? How do you get budget and buy-in?

Begüm Kaya  11:26  
So breaking into the conversation? Yes. Back to its core—Page from the first sentence that you started forming, you dropped so many keywords, and so many focus points that we're really interested in. So I'm really curious to like, discover which one is going to be the first and I choose prioritization. So how do you prioritize your work? And how do you get the budget and buy-in from management?

Paige Ford  11:51  
Oh, this is like the question everyone wants to know the answer to and sometimes I'm still figuring out like, how do we get more and more investment in this space? But what's worked for me in the past for prioritizing my work is that I talk the least about SEO.

Paige Ford  12:10  
I won't mention any SEO buzzwords, it's really not about SEO. For me, it's about at the end of the day... I take a step back, you know, what is the business trying to accomplish this quarter or this year? And really focusing on like, what are our top... our top goals? Our Northstar goals and then working backward—it's like, how does SEO fit into this? And does SEO even fit into this?

Paige Ford  12:32  
I think sometimes as an SEO and I really struggle with this: I think SEO can solve all of our problems. But sometimes it can't. So where does SEO really impact the business, and really having a clear understanding, and being able to articulate that to your stakeholders and to leadership, I think is just really, really key. So I first start, you know, what are we trying to accomplish this year? And then where can SEO help in some of these goals?

Paige Ford  12:56  
I don't talk about SEO tactics. It's really like, very high-level, like, what are we trying to accomplish?

Paige Ford  13:02  
And so once we answer those questions, you know, in some, in some parts of the business goals, SEO won't have much impact at all. And other parts, like we REALLY think we can impact this area. And so once we answer those questions, that's when I start doing the fun part—the brainstorming—what are the SEO tactics that are going to get us there? And then you do your fun matrix of impact, you know, versus effort. Are these the three main things we want to do? Which one has the most impact, or at least amount of effort?

Paige Ford  13:28  
And that's when we can start thinking through like, what teams do we need to support us? What is resourcing look like? What is our timeline look like?

Paige Ford  13:35  
The very last piece is measurement: how are we going to measure this? To then ladder back up to the business's goals. So once things click, and it's very simple, but where I get the most success is when I keep it as simple as possible and really explain complex SEO concepts in a way that non-SEOs can understand. I have seen a lot of success in that method. And once you've done all that, it's communication, communication, communication.

Paige Ford  14:02  
Especially in large organizations, there are so many folks that you need to make sure, you know like what are you planning on doing, as you're doing it, communicating what you're doing. Everyone needs to know all the work that's going on. And the last piece is communicating what you've done. So really just doing that communication loop, and using the language of the business. So we—when I report on SEO, I don't ever say things like "our rankings" or "our indexing" or you know... I don't—sometimes I don't even mention page speed or you know, core web vitals and certain aspects. You know, engineers care, obviously, but you know, VPs don't care at all. So just really making sure you're using the language and tailoring your message to the right audience.

Sam Torres  14:44  
I feel like that's just such a life skill. Like regardless of where you were, being able to manage up a lot of it is just like, adjusting your language or your lexicon to what really matters to them. And I say—you know, managing up or even just managing across and communicating with other teams, right? So how like, do you feel like you're constantly? Sorry? I'm just fascinated, because like, you talked to so many different teams, and there are probably so many different goals, that I feel I'm like—probably half your week is actually just switching your brain into that.

Paige Ford  15:21  
That is half my week!  That is definitely half my week.

Question #5

Do you have any tips for context switching when talking to different teams?

Sam Torres  15:24  
Do you have any tips or like anything that has helped you along the way as far as being able to just like, at the drop of a dime? Like: I'm talking to a VP? Now I'm talking to engineering, now I'm talking to product? Like, how does that switch go for you? Or do you feel like there's prep work you sometimes have to do in between? Like, what does that look like for you?

Paige Ford  15:44  
Yeah, such a great question, I think. And to be honest, it can also be exhausting when you're constantly having to context switch. But um, at the end of the day, I just love SEO, so it's still fun. And it did take me a lot of practice trial and error. I remember earlier on—earlier on in my career, my biggest challenge was: I would just talk about SEO, like just SEO all day long. And people are like, “what are you talking about? I don't understand what you're saying.”

Paige Ford  16:11  
And so it took me a really good amount of just practice of like, how do I speak about complex topics in a way that just resonates with people. And it's really all about storytelling and painting the picture. I'm a very visual person as well. So when anyone anytime talking to anyone, whether it's a VP, or writer, or engineer, I pull up Google! I share my screen. I'm like, “let me walk you through what this looks like.” Um, so I've gotten just really, it's fun.

Paige Ford  16:38  
I love teaching SEO. And so, you know, whenever I walk into a meeting, my very first question is what—how much about SEO? Do you know? What do you know about SEO? Because some folks surprise you, they know a ton—those are my favorite people. When I meet an engineer that has worked on SEO projects, we're just, it's love at first sight. It's really great. And a lot of writers that I work with knew a lot about SEO, that's their career, you know, they have to know SEO. So I always start off, like, how much do you know about SEO? And depending on their answer, I already know like, how to tailor my messaging, like if they're already an expert, I just dive right in. If they know nothing about SEO, I speak about it in—in a way that makes sense to their—what they're working on on a daily basis. How does this relate to their work?

Paige Ford  17:21  
And so it's just you know, it's trial and error. It's practice, you know, you can see especially, you know, visually you can see, like, what's resonating with people's faces, and how they're understanding your message. And so it's fun. Now, it's fun for me, I love it. I love talking to everyone and anyone about SEO, but it definitely took some time to get there.

Question #6

How do you tailor your communication around SEO concepts when talking to different stakeholders (e.g. engineering, product, and marketing?)

Tory Gray  17:38  
So you've spoken a little bit about like talking to like different, basically seniority, not seniorities, but like the level of their understanding of SEO like what about when you're talking to product versus engineering versus, you know, someone with a consulting background? Are there any specific things that you're like, okay, for this audience X in this audience Y?

Paige Ford  17:59  
So for now, higher-up product folks, a lot of product folks, obviously, understand the concept of SEO. And so what they're looking to you to just be that subject matter expert. I know the concepts, I need you to tell—you're the expert in the room. So I need you to tell me, you know, that's when you get to the details exactly what we need to do to get there.

Paige Ford  18:19  
Engineers half the time… know a ton about SEO. So you can just dive right into the technical aspects. And a lot of times, too, I don't, engineers know more than me, you know. I'm like, this is the concept, this is what we want to achieve. I want to lean on you to really tell me, “how do we get there?” And so that's my favorite part. Because you know, engineers, they know what they're doing.

Paige Ford  18:37  
Versus consultants. I love learning from folks. I'm like, Hey, we were both in the same room, we both do the same work. This is my perspective, tell me yours. Like, what am I missing here? What are the things that you thought about? So for me with SEO consultants—it's always a learning experience. We all have so many different experiences in the different types of projects we've worked on.

Paige Ford  18:55  
And so selfishly, I'm like, teach me what I don't know, let's learn from each other. So it's just how I tailor my different conversations. Even with engineers, I do this too. I do SEO trainings and programs within this company. And so I start and I have different trainings for different audiences. Here's a training for writers, a training for VPs, and training for engineers and designers where we get really into the technical details. It's so much fun. I'm like—I love… I think I'm excited even thinking about it now! I love when I just see people's eyes open. And they're like, “wow, SEO is cool.” And I'm like, "yeah, it's really cool and you get to work on it now!” So there are a lot of engineers and data scientists that have to know about SEO, and obviously, they are experts in their realm. And so how they take their expertise and apply it to the SEO space is always a fun part of my job as well.

Sam Torres  19:42  
No, no, that sounds super fun. And I also feel like one of the things that makes enterprise different is the amount of internal education. And like I feel like even for our own clients, like we have some enterprise clients, we have some smaller, like some startup clients, like—there's just such a shift as far as like how much time is dedicated to education or training. And maybe it's just because like startups, it's that "move fast and break things" mentality that so many of them have.

Sam Torres  20:17  
That you're just going and you don't really take the time to really stop and make sure everybody's on the same page all the time. Whereas with enterprise, I even just what you were talking about earlier... you're even doing three-year plans, which for SEO is kind of like, it's all going to change!

Paige Ford  20:34  

Sam Torres  20:37  
But yeah, just I me one of the things that actually are different about enterprise is that you are taking the time to really do a lot more education and communication. And bring, just like you say—bring in those experts and like how do you apply what you do? Because like, obviously, your data scientists, they know so much more about how to mine the data and find that. So yeah, just really cool.

Question #7

What kinds of projects are you exploring with your data science team?

Tory Gray  21:06  
Well, I'd love to talk more about that. We care a lot about using SEO data sources, for SEO applications, but also for non-SEO applications. So if you're getting to work with a data science team, without obviously giving away any state secrets here, what kinds of things are you exploring with the data science team that can overlap with SEO?

Paige Ford  21:26  
Yeah, I think mostly around, you know, the impact of SEO and measuring more directly measuring our efforts, I think it's a really big piece of the work that they do.

Tory Gray  21:35  
Totally makes sense.

Question #8

Begüm Kaya  21:37  
So here's an irrelevant question. Does your role include playing with the internal search?

Paige Ford  21:48  
Sort of... so I do internal search optimization and strategy when it comes to content strategies—outside of like our actual main product, so our main product search, I don't touch it at all, that's its own team. But we do look at internal search for trends, especially around even our customer service, like what are people searching for help within our own network. So we do look into that data to optimize and use it for content optimization and trends, for sure.

Paige Ford  22:20  
So people definitely look into your internal search data! It's a treasure trove because the reason why I love internal search data so much is you don't actually really have that data in your Google Search Console. Because Google Search Console only shows you what people search for when they come to your site, right? Versus internal searches, everything they're searching for whether you can solve that problem or not. It's a really great data source.

Tory Gray  22:43  
That's awesome. So that's both in terms of like content programming, it sounds like but also in terms of like customer service?

Paige Ford  22:50  
Mostly for customer service. I think our content programming is like, you know, a whole other. So we're not, we're not really necessarily impacting that. But really, around customer service, I think is a really good use case for it. Especially for enterprise SEO, like if you're at a large company, you're gonna have a lot of internal search data to really understand the issues people are having and what they need help with. And so we do use that data to optimize content.

Tory Gray  23:12  
Yeah, I love that. Too many companies underfund their customer service in general. So people actually taking the time to know what their customers want and invest in that.

Question #9

What team should SEO be embedded on to maximize success?

Tory Gray  23:22  
We talked a little bit about where you've been embedded as an SEO. I'm also curious if you've seen different team structures. Have you been a part of you know, is everything very like product versus engineering? Or have you been a part of an OBT team? Or like, what other maybe team structures have you seen or been a part of?

Paige Ford  23:44  
Yeah. So one team—there are three main types of teams that I've been a part of. I've been on product teams who are really working on building features that support SEO, which is my favorite. I've definitely been on your general marketing teams and embedded on—I've actually been embedded in the content team as well. So we had a content team, really all about our writers and editors, and I was one SEO specialist. So we're working as a unit.

Paige Ford  24:13  
Another team that was really interesting that I know, was a popular model at some companies. I was on a centralized web team that everyone had to go through to then get there to get on the web. So that was really more like a product-marketing type role. We weren't really impacting the product itself. We did—but we did technical SEO and product releases for more around the marketing aspect of the business. But the team was centralized. So all these various product teams had to go through this one team to then control the web experience.

Paige Ford  24:43  
That was a lot of fun because you are definitely in the room all the time. Because you're working, you know, working with the marketing managers, the engineer supporting that web experience, so you're definitely in the room and those centralize. I think where I've struggled in certain teams is when it's decentralized. Whether… where you have different folks doing different types of SEO across the company, you're kind of competing with each other. And so I always... I'm, I'm biased towards—I love centralized teams, whether it's a design team, a writing team, or an SEO team, you can be doing different things.

Paige Ford  25:18  
I think having a centralized team really helps defeat, you know, those duplicate efforts. With enterprise SEO, that is one of the biggest pain points. Duplicate efforts! People doing the same thing across different types of teams, and expecting everyone expecting them—all of themselves to rank number one on Google. And like, there's only one number one spots, let's make sure, you know, we're all working together to get to really optimize, you know what that looks like. So I'm just a really big proponent of centralized teams, whether it makes sense for them to send marketing or a centralized web team or on a product team.

Tory Gray  25:54  
Yeah, a lot of working cross-functionally, obviously, you know, with other SEO teams, or other... everyone because you'd have to be influential everywhere. Yeah, you're busy.

Paige Ford  26:09  
But it's fun. It's fun, busy, right? It's like, it's a lot of fun work. Because, you know, I still remember vividly when I first started in my SEO career I remember very vividly the very first time. I was in an agency at the time, and we got a client ranking number one for a very, very competitive keyword. And we like rung the bell, it's like such a huge celebration.

Paige Ford  26:31  
And to this day, that's still very, very exciting. I just love the end result of… if you've been working on a project, and you're just there. You're where people are, they're searching for you, they're coming to you, you can see that increase in traffic, you've made other teams really happy. Like, wow, this really worked! And it's still to this day, you know, 10 years later, a very fun part of the job. And so it's very busy. But it's also just very rewarding in the sense that it’s fun work.

Question #11

How can enterprise SEO teams work successfully with SEO agencies?

Tory Gray  26:59  
So selfish question here: I'd love to know if you've ever worked with SEO agencies as part of your in-house role at any work? And like, what advice might you have for us? Who- for those of us who like to work with in-house teams? Like how do we best support you? How do we make those relationships solid? Share your wisdom!

Paige Ford  27:19  
Yeah, so I've worked with agencies and like my past three in-house roles, multiple agencies really, I've worked with a lot of great agencies. And I think it's... been a it's been a while since I've been in agencies, I can definitely speak from the client perspective.

Paige Ford  27:34  
I think my biggest advice for agencies—and this is something that I struggle with as an in-house as well. So I think it's advice for in-house SEOs as well! Is, you know, context—giving the SEO agency the information that they need. And it's really easy as an in-house person... you know everything that's happening, but it's really easy to forget that THEY don't know everything that's happening. So it's all for me and everyone’s pieces of communication: context, context, context.

Paige Ford  28:00  
My advice for agencies is to ask for that context, like, hey, what am I... what don't I know, like, what am I missing? And what, you know, what areas can our partnership actually have control over? And I've been in so many cases where agencies give me really, really great solid, like, "these are what you should do, this is what we recommend,” and like… That's great. Can't get that on the roadmap this year. That's just not gonna happen.

Paige Ford  28:24  
I think really having those communications... like what is doable, and sharing that context. And then that then leads to my other advice for in-house SEOs really is, you know: set clear expectations and deliverables, because I think a lot of SEO, it's a long game, right? And agencies are there, they know what they're talking about, they're brilliant, but having those like clear goals and deliverables, because a lot, I think, to be honest, half the time, what we need to be doing and what we what the agency is recommending... we can't do. And so really understand, like, "what does what does success look like here, when we can't really do half the things that you're recommending."

Paige Ford  28:59  
Just having those really clear, clear expectations, and deliverables, I think will make a really great working relationship. And then something I love to—despite just our company culture—but I always like to ask for feedback as well, because I think—I think it's a partnership. It's not necessarily like the agency is working For me. It's a partnership: we're trying to both get to the same goals. And so I always wonder, like, how's our working relationship? How... how are we doing? Like, are we giving you the information that you need? Are we, you know, executing when something's recommended and making sure you can have a really open and honest dialogue? Because at the end of the day, you know, we're working towards the same goal.

Tory Gray  29:36  
Yeah, that's, that's great. I think there's so much when you're working in-house when it's such a focus of being a member of the team and supporting the business as a whole and like at an agency, it's so easy because you're outside of it.... to forget that. I don't know like you're so focused on like, "no, I need to prove results or I'm gonna get fired." So I need to do big things. And if I can't do those, like "what is my value here" and forgetting that there is value in... like good QA, like not losing traffic is valuable. And you need to understand, like, help the org understand the value of that. But those sorts of pieces and how they fit in and how they, I don't know, consulting and understanding level of effort or getting creative workarounds, or what can we do instead? When, yeah, your roadmaps that you want to do… you just keep hearing no to, that is such a critical piece.

Sam Torres  30:29  
The larger the company, the more likely you're going to get "NO". We're like: "We'll do that in two years", and you're like, "I am sorry, what"? Yeah.

Paige Ford  30:43  
Go ahead.

Begüm Kaya  30:44  
Sorry. No, this was something that we recently discussed internally. And then we realized that—Tom Critchlow actually shared this in his SEO MBA newsletter as well, he was saying that some companies just keep saying no to things, and they have a set agenda. So even when they're working with agencies, they don't really expect results, and they keep hiring them. But there are some, like, in-house teams that are hiring agencies, and—even though they see some progress, and that progress is very valuable and like, acceptable, they just close the deals and shut the doors at the end...

Paige Ford  31:18  
Yeah. So another thing too, I would love to, define, like, you know, "what does success in this relationship look like?" Because it's not just results. It's also like, know what there's… there are deliverables that are beyond just an increase in traffic, right? So just really saying those guidelines like: “what does success look like,” knowing that half the things you recommend, we're not going to be able to do? That's just, you know, that's just how it is in a very large organization.

Sam Torres  31:42  
Yeah. Totally. Yeah.

Tory Gray  31:45  
And understanding the why, to your point,  Paige, of like communication, like, WHY can't those things happen?

Tory Gray  31:50  
We have these other business initiatives!

Tory Gray  31:52  
And then, if you understand the roadblocks, maybe you can get more creative about what worked exactly...

Paige Ford  31:58  

Tory Gray  31:58  
What work you can do instead? How can you move the needle if you don't have those big points? And this is where sometimes I feel in-house SEOs are a lot more, in some ways, creative than agency SEOs, because they have to stare at the same problem year after year after year—and keep coming up with new and innovative ways around these roadblocks.

Paige Ford  32:22  
I love that you said that, because I'm going to share a really big, big pet peeve of mine is when I see folks audit sites, or audit brands like: "these are all the things they're doing wrong." And what I like to tell people like—every SEO knows what they need to do.

Paige Ford  32:37  
Like every SEO like we—you know, we all, especially in-house and agencies, we all have like a whole laundry list of the things that we want to get accomplished. I think that's not the challenge. The challenge isn't knowing what to do. I think the challenge is like, how do you get it done? And so when I work with an agency, it's—to be honest, it's not really like, we know what we need to do it. It's that creative piece of: how can we get it done? What are the creative ways we can work around these things?

Paige Ford  33:00  
What are some other things we can tackle that we actually have direct control over? And then and, you know, in certain aspects, like how can you even help us get it done? Like, do you have your own data science team or your own engineering resources that can like work around these things? So it's always felt like: we all know what needs to be done. But how do we prioritize it? How do we show the value?

Paige Ford  33:21  
Oh, that's probably my biggest thing. I love working with agencies is: they helped me show the value. They can help me bring that business case to the appropriate stakeholders—like so how do we show the value of the space? It's really, really difficult, as we all know, to really, you know, forecast SEO, but that's it. That's a huge piece of why I think it's really helpful working with agencies.

Tory Gray  33:39  
Yeah, that's great. Hey, you know, even from the agency side, it's interesting to think about how your relationship with an org is really controlled by whoever your in-house person is and their level of success. How influential are they in the org? And how can you be influential, one step away? But some things just aren't in your control. And you—just if you can't talk to that VP, because that VP is just never going to make time for you to get in the door. Like how can you equip that person with what they need to be? You know… what you need to move the program forward?

Paige Ford  34:16  

Sam Torres  34:17  

What tips do you have for In-house Enterprise SEOs?

Tory Gray  34:18  
Super fun challenges. Well, any parting last advice for us or the community as a whole? Oh, tips!

Paige Ford  34:33  
Enterprise SEO tips. I think my biggest tip is to get really, really comfortable talking less about SEO and more about the business. I think as soon as I learned that little trick of like speaking like—it sounds really simple, but I think it's a little bit harder to practice. My biggest tip is, you know, picking up the "MBA speak." Understand how the company really, really thinks. Versus, you know, your SEO checklist. I think that can really hold folks back when you're thinking about a checklist. But really thinking through, like, what's important for the business and having that conversation with folks.

Tory Gray  35:09  
Yeah. I mean, that's such an important point: meeting people where they are. Which is something we lecture clients about in terms of their keyword research, right? Like, we're always telling them: “you want to rank for this, but actually, you should be going after this, because this is what your customers are looking for.” So it's such an interesting disconnect that like, everyone makes this mistake. And hopefully, we're all getting better over time at remembering: these are people! They don't have all the context in our heads. Right, going back to your point about context. So good. Well, thank you for taking the time with us and sharing all these wonderful insights.

Begüm Kaya  35:47  
No, wait a second, I really want to ask a final question!

Tory Gray  35:51  
Of course!

Paige Ford  35:51  
This has been so much fun.

Question #2

Does bribing engineering teams actually work?

Begüm Kaya  35:52  
Yeah, whether you have… because you said communication is very important, then you have to speak to different teams, and just understand how they really think about things and what resonates with them. So do you have any special ways that you developed, when you are communicating with different persons in the organization that have really worked for you? So people have been saying that like, you have to—what is it called?—bribing people in the organization? Or buying them chocolates and stuff? But is it really the only way that you should be doing this?

Paige Ford  36:25  
I love that you brought that up. I kind of—I kind of do bribe people. That's kind of true! So the way I like to, and it's easy, because in my organization, we over-communicate, so we write like memos and documents for everything. I have specific presentations for every single type of audience. Like it's really about... and I say these things like I'm an expert at it, and I'm still getting better at it as well. Like, how do I tailor my message?

Paige Ford  36:48  
But the bribing piece is really true! The way I've been most successful is I go to different groups and I present to them like, "Hey, this is how SEO can help you". And then I do it. You know, so I have gone I have won over so many, you know, friends and allies because I have done work specifically for them. I think it really depends—like in some organizations, you don't really have to sell the value of SEO, they already know the value of SEO. And other times you do. You know you have to build trust in SEO itself as a practice.

Paige Ford  37:18  
And so I go to these different teams, and I'm like, what do THEY care about? And how can I be selfless? This is extra work on my part, right? I'm very selfless, like, "how can you do SEO work just for them?" And so a really great example is we have a—and I think Tory, we've worked on this—we use SEO for more than just SEO, we use SEO as like user research.

Paige Ford  37:37  
I've done user research projects for other teams and like, "hey, this is how SEO data can help you!" You know, we can use SEO data to name a new product feature. To think through brand naming, and so work with those teams—using SEO for other creative ways to help these teams and they're like, "Wow, thanks, Paige, this is great. Wow, we love SEO". And so you just really build up that reputation within the company of not just yourself but of the practice itself. And it's bribing! You know doing quote-unquote "free work" for other teams is a little bit of bribing and I do it all the time. Yeah.

Sam Torres  38:10  
Because when we've... when Tory and I have bribed... it's like we're bringing in cookies! Chocolate, like.....

Tory Gray  38:17  
You're being entertaining. You're being like the host of "Yes, engineers, I want you to work on this feature, so please stay late and work on this. I will bring cookies and I will be sparkling entertainment for you." Like, yeah, it takes all kinds.

Paige Ford  38:30  
Yeah, it's really all about relationship-building as well. Like so for me, it's like, I love building relationships with engineers. We are the best of friends. And it gets to the point where engineers will literally say, "hey, Paige, I want to do this, because I like you. I know I'm gonna prioritize work for you because I enjoy working with you."

Tory Gray  38:48  
We are humans!

Paige Ford  38:49  
Yeah, we are human. So like, you know, make friends with people, people! If people enjoy working with you, they will also help you prioritize your work. So that's a good—a good tip as well. Just yeah, so I love relationship-building as well.

Begüm Kaya  39:02  
I am loving every single word you're saying. And I think you're... I don't know if you've met Roxana Stingu yet, but if you ever meet her, or if you have met her—I think you would be the greatest of friends.

Tory Gray  39:13  
I've heard of her, I think we've chatted briefly over Slack or something.

Sam Torres  39:19  
Putting Paige and Roxana in a room together. Whew! Yeah, there's gonna be magic coming out of that. That would be amazing.

Begüm Kaya  39:26  
Yeah, I know.

Paige Ford  39:28  
She's great. I think she's actually helped me a few times when I had questions like she's... she's very active and great. Yeah.

Sam Torres  39:34  
Yeah, she's phenomenal.

Tory Gray  39:37  
Well, thank you, everyone, again, for coming to Opinionated SEO Opinions™. We had such a wonderful time with you, Paige. We're really grateful. If anyone has any questions for us, they can submit them to TheGray.Company/ask-seo-questions. Also, if you have guests or subjects you want to hear more from us, let us know and... anything else?

Paige Ford  40:02  
Thank you so much for inviting me. This was so much fun!

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