This episode of Opinionated SEO Opinions focuses on people management and SEO with 2 brilliant guests, Glenn McMurry, Director of Organic Acquisition at Bumble, and Areej AbuAli, Founder of Crawlina and Women in Tech SEO.
Our guests shared their insights on being a part of various team structures and navigating the challenges that come as an SEO moves up the career ladder.
Begüm Kaya 0:07
Hello everyone. Welcome to another episode of Opinionated SEO Opinions, where we'll discuss SEO and people management this time. I'm your moderator Begüm Kaya, here with the host of our series Tory Gray of The Gray Dot Company. We also have brilliant guests today who will share their experiences on team structures and navigating the challenges that come with management duties.
Begüm Kaya 0:26
We couldn't be happier since we got to reunite with former colleagues and forever friends. So a warm welcome to Glen McMurray, Director of Organic Acquisition at Bumble. Hello, Glen.
Glen McMurray 0:37
Begüm Kaya 0:38
And at last Areej, we've been waiting for this day for so long. So thank you for joining us today.
Areej AbuAli 0:45
Yeah, thanks for having me.
Begüm Kaya 0:46
Yeah. For those who haven't heard yet, Areej is the creator of the Women in Tech SEO community, and she is [a] relentless advocate in the SEO industry. She will come [to] 2023 with her own SEO consultancy Crawlina. Congratulations again. And, like, I tried to keep it as bite sized as possible, but was that a great and - at least good enough introduction, Areej? Anything you would like that?
Areej AbuAli 1:11
Yeah, that was perfect. I couldn't add anything more to it.
Tory Gray 1:14
What about you, Glen?
Begüm Kaya 1:16
Yes. Can we get a quick intro from you for...
Tory Gray 1:19
Yeah, I'd love to hear about your guys' backgrounds. And what brought you here today and all that jazz? And also how you know each other?
Areej AbuAli 1:27
Sure, sure. Well, I am Glen McMurray. And I have...I've worked with both Areej and Tory in very different places and very different times. But shockingly similar agencies, funny enough. And I've been in the SEO world for 13 years, 14 years...started on the agency side, and then moved over to client-side a few years back. And just kind of bumbled my way through it.
Glen McMurray 2:02
No pun intended, that really was not a pun intended.
Begüm Kaya 2:06
Tory Gray 2:07
I feel like we...you left to to go work with PayPal when you left the agency we were together at. It was sad to lose you. You were lots of fun. It was...I think my last time actually being in an office, at all, even part-time. So that was...
Glen McMurray 2:24
Tory Gray 2:24
Strange times in the before times.
Areej AbuAli 2:27
Yeah, that was my...that was my last office as well. Yep, I flipped back to an old agency that I worked for in London, and PayPal had been my client for forever and ever and ever. And then eventually, they asked me to come work for them full-time. So I worked for Pay Pal for a bit. And now I'm Director of Organic Acquisition of Bumble, which basically means I...I oversee two teams, one is an SEO team and one is an app store optimization team, which has been fun.
Tory Gray 2:55
Well, lots of good insights coming from all these different diverse backgrounds. Love it. We want to kick it off, Begüm?
Begüm Kaya 3:02
Yes, of course. So the first question would be - What team structures have you been a part of? And what did the team dynamics look like? What worked? What didn't? Based on your experience.
Areej AbuAli 3:13
Yeah, yeah. Areej, you want me to kick this one off? And then...
Areej AbuAli 3:17
Yeah, go for it.
Glen McMurray 3:19
Great. I have been part of lots of teams, I've bounced around a little bit. Small teams where it's just like me and one other person who were running, like 10 clients at a time. Big teams, where it's like, I don't know, overseeing like, 13 to 15 people at a time with like one or two clients. And kind of everything in between. Areej, do you want to talk about where you've...the team structures you've been a part of and then can go into what's worked and what didn't?
Areej AbuAli 3:55
Yeah, so when I was agency side, like the teams I was part of were quite small, maybe like two or three of us at most, looking after like the SEO side. And then in-house kind of shifted, where the team structure became much bigger.
Areej AbuAli 4:09
So for example, like, I would be reporting into, like the director of marketing, and then within that, there's a lot of different like SEO, just being like one department, but then you have PPC, you have app, you have retention, you have a lot of other like teams within it. But then on the other hand, as well, like one of my, like my most recent role, I was actually part of the tech team. So I reported into the CTO. So then that structure was very different because I was within the same team as engineers and product designers, and so forth. It was like very, very different from your, like, standard SEO set within a marketing team.
Tory Gray 4:47
Yeah, I've experienced that too, been embedded as an SEO on the marketing team but been embedded with the product team, working directly with engineering as that you know, classic SEO product manager or I guess, 'new classic'. It's the new thing, but it's a...it's a whole different thing. So I'm excited to hear about your experience and how effective that was versus...
Areej AbuAli 5:07
Which did you like better? Just out of, you know, out of interest.
Areej AbuAli 5:10
I like being part of the tech side more. I think there's a lot for us to probably, like learn from that, in general, as SEOs, like, I think like a lot of their disciplines, and you know, their sprint planning and the way they write things into tickets. And I just felt like there was a lot of learning from that, where it kind of made me reflect on 'Oh, we should probably have those kinds of processes' or 'those meetings make sense, and those don't'.
Areej AbuAli 5:33
Whereas in marketing, because probably, I mean, it depends on the site that you're working on. But if the majority of your work relies on tech, and then you're set in marketing, and it's this idea of, 'oh, no, how do I borrow you know that one day from tech' - if you're set in tech, it doesn't feel that way anymore. It's like we're all doing the same work and you can just like plug tickets straight within the sprint and so forth.
Areej AbuAli 5:57
They also have much less meetings, ha, than the marketing team tends to have hahaha.
Tory Gray 6:03
Areej AbuAli 6:04
Where it's like, very quick, you know, okay, yeah, that's it done. Let's do you know, quick morning update. Takes less than five minutes, literally. And that's it. And then 'let's talk again tomorrow, and update with how it's going'. Whereas, yeah, you know, in marketing, you get to have a lot of like, lunches and learns and things like that.
Areej AbuAli 6:25
Yeah, Tory, what was your experience like?
Tory Gray 6:27
Um, pretty similar, though - meetings, I mean, our Stands ended up being 30 to 45 minutes, like... things get out of whack. So like, having a good person to, like, come in and say, like, no, you've done your update, like, we're not just chatting, we're not showing off. Like, it's hard not to, to get into that or to like, use it as like, this is my status update of everything that makes me important and good. And I'm valuable here! So I have to tell you, everything that I've done. It can be...it's always a learning process.
Tory Gray 6:56
But I really enjoyed the learning process and learning to communicate effectively, as well as like working with the software engineers to, I don't know, iteratively solve problems creatively. And like getting in that flow with them I feel like really helped me learn and create and problem solve, and...and again, learn that communication to work more effectively and get work done.
Tory Gray 7:20
I think that is also specifically because I'm a technical SEO and I don't know that that will be the same for a content-focused SEO or a link-building SEO. Right. But for the tech focus person, like working directly with product, working on your roadmap, shopping that around, working in your sprint cycles, getting that done, doing the QA... because things were breaking constantly because we had weekly releases. You know, it was trial by fire, but it was an awesome learning experience.
Areej AbuAli 7:49
Yeah, yeah. I love...I love SEO on the product side. I think it works really, really well, for all the reasons you guys have said. Also, Areej, you touch on something, it's just really like... organized and 'get stuff done' focused. And, not that marketing isn't, but I think because you're closer to the...to the doers on the product side, it's like...it becomes a little bit, um... There are less barriers to cross. You're not borrowing resource, like you said. And that's always great.
Tory Gray 8:20
Yep. You're also learning that language of the business leaders, because you're learning that from the product side. So again, it's about being more effective, not just with engineering, but with the business owners, which is constantly a struggle.
Tory Gray 8:31
That's why I went in-house in the first place, because I was just hearing 'no' all the time, and I didn't know why. And I don't feel like I really learned that until I was embedded on the product team. And I could figure out how to communicate that, I could figure out how to connect the dots. It was a painful learning process, but it was really worthwhile.
Glen McMurray 8:49
Yeah, yeah, I think it does work really well for tech. The content side of it gets a little tougher, when there's not something in place, so you're trying to, like, mix and match creative processes with what's essentially an engineering process...can become pretty challenging, but fun, a fun challenge.
Areej AbuAli 9:13
Yeah, I think it gets tricky. So an example I have in mind is when I wanted to grow the content team to sit underneath me and then it became a bit like, but does it make sense for us to hire a content exec and have them reporting to you when you report in to the CTO?
Areej AbuAli 9:29
So I think this is where it kind of becomes like a more managerial type of challenge, where - for example, you end up having all these dotted lines then, so content folks who join end up sitting like within brand and within marketing, and then there's a bit of a dotted line that comes from you and goes straight to them.
Areej AbuAli 9:45
But then it can be tricky, right because they become part of marketing and so they get really busy with like, you know, making sure they're producing content for brands and so forth. So how do you...yeah, so I guess you know, there's always good and bad depending on where you sit and what resources you're looking to manage.
Areej AbuAli 10:02
Yeah, I found that transition to product really, really difficult. I went from...so I went from my eighth last agency role into... into PayPal where I sat in the product team, and had never worked in product before. And the learning curve of...of how product team works, and even just the lingo that you use was...it took a long time to get my head around. Yeah, how did you all find it?
Tory Gray 10:40
Same. Like it was a...it was a painful learning curve. And again, it was agency. So I think it was the added in-house language versus agency language.
Tory Gray 10:49
And like, if you're...if you only have agency side experience, I don't think you frankly know how to do those things. At least I didn't...if...that...I think I had four years agency experience when I went in-house, and yeah, it was painful. Like, I'm really happy I did it. And you know, it's all a learning curve. I'm still learning, but it was, it was really worthwhile, but...painful.
Begüm Kaya 11:12
I love how all of you...
Areej AbuAli 11:16
It was natural to me. Haha I enjoyed it. I was like, Oh, no more, I don't know, blue-sky thinking and those weird terminologies they use in marketing, like, I actually enjoyed it. And I think, I don't know, you find a lot of roles now called, like SEO, product manager roles, for example, in some in-house teams. And I think it makes a lot of sense, because that is a lot of what we do is...it is a very, like, product, project management type of role. And yeah, I don't know, it felt...it felt quite natural to me personally, and I enjoyed it more.
Begüm Kaya 11:49
[I love] how much emphasis do you put on the learning side of things and also the process that keeps you on your toes? It must be very interesting to experience both sides.
Begüm Kaya 12:00
So we touched upon the best team structure for SEO a little bit. Glen, I think you are on the product side. And Areej, you love the technical. Tory, I think it would agree with the product, right?
Tory Gray 12:12
Yeah, yeah, I liked that personally better. Again, that depends on what your specialization is. But before we jump into the next question, I'm also curious if you guys have worked on any team structures that aren't like, you know, like, they're based on the product, like different product lines, or like, it sounds like we're mostly talking about marketing or product or, you know, traditional... you're working within the scope of whatever that field is.
Tory Gray 12:37
Have you ever worked on, say, an objective-based team or a team that's based around like a specific product within a company? And if so, how does that change what you did? Because I had an experience like this, and I just want to talk to somebody about it.
Begüm Kaya 12:52
Areej AbuAli 12:55
I don't think I have, I think mine has always been kind of full stack everything for to my team.
Tory Gray 13:04
Though I would argue - because you'd managed the ASO team, and because it's a little bit different, like that's analogous anyway, and the challenges there...like how, I don't know how big it matters. But I'd say one of the challenges that we experience is something that Areej was even alluding to in terms of the product, which is who reports to who, where.
Tory Gray 13:24
So I was on an objective-based team, so instead of being centered around like a specific sub-product line, it was focused on customer funnel stages. So we had well, I mean, broadly speaking, so we had the growth team that was really focused on acquisition and activation. So there were specifically different acquisition and activation teams, as well as like an engagement, like post-purchase, how do we get them to purchase more [team]?
Tory Gray 13:47
So it was interesting, not just in terms of who reports to who, because we have front-end engineers and back-end engineers, and designers, and SEOs, and social media people but then like, okay, so if there's...there was previously a team of like, six social media people, and the SEO team of me. So I got on acquisition and growth, and you know, social media got spread out, but then who do they report to? And how do they learn and grow? And who gets the junior person and who gets the more senior people? And like, is everyone staffed appropriately?
Tory Gray 14:20
So like, we ultimately found it a challenge because we just didn't know where those gaps were and like, not everyone was staffed up because we weren't a big enough company, almost, to accomplish that, which again, Areej, sounded like your experience with the people in like weird being reporting through if they're on marketing and their content. You think that was similar?
Areej AbuAli 14:41
Yeah, I think where I can relate to this probably, when I...when you have a split...when you have companies that have a split of like B2C and B2B focused, for example. And so, like in one of my in-house roles that we knew that the primary focus for the SEO department was the B2C side, but B2B still mattered. And even if we're talking like 10%, 20% of your time needs to be spent on that site.
Areej AbuAli 15:06
But that meant dealing with like business, dev folks, sales teams, you know, teams that we normally don't really work with, on... on very separate domains, and portals on websites that we normally don't focus on. And it was a little bit challenging there where it was like, do we, for example, do I need to hire in someone who should just only purely focus on that side? Or do we need to make sure that we're allocating 10% or 20% of our time on that... on the other side.
Areej AbuAli 15:35
And then the other thing that also comes to mind is, in that same in-house role, I ended up I was initially only looking after like the technical SEO team. And then we had like, people come in, and people go, and next thing I knew I was looking after, like the outreach and link-building team, which is something that I personally have never done myself. And so that was really, really scary. Because it was, and I'm sure like, Glen has similar stories to share, as well, where - you know - you might end up like managing experts and folks in things that you are not an expert in at all. And so that...that can...that can be really, really scary.
Areej AbuAli 16:12
Yeah, yeah, I kind of love that part of it. I think that...and I don't think that that's an SEO-specific problem, or it's even a tech-specific problem or not - it's not a problem - the tech-specific thing that you have to learn. I think that as you become more senior in any role, just about any role, at some point, you're going to be overseeing tons of people who are way better at what they're doing, than you could possibly be.
Glen McMurray 16:43
Which I think that's great. And I think, you know, like part of that - a subsection of that is that you get to train people who are better than you, to become even better than they are at that point in time... in ways that you wouldn't feel comfortable doing earlier in your career. I think it's a really cool part where you can...part in your career where you can jump in and oversee teams that are like, I have no idea what you do day-to-day, but I know how it plugs into bigger parts of our business and I...and I think I can get the best out of you.
Tory Gray 17:18
I love that. I feel like...I've heard like the cliche of you know, the younger person on the team getting mad or resentful because they feel like their boss doesn't know how to do what they do.
Tory Gray 17:28
But I feel like that's often a use case of the boss being, I don't know, like holding it all in and pretending like they know and not having like the confidence or the empathy or the understanding to say like, 'No, you are better, like how do I help you? How do I, you know, I'm not gonna help you on your hard skills. But maybe I can help you learn some of these soft skills?
Tory Gray 17:49
And how do I help you be more effective in the org and give you the freedom to do the right work and not be a micromanager? And balance those things really well.' I don't feel like we hear enough about that viewpoint. But I think it's really, really important because to your point, it's inevitable, in a big org.
Areej AbuAli 18:10
Yeah. Yeah, I think something you mentioned there really resonates. I think it's about having the humility to say like, 'you're better at this than me,' or 'I don't even know what like... what you do, to be honest. But I know, you know, like, here are our goals, 'and you're crushing them', or 'we're not quite meeting them' or whatever.
Glen McMurray 18:31
So I've, I've stepped into something like that at Bumble, where, you know, I've touched on ASO in the past, but now I run a team of experts who do this for a living and have for years. And it was an interesting challenge to step into. Because it's like, what value can I bring to this? And it ends up being things like you know, with that side...I'm not discussing, like, my discussions aren't as big as tactics and, or even strategic...although to a point it's like, are we...is our strategy correct? And I try to poke holes.
Glen McMurray 19:13
But it's more about like, 'Okay, here's how we get buy-in from the wider company. If you have an idea, here's how we, here's how we structure decks, here's how we...here are the people that we need to talk to, here's how we structure meetings'. And a lot of...I've gone back into a marketing org now, so a lot of it kind of ties in with what we just said with product, like I'm bringing a lot of my thinking from the product org and now applying it to here and to kind of level up everybody in terms of efficiency and making sure we're...we're focusing on the right things. So it's a very different...it's a cool challenge, but very different than just like showing somebody how to crawl through Screaming Frog.
Tory Gray 19:55
Yeah, and it also points out I think a key...almost like a misunderstanding, perhaps, among, you know, most people in more junior roles, including myself, like not really knowing what it takes to grow, right? And in seeing a boss that like, doesn't necessarily know how to do this specific hard skill thing that they're doing. But like, that's not why they're your boss, like...what is it that the boss has to learn to work more effectively in the org?
Tory Gray 20:22
Tory Gray 20:45
Actually, I think that leads, Begüm, if you want to, I think there was a question about what are the biggest challenges? Does that sound right?
Begüm Kaya 20:53
Yes. So what are the biggest challenges, while moving from independent contributor to management? And how do you do that transition? How do you see it most effective?
Areej AbuAli 21:05
I think just the first thing I want to say is, not everyone should move from independent contributor to management. And you know, you, you get that mistake a lot specifically in agency side, where it's this idea of, 'Oh, you're promoted? Great. There you go. You're a manager now.' And, you know, 'here's this one or two poor souls that you need to manage'.
Areej AbuAli 21:26
And it's like, 'Whoa, did I even want to do that?' You know, and, and 'is that the only way I can grow?', and thankfully, you are now seeing a lot...this idea of, okay, actually, you can progress through these two different ways, you can either become an individual contributor, or you can, you know, help manage and lead people.
Areej AbuAli 21:44
But even that, I mean, people don't really get trained for that. And so that's why you kind of depend a lot on your boss as, 'Oh, well, what is it that I should pick up'. You kind of learn from people who are leading you, in terms of, 'Well, this is how they kind of do one-to-one meetings with me, then this is probably how I can do mine as well', and so forth. But we probably don't spend a lot of time, you know, getting training on any of these skills, and so forth. So I think just the first point is this concept of, you know, how...does the person even want to become a people leader or people manager? And if they do, then, you know, how, how can we help support them into that transition.
Tory Gray 22:24
And just educating them that that is a choice - because the issue I see more commonly is they assume they want to be a people manager... because they see that as the only path! And ultimately, it will make them really unhappy or they're not getting anything in the management, and then they make their team really unhappy because they don't know what they're doing, because they don't have the support they need. Anywho, Glen, what's your perspective?
Glen McMurray 22:47
Yeah, yeah, I think, um...I've, I've got some thoughts around this, and most of them are in the same light of like, you don't have to become a people manager to grow in your career. I think, theoretically, you don't have to become a people manager to grow in your career. What I think - in our industry right now, there, for the most part, there are, unfortunately, some ceilings on individual contributors. So there's only... from what I've seen, from personal experience, there's only so far you can go, there's only so many promotions you can get, there's only so many titles you can get as an individual contributor.
Glen McMurray 23:37
So I do think it comes down to knowing yourself and knowing the personnel, as a manager, knowing the personnel that you have, and like what track they would maybe best be suited for and most happy at, I think is even more important. But I do think that like if, if you want to become a, you know, pie in the sky, if you want to become a CMO at some massive company, like, I don't think you get there through individual contributor.
Glen McMurray 24:06
That being said, not everybody wants to be that, I don't want to be that. So it's about knowing what you want, where your skills are, and then just kind of understanding the barriers you have to overcome for each track.
Tory Gray 24:18
That totally makes sense. So if you do want to become a manager and make that transition, what do you guys...what does that take from your perspective?
Areej AbuAli 24:29
Yeah. I think I touched on it earlier. And this is kind of become a bigger part for me as my career has progressed, but a lot of it really is about humility and humanity as well. So being able to say what you don't know, or when somebody is better you than something, or whatever. And also, if you have a team, treating them as if they are humans, and not as just cogs in a... in a machine.
Glen McMurray 25:01
And I think those two things will get somebody really, really far. Just in terms of personal development and how you manage people, I do think that there's a lot around training that companies should be providing and managers and whatnot that we can get into. But I just think from kind of the personal mantra, I think my world kind of revolves around those two things.
Areej AbuAli 25:24
I think for me, the biggest challenge I found, when I did the transition was like letting go. There's a...I'm a little bit of a control freak. And so for example, if I think this is the best way for me to do an audit, then this is the best way for everyone else to do an audit...is such, it's just not the kind of thinking you can have or adopt anymore.
Areej AbuAli 25:45
And sometimes there's also this concept of, well, the deadline is then, and I know I can get it done in an hour. So let me just do it instead of passing it on to someone in the team to do it. Because that person might be new might be still in training. So it might take them like I don't know, triple the time, it might take me, but we need to let go.
Areej AbuAli 26:02
And we need to train up folks. And we need to realize that you, you might put a lot of time initially, but you know, it's this, this works over time, because then they're able to take that work and do it from there. And so letting go and kind of making sure that it's not, it doesn't always need to be your way you need to kind of give freedom and flexibility for people to, in a lot of cases actually end up doing something better or more efficiently than you do it. So, but you need to give them room to and allow them to do that.
Areej AbuAli 26:36
Yeah, yeah, I think something that's helped me on that side a lot is...leaving comments in a document versus redoing work in a document is huge, I think. And it really is pretty tough. Because it's like I can, I can make these changes in 20 minutes, and I can pass it on to it needs to be passed on to, or I can take sometimes like three hours to go through and leave comments on every slide and why.
Glen McMurray 27:05
But the return on that second half is so much higher in terms of throughput moving forward from your team, and also just skill level. So yeah, I think like tactically, that's a way to do that. And, yeah, I think that's a really great poin, Areej. Just that shift from being like, doer control. This is my document, I have to...training people like, how to do it themselves, and then seeing the fruits from the back better. It's a kind of a really awesome transition to see whether it happens over a month or a year.
Begüm Kaya 27:44
I love seeing the smile on Tory's face when you first started this.
Tory Gray 27:49
Well it's refreshing...
Begüm Kaya 27:51
That you're making all my documents Tory hahaha. I think it also comes to a point where you just respect the person because they are also human, and also because of all the qualities that you hired them for in the first place.
Begüm Kaya 28:07
So if you don't have any other questions, like how do you foster communication and empower your teams or the people in your team when it comes to such case?
Tory Gray 28:18
Yeah, it's also interesting how like the environment and the culture you have in your org can really drive how successful that is, or not, because you know, having worked in a startup environment where you want everything 'now now now now now', that can be a really, really painful transition as a first time manager, when you don't truly have the time to give them that three-hour feedback, because you need it. And there isn't a culture of this is the right thing to do for the long term. Right?
Tory Gray 28:43
I also want to call out, I love the not just like, 'here's what I need you to do'. But... why? To me that's really, really, really key. Because I don't want to tell people what to do. I want to empower them to make the decision for themselves the next time around. So I'm always working on getting better at explaining that and each and every scenario. Yeah, I want them to be able to make that decision and know 'Oh, that's why I do it this way in this situation, and that way in that other situation'. So key.
Areej AbuAli 29:15
I think it also falls through probably one of the most important things in general for people managers is, is how they give feedback, right? And it's...it's one thing to just be like, 'Oh, great job, that was good', or...or 'No, no, no, it should have been done that way', but to actually deliver constructive feedback, is...now that's something that really needs...like a lot of people need to have proper training on it.
Areej AbuAli 29:38
Because it's not easy and it can have a lot of impact on you know that person's confidence or their growth or what they end up doing later on in their career. So delivering feedback, but then also asking for feedback, right? Because it always needs to feel like...it's not, it's never just one way, right? It's it needs to be going back and forth, and knowing that you're...you're being the most efficient manager you can possibly be, and you're being as constructive as possible to folks that you line manage.
Areej AbuAli 30:11
Yeah, for your first point there, Areej, I think delivering feedback is always hard. I don't think it ever gets really, really easy. But one trick that I have picked up is like, it's kind of twofold. One is, when you're going through whatever it is that you have, and you need to fix something, or there's a way that it's been done that doesn't quite make sense or doesn't line up with the goals of the document or whatever you're...whatever you're working on.
Glen McMurray 30:43
It's having that person in the room and poking holes in it, the way that the next level up would, I've found that if you can kind of, shelter is the wrong word, but kind of train through that sheltering and being like, this is what my boss is gonna say, when they get this what like, 'Have you thought about this, have you thought about this? They're gonna look at these numbers, and they're gonna ask where they came from, I can already tell you that' and whatnot. So kind of being that barrier between what's going to come and where it's at now.
Glen McMurray 31:15
And then the second part of that is like, actually having them in those next-level meetings, I think that exposure is huge for training people. So whether or not you fix that document, and sometimes you may not want to, or most of the times you probably do, but having them in that next-level meeting where somebody is like, 'Where did these numbers come from? Like, this doesn't make sense.' And they can see exactly why we're making those changes from the people who it matters more...more to.
Tory Gray 31:45
Just want to say, I love that a lot because I've definitely been the junior person getting the feedback that was not that. That was the 'Hmm, you know, your challenge is going to be to figure that out.' Dump you in the pool. It was not pleasant. So yeah, appreciate that perspective.
Begüm Kaya 32:02
And I love it, because it shows that the training, the person doesn't have to be in what they're doing the most, for example, you can train a technical SEO on the soft skills perspective. It doesn't really have to be on the skill set that they have.
Begüm Kaya 32:17
And Glen, you mentioned that you are working with app store optimization people, and they know what they're doing better than you do at separate certain places.
Begüm Kaya 32:27
So I wanted to ask, how do you manage teams where you don't have personal experience in that field specifically? Do you cross-train them on different aspects that you provide some of the skills that you provide? Or does it differ or vary from this definition?
Areej AbuAli 32:44
Yeah, I think for me, what I've found is that it differs depending on what the tasks and the goals are of your organization. It's figuring out what they're doing and what they're good at, and where are there holes in what they're doing and how you plug those. So, I've done things like go and talk to other teams and say like, what...what's the perception of this in the wider org? Or what can we be doing better? Or, or whatnot, so even, even as far as like running full-scale retros with other teams of...of ways of working.
Glen McMurray 33:19
And then those operating procedures, kind of like...they figure themselves out. And they make everybody better. And that doesn't...and in doing that I haven't done an ASO at all? Or SEO at all? Like, it's just...other ways of training those teams. I think...I think it's mostly about upscaling for me at this point. Like I...the...the subject matter experts stuff, I'm never gonna understand the way that they do. But what do we need to do to take a department or a team to the next level? And figuring out what that is and trying to do.
Areej AbuAli 33:58
Yeah, I think in the example I gave where, like, I ended up looking after like the outreach team, it was more about, okay, well, wait, they didn't really have any targets in place, for example, and, okay, that's something I'm good at, like, I understand how to set targets, and how to set KPIs, and so forth. And so that's kind of what I focused on instead. And I helped them build reporting for the work that they do. And I helped them identify the metrics that they need to look after. And, for example, they weren't liaising at all with like the PR team or the content team. And it was like, well, actually, we can all work together. So how can we do that?
Areej AbuAli 34:33
So I guess there's, you know, some of that, like, higher-level strategic type of stuff. That's always going to be the same across any team that you look after. Whether it's, you know, metrics, or reporting, or like Glen, you mentioned earlier, like getting buy-in from stakeholders. Now, that's...that's exactly what you need to be doing to support them, right? Support the work that they do, or even things like making sure they have the budget they need for the tools that they need and you know, things like that. So that's, yeah, it doesn't have to...I've never written an outreach email myself, and I didn't have to. But I did make sure that they have everything they need in order to do their job efficiently.
Areej AbuAli 35:15
Yeah, it can be really scary, like you mentioned Areej, like, you're really...you're really letting go of some...some big things, when you are overseeing people who don't do what you do all the way down to like, 'Is what you're telling me correct' or not even that, but like, 'Is what you're telling me what we should be talking about?' Because you have to trust that you're gonna go into a meeting with these numbers and this data and these talking points and stuff.
Glen McMurray 35:45
And it happens...happens where sometimes you go into a meeting and somebody's like, about like, 'Why didn't you look at it this way?', or 'We need to be talking about this", or 'This doesn't even make sense here'. And so it can be really scary because you are essentially becoming a mouthpiece for a team that you don't know the ins and out of... ins and outs of, so you really have to trust and prod and, and make sure that the information that you're getting from them, it's what you should be talking about.
Begüm Kaya 36:17
I love the filling the gaps angle, and trying to provide them as much as possible so [the] next generation of SEOs who are going to have these conversations with the managerial team or like C-level, etc. are kind of nurtured let's say. Yeah, love it. So...
Tory Gray 36:33
Yeah, I would also point out like Areej was talking about working cross-functionally, which I would, you know, so an earlier question of like... what helps you grow? I think that that's a critical path. Because when you, you know...working in a silo and just doing what you do, part of it's like, 'Oh, how do I leverage the PR team? How do I leverage the sales team? How do I leverage the customer service team? How do we get everything incrementally like 1% better?
Tory Gray 36:57
How do I get them on my side? How do I help them look good? So they want to and it's worthwhile for them?' All those things are really critical.
Areej AbuAli 37:06
Yeah, 'how do I make it easy for 'em?' I think that's a big one. Like, I can go...I can give the engineering team a 200-page tech audit tomorrow. Which, you know, I think that this has been harped on in this industry plenty, especially by people in this call. But like, how do I make this easy?
Glen McMurray 37:22
And how do I prioritize this ahead of time, just so they can go and say like, these are the things...these are the best things that I can be doing with my time right now. And I know that it's going to take me, you know, I think it's going to take me X amount of time. And then I have nine things behind it I also have to do. I think, yeah, that cross-learning the languages of other orgs, learning how they operate, and making things as easy as possible for him so that they don't have to dissect a huge amount of information in order to make progress.
Begüm Kaya 37:52
That sounds wonderful. So what are some recommendations do you have for getting managerial buy-in to grow and nurture your SEO team? I think it connects really well hahaha.
Areej AbuAli 38:05
That's a scary question. Glen, have you managed to get managerial buy-in to grow your team?
Areej AbuAli 38:14
Okay, so when I...when I went to PayPal, I was the only SEO person. When I left PayPal, there were about 13 people, including dotted lines, and whatnot. So a lot of it starts with...to be honest, I think a lot of it starts with your direct manager or your, your department head. And that's the first person you need to convince.
Glen McMurray 38:37
And sometimes, you know, at PayPal, there was very little convincing I needed to do. My manager was awesome, and in fact, helped. It was kind of the opposite of what we're talking about here. Like she helped me figure out the language we needed to use. She helped me figure out what numbers are important, who we needed to talk to. So, you know, I think that that's, a lot of the times your first port of call is like what's important to the business, what's important to my part of the business, because in marketing, or in a growth org, it might be acquisition numbers and revenue numbers only, and a product or it might be just shipping things.
Glen McMurray 39:15
So figuring out what's important. And then how your org, potential future org plays into the wider goals of, of what's trying to be accomplished. So how SEO plays into a product org or into a growth org and how it adds. And I think that's probably what you need to keep in mind the most, in most organizations is the numbers...is like, figuring out what numbers are important. Figuring out where you stand and how you make them better and then figuring out who to talk to, in order to...to get funding for headcount. That's, in my experience, that's...that's it. It's hard. It is much easier if you're...you have buy-in from those directly around you first.
Tory Gray 40:01
Agreed, I think it's interestingly analogous to...it's building a business case. But it's more staffing instead of a feature. And therefore the cost is bigger, and therefore it's more work. But it is a lot of those same skills. So it does come down to the right numbers, did you crunch this? Did you approach this in the right way? What impact will they have? Will they help us grow this? Will they help us not lose this? Like telling that whole story is really critical?
Areej AbuAli 40:31
I think you know, sometimes you work in a company where there's budgets, and sometimes you work in one where there's not, right? And I think with everything that's been happening over the last, you know, few years, and the recession that's going on and so forth, it is highly likely that you now work in a company where you've literally been told we're you know, we're going through a hiring freeze, you need to make do with what you've got right now, or, or even worse, like, you might be working in a place where there are cuts.
Areej AbuAli 40:57
And so now you're somehow attempting to produce the same amount of work with, you know, with less people or less resource. So probably just like, make sure that you're being really, really strong with your resource management, but also, just manage expectations in the right way where you don't, you know, don't...do not over promise is what I always say. So and just kind of make sure that you're keeping tabs on the folks you have and what it means to produce work the right way, but also in a way where you know, you don't end up like stretching your team in any way possible. So just be like realistic, and reasonable about what can be produced with the resource that you currently have.
Tory Gray 41:38
I'm cognizant that we're running out of time here. So do you guys have time for one more question? I would love to know how, from your perspective, this differs for remote teams. So in a world that is increasingly hybrid or remote, how do you set your teams up and yourself for success? And how does that differ from working directly in, you know, in the office all the time?
Glen McMurray 42:00
Tory Gray 42:01
But I'm okay...can I say that I'm particularly curious about this from you because I remember a discussion with you about how you did NOT like working remote, was one of our last big conversations before we were not working together. So...and you're all remote now. So tell me how did you do it?
Areej AbuAli 42:18
I'm all remote, and I would say I love it, actually. Funny enough. I...well let me start with the negatives. I miss the...I miss the personal connection, and I think that that's irreplaceable. I just don't think there's a good way to do that. Even if you do...if you are fully remote, and your team is fully remote, for example...my current team is all based in completely...they're on a different content than I'm on. Even if I flew over there three times a year, like it just doesn't replace sitting next to somebody three to five days a week, and never will. And it doesn't matter how many weekly catch-ups we do, where we just shoot the shit or whatever. Like, it just doesn't fix it. I think that's the hardest thing.
Glen McMurray 43:06
So how to make that transition into it...I think it's about like, accepting...not accepting...embracing the good parts of it. And like trying to, to emphasize those for other words. So for example, my team is UK-based right now. That means I start really early. But it also means I end my day earlier than like six o'clock, which is great like that...those types of things help my mental health and my enjoyment of working remote. Yeah, I think from a personal standpoint, that's...that's where I've taken this question so far.
Glen McMurray 43:42
From a professional standpoint, like, it's even more about trust. I think you just have to trust that people are doing what they need to do. My theory around that has always been like when people get their stuff done. I don't really care what they're doing, what other things they're doing as long as like the work is done on time. it's of high quality. It doesn't matter to me if it's taken you two hours or two days. And so there's, a there's a big element of trust there. And yeah, Areej, do you have much to say on it?
Areej AbuAli 44:20
I think probably what I found most challenging as a, like as a people manager, was onboarding. That I found very, very tricky. Like I on-boarded quite a few people when...right when the pandemic had started, which means that I still had no idea how to do the whole remote thing. And that was weird because usually when you onboard someone you...you're sat next to them, right, like for a whole week and you're kind of showing them stuff and so forth. And so like having a really strong onboarding plan in place and making sure that you know, you do that properly.
Areej AbuAli 44:52
You still introduce them to the right people. You have them in all the right meetings, you...spending and dedicating time, like properly onboarding new folks is so important because that's like the first impression they get about you and the company. And so investing the time on that, right? And then with one-to-ones, that's...remote is a little bit tricky as well, because in person, it was nice. Sometimes you could just go grab a coffee or have a lunch or so forth. And now all of a sudden, you know, you're having one-to-ones, and annual reviews, and things like that, like just through Zoom, which just isn't the same.
Areej AbuAli 45:25
So, yeah, like having a plan in place and making sure you're, you're there to listen, and you're giving them room to...they don't necessarily need to wait, whether it's like weekly or biweekly, or monthly or whatever. They don't need to wait until then to...if they wanted to have a call, they can have a call much earlier than that if they need. So just making sure that they're aware, they know that you're, you're available, and you're there. And there is a lot of stuff that is much easier on a call than, than it is on Slack...can be so evil. And sometimes you can send something and it's like, 'Oh, was that an actual smile? Or was that being passive-aggressive?' Or 'Why was there a full stop there?' And you know, some people really, really overthink some of that stuff.
Areej AbuAli 46:06
So if, for example, like what we were talking about when it comes to delivering feedback, like don't deliver feedback on Slack. Like at least, if you're remotely based, like at least jump on a call, at least talk about it like one-to-one. Some people really need to see that body language, it makes them feel much better than like reading something in an email and then overthinking it and so forth. And just ask, ask people on your team, how they want to communicate. You know, some folks might prefer Slack and email, while others, like a call really matters for them. So kind of try to tailor that around, you know, how...how different folks on the team feel and what works for them and what doesn't.
Areej AbuAli 46:45
Yeah, that's a funny...a funny idea that, when you're remote, kind of every meeting is more formal, almost. Like, every meeting seems like it's a big deal because of whatever. But at the same time, you're like in sweatpants for all of them. So it's both more and less formal at the same time. Which is funny.
Glen McMurray 47:06
Yeah, and that last point you made Areej is great, like ask your team what they need. And at the same time, like, tell your...tell your manager what you need. And I think that that, you know, once you start doing that with yourself, it really kind of, it empowers you to trickle that down to the people that you're managing as well. So I think that's an important aspect too, like you said earlier, giving and receiving feedback, the same thing goes with like, giving and receiving your...what you need, personally, and professionally.
Tory Gray 47:41
I think that's really interesting. Also, like, keep in mind, like processes are different. And people are better at some things than other things. Like, like anyone starts anywhere, anyone can get better. But some people are naturally better at something.
Tory Gray 47:54
So for instance, I don't find it challenging to get to know people online. I've met Begüm. I've never...like, she was in Turkey, and yeah, we've never like met in person, but we're going to soon. So I'm excited. But she's been a wonderful member of my team for a long time.
Tory Gray 48:11
And I'm actually remembering there was a post from Wil Reynolds of Seer asking about like...cuz it's...that's a thing, like some people have more trouble bonding with people online, and in these video calls, or in Slack, than other people do.
Tory Gray 48:24
People are different. And so whether it's feedback, where you want it, like really establishing those communication lines, asking what they are, or just like understanding what your own cues are for even - memory.
Tory Gray 48:36
So I think one of our previous conversations Glen, was you know, when you...there's something about, 'Oh, I saw this person, I walked in the office, and I saw them.' And now I remember that I owe them something. And if you don't have that visual cue to remember, you might forget that thing.
Tory Gray 48:49
So now you have to go and set yourself up with new systems knowing that maybe you're not as good at that. Whereas that's not been a challenge for me. I'm a crazy list-maker in my head 100% of the time. I have multiple lists in multiple places, not just in my head. So it really is like...keep in mind if you're making a transition, have empathy with yourself and have empathy with others and communicate because it's a learning curve, and we're figuring it out as we go.
Begüm Kaya 49:22
I don't know at how many...I don't know...like, ugh I cannot form this sentence, but I don't know how many episodes we spent where the final outcome comes to 'communicate well with people around you'.
Begüm Kaya 49:38
I love how this communication thing is ruling our lives as SEOs and it really matters. It is...I think it really is the thing that makes the difference because all...nearly all hard skills can be learned in time. It can take someone one year, the other one 10 years, etc. But eventually, that thing is going to get done, but without proper soft skills, you're going to have a very rough time. And it's easier for us to communicate and make things easier for one another. Love it. Thank you so much for all your insights.
Tory Gray 50:11
Thank you both for joining us. This has been wonderful and insightful and frankly, lovely. You guys brought a lot of, I don't know, empath(y) and humility, a lot of, you know, new perspective that we don't often hear in these kinds of conversations, and it feels really refreshing and wonderful. And dang, what a lovely way to start off the New Year. Thank you so much!
Glen McMurray 50:33
Areej AbuAli 50:34
Thank you for having us. And yeah, I got really excited when I saw this topic and that Glen is speaking. And Glen was my very first manager. And to this day, my favorite manager. I always remind him that, so this was really, really fun to do and be together and...
Areej AbuAli 50:49
Very nice of you to say Areej. Yeah, this is great. I love being together with all of you. Begüm, I think this means that we have to have a job together in the future, at some point.
Begüm Kaya 50:58
Areej AbuAli 50:58
Glen McMurray 50:58
And that's just the way it's gotta be.
Begüm Kaya 51:00
Tory's excited, I am too. I'm sure our paths will cross. Thank you so much everyone for joining us. And if you have any other questions, we will be expecting them at thegray.company/ask-seo-questions. Thank you so much for joining us and have a lovely rest of the year.