What we cover in Episode 20
Search is still one of the best channels for growth, but it’s also more competitive than ever. What do the most successful companies do to win the search battle?
They invest in a full stack search team. We’ve discussed the value of this team in previous episodes.
In episode 20 we talk to Colm Flanagan who heads up a full stack search team for HiPages. His team has just broken all their organic search records, and we wanted to ask for all their secrets to success.
Enjoy the show, and happy growing.
1. To win in search, you have to go all in
For a lot of companies, investing in SEO means hiring a single SEO consultant. But that hire can do very little without borrowing and begging for resources from other teams, like developers, designers, and content.
The problem is all those people have their own goals and priorities, so requests from the SEO consultant often go into a vacuum.
Colm initially had this pain at HiPages:
“One of the first challenges we had to overcome was getting SEO work done. In a company of our size, it was difficult to get tickets related to SEO done.”
So Colm worked with his VP of growth to change that, the first thing they did was recruit engineers from their existing talent pool who had an interest in focusing on growth metrics:
“We recruited a front-end developer and a back-end engineer. The back-end engineer took on the role of our tech lead. We also got dedicated time from our data scientists. And we’re still building out the team, but even having a cohesive group focused on search has been extremely successful.”
Getting the right team in place for search will give you a better platform than most to climb those rankings. We talk a lot about this in ‘Setting up your Growth Team for Success‘.
As Colm says:
“Consider how much an SEO team with shared development resources can get through in a month if their requests get prioritized against everything else that development team could be working on?
When we could fully own our goals in isolation, the output from the team drastically increased. We had our development queue focused 100% on the things we wanted to do.”
How do you get started with your own full stack search team?
“You need an SEO lead who knows how to look for opportunities to improve the metrics you care about. You need to have your engineers and access to data analysts so you can run your sprints. You need a tool like Botify so you can see how Google is crawling your site. It allows you to integrate your Google analytics data, your Google console data, and your log files, so you have a complete picture of everything you care about with regards to your website.”
One of the most critical aspects of that team is ensuring the engineers are part of every success the team has, and are excited by the work they’re doing.
It can sometimes be hard to convince engineers to dedicate time to growth over building product:
“A lot of the work we do can seem tedious from an engineering perspective. It involves a lot of repetitive tasks. A lot of engineers would rather be working on the product, or building cool shit.”
When you’re PMing a growth team, it’s part of your job to make sure people feel excited about the mission of that team, and feel great when you’ve made a real impact on the business. We talk a lot about this with Tal Raviv from Patreon on Episode 5.
“I started to educate them on the core fundamentals of SEO, different errors, redirect problems, page speed and so on. We have a slack channel that has everyone included on the team, we share charts, numbers, our year-on-year progress, including the record numbers we’ve managed to drive from our recent initiatives.
I make sure we all share in the success, and everyone gets the credit when we’ve made a real impact on the business.”
2. A search growth team can do the SEO fundamentals to a level that results in huge returns.
Colm and his team used the data from Botify and their data scientists to pinpoint an opportunity to reduce the size of their website, yes, content pruning, something we’ve discussed in previous episodes.
“Botify and the data team helped us uncover some real opportunities around inefficiencies across our website.
We have a lot of dynamically created pages because we have local businesses sorted by city, town, and postcodes.
Something we started to look at was how many of those pages had a single visit, or what we called an end user.”
That’s an important quote, what Colm and his team looked at, was for all the millions of pages that HiPages.com had indexed, how many of those pages had a single visit within a specified period. And what they discovered is they had a lot of pages that no one was visiting.
So, the answer was easy right? Set a traffic threshold and prune all the pages that don’t meet that threshold. Russ Hudgens mentioned this in episode 15.
However, the complexity for Colm is they’re a marketplace, so a lack of traffic on one side of the market could be bad, but on the other side and, that page could be generating revenue for them.
“You have to consider both sides of the marketplace when building a threshold to be used for content pruning. An indexed page could have no organic traffic, but play a valuable role in conversions on the other side of the marketplace.
We had to create a threshold that accounted for both sides.”
And that’s what they did, resulting in the removal of over 100 million pages from Google’s index, wow! That reduction in pages had a significant impact on the performance of their website in search.
“We saw three major things happen as a result of this project in the following order:
1. Google started to do a better job of indexing our high-value pages. Before this project it treated all pages the same, we bucketed pages into both high and low quality. Once we pruned the site down, we saw the number of high-value pages indexed growth by 200%.
2. We then saw a lift in the amount of organic impression we were getting, so Google started to surface more of those high-value pages for relevant keywords. That increased by 80% over eight weeks.
3. The last thing we started to see was a significant increase in organic traffic. We began to see a massive uplift in traffic and broke all of our previous records for organic sign-ups.”
And what else did Colm and his team focus on to generate significant results for their site over three months?
“We see huge value in focusing front-end developers on improving page speed. Not only is it great for SEO, but it also correlates nicely with conversion rates.”.
Another perfect example of the SEO fundementals executed to a high-level by a search growth team who could had complete ownership of their metrics. They weren’t dependent on other teams for their success.
The podcast provides a more in-depth look at these topics, so if you enjoyed reading the above, please do give it a listen.
And until next time,
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