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Growing Into In-House SEO Leadership With Tessa Nadik

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Growing Into In-House SEO Leadership With Tessa Nadik

Evolving and maturing in your career from a tactical SEO professional to a strategic leader is no easy feat, and there are plenty of people who will question your aspirations along the way.

Just ask Tessa Nadik, the Senior Director of SEO Product and Content Strategy for Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader.

“I cannot count the number of times I was told, ‘SEO is not a career path,’” Nadik told me recently.

“SEO is a fulfilling career path with endless growth opportunities, especially if you do well with analysis, critical thinking, and constant change. I spent too much time thinking, ‘What’s next?’ when in reality, SEO itself is a very valid career path,” she added.

Tessa was a technical web analyst for United States Steel when an acquaintance introduced her to an interesting opportunity: a small steel manufacturing/sales company looking to hire someone to build their SEO and inbound marketing presence.

“I honestly ended up in SEO by accident,” she said. As the company’s only marketing employee, she was on her own in figuring out how to resolve a manual penalty discovered on her very first day.

In this interview, Tessa shares her career journey from introverted marketer to in-house SEO leader – one who has become skilled in developing talent, motivating teams, and evangelizing SEO across the organization.

Paving A Career Path In SEO

Can you tell us more about what led you to a career in SEO? What was the path that brought you where you are today?

Tessa Nadik: “After spending a year in that first role, I went to DICK’S Sporting Goods, where my SEO career accelerated.

The team was larger than most, and I had the opportunity to learn more than I could have ever imagined, and quickly.

I worked a ton with our SEO SaaS on-site partner, Matt Grabiak, learning the ins and outs of technical SEO.

I am forever grateful for Matt and the other people I met along the way that taught me not just SEO but how to build and lead a team.

As an introvert, I never envisioned myself as a people leader in the early years, but it was necessary to move up in prior companies.

In my first role as a people leader, I learned a lot about managing teams and what kind of leader I wanted to be.

Since then, I have worked a lot on my role as a leader and my team’s environment. To my surprise, I also fell in love with leading teams, removing roadblocks, and celebrating their wins.”

Transferable Skills Will Serve You Well In SEO

You’ve worked in a variety of verticals – steel buildings, sporting goods, vehicles, education, and more. What would you say are the most important transferable skills in SEO that will take you anywhere?

Tessa Nadik: “There are so many different paths in SEO, but there are skills and characteristics that make for a successful SEO based on my experience.

Communication skills are a must regardless of position. Being able to communicate the who, why, and how effectively is invaluable.

Secondly, being adaptable. Algorithms change, industries change, and we have to change with it. There will always be parts of SEO and any career that we can not control.

However, we can control how we adapt, and if you thrive in adapting, you will do well in SEO.”

Evangelizing SEO At The Leadership Level

In your LinkedIn profile, one of your responsibilities is to “advocate and evangelize SEO through the organization and leadership.” What tips can you share to help others do this successfully?

Tessa Nadik:  “As Senior Director, my responsibilities have expanded.

Our organization has gone from around 11 to roughly 30. While this expands my scope, the leg work to evangelize is still there.

In this organization, we are fortunate to have a lot of executive buy-in – that was not always the case in previous roles.

SEO can take a back seat to other priorities, but anyone can change that perception with the right approach.

Not only is it essential to have executive buy-in, but your peers’ and cross-functional teams’ buy-in is just as critical.

Fostering those relationships and showing the value are two things that will change the game. You can’t expect a team to prioritize work when they don’t understand the ‘why’.

As an SEO, that is your job to show the ‘why’. SEO is no longer this black box where we have no idea what will happen. We certainly can make educated projections.

Throw that imposter syndrome out and own the fact that no one at your company can do this as well as you.

You also need to know when to compromise and when to push as hard as possible for something.

Maturing in your career means you can see the larger picture, which means SEO isn’t always the top priority. Being conscious of this is a game-changer and makes working with others more manageable and productive.”

Striking The Right Balance Between Leadership And Management

At your level of leadership, how is your time split between SEO strategy, people management, and other activities?

Tessa Nadik: “At my level, I balance my time around strategy management and pave the path for achieving.

I always emphasize that I’m a hands-on leader in that I don’t just talk about SEO or lead; I can also do SEO.

This is something I emphasize and is vital to me because when our team needs vacation time, or something else comes up, I am here to offer coverage and fill in without a problem.

I spend most of my time collaborating with our team to discuss and stimulate ideas to grow.

We have a great environment where everyone has a voice and is not afraid to say, ‘I don’t know.’

We all have strengths and weaknesses, and it is my job to make sure our platforms allow everyone to speak their mind, ask questions, collaborate with purpose, and grow in their roles.”

Making Sense Of Disruptive Trends

Are there any emerging trends in digital you think will become particularly disruptive and what should marketers know about them right now?

Tessa Nadik: “In my opinion, there are always trends that emerge and disrupt SEO.

This is why it is essential to make sure you are aligned with partners in your organization.

Think about the emergence of more paid features, video, social, news, and others that have entered the space.

Without productive synergies with your partners, this is disruptive to SEO, but it becomes a well-rounded strategy with partnerships.

Best in class enterprise SEO can’t be done in a silo alone; it takes a village.”

Closing Thoughts

What do you wish you had known before entering the SEO industry that you’d share with others to help them grow and succeed?

Tessa Nadik: “While not always easy, SEO is a fulfilling career path with endless growth opportunities.

SEO can be a great career path if you do well with analysis, critical thinking, and constant change.

Notice I said career path: I cannot count the number of times I was told, ‘SEO is not a career path.’

I spent too much time thinking, ‘What’s next?’ when in reality, SEO itself is a very valid career path, whether it’s traditional SEO or growth!”

More Resources:


Featured Image: Courtesy of Tessa Nadik




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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

Google removed the Covid-era structured data associated with the Home Activities rich results that allowed online events to be surfaced in search since August 2020, publishing a mention of the removal in the search documentation changelog.

Home Activities Rich Results

The structured data for the Home Activities rich results allowed providers of online livestreams, pre-recorded events and online events to be findable in Google Search.

The original documentation has been completely removed from the Google Search Central webpages and now redirects to a changelog notation that explains that the Home Activity rich results is no longer available for display.

The original purpose was to allow people to discover things to do from home while in quarantine, particularly online classes and events. Google’s rich results surfaced details of how to watch, description of the activities and registration information.

Providers of online events were required to use Event or Video structured data. Publishers and businesses who have this kind of structured data should be aware that this kind of rich result is no longer surfaced but it’s not necessary to remove the structured data if it’s a burden, it’s not going to hurt anything to publish structured data that isn’t used for rich results.

The changelog for Google’s official documentation explains:

“Removing home activity documentation
What: Removed documentation on home activity structured data.

Why: The home activity feature no longer appears in Google Search results.”

Read more about Google’s Home Activities rich results:

Google Announces Home Activities Rich Results

Read the Wayback Machine’s archive of Google’s original announcement from 2020:

Home activities

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Olga Strel

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Google’s Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

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Google's Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

In a recent LinkedIn discussion, Gary Illyes, Analyst at Google, revealed that the search engine takes a binary approach when assessing a website’s lastmod signal from sitemaps.

The revelation came as Illyes encouraged website owners to upgrade to WordPress 6.5, which now natively supports the lastmod element in sitemaps.

When Mark Williams-Cook asked if Google has a “reputation system” to gauge how much to trust a site’s reported lastmod dates, Illyes stated, “It’s binary: we either trust it or we don’t.”

No Shades Of Gray For Lastmod

The lastmod tag indicates the date of the most recent significant update to a webpage, helping search engines prioritize crawling and indexing.

Illyes’ response suggests Google doesn’t factor in a website’s history or gradually build trust in the lastmod values being reported.

Google either accepts the lastmod dates provided in a site’s sitemap as accurate, or it disregards them.

This binary approach reinforces the need to implement the lastmod tag correctly and only specify dates when making meaningful changes.

Illyes commends the WordPress developer community for their work on version 6.5, which automatically populates the lastmod field without extra configuration.

Accurate Lastmod Essential For Crawl Prioritization

While convenient for WordPress users, the native lastmod support is only beneficial if Google trusts you’re using it correctly.

Inaccurate lastmod tags could lead to Google ignoring the signal when scheduling crawls.

With Illyes confirming Google’s stance, it shows there’s no room for error when using this tag.

Why SEJ Cares

Understanding how Google acts on lastmod can help ensure Google displays new publish dates in search results when you update your content.

It’s an all-or-nothing situation – if the dates are deemed untrustworthy, the signal could be disregarded sitewide.

With the information revealed by Illyes, you can ensure your implementation follows best practices to the letter.


Featured Image: Danishch/Shutterstock

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

There’s one thing standing between you and several days of SEO, socializing, and Singaporean sunshine: your boss (and their Q4 budget 😅).

But don’t worry—we’ve got your back. Here are 5 arguments (and an example message) you can use to persuade your boss to send you to Ahrefs Evolve.

About Ahrefs Evolve

  • 2 days in sunny Singapore (Oct 24–25)
  • 500 digital marketing enthusiasts
  • 18 top speakers from around the world

Learn more and buy tickets.

SEO is changing at a breakneck pace. Between AI Overviews, Google’s rolling update schedule, their huge API leak, and all the documents released during their antitrust trial, it’s hard to keep up. What works in SEO today?

You could watch a YouTube video or two, maybe even attend an hour-long webinar. Or, much more effective: you could spend two full days learning from a panel of 18 international SEO experts, discussing your takeaways live with other attendees.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve speakers from around the world.

Our world-class speakers are tackling the hardest problems and best opportunities in SEO today. The talk agenda covers topics like:

  • Responding to AI Overviews: Amanda King will teach you how to respond to AI Overviews, Google Gemini, and other AI search functions.
  • Surviving (and thriving) Google’s algo updates: Lily Ray will talk through Google’s recent updates, and share data-driven recommendations for what’s working in search today.
  • Planning for the future of SEO: Bernard Huang will talk through the failures of AI content and the path to better results.

(And attendees will get video recordings of each session, so you can share the knowledge with your teammates too.)

View the full talk agenda here.

There’s no substitute for meeting with influencers, peers, and partners in real life. 

Conferences create serendipity: chance encounters and conversations that can have a huge positive impact on you and your business. By way of example, these are some of the real benefits that have come my way from attending conferences:

  • Conversations that lead to new customers for our business,
  • Invitations to speak at events,
  • New business partnerships and co-marketing opportunities, and
  • Meeting people that we went on to hire.

There’s a “halo” effect that lingers long after the event is over: the people you meet will remember you for longer, think more highly of you, and be more likely to help you out, should you ask.

(And let’s not forget: there’s a lot of information, particularly in SEO, that only gets shared in person.)

The “international” part of Evolve matters too. Evolve is a different crowd to your local run-of-the-mill conference. It’s a chance to meet with people from markets you wouldn’t normally meet—from Australia to Indonesia and beyond.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve attendees by home country.

If you’re an Ahrefs customer (thank you!), you’ll learn tons of tips, tricks and workflow improvements from attending Evolve. You’ll have opportunities to:

  • Attend talks from the Ahrefs team, showcasing advanced features and strategies that you can use in your own business.
  • Pick our brains at the Ahrefs booth, where we’ll offer informal 1:1 coaching sessions and previews of up-coming releases (like our new content optimization tool 🤫).
  • Join dedicated Ahrefs training workshops, hosted by the Ahrefs team and Ahrefs power users (tickets for these workshops will sold separately).

As a manager myself, there are two questions I need answered when approving expenses:

  • Is this a reasonable cost?
  • Will we see a return on this investment?

To answer those questions: early bird tickets for Evolve start at $570. For context, “super early bird” tickets for MozCon (another popular SEO conference) this year were almost twice as much: $999.

There’s a lot included in the ticket price too:

  • World-class international speakers,
  • 5-star hotel venue,
  • 5-star hotel food (two tea breaks with snacks & lunch),
  • Networking afterparty, and
  • Full talk recordings to later share with your team.

SEO is a crucial growth channel for most businesses. If you can improve your company’s SEO performance after attending Evolve (and we think you will), you’ll very easily see a positive return on the investment.

Traveling to tropical Singapore (and eating tons of satay) is great for you, but it’s also great for your team. Attending Evolve is a chance to break with routine, reignite your passion for marketing, and come back to your job reinvigorated.

This would be true for any international conference, but it goes double for Singapore. It’s a truly unique place: an ultra-safe, high-tech city that brings together dozens of different cultures.

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Little India in Singapore

You’ll discover different beliefs, working practices, and ways of business—and if you’re anything like me, come back a richer, wiser person for the experience.

If you’re nervous about pitching your boss on attending Evolve, remember: the worst that can happen is a polite “not this time”, and you’ll find yourself in the same position you are now.

So here goes: take this message template, tweak it to your liking, and send it to your boss over email or Slack… and I’ll see you in Singapore 😉

Email template

Hi [your boss’ name],

Our SEO tool provider, Ahrefs, is holding an SEO and digital marketing conference in Singapore in October. I’d like to attend, and I think it’s in the company’s interest:

  • The talks will help us respond to all the changes happening in SEO today. I’m particularly interested in the talks about AI and recent Google updates. 
  • I can network with my peers. I can discover what’s working at other companies, and explore opportunities for partnerships and co-marketing.
  • I can learn how we can use Ahrefs better across the organization.
  • I’ll come back reinvigorated with new ideas and motivation, and I can share my top takeaways and talk recordings with my team after the event.

Early bird tickets are $570. Given how important SEO is to the growth of our business, I think we’ll easily see a return from the spend.

Can we set up time to chat in more detail? Thanks!

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