Welcome to our AMA with Tom Critchlow, strategy consultant and Creator of SEO MBA.
Tom's upcoming course is on Executive Presence, which helps senior level SEO pros get budget and buy-in for their work.
Here's the career outline:
I think ultimately I was VERY lucky to join Distilled and for Distilled to be at the right time / right place - to get an early partnership with Moz that provided visibility - through writing on their blog and speaking at their conferences.
I think working in SEO gave me a lot of exposure to "recommendations" that went nowhere. There are SO MANY seo audits / documents / best practices that clients simply ignore - so over my career I've been really obsessed with driving to outcomes - how to actually get things done, not just documents stuffed with recommendations.
Then working at Google I was very lucky to work with a team (the creative lab) that was regularly presenting ideas to Larry Page (then CEO of Google) and the Google exec team - so I got a lot of exposure to the kinds of mindsets of those people, their short attention spans etc.
To be clear I helped present to Larry and prepared stuff for senior execs but was never actually in the room with Larry - though I did present to Sundar a few times.
I think either way the mindset of "competitor X did this thing, and got results Y, we can try and replicate it" is a great mindset.
I wrote a bit about that here: Managing Expectations by Finding Good Comparisons.
Great question - I think the key ingredient for any risky bet is how to reduce risk! Sounds obvious but you have to think about ways to:
The good news for things like tools is that there are plenty of prior examples of this working - the downside is that they can be quite expensive to make!
Also - don't forget to factor in the FULL cost of the tool - it's not just making the tool, but making the supporting content, doing the outreach etc.
If I had the answers to this I'd be rich lol.
But more seriously - this is a BIG question and one every content business is wrestling with right now. My best guess:
But long story short - everything is gonna change. But no one knows exactly how yet.
I think this is looking at slightly backwards - yes Google changing their interface is one thing, but the supply side of all the websites using AI to write content is going to revolutionize the content space whether Google changes or not (which will force Google's hand to change).
I'm not necessarily saying that Google is going to turn into a chat interface (though I'm not not saying that) but I do think things are going to change dramatically over the next ___time horizon.
Great Q - I wrote a bit about sales/lead-gen for consultants here:
The key ideas are to attract the right kind of deals - and to be positioned so that you're not in a competitive pitch.
After that - you have to really understand the context of the client's business to properly scope the project. e.g. there's no point in selling them a content strategy if they don't have any writers.
Then - my fave tip is to always offer two pricing tiers, anchor them high with a "full" project and then offer a slightly smaller one.
Gives the client a sense of agency, anchors them high and you'd be surprised how often they just say yes to the higher figure.
Lastly - always price a project so that you're happy if they say yes. This means that if the project looks like a bad project, increase your prices!!
Temperature HOT. Every business that relies on SEO is thinking about it - but if you're a content/media business it's code red.
Great question - actually I'm not sure that SEOs struggle with it any more than other industries do. Designers struggle with it, PMs struggle with it.
But I think the hardest thing about SEO is that SEO results (i.e. organic traffic revenue) is 2 or 3 steps away from SEO actions (i.e. links, content, tech work) so showing a direct causal relationship is hard.
Couple that with the conflation of brand and non-brand organic traffic and it means that many exec teams are left unclear on the real value of SEO.
I mean I'm entirely biased because I run the SEO MBA but.... Yes! I think there's a real lack of experience around clear business communication, how to create a business case, financial modeling and so on.
People are very rarely taught how to advocate for their work - you just kind of pick it up over time.
That's a real shame because there are totally concrete, tangible ways to learn how to get better at this - concepts like "executive presence" and "strategic thinking" are actually real skills you can improve at.
I've written a bit about that here: The Consultant Out of Time: Chronos & Kairos - a framework for just-in-time consulting
The basic principle is simply to ask for every "deliverable" or "document" - so what? What is actually going to happen as a result? And then work to THAT as best you can.
So if you're making a content strategy deck - is the output from that the client producing content? If so, why not work with the content writers, test some ideas, improve process etc.
I don't have a team of practitioners, it's just me! I still definitely get my hands dirty and roll up my sleeves with things like keyword research etc. when needed.
But I try and do it in service of helping clients build their own capabilities.
Thinking less about "an SEO audit" and more about "how does the client build an ongoing SEO program."
I think ALL agency/consultant relationships should have one eye on long term expanding your client's capabilities.
It's not about making yourself redundant (there's always more to do) but the most impactful/ valuable thing you can do is help your client get better at something over time.
I can't talk about the MOST interesting ways lol. But obviously people are using it to generate content, aggregate data and more.
But the space is moving very quickly.
You've likely seen the Bankrate stuff etc. already.
I've been an indie consultant for 8+ years so I've been working from home for a long time! I've got two kids now (7 & 3) so they take up a bunch of downtime and family time.
Outside of that - rock climbing, biking!
My absolute best advice is to use a concise executive summary - as outlined in this piece - the great thing about an exec summary is it's designed to circulate around a company.
So start with that - then flesh out the details etc. with your point of contact.
Also - don't be afraid to ask your point of contact who else in the business cares and what kind of summary they need!
You can often really help your point of contact look good by collaborating on a deck that can be circulated around the business.
And making your point of contact look good is a GREAT plan for agencies/consultants.
Quotebacks has a dear place in my heart - it was a covid project I made with Toby Shorin. It's a kind of lightweight blogging technology that is both embeddable style for quotes AND chrome extension for managing snippets and quotes around the web.
We have some grand plans for the future but unfortunately Toby and I are really busy so it's kind of hold for now.
It has a small, but really active userbase. My fave is Matt Webb's blog that uses it heavily.
Right now I'm a HUGE fan of Cedric Chin and his writing on CommonCog.
Also, some great writing by Will Lethain.
I also think Reforge has put out some great content.
Sacra is doing some really interesting things too! I love their tone of voice and love how deep they go in their analysis.
Hmm. It's hard to single out any specific things - most things still work in some situations.That said - I think people put a bit too much emphasis on things like H2 vs H3 tags. I see some bad SEO audits that advocate for changing page structure and HTML structure when I think Google has got the page completely figured out already.
I also think that as an industry the SEO industry focuses on creating content for the sake of it without really knowing why.
You end up with a lot of recommendations that say "make all this top of funnel content" but without really having a deliberate plan for building links, or moving users down the funnel.
So you end up driving traffic, but not really impacting conversions.
I'm not saying that top of funnel content isn't worth doing but you gotta do it with a plan.
I think there's two ideas here:
Thanks for tuning in! Make sure to follow Tom on Linkedin and you can sign up for his SEO MBA Cohort that starts on April 27, 2023.