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Sebastian: Bill, welcome to the SEO show.
Bill: Thank you for having me.
Sebastian: Hey, Bill. So, you’re the head of SEO and paid acquisition at a company called Drift. Is that right so far?
Bill: That’s right, yes. Just joined about seven months ago.
Sebastian: And that’s a pretty unique title. Most marketers are either the head of SEO or head of paid search. How did you manage to get the role of both?
Bill: That’s a good question. So, the performance marketing side of Drift is a relatively newer function in terms of it being designed for performance. Actually, one of the pillars that Drift has grown really quickly from is the brand and creative side of things. So, they sort of built that engine first to create some separation from us and from everybody else in the SaaS space. And then they slowly created the performance marketing end of things and I would say it’s pretty new the team — I would say in the last year or so. So in building that, they had been doing some paid acquisition but not a ton and they had dabbled in SEO, but it wasn’t like a full heads on, “let’s take this serious” kind of thing. So, combining the two roles at first made a lot of sense, because we wanted to keep a low investment but high upside potential for those two channels. Now that we’ve got the engine running, I assume that it’s going to grow pretty quickly.
Sebastian: I’ve mentioned on my personal blog that I think paid search really helps with keyword intent and keyword research to find out what’s converting. Do you agree with that and are there any other ways in which you would see paid search being almost vital to SEO?
Bill: Well, I think it depends on your strategy and your niche. So for us, I have a totally unique challenge here versus where I was before. I was in the FinTech space before, where we’re talking about very high LTV. But that niche — they don’t do a lot of SEO — there’s not a high level of competition there. So, just to exist, you had to do the basics. Whereas here, there’s a lot of competition for those down funnel queries. So, it’s actually kind of nice to manage both paid and SEO because I can kind of combine my resources, what am I trying to achieve, and how do I blend that mix together to make sure that we’re driving enough pipeline for the sales team. And again — especially for the chat and the business where there’s a ton of new players in the space. There’s a lot of stuff happening, so what we’re trying to do is like set a strategic vision for SEO where we can scale it up in a reasonable way over the next 6 to 12 months. Then I’m able to use paid to kind of offset those initial scale up paths that we’re going to take. And also being mindful that we sell software. We’re not a huge ticket item for most people, but we’re going up market. So like the business is changing a ton so I have to stay nimble and quick to adapt into how the business is changing. But I would say, having the full autonomy to manage both of those actually gives me quite a bit of flexibility and how I apply that strategy.
Sebastian: Right. And Drift is in this relatively new category called customer messaging or conversational marketing, what have you. But given that most people aren’t really searching for those kind of terms, how do you even begin to do SEO for Drift?
Bill: Yeah, that’s a great question because you quickly get into the really competitive spaces where there have been some legacy players. Let’s talk about what Drift is. Drift is basically — we have kind of four pillars of the brand. There’s chat, there’s video, there’s email and there’s automation. Really, automation sits across all those tools. But the incumbent brands that are in those topics are quite established. If we did our entire strategy on trying to break through on marketing automation, that’s a tough path. So, we’re adjusting where we have opportunity to grow quicker and then sell across the different suites. The chat space is getting hot. Video is really new — it’s almost like chat was five years ago, where when I say video, I mean we’re building products for people to send videos across to different folks and stuff like that, it’s really interesting. But that space is almost like where chat was five years ago. So, we’re using these levers in these kind of new spaces to create some distance from us and the competition. Then we’re using the other products we’re building to create a full solution and do some cross selling. That’s our specific opportunity in the market. Then long term, I’m thinking strategically 6 to 12 months down the line, and these topics, we’re not going to be able to win them right away. But we start building our presence around them, and then over time we’ll be able to compete in those spaces.
Sebastian: And who would you guys say is your ideal client?
Bill: That’s a good question. So when I first joined, it was — it’s still kind of a mix. But we’re actually going up market quite a bit because there’s a lot of people out there who love the idea of chat, but they’re a SMB. They’re interested in building like a few playbooks, it’s interesting. And then there’s like the larger teams that have a dedicated SDR team and a dedicated sales outbound and inbound sales teams. And that space is relatively underserved I think in my opinion. So as we’re figuring this out, we’re like, “Wow”, these companies have a lot of conversations coming in. They’ve got a lot have processes to manage and that’s where that automation play has really triggered us to tiptoe into the bigger markets because we just saw a huge need there. So, if you combine all these great friction-reducing applications, and then you combine automation on top of it, it’s a really great toolset for a lot of marketers who are struggling to create an edge. And I think it’s where Drift really helps people is like, this is not widely adopted conversation marketing by the larger field yet. And any tool that comes through that really changes things, there’s a tremendous amount of advantage for someone to do this well nowadays and create some real distance between the competitors.
Sebastian: Well, let’s switch to tactics. As SEOs, you know, we love to work with WordPress, but if you had to pick another, what would you say your CMS of choice would be?
Bill: Yeah, we use WordPress. I mean, out of the box, there’s a lot work that has to be done to get it to be in the right place. And I think a lot of people, the SEOs out there who are just thinking specifically about performance end of things kind of forget like the CMS is there to make it easy for us to create. Make it easier for us to roll out a lot of different changes, to do optimizations, there’s a ton of plugins and all the other components of it. I personally don’t mind WordPress, it just takes little bit more work. It would be great to build a very customized solution but we have to also keep in mind that there are many stakeholders that are in there and creating content stuff like that. So, it works well for us right now, but yes, that the position we’re in right now.
Sebastian: Do you guys conduct routine audits with tools like Screaming Frog and Content King and JetOctopus?
Bill: Yes, I personally prefer DeepCrawl. I’ve been using that for a while. That’s my like go-to for site crawl. Now, you don’t need that, that’s kind of overkill. Where you know, our site growing really quickly and so it might be a little bit too much tool for our existing set now, but I believe we’re going to grow into that quickly. And we just have a lot of different types of properties out there. So it’s easy for me to manage all those in one place.
Sebastian: And I noticed you guys have the company blog, like most SaaS companies do, but are you guys really optimizing that with tools like ClearScope and Ryte and Surfer — those kind of content writing optimization platforms?
Bill: Yes, we’ve done a few trials of those. We’re probably going to start doing a bit more of it. When I first joined, my first goal, and it’s just something I’ve learned from mistakes in the past. And I guess this just comes with experience. But like, my first real big things were like getting really tight with the content team. Like help me scale my output versus just trying to chase fixes. So I’ve been spending a lot of time with the team, helping them understand the basics of SEO like what’s SEO friendly. Now that’s the blog feed and then we’ve got this new Learning Hub that we just launched recently, that is mostly dedicated for search. But, there are a lot of people who are contributing to that and that’s more evergreen stuff. So, we’re kind of thinking of the brand as almost like to two pieces. There’s the blog feed, which is fun, interesting kind of brandy content. Then we have these evergreen resources we’re building slowly over time, for those topics, like we were talking about before that are a little bit tougher to write for.
Sebastian: And I know a lot of SaaS companies do this, and some people think it’s shady, some people don’t, but do you guys bid on other competitive brand terms?
Bill: We have in the past. The question becomes, “What type of topic and how does our product fit that persona?”. I’m not opposed to it. I think that you just have to be open minded like anything and take a look at what the data says and make your decisions that way. There is a lot of opportunity out there for us to grow. And I think if we’re really honest with ourselves, we’re not going to have the budget that a lot of other companies are that are out there. And we’re not going to have a lot of the different resources that people have. But we’re pretty resourceful here. We move quick. We make decisions based on data and if something’s working, will double, triple down on it. And if not, then we’ll move on from it. And brand I think — there are some competitor brands were like, it’s just a slam dunk because — I’ll give you an example. We have this new email product that we’re building. It does reply management and automation of replies that come back into your system. So it helps you manage those and then also helps you clean up your database. So, that’s a great complimentary product to a lot of other email products out there. That would be — and since we’re like, this isn’t a replacement, it’s a like bolt on so that makes a lot of sense, and we see that it works well there. In terms of replacement, rip and replace, those are the tough ones. That’s where you can spend a lot of money and it’s really tough to grow that way but we’re trying to look for, what’s the all the opportunities and then find out what works and then go quickly on those.
Sebastian: And can you help settle the debate between Ahrefs vs SEMrush? Would you have a favorite?
Bill: It’s hard to say. I find myself using Ahrefs more but SEMrush has a lot of good things about their tool and I think it depends on what you’re trying to do. I love the keyword side of things on SEMrush and then Ahrefs has a lot of great applications and they’ve built that tool significantly over the past couple of years. I think if you would have asked me this question two or three years ago, I would have said SEMrush, but I think that Ahrefs has created some distance in their products over the past couple years.
Sebastian: For SEO, do you find that web hosting has a big impact? If so, is there one you prefer over another?
Bill: Yes, sure. I guess it’s probably like, I was talking to a friend about this over the weekend, and there’s kind of a renaissance of the technical stuff coming around where like — and I think this comes down to how do you find your advantage? When content and links are kind of table stakes, where do you find that advantage? So a lot of times, when those other things are done, people forget about the technical foundations like site speed, and a lot of these types of things that we’re trying to build a good foundation for. This always goes back to when nobody was doing content marketing. Now everybody’s doing content marketing, and that’s just a thing that everybody does now. Well, how do you create that next step? I think the technical aspects are the next big thing, especially for sites growing really quickly. We’re like, it’s so easy to just come into a role like this and just go, go, go, but often times, the biggest wins you get are to take a step back, create a foundation for scale, and then go after that. This is something I’ve learned over the past few years.
Sebastian: Bill, do you follow any digital marketing books, blogs, podcasts?
Bill: Geez, that’s tough. I don’t really have like a blog feed or like places that I go. I think Kevin Indig over at G2 is doing some fantastic work. He’s also an awesome dude. Nick Eubanks over at From The Future is doing some fantastic work and their blog is great. There are plenty of other folks, I don’t want to get into too many specific people. But I think at this point, I’m looking for original research and people who are creating new things. But at the same time, one thing that’s really tempting in SEO is to get so focused on what’s new and what are the new trends and this and that. And it’s like, most of the impact I’m going to have for this company is having a real understanding of what are the foundational elements and what’s actually going to go create value and then executing on that. I wish I had more time to dabble into the edges of things. But that’s why I look to those folks who are way more technical than I am, that are that are super technical and really smart and finding inspiration from that. But also way over the context, I’ve only got so much time, I manage a lot of things here. So, I don’t want to get too caught up in that minutia in what’s cool now, you know what I mean?
Sebastian: Obviously, we’re both on Twitter and it’s got a great SEO community over there. Do you find that there’s another channel out there that’s just as helpful?
Bill: Yes. So I’ve been a member for Traffic Think Tank, which is basically this closed slack group. I think that that’s valuable for many reasons. The one that is most valuable, is there’s this layer of trust that when you’re in that group, that you could talk about things and ask questions and be totally open with your ideas, maybe good or bad ideas. And you need a venue like that. I think that when I was first getting into SEO, I needed to be able to ask people questions that had more experience than me or had been through that before. Having that venue is really important as you’re growing your career and as you’re trying to improve in SEO. Because it’s like anything else, there’s so many hours that somebody has to go through to find something out and when you have a disposable network where people are willing to be truly honest about something versus just like there’s a lot of noise on the internet. I just think those communities are super valuable because it cuts through that noise.
Sebastian: And finally Bill, if digital marketing was to go away tomorrow, what would you find yourself doing instead?
Bill: That’s a good question. I went to school originally for music. I found out that I wasn’t very good at that. And then I went back for journalism, and somehow turned into an SEO role. But my real passion early on was creative writing and sports writing stuff. I just like writing and taking a thought and creating something out of that. I think that would be it, but I’d also be interested in education, helping others. That’s a real big passion of mine and all that stuff. So I think I could combine the two of those and find something pretty neat.
Sebastian: Hey, well Bill, thanks so much for your time. I appreciate it.
Bill: Yes, of course. Thank you.