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RankUp #20 – Commercially Savvy SEO with Kev Wiles

Kev Wiles joined the 20th RankUp podcast for a wide-ranging episode covering all kinds of topics from his experience working in agencies, in-house and as a SEO freelancer.

Now, freelance, Kevin has previously worked for big UK brands like Halfords and, as well as working in the UK and New Zealand for a number of digital agencies. With this background, he’s had plenty of time to pick up on what it takes to find commercial success through SEO.

Listen to full podcast episode on this page or your app of choice, or keep reading for some of the highlights from our interview.

Introducing Kev

Ben: What’s the bird’s eye view of your story in SEO?

Kev: I initially started doing web design and development and quickly figured out you could do white text on a white background when search engines were first around. And that then progressed into joining a boutique agency in this small town. We were really lucky to have some good clients. That’s when my SEO learning really took off.

And then from there I moved around a little bit, then more recently, I decided to go and travel New Zealand for a year before the pandemic and worked over in iProspect.

When I came back, I worked on a challenger brand in bathroom retail, and then moved in-house to lead digital transformation from an SEO perspective at Halfords, and then decided to go into consultancy.

Like 90% of the SEO industry, I fell into it, have an unhealthy obsession with SEO and learning these things, and spend too many late nights just reading things and getting stuck into learning and testing new things.

Treating websites & businesses as unique

Edd: SEOs like to focus on best practices in search, but that isn’t necessarily the best route to go down. Each website is different and it won’t always be the case that you can follow a best practice solution. If you follow best practices, you could spend a lot of budget going down a route that isn’t going to deliver, and there may be a quicker, more sustainable workaround for your business or website.

Kev: I think you could take any website and you’ll always find instances of errors that come up in Sitebulb, or something that’s been flagged in Search Console, for example. But often there’s rationale that an outsider won’t see, whether that’s that the CMS is built in a completely different way that just can’t facilitate the fix, or the fix is going to take 40 hours of dev work, and the return on investment may not be there.

In SEO, context is king. Any graph can show an upward trend, but what’s behind it? And a lot of the time, it won’t be just SEO in silo. If we look at Halfords as an example, traffic for the last year after we migrated was on the up before the pandemic, but the pandemic, with people just being outside, just accelerated that growth.

Yes, it’s a good feeling to see that traffic and see that revenue coming in, but it’s not all down to SEO. I’m supporting in getting those pages ranking better, but so are other teams in terms of going out with PR, or supporting PPC, or whatever channel it might be. And I think that is key to understand the whole picture.

Getting buy-in for SEO activities by talking about risk

Ben: If you’re trying to get buy-in for an activity by talking about the risk of not doing it, what kind of data would you use? Do you talk about competitors, or were you drawing from other examples?

Kev: A little bit of everything, to be honest. If it’s an activty that’s core to the business, I’d probably look at things around like traffic and revenue and the potential drop – for example, dropping click through rate might lead to this much less traffic, and with our conversion rate it can be tied back to revenue.

Let’s say that we are thinking about building our location pages using a non-clean URL structure and not having them linked to throughout the site. And what that means for those search queries where a map pack fires, we may not be as visible because we’re doing lots of changes and we’re not going to do all these other bits that have a waterfall effect.

As another example, if you have lots and lots of videos that are old, with your old branding, for example, in an ideal world, you definitely want those to have new branding to align with the brand. But if you suddenly delete all those, and you were ranking for 100 video snippets, for example, you’ll see a drop.

That is an issue, and you need to highlight that the SERP is no longer just 10 blue links like it used to be. So look at SERP features and say that this is a map listing that we might lose (using the local example), and therefore the clicks are going to decline, and we might have a less of an impact on research for online purchases, for example, which for a brand like Halfords is a big problem.

Adapting to challenges in the pandemic

Kev: In the pandemic, where it was safe to do so, we were doing things like curbside pickup because people wanted a bike and they wanted it today, They didn’t want to wait for a week and they didn’t definitely didn’t want to wait a week from Amazon and then have to build it themselves!

My role was about weighing that up. I had to say that this is my SEO bit, but my SEO bit is only a piece of the wider cake. Sometimes you just can’t, as SEOs, get your own way.

I think being inhouse has definitely made me realize that, when agency side, you can go off and do projects and deliver cool things and work on scripts…and all that sort of stuff is encouraged inhouse, but there are certain things that you just can’t do. You just can’t get that person to buy in, or the resource doesn’t exist for whatever reason. At that point you just need to adapt and overcome. If it’s schema implementation, for example, how can you use things like Tag Manager?

You have to take that approach of adapt and overcome and try to make the best of a bad situation. Sometimes you won’t be involved in campaigns and won’t be involved in web releases. Whatever happens, don’t lose, lose your focus. If there was an issue, how do we get back to a level playing field and then go from there?

You can see more from Kev on Twitter and on his website, Don’t forget to check out the whole interview on a podcast app of your choice.

Edd and I will be back soon with a new interview for the RankUp podcast. In the meantime, you can find us both on Twitter, @BenJGarry and @EddJTW.

If you’re interested in being a guest on the show, please reach out to us on Twitter or via email.