The Case for SEOs Adopting a Growth Outlook: Summary of Episode 88
The famed Yuriy Yarovoy explains how adopting a growth mindset has helped him take his SEO and marketing overall to another level:
- How a growth mindset relates to SEO and how it opens new opportunity
- What does a growth SEO mindset actually look like?
- Why SEOs have not yet adopted the growth mindset
How to Adopt a Growth SEO Mindset and Why It’s Important: A Conversation with Yuriy Yarovoy
Mordy: This is another In Search SEO podcast interview. Today we have an outdoor enthusiast and East Coast transplant now living it up in California. He is the co-founder of the Big SEO subreddit and the Chief Growth Officer over at Warrior Made. He is Yuriy Yarovoy.
How are you?
Yuriy: Doing well. Thanks for that.
M: Today we’re going to talk about SEO, search marketing, and digital marketing. When we were talking about what topic to do for this interview, you emailed me saying, “The latter portion of my career has been an intentional progression away from SEO and towards a growth marketing lead role as a way to take complete control over strategy and be able to dictate, incorporate, and form all other marketing channels with the overarching SEO strategy.” When you said to take complete control over strategy, what did you mean?
Y: Have you ever worked at an SEO agency?
M: No, I’ve been on the tool side of my whole career.
Y: That’s awesome. That’s where I am now. I worked on the agency side for five or six years and I’ve learned a lot. It was a fantastic experience because I was exposed to a lot of different industries and people and learned a lot about other channels. From a learning perspective it is huge. But one thing that you quickly realize on the agency side is you have no ownership. You’ll spend three months on a project, you’ll give it to a client, and they’ll tell you they don’t have the budget or the resources. So you move on. You cashed your check so it’s on them, right? But that sucks.
Once I went to work in-house, I quickly realized you have way more ownership. But you now have to cross-sell your strategy to decision makers that will ultimately say if we’re going to do this or not. Those kinds of value judgments are, in my opinion, inefficient. What I really wanted to do is have complete control over not just what we do from the SEO side, but also how it actually gets implemented and actually seeing things through from end to end. At the same time, what you find is that every channel thinks that they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread.
M: Absolutely. With PPC thinking they’re better than SEO or all the social media platforms vying for attention.
Y: Yeah, my point being is I got tired of that tug of war. What I really wanted to do is to just be effective. So I wanted to take complete control over how things get implemented, which things get implemented, in what order, and what priority and then take what I’ve learned over my years, strictly focusing on SEO, and apply that across all these channels. Because SEO can inform so many channels with the obvious one being paid search as they work hand in hand. So many times I’ve seen agencies where the paid search team is over here and the SEO team is over there and they don’t talk. Some agencies have teamwork, but most don’t.
M: That’s amazing to me. You’re not trying to improve your SEO, you’re not trying to dominate the paid SERP, you’re just trying to make more money, grow your visibility, and grow your business.
Y: Yeah, but isn’t that the point? Especially in-house, my ultimate goal is for the business to succeed.
M: Yeah, and that’s the whole point. It’s funny that we sort of live in this bubble of SEO. Like we’re on Google Planet and it’s peculiar to say the least.
Y: No, it’s logical. It makes total sense. Here’s the other part. All these things that we’re talking about is about getting traffic in. What happens when the traffic gets there? I have a really big pet peeve when people talk about growth, especially in Twitter land, where it’s always in the context of paid or performance marketing.
When you look at growth, yes, people got to your product, but now how do we get them to engage with it? How do we retain them? What do we do inside the product? Whether it’s building new features or changing the way that we present certain features. Or going outside of the product and changing the language, the messaging, or the campaigns that are actually driving that traffic to drive more qualified traffic. Sure, I rank for every term in the world and I’m driving 10 million people a day to my site, but 9.99 million of those are terrible users. I’m actually losing money on infrastructure costs because I’m driving that traffic. Traffic for traffic sake is a bad idea.
M: It’s almost as bad as ranking for ranking sake.
Y: Yeah. But that happens in SEO all the time where I can’t justify my position or my value so I’m just going to rank for all these keywords. Cool. How many sales did that drive? Probably few.
M: That’s the hard part. I view SEO as a tool. My whole job is to understand users and consumers to bring them in to grow our brand, to grow our product, to grow our revenue, and all that. SEO is a means of doing that. If I want to put out content, I want to show that we have knowledge, we have authority, and I’m going to share my knowledge with you. I’m going to use SEO to make it findable. I don’t know how to put it. It’s a small detail of a much larger picture.
Y: This is why I transitioned to this broader role. I’m going to rephrase what you said. I look at SEO as a piece on a chessboard, just like paid search, paid social, affiliate, direct mail campaigns, email, whatever. They are pieces on a chessboard. Sometimes SEO is an incredibly effective piece to move and sometimes it isn’t. There are plenty of products and services where SEO probably won’t be the channel that drives the most sales or drives the most business impact. It might be paid search or it might be affiliates. I wanted to make those decisions. I wanted to be the one playing chess. I didn’t want to be the piece on the board.
M: It makes a lot of sense. If you want to drive the goal you want to do, it’s what you need to do. It’s almost like an opportunity mindset.
Y: That’s the growth mindset. Where’s the opportunity to make the most business impact? Is it changing this feature in the product because that is where we’re seeing the most drop off, and that we have a huge opportunity to have a multiplicative effect by optimizing this product feature? Or is it on the acquisition side? Whether it’s creating a system for generating tons of content that is a value to our users that drives them into our landing page and drives them into the product. Great. We’ve captured them. How do we get the most out of them? How do we present them with the most opportunity to stay with the product and build trust with the brand?
M: When you put it like that, it’s almost self evident. But for whatever reason, this is not a common outlook within the SEO industry and I’m curious what your thoughts are.
Y: SEO is the art of making mountain ranges out of a single molehill. Remember when E-A-T hit the SEO community?
M: Yeah, I’m big on E-A-T.
Y: Why? Why did E-A-T become this big thing in the last year? What revelation or revolutionary insight within E-A-T changed anything that you should have been doing before?
M: Absolutely nothing.
Y: So why are we talking about it?
M: Because people are not doing it. I’ll tell you my opinion exactly why. I got on the bandwagon after the Medic update because one of the things that I saw was that Google was profiling sites asking who you are and what’s your identity. Are you a really good informational site or are you an informational site that’s just trying to sell me some magical powder through so many banner ads and CTAs? Identity, authority, and trust are the same concept. Once Google’s looking at identity, authority, trustworthiness, and expertise, they are really one and the same. In terms of what you should actually be doing, nothing should have changed.
I look at it as a way of saying to people that you need to look at the content you’re writing from the perspective of who you are, what you should be talking about, and what helps the user understand who you are. So if you’re a site that talks about SEO, just talk about SEO. Don’t talk about things just to get a high search volume keyword.
A real marketer would want to manifest a certain identity to the user so they understand who I am and what I’m about. It builds up a sense that you can trust me, I’m an expert in this. I have authority. Come buy whatever I’m selling. A real marketer would have been doing that from the start, but SEO has been so far behind actual marketing because they are so focused on keywords, title tags, and all these things. Finally, I think the E-A-T is saying to think like a marketer for five minutes and stop thinking like an SEO.
Y: Again, I agree with everything you said, but nothing is revolutionary.
I think why this kind of mentality hasn’t caught on is partly out of self interest. And this applies to all channels with their own versions of E-A-T. By staying siloed and specialized, we in the SEO community can control the perceived difficulty and scope of a given problem. So we can go to a client and say, “You have an E-A-T problem.” It’s like, “Oh gosh, this has a name. It’s important because you named it and there’s a term for it. I don’t know how to do this.” Actually, you’ve been doing this your entire life naturally because it’s the most basic building block of a business, trust.
Now here’s where it’s not applicable. If I have a bunch of MFA or affiliate sites that I don’t care about, I am going to do whatever the hell works. I’m going to buy all the spammy links, I am going to have all spintax so I don’t care because one, if a site gets burned down, that’s fine, I could spin it back up as most of that stuff’s templated. Two, my goal is to extract as much value from the site as quickly as possible. It’s not about building a brand or authority. It really depends on what you’re doing. If you’re trying to build a real brand or real business, I would never say do that. I would say, E-A-T is a framework that you should have been doing all along. But now it’s got a name.
M: Ironically, out of all the people who I speak about this, the affiliates give me the hardest time with what they can do. How do we create something that’s more substantial and legitimate? To give SEOs some credit, it is a little bit abstract. If you want to think about how to create an identity for my site, for myself or for my business, that’s way more abstract than what keyword is most representative of this copy that I’m writing.
Y: It’s a logical progression. You start with what is identity? How do you establish an identity? Now we’re back to the chessboard. You can establish identity strictly through Twitter. Just build an audience and say things that people actually listen to. You don’t need SEO.
M: That’s what I do all day long.
There’s a whole other approach to my SEO life that I didn’t know about before. It’s called growth marketing. What’s an example of how through growth marketing you would approach a problem or a particular problem that you’ve had in the past?
Y: Sure, so I’m going to talk about framework first. Does your product solve a problem? I’m assuming it does. Solving the real world problems that help your customer is the goal and a secondary benefit is your business gets some kind of revenue or brand appeal. Your number one priority as a business is to solve a problem and as a byproduct of that, your business grows. That priority needs to exist. If you’re thinking how to extract the most value possible rather than how to provide the most value possible then you’re screwed. At least, your maximum scope for the business is limited.
Now, what problems do your users actually face? Does your product address those problems? Can users discover those solutions within your product? And can your users discover those solutions externally from your product through the content that you make?
Now that the user is inside your product, what do they do on the product? Are they actually engaging with the product? Are they using it? After they use it, do they stick around or do they churn? At every step of that process from acquisition to activation to engagement to retention, can we improve the metrics going from the onboarding screen inside your product to people sticking around for 31 days? Can we improve how many people come from this landing page and actually sign up into the product? Growth looks at the entire picture. Not just your acquisition channels but it looks at your product as well and all of the campaigns that your product outputs as a byproduct. It looks at how we can increase and improve the efficiency in each of those steps.
M: It’s problem solving, finding opportunity, problem solving, finding an opportunity, etc.
Y: Yeah. But what happens is an SEO will say I’m an SEO and the rest is not my problem. Or I’m paid search and the product and SEO pieces are not my problem. I want to make all of it my problem. I enjoy all of these pieces. I think that they’re all critical to product improvements, product growth, and traffic growth.
By no means is this a one person job. The hardest part of this entire framework is selling it across your organization and making sure that everyone speaks the same language. That’s why I’m a huge fan of Reforge. I think the huge value there is that it provides a single framework through which you can communicate to other people. It gives you a language that you can teach your organization or have other people go through the curriculum and learn and now you’re all on the same page. You understand that you shouldn’t think linearly, you should think in loops. It’s basic nomenclature changes that are really powerful. Language ultimately controls reality. Language shapes your perception.
M: That’s pretty poetic. Thank you.
Optimize It or Disavow It
M: Which would you rather have? A bad social media strategy or a bad SEO strategy?
Y: A bad social media strategy could potentially be a PR disaster. Imagine if a hospice had Wendy’s social media strategy. It’s probably not the right tone of voice. Whereas, I would rather inherit the bad SEO strategy because I think that’s significantly faster to fix. It will require a lot of work but a bad social media strategy can be potentially bad for the business because it’s so publicly facing all the time. That could do way more damage in the time that you’re trying to fix it then with SEO.
Social media requires a little more nuance. It’s hard to train for social media because of that layer of nuance. I could teach you how to shoot three pointers all day, but I can’t teach you to be taller. With social media, I could teach you all of the moves but you’re not going to be as funny as the people on Wendy’s. It’s not like a learned trait. It’s a lot harder to work.
M: Thank you for coming on. It’s been amazing. Probably the most fun I’ve had in a very long time on this podcast.
Y: Thanks, Mordy.
With this being Mordy’s last episode hosting the The In Search SEO Podcast, the podcast will be on a short hiatus until we return again with new episodes.