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Mark Marino On SEO Maturity Models

Building a model for SEO maturity requires a new understanding of where the web and companies are today. The complexity of SEO has increased, and with it the combination of possible maturity models for each company. There are some fundamentals, a roadmap for one, but often what resources you need depends upon; the size of your company, the complexity of your market, and whether you are in ecommerce or publishing.

PureHockeyMark Marino of Pure Hockey explores some of these issues in my interview with him about building a maturity model for SEO. On the question of does SEO get any love Mark answers, “we have to present our case in business logic,” SEO may not get immediate respect without data, but its importance grows and the profession has to do a better job of explaining what it can achieve in helping a company transition digital disruption.

Mark: I was originally a Chef for over 12 years. But I started in SEO when I launched my Boston Bruins blog. That’s where I quickly learned that I needed to become more visible in search engines results, and I couldn’t rely solely on social media and word of mouth. Being a WordPress site, I quickly became much more fascinated with technical SEO and decided to focus in that area. I was able to sell the blog and then landed my first full-time SEO role at an agency. There I bridged the gap between SEO and development, making sure the developers knew best SEO practices so we could build and release websites as SEO-friendly as possible. From there I joined Staples as an SEO Project manager, working with internal IT and SEO developers in Seattle on technical SEO integrations and enhancements. Recently, I was offered a position at PureHockey that is closer to home, and closer to my origins with hockey. 

John: How important is it to build a road-map for SEO? 

Mark: It’s huge, I never realized that more than now with my role at PureHockey. At Staples we had 7-8 SEOs and a manager who created the roadmap. Now that I’m the SEO here, you have to prioritize. You want to dive into technical issues while creating new content and thinking about local optimizations, but you can’t do it all at once. In creating the road map, you have to think about the level of effort of each task, and which project is going to reap the most benefits – making sure that you take your time in each project so that each enhancement or change to the site is correct the first time.

John: What's the importance of training for SEO, or keeping up to date? 

Mark: Google is changing its mind on a daily basis. For that reason I follow the SE Roundtable, Moz, and Google+ communities to keep a pulse on what’s going. We now have the big mobile algorithm update, and we’ve gone through several rounds each of Panda and Penguin, so it’s paramount to keep up to date with SEO trends and best practices.

John: And who should be trained? 

Mark: I think depending on who is in the company; most people need to at least know some things about SEO. If someone is uploading products to a catalog, they need to know how you import the images and the importance alt tags and naming the image file. This person would probably also be responsible for the content that goes along with those products. The developers the designers – are they updating a website using JavaScript, iFrames, or is the mobile site powered by Ajax? They’ll need to know best practices on instances like these so the sites’ enhancements are implemented in a way for Google to be able to parse, crawl, and index. So I’d say virtually every person in the organization needs to at least understand the basics—especially those who have a hand in the website.

John: How important is SEO reporting, and what should be measured and tracked?

Mark: I think keyword rankings and your basic KPI’s (visits, landing pages/exit pages, bounce rate) at the very least. But I think each website and business has its own KPI’s. An eCommerce site will definitely want to set-up eCommerce and Goals in Google Analytics (GA) — keeping track of visits, orders, and revenue. But a B2B company may put more emphasis on leads, so keeping track of how many contact forms have been filled out (tracking thank you pages as a goal completion) or maybe they want to push video plays (setting up event tracking). But the basics of visits – organic, referral, social – and keyword rankings will be a good indication of how your site is performing overall – particularly during algorithm updates.

I also like to set-up scorecards from specific data in GA and Webmaster Tools (WMT) to track impressions, crawl errors and other web health factors, and sitemaps and indexed pages.

John: What regular tasks should companies schedule today?

Mark: I run a weekly crawl of each site through Screaming Frog; I want to make sure all of the enhancements and changes published in the CMS are up to date. Also to make sure XML sitemaps are up to date. And like I mentioned before I like to track all WMT data to monitor the index rate and the overall health of the website. If Google is telling you specific information within WMT, it’s probably a good idea to keep track of it and fix it. But if there are no SEOs in-house, I would definitely look into a good, detailed web audit.

John: How should you determine if you have enough resources for managing SEO?

Mark: I think it all depends on how much help the website needs and its expectation. I’ve come across many companies in the past, working for agencies, who said, “I need SEO”, and sign contract for a mere 20 hours/month. More often than not, that’s not nearly enough resources to get SEO going. I think they first need to explain what they really need, and if SEO will meet their expectation.

For me, I like BrightEdge. It’s almost like having an extra SEO working with me. The dedicated support is great, and the platform connects to GA and WMT for real data information. In addition to a SEO tool, there definitely needs to be a web developer on hand that can make both front-end and back-end changes to the website. We have different marketing silos at Pure Hockey to take care of the rest of the SEO. For example, we have a good social strategy – people in place to create good content that is shareable, likeable, and what people want to read.

John: Given all of the algorithm changes what growth strategies can SEO implement? Any differences across industries? Ecommerce vs publishing?

Mark: Being more of a technical SEO, I’d say there’s definitely a different strategy across businesses. For instance, an eCommerce is going to want to leverage structured data like, make sure their reviews are plentiful and inline, and the checkout process is easy and secure.  

But in general, the code of a website is fundamental today. I remember one great eCommerce site I was once working on – it had a great UI, cool products, and a smooth checkout process. But shockingly, once I peeled back the onion a bit, I noticed their site under the hood was a mess. No sitemaps, pages being blocked via robots.txt and tags, and no proper redirects in place. I remember something Matt Cutts said in a video once, and that was (to paraphrase) “The biggest mistake I see in websites is not making their sites crawlable,” You can have the greatest content in the world, but if it isn’t crawable all that content will not work.

John: What approaches have you implemented in using SEO for customer journey mapping? 

Mark: In terms of content, we create content in all sections of the funnel here at PureHockey. Is a blog post and going to get us a purchase on that one visit? Probably not. But next time they go skating, or watch a hockey game, or play in a game, we’ll be on their minds.

We will have content in the middle as well, such as our hockey equipment guide which includes videos like, ‘How to find the right helmet’ and content like ‘Hockey skate sizing guides’.

John: In the wider discussion about digital transformation, is SEO getting left out?

Mark: I don’t think so, from the time I’ve been around SEO, it’s probably getting more popular. It’s more important now than ever as it can literally sink a business. We are forced to focus more on the ever-changing landscape – react quicker and do more SEO with those updates. 

John: Do you think business people always recognize the importance of SEO?

Mark: I don’t. It takes time and some teaching. Sometimes it can take a lot of effort to really have a say in how things should go and how to go about structuring implementations that work well for SEO. We (as SEOs) always needed extra ammo to explain our case. SEO touches on so many things (social, PR, content, technical) that we need to present our projects, wants and needs across the organization in a manner in a way that people can understand, and how it can improve business – not just the website.