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Expert Guidance on Leveraging Advanced Metrics in Large-Scale SEO Projects

In Conversation with Kathryn Bevan

For this episode of E-Coffee with Experts, Ranmay Rath interviewed Kathryn Bevan, Head of SEO at Sleeping Giant Media, a Specialist Search Agency located in Folkestone, Kent. She unveils the journey from history graduate to SEO leader, sharing expert insights on SEO strategies, AI integration, common pitfalls, and the future landscape of digital marketing. Delve into her 11-year career, exploring the impact of JavaScript reliance, website migrations, and the nuanced balance between AI’s efficiency and the irreplaceable human touch in the SEO realm.

Watch the episode now for some profound insights!

SEO requires a more bespoke problem-solving testing approach to figure out what’s going to work well for that site.

Kathryn Bevan
Head of SEO at Sleeping Giant Media

Hey, hi, everyone. Welcome to your show, E -Coffee with Experts. This is your host Ranmay here, and today we have Kathryn Beaven, who is the head of SEO at Sleeping Giant Media with us. Hey, Kathryn.

Hi. Thanks for having me.

Lovely. Kathryn, before we move forward, you know Let’s speak about SEO and pick your brains. Why don’t you talk us through your journey this far? How you landed up in digital marketing and what Sleeping Giant Media is all about? How are you guys different from all the agencies out there? What are your core services? And then we can take it forward from: there on.

Yeah, sounds good to me. Okay, so Sleeping Giant Media, we are a digital marketing agency based in Kent in the UK and we deliver SEO, PPC, social, data, and content marketing for a wide range of clients across the UK and further afield as well. Our aim is essentially to deliver outstanding results for our clients through a collaborative and insightful approach to digital marketing.

So we set ourselves apart in that we have our internal data team who deliver this insights-led approach to digital. And we also focus on educating our clients as well through this collaborative approach, where we look to upscale teams and get the best results for their digital.

From, Having a history degree, landing in the world of SEO. How did that happen?

I guess I fell into a career in SEO and digital as a whole, really, by chance, as you say, studied for a history degree. That kind of came out of a decision, I’d reached the end of school studies, didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I’d enjoyed that subject at school, so I figured I should probably go and do something with my time then I graduated from uni, still didn’t know what I wanted to do, and by chance I came across this entry-level role, which was advertised at Sleeping Giant Media, which is the agency where I still work now, almost 11 years later.

Conveniently also happened to be located in my hometown, so it felt like things had fallen into place, but I’d never heard of SEO or PPC at the time, so I did a bit of research before applying for that role. I think I may have read even some of the Moz beginner’s guide to SEO or something along those lines, and I thought, wow, This sounds so, so interesting, definitely could see myself doing something like this.

So I was lucky enough to start in that entry-level role, which was more of, a generalist search marketing role, covering all aspects of digital. So I did a bit of SEO there a bit of PPC, and some other paid channels as well. Which I think allowed me to get a good grounding into digital as a whole, which I think helps to have that sort of holistic understanding of how all of the channels work together.

And I think agency life can be a great starting point as well when you’re brand is new to digital, obviously provided you’ve got the training and the structure there in the agency to support your learning. I think it’s a brilliant place to learn because you get exposure to so many different clients and accounts so quickly.

Yeah, I was grateful really for those early opportunities to work on a wide range of sites in different industries. I feel like I learned so fast as a result of that. I guess from that role, I then progressed through various account management roles, again, doing a bit more holistic digital before then a few years ago, decided to specialize in SEO.

I think SEO, was always where my strongest passion lay in digital because I think I love that it’s both technical, but can also be creative. And I think it’s not as black and white as PPC can be, and that you can’t just turn on traffic in the same way that you can turn on a campaign. It requires more.

bespoke problem-solving testing approach to figure out what’s going to work well for that site. And I think as well where the landscape with SEO is constantly changing as Google rolls out different algorithm updates, it does require you to be agile and continue learning as you go, which I think I enjoy.

So yeah, I’m now head of SEO, leading our SEO team of 11. We’ve got a wide portfolio of clients in our remit, some local SEO, some national, and some international as well, which makes it quite broad and varied on a day-to-day basis. Certainly keeps things interesting anyway.

Lovely, quite a journey. I must say, from not knowing anything about SEO to now, continuing your current role as the head of SEO. So in my current role, and fact, it has been a journey like you mentioned 11 long years. So as the current head of SEO at Sleeping Giant Media, what advanced metrics, and methods do you find effective for assessing the impact of experimental changes on organic search performance, especially in large-scale SEO projects, like you mentioned, national and international?

Yeah, so I think firstly, I’m just a big advocate of testing in general for SEO. I think that in SEO theory is one thing, but actually, practical testing is key especially when it comes to the advancements, changes, testing, experimenting, and learning, because sometimes even what Google says isn’t actually what you find works when you’re testing.

So I think it’s really important to make sure you’re critically assessing that with your testing. When it comes to metrics or measurement, I think. It’s really important to have a robust plan for reporting in place before you get started with any sort of SEO campaign or test.

So even more important as well, if you’re going to be doing regular testing or experiments. As I mentioned at the beginning, we’ve got our in-house data and insights function at Sleeping Giant Media. So ideally, the way we start every client relationship involves some sort of level of measurement planning to understand what metrics and KPIs we should be tracking, which needs to be bespoke for that client.

And we also try to make sure that those are like. setting measurable targets and ensuring we’ve got the right tracking solutions and reports in place to be able to surface the insight effectively when we’re doing that testing. And I think that’s especially important as well when working with those large-scale websites because often they’re going to be the clients that are investing those larger budgets.

They’re going to be looking for more in-depth reporting than just your standard. Analytics reports. But also actually I do think sometimes just having the basics in place can help. So we use Google Search Console quite a lot, a really powerful tool, obviously free to use. And also in combination with another tool we started using earlier in the year called SEO testing, which.

It works in combination with a search console to help you surface some of those insights. I think when it comes to setting up tests, you can then use that to easily review the data for your control versus test, which can also be handy if you need to quickly report on metrics, for example, for clients.

So yeah, I would say those things. So having that kind of advanced tracking in place, but also just sometimes the basics are fine too.

Lovely. And then I understand that you are into SEO. I know the answer to this, but still asking, what is your take on SEO versus PPC?

I think both are important. I think both have different roles to play when it comes to a holistic strategy. And I think it depends on the client in terms of what their goals are, what they’re trying to achieve, and which. channel works best for which things if that makes sense.

Oh, come on. You should have just said, forget PPC, come and do SEO with us.

Yeah, I should have said that. But no, I do think both have their place. And actually, one of the things we try to do in our teams is to make sure we are working closely together. Our strategic account manager’s role is to tie up all of the different channels and make sure that whatever the client’s goals are, we’re doing the right things across whichever channel that might be.

So we might put in a bit of SEO, here and there, depending on what the goals are, because ultimately we’re trying to get the clients more money. So we’re going to use the best combination of channels to achieve that.

Yeah. It can depend a lot on the current status online presence of the client and the budgets.

And, in projects where, and they have a lot of budgets or national or international presence like you’re referring to, it is a mixed bag of both SEO and PPC to get them immediate results and also be on top. On their SEO game to have that long-term effect on the branding.
So I can completely relate to that. And Kathryn, you’d know more about this site as a. In a nuanced world where mistakes can happen, like you were talking about, even if Google is saying something follow every bit of what Google is saying, then also you will, you might end up not seeing the results, that you want to eventually.

So what do you feel are some of the common SEO mistakes that you have seen and what advice do you have for businesses to avoid or rectify those pitfalls, especially for businesses who cannot afford your services? Otherwise, they could very easily reach out to you, right?

Yeah. There are a lot of small businesses. They do it on their own. They do not have the budget for a marketing agency or even businesses where you have seen that, they have their presence. They have. a team doing it, be it the rendering team, or let’s say have the marketing agencies doing that, doing it for them.

But there are some common mistakes which you see still happening or still there. So what do you reckon these are?

I could probably list loads of them and spend hours listing them, but I’d say one of the most common areas that we’re seeing quite a lot of the same issues cropping up recently is sites that are quite heavily reliant on JavaScript.

particularly when it comes to rendering content especially if they’re using client-side rendering or they’re relying on a lot of JavaScript to dynamically inject content, for example, or to control their internal linking. And I think that can lead to a lot of issues with content or pages not being indexed properly, and then obviously not being ranked as a result.

So I think the advice to anyone whose site is JavaScript-heavy, I think. Where possible, if you can get someone who’s an expert on board, that’s ideal. But where possible using server-side rendering, making sure that any critical content and elements like links are accessible in the HTML rather than being injected via JavaScript where possible should help to avoid any kind of major issues there.

I think one of the other areas where we tend to often see quite a lot of big mistakes happen is website migrations. So if a site’s launching a new website or redesign, unless you have someone who knows SEO involved in the process, this nearly always leads to SEO issues. So whether that’s a huge loss in traffic, if it’s not done properly, or loss in revenue, I think it does need a proper process to be followed to make sure that.

SEO is considered properly. So things like preserving important content, ensuring that important pages are correctly redirected, and things like that are critical to success when migrating a website. So I would say those probably are the two major areas where we see issues. I think my biggest piece of advice generally to businesses would be you have an SEO involved as early as you can in the process of any sort of SEO campaign.

Ideally on an ongoing basis, but that’s going to depend on budget and whether you’ve got in-house resources. So yeah, whether that’s someone in-house that solely manages that activity or as part of your wider digital marketing scope, whether that’s an agency or a freelancer to fulfill that function, I think there’s nothing better really than consulting with an expert to make sure you get it the right first time.

But I guess if you don’t have the budget for that, then I’m trying to learn as much as you can. There are so many brilliant free resources online to learn digitally. So trying to, learn as much as you can to help inform that process, because I think doing it without the knowledge is where things can go wrong.

Come on give your email ID after seeing all of that.

People can find me on LinkedIn if they want.

I was just kidding. All right. Kathryn, thank you for stating that out the way it is. It is right. While I know, and understand that we are not really, pitching.

Our services, but it is always good to at least get an audit sort of thing done so that even if you want to do the implementation execution, whatever yourself in our scheme, but it is always, there’s no harm in getting an opinion of the experts in terms of in which direction should you be starting, right?

Yeah, I think we do work with some clients in that on that basis as well, where we might do an audit and then give them recommendations to go and implement, I think. There’s a middle ground sometimes when it comes to lower-budget accounts. Yeah, there are opportunities.

Absolutely. And then as we witness, Kathryn, the ongoing evolution of search algorithms, and then so much of innovations coming in our industry what specific advancements have you recently incorporated into your SEO strategies that might be considered cutting edge within the industry?

Sure, yeah, I think it’s been a really interesting and quite chaotic time to be working at SEO I think the last half of 2023 was probably one of the most volatile times I’ve seen over the 11 years of being in the industry. I think the number of algorithm updates we saw, the volatility of the surf, and just general fluctuation in rankings off the back of those, it was chaotic.

We’ve also got the impending rollout of Google search Generative Experience as well, which may or may not roll out this year. Obviously, in the UK, we’ve still not seen the beta launch yet. It’ll be interesting to see how that progresses over the next year, but I think with so much going on it can sometimes feel like it’s quite hard to keep up with all of those updates just to start with.

But in terms of advancements we’ve incorporated recently, I think there’s been quite a lot of increased talk in the industry around entities and entity SEO, which We know in itself is not a new or cutting-edge topic as entities have been around as a thing for at least 10 years. But what we’ve recently seen quite a lot of success with is incorporating an entity-focused strategy for some of our clients where we look at improving the brand as a whole, but also then ensuring that.

Core pages and entities are mapped with structured data in place as well to tie that piece together. So we’ll typically start with looking at the brand entity and brand presence to improve the brand presence overall, help clients to show up more often in searches, and look at things like improving EAT as well, so look at authority and trust.

And so we’ll audit their existing brand entities, and identify what needs to be done to make that better or make that brand presence stronger, which could also include things like improving brand reputation, updating, and consolidating existing brand profiles that they might have out there. I guess a general brand improvement strategy that ties into their SEO.

And then we’ll also work on mapping out the entities for core pages on the site and ensuring that. We’ve got strong internal linking in place and then write our bespoke structured data to go on top of that. So obviously we don’t know yet how much search generative experience in the future of SEO will use entities.

But I think we’ve seen a lot of success from strengthening those connections between the brand and what the site is relevant for. And I think putting those connections together in the knowledge graph certainly can’t hurt when it comes to generative AI. So we’ve seen some great initial results off the back of that. And it’s one of our main sorts of strategies at the moment.

All right, great. And then we were also hit by this AI storm, December last year last year now, right? What is your take, It is generally exciting times for sure, everyone adopted AI or, included it in their strategies.

So how did you guys go through that initial phase and how did you adopt AI at Sleeping Giant? And what do you think, where are we headed with AI and machine learning?

Really interesting, very broad question. I think for us when it comes to the adoption of AI it’s all about testing really and looking at the different tools and things that are out there because there’s been so much that’s been released over the last year.

It’s working out, through all of that noise, what are the most important parts to take from that, and how can we use it to make our processes more efficient? I think our approach has been that AI doesn’t replace human insights, and I think that’s the key. using it to support processes rather than to completely replace processes.

So that’s generally how we’ll use AI. So for example, things like keyword clustering, when we’re doing keyword research, we might use it for idea generation, but not, for writing full pieces of content, because I don’t think that it can add that level of human experience and like authenticity that a human writing that content can do.

So I think there’s a balance. AI is going to be useful, I think, to us moving forward, particularly as things get more advanced. But still requires that human element.

Yeah. Very valid point. It gives you a head start for sure, rather than, starting everything from scratch, but yes, it does not get a final deliverable product the way I say it, that’s still not a deliverable product, be it content or anything else.

It still has to. Have that human element at the end of it. You might put it as editing, auditing, whatever. But it still has to be done. The humanization part of it is still there. It has reduced, yes. It gives efficiency. Yes. It’s still not there to replace us for sure. The way I look at it.

So because of the content that is being. From a content perspective, the content that is being put online on a site to trigger the decision-making to purchase a product or service again is being consumed by a human at the end of the day. To make that, to trigger that decision-making of purchasing a product or service, yes or no.

So that human element at the other side of the table in terms of creating that content, it’s still very much there.

Absolutely. I think as well, Google’s been putting a lot of emphasis on that around, obviously they brought experience into EAT. There’s been a lot of focus on hidden gems in the most recent updates.

They’re pushing those like user-focused users, like getting the information from users. As opposed to getting the information from machines. So I think there’s going to be an element of that ongoing content generation.

Yeah, which brings me to my next question, Kathryn, in your experience how do you leverage user-generated questions to shape your content strategy?

And then are there any specific content optimization practices that align with answering user queries effectively?

Yeah, so I think in line with what I just said, actually, the hidden gems and that the user-generated content is a hot topic at the moment. I think where Google did bring in that additional focus on experience and added value for users, I think that’s going to be the key to the future of content marketing in general and how we should be thinking about shaping content moving forward.

And we obviously know that AI chat features as well like SGE are naturally more question and answer focused as well So I think a great way to be getting ahead of that is to make sure we’ve got that content on the site that answers Users might be searching for so I think a great way of doing that would be to start collating FAQs that people might have about products and services So whether that’s through doing keyword research or reviewing forums or groups where the client’s audience present even maybe surveying current or prospective customers to understand what their pain points are, what questions they might have for example.

And then ensuring that the site answers those questions as best as possible, ideally with some of that added EAT in there as well to help increase, the authority and the relevance. That could be in the form of a short, succinct answer. It could be in the form of a long-form piece of content.

It depends on the site, the niche what the question itself might be. But I guess making sure that the sites are surfacing that information in a way that makes the most sense And that answers it in the best way for users is probably what I aim for.

Absolutely, and I’m talking about SEO campaigns you know measuring the success or failure Of an SEO campaign.

We all set our KPIs and stuff. But yeah. From your perspective, if you can share some insights in terms of a few, not-so-traditional KPIs, which you look at to measure the success or failure of a campaign, and then how do you find those insightful in your process?

Sure. Yeah. As I mentioned earlier, we have our data and insights function at the agency. So we’ve got that real focus on delivering data-driven insights as part of our core service. We’ll typically do some workshopping with clients as an initial stage to understand the broader business goals and we’ll work collaboratively with the clients to understand what the best KPIs are for them to provide insights on the goals that they have.

I think when it comes to more nontraditional KPIs, or I guess the metrics or the data that sits outside of your usual like sessions, clicks, revenue. I think one of the really important things to look at for SEO specifically is to assess trends and the impact of external factors. So whether that’s looking more broadly at market analysis or industry data.

You could, for example, be doing all the right things for SEO, but if the market overall is in decline, for example, that may reflect in your SEO performance, and it may mean that you need to pivot your strategy to do something else or consider other channels. Similarly, if you can see from the trends that the industry’s booming, but your SEO performance is perhaps not reflecting that growth, it might indicate that you may need to change something in your strategy.

So I think it’s really important to have a look at trends and make sure you’re aware of what’s going on in the market for the client or site in particular. I Think also where possible reviewing performance holistically is really important. So not just looking at the channel in isolation.

So even if you’re just focusing on SEO, having a look at what’s going on elsewhere within the digital marketing mix is important. As often just looking at the one channel in isolation doesn’t tell the whole story. So having reports or templates that allow you to look at all channels and how those are working together is often the best way for us to demonstrate ROI.

Lovely. And Kathryn, before we wrap this up and move on to the next part I wanted to ask you, you, yours is quite a journey from. Initially not knowing about SEO to getting into SEO, now heading SEO, right? So what is that advice you’d want to give to, our listeners who are trying to make a career and SEO was starting or let’s say in some phase of the career where they’re confused about, taking that next step, going up the ladder, you have to find the ladder, right?

So what is that advice you’d want to give to our listeners today for trying to make it make a mark in the space?

For sure. Yeah. I think my advice would be to try and learn as much as you can, and consume as much information as you can, whether that’s through, watching podcasts reading articles, or attending industry events.

There are some great events, particularly in the UK, like Brighton SEO is one. Yeah, in April last year, it was a brilliant event to attend. There, you get so much insight from attending events. Also, try to join communities if possible. So the one I’m part of is the Women in Tech SEO community. And it’s a great way of networking with other people in the industry.

And again, you can learn so much when you talk to others who also work in the space. So those would be my bits of advice.

Great Kathryn thank you so much for doing this with us. But yeah, before we let you go, I’d like to play a quick rapid-fire with you. I hope you’re game for it

I’ll give it a go. Always hate being put on the spot, but I’ll try.

Okay. Your last Google search.

Oh gosh, it was,..

that’s an easy one.

Last Google search, I don’t know. It would have been something client-related, but off the top of my head, I can’t think it was probably something related to AI or SGE or something.

Okay. All right. What did you do with your first paycheck Kathryn?

First paycheck of my life. I think I bought a laptop with it. Yeah, it was a laptop.

That must be a good one then. Yeah. All right. All right. Moving on. Let’s see if we were to make a movie on you, Kathryn. What genre would it be?

What genre would it be? Probably. Oh, that’s a really good question. Actually. A movie…

SEO was easy for you.

Yeah, SEO is easy. If you ask me SEO or questions, I could talk about SEO all day. Movie genre. Let’s go with a thriller just because I enjoy thrillers. Not that my life is particularly thrilling.

Alright, and where do we find you on Friday evening, Kathryn, and, post office, post work? Where do we find you?

You’ll find me probably cooking something nice because I enjoy food, enjoy cooking, and I find that’s a good way to switch off after the week.

All right. Not really any further, Kathryn.

You have been a sport. Thank you so much for taking your time and doing this with us. I’m sure, the insights which you have shared would benefit our audiences, our listeners. So we appreciate you taking your time and doing this.

Oh, no problem at all. It’s been great to chat to you. Thanks so much for inviting me.

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