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SEO Project Management Strategies to Stay Organized & On Top of Your Game

In Conversation with Michael Ramirez

In this edition of Ecoffee with Experts, Matt Fraser was joined by guest Michael Ramirez, Founder and Lead SEO of Search RPM. During the course of their discussion, they go over the most essential considerations to make when developing and executing an SEO strategy. Watch now for some fascinating revelations.

Effective SEO takes a solid development team, writing team, project managers, and link builders, and those are all going to vary depending on the clients.

Michael Ramirez
Founder and Lead SEO of Search RPM
Hi everyone. Welcome to E coffee with experts. I'm your host, Matt Fraser, and today we will discuss SEO project management strategies to stay organized and on top of your game with Michael Ramirez. He is the founder and lead SEO of Search RPM, located in Austin, Texas. Search RPM is a full-service SEO and SEM agency that helps local, national, and international clients in various industries to grow their online presence and achieve their marketing objectives through search engine marketing and optimization. Michael has a Bachelor of Science degree in advertising from the University of Texas at Austin School of Communication. Michael enjoys traveling, fitness, whiskey, and exploring Austin when he's not working on search marketing campaigns. Michael, thank you so much. A pleasure to have you on the show today.

Thanks for having me, Matt. Appreciate it.

So, Michael, you've had an interesting journey. Who were you as a kid in high school?

That’s interesting you asked, because I spent some time with my family in San Antonio this past weekend. I had a lot of time to reminisce about the old days, the things I enjoyed, and the good family experiences we had when I was a kid. And I think I liked spending my time outdoors. I was a pretty athletic kid who spent my time playing basketball outside my house and was a football player. I think I started in the fifth grade, played through high school, and decided not to go the college route. I left after high school and was done with it. I felt compelled or drawn to the academic side of my life. I didn’t do a good job in high and middle school, so I wanted to focus on that. And I realized that to get out of the neighborhood, I was raised in a small inner city where folks stayed and settled in. It’s a different environment. But I had plans to get out of the neighborhood and build my path, which was my objective beyond high school. But I think all of the sports aspects, like many kinds of entrepreneurs, you could draw a lot of good lessons from that in terms of what hard work and dedication can do to help build that discipline to build a business, grow and scale it to be pretty resilient. So you got to get right back up when knocked down on the football field. The same thing in business, if you lose a deal, you have to push the pedal and step on the gas, then it’s time to go. And you have to use that same determination. But it’s interesting.

The mental aspect of being in business, it's not for everybody it can be a challenge. You can get your ass handed to you and lose clients or not close a sale. If you went through the Great Recession in 2008 or COVID, you could have your entire business fall apart. Resiliency, I think, is a very good quality to have. And I can see how being involved in sports can give you the self-discipline and the resiliency to apply that to business. So how did you get started in Digital Marketing, and when did that journey begin?

So that started in college. So after high school, I attended UTSA in San Antonio. I went there for two years, then transferred out to UT Austin. I got my degree from UT Austin, as you mentioned. But one of the few last courses of the program was interactive advertising, which was around 2008 and 2009, and that’s where I got introduced to SEO. And now, it may be common in advertising classes to learn about SEO. I was one of the first few to hear about it in college because that’s when things were taking off. And I had a Digital Marketing course, and they introduced SEO. I’m like, what the hell is this SEO thing? They told us how Google has this secret algorithm and ranks websites, so advertisers are moving from traditional to online. And this is going to be the next big thing. So interestingly enough, while my other advertising colleagues were focusing more on the traditional side, there was a class of Digital Marketers. It was a class of around five to seven students max, everyone was afraid of this new landscape and digital marketing territory and wanted to make commercials in good ad copy for billboards and stuff. So a few other students and I were treading on this scary path. But as you mentioned, the recession was right around 2008 and 2009 when I entered the job market. So most of my friends didn’t have jobs, and those who did have jobs were the five to seven kids who focused on Digital Marketing, and that’s when I jumped into my first internship. Leading up to my graduation, I started doing SEO for an Advertising agency in Georgetown, Texas, a small company. I started out doing link building in a small dark room, we called it the cave. So learning about SEO and jumping from college into this first internship. I was learning about link building, and they had us making directory submissions. And so they would give us a Directory List, and we would go through it individually and submit that. We would do reciprocal link building where we email people and say, hey, we’ll swap links if you give us a link, and we’ll give you one back. And that’s how I jumped into SEO. We had a Manager and Consultant in California who trained under Bruce Clay. He went to the training courts out there, and he would relay the strategy to my boss, and my boss would say, let’s build more links. And that’s where it was. We had a copywriter who would do some of the on-page, and I would do keyword research and heavy link building. The technical aspect of SEO was fairly new at that time, there was much emphasis like there is now on the technical SEO side because now there are just so many different platforms, and there are different things to consider. But link building was certainly a lot easier, and the content side was really important around 2008 and 2009.

What are some of the most important skills an SEO specialist needs or should have?

When I started, some of the most important skills were my ability to adapt to new information. And because, especially now, I’m speaking of when I came out as an intern, this is something completely new to me, and there were very few guides. I learned in college class that I was supposed to go in there and help do SEO for some of these clients and help keep them on board and pay the agency I was working for. I’m like, well, you’re asking this from a college intern at the time. So it’s the ability to stay open-minded, intake the information, and transfer that into action. And the action doesn’t have to be that big. For instance, when the Consultant from California would relay information to my boss, you’d say, Okay, we have to find new links. Because after we ran out of the Directory List, it’d be like, how do we find more potential links? So my challenge was, Okay, I have to adjust to this new information. I had a pretty easy job. It was like, going to the website, getting a link requested, and then going to the next. This one was like, okay, find new ones on the internet, and find ways we could find reciprocal links. And so it’s like, where do we find those websites? And do we need them locally? How will you find and source them? What type of emails do we send out to potentially get these? How do we get other companies who don’t know SEO to understand what we’re trying to do here? So I think a lot of it was based around that. It’s like specialists need to be able to adjust and adapt on your feet as they go. And I think fast forward to where we are today and how SEO is more competitive than ever in Google is smarter than ever. So that old link stuff doesn’t work anymore. And identifying opportunities around not just building links for Link authority, if you will, or domain authority or anything like that, but looking at specific links as business opportunities. Potential links could give us good domain authority because they have to make good domain authority. And which ones can also lead to potential business partnerships. Like, Oh, we’re not potentially linked up, for instance, one of the products we develop, Visio, is an SEO Project Management System. We’re looking for potential partnerships, and not just for Link purposes, but like, what other CRMs can we integrate our data with that could also lead to backlinks from their website but also could lead to meaningful traffic? So it’s also looking at the objective and thinking creatively about a problem.

So, how do you think SEO has changed over the years? What are some of the major things you've seen changed from when you were doing it then to now?

I think the competitiveness has changed. I’ve seen a lot of adoption around companies that are doing SEO. I had these job alerts on LinkedIn when looking for a gig, and I love knowing who’s looking for SEOs. And you see some of the top companies worldwide looking for SEOs. They see that SEO is extremely important as part of their marketing strategy, whether a product or an E-commerce site. They understand that SEO is not a tactical thing anymore, it’s a strategy.

It's a legitimate channel. So do you think it's been more legitimized then?

I think so, and I think it’s helped with people like you who talk to experts and can identify how they’re using SEO as a channel to drive growth. I think having other experts in the industry work for top-tier companies legitimizes SEO. I think a lot of that’s creating positive authority for SEOs. And in my career, I’ve gone from an intern to working as a VP of Product Marketing at a company, an education company, mainly because SEO was the underlying backbone of my marketing tool kit. And SEO helped me drive that understanding of how to market on the internet, not just from an SEO perspective in terms of organic growth but also how I can apply those skills to video and those SEO underlying principles to other content marketing. So I think they transferred well.

What is the best way for someone to learn SEO? Is it to do an internship nowadays? Is it to take a course through someone like Bruce Clay? I don't know if he's offering it, LinkedIn Learning, or some reputable place. So what would your thoughts be on that? Is it launching your website about something you're interested in? And these are various ways people have mentioned launching their website or working for a local business or nonprofit for free. Do you have any thoughts on how someone should dip their toe in this if they want to learn how to do it?

Yeah, no doubt. So my nephew once asked me, he knows nothing about SEO and is like, hey, I’m interested in the things you do every day. How can I learn? And I started him off the way I did. Indirectly, I learned Bruce Clay’s model through our Consultant. So I told him to go to the source because Bruce Clay has some good fundamental courses on his website. And with COVID, people would fly out to California and get those early courses, but now he offers them online through his learning portal. And to be honest, it’s very fundamental learning in terms of how to think about SEO more than how to do the tactics. Anyone could do the tactics without understanding how search engines work, what is the search engine, and how to structure an SEO campaign by starting from the fundamentals like technical SEO, content, and how to think about link building. He does a good job. He’s the grandfather of SEO, and I know there are great courses. But if you’ve never heard of SEO and want a good healthy fundamental base, I think that’s a good course to start with. And then, you can start working your way up and getting into Slack channels and learning from other experts that are in the game already. So there’s a Slack channel I’m a part of, and it’s been pretty good in keeping up with the latest trends. So it’s Traffic Think Tank, it’s been a good source.

Traffic Think Tank, is that a Slack group?

It is in the Slack community. They also have an online learning module. It’s more advanced SEO stuff and experts there. It’s a pretty solid group, shout out to them. I’m in stealth mode there. So I go in there to get my information and get out. I need to be a more active contributor, but it’s a good place to get information and run with it.

So, in other words, you would take courses from reputable people and become part of a mastermind, such as Traffic Think Tank and Bruce Clay.

And to your other point, those are really good learning, like tactics theory and conceptual. But to your point, you must have your website tweaked and built on your own to understand the network. I recommend buying a website from Flipper, investing in the site that’s already working, building one from the ground up, or finding a cost-effective way to do it. And in a way that will be worth your time, you’re not just playing with the website but seeing the potential outcome of rankings or revenue from ad generation, ad clicks, and stuff like that. So make it worth your time.

Do you think someone should learn HTML today to understand what they need to learn and what a tag is, H2 and H3, and what a title tag is? Because to jump into it and then figure out what is this? What language is this? Are they talking about optimization or title tags? What the hell is that? What the hell isn't it? My wife doesn't know what an H1 tag is and doesn't care. So I'm saying it's our language, meta descriptions, meta titles, and all those things. So I'm just wondering what your thoughts are. I would tell someone to take a quick course on LinkedIn learning that's maybe an hour long on HTML, or even if you went to w3school.com and took the quick, free HTML course about how to understand the page structure and what those things mean and the importance of them. What are your thoughts?

I think before, I thought HTML was a foreign language, but now it’s so common. I think it’s been around for a long time and many systems now work. So we had to get our hands dirty back in the day to manipulate some of the HTML. I remember logging into source files, changing, reloading, and uploading them. And I had to by necessity, but to your point, it would certainly help to have a working foundation of certain programming languages. A big one is PHP with WordPress, but understanding underlining like HTML, I think, could be pretty valuable, so they know their way around. But it’s certainly not for them to be experts or anything like that, but to know and be familiar with it.

You know, SEO is process-driven, at least it should be. But then again, anything should be processed-driven PPC, social media, and developing processes. So what are the most important factors when planning and implementing an SEO project or campaign?

I think some of the most important things would be like understanding what resources you have at your disposal. To have a successful SEO campaign, you must understand how much of that work and how much you can get done. I’ve come across certain clients with websites on the Squarespace platform. And I know, automatically, we’re going to be limited on things that we could do to the system from a technical SEO point or an integration standpoint. So even though they may have a good budget, it may be like, Okay, what resources do we have at our disposal? Do we have an internal resource team where this company is not just a Squarespace example but, like any other business, has an internal resource team? Is my team handling it on our end? Are our developers going in to manipulate code, or are we limited to things that we have no control over, like some of the more static CMS systems? So I think you factor in what type of resources, and based on that, it’s setting expectations early for what we can get done because we’re going to be confined to that.

And people said there's a three-prong approach to SEO, and you mentioned one of them was SEO on-page and off-page. And you must have a way to keep track of that. I know some people have a secret sauce for developing SOPs. And you can have project management software that documents your SOPs. Did you find that you did that as you went along? Oh, this works. I should put this into an SOP. I should make this a step like optimizing the title tag, that should be a step because that's a pretty big deal. Even though back in 2008, who the hell knew? We were all just learning. But now you can say with utmost certainty that even the audience listening to us will know that a title tag is very important to optimize an H1 tag and H2 and H3. And we have tools now that tell us what to do. Because if you're going to use tools like nobody's blind to surfer SEO or page optimizer Pro that tell you what to do. But still, if you're going to continue to take on projects, you need to have a process developed. So what were some of the ways you developed your process and kept track of the things that needed to be done, whether backlink building or on-page and doing audits and everything? Did you start with a Google Doc and bullet points and figure, okay, well, I need to do this, I need to do that, documenting as you went or what was the process of developing your process is what I'm trying to ask?

Early on, I did realize there was a process. So once a client comes on board, we typically follow that up with a questionnaire leading to specific logins or things we will need to get into their website. So we have a secure page that we sent them to give us many of those logins. And then second, we start with a technical SEO audit, and in that process is a sheet. We used to do it with a list of 25 technical SEO checkpoints. So we would run the client a manual check across each of those checks. We’ll look at canonical tags and make sure the pages have their proper canonicalization, proper redirects, and SSL, the basic stuff. And under that process, it uncovers bigger issues, if they are there, like weird redirects on the pages leading to certain content not getting indexed. Deeper dives inside of Google Search Console to look at particular sections of the website that are getting more traffic than others and realize why that’s happening. Maybe something’s blocking the robots.txt, JavaScript isn’t properly rendering on specific pages. But we do have a process for that, and it was manual. The second stage would be content-related. And that involves optimizing pages on the website and developing a content strategy for new pages. The third phase, so that we wouldn’t do Link audits or competition analysis is a more internal audit of Link assets. So understanding what the client has as their strong suit that’s link-worthy content. So many times, link building can be pretty challenging. Clients often already have features within their products that could be good linkable assets or ways to transform a product page into, let’s say, a FAQ or a specific visual for some of the product specifications that are good link opportunities, for instance. But I think after having a lot of this strategy down in play, we need to house it somewhere. That’s the process. But when I started the agency in 2012, it was hard juggling much of this stuff. Quite honestly, some of this stuff will fall by the wayside or fall through the cracks, either because we forgot to follow up on something or it was why the technical audit didn’t get done out of the 25 points. And it’s because there are so many things involved in SEO, and it takes a village to be effective, and it only works when it’s done most of the time. SEO doesn’t work as a strategy. It works when implemented across the website and other factors like Google, it follows a website. And those are things you really can’t control, you can influence somewhat in terms of crawling, but Google will do what it wants.

Their algorithm updates are improving and ensuring that users get what they want, quality content. You can't put out crappy content anymore and expect it to rank. That's complete nonsense if you're trying to do old-school 2008 content creation techniques. If you give the user what they want, then yeah. But as we said, you're talking about the algorithm, you can't change the algorithm updates. But if you make quality concrete content creation a viable part of your marketing strategy and tie it to SEO, I don't think you could go wrong. But in coming back to that, as you said, you must develop processes and find somewhere to store those processes. I know many people try using Asana or ClickUp, my pay favorite. But I recently heard about Reich, which Citrix owns. But regarding SEO, a specialty set of tasks should be done. And I know you alluded to it earlier that you've developed a platform built for SOPs and SEO. So how did that come about? How did you get the idea for it?

The idea came from being a Consultant where things did fall through the cracks sometimes, and I couldn’t keep up with a lot of the demands from clients and a lot of the workflows that were being implemented like I was that guy. And I was like, I don’t want to be that guy anymore. And I realized that the process is key. So having all these Google Docs and Sheets and the scatter brain was difficult to keep track of what needed to be done. And I think project management systems are good, but they’re not built for SEO. There are good SEO tools out there, like SEMrush. And they provide a lot of good data. And we have to pull that data out into Google Sheet, and then we have to pull it into Asana and into our Basecamp or whatever system we use. So the idea for me was, how do I ensure I stay on top of my client work? So I need a crawler that scans my client’s websites, gives me those insights, allows me to project manage those insights, and loops in the right team members to fix those things. And sometimes the team members are going to be different. They’re going to be a developer, or it’s going to be a writer, or it’s going to be a PR person or project manager or client itself. And I’ve also found that like clients asked me, hey, can you tell me what was done last May or something. And it was hard to go back and say when things were done because no one tracked the progress to ensure the work was done. Like did it help the rankings, or did it drive it? So the plan was like, how can I build a tool or system that I’ll have an electronic paper trail for when I complete something? I had the right resources there, and we could also attribute traffic increases to when those things were done. I wanted to create this house for a lot of my project workflow and increase transparency with clients who don’t know anything about SEO. Sometimes they were like, I don’t know what we’re paying for, but we know things are working. Like, okay, it’s common for clients not to know what SEO is, and they’re paying these big retainers, hopefully, something’s happening. But I’ve seen agencies where they don’t share a lot of the work that’s being done. And to help agencies, we do a lot of hard work, there’s a lot of hard work involved with SEO. And so, how do we show that value? And how exactly how do we not only show it but continue to show it and keep those retainers and hopefully acquire new clients to build on that? That was the whole idea behind the product. I needed to solve this issue of stuff falling through the cracks, and I needed a better way of operating my business, and a product came out of that because I wanted to take care of my problem first.

It's pretty neat what you developed. I understand one of the first questions someone may ask is why not create a list of things that need to be done that can be used in a Project Management Software as opposed to a dedicated Project management Process solution? Does it make sense if someone says why don’t you put in all in Asana or Click Up instead of having a dedicated platform, and how can an agency leverage the tool you created? I don’t know if the question makes sense, and I am not trying to be rude. Everybody knows I am a Canadian, and we try to be rude as little as possible. So I am trying to ask, what is the value proposition of the software you created that you want to communicate to our audience?

It’s not a stupid question, as I always ask. I think it is a great question, and I get asked all the time by an agency that says, well, we already have a Project Management system.

That’s what I think they will say. So I want to give you the best opportunity to provide value. I have seen what you have created, and it's great. I would recommend it. But I want you to communicate that value.

There is no one way to do what we do properly. So if you have a process that works and makes you money and your clients are happy, this product is probably not for you. The benefit of this product is the ability to scope out a project instantly. For instance, inside the tool, I can scan a prospective client’s website and immediately get the work that needs to be done, show them how much it will cost, and start work tomorrow. If you are an agency with a sales team, they are not SEO experts, so they need an automated, fast way to start building the proposals and spelling the work. So it’s a new customer acquisition strategy. I think that has been helping with the appeal from some agencies saying, yes, we want to use the tool for that reason. Another is beyond the Project management side. The second is the customer acquisition part. So the movement of SEO is becoming more popularized, people are familiar with it and don’t want to be kept in the dark anymore. So I am finding that more clients are asking what I am getting, what I am doing, and where the transparency is.

What are my dollars paying for?

What are my dollars paying for? And as the market shifts, people are cutting back on budgets. So how can you justify your value to the client without having anything properly documented? And I can show. Hey, this thing we worked on last month has led to this traffic increase. So attaching work to outcome is important, and many tools don’t measure that. Project management systems will be hard to do unless you know every detail happening there or every month everything is documented, which is usually not the case.

Your tool scans the website and tells you everything that needs to be done within a few minutes. That's the brilliance of it. It builds the processes for you. You don't have to go SEMRush and take it into Asana. You type in the URL, it scans the site and tells you everything that needs to be done, and your process is already built for you. So it saves time and gives you something you can take to business owners and say this is what needs to be done and how much it will be. But you were going to say further. I hope I didn't take you off target.

I was going to make the point about the development of SEO campaigns, and the process is how I think about SEO campaigns has a lot to do with the past, present, and future processes. What we did in the past and have an electronic paper trail for things that worked. And present to know what type of work we are working on now and what needs to be done. And in the future, as algorithm updates come, Google will do a good job of announcing future updates, for example, the mobile update. They gave website owners a good time to get mobile-friendly. And we operate in these different areas. We need to know what happened in the past to the website so we don’t duplicate our work. So what other SEO work is done? If a client comes to us and says, oh, I just fired my SEO consultant, we want to work with you now. What did they do? Sometimes they don’t know that. They don’t know if they messed up their SEO or did nothing.

If they did nothing because there are nefarious companies, they go out of business.

Yes, there are so many. I am on LinkedIn as an SEO consultant and get pitched for SEO services. You have people pitching everyone regardless of what their service is.

To keep track of that, what about Annotations in Google Analytics? If you add a note automatically to your platform, can it create an annotation in Google Analytics? That would be amazing.

Give me more ideas, I’ll take them all. We will find out if it’s possible.

Yeah, find out if it's possible.

I think the data is the next level of integration we want to incorporate because it is important. I am looking at search consoles as a primary data source to contribute when tasks are completed and data outputs from Google search consoles. All that is in the works, but I see the value in it, and certainly, there is a point where folks can see the things that were done inside our system and cross reference inside a Google search console to see that outcome. So that is something in the future.

Do you have any other integrations for rank tracking to integrate with platforms? Have you explored anything with SEMrush, HRefs, Rank Ranger, or Rank Watch? Any thoughts on that?

The nice thing about this tool is it doesn’t have an overload of data and features. And what I realize from early interviews with folks in the industry is people use so many different tools anyway. Some tools already figure the ranking part out. So I don’t want to touch that space, and folks are already using great tools for rank tracking. So maybe we will consider it.

I thought you could talk to each other. Not developing your own but get the two talking to each other. I don't know if it is necessary, Michael. It's just a thought.

The thought is valid around other features. Like SEMRush does a very good job of having their crawler and auditor. So they allow you to export the audited information to other tools. I think one is Trello, and another is Zappier integration. So we are working with Zappier now to build an integration for our tool. So another auditing tool can import their data into ours, so they have it in one place. Once you have data from SEMRush, LightBuld, or HRefs, we have a management system that automatically talks to them, so you are constantly getting new audit information, so it’s housed in one place. And that is something you can’t get from a basic management system. So it would be very difficult and complicated to do that. So we want to be the hub for all of the best SEO intelligence in one place that turns it into an actionable task. So you can put your team in immediately and charge for that.

Charge for it and make money. And at the end of the day, it's about making money. Hey Michael, what's one big takeaway you want our listeners to get from this episode?

I think it’s that SEO takes a village. Effective SEO takes a solid development team, writing team, project managers, and link builders, which will vary depending on the client. When clients have a better level of transparency, which your agency offers and your competitors don’t, that clearly separates your value and what you offer in an SEO space. So I think you want to show that value clearly by having that clear transparency in a dark industry, which sometimes you don’t have, but a lot of hard work is being done.

How can listeners connect with you online?

I will throw my email out there. It’s michael@evisio.co, and I am on LinkedIn as well, so you can reach me there.

Do they search for Micahel Ramirez on LinkedIn?

Yes, Michael Ramirez.

Are you active on Twitter or anything else?

No, I am not active on Twitter, so I didn’t want to mention that.

Most guests that I talk to aren't. It is mainly LinkedIn and email, so it doesn't surprise me. We will make sure to put those links in the show notes, and I want to thank you so much for coming to the show. It's been a pleasure having you here.

Thank you for having me; thank you, Matt.

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