As a product manager who builds digital products, the list of things you could/should know about is long to say the least. And it only ever seems to get longer!
So it’s easy to dismiss SEO as something that you know vaguely enough about, but you generally leave it to the marketing team. But SEO is about so much more than just the keywords your copywriters use, and the links that your social media manager shares.
SEO lies at the heart of your website. And if your website is the product you’re building, then it should absolutely be on your ‘need to know’ list.
You might also be interested in: What Is Product Marketing Management?
What is SEO?
If SEO is completely new to you, let’s break it down simply.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It’s a process that helps your website to rank higher in search engine results. How often, when you’re searching for something, do you click on anything from the second page of search results? If you do, how likely is it that that’s exactly what you wanted?
Google needs to understand which results are high-quality enough to make it to that first page, with a variety of parameters to measure with. Your page will be more likely to appear at the top if it has a well-organized backend logic, it’s accessible, it loads quickly, it has been linked to by other reputable websites, and it matches the keywords that your users are searching for. And that’s just the surface!
So why is this all so important for product growth? Let’s look at some facts…
SEO in numbers
Why Do Product Managers Need to Know About It?
Before we go any further, let’s address the elephant in the room. You might be thinking, “Isn’t this the marketing team’s job?” SEO, for product managers, isn’t exactly a number one priority compared to something like wireframing and customer journey mapping. And while you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, there’s a lot more to SEO than just good marketing.
There’s every chance that in your particular role (after all, no product management role is exactly the same), you don’t need to even touch SEO. Perhaps you’re an AI specialist, working in the IoT space. In that case, you can probably leave SEO to your marketing team, as it’s not part of your day to day.
But for many, your website isn’t just the storefront of your business, it’s your whole product! If the product you’re building is a website, then you need to absolutely be conscious of SEO in everything you do.
Your marketing team will do their best to direct traffic to your website through content campaigns, lead generating emails, and PPC advertising, and they should be working towards finding the balance between paid and organic traffic.
But you’ll be presenting them with an uphill battle if the website you’re building isn’t optimized for SEO. Organic traffic is absolutely essential for growth, otherwise you’re paying too high a price tag for every single new user that comes your way.
By what Google is looking for when people search for businesses like yours, you’ll be able to build the product that Google puts right into their hands.
We’re great advocates for product managers taking an active role in building growth loops, and being overall drivers of growth for the company. SEO is a huge part of growth, and it can be built into the product that you’re building.
SEO for Product Managers in a Nutshell:
How it Works
While there are plenty of search engines out there, you’ll mostly find SEO experts talking about Google and its search algorithm specifically. Since 92.96% of all web traffic comes from Google Search, Google Images, or Google Maps, it’s the easy target for SEO strategists to aim for.
Google routinely sends crawlers to your website, which try to read your website through the eyes of the user. Of course, they’re a machine, so you need to find the balance between creating a product that looks great for users, and also for robots.
No one completely understands the rules of SEO, as Google isn’t completely transparent about all of the factors that can lead to search result success. This is to keep the playing field relatively fair, and to stop businesses from manipulating the system to their unfair advantage.
It’s important to note that Google doesn’t crawl your entire website, and it’ll largely ignore pages that aren’t popular with users or that haven’t been updated in a long time. So while creating huge batches of new content with SEO in mind won’t make a difference if your homepage isn’t optimized. If you’re late to SEO and are only now implementing a strategy, look to your most visited pages first and make important changes.
Main Challenges and Long Term Investment
And that’s the main challenge of SEO…that the rule book is vague and ever changing. There are of course a few common sense rules
Technical SEO (which is more the realm of the product manager than content marketing for example) can be difficult to learn, and is a constant learning journey.
SEO is a cross functional game that can’t be implemented overnight and won’t suddenly solve all of your problems. It’s a long term investment and something that must be built into your product as well as your marketing campaigns.
As a product manager, you may find yourself needing to get aligned with marketing on what your SEO strategy is. It’s not a case of you working with the engineers on site speed, and the marketing team working in another room on creating content, and neither the two shall meet.
A great product manager is used to working closely with all the teams their work touches. So just be aware that in those conversations with marketing, SEO is something worth dipping into.
What you’ll probably be most interested in as a product manager, is the technical side of SEO. Technical SEO ensures that your website is built specifically with the search engine in mind, and is a vital part of any businesses’ SEO strategy.
In the 2021 update, Google has advised that Core Web Vitals (CWV) will play an important part in measuring SEO by becoming a ranking factor.
These core vitals include:
- Largest contentful paint (LCP) – How long until the page is fully loaded?
- First input delay (FID) – How long it takes your page to become usefully interactive?
- Cumulative layout shift (CLS) – Does the layout shift as users attempt to use the page?
While these have always been important to pay attention to in terms of keeping your bounce rate low, these are now deciding factors in how far your website makes it up the search results, and seriously impact your organic traffic.
There are other web vitals besides the core three, which also have an impact on how you rank:
- Mobile responsiveness
- Safe browsing
- No intrusive interstitials (pop ups etc)
While any good front end engineer will be aware of these things, it’s also an important thing for you to be aware of and to keep tabs on. So when the marketing team suggests a new giant pop-up, you can explain to them why that’s not a good idea.
Known in marketing as ‘black hat’ SEO, some self proclaimed experts will try to sell you tips and tricks to quadruple your organic traffic overnight. These tricks are, to put it politely, absolute gumbo.
These tricks are numerous, and can include keyword stuffing, link schemes and farms, cloaking, article spinning, duplicate content, doorway pages, and sneaky redirects.
The main danger of these tricks is that they do actually work…for a while. Unfortunately, they’re banned by Google’s terms of service, and can result in your website being permanently banned. That’s right, SEO is a high stakes game!
SEO is something that not many people know too much about, so it’s always good to have another person in the room who knows how it shouldn’t be done. Or who can recognize opportunities to increase organic traffic the right way.
The Metrics That Matters Most:
While you might be keeping your eye on your organic vs paid traffic data, the metric that matters most is conversion. The people who land on your website have to actually convert to contribute to your bottom line. While an increase in traffic is nice, it has to be paired with an increase in conversions to actually grow your product.
You can personally measure how well your SEO strategy is working, by measuring the increase in traffic against your conversion rate. Once that starts to dip, you can see that your newly acquired traffic doesn’t gain you anything. Traffic is a vanity metric, but by pairing it with conversion you can turn it into a sanity metric.
Bounce rate is never a good thing, but it’s even worse if you’ve been actively investing in your SEO. Your bounce rate is something that Google uses to measure the quality of your site. If your bounce rate is high, it’s worth looking at the quality of the pages that are generating that bounce rate (by looking at the Core Web Vitals), and the main sources of traffic to those pages.
Poor user experience and misleading marketing are the two main drivers of increased bounce rates, so it’s important to consider both.
Time on site:
If your user clicks on only one link on your site, but stays there for a few minutes before leaving, Google assumes that the user got what they needed from your site. That could mean reading a blog post, or quickly checking the address of your brick-and-mortar location.
When to Outsource Your SEO
It’s a very common business practice to outsource SEO strategy to an external specialist or consultant.
When you’re working in a large company with an extensive marketing team, you’re bound to have individuals who are trained in SEO and have a strong understanding of what your company’s strategy is. But what about those in a small company with an even smaller marketing team?
Outsourcing to a specialist is a smart move to make when you don’t have the people power or expertise to do it yourself, and you don’t have the budget to hire a full-time SEO manager.
One thing to keep in mind is how niche your product is. If your product serves a very well known industry (like travel or real estate), a 3rd party SEO specialist will likely have some knowledge of the industry and their learning curve will be less steep. However, if you have a very niche, never-been-done-before product, you’ll need to shop around for a specialist who will be the quickest to pick up what you’re all about.
Where To Learn More About SEO
If we’ve convinced you that SEO is something that you’re keen to learn more about, then we’ve done our job! But it would be impossible to tell you everything about SEO all in one place. And the hunt for SEO knowledge can be overwhelming. So we’ve handpicked a few useful resources to get you started:
- Google has published an SEO starter guide for developers.
- Neil Patel is commonly known as the king of SEO.
- Semrush is a well-loved tool for SEO.
For more learning straight from product leaders and your fellow product peers, you should definitely join Product School Pro, where the best of the best learn and grow together.