Growth Hacking Interview Series #70: Colin Cheng
Colin Cheng is the Senior Marketing Manager at MintTwist – a full-service digital agency in London. Colin works on several digital marketing projects from local search campaigns for boutique businesses to international campaigns for multi-national brands.
He has worked in digital marketing since leaving university but has been building websites and running blogs since he was 11. Colin’s main digital marketing interests are SEO, digital advertising, analytics and content creation.
How would you explain specifically what you do as an SEO?
This is the question I get asked all the time, especially by relatives who probably still don’t really understand what I do. In the traditional sense, SEO is all about getting websites to rank better in organic search.
However the roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of SEOs have changed significantly since I landed my first SEO role.
I wouldn’t say I was purely an SEO anymore; I’m a digital marketer and I think that reflects the overall trend in the sector of greater integration across channels.
What is your primary marketing goal when it comes to delivering results?
Providing an ROI for clients and generating value. We always try to be very clear with our clients at the start of a campaign – what is your objective?
Whether this is increasing Ecommerce revenue by 50%, securing target rankings or generating 50 leads a month – it’s important to have a single clear objective.
We have also seen a lot of clients looking for consultancy and knowledge transfer for their internal teams so we also provide training, workshops and onsite support.
This year we launched a set of masterclass workshops with City University London all about digital marketing which the agency is really excited about.
Which new skills are most important for SEO’s to learn in the next six months?
I think SEOs in general will need to develop a lot of consultancy skills. A lot of clients don’t really understand what SEO is and see it as this kind of alchemy that we’re sworn to secrecy over.
But we are also seeing increasing pressure to justify marketing spend and clients’ conversion funnels can be complicated – not being able to articulate ROI and value to a client can leave them and us feeling frustrated.
This also ties into SEOs understanding analytics and data far better and being able to communicate this. It’s not good enough to simply say ‘we’ve got you ranking for these keywords in position 1’ .
What is the actual impact and value generated to the business? Is this in-line with the client’s objectives? Developing strong analytical skills to understand campaign performance is invaluable.
We’ve seen other sectors really focus on this in the last couple of years and as SEO becomes further integrated into marketing in general, measuring campaign performance will be vital.
Lastly, this is something that we’re extremely keen to foster at MintTwist, but developing a comb-shaped skill set where individuals have multiple skills (perhaps to varying strengths) across several areas of digital marketing is going to be extremely important.
Digital is integrated into everything now. To provide the best ROI for clients, you can’t treat an SEO campaign in isolation to a paid advertising or social campaign.
Understanding the complete strategy across all channels (including traditional/offline) is vitally important.
What do you find most rewarding about SEO?
Generating value to clients – whether this is in-house training on Google Analytics or doubling revenue. Helping the clients achieve their results and seeing conversions come in always gets me buzzing.
As the team manager, working with the new generation of SEOs is also rewarding and seeing the team try new things and use their initiative is great.
How do you stay updated with the latest SEO industry news?
Following thought leaders on Twitter, attending events, reading news blogs and Google’s own announcements helps a lot.
One of the nice things about the SEO industry (at least in London) is the sense of camaraderie you have with other SEOs. There’s a great sense of community and sharing which I don’t think you get in many other industries.
As an SEO, what is your favorite SEO hack?
I wouldn’t call it a hack, but really taking the time to analyse your competition can lead to some great opportunities that you might have missed.
It’s very easy to fall into the trap of doing SEO in isolation – the client wants to rank for these keywords, so that’s all we’re going to work on. But a day analysing your competitors can help unlock lots of new potential.
I’d also stress the importance of semantic SEO and correct site structure.
Having a poorly structured website with a messy internal structure can negate any gains you may be making elsewhere. Make sure your foundations are solid.
Are there any particular SEO trends on the horizon that really excite you?
It’s not an SEO trend but it will have massive ramifications for any organic search campaigns.
Google’s focus on snippets, structured data, answer boxes, knowledge graph and so on already radically changed the SERP landscape.
But now we’re seeing the rise of Google Now, Facebook M, search in iOS 9 and Cortana being integrated into Windows 10.
Increasingly, we will see more searches being completed outside of the traditional search engine environment – how SEOs react to this shift will be significant.
How will SEOs work in a world where people aren’t searching with keywords, but simply talking to their phone?
What are some of the top tools and apps in your SEO stack?
I’d finally also say that Excel is probably the tool that I use most. Having a strong understanding of how to work with data is extremely important and you can use Excel to quickly identify opportunities or key performance areas.
How is your typical work day structured?
Team meetings are held in the morning and then the rest of the day is made up multiple tasks across multiple clients.
In the morning I’ll make a note to check the high level performance of campaigns and any advertising campaigns we’re running.
We also visit clients often so will be out of the office for meetings regularly. I tend to have an energy spurt in the evening so I find that I’m most productive between 4-7pm.
Which one book/blog post would you recommend every SEO should read?
At the moment I’m reading Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath.
It’s not specifically related to SEO but it’s all about why certain things remain sticky and others are forgotten so is applicable to all areas of digital marketing and SEO. I’d definitely recommend it to everyone – not just SEOs.
What advice would you share with other SEO’s who want to become more productive?
Plan your week out.
Before the start of the week I will plan out my whole week – taking note of what meetings I have on which days and how much time I have on each day and scheduling tasks in that way.
I cross these off as I complete them. It also helps to keep track of things you may have forgotten about and quickly see if you’re getting too busy to complete everything.
If you can, also estimate how much time each thing will take and then you can quickly see if you’re trying to do 12 hours worth of work when you only have 8.
Additionally, it may also seem silly but taking the time to learn the keyboard short cuts in your browser and tools can massively speed things up.
If you’re relaying on a mouse to do all of your work you’re slowing yourself down.
Among the Google algorithm updates what is the most challenging one that you’ve encountered?
Pigeon. It feels like no one has really talked about Pigeon that much – especially in comparison to Panda and Penguin (which to be fair, did feel like the SEO industry was going to implode).
But Pigeon is having massive ramifications for search rankings with local search increasing so significantly. Google is constantly changing its SERPs and the impact on local results has been significant.
The carousel, coupled with the local listing snack packs means local results are completely different and if you work in a vertical where location search queries are hugely important than it’s a lot to contend with.
For a long time it felt like if you had a trusted and authoritative website then you were already winning half the battle for local/international search but it does feel like Penguin has changed this.
Hreflang and multilingual content are extremely important now.
I’ve always been massively impressed with Verve’s no-nonsense, results-driven approach to SEO and they’re always refining their SEO strategies and tactics. Lisa is a great ambassador for the SEO industry and I have huge admiration for her.