Part of Blue Array’s recruitment strategy, due to our rapid business growth, is to find established Digital Marketing Managers who are looking to specialise in SEO. I fall into this category and have been working at Blue Array since the start of April this year, having originally worked in house, in broader digital marketing roles.
In this blog post I look back on the first 9 months working for an SEO agency and highlight my personal challenges and benefits that the switch has had for me. Hopefully, it might help any fellow marketing professionals who are pondering a change in 2019…
A bit of background
For the previous 14 years before joining Blue Array I worked client side within the digital function of Marketing teams. Back in the early noughties, digital marketing was still finding its feet (social media wasn’t a thing, smartphones didn’t exist and the sending of a single monthly email newsletter was considered a huge achievement!) so I started out when the industry was just heating up.
Having worked mainly for large corporates where traditional ‘offline’ marketing was very much the focus, I often ploughed a lonely furrow as the sole digital resource. Digital reporting mattered very little to the “higher ups”, and the actual intricacies of my work was not always fully understood, and the greater opportunity was not seen.
However, as digital took on more prominence and became transformative, and as I gained more experience, I started to manage teams and felt like I was making more of an impact to those businesses. But at the same time, without many in-house digital experts to collaborate with, I felt I was losing touch on industry trends and insights.
Looking at how other businesses gear up their marketing function I was seeing less of a trend for the standalone Digital Managers – everyone in a modern marketing function should contribute and have an appreciation for the digital channel, whether it be lead generation, customer retention, or brand awareness. I was starting to worry that my broad role could limit me and my career from moving forwards.
Trying to align my own ambitions, and knowing that there was a need to stay relevant in an industry which was moving forward at a rapid pace, I started wondering how I might specialise in a particular field in order to continue my development and career progression. The jump from an in-house Digital Manager to a Marketing Director seemed like a leap (there was no in-between level to work up to where I was) and my next move would inevitably be sideways rather than upwards.
To be a master of one discipline rather than just ‘competent’ at many could present new opportunities in the future, e.g. to be a Head of SEO for a multi-channel retailer, could hold me in good stead for a step up to a Director level role. So to specialise in a channel such as SEO seemed like a logical progression path. Also, SEO has been a specialism since before I graduated – it’s not a passing fad.
I met with Simon (Blue Array’s founder) at the start of 2018 and he explained to me the plans for Blue Array and what I could expect from the role. With a little trepidation and the fear of the unknown I accepted the role of SEO Manager and began preparing for a) a new industry and b) working agency side rather than in-house after so many years.
What are the main challenges I faced?
Leave ‘ego’ at the door and have an open mind
The responsibilities placed upon you as a digital marketer, such as managing development and digital marketing budgets, does not guarantee a fast and smooth transition into day to day life as an SEO Manager. You are moving into a new world with a very different set of responsibilities. Instead, having an expert knowledge of how specialist tools work and to be able to manipulate and interpret large sets of data is a necessity. Plus, going from being in a comfortable spot as an established member of a large Marketing team to working with a group of young, talented and ambitious SEO professionals was a difficult transition. I had gone from one of the youngest in a very experienced marketing team to the eldest member in one swift move!
Shaking off my old corporate ways and mindset initially proved tricky but I have since adapted and feel I am now working well with my colleagues and helping deliver great results for our clients.
There’s no shame in asking for help on how to use a piece of software or learn a new tool either – no matter how old you are! (Though having never used a Mac before proved tricky for the first couple of weeks…)
A steep learning curve
There are many facets to SEO – some are around the creation of content and link-building whilst others are very much of a technical nature. So you need to read up on your theory to help with planning tasks, but you also need to be able to use tools and specialist software as well to carry out the tasks. It is essential to learn as much as is possible around SEO to effectively manage your clients to the utmost of your ability.
I found a whole host of web resources, internal training sessions, nighttime reading, and supportive colleagues helped to fill in any gaps in my knowledge – much of the information you need is readily available online.
Fortunately, to be surrounded by intelligent SEO marketers has also proven to be very advantageous and I have managed to learn something off everyone in my time here.
Moving from in-house to agency side presents a new set of day to day challenges. Where I previously could chase an agency for a piece of work and put the pressure of an outcome on them, I am now the one who has to do the work on the other side of the fence. Also, going from focusing on just one industry and largely knowing what each day will bring, to having different types of clients in very different industries takes some getting used to. You need to learn the SEO theory and also become an expert in each industry that your clients are in to make the best possible recommendations.
From a ‘tiny cog in a huge machine’ to having a direct impact on ROI
It’s fair to say when you work for a firm with thousands of employees it’s easy to get lost in the mix. It’s harder to stand out from the crowd and be recognised for your efforts. You also grow accustomed to the various functions such as H.R, Finance, Procurement, I.T. etc. These things you take for granted (having I.T. support on the phone for example) so it was a culture shock to learn the departments did not formally exist at the agency – but it cultivates an environment where everyone chips in to help you out.
The upside to this is I now have a much more tangible sense of the impact I’m making on the performance of the business.
What have been the benefits?
Getting to work with talented people
As I mentioned earlier, you have to accept that everything you know, and all your previous experience, won’t translate directly into the new role. It will absolutely help, as I will go on to discuss, but there is a need to learn new tools and grasp how tasks such as a keyword gap analysis or backlink investigation are tackled. So many of my new colleagues – who I have at least 10 years on in terms of age – had such a deep understanding of how various tools worked, the way a task should be approached, and a fresher perspective in general (my previous years in corporate industry may have made me a little rusty in terms of ‘thinking outside of the box’). Their knowledge is rubbing off on me slowly but surely!
The environment at Blue Array is very conducive to collaboration and learning, which has helped me to develop my skill set. We have recently launched a set of core values for us to work by as a group and as individuals. The move has very much opened my eyes to new ways of working and exploring different ways of tackling a problem.
Understanding the internal pressures on clients
Having worked client side I know what it’s like to be asked on the spot for reports and suggestions from my superiors. When I’m asked to help out I feel I know the types of thing that will support my clients internally. SEO is our world but I know it’s just one aspect of a Marketer’s remit – and they will be juggling this with many other competing tasks.
By understanding time pressures clients are under, I also feel I know how much information to deliver, rather than bombard somebody with huge amounts of data and lengthy emails. I will pull out the top level takeaways they need and what actions they need to take. Giving this additional insight, on top of the SEO deliverables, is often appreciated.
Seeing the bigger Marketing picture
Every year, for as long as I can remember, I have had to sit down with the Finance team to forecast the number of visitors the digital channel will drive, and subsequently how many leads this will generate and for what cost. Having this higher level view, above the organic stats, I can contribute a little more and help feed into these internal conversations.
It also helps with setting tasks onto a SEO roadmap of activities. Having that experience of the in-house world, and the typical types of resourcing constraints clients face, I can provide more realistic recommendations in a phased approach in collaboration with them.
Increasing my SEO knowledge
Previously I had a very top level understanding of tools such as SEMRush and Google Analytics. For the level of reporting I had to provide I never had to dig much below the surface. I didn’t have any knowledge of crawler software such as Screaming Frog or backlink tools like Majestic. Now I feel much more adept at using reporting software and interpreting the data/outcomes into meaningful results and actions. I am very pleased with the speed of my learning and progression; my technical knowledge of Search Engine Optimisation has increased tenfold since joining Blue Array, and I enjoy making my contribution to each of my clients’ digital marketing plans.
Feeling a part of something special
When I first joined Blue Array Simon explained to me his vision for the business and where he wants to take things in the next 3 years. It’s very exciting and motivating to play a part in that success and to see an opportunity for personal progression as it expands and grows.
When you do well on a job it is recognised – it is also encouraged to reflect upon success, failures and learnings once a month when we all gather as a team to look back on how things have gone. There are other great incentives to reward success such as the peer voted employee of the month initiative.
If you are thinking about taking a big leap and changing your career path I can only say go for it! Trust your instincts and take a chance on something different. In my personal experience so far, the rewards have far outweighed the risks, and I feel like a much more well-rounded digital marketer for doing it.
Of course, you can check out the jobs we have available at Blue Array here.