5,8 Million Organics/Month With Kevin Indig @ Shopify
Kevin Indig is one of the greatest SEOs out there!
He is the Head of technical SEO at Atlassian. Moreover, Kevin also acted a Director of SEO at Dailymotion and VP of SEO & Content at G2. Last but not the least, KEVIN Indig is also the Director of SEO at Shopify.
It seems like every major company that relies on organic search for growth hires Kevin at some point, right?
So we decided to hijack him and spam him with all the questions we have about his SEO successes, and we have a lot of questions.
Kevin Indig on SEO
Q: What is your strategy to approach SEO? There are so many metrics you could beat, and sometimes even that fails. What works for you each time? Which SEO tools do you swear by and how can I best utilize your approach using any of those once I login? How do I best use the competitor analysis to my advantage? Also, please share your best keyword research strategy.
A: That’s a good and deep question! One important lesson I learned is to not come with the answer to every problem but look at every site “from scratch”.
I look at 3 things:
Where are the opportunities?
Where are the problems?
What are the biggest levers (content, tech SEO etc.)?
What works for competitors?
What resources are available?
One thing that works every time is looking for keywords a site already ranks for but not in good positions, comparing that with the top results for those keywords, and then aiming to improve the content based on what you learn from the top results. But that’s just one strategy of many 🙂.
My tools of choice are SEMrush, Ahrefs, Ryte, RankRanger, Stat, Oncrawl, Botify, and Screaming Frog.
I outlined an approach to keyword research here: https://www.kevin-indig.com/blog/a-better-approach-to-keyword-research-for-content-marketing/
Q: How would you apply the 20% effort-80% result principle to SEO activities? Which aspect do you think generally brings the most results for the least amount of effort?
A: What I noticed is that in pretty much every case, a few keywords or pages contribute most traffic (and revenue). So, you want to make sure you rank #1 for those queries and maximize the traffic potential of those URLs.
When it comes to *how* to do that, you can apply the 80/20 rule again: what are the 1-3 things you can do that have the biggest impact?
There is a lot of noise and many distractions in SEO. Focusing on impact and putting aside distraction is a very important skill, and I found the 80/20 rule to be super important for that.
Q: What’s the most important aspect of SEO you consistently see SEO beginners missing?
A: Going deep. Really understand *why* something worked or didn’t. Not copying what others write but developing first-hand experience 🙂. That’s why every SEO should have a side project like a blog or a store.
Q: How much time do you spend learning new things about SEO vs implementing the strategy you know works? What learning channels give you the most value?
A: It’s a 50/50 split. I (we) are always trying new things and implementing things that work at the same time. One drives the other.
Q: If you could change one thing, about the *entire* SEO industry. What would you fix?
A: More humbleness and lower confidence 🙂 Thinking “you know” is dangerous, and I see a lot of public display of overconfidence. But all in all, the SEO industry is great!
Q: What would the meanest, most stripped down and effective SEO agency offering look like in your opinion, if going after tech scale-ups as a freelancer, wanting to grow towards an agency with productized services?
A: Build ranking content hubs and sell them.
Kevin Indig’s processes
Q: two part question (i) let’s say you have a collections page that is ranking for a generic product ie leggings. Now there are hundreds of long tail keyword variations ; how would you best structure them i.e. would you create a new collection page for specific leggings types ie gym/workout/colours OR pages OR blog posts or a combination of these? (2) how would you avoid kw cannibalisation
A: I would look at the content on that collections page and try to cover as many long-tail keywords as possible. It’s hard to provide perfect advice for this situation, though, because some long-tail keywords might have a very different user intent. So, the best thing you can do here is probably to try it out.
I’m not too worried about keyword cannibalization unless the content is exactly the same.
Q: I would like to know how your team is composed and what do you think is the career development of a SEO?
A: Good question! We’re a bit over 20 SEOs at Shopify and soon will be 30. We have 6 teams: operations, content, international content, tech, experimentation, offsite.
The career in development really depends on what you want to do. Some go into people management, some go deeper into technical SEO and become 1/2 engineers, and others go deeper intro product
Q: How does your typical week at SEO look like? How do you delegate work, productise content and judge how different SEO’s in your team are performing?
A: We have a meeting free Wednesday at Shopify, but most of the week is full of meetings for me. I do block some time here and there to get work done. On average, I spent about 40h/week in meetings, and work another 20h. I do set aside time for writing (for my blog, to reflect, to strategize, etc.)
Delegating work is easy: I often do that in 1on1s or Slack. The key is to define “who does what by when” and be very precise in your ask. That’s a hard lesson I learned 😉.
I also keep a constant flow of feedback and communication to understand how my SEOs are performing: feedback from their peers, other people they worked with, and self-reflection. I merge that with my own feedback and then discuss that on a quarterly basis. I try to provide a bit of feedback in every 1on1 or right in the moment.
It basically comes down to collecting as many data points as possible.
Q: As director of SEO and content, what did you spend most of your time doing?
A: Lots of things:
Identifying big bets
Developing the team
Defining the high-level strategy
Working on processes/work flows
It’s a very executive role and you constantly switch between the high-level picture and very detailed problems. They both inform each other.
Q: How important was team building and gut instincts to your seismic growth at all companies ?
A: Veeeeeery, very important.
Here’s the hierarchy for success
Having the right people
Working on the right things
Team building plays a major role because you need a high level of trust to do great work.
Instinct is shaped over time. It comes with experience. I constantly sniff test left and right
Q: I absolutely love your zero-based SEO approach and happy to say that a lot of my work in the past 6 months was “ruthless” testing then iterating. How much of your week/month is dedicated to this type of work, and then how much of your team’s time goes into executing on your analysis?
A: I have a whole team dedicated to running SEO experiments, but all of my teams are supposed to have at least a few running at all times. It really informs the priorities we set and our understanding of SEO as a whole. So, I’d say on average 20-30% of our time goes into testing. I’m trying to always have a test running on my personal blog, too.
Q: SEO today touches a brand’s entire web presence. Enterprise brands are generally reluctant to make SEO changes. How much advocacy cross org do you do?
A: A ton! Evangelizing is a huge part of my role and enterprise SEO in general. It’s about developing a voice in the company, showing impact, and getting people exciting. I’ll write a playbook about this, one day.
Q: What’s your favorite SEO activity to move the needle that a lot of SEOs dont consider SEO?
A: Refining content over time. A lot of SEOs or content marketers focus on publishing content and then forget about it. But that’s when the real work begins! Give new content a couple of weeks and then tune it. Look at what google tries to rank you for and then add or tweak your content accordingly. There is so much gold there!
Q: Is managing a large enterprise easier than a small business? Seems that much of the day to day would be a bit different. What becomes more important for larger accounts vs smaller?
A: Very different. You often have different levers as an enterprise, more resources, but also longer processes.
When we talk about agencies, the work for smaller vs bigger accounts isn’t that different:
Understand what the client wants and needs
Understand how to add value
Keep a tight communication loop
Q: What’s the future of SEO look like? Please don’t say voice search.
A: Then, I dunno!
I think testing will become much more important, the cost for content will increase, and the bar for high quality will rise as well.
It’s always a losing game when trying to predict the future.
Q: What % of SEO is content vs more traditional SEO tasks?
A: Depends on the business model, product, and vertical 🙂.
Very hard to make a general statement. If content is a big lever, you want to lean in.
Q: What kind of links do you build to your homepage?
A: Brand links.
Kevin Indig on keywords
Q: Given your previous experience, if you wanted to out-rank G2 for keywords like “Best XXX tools” or “XXX Alternatives” what would be your strategy ?
A: Ha! That’s a good question. It’s definitely possible. First, it depends on what site you have (reviews or editorial?). Second, you need to provide suuuuuper in-depth software reviews, so either have more reviews or write about any detail you can imagine + provide videos + images, etc. 3rd, you need a strong link profile.
When you look at G2’s keywords, you’ll see that there are 3 types of competitors: review sites, brands, publishers. I think if you’re not a review site with UGC reviews, you need to be a publisher.
Q: Kevin, with your problem based keyword research strategy. How’s the success rate been with ranking content with specific angles for main terms? Where do you draw the line between mimicking what competitors are doing vs. crafting your own story (assuming you’re still evaluating things like kw density or incorporating all the major entities in important places)?
A: I really focus on inferring what the user really wants. Take the keyword “5g”, for example. Sure, the major user intent is people want to know what it is. The common intent, though, is to understand how much faster 5g is than 4g! The better I can solve that problem for users, the better 🙂.
Inferring user intent is still very competitor focused, but that’s the nature of search. It’s a zero-sum game and the results are an indication of Google’s expectations.
Kevin Indig on his experience in G2
Q: From an SEO/content standpoint, what were the top 3 things G2 did differently vs. their competitors? Thank you!
A: A couple of things
We worked closely with our partners, ran co-marketing campaigns, guest posts?, etc.
We constantly refined our category and product pages (dan lots of tests).
We kept a high level of technical seo hygiene.
It took a little bit to get right, but once we went really deep down to the keyword and page level, we saw continuous growth.
Kevin Indig on Content Tuning
Q: 5 years ago I had great success in using a process very similar to your “content tuning.” However, it was oriented towards post-publish optimization of contextual terms, rather than focusing on queries, which I do today. As you very clearly put it – keywords are just a blueprint to understand the broader topics. My Q is – do you have any plans of expanding on this content tuning methodology? Or, you already have?
A: I have something in the works but it will take a while to go live 🙂. With my role at Shopify, everything else has to come 2nd. But I think you can get most of what you need out of this process, and it’s free!
Kevin Indig on Life
Q: Who do you look up to?
A: Oooooh, so many people! I truly stand on the shoulders of giants because I learned so much from so many amazing people.
In terms of role models, here is an incomplete list:
dr mike israetel
Dr jordan feigenbaum
Noah yuval harari
Q: You have a crazy insane career. What’s stopped you from transitioning to consulting after coming off such powerhouse projects?
A: Consulting and inhouse really are two different worlds.
I like to own SEO like a product and build my organization like an engine. I think that’s more feasible in an inhouse role.
Kevin Indig on Hiring
Q: What do Director of SEO level interviews look like? How do they differ from non-director level SEO interviews?
A: It’s a lot about your sense for hiring, building a strong team, focusing on impact vs distractions, and if you are a strong leader or not. It’s less about tactics, more about leadership and management.
Kevin Indig on Core Web Vitals
Q: If you combine the amount of time all webmasters will spend preparing for, and triaging post May update, it’s got to add up to millions of hours. How much responsibility lies with platform owners like WordPress to meet core web vitals?
A: I think platforms have a responsibility, but CWV is super complicated. Lots of dependencies and outliers. Also, we don’t know yet how impactful it is. So, the bigger question is whether this is a short-term or long-term priority.
Kevin Indig on His Role at Shopify
Q: Is the Director of SEO role at Shopify responsible for making the Shopify platform SEO friendly? Or is collaboration with product and dev a diff role?
A: It’s not my main responsibility and more a collaboration with product. My success isn’t measured by seo features in the product, but we see it as our responsibility to advocate for it, be the bridge between SEOs and product, and help product understand what matters and how much.
Kevin Indig on his role at G2
Q: G2 is pretty different in architecture from the other brands. Specifically, G2 relies on a lot of auto generated pages to rank for things like ‘alternatives’, ‘reviews’, ‘pricing’, etc. What was it like stepping up to this challenge? Were you nervous? Any prior experience with auto generated page build outs?
A: I had a lot of experience from dailymotion and working with ebay and pinterest. I was more nervous about the size of the team because that was a huge step up (33 vs 5 at atlassian).
It took a good 6-8 months to understand the mechanics and build a strong team, but we finally figured it out.
Kevin Indig on Reporting
Q: How does reporting change when your sites begin generating millions of visitors over thousands of pages?
A: You focus less on keywords and more on topics, page types, and countries.
At dailymotion, it was a huge challenge! But UGC is very different from self-created content, so you have to embrace that.
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