My Future Role…Head of SEO, with Lukasz Zelezny
Before becoming a global speaking sensation on all things SEO, I came into contact with Lukasz Zelezny back in 2012 as a budding SEO Manager looking to take on a new and exciting SEO position in London.
Since then he’s gone on to work for some top brands in the capital and over the last few years set up his own consultancy helping even more brands improve their overall SEO.
Having had a career like Lukasz means he has so much great information to share that many SEO professionals would love to hear, especially those at the start of their career, which can help them shape a brighter future.
With that in mind, Lukasz kindly agreed to be the first person in my new blog series for 2020, ‘My Future Role…’ which is designed to offer guidance and support to the wider Digital Marketing community from Digital Marketers who have been there, done it, and got the t-shirt.
So without further ado, feast your eyes on this…
How did you find yourself starting a career in Digital Marketing?
I decided to start a career in digital marketing because it seemed like an exciting and modern field filled with opportunities for ambitious freelancers like me.
My career in digital marketing started as a project manager overseeing SEO and PPC campaigns. I spent just over a year with this small agency, organising new projects for their team, as well as finding new leads. I was responsible for overseeing the design and development of their website, as well as ensuring that their existing clients were being served with the right SEO and PPC solutions.
From there I moved into website development for just under a year. I developed websites for or a business called ATD Ventures, a digital marketing outfit based in London. I handled all of the page optimisation as well as the keyword research. After that did, I had another year-long stint working as a freelance SEO executive and website designer for an online marketing agency. This gave me more experience with keyword research but also equipped me with a better understanding of WordPress and Joomla website design.
With that experience under my belt, I was able to move to an in-house SEO and PPC executive role with a well-established travel business. Once you get your first gig, future opportunities tend to present themselves much more frequently.
Why did you choose to specialise in SEO?
I can still remember the early days of the internet. I have been working as an SEO specialist for more than a decade and a half now, in that time I have seen how the internet’s post-millennial evolution has compared to its pre-Millennium development. We take internet searches for granted now, but there was a time when there was no routine indexing of the internet and not even a primitive version of Google to work with.
But ever since Google made the decision to automate the process of indexing the internet and prioritising search results for users, it has had to constantly play cat and mouse with savvy website developers looking to exploit its algorithms. The way that search engine optimisation works has always fascinated me. It’s just an added bonus that it is also a fantastic business opportunity – if you have the right set of skills.
However, opportunity has also played a role. Had I not had access to the opportunities, people, and businesses, I may have taken a different path entirely. If you want to work in digital marketing then it pays to be flexible. If you are willing to take on new challenges and learn new skills when opportunities present themselves, you might discover that you excel in a niche that you had never considered.
What 3 things have made you and your career so successful in SEO?
- Resourcefulness: When you first start working in SEO, or digital marketing more broadly, you are immediately walking into a Catch-22. Very few businesses will hire you to do any SEO or PPC work if you don’t have any experience. But, and you see where this is going, how do you get experience if no one will hire you?
The answer is to enter the precarious world of freelance work. As a freelancer, you will be responsible for finding your own work. This will require you to be resourceful in generating leads.
- Confidence: You need to be able to sell yourself to prospective clients and employers if you want to get anywhere with your digital marketing career. If you don’t believe in your own abilities, you can’t expect anyone else to – especially when you are asking them to pay you. You also need to have the confidence to make executive decisions about campaigns if you want to work as an SEO executive.
- Creativity: Even though the job of the modern SEO specialist involves working with a lot of data, it requires a great deal of creativity. It is not just dry analytics through and through, which is the perception that many people have of digital marketing work today. If you want to specialise in SEO or PPC, you will need to be able to think creatively and assess the value of creative input with respect to copy, graphical design, etcetera.
You’ve worked for some major brands such as Vrbo (HomeAway then) and uSwitch in senior positions. How were these roles different from the more junior ones you had and what skills did you have to learn whilst in the job?
The main way that these jobs differed from the ones I did previously is that I was heading up larger groups of micro workers. I had some experience of this when I briefly worked for the Digital Property Group, however, these two jobs were longer-term appointments, and I had to combine these management responsibilities with other duties.
This was a much more multifaceted role than those I had previously undertaken, it required me to develop my leadership and team working skills in a way that no previous role had quite prepared me for.
I also had to refine my existing communication skills so that I could more efficiently pass information between the various teams that I worked closely in alignment with. I also had to listen to the information that they provided to me and pass it on to my team, making sure that my recall was accurate and easily understood.
When you are a leader, you take on responsibility for team decisions. As a junior worker, I felt confident in sharing my ideas and proposing bold courses of action. But when you are in a management position, things change. You think differently when you are calculating the risk-reward ratio as a manager, any mistakes will be upon your head.
If you were starting out in SEO again, what advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell myself to be more confident, but also more willing to learn from my mistakes. It is hard to learn to embrace mistakes, especially big mistakes, but it is essential that you do so. Your mistakes are your most valuable learning tool, they will help you understand exactly what you need to avoid doing in the future. I would make sure to tell my younger self that the measure of a person is not whether they make mistakes or not, it is how they respond to those mistakes. If you learn from them and do not repeat them, you will grow into a fine SEO specialist.
I would also tell myself to dedicate more time to read up on the latest developments in the field and trying to get ahead of things. If you can stay ahead of the curve and anticipate the general direction that SEO is likely to develop in over the course of a year, you can give yourself a real advantage over your rivals.
Finally, I would make tell my younger self to make more of an effort to learn from my leaders when working in junior positions. By keeping a note of what they do that works and what doesn’t, I could have much better prepared myself for my own time in a leadership role.
What direction do you see SEO going in and how can those working in this area stay relevant?
SEO is about to undergo a seismic change. This is being driven by machine learning and AI and it has been in the works for a while now. Google’s advanced neural networks and machine learning-driven algorithms are enabling them to understand users’ searches in new ways. Specifically, they can now understand the intent that underpins a users’ search. Instead of just providing users with a link to a webpage, Google can now provide users with answers directly.
As a result, websites are increasingly competing for coveted spots on Google’s SERPS, such as the new featured snippet widget that appears on some pages. They will also have to begin adjusting their approach so that it is aimed at satisfying their users’ intents instead of just catering to a relatively narrow range of keywords.
Similarly, more users are beginning to utilise voice search instead of traditional text searching. This alters the way that they interact with Google and the way that they phrase their requests. In conjunction with the aforementioned pivot to satisfying user intents, this will further push SEO away from the keyword-led approach.
Any SEO professionals who want to stay relevant simply needs to take a deep breath and dive into Google’s documentation. Spotty as it might be, it is the best way of anticipating (most of) what Google is going to do.
Thanks again to Lukasz for taking the time to contribute to this blog. If you’re a senior Digital Marketing professional and feel your career experience could offer guidance and support to the next generation coming through, then please email me on Alex@AcquireDigitalTalent.com to discuss becoming a future contributor of My Future Role…
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