Ryan D’Souza has an impressive SEO journey stemming from his background in financial services. What began as a path toward investment banking turned out to be a marketing and SEO career with impressive wins at startups and large corporations.
I sat down with Ryan recently to ask him about his beginnings in SEO, his achievements in search visibility and dominating the SERP in a previous organization, and what he believes are the important challenges facing SEOs today.
Connect with Ryan (right) on LinkedIn.
I’ve been doing SEO for just over a decade now, but prior to that, I was working on a degree in finance and my goal was to become an investment banker. This was around the time of the subprime lending crisis, however, so I made a career pivot into digital marketing.
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What I Did to Reach Page One
While I was working with a financial services startup, they determined that they wanted to become the leader in personal lending technology - a brutally competitive space. Not only were there a lot of aggregators, but we also saw competition from big-time financial brands looking to corner this market.
The startup I was working with had the expectation to see Page One visibility for all key terms within their loan categories - personal loans, installment loans, debt consolidation loans, online loans, and so on. I didn’t think at the time that it was possible given the competition we were up against!
So, I developed a strategy that was highly aggressive when it came to building content and links. This is what the competitive strategies entailed, so we built out a blog with educational content that answered users’ questions as to how they could get one of our loans.
We also worked with both tier-one publishers and niche publishers to get high-authority backlinks to our site and from there, added in our link-building strategy to run alongside our content-building strategy.
Within a year, almost to the day, we saw our target terms reach page one visibility. I’ll never forget that day.
When I came into the office, I opened up my SEO dashboard and everything was green; literally all of those target terms had reached page one.
This led to a surge in incremental loans, so from a KPI perspective for revenue, that was huge.
An SEO’s Greatest Challenge Today
If I had to summarize the challenge facing most enterprise SEOs today in one word, it would be “education”. It’s imperative that SEOs understand how to help stakeholders, particularly upper management and other cross functional teams, really understand the value of SEO.
A lot of organizations understand the importance from SEO in terms of a contribution to digital revenue. When they look at their analytics, they look at that percentage and they say, “Okay, it's a pretty big deal”. They also understand that, to reference a cliche quote, “SEO is free”.
They see SEO as a low-cost channel in terms of where it can drive revenue, but they don’t always understand its importance in terms of adoption from a processes standpoint and an operational standpoint.
Educating stakeholders that SEOs need to be involved in planning processes across different teams, earlier rather than later, and looked at as product managers to help drive business is overall critical to an organization's success. A lot of enterprise SEOs struggle with that even in very established organizations because of how it's viewed.
It's typically a type of a role that tends to be a little bit siloed but needs to be brought to the forefront of large organizations’ way of thinking about their business growth.
Complementary Skill Sets in SEO to Build Versatile Teams
The ability to build complementary skill sets is what excites me the most about SEO because you can't necessarily pin it to any one particular area. It is truly the glue, in a sense, that allows you to interface with multiple teams and build those complementary skillsets. So, that versatility is what I really enjoy about SEO.
If you decide later down the road that you want to stretch the lines within SEO, you can continue to build skill sets in content marketing and digital marketing. If you decide that the technical aspect is what you enjoy, then you can start to specialize a little bit more in UX, AB testing, optimization, web development, and so on.
One of the big things many companies are doing now is building data intelligence teams, so these would be your data scientists. You have that fluidity and versatility to really kind of stretch your skill set across so many different cross-functional areas.
That creativity and versatility of SEO is what excites me the most. And, of course, I enjoy the ever-evolving landscape as well in terms of new formats and new feature releases, et cetera.
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On the flipside, I would say it's the inability to control all necessary marketing factors in a way that you perhaps could with other channels that is the most frustrating part of SEO today.
For example, if you consider paid search, there is a lot more in your control; but, when you're looking at SEO, you can launch a very successful campaign tomorrow in terms of doing all the right things from a checklist perspective, but there's no guarantee you will see results. There are a lot of variables to consider.
What Do SEOs Read For Fun?
The last great book I read was The Surrender Experiment by Michael Alan Singer. I particularly enjoyed this book because it's about a man who essentially wanted to do nothing by meditation in the woods, wanting to cut himself off from the world and go to the woods and meditate. He went from being a CEO of a massive corporation to following this meditation journey.
Reading about his journey really inspired me and taught me that if you're humble, if you're trusting life, then your potential can be achieved with that kind of attitude.
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