What Is Your SEO Learning Program?
How do you train and onboard new SEO hires quickly and efficiently to ensure maximum productivity? Columnist Eric Enge shares how TripAdvisor (as well as his own company) is achieving this through education.
I’m fond of saying that no single detail of SEO is that complex. The problem is that there are hundreds of details you must learn, and you must learn how they all work together.
Then there is the fact that much of how SEO works is simply not common public domain knowledge, so there is no way to learn large parts of it except through experience. Finally, even once you have learned a ton, you have to understand how to apply what you have learned to different websites, each of which will have different needs.
This post will discuss how you can address this challenge. I’ll show you what Massachusetts companies like Trip Advisor (TRIP) and (my own company) Stone Temple Consulting (STC) are doing about this problem, and I’ll even connect you with a 20-question SEO quiz to help you measure where you (or your employees) stand.
The key to meeting this challenge is education. This is one reason I co-authored “The Art of SEO” with Stephan Spencer and Jessie Stricchiola. I am also part of the faculty for an SEO course at the University of California, Davis.
I also recently learned about some of the great things that Trip Advisor (TRIP) is doing to set up and manage its own in-house SEO University.
As part of that, I spoke with Samuel Johns, an SEO Specialist at TRIP to learn what the company is doing on this front. As a fast-growing operation that derives a lot of its users via SEO, it is hiring people into its SEO team on a regular basis.
Onboarding people into the team can be a significant challenge. What most companies do is set up internal training or have these people meet one-on-one with experienced team members to help them come up to speed. However, these approaches are very hard to scale, and it generally takes the new hire a long time to get oriented.
To address this issue, this past summer, TRIP built out a video training program that covers advanced SEO, as well as how to use the internal tools that staffers have built.
During the first two weeks of employment, new hires spend 30 percent to 40 percent of their time watching these videos and learning from them. TRIP also leverages other resources, such as “The Art of SEO,” to cover many of the fundamentals. The goal is to create an outstanding internal SEO team.
New videos get created whenever the team learns something — when a positive needle moves on a project they’ve undertaken — so that core insights can be passed on to others in the company.
These types of videos are watched not just by new hires but by other people on the team, as well. This helps TRIP pass along newly developed best practices throughout the company rapidly, including to the teams that handle SEO for its more than 50 properties beyond Tripadvisor.com.
Videos about the company’s internal tools make up about 50 percent of the overall educational program. This is a clear win for them as it helps new hires learn a lot about a given tool before they need to tap other team members for training and take up their time.
Of course, these tools are frequently updated, so the training gets updated and can easily be rolled out company-wide.
At Stone Temple Consulting, we face similar challenges, as we are constantly hiring new people. Training them is expensive, and until they are trained, their work is not as efficient as it could be.
For that reason, we do something pretty similar to TRIP, with a current focus on how SEO, content marketing and social media work and our philosophies for each. However, inspired by TRIP, we now plan to build out a set of videos around our own in-house tools.
One thing that we do is leverage the SEO Quiz concept to measure where people currently are, then direct them to resources to help them learn more about the areas where they get things wrong. The 20-question SEO quiz here is less than a third of the complete set of questions we have recently developed for internal use, but it does cover some the fundamentals.
We find that this allows us to bring in new people rapidly and get them up to speed and productive much faster. The cost/benefit equation is excellent for us.
How Can I Set Up A Training Program For My Company?
That’s a great question. Here are my key tips for how you should approach this:
1. Start Slowly. Don’t think that you have to build out a comprehensive program to cover all aspects of digital marketing before you have anything of value.
You can start by identifying a small set of key issues that your team encounters a lot and put together resources that people can use to learn about those specific issues.
People can still continue to learn many of the other things they need to know the old-fashioned way, until you are ready to build out more training modules.
2. Match Your Investment To The Size Of Your Team. Take this into consideration, as well as the rate at which new people are being onboarded.
If you hire one person per year, you are going to need to make your investments more slowly to ensure you are still getting a good ROI on your training efforts.
3. Leverage External Resources As Much As Possible. Your educational program does not necessarily need to involve creating your own high-end (or video) content.
If you want to have people learn how the NoIndex tag works, there are many excellent resources out there. Just search on queries such as How to implement a NoIndex tag, and many good resources can be found there right in the search results.
4. Build A Curriculum. Organize your training materials into a curriculum to make it easier for people to engage with your training plan.
You can add to the curriculum over time, as you find the time to build out more detail on the training materials people should go through, whether they’re external to your business or something you develop internally.
5. Have An Onboarding Plan. While the curriculum will be a part of that, learn from TRIP’s experience and don’t expect a new person to spend 100 percent of their time in training.
That will drive most people nuts, which probably shouldn’t be your objective. Know what your plan is, and communicate that to new hires the moment they step through the door.
Training for people already in-house should also be subject to a plan. If you have developed a new curriculum for a new area (for example, a new training plan for mobile SEO), then put together a rollout plan for that, so your existing team knows what’s expected regarding taking and applying the training.
6. Get Feedback. No training plan is perfect, so be proactive in collecting feedback, and then update your plan accordingly.
7. Observe The Impact, Learn And Iterate. See how it goes. Monitor the impact. If you see new hires are coming up to speed quickly, that’s great. Or if the internal level of expertise of existing staff is clearly on the rise, that’s great too.
But do more than just request feedback. Develop your own sense of what’s working and what’s not, and iterate and updates your plan.
TRIP and Stone Temple Consulting have made substantial investments in developing educational resources and will continue to do so, but you don’t need to be so comprehensive as we are trying to be to get results.
A little upfront planning and creation of a curriculum will go a very long way in helping you increase the productivity of your existing team and speed the onboarding process dramatically.
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