Kristan Bauer is the former Director of SEO at Zillow, former SEO at Amazon, and has worked on Google properties and some of the other largest sites on the internet as a consultant. She is also a former coworker of mine from Zillow and a brilliant SEO. In this chat we talk about getting SEO done at enterprise companies. We cover structuring SEO as a product, growth teams, how execs can best set up their companies for SEO success, and much much more.

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Full transcript

John: All right, ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to the CredoCast. Today, I have with me a very special guest. Kristan is one of my favorite people in the industry. So today I have with me Kristan Bauer, formerly Kristan Dauble but she got married, and I was gonna call her Kristan Dauble, but Kristan Bauer is…she’s based up in Bend, Oregon and she’s an SEO consultant up there. So Kristan and I have been connected for a while. I actually hired one of her old team when I worked at HotPads, and then she moved to Seattle and worked for Amazon for a little while, and then she actually came over to Zillow where I was working at the time.

And so Kristan and I have been connected, and we have, like, some similar mentors and such as well. And so Kristan is an old co-worker of mine, she’s an old friend of mine, a fellow skier, a fellow injured skier at this point, and so I’m super excited to have her on today. So, Kristan, if you would tell us a little bit about yourself, you know, who you are, what you do, and then I’ll introduce the topic?

Kristan: Yeah. Thanks, John. I am super excited to be here and honored to be on your show, so thanks for having me. I have been in SEO for quite a while. I’d say maybe almost a decade, and then general marketing background beyond that. I’ve worked in all different areas of SEO both agency side, in-house, on all sorts of different brands, e-commerce, B2B, large media sites. I first started at AudetteMedia, a small startup with Adam Audette and Meg Thompson, and then worked my way up through RKG and Merkle, and the last…well, a couple of years after, like you said, was briefly in-house at Amazon.
And the last couple of years I was in-house, led the Zillow SEO teams, and I…after then my husband and I wanted to move back to Bend, and so I started consulting last year and it’s been great. And I’ve been an avid skier, climber, outdoors person.

John: Yep, yep, love it. I mean, you’re in the Mecca for that, right, Smith Rock, Mt. Bachelor, and all that good stuff?

Kristan: Totally. It’s great out here in Central Oregon.

John: Awesome, awesome. And in fact, my wife and I when we were considering what…when we were moving from San Francisco, our choices were either Denver or Bend. And we picked Denver, but we come to Bend, so, you know, I guess that’s kind of the best of both worlds.

Kristan: Yeah, I mean, Bend has grown. It’s a pretty big tech hub. Surprising…it’s not surprising, but it’s a decent tech hub, great ski town, outdoor town. Don’t tell anyone about it.

John: Yeah, I won’t, I won’t. Bend’s terrible. Don’t go there. Don’t come to Denver either. Yeah, Denver is terrible. We never get sun. Yeah, and actually it’s interesting because Bend is…a lot of people call it the birthplace of SEO weirdly enough because I guess it was Adam’s dad, right. Adam Audette’s dad basically started, like, the idea of search engine optimization. It was one of the first, like, SEO agencies way back in the day, and then, like, the people that have, you know, come out of there, I mean, Adam and yourself and, like, Marshall Simmonds and I think Matt Brown and people like that worked on some of the…I mean, have worked some of the largest websites on the internet, right?
I mean, I think what?, New York Times, and you yourself having worked on Amazon, some of Google’s properties, Zillow, Trulia, you know, I mean, we’re literally talking about, like, the small town of Bend has just impacted, like, the search world in an amazing way.

Kristan: Totally. It’s pretty cool to be a part of that and carry on that legacy for Bend, and I’m just super thankful I have great mentors like you mentioned Adam Audette, and everyone else that came out of Bend. It’s a great place to be, and a great place for SEO.

John: Yeah. Awesome, awesome. Well, let’s get into the topic for today. So as I said at the beginning, you know, you and I worked together within Zillow Group on, you know, different brands. You know, we never, like, managed each other or anything like that, but, you know, we’re very much peers there. And so, you know, you’ve worked on, as I just said, some of the largest websites on the internet.
You know, I’ve also worked on some of the largest…on some huge websites, right, and when I talk…when I say large websites, right, I should clarify because a lot of people when they think about a large website they’re, like, “Oh, 10,000 pages.” I’m literally talking seven figures, eight figures, even nine figures of pages on these websites, right? I mean, Zillow has what? Over…yeah, over 100 million, like, addresses, right? Like it’s unbelievable because you add on the category pages and all the other stuff that’s on there, and, you know, I mean think about Google, obviously weren’t doing, like, Google search engine, but, like, some of their sub-brands, right, big websites.
Amazon…is the Amazon, right? So we’re gonna talk today about not the tactical part of getting SEO done, right? There are very…things that are different about getting SEO done on those websites than, you know, the tools you use and that sort of stuff, which, you know, we can get into another time maybe if people are interested in that. So if you’re interested in that, watching this video, comment on the YouTube…in the YouTube comments and let me know, and maybe I’ll have Kristan back on and we can talk about actually, like, you know, crawling and diagnosing problems and all that.
But what I wanna talk about today is actually kind of the business side of getting SEO done on those websites. So, you know, they’re huge, they have big teams. I mean, Zillow is 2,400, 2,500 plus people. It was 2,400 when I left, so I assume it’s over, like, 3,000 now. It’s huge. You know, Amazon is a ginormous company, you know, at corporate. Google is a ginormous company at corporate.
So I guess I wanted to open it up with, you know, when you come to one of this companies, either as a consultant, which now you’re consulting with startups and, you know, some large websites as well, but also in-house, what have been some of the biggest challenges there, and what are some of the things that you’ve encountered there that have made it, you know, challenging to succeed, or that set you up for success?

Kristan: Definitely. So where to start? Coming in-house to a large website and a big brand can be really challenging on a lot of different fronts. From the management level, from expectations level, from, you know, internal communications, you have to think about managing a large team, and managing a large brand and beyond yourself and product teams and marketing teams and executives, and really work on driving your priorities forward.
So a lot about what I experience, at some of the in-house teams I was with, like Amazon and Zillow, a lot of it is really, you know, creating a scalable and impactful SEO project [inaudible 00:07:32] and working with product teams, and trying to tie into what are the, you know, upcoming initiatives going on, and making sure that your priorities are not only understood, that they’re heard, that they’re prioritized, they’re on the team’s backlog.
Every team is fighting for resources, so you have to prove a case for SEO. And with SEO, that can be challenging because a lot of the times it’s hard to quantify one SEO update. Like, “Oh let’s update interlinking here. We’re gonna get, you know, 15% increase just from updating these links.” Well maybe, but it’s hard to quantify that, you can’t really tell. So I think that’s a challenge with SEO, particularly with in-house teams, because you do have to fight for your resources and priority on product team’s backlog.
Even with dedicated engineering teams that can help, but that’s something you need to safeguard and manage and make sure that you actually get those resources. So a lot of advocating for your projects, and that’s not necessarily something that you get as much on the agency side, I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love agency and the work that agencies do, and I’m myself a consultant now as well, but you aren’t necessarily on the front line advocating for your projects. It might be on the backend and doing the research, creating the business cases, things like that, but really advocating against other teams and trying to prioritize against other business initiatives is definitely a challenge.
Also getting SEO buy-in, I think this is super important. This is something that Zillow did great. Having buy-in from that executive level down is really important because that not only tells the company that SEO is important, it also encourages and fosters this culture to really watch out for SEO. Part of being in-house is that you have to keep track of a lot of different teams, the big brands you have, your marketing teams, your paid teams, your product development teams, you have your PR teams, you know, the list goes on, and it’s hard to keep track of all of those teams and initiatives going on at once.
So if you have that top-down SEO priority integrated within the culture that can go so far in making sure that everyone is looking out for SEO within their initiatives. That everyone is a part of SEO, and it’s a part of everyone’s just KPIs at the end of the day.

John: Totally. And I think that’s a very important point. I mean, you mentioned Zillow and, you know, Spencer Rascoff is the CEO there. You know, Amy Bohutinsky is the COO there and both of them, I mean, you and I both have been in many meetings with them about SEO. And the fact that and, you know, Spencer evangelizing it from the front and Amy evangelizing it from the front, like, everyone in Zillow cares about SEO because their executives about SEO. I think that’s a very important point to underscore whether you’re a small startup or you’re a, you know, a large publicly traded company, you know, like Zillow is that SEO only works if it comes from the top-down.
And, you know, the execs don’t have to know how to do it, I mean, I’m always amazed at well Zillow execs do understand SEO, but, you know, it’s just because they made it a point to get educated about it and speak intelligently about it. But, you know, you don’t have to be the expert, you just have to know that it matters. You have to know why it matters and what it can do for your business. And then if you’re a good CEO, a good C suite, you know, exec, then you can find the people that, you know, that are experts that can do it well.

Kristan: Totally. I completely agree. And I think you bring up another good point about that education. Internal education across teams can go a long ways for big brands and multi cross-functional teams. And this is something that I actually do a lot consulting is internal education for marketing teams, for content teams, for development teams. If teams know what works and what doesn’t just from a best practice level for SEO, then they’re able to think about it when they’re actually going through their projects and initiatives, or development updates.
Not only do they know that SEO is important for their brand and for the success of their company, but they actually can think ahead on what are some common issues, and try to bake them into that process versus SEOs coming in on a later date, you know, review the website and everything is kinda messed up. So it can save everyone a lot of headache, down the road, if you actually put in the time and resources to train your teams on SEO.

John: So it’s flipping that script from, and I know you’ve had this happen, I’ve had this happen where, you know, whether you’re a consultant on a retainer or something like that, I’ve gotten so many calls where a company is like, “We’re about to flip a new website and we need to SEO it.” And I’m like, “Oh, hang on, like, let’s back up, you know, just like a few steps here. Actually, let’s back up all the steps.”
And, you know, but I think that’s a really important thing where if you have, you know, if you’re a larger company and you have, you know, organic traffic matters to your business, which most businesses now are online where organic traffic matters to your business, bringing that in and basically using that to help guide is a voice, right? It’s not “The Voice” but it is, you know, another data point, it should be a large data point, towards, “Okay, what pages are we taking away? What pages are we adding? What section of the site if we’re launching a new section of the site.”
So basically…so I guess the question is, like, how have you seen it done well, you know, basically getting that buy-in across the board, outside of the, you know, where you talked about with Zillow where it’s just constantly being evangelized and prioritized?

Kristan: Definitely. There’s honestly a lot of great companies that come to mind that do it well I think from the top down, and just based on my experience and I worked with. SEO is obviously really important to Amazon and baked into all their processes. I mean, a site as large as that you have to have it dialed, especially on that scale. And some of my consulting clients do it really well.
One of my consulting clients is an international brokerage, and they are really fine-tuned on their SEO and priority, and fast and quickly, and really worked to maximize and prioritize SEO improvements because they know it can make a big difference in their business. So I think companies that can move quickly and prioritize SEO within their development and marketing cue can really see that success and maximize it.

John: Gotcha, cool. That totally makes sense. And shifting off of that just a little bit, when you’ve been in-house, and you’ve been, you know, leading SEO efforts or, you know, you’re consulting and you’re working with companies, where does SEO sit within these companies and where do you see it sit well, and where have you seen it just be, like, you know, sitting at the kid’s table with a kid’s size chair but you’re a full-sized adult?

Kristan: Yeah. That’s a really good question because I totally get…

John: Because I felt like that person before at the kid’s table.

Kristan: Yeah, I know. Me, too. SEO sometimes can kind of be the black sheep of marketing and everyone hates it, but if it’s integrated right within the company, I mean, you can see tremendous success. I’ve seen SEO organized anywhere under the product team and technical side to marketing to, you know, general marketing, digital marketing where you have SEM and SEO under the same umbrella. I think it can be effective, you know, either way. Personally, I think it’s most effective for large companies if it’s under the product side. You do need…

John: Why is that?

Kristan: Because you’re able to have a closer communication and working relationship with product and development teams, which are really ultimately the drivers of making any change on the site. So that’s if you’re talking about onsite SEO. For onsite SEO, I mean, you’re only…is kinda is what you can change on the website, even if that’s content or, you know, directives and crawl management.
Having a close working relationship with product teams I think really helps maximize where SEO can fit in with product initiatives, and how really maximize what’s already being planned, but then also work with product teams to come up with SEO initiatives that benefit both SEO in your product development. So I think it’s a really harmonious relationship that you can see more by having a closer working relationship with product teams.

John: Totally. And I think it’s interesting the way that, like, it worked, you know, in-house at Zillow, and I’ve seen it work at other larger companies is, like, there was an SEO team, right? There was a core of SEO experts, you know, there are, like, what three or four of you all, maybe some analysts in there, but then you also had developers, right? You know, I think you had PM as well, basically, like, growth PM, right, because you’re using the growth team, engineers and designers and such.
So, you know, which there was a dedicated growth team, which is another interesting part, and SEO can be a subset of that, right, and you were under Nate I believe, VP of growth at Zillow. So, you know, and SEO is part of growth, but at a company like Zillow or, an Amazon and something like that, having a dedicated growth team they’re, like, growth…thinking of growth as a product, right, and SEO is a product where it is you have…if you’ve worked inside a big company before, and it really took me working inside a larger company and to really understand it like kind of the different teams, and kind of what they exactly do.
And obviously different companies work in different ways, but, you know, saying, “Okay, this is actually how, like, a product gets built.” I think a lot of SEOs would be very wise to actually, like, spend a little bit time with the product team, and learning from your product managers because if you have them at your company because, you know, the way they run sprints, the way they organize work, the way they prioritize stuff is huge for SEO as well. And I actually firmly believe that if you’re gonna get SEO done at a company, like, at a big company more than just, like, you know, having an executive that cares about it, and so, like, kinda, wants everyone else to care about it.
But you actually have to have, like, a roadmap because there’s so much that you can do as well, right? And if it’s just like the, you know, tactic du jour, which all the different, like, SEO blogs or whatever are talking about five ways to do X, like, you’re not actually gonna move the needle on anything, right, because your site is so different. You might have, you know, when you have over 100 million pages in the index, like, these changes, even the smallest change, can make a big deal.
It can make a big impact. and also be a big detriment, right, if you don’t have, you know, all your…if you don’t have your templates, you now, format the way they should, you know, schema market can make a huge difference, and all of that stuff takes development time, and it takes multiple sprints and all of that to get it done.

Kristan: Totally. I completely agree. And SEOs having a better understanding of that process can go a long way. And I really didn’t have a strong sense of sprint planning and product development process until I went in-house. [inaudible 00:18:54]. Yeah, like I led teams, I led, you know, all sorts of different disciplines within an SEO team, and worked really closely with our brand counterparts, and with their development teams, but, you know, honestly it took me going in-house to really understand and try to adapt and just absorb that product development workflow, and that sprint planning and quarterly planning.
You have to, like, really plan ahead when it comes to in-house SEO and getting your priorities in the queue. So, you know, I would suggest, you know, you plan out your themes for the year, and then you kind of, like, dial it back from there and, you know, plan backwards where you have your quarterly initiatives your monthly initiatives, like, where do you wanna be. You have to roadmap and track that really closely and plan pretty far ahead.

John: Yep, I absolutely agree. That’s interesting you’re talking about, you know, roadmaps and, like, planning and basically, goals because at the beginning where you’re talking about how it can be hard to set those goals, right, and it can be hard to quantify, you know, this specific change. So let’s talk about that for a minute. I mean, in your experience, like, where do those goals come from?

Kristan: That’s a good question. So in my experience…

John: Sometimes nowhere, but…

Kristan: Yeah, totally. Sometimes it’s out of thin air. So in my experience goals typically will come from the top down. You know, you have your analytics teams, you have your forecasting, you have your projections on where your brand wants to be in terms of, you know, a top funnel traffic users and goal metrics. And then from there, I think it’s up to SEOs to really understand, okay what has our performance been over the last, you know, six months, two years etc., and then try and understand where are opportunities over the next year.
And trying to understand, okay if we can get, you know, X amount of lift, what’s that bottom line going to be for our traffic and our growth metrics. I know it might be kind of convoluted answer, but in my mind, that’s how, like, the goals need to be intertwined with business metrics and forecasting and your brand goals. But then I think it’s also up to the SEOs to really either validate or fine-tune that on what’s possible, and then what is worthwhile to hit, like, those stretch goals and trying to come up with, you know, those larger motivational goals versus just, like, “Oh, this is what I realistically think is going to happen.”

John: Totally. I think that’s really smart and really worth pushing on as well is tying SEO back to the business, you know, and this is the thing about…When I was first starting in SEO, and honestly even until a few years ago, I was like, “I can drive traffic. You know, like, traffics no problem. I can bring stuff.” But then when you actually get down to it, you know, different businesses obviously have different metrics, right, and different, like, revenue metrics. So, you know, with Zillow it’s audience because audience drives advertising, right?
Audience…advertising pulls…something like that, forget what Spencer used to say, but there is some quip that, you know, is basically, like, “We’re building an audience because we’re an advertising company basically, right, a media company.” You know, but you think about Amazon and yeah, there’s, like, I mean they have a million different revenue streams, right, but, like, their main thing is people buying stuff off their website, right? So how do you get more people into these products, you know, for brands and for product names, and for types of products and all that, so that more people buy things, right?
And so tying that back. And so SEO metrics, and actually I’m releasing a big SEO guide coming out middle of April because this video is coming out before then, but just last night I was talking about SEO metrics and was, like, you know, it’s not…if you’re asking, like, “What’s our domain authority? How many links have we built this month?” You know, like, “What do our title tags say?” Like you’re doing it completely wrong, right? It’s a matter of “Where do we wanna go as a business? How does our business make money? Where do we wanna go as a business? What are the different channels that?”
And then SEO, “Okay, what like, channel was that?” and then the SEO team saying, “Okay, let’s grow this from, like, 40% of the pie to 50% of the pie, and that’s gonna mean we have to get X, which when you look at search volume it means we’re gonna have to do Y and launch all these pages and, you know, all this stuff.” And then, as you said, reverse engineering from there. So you’re starting with the business and where you wanna go and working back.
Not, “We need to update our canonical tags, or our canonical tags are wrong.” No one gives a crap about canonical tags, right? Like, yes you and I give a crap about canonical tags, but, like, developers don’t care. You know, they’re, like, “Why am I working on this, right?” Like, I’m not gonna say developers are lazy, developers are very hardworking, but you have to tell them why, right? And I think it’s that “why” that really is kinda what you’re getting at. Like, that’s what gets things done inside a big company.

Kristan: Totally agree. I think you bring up a couple of really good points for in-house management. Number one, communicating the effectiveness of SEO changes. I think that is one thing that really gets development teams and everyone involved in SEO updates excited. And that’s something that I worked with my brands and consulting. I worked with in-house and agency. It’s just you wanna make these changes, but then you actually wanna be accountable for them because that gives you buy-in down the road when you’re also trying to push and prioritize your issues.
The second thing is also driving goals according to business metrics. I’ve actually had this come up a couple of times consulting over the last year with clients…actually prioritizing goal metrics and conversions over traffic goals, which makes sense because it depends…it totally depends on your business and what your bottom line is. But if your bottom line are registrations and conversions or leads, you need to make sure you’re prioritizing those. And I’ve worked with a couple of clients where, “Yeah, like, we might have done some things where traffic might have been impacted and not necessarily, like…”
You know as an SEO, traffic is usually my main KPI, and everything you base everything off it, but the health of SEO, but, you know, if you don’t…it just depends on your goals. So in these two circumstances, I’ve had come up in the last six months where we have goals that are more closely tied to business metrics not necessarily traffic goals and making those SEO changes, and priorities and projects more closely tied with those business metrics where we didn’t necessarily see traffic growth. But we saw growth and conversions, so you’re driving better traffic. And that’s just very dependent on business.

John: Totally, totally. I think that’s an interesting point as well to make because a lot of SEOs, I mean, you have as much history in SEO as I do. There are a lot that are, like, “Oh, yeah we do analytics and we do SEO and we do, you know, all these things.” SEO doesn’t…in a big company you have an analytics team, right? Like, SEO does not own analytics, you have your metrics that you’re responsible for, but you’re working with the analytics team to make sure that you’re hitting those, right, and also, like, are you tracking them correctly and all that.
So you can actually show that value not just like, “Oh, yeah, we have a good analytics tag on the page, right? You know, we’re optimized.” Like, who cares, right? I mean, yes you have to have that, but at the end of the day you’re partnering with that analytics team, you know, and they’re basically your business partner, right, with you in that, “Okay, we made these changes, let’s make sure, like…you know, this change is rolling out this Thursday, let’s make sure that, like, analytics is all set up to track it, and they know that certain things might go on.”
You know, and then you also have the reporting set up and whatever you report in Tableau or whatever. And in those big companies, business intelligence is often what is, like, building you all those, like reports and stuff for your SEO metrics. So you also have to have those dashboards as well, not just traffic all that, but, like, conversions and percentage and lift and all of that, and are you set up to track that?

Kristan: Totally, I think that is…can be a huge missed opportunity for in-house teams not to have that analytics coverage in support. And I’ve worked plenty of big brands where you will be surprised where analytics, like, well, the SEO managers are pulling reports. You know, it’s not necessarily as detailed nuance as it should be.

John: The 0.015% of traffic that Google Analytics gives you on the free version with a lot of traffic. Yeah.

Kristan: Totally. So I’ve had the greatest success where, you know, you have dedicated analytic resources, and they can build you those custom dashboards like you mentioned, and they can more closely track changes, and help you with testing. I mean, testing is really important for big sites, and having that analytics support can be crucial in showing that SEO success and making your case and, you know, doing your reporting and your due diligence on your channel as an SEO.

John: Totally, totally. And I wanna take something that you just mentioned there about, you know, sometimes you can have dedicated analytics or something like that, and we’ve mentioned already as well, but sometimes, at these big…I would say you do need it at these big companies, you’re not always gonna get it. But you do need, you know, dedicated support. Right? You need dedicated people, dedicated developers, designers, writers, etc., right?
And they’re not necessarily gonna sit on your team. I mean, if it’s a growth like product team, yeah, you’re probably gonna have designers and developers there. But, like, writers probably gonna be on the marketing team, right? You’re probably not gonna have dedicated analytics, you might have an analytics person responsible for growth, right, of which SEO is a subset.
But how have you gone about…I love this topic because it was amazing when I was able to make it happen at HotPads, how would you go about, you know, getting those dedicated people to work on these projects? Like, what would that business case look like, what the buy-in look like, what the process look like, who managed them? It’s such a, like, such an interesting topic that unless you’ve been through it and lived through it, like, you and I have, it’s like it’s pretty opaque.

Kristan: Totally, that’s a really interesting question and, you know, I completely agree with the HotPads and, you know, getting that integrated at HotPads you did a fantastic job and I came in once you already gone through that path. With large companies you have to really create that business case for SEO, I think we’ve talked about this repeatedly today, and you have to be persistent. So when I would need new SEO resources at whatever team I was in, you have come up with an opportunity case, “Okay, here is where we are right now, and here is where we can be”
It may be based on your competitors or, you know, estimated topic growth. You know, your TAM assessments, your total attainable market assessments, things like that. You need to have those in place so you can say, “Hey, executives, hey,” whoever your boss is, “Here is SEO. SEO is, for instance, the largest traffic driving channel to our website, yet there are other channels that maybe are a fraction of SEO that have X amount resources.”
And so you need to really own SEO and come to the table, and I think be persistent in presenting and pushing your case. And like, SEO needs more resources because we’re the largest traffic driving channel or one of them that you really need to devote resources and budget towards SEO, whether it be headcount, or tools, or contractors or, you know, headcount whether it’s on analytics…

John: Consultants, agencies, yeah totally. Yeah, other teams, exactly. Advocate for other teams, like, “Our developers are overloaded and are tired of me, like, requesting things and asking when something is gonna be done, you know, can I get a full stack developer, right? And, yeah, its gonna cost $100 grand, you know, pay him $100 grand, but if you have this huge opportunity, right, and yeah, it’s already a big channel but, like, hey we could double our traffic to our pages that convert at 5%, right?” Like, it’s kind of a no-brainer sale right there?

Kristan: Oh, completely agree. That’s the easiest part. If you can tie SEO growth back to dollar value and, like, oh, if we can get X amount of improvement that will be an extra, you know, $5 million to the bottom line, $100,000 is a drop in the bucket.

John: Yes. I’ll take five, thank you.

Kristan: Yeah, it’s fuller, please. And that…I mean, that was something I went through often, you know, managing in-house teams is that even if your team of SEO managers is overloaded, you need to make the case on, “Okay, these are all the projects we have going on over the next six months, and here is everything else we can’t handle.” So let’s get more SEO headcount, even if it’s in addition to or either or developers or analytics. It just depends on where your gaps are.

John: Totally. And that’s the value of that, like, tying it back to business metrics, and also that longer term planning that we’re talking about in the beginning, right? Where it’s, like, “Okay, we wanna hit here at our current growth trajectory and the things that we had planned. Meaning that things are actually gonna be able to get done, right, not just, like, the things we want to do, but the things are actually, like, plan to get done we’re gonna be able to hit this, right? Okay, executives, are you okay with that?”
“No, we’re not okay with that.” “Okay, great. Here’s how we can get to it, right, and so we need…” You know, and it’s not just like, “Oh Kristan the SEO or John the SEO or the SEO team wants, like…wants developers,” but it’s, like, partnering with those teams, the product teams, saying, like, “Hey, my developers are sick and tired of working on these, you know, SEO tasks, they want to be building new features.” Most developers want to build new features, right, so finding those growth-minded engineers.
When I was at HotPads and we hired four…I believe it was four dedicated engineers towards growth, one worked on email and three worked on SEO. Mostly because the development team was tired of getting asked to do SEO tickets, and they couldn’t take time away from building core product things to work on SEO and, you know, we’d go a month without getting anything real out. And as soon as we hired them and got them onboard, all of a sudden it was just like traffic just, I mean, if you look at SEMrush now, I mean Cara [SP] has done an amazing job over there.
You know, but that inflection point happened about six months after we hired that team. And so, you know, and you tie it back directly to this is what we’re aiming for, and now they’re about where, like, the goal where we set a number of years ago that we wanted to be but, you know, that was the inflection point right there.

Kristan: Yeah, I could see that and that is also another good point about setting expectations and timeline with SEO internally. SEO is a long-term play, and that’s something that’s often misunderstood. I get so many brands, even just consulting, that come to me, like, “You know, we need to grow our SEO fast. We need to improve our SEO, like, right away.” And after two months of working and doing research and planning and strategy, they’re like, “Okay, well why aren’t we seeing the results.”
It’s like, “Well, you know, it takes a lot of work to actually identify what we should be doing, and then it takes a lot of work to actually implement it. And then you’re gonna have to let Google and search engines sort out all these changes and, you know, understand where they fit in the new ecosystem of your indices.” So SEO is definitely a long-term plan. I think that’s important internal communication to set those expectations or else you might be under fire sooner than you want to be as an SEO manager. And…

John: I’ve seen that as well with clients where, like, you’re working, you know, for months. You know, you’ve put together the strategy, you’ve done keyword research, you’ve done the technical audit, you’ve fixed a bunch of stuff, you’re producing content, you’re building links, all of that, and traffic is…yeah, I mean its increasing but it’s not, you know, it’s not hockey sticking and it never really does with SEO, you and I both know, very rarely. But I’ve seen where, like, a client stopped working with me, for whatever reason, came to the end of the contract or whatever, and then like two months later they pop, right?
And then all of a sudden, they’re getting 50% more traffic, and I was, like, “I was telling you, like, you know, you got to be patient on this. Like, if we had a six-month engagement and you’re not shipping anything for three months, and then it takes two months for it to get it out, guess what, there’s a month left there and you’re not gonna see, like, a big bump right there. It takes 4, 6, 12 weeks to actually see that, like, bump from that work that you did.” There’s a long, literally half a year lead time or more for some of this companies, right?

Kristan: Yep. I think six months is kind of a magic number from that time when you start implementing, and you consistently implement SEO. You know, depending on what you’re doing usually, in my experience, six months is kind of that magic timeline, that number where you really start to see that growth kick in whether you’re in technical on-site changes or link building or content development, it just takes a little bit of time to marinate and simmer after you’ve made all those updates.
And I think you make a good point. Like, you need to consistently be working on SEOs. It’s not something that you do once, and you do an audit, you fix things, and you just let it sit for years. And it’s something that you need to be constantly looking at and evaluating and finding opportunities and looking for areas of improvement.

John: Exactly. And especially at large companies. You know, there is no…I mean, across any company, but there is no, like, you know, we did our SEO. SEO is this ongoing thing, right, because it is technical and guess what, if you’re building a website, you’re building a product, you’re shipping new things technically, which are gonna affect SEO. So, like, technical matters all the time.
Content, you know, your copywriting matters has to convert, and also has to help you rank, you know, has to hit both of those, right? So you’re partnering with the copywriting team, link building. PR whether you have a dedicated, like, in-house, link building team or PR and, you know, we’re super lucky with that within Zillow group, but, you know, other companies have, you know, peer agencies that they work with or accounting agency that they work with or something like that.
Like these things are ongoing all the time. There’s always more, you know, content you can create, top funnel, mid-funnel, bottom funnel, SEO can drive all of that. And it’s not a one I’m done, oh, we optimized our title tags and we have canonicals ever, ever.

Kristan: Totally. Yeah, I completely agree. And people that think that SEO just needs to happen once and done, it’s just a big missed opportunity. And large sites, I think these days recognize the importance of having an in-house SEO team. I mean, I’ve seen more in-house SEO roles over the last couple of years, and I think just brands are really recognizing the importance of SEO.
One of the other things that I do want to mention real quick, that I think can help SEOs be successful internally at big brands and companies, one thing I found is that communication as simple as it is so critical internally. When you have multiple teams, you have executives, you have stakeholders all over the company, more communication than not is really helpful. And communicating when things are good, and communicating when things are bad really helps build trust on the SEO team, or even if it’s not SEOs team faults, like, “We’ve noticed this. We think it’s for these specific reasons. You know, here are the three things we’re doing about it.”

John: Right, just proactive.

Kristan: Yeah, and completely…yeah, proactive is… That kind of communication can go a long way with building trust and authority with the SEO team internally.

John: And it’s interesting that you know mentioned that because some of that is like learning to play the business game and learning how to communicate. So, you know, if you have, like, if you’re a large company and you just have an SEO manager that’s sitting under, like, traditional marketing head, which, like, there’s very much a place for traditional marketing, PR, all of that stuff. And I’ve seen the value of it, you’ve seen the value of it at companies.
But, you know, some companies I mean I think about, like, TripAdvisor, right, that has, like, a VP of SEO, like, they’re VP for a reason. They can communicate, they’re in these exec meetings, all of that, and they can, you know, like, they hold the purse strings to the budget, but they also understand SEO, right? So having someone like that to communicate that as well, and there’s consistent updates as well. I mean, I remember at HotPads every month a pull of the metrics. This is how we do year on year.
These are the things that we’ve done. And communicating with, like, with XYZ, you know, this team did an awesome job, and this is what we’re seeing, we have this stuff coming up, and we push this off, right? And so just like product teams do that. Products team do, you know, road mapping sessions and all that, growth teams need to do and SEO teams need to do road mapping sessions.

Kristan: Yeah, definitely. And TripAdvisor is a great example of a company that has SEO ingrained within.

John: In their blood, yeah.

Kristan: So they have their VP SEO, director of SEO. They have partnerships across other teams. They have, you know, a team…I don’t even know how they do this, 10 SEOs or something like that working on it daily. And a lot of those I think high growth-oriented companies do have those teams and they’re starting to really invest in those larger teams.
John: Agreed. And I think it’s interesting to mention those partnerships as well. I mean, at Zillow, you know, where it was you and a couple of other people, Derrick and Weston and Matt when he came back, you know, you all, like, yeah, you’re on the SEO team, you’re all sitting on the growth team underneath Nate, but who also, like, really values SEO and is great at communicating to execs as well.
But you all kind of had your own ownership areas, right, or, like, one owned rentals, and one owned for sale, and one owned, like, digs and all these different areas, so, you know, you’re basically, that’s your product. You know, you’re, like, the SEO…I think the title is actually SEO PM, right, SEO product manager because, like, you’re on that product but you’re also in SEO.

Kristan: Yeah, definitely.

John: So you’re ingrained.

Kristan: Yep. And that’s kinda making the SEO channel, you know, dissecting it even more micro SEO channels if you think about SEO as you know, overall channel bringing in traffic, and then you have SEO managers dedicated to, like, you said rentals or for sale, like, they’re understanding a micro-subset of overall traffic and that can be really helpful.

John: Absolutely, absolutely. Awesome, Kristan. We’re coming up to the top of the hour here. This has been amazing. I feel, like, we need to do, like, four more of these because I love this topic and there’s so much more we could talk about here. So maybe we will and I’d love to hear what questions people have as well. So leave questions and comments for Kristan. So, Kristan, I know that you have… Well, tell people where they can find you online, you know, what you do, and then I know you have something special to offer as well.

Kristan: Yeah, definitely. So thanks, John, for having me today. Everyone can find me at my personal SEO training website, and that’s Kristan with an “A.”

John: B-A-U-E-R, right? Yep, Kristan with an “A.”

Kristan: Yep. And then also my consulting agency is called Conifr Media at And we work with typically mid to late stage startups. So I have a pretty exclusive set of clients. I have a pretty small team and I think we do pretty cool work on the full spectrum of SEO whether it’s technical or content development or link building, that’s one of the things I’ve enjoyed about consulting is that you can step in and provide the services that you really think will benefit the brand.
And then today, for Credo listeners, I have a freebie on enterprise SEO workbook that might help SEO teams managing large sites, enterprise sites, and And hopefully, John will be able to share that in the notes.

John: Awesome. I will link that up. Yeah, and so I should mention you still have to go download that. Kristan is a wealth of knowledge. I know she also, you know, from time to time takes on new SEO clients, so if you’re looking for that, get in touch with her. I’ve sent her some clients through Credo as well, and they’ve been super happy. And then also I should mention that, if Kristan can’t take you on and you don’t have someone good to take on, I do offer a paid service through Credo as well.
We call it “The Porter Service,”, P-O-R-T-E-R. Basically, it’s $249. We spend an hour together. You get my time, it’s me on the phone, and we’re talking about your business and kind of the challenges you’re going through, how you structure your teams, you know, and basically your strategy for effecting change with SEO at your company. So I’m also super happy to do that, So Kristan, thank you. This has been amazing.

Kristan: Yeah. Thanks, John. It’s been a pleasure to be here.

John: Hey, there. I hope you’ve really enjoyed that chat. I’ve had some amazing guests here on the CredoCast, so make sure you check all of them out. Brennan Dunn, Rand Fishkin, Ross Simmonds, some of the best of the best. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to the channel, so that you get alerted when new videos come out. I try to put them out weekly, and hopefully, you can learn from them around marketing, growth, growing a business, entrepreneurship. So hit the subscribe button, and I’ll be speaking with you soon.