Episode 5 – Luke Carthy – Open Dialog

Sam Marsden
Sam Marsden

On 11th November 2019 • 65 min read

Welcome to the fifth episode of Open Dialog, the podcast for collaborative SEOs and digital marketers. In each and every episode, we’ll be speaking with the best and brightest minds in SEO, digital marketing and beyond to find out how we can work more effectively, efficiently and productively with other teams, departments and clients.

In episode 5, DeepCrawl’s Sam Marsden spoke with Luke Carthy who is an eCommerce Consultant, and was the Digital Lead at Mayflex at the time of recording.


Over the course of our chat, we learnt how Luke built an SEO dream team by getting developers to care about search and how he communicates effectively with the C-level stakeholders.

A visual summary of this episode has been sketched out by the supremely talented Katja Budnikov for your viewing pleasure. The full sized image can be found here.

Open Dialog Podcast Luke Carthy

 

Can you give us a bit of an overview about who Mayflex are and your role is there?

Mayflex is a company that no-one’s heard of really. It’s a massive company but it doesn't venture out in the real world very often. It’s a business-to-business company and specializes in computer networks and security equipment. So - football stadiums, data centers and anything that needs a camera or a network installation. That’s what Mayflex gets up to. We supply people [with this equipment].
 

How did you come to work at Mayflex? What’s your story into the world of SEO, CRO and UX?

So I guess - to answer your first question on how I got into Mayflex - I think like so many other people, you kind of total jobs, start there, do a search, and find a role. And I just realized that in a digital space, Mayflex was in a pretty bad state and it needed a lot of help.

The thing that really drew me to Mayflex, is that it’s business-to-business, but it's also eCommerce. So it was an additional challenge being in a very technical environment. But it's awesome. Two years later we're 170% year-on-year up on eCommerce sales. It's doing really well.

Don't get me wrong, the roadmap is still humongous. There is still a heck of a long way to go, but it's really positive to see that we are making some of the competition sweat. Naturally, our customers are clearly buying into the changes that we're making as well.

But I guess, to go back to the other question, it started for me [with] eBay. So at the age of 15 or 16, I went to college, and had some EMA. So while most people were spending that on KFC and Subway, I was bank crawling that.

[Sam]: So, for our listeners that may be overseas or too young to remember EMA, because they've cut it now, EMA is like a government bursary for 16 to 18 year olds. Like a light uni grant, but the light version right up to about 30 quid a week! And you'd have to go in and get your teachers to sign when you'd attended classes.

[Luke]: Yeah, “Let's just sign it,” because I don't want the grief! But it was awesome. So I ended up saving it for some stuff. I looked on eBay and found some products. I also had a part-time job at Curry's at the time. So I was already, you know, on the bleeding edge of technology at that point. And I was working there at the point where CRT, kind of like the big 50 kilogram TVs, were turning into the whole plasma / LCD revolution.

So HDMI and HD were just coming through. Sky HD had just come out and ultimately there was a massive surge in people buying those Scart leads, to HD cables. I found an opportunity on eBay and bought some products from Alibaba, and sold them. And that's how I kind of fell into it. And then it was just looking at keywords, looking at what people were buying in terms of other competing listings. And that was kind of my segway into eCommerce and SEO. And it's just blossomed from there really.

[Sam]: Curry’s is still going now, aren’t they?

[Luke]: Yeah, thanks to my efforts! They are absolutely still going.
 

What is it that motivates you in your work?

For me, SEO I guess is a skill - a discipline on its own. And it isn't enough for me to call it a day job. Don't get me wrong, I think it's great. A lot of people do it and they thrive off it. But for me, the reason why I personally love eCommerce SEO so much is because it's purely tangible. Every change you make has a monetary benefit or deficit.

You're either doing good or bad things. You know, if you're doing it an internal architecture restructure, or you’re doing a redirect audit or anything, of course you can naturally see that in the pound notes. That for me, makes me tick. Because for me, I've been in sales in the past, so that's immediately monetary and ticks all those boxes for me. But then the SEO element is still there as well.

So for me, eCommerce, SEO, seeing the pound notes, seeing conversion and ultimately knowing you’re driving customer experience online, and other things, make me think: “Yeah, I'm happy to do this probably for a heck of a long time!”
 

Could you tell us how you got involved with SearchLeeds and got started as a speaker?

I think Stephen Kenwright had a cancellation like 72 hours before Search Leeds 2018. And I was like, “Alright. Yeah. Cool. I don’t mind doing it.” Anyway, Stephen slid into my DMs and he was like: “Dude, let's talk!”. And I was like, “Oh my God!”.

So not only did I only have three or four days to create a presentation, but it was my first time speaking at an SEO conference. So I've spoken before, you know. I've worked at an agency before and we’d have to pitch to a number of clients and stuff like that. But not to an official audience, if you like, specifically ready to tear you to pieces potentially, if any advice that comes out of your face, is in fact incorrect!

Yeah, that was a bit intimidating. But do you know what? I massively enjoyed it. For me, I think that was the absolute catalyst and springboard for what I do. It ultimately leads to why I'm here now, right?
 

What is it that you get out of speaking at SEO conferences?

I don't know how to answer that without my employer potentially hearing this! But what I will say is that Mayflex are awesome. You know, my line manager is great. I think he's seen the bigger picture. Obviously, naturally what I do, I'm in a great place where I report directly to the MD. So there's no politics. And there's no kind of nonsense clogging things up. It's just me and him in a room talking about pain points and solutions. It's great!

Equally, my boss at Mayflex fully understands that. In order to embrace it, you fully got to be a part of it. So taking that time out to learn, to get new skills and to go and network. But that's the official answer if I need to send anything out to my boss! The proper answer is this: It's purely to get Mayflex out in the limelight. So, if I'm standing on the stage in front of a thousand or so people and I've got a big slide saying “Mayflex”, that tickles my boss's ego a little bit, for sure. And plus, you never know. We're in environments where they ultimately need networking spaces like the Leeds Direct Arena. So it makes a lot of sense.

For me, in terms of why I do it, I think I really enjoy spending time with people. I'm a people person through and through. And I think it just started as a thing, you know? Going back to the situation with Stephen and that opportunity there. But it's blossomed into, “This is alright. I enjoy this. This is great! I’m networking with people.” And then it equally helps with tickets and stuff like that and being able to get around. But for me, I think it's the networking side of things. I think it's the ability to kind of validate yourself as well, to make sure that you know what you're talking about. And equally, being in that kind of “club” if you like, is a really good spot to be at.

So, yeah, is it egotistical for me? Absolutely! I mean, it's great you know? But I think the bigger picture here is, to be the best at what you do, you have to be with the people who are best at what they do. And I think that has changed my mindset in a big way of speaking.

 

How have you got your developers to buy into SEO activities?

I think what it comes down to is that I've had a bit of a springboard, as you've kind of alluded to already. I report directly to the MD, which is great. He ultimately gave me a blank canvas and said, “You've got the skills. Go away and paint a Mona Lisa in digital terms.” And I'm somewhere in the middle of doing that right now.

But the reason why it works so well for me and my development team is because, in an eCommerce sense of things, we can see pound notes. And of course the developers are driven by success. So I think one of the biggest problems that you will typically see in a development arena, in the development team, is what they build can be so far detached from what the customers are actually doing with it.

But equally, everyone wants to know that they're doing a good job. And I don't just mean doing a good job as in like, what you've built works, what code you've written, or what code you built compiles. I'm talking about the bigger picture. So this particular functionality that you've built, has generated ‘this’. And that could be any kind of KPI, like an SEO KPI. Or it could be like, “We’ve had six customers this week actually send us some really good feedback in.”

Equally, we’ve had four customers who say they don’t particularly like this bit, and they’ll go and fix that. But I think giving the developers the visibility, and I guess the full window in terms of the impact of their work, makes a massive difference.

One case in point I can think of, is when we did the site migration. I started there two years ago. I was three months in and I basically said, “The site is a pile of crap! We need to do it all again.” And of course going in like that, people could easily go one of two ways, you know? “He’s a fool. He doesn’t know what he's doing.” Or, you can bring them in line and bring them into a team and make them feel that they're part of a bigger picture.

What I did was, I showed them a bunch of heat maps. Let's be honest, it wasn't like a three day academy of what SEO is. It's mainly how the customer can see and perceive and benefit from, and the ideas have gone how it would work. All of a sudden you've got developers that were kind of thinking, “Yeah, I'm seeing a JIRA board. I'm seeing tickets. I need to close that off. I've got a sprint to do,” to actually “What I do here, makes a direct contribution to what customers see there.” And I think for me, that was the turning point.

So to summarize and bring that answer in a well-rounded way, is if you bring your development team along with the journey, allowing them to see what they're doing and how that impacts the customers, or the user base or whatever it is, that can be a great thing. And it really helps you to sell what it is you're doing.
 

What’s your relationship like with your Managing Director?

Yeah, so the relationship with him is awesome. It's great in the sense of, he gives me the space I need. So we have a conversation probably about once a month. It doesn't really happen too much more than that. And a lot of people might think, “Oh my God, like how do you cope with just one meeting?” Personally, I love it. Because I'll go to him and I'll say, “Look, I'll set the agenda for the meeting. I'll talk about all the problems I have. And I'll talk about the solutions I've got for them,” and he'll just interject at any point and say, “Well, we've got this going on.”

Or equally, there'll be something from the board that he wants to bring to my attention that I need to look at. But it's a really brilliant relationship because he knows he can just throw issues at me from a digital perspective. And I can either think, “We've got a solution for that already - here's the data.” Or equally, “I've actually found a problem before you've even realized it's a problem and here's a solution for it.” So he's very much got to the point where he feels he can just leave me to it and knows that the results will come from the bank.

And again, that goes back to my point I made a little while ago about the development team, because the way in which they work is now completely different. Yes, we work off sprints. Yes, we use the whole agile thing. That's nothing new. But you know, I work with the development team that actually wants to do the work for the customer's sake, rather than fitting it in - and like four o'clock “Mate, I’m out.” Five o’clock “Mate, I’m out”. And they love that they can sit in the team. And actually what's happened is, as a culture, it’s starting to bleed in some of the departments.

Customer service has seen the same sort of thing. It's working in the IT space. In fact, I'm trying to think of a really good example that sprung to my mind, that I spoke about a little while ago - about heat maps. We had a project, probably about a year ago now, where we completely overhauled the internal search. We had a project where we completely rebuilt the internal search engine, a massive piece of work. There’s SEO things to think about, there’s customer centricity things to think about. There's the costs with the dev tickets and all that sort of stuff.

But what really sold it to the guys, was the heat maps. As soon as they saw the old search first and the new one. And as soon as they saw the conversion rate of the old versus the new. As soon as they saw that, within sort of like a week of it going live, there was a hundred thousand pounds of additional revenue via search. That's like, “Wow! There's stuff we do in a development team that is actually making a difference.”

And I think that happens with anybody, right? What does it matter what industry you work in? Whether it's digital or whether it's automotive, whether it's even a production line. If you can see that your actions here are making a difference there. I mean, who wouldn't love that, right? That's awesome.
 

What results do you communicate to developers? The impacts on revenue?

Developers love it. It's in a very different way in the sense of, with the developers it's quite low key. It's quite casual. You know, we haven't got to do a whole presentation for it. You can just be like, “Right lads, we’re going out for a beer tonight because we've got something to celebrate.”

Equally, it can be the staff weekly meeting and just talk about some of the successes and stuff that we've done. And with the MD, it’s very much a case of, “Here's the problem. Here's the solution.” It's funny because when I'm speaking to the developers, they like to talk in a technical mindset, right? So “this particular thing generated this error”, “that caused this runtime problem” and all this kind of stuff.

The MD doesn't give a rat's ass about any of that. He just purely cares about the summary of the problem, what it means for the customer and the business, costs, profit, all that sort of stuff and what you've done to make a difference. I think when it comes to the developers, you have to kind of speak in - not in a different language - but I guess you have to talk to what makes them tick.

And for them it could be the fact that, if we've got an SEO ticket and we've managed to do a little bit of logic, you know, a rule that says, “If you see this URL pattern, then go to this.” And we've managed to get rid of say, ten thousand 404 errors, the developers want to hear that stuff. That's cool. My MD however is like, “That's just a number, that doesn’t mean anything for me. What does that mean for money?”

So I think it's almost been in the best possible way, kind of a little, not two-faced, but kind of having almost a bit of a split personality because there's a way to talk in the boardroom. “Get to the point, we want to know how much money you made. We want to know how much costs you saved.” Versus the development meeting, which is more like the staff room when you're talking about things like
“You know what, this is rubbish” and “That's wound me up.” But, “We’re smashing it here. We're not doing so well there. We need to pick up the pace here.” And I find that dynamic really helps.

 

It sounds like you're very much the bridge between the commercial and the technical side of the business?

I think that every business needs to have that person and it doesn't necessarily have to remain in the same team, but there has to be a person who has the board hat on, and equally has the team hat on, right? It can get difficult, because there are times when things aren't going so well. The site might have gone down. You've rolled out things that aren’t going to plan, you know, someone's got to take the flak for that. And if you'd been too friendly with the developers, somebody's gonna have to come down at someone.

So it does have its moments, but I find that - not just at Mayflex actually - in fact the last probably two or three jobs, this particular working culture has been exactly the same. As I said, I'm a people person, right? I'm eccentric. I'm loud. I'm opinionated. I've got a big personality. I think if I wasn't true to myself in that sense, it just wouldn't make sense.
 

To what extent do SEOs and developers need to be aware of each other’s problems?

If you can ever get a developer that is a perfect hybrid between SEO and development, whatever that development language is - whether it's JavaScript or PHP - or whatever you're looking at. Amazing. These people are probably fairly rare to find. They of course exist. A lot of them are consultants, you know? But in the real world, if you’re like that, it can be tricky.

You normally have a pure play developer or a pure player SEO, and then you’ve got that cliche friction, right? Devs want to fix a technical problem. “This is broken. We need to fix it.” While an SEO is thinking, “No, this is broken from an SEO point of view. It's causing this issue. I can see the money or lack of money,” or whatever.

What I will say is, if you're in a situation where you can get a developer that's a perfect hybrid. A person that is kind of 50% down the middle SEO, understands it, is technically brilliant, all that sort of good stuff. And there's a really good well-rounded web developer? Perfect! You know, these are kind of like unicorns. Of course, these people do exist, but when you're hiring, they either command a heck of a lot more money or they're just rare people.

You naturally have an SEO manager or an SEO team and a web dev team. And then you've got that friction in the middle between priorities. What I think personally helps is, depending on how the team is structured, you'll never really need for devs to fully understand SEO. But again, it's bringing them along for the journey.

If I’m speccing a ticket that has a particular logic to its URL redirect structure for a migration, for example, a developer without context would just see that as another ticket to complete. If I bring to that ticket the context of how many URLs we're talking about here, the potential risks if we get it wrong in terms of monetary losses, and again, giving them that picture of, “This is the pain we have right now. This is the solution we need from an SEO point of view, and here's the potential uplift if we get it right,” then you've got buy in.

Your developer or development team in that sense, are personally invested in what they're doing, rather than just seeing it as: “Completed it. Off to QA. Sign off.” But equally, I think it kind of peaks their curiosity in a way as well. So, they can be in a situation where they think, “Well, actually, is that going to work? We've done it before.” And we had that conversation before where I'll post a ticket and my developer in the team, Richard, has said, “Do you know what man? I don't think that's going to work so well.” And I'm like, “Dude! You've been paying attention! I just thought I was saying all this for no particular reason.”

But I think it's getting them to a point where they understand the concepts. You know, we'd never want to put them in a room and ask them to go and do a migration, and understand and be able to fully explain the canonical, a 301, a 404 and the complexities around each one of those.
 

Do you provide SEO information as and when it’s needed or as part of an ongoing education process?

I’m quite specific with what I give the team, because what I don't want to do, is make them feel that, “Urgh, here’s weekly emails coming through on SEO again!” It literally is case by case. I might not talk about SEO for three months because it's not in the roadmap. But what we're working on right now, it could be CRO stuff, which is pure play UX and you know, speed and all that sort of stuff.

So SEO - it’s as and when it comes up, and as and when we find a problem. But equally - to go back to that internal search project I spoke about a little while ago - I remember identifying about 1.5 million URLs that were in the Google index that were a complete waste of time. They were just a combination of parameters on parameters and, before you know it, you've quickly got to 100,000 just from looking at one start URL.

And I can’t remember, but this whole enterprise SEO piece you did, you spoke about it [at Search Leeds]. That was cool stuff. For me was the perfect context to that dev meeting because it's like “Guys, we got 1.5 million URLs that were a complete waste of time.” All of a sudden, rather than just giving them a ticket which says “Here's the problem,” and how to fix it, or actually just specifically ”This is the fix we need.” It's like, “Guys, one and a half million URLs. No traffic.” and then explaining the reasons why that's a problem.

So, “Google crawling things isn't great. It's going to impact our sales. It's going to impact this. It's going to put additional load on the server.” All of a sudden, it's like, “Okay, yeah. We probably need to fix this.”
So I guess the theme I'm trying to get here, is developers need to understand what each dev ticket has got to do, or what each epic is going to be about, and how it will impact the customer journey.

If it's just a ticket because it's a ticket, you know? People come to work because they want to do a good job. If you can give them validation that they are doing a good job of it, why improve it? Awesome. Who doesn't love that? And that's when you get developers to be more than just developers. And I don't mean trying to get more work out of them, but think outside of the context of pure tech stack and writing code. You know, they are thinking about customer journey. They’re thinking about success stories we've had before. And I guess, in a way, they're kind of Product Managers that can develop and understand the nuances of SEO.
 

What involvement do you have in terms of prioritisation?

I'm super lucky. I have control of all of it. I own the whole thing, which is a blessing and a curse, right? Because naturally my kind of go-to bias - my ‘bribe’ if you like - putting stuff to the top of the queue, is normally one of two things.

It's a customer issue, or it's a customer experience problem that's like, “Oh my God, this affects other people.” Or it's an SEO one. And an SEO one isn't always necessarily that important, right? It could be a big SEO problem, but it's not necessarily a big business problem. And I don't mean business in terms of profit and loss. I mean a business problem in terms of users using the site. They can still buy, the checkout still works, they can still find the products.

But there are situations where I'm doing a crawl or I'm poking around in something. I've looked at a report and gone, “That's not right. We could quickly fix that with just that,” you know, and it's software queue or it's immediately in the next sprint without speaking to anybody. And then the guys will happily do it cause they understand why, and they can see the context around it.

But yeah, it is a blessing and a curse. Because you have to remember why you're putting things to the top. Is it just to satisfy your own desires? Or is it for a bigger reason? And sometimes you do have to kind of slap yourself on the wrist and say, “Hey, this is more than just you, man!” But yeah, the development queue, the priority, the stand-ups, the weekly meetings - they're all done by me along with SEO.

[Sam]: Sounds like you're in a great position!

[Luke]: It's beautiful, man. It gets really hot sometimes, especially around big projects and releases. But it creates an incredible relationship as well, because we only meet together. As far as leadership is concerned, I'm very much a leader rather than a boss. I'm not the kind of person who likes to point my finger and say, “You need to do that.” It's very much a case of: “This is what we need to do. Here's how I'd go about it. Let's talk about it and let's see if you can think of a better solution. Let's see if your development hat can think about this SEO problem in a way that I can’t, because I'm not a developer.”

Yeah. Disclaimer. I'm not a coder at all. I can't write a single line of code unless it's CSS or HTML. And even then, you could argue that they’re not really programming languages, because they're not. But I think that puts me in a unique position as well, because I'm not obsessing over the code. So my predecessor at Mayflex was a full stack - as disciplined as you’d like - pure play developer. But what that meant was, he was spending so much time looking at the code and validating his team's code, that he wasn't thinking about the bigger picture and the customer and the business case.

I couldn't give a rat's ass about the code as long as it works, right? But I am thinking about the customer and what they want and the roadmap, and all that sort of stuff. You can argue either way, depending on where it is you'd sit in the digital roadmap. But I think it always boils down to one thing, regardless of what it is that you do in the business: “What does the customer want? What does the customer expect? And are you making that as easy as possible?” Whether you're in sales, customer service, digital, SEO, development, or whatever. It's the same thing.
 

Can you tell us about some disaster stories you’ve experienced?

I have a perfect role which sits bang in the middle between development and customer experience. This is a sweet spot. I used to work for a company called Chemist RX. They sold drugs online - legal ones - not questionable ones. Yeah, well as far as I was aware anyway! Our demographic was relatively mature, right? So you’re talking about late fifties to sixties - which, back in sort of 2009 - is fairly a test for that kind of age group. But the core demographic of customers were people who wanted a delivery service for their repeat prescriptions. Their treatments of medicines and all that sort of stuff, delivered to them. And as you can imagine, in pharmaceutical businesses, typically it's quite a mature audience.

Anyway, long story short, the problem was the checkout. So pretty poignant pointing in the tech stack, right? And we had probably two or three a day? Bearing in mind we had thousands of customers on a daily basis, but two or three customers a day would call and say, “There's money on this card. I know there's money on the card. I've just been to the Co-Op to buy my groceries. I know there's money here. Why is it not working on your website?” And then someone created a ticket and it went into dev and dev would be like, “We've tested it, it works. We've tried my card, I've tried it in the sandbox”, etc. And technically, it works perfectly fine.

And then they’d come back and say, “I can't find it. Can't replicate it. It's not a problem. Close the ticket.” And so on, until we had a new piece of software called User Replay, which I absolutely adore by the way! Go and check it out if anyone's listening. What User Replay does, is it captures all the error messages that fires in a customer session. It aggregates them across the whole user base and attributes those error messages to basket loss values, so you can start to understand. It's brilliant.

I was working in a business where I'm not so close to the MD here, but I knew what he wanted to hear, which was “We’re losing this money, can we go fix it?” Or, “We’re winning this money, can we go and win more?” So I found out that, technically it was perfect, but the problem was that the error-message was poorly written. So when a customer was punching in their card numbers and the expiry date and the CVC number - it was saying “Error-3-2-something- something”. It was the API error from global payments or Global Pay at the time, which means absolutely nothing to a customer. And we found that by just changing that error-message to “Your card number is invalid. Solve problem,” immediately £30,000 a day just came back just like that, and it had been a problem for two years.

Technically, from a developer point of view, it works, right? Right card number. Right expiry date. Right CVC. It goes through and nothing’s wrong with that. But customers can't use it. So where does that responsibility lie? It's not a technical problem, even though they're constantly getting the ticket for it. It was a user experience issue and we found that easily using User Replay. But that was a constant, got to be close to two years, where that issue just kept going through the dev que. Like every week, we'd have about five or ten customers calling to say it’s not working. And everyone would say: “The customers are old, they can't see properly. They've probably punched in the wrong card number”, which is probably not wrong. But the message you're displaying is terrible.

[Sam]: Yeah. You’d think that would be fixed sooner? I hope you got like a nice little bonus for fixing that.

[Luke]: I got away there for a reason! No, I got the satisfaction from it. But equally, that sparked that change in culture in the development team. Because they could start to understand that the messages you see on the web have a direct complication or connotation to the performance of that of the website. You can't just be going out and spit API feedback in an error-message and think that’s okay.

I'm not even going to understand that, and I’m nowhere near pension age yet! Yeah, I think that just plays to the point of understanding. Sometimes a problem isn't necessarily a technical problem, but it's still a problem and it goes back to my point of “What does the customer want?” Regardless of what it is you’re doing in the business, if the customer has a problem, go and fix it.

 

Where should UX focused people sit within a company?

If I had to build my perfect team structure, I would say that there should be no divide between content, SEO, development and UX. I actually think they should all be on the same team. Because I’ve seen so many businesses - you hear the blog posts, you see the runs on Twitter, their LinkedIn posts about marketing, chatting shit of this team, because this team couldn't do what they wanted to do. And we want to do tweets all day and then it's like, “No we can't! We're not going to do social media because we can't see the conversion from it!”

This is all important stuff. Everyone has their place in the business. If we were in a situation, I would have everybody in the same team. I think content should report in to a single Marketing Director. SEO should report in to a Marketing Director. Products, CRO, customer experience and customer services, to a point, should have a direct line into the Marketing Director.

And the reason why - is the way I see it, is a conveyor belt of problems. And at either end of it, is solutions. So to give you a perfect example of that: The problem is, customers having friction on the site. For example, they can't find something. Now everybody in that team can add value. The content team can because they could write particular blog posts. Maybe do a couple of Gif animations, walking them through how something works.

The CRO team could have something to do with that, because there's friction. Maybe there's something we can do to make it better? The SEO team could, because they can work with content marketing to make sure you can find it. The social team could, because they can publish it and make it get more exposure on that particular piece.

All of a sudden you've got a well joined-up team. So everyone - rather than fighting each other - have completely different buckets of priorities. It's one bucket of priorities divided across those skills. That would personally be my dream team. And that's what I'm working for at Mayflex. It's tricky as hell, right? People process is hard. But I think that's how teams should be built.

It sounds really cliche, but if everyone has the same pain points, the same problems and are working on the same projects - but can bring their own talents and skill sets and problems and solutions to it - then perfect.

 

Is there any advice you'd give to SEOs who are looking for ways to better work with developers?

Yeah, for sure! Because I guess this is exactly the journey I went on when I started at Mayflex. I’m the new guy that wants to go and ruffle some feathers, so to speak.

[Sam]: With your no-nonsense approach, as you say, you're going in there and going like, “The site's a load of crap and you're just going to have to come along for the ride.” Or are you a bit more tactful than that?

[Luke]: I was a little bit more, yeah. It sounds really harsh! So obviously, the one thing I have is - I'm not a developer, but you work in the same sort of space. I guess it's anyone who works in a similar sort of environment. You've got that kind of bond, if you like, because you're working for the same company.

What I realized is the development team hated the site. Not from a customer perception, because they didn't know what was going on there. But from a code updating point of view and trying to keep things stable, was a serious pain in the ass for these guys. Because it was always slapdash. It was always Polyfilla for cracks, rather than actually fixing the wall itself. So the minute I said, “Let's bulldoze the crap out of it and build it again,” they were like, “Yeah!”

So it's kind of again, feeding their pain points as to why. And I had a conversation with these guys and I was like, “If you could choose a framework, what would you choose?” And they were like, “What? No-one's ever asked us that before.” And I'm like, “Well, you built it? Surely that should be a question that should be asked to you?”

Actually what used to happen is, it would just be someone in there, I don't know, maybe a cold call to one of the Sales Directors or something that's like, “Oh yeah, yeah, we've got to use Magento!” Yeah, I actually think that, talk to the developers and find out what about the site they hate.

So as an SEO, if the developer is in the same building as you, get on a phone call with them and make it as formal or as informal as you want. Put in a half an hour meeting request, just go downstairs with a coffee and some biscuits, or whatever. And just say, “Look, let's talk about stuff. What is it you hate about the site? If you could change a certain workflow, what would it be?” And you might not even be able to have any answers to these questions, but you might be able to answer or help with just one of them, which could tick the SEO box in some way.

For example, if they bring up the point of, “Oh, I don't get SEO.” Let's be honest, it does happen. “SEO’s a pain in the ass, mate. It just adds more tickets to the queue.” As an SEO, you then have your segue to then explain why those tickets are there. And I don't mean why those tickets are there in a sense of, “Because we need to fix a problem, mate.” I mean - now what does it mean? What is its benefit? How's it going to make a difference?

Can you potentially work together where you've got a bonus payout on uplifting sales? Which is how it works in our team, right? So my team and the guys in my team are paid upon completion of tasks. But you know, with myself and a few of the people in my team, we are based upon KPIs. So as a collective, we get an even bigger bonus if we get both of them. So that's how I'd say to get buy in. Go and talk to the developers. Find out what they hate. Find out what they love.

If it's a certain person, there’s not a lot you can do about that besides speaking to HR. But if it's a process, if it's a tool, or if it's that they don't get the fact why QA is always such a pain in the ass. Why is this so difficult? Hey man, I was in the ability to have that power where I can go to the MD and say, “You know what? This stuff we've got here, get rid of it.”

The fortunate thing is, me and the MD speak the same language. I've got no patience. The MD has got no patience. I don't want to be sitting here talking about, you know, developers can do this all the time. You've got a solution you want, and the developers are like, “We’re going to have to fire up a new S3 account. API integrations and tickets, and it’s seven sprints away.” Dude, no. Come on, man. Forget about that. What does the customer want? And that is what is so important.

[Sam]: I think that's something within SEO that we forget quite a lot. What are we actually aiming for here beyond rankings?

[Luke]: Actually, to extend on that point. From an SEO point of view at Mayflex, as an SEO myself, I have failed. The reason why I say this is because I've been there for two years and traffic has probably grown about 10% in two years. Not a lot, right? But it depends on what your KPI is. And as an SEO, specifically an eCommerce SEO, my KPI's not traffic - to your point you mentioned earlier. My KPI is sales and customer uptake.

So as an SEO I have failed, but as a CRO and as someone who reports into the MD, having 170% year-on-year growth in eCommerce sales is a brilliant statistic. So it's making better use of that traffic. And I think you can also be in a situation where, bringing additional traffic to a crap digital product, is not a good job. Like, you can't say as an SEO, you've done a good job just because you brought traffic. If the website is crap, the website is crap. There's an underlying issue you need to fix before you start tinkering and making SEO better.

And I think as a Product Owner, as an SEO, as a developer - everyone needs to be at the same point. Which is, forget about bragging and egos and me putting my technical skill set into this, and growing traffic. Actually, “Does it work? Is it easy to use? Can the customers find it in a certain way?” Once you've got a good product, or a good enough product, then yeah, turn up the volume on SEO, CRO, social, or whatever. But it frustrates the heck out of me when you see people just saying, “My job is to grow traffic and I don't care if the site's down.” Or, “I don't care if you can't use it particularly well on mobile. Like hey man, I've got traffic up by 40%.”

[Sam]: But I would say, the way that you talk about meeting with your developers, like tea and biscuits, that's like far more civilized than the typical “Buy them pizza and beers!” No - sit down and let's have a tea party and discuss this. It’s very British!

[Luke]: The tequila and terrible food happens as well! Once a quarter we go out and have a few drinks. It's purely done on team effort. Like we're not going to go out for no reason, but there's a whole team spirit there. We know that everyone in that team who is having a drink, who is having a good time, has directly contributed to the success of the business.

I don't mean directly contributed in terms of “You've closed the most tickets.” I don't really care about how many tickets you complete or whatever kind of egotistical kind of bragging rights things you can say you've done. I can say “I've removed 1.4 million URLs from a website,” which is actually like 90 something percent of the entire index. Which to an SEO is like, “Oh my God, that's incredible!”

But my boss doesn't care about that! Couldn't give a rat's ass about anything I’ve just said! He wants to know, “Okay, great though. What does that mean?” And I think that's why we go out and celebrate because it's not just about the technical work we are doing. It's why we're doing it. It's the fact that, for the first time ever we've had the most customers ever using the site. It’s the fact that, for five consecutive months this year alone, we've had our best ever sales to the point where every time I put out a blog post, people are like, “Oh, this dude. Whatever, dude!” You know, it's awesome.

But it's a family. We get along really well. We equally piss each other off as well, to be honest. But build a work family.
 

Is there anything you’d like to promote?

Okay, so the first thing I want to promote, is my website. I'm going to blog more, I promise. Lukecarthy.com. Anything that I find that’s like, “Oh, I really struggle to find this online”, I want to go and write about it. It's normally very eCommerce centric, or listing centric or a listing site, or anything like that. But yeah, Lukecarthy.com. Take a look at that, if you want to.
 

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A massive thank you to Luke for being such a superb guest and teaching us so much about his wide and varied experiences. You can find more episodes of Open Dialog here on the DeepCrawl Blog and make sure to be the first to find out about new episodes by joining our mailing list.

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Author

Sam Marsden
Sam Marsden

Sam Marsden is DeepCrawl's SEO & Content Manager. Sam speaks regularly at marketing conferences, like SMX and BrightonSEO, and is a contributor to industry publications such as Search Engine Journal and State of Digital.

 

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