It’s been slightly more than 6 months since I lost my father. Here is how things have happened since then
From a distance, your understanding of the person gone becomes more refined and objective. My father was definitely a more courageous, caring parent and action-oriented than I thought him to be earlier. Things may not have changed to his liking but he did try in the moment
Grief cycles keep coming, less frequent but probably more guilt-ridden. This happens suddenly: one awkward dream, one Google Photos reminder, someone relating an incident involving him, shared dreams, deja vu when chatting with kids…
Feeling that he isn’t any longer around hasn’t yet sunk in. Also probably because 6 months – 1 year duration was what we used to meet anyway so it feels like nothing much has changed beyond one nightmarish occurrence
Worrying about the surviving parent gets more acute. You want to maximize the time together. I will likely bring my mother to live with us together, after the annual rituals are over. This should also be freeing from the constant worry about how she is feeling / doing and what I can do to support her in the moment
You are more circumspect about expressing feelings of loss and repentance. Everyone in close circles deals with grief differently, people appear to have moved on, you are not sure whether expressing difficulties you are facing to others isn’t troubling them. So probably better to grieve alone and in silence
Videos are absolute treasure troves. While going through one of the videos I randomly shot, my father was discussing someone long gone. He commented something like offsprings of the people who have done some good karmas in their lives are generally contented and happy
Hello readers, I am resuming writing here after a year! I hope to be more regular going forward. I am also changing the book review format a little this time, in order to make it more legible and understandable for the readers
The book Strong Product People by Petra Wille is a recommended one for a product leader managing other PMs. If you have been a fan of Marty Cagan’s writings, his foreword does give confidence on the content of the book. The book is neatly divided into five segments and my reviews follows the same
defining the product manager role in your environment and what it means to be a good PM
managing your team
finding and recruiting good PMs
developing your existing product team
building a great product culture
Defining the PM Role
The author likens the role of a product leader to that of a building the shipyard i.e. leading the folks who build ships or ship builds (pardon the pun!). Almost all the activities a head of product (HoP) does can be centered around product, people, and process triangle
In the second chapter, focus is on doing an as-is analysis of PM capabilities. Every PM needs to be assessed as Gets it, Wants it, Capacity to do it labels on all competencies defined for a good PM role. This grid should give you an idea about org capability and specific development gaps you need to bridge
Figure 1: The job of a product manager
As Marty Cagan says the only true measure of the product manager is the success of his or her product, I couldn’t agree more!
Managing a PM team
Being highly self-aware is the starting point of any leadership journey. An A-grade leader can be defined as someone who
inspires and motivates others
displays high integrity and honesty
solves problems and analyzes issues
drives for results
and communicates powerfully and prolifically
The very best leaders understand that management is all about people and building strong relationships and trust. A great leader has to understand his people outside work and spot interpersonal tensions and react to them appropriately before they become worse! A leader’s behavior is also very closely watched by his people so leading by example becomes extremely important. As leader you have to also set benchmarks for good performance since everyone’s watching to see what the lowest level of PM performance is that you as HoP are willing to tolerate. You have to also follow through on your commitments!
A PM leadership role is supposed to be that of a coach and the author lists very practical steps; before you as HoP can put on your coach’s hat. First you have to ensure that your PMs are high on competence! Also when you are coaching a PM, you have to tame your advisor’s instinct and let the coachee find the way by asking her the right question at the right time! You have to also keep experimenting with different aspects of your coaching: the setting (for example, less-formal settings vs. more-formal settings), the frequency of your coaching sessions, different questions, approaches to follow-ups, different coaching frameworks, and so on. And then do more of what works in your context!
In terms of managing performance expectations with your team members, the author refers to the Radical Candor approach i.e. care personally and challenge directly. It’s your job to balance both sides! You have to also focus NOT on your fears but what they NEED. When providing negative feedback, it should also be not tied to personal traits but to specific behaviors. It goes without saying that providing negative feedback needs more work on HoP’s part than a positive feedback would
You should absolutely find time for people development discussions and not postpone those in favor of “work” related ones. This can sometime mean you have to tie your people development goals to your bigger work and life goals (e.g. “I want to build the best ecommerce product talent here and this is my opportunity to do so!”)
Finding and recruiting the PM talent
When hiring for product people on your team, you have to assume direct responsibility and work with your talent acquisition team to attract the best talent out there which means being personally visible on channels which matter to the talent pool. When screening candidates especially for leadership roles you have to focus more on how well they understand the problem and whether they have gotten things done with a team. When onboarding a new PM, you have to focus on getting her first educated guess made as soon as possible! You have to be superprecise in terms of setting expectations with your new hire! (side note:you will see so many super- prefixes throughout the book!)
Figure 2: A typical PM’s career progression
On the other hand, while working with senior PMs – HoP should think about mastery, autonomy and sense of purpose as key levers to drive true motivation. You should also plan one big change for your senior PM talent every year!
Developing your existing product team
When you set strategy and vision for your product, you have to focus on one or two critical issues in your situation i.e. the pivot points that can multiply the effectiveness of effort—and then focus and concentrate action and resources on them. In short, you have to ensure your strategy is how to achieve your vision and why for your roadmaps!
Figure 3: A simple framework for creating product vision, strategy, goals and principles
The author gives a practicable tip to get PMs find new ideas and assumptions through a term called desk research which is an umbrella term for finding some statistics, user research etc..essentially the objective should be to build right things than just building any thing
PMs are always starved of time, this problem is compounded by Parkinson’s law (work expands to fill the time available!) and our natural tendency to procrastinate. The author offers a practical advice around timeboxing any activity which should objectively ensure reasonable time given to important activities without above factors affecting the time invested adversely
Similarly when choosing which meeting to attend, every meeting should be slotted into one of the three types: update, brainstorm and decision. The PM should be clear what every meeting’s objectives are and only attend the ones she absolutely should
Figure 4: choosing which work to finish first: rocks (big ones) should go first!
HoPs should also invest enough time especially with their junior PMs to help them hone their story telling skills (don’t leave them alone here!) and also be able to explain why something is not getting prioritized to their peer groups. Just for reference, a good story has 4 components
It paints a picture of a desirable future
It makes it clear why you should become part of this future
It acknowledges the current situation while describing the potential difficulties that may arise and why it’s worth overcoming them
It suggests a common goal with just enough information to make next steps clear for listeners
In order to make a message stick, you should avoid using words more often used in your org context or jargons etc. They make the core message lose some shine!
Building a great culture
As HoP, you have to create space for your product talent to succeed. If your org structure comes in the way of creating strong product culture, you have to additionally balance with detailed role descriptions and a clear definition of responsibilities with partner orgs. And as a guiding principle, you have to take care of the product, people and process; and ensure that each of your PMs has the next bigger challenge lined up for them which ensures they keep learning!
If you are a product leader managing other PMs: 7/10
If you are an individual contributor PM: 4/10
If you are a non-PM leader who frequently works with a PM leader: 6/10
Can this be the first reading as a product leader seeking answers to questions posed here? No, the book assumes familiarity with certain concepts from the readers!
What would have made the book even a greater addition to your reading list?
More emphasis on practical scenarios and how the author has tackled them in her work situation
A coherent sequencing for some chapters, some of which appear disconnected. For example, chapter 24 in Part 4 around managing senior PMs could probably have been better slotted in Part 2 as managing teams
Sometimes content is inserted abruptly e.g. Agile manifesto, many book references, infrequent quotation from the Internet could have been placed better or perhaps omitted altogether
Citations could have been directly linked to specific portions in the text. Though overall references do appear as good recommendations to go through later, they appear disconnected and intimidating to get good grip on the content
I lost my father on June 18, 2022. This post chronicles the lasting memories of my father and has little to do with product management or leadership. You may skip if you feel like. Thank you
Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita says
यत्करोषि यदश्नासि यज्जुहोषि ददासि यत् |
यत्तपस्यसि कौन्तेय तत्कुरुष्व मदर्पणम् || 9.27||
Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer as oblation to the sacred fire, whatever you bestow as a gift, and whatever austerities you perform, O son of Kunti, do them as an offering to Me
I lost my father almost a month back on June 18, 2022. He would have been 73 this October. He had been battling cancer for the last 2 years. There have been so many thoughts running in my mind through all these days and there has never been a moment I have not missed him. Before my mind starts painting a distant mirage to my memories with him, I wanted to put some of these things down. If you are fortunate to have parents with you, maybe you can find some of these helpful
There is a gaping hole in the heart. The sense of loss never goes away. I wish that whatever happened was a dreamy nightmare and when I get back home, I’d meet him. I also think the only thing that will change with time is the frequency at which these thoughts keep coming
You have limited time with your parents. In the modern mobility era, we don’t live with our parents or even near to them in the most likelihood. Because of Covid-induced WFH flexibility, online education classes for kids and wife’s support; I got to spend almost one year with him. Pre-Covid and assuming once-a-year 2-weeks visit to parents, it’s almost equivalent to 25 years of together-time!
Parents are vulnerable and are not infallible. In the early part of my adulthood, I was more often angry with my parents for many reasons. However, when I got a chance to see them up close after almost 20 years, I could understand their perspective, limitations and ways of evaluating things. Factually speaking, they have always tried to do the best in my interest to the point that they hurt themselves. Forgive your parents if there is still time. Even when the death was very near and he had realized it was, his bigger worry was how his disease was impacting my life. Probably, he wanted to go sooner
Doing your best is paramount. In a complex intractable disease like a metastatic melanoma, it is not always clear what to make of the treatment options. I always did what was in the best interest of him at any point in time. For these two years, I put everything aside – career, family, life, money, my own comfort. We tried every treatment option possible- surgery, radiation, drug trial, immunotherapy, genome sequencing, chemotherapy, targeted therapies, Ayurveda you name it. After almost 100 hospital visits, hospitalisations and many inoculations, we could not save him. But he did put up a good fight and never lost the will to live till the very end. I also think I was there for him when he needed me the most
Death always surprises. I knew it was terminal cancer for almost 2 years and was keeping myself ready for the final eventuality. However when the death came, it appeared suddenly. I could not see him motionless. Even now, I somehow think when I go back to my native place, we’d meet and discuss inane stuff. It’s not sunk in yet or probably never will
Create memories, videos are 100X more valuable than photos. I once asked my father which one place he wanted to visit the most. He replied Pashupati Nath temple in Kathmandu. He had always been a devotee of Lord Shiva. That visit never happened because of his health. Seeing my father deteriorating every day, I did make a list of things we wanted to do together. Some of them we could do, most we could not. I also recorded many videos of him, in natural settings and inflexions which are infinitely more valuable than hundreds of still photos
People will disappoint you. They say parents are the only true well-wishers in your life. Everyone else is pretending to sound like one at best. All through this struggle, I could see charade, pretense and make-believe chatter and actions from people in my life – friends, acquaintances, relatives, siblings. If you genuinely believe in people’s generosity and big heartedness, some realism would help. A more optimistic explanation why sometimes people disappoint us could be not because they are genuinely “bad”, but because we tend to project our personalities and beliefs on them; which is not necessarily reflective. So if you are more of an idealistic person like I am, be ready to be disappointed more often!
Having a noble heart is important. I had lost one of my younger cousins in May 2022 and my father was visibly distressed. He had almost complained to God it was his turn to go. Being lost myself, I asked him the purpose of life or how to live life. He told me two things a. It’s important that you do good to other people to the extent you can b. Money is important in life
Cancer care is broken. Right from finding that his disease could be a suspect case of cancer in May 2020 to now, I could see how cancer care is broken in our country. Diagnosis is imprecise, care choices are unclear, hospice services are non-existent, doctors advise you not necessarily what’s in the patient’s best interest but their “assessment” of your financial situation. And I am talking of some of the best cancer care Institutes in the country
Cancer is a brutal disease. The Bhagavad Gita verse quoted above is what I used to narrate to him when his pain was too severe to handle even with strong sedatives. I used to tell him to offer his sufferings and pain to God and not keep those within himself. I am unsure how much it helped him. I also recited to him the first chapter of the Gita, but he was apparently disinterested so I discontinued. Later I got to know from my mother that he had been reading the Gita himself alone. Probably he had internalized the meaning of the verse
My father was a simple farmer and a family man. He provided the best to a large family of ours from the limited resources he had. After successfully fighting staged court battles, physical feuds, he also passed the same heritage to us as he had got from his father. He was stoic and brave in his many struggles through life. He loved animals, especially birds and cows. He also favored the poor and vulnerable people almost like a socialist and often to his considerable financial loss
Parents are always alive within us, they never die. I performed final rituals as he had once told me to. He wanted to be cremated where our ancestors have been for hundreds of years. Even in his greatest pain, he remembered his father and how he would help him fight the disease. I would suppose he received the same care and love in his last days that he gave to his parents in their final days
We had prayed together on Mahashivratri in our village temple this March. My mother later told me he had started fasting on Mahashivratri the year I was born and never skipped fasting even for once since then
Hindus believe in reincarnations till we unite with the Supreme Entity. Either way, I pray to Mahadev that I meet him – in the next life as his son again or united as one with the Lord
PS: Many thanks to Dr Manish Singhal from Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi and Dr Santanu Chaudhary from Pushpanjali Hospitals, Agra for taking care of my father
Lastly, I am grateful to my employer Flipkart for their excellent health insurance, flexible work policies and unwavering support throughout the 2 years. And to many of my colleagues who often endured bad network and audio quality from my side over Google Meet calls because I was working from an actual “remote” location, thank you!
Do you know the difference between an assumption and a hypothesis?
An assumption is something that you suppose to be true, such as “Often PMs are engineers.” A hypothesis is also something that you suppose to be true, but it is stated in an unambiguous way so that it can be tested
This is the second edition of the famous book UX Strategy by Jaime Levy. While I wanted to read the first one, that never happened! There are a lot of tactical level details in this book which are omitted, in my view, because of the conciseness of the book, nevertheless it should serve as a good reference point! In short, if you want to give structure to your product development philosophy, you should give this book a try. One important caveat the author makes is that the UX strategy practice she described in the first edition is now synonymous with product strategy. So relax all the product managers out here!
I have tried capturing the essence of the book in the following headers
A. On Business Strategy, UX Strategy and Product Vision
A shared product vision means that your team and stakeholders have the same mental model for your future product
A good business strategy is one centered around the customer. This is why you must validate your presumed customer segment and their unmet needs.
User experience (UX) strategy lies at the intersection of UX design and business strategy
It’s an empirical process!
Experience strategy is the combination of business strategy and UX strategy. The “user experience,” or “UX,” is how a human experiences a digital product while attempting to accomplish a task or goal
A stellar UX strategy is a means to disrupt the marketplace through mental model innovation
As a product matures with a growing user base, it’s crucial to revisit your strategy. Conducting validation experiments to discover new customer segments, marketing channels, and revenue streams is a job that is never done
B. On Components of UX Strategy and Lean Startup
Four tenants of UX strategy are 1. Business strategy 2. Value innovation 3. Validated user research 4. Frictionless UX
The discovery phase is where UX strategy begins. The output of the discovery phase should be based on empirical evidence, such as getting direct input from target users before going straight from an idea to wireframes and development
The business strategy identifies the company’s guiding principles for how it will position itself and still achieve its objectives while beating the competition. For this to happen, the business must continually identify and utilize a competitive advantage
For a more mature company, the strategy is about building on the company’s core value proposition while trying to evolve the company’s infrastructure and internal processes to support that growth, often called digital transformation!
Business Model Canvas—customer segments, channels, value propositions, revenue streams, and customer relationships—are elements that are essential to creating a product’s online and offline experience
Lean startup made conducting validated user research a make-or-break aspect of moving forward on a product’s strategy. Validation is the process of confirming that a specific customer segment finds value in your solution
Lean Startup was proposed by Ash Maurya in 2010. Its components are
Unique value proposition
C. On User Research
Research hypotheses are the answer to the question “What are the most important things I need to learn to determine if my solution is desirable and viable?”
Use your research to validate your decisions and ensure that the product vision is aligned with the end user’s needs
The purpose of conducting user research is to understand the needs and goals of your target customer in order to inform the product’s value proposition
Confronting your target customers is nonnegotiable. We must learn as quickly as possible if the idea we are working on is stupid and worthless
Don’t take what your stakeholders or team says at face value. To learn what potential customers want, hunt them down in person
It’s contested if you should ask a customer what they would pay for a product. Customers may lowball you or have no idea. however, getting a sense of what customers expect to pay may be helpful for informing marketing and pricing strategies
Customer discovery is about listening and not selling. The customer interview is actually made up of three parts: the introduction, the screener, and the interview. When you ask the money-shot question, just capture the essence of the person’s response and, if appropriate, ask any relevant follow-up questions
Qualitative research relies on the observation and collection of nonnumerical insights such as opinions e.g. focus groups, contextual inquiries, and ethnographic studies.
Ethnographic research—the study of people in their natural environment—is all about getting to the deep, dark places, much like the qualitative personas
Do not begin interviews with small talk. Be professional!
D. On Value Proposition
A value proposition takes the form of a concise statement that summarizes the unique benefits customers can expect from your product or service i.e. value proposition is what a company promises to deliver to the customer
But value propositions are not valuable if they do not solve a real problem. The followings are the steps to define a value proposition
Define your primary customer segment
Identify your customer segment’s (biggest) problem
Create provisional personas based on your assumptions
Conduct customer discovery to validate or invalidate your provisional persona and problem statement
Reassess your initial value proposition based on what you have learned!
E. On Customer Segmentation and Value Creation
The customer segment is a group of people with a common need. These segments can be identified by a combination of demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes. For B2B products, you should create two personas: one for the person who will be paying for the product (i.e., the CTO) and one for the person who will be using the product
The problem statement should not presuppose a solution until the problem has actually been validated. By having product teams focus on the problem statement, they are more likely to have an open mind when ideating on solutions
Don’t confuse persona archetypes with stereotypes. Because personas provide a precise design target and also serve as a communication tool to the development team, the designers must choose a particular demographic characteristic with care
Because the provisional persona represents a group of people rather than one person, think of a concise, descriptive name to characterize the segment, such as “Gen X Parents in Los Angeles” or “Jewish Expats in Berlin.” It is useful to articulate common demographic denominators. Location is useful because it forces your team to pinpoint where a market for your product might exist instead of targeting the entire world
Motivation and behavior lie at the heart of value creation. Whatever product you are devising, it is crucial to understand what will motivate people to use it
F. On assessing customers’ needs and goals
What are their product-relevant hopes and dreams? What do they need to solve their primary pain point? What specific needs or goals aren’t being satisfied by available solutions or workarounds? What are the limitations they face? What is the job they are trying to get done?
This section is particularly important to get right because it will inform your product strategy the most. You want actionable statements that address underlying customer concerns
G. On Competition, its definition and analysis
Direct competitors are companies that offer the same or a very similar value proposition to your current or future customers. Indirect competitors offer a different value proposition, but somehow their solution may satisfy the needs of your target customer
Investigate your competition
What are they doing right? What are they doing wrong? Why should customers come to you?
Conducting research on the competition is a crucial component of business strategy
The most efficient way to do a comprehensive competitive analysis is to collect all of the data in a matrix
Scour YouTube and Vimeo for publicly available demonstrations, tutorials, and product reviews. If you need more information than what you can find online, you may need to bring in an outside agency
For native mobile apps, you can currently get the last month’s downloads without an account using Sensor Tower
One always needs to be on your toes, agile, and ready to scrutinize your competitor’s newest ideas and immediately see how they might affect your product vision
By benchmarking the competition, you’ll find opportunities to create value by either innovating or optimizing the best UX and business model practices of other competing products
If something looks incomplete or missing, did you or whoever did the research overlook an obvious competitor that needs to be considered?
SWOT analysis of a nonexistent product or business moves us into the land of make-believe. This is why it’s more meaningful to use it for evaluating competitors from their perspective
H. On what to build?
Reaching beyond existing demand is a key component of achieving value innovation
To get your idea juices flowing on the key features, ask yourself these questions:
What will make your provisional personas (hypothesized customers) love this product?
What is the aha moment or part of the user’s journey online or offline that makes this product unique?
What is a major pain point that you are trying to solve that is not currently being solved by competitors?
What kind of workarounds are your potential customers currently doing to accomplish their goals?
What is the core benefit for your customers that is derived from the output or manipulation of either your proprietary algorithm and/or data set?
What is the functionality or page/screen layout that needs to be designed from scratch because there is no reference for it in any other digital product?
A product recommendation should answer the following questions
Can a specific feature be majorly improved or new technology integrated to help customers do something that currently is too complicated or time-consuming for the existing alternatives?
How can you make the product experience more personalized or “smart” to increase adoption and engagement?
Is there a new revenue stream or disruptive business model that can be experimented with?
How can you achieve a competitive advantage that your competitors can’t easily replicate?
If your analysis reveals that the initial value proposition is facing certain risks, your recommendations may need to suggest a pivot on the targeted customer segment or the specific problem
Your future customers need to want to choose your solution over any other because
a) it’s significantly more efficient than what’s currently out there,
b) it solves a pain point they didn’t know they had, and/or
c) it creates an undeniable desire where none existed before
I. On Prototyping
As we prepare to prototype, we’re finally juggling all four of the tenets at the same time. Don’t burn your time, money, or efforts on a product that has not been tested and validated with target customers
These are the critical questions that we need our prototype to answer:
Does the solution solve the problem or major pain points that the target customer expressed?
Does the target customer find the key features valuable?
Would the target customer pay for the product or use it in a way that can be monetized?
The answers to questions 1 and 2 help us validate our value proposition. The answer to question 3 will help us validate our business model
To keep the long story long, this line from the book has resonated well with me. Sometimes, people have fixed ideas, and no amount of research will change their minds. <Then ask yourself> Will I help this person make their product regardless of the research, or do I walk away?
Tough words, how many of us have the courage to walk the talk?! If you don’t get this part right – costs will have to be borne by the team, company and often careers of the people involved whether or not they realise it at that point. In short, don’t solve wrong problems for your own good!
PS: Pop Quiz for UX Geeks!
Q. Do you know the difference between concierge, Wizard of Oz and mechanical turk?
A. These are the techniques for conducting value proposition experiments!
Unlike concierge, customers don’t know that a human is in the loop in case of Wizard of Oz
When someone says they are mechanical-turking a product, it typically means they are building a frontend with a human-powered backend to manually simulate a complex digital product. It’s like a crowdsourced version of Wizard of Oz
Did you know that the collective value of all organic traffic in the world is more than a trillion dollars!
First a little story. In 2011, when I started my product career with Naukri.com (India’s largest public Internet company by market cap as of Apr 2021 and leading classified site for over 20 years), I had ZERO idea about anything called SEO. Anyway I was tasked to work on the jobseeker acquisition and engagement funnel at the classifieds leader and happened to work with an inhouse SEO team. Frankly, I did not know anything about the term called “Product-Led SEO” or that term existed in wider usage until I happened to chance upon this book
As I progressed through this book “Product-led SEO: The Why Behind Building Organic Growth Strategy” by Eli Schwartz, I harked back to those times a decade back and could retrospectively see the work our team did fit well into the paradigm this book describes. Little surprising now that Naukri was able to fend off any impending threat from many job aggregators like Indeed, Mitula or Jooble as well LinkedIn to a certain extent during that time while successfully managing to navigate the web to mobile transition. The absolute traffic from SEO grew by 3x in those 4 years and in my assessment a sound SEO position remains a competitive moat for the company till today!
Coming to this book, it is a good concise one arguing essentially that product-driven growth when combined with SEO’s strategic application can unlock growth for most companies. One should not expect hands-on SEO domain knowledge from the book, for which there are umpteen online resources one can refer to. However this book does neatly describe challenges any SEO leader and practitioner faces in a complex org and offers clear tips to navigate the org dynamics. The author, in my view, remains honest in recognising the limitations of SEO craft in driving low-cost growth which makes his advice throughout the book even more credible. So let’s dive in!
General Background about SEO
SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization, and that it is a process of taking known rules of how search engines work and building it into a plan to improve upon the visibility
Product-Led SEO builds a great product for users first and optimizes for search second
Maximizing SEO visibility requires taking the known rules about search engine best practices and applying a level of creativity and logic to develop a strategic approach
Focusing efforts on technical SEO, on-page factors, or user-experience optimization together is essential to drive results through SEO
In general, these are the 5 stages of how Google or any search engine works
Discovery is the algorithm that crawls the web to identify new pages and sites that Google has not previously indexed
Once a URL is discovered, Google has to decide whether it wants to expend the resources required to crawl the URL. It’s typically constrained by crawl budget for every site that Google enforces
The indexing algorithm determines how to cache a web page and what database tags should be used to categorize it
The indexing algorithm will decide whether to trust the content or not based on technical SEO signals on the page
The most important part in any SEO audit is to check whether links are getting indexed by Google
Ranking uses the information from the first three algorithms to apply a ranking methodology to every page
5. Intent understanding (BERT)
This NLP algorithm launched in 2018 doesn’t directly impact the rankings of websites for queries, it rewrites the actual queries to what Google believes the user is searching
Latest trends in SEO
1. Complaints that SEO is only getting harder are a byproduct of all the AI already included in the algorithm
Google doesn’t just have a better understanding of what its users want, it has used AI to dramatically change how it values links
This is the change with the biggest impact on users
2. Frequent software updates from Google including the the two biggest updates to its algorithms
The first update was called Panda rolled out in 2010. The goal of Panda was to flush out sites that used keyword matching just to rank on highly searched terms without providing content of any value to those keywords on the page
The second algorithm update was called Penguin and was released in 2012. Penguin’s target was manipulative link-building practices. When Google discovered unnatural links, it levied a penalty on the site
3. Mobile SEO and Trends in Voice Search
Google ranks websites on mobile optimization the same way it does on a desktop. Google recommends having a mobile-responsive site that will look and function great on a mobile, tablet, or desktop environment. The nuances between SEO for desktop and mobile are in how users interact with search and websites after they click
However, on mobile there are fewer results, meaning a number-five slot on mobile is essentially like being on page two of results
A mobile-first index merely means Google is ranking the content of a website that is visible to a crawler that emulates a mobile browser
4. While mobile was last decade’s big paradigm shift in SEO, this decade is going to be all about voice and smart assistants
Also the number-one reason voice search is never going to replace multiple results is voice must be perfect, and perfect is never possible in our changing world
Also as voice assistants get increasingly more powerful, having a proper schema is important
What’s product-led SEO?
The key part of building a Product-Led SEO strategy is that it is a product (an offering of any sort) that is being built. An ideal Product-Led SEO strategy is programmatic and scalable, creates something new, and addresses untapped search demand i.e. build an experience that is useful for users first, and the search engines will follow
Product-Led SEO requires thinking of the reader and why they should spend their precious time enjoying the content
Create the content that you know there is untapped demand for. Google will reward you and will direct users to you with search-query suggestions
Nevertheless unlike other marketing methods, content is inherently trackable and should justify its RoI
Bad content for paid marketing channels is less prevalent than that in SEO since marketers know that the costs are high in case the content is not engaging their users enough
Should SEO be the focus area for early stage companies?
The author recommends that early-stage companies first spend as much as they are comfortable allocating toward paid marketing before they shift to SEO. Also SEO investments should not be made by businesses that are close to the edge on survivability
Paid marketing will help quickly determine product-market fit, identify customer journeys, and generate revenue. Knowledge gained from paid marketing will help SEO maximize its success
In later-stage companies where the new hire will only work on SEO projects, prioritizing skill sets is critical
The business category and type of customer are two of the biggest factors in how one should invest in SEO. Visibility only matters when you are visible to the right user. For many categories, especially long-sales-cycle B2B, SEO is absolutely the wrong investment
SEO is an optimization channel, not a demand-creation channel. SEO efforts improve the visibility of a website when the demand is already there
Competition and SEO
1. For SEO, the competitor is any site targeting the same search terms. Also one should assess whether she is targeting queries that real humans would actually write? Since search is all about queries written by users, the underpinning of any tactical effort is keywords
2. Pay attention to your competitor’s specific tactics, whether in the content type or technical setup. How, specifically, is that site driving growth?
3. Predicting how the competition might react should be an essential part of how you develop your SEO strategies
What’s an SEO persona and how to identify it?
SEO persona is the one that pays you (or whatever the conversion element might be), and one should track those people back to the original acquisition source. Those people will be aggregated into the persona buckets that should be your focus
Persona research should answer questions, such as where in the buying funnel a user might be when they’re visiting a particular piece of content
Channel Strategy and SEO
1.Brand traffic is great, but it doesn’t indicate SEO success. Growth of branded traffic will plateau at the natural penetration level of the brand. The focus of SEO should always be on non-branded search since their potential is immense while branded search grows with brand awareness.
Consider also that good ranking on targeted keywords is often aspiration and may never be achieved
Paid could dominate brand placements at a very inexpensive cost in a way that organic never could. OTOH SEO is a hybrid between branding and performance traffic
Word of mouth is also not a sustainable strategy since that can dissipate quickly
2. SEO and paid marketing are very similar from a performance standpoint. Ultimately SEO is done by humans for humans and it takes a unique person to be able to combine customer empathy with creativity layered in SEO knowledge
Duplicate Content and SEO
How is duplicate content generated?
One area that is a common source of duplicate content is the lingering legacy of site moves and updates. So, when undertaking any big update or migration, it is vital to get it right
A full site migration should only be undertaken when absolutely necessary for legal purposes or branding needs. One major consideration to keep in mind with all redirects is the redirects likely have to be maintained in perpetuity
The primary takeaway on updates and migrations is that they should be done carefully, slowly, strategically, and with full consideration of the risks
How to identify duplicate content?
Google Search Console can be particularly helpful in identifying problems with duplicate content
It’s possible that so much of a website is duplicate, it could fall into the realm where the Panda algorithm might think the website is of too low quality to be included in Google’s index
Linking Strategy and SEO
1. Links are a critical part of Google’s ranking algorithms, as a link to a page is a vote of popularity and contextual relevance. Quality is not created by a website alone. The page giving the link will also have its own authority, which will be determined solely by the search engine
Every domain has to stand on its own within the web, based on its own backlinks. Google claims to view hundreds of factors in determining rankings, links have always been a very prominent part of the calculation
2. Attract links instead of acquiring them. Most social media links (Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, etc.) do not count as quality SEO backlinks. To generate links, just do what a PR agency would. Build relationships with journalists, understand what they like to write, and pitch stories
Some of the best link builders use PR methods
In your link-building efforts, be creative and generate unique data
3. Externally, page rank is a two-way street, so a site that wants to hoard all of its page rank would nofollow all its external links. Many websites inundated with spam links, including Wikipedia, opted to make all their outgoing links nofollow by default
It’s very likely there’s no real difference between a follow and a nofollow link, so one should not place much stock in the classification of a link
4. A site directory does not have to be a visually well-designed page to be effective. It can truly be an alphabetized list of every category and page on a website
The ideal internal-link graph looks like the route map of a budget airline that thrives on point-to-point connections
5. Featured snippets: This is when Google takes a portion of a website’s content to answer a user’s question and puts it in a box in the first position. If you are just looking for awareness, this might be a feature; otherwise, else avoid ending up in these boxes
Stakeholder Management and Navigating Org Dynamics for SEO Leaders
1. Justifying RoI. SEO should be measured the same way any product is measured: by adoption and engagement
Much of effective SEO Product management, especially in a large company, is about diplomacy
For smaller companies, if you are competing on search with a large competitor, know that you have the advantage, as they can never adapt to change as fast as you. Negotiating the system in a larger company is part of the essential skill set
Most sites cannot do statistically significant A/B testing on SEO because of traffic significance. Large sites can, and a change might lead to lower average ranking positions on search, but if its net result is higher conversions, it is a winner
2. One has to consider that rankings alone, as a KPI for SEO, is a vanity metric and should never be used in budgeting, or financial modeling. Also since paid and organic searches are both going after the same user, the author recommends strategizing each channel’s core competencies and having each focus on its strengths
3. A good metric in growth in impressions on search pages. Use the data you have and not the data you think you should have. Then, find a way to test and trial until you build the data you need
4. Using keywords as a predictor of how much search traffic you can expect to generate is not a viable option for a few reasons since there is competition for high traffic words and some keywords may not even exist
Without the ability to rely on keyword search as a north star for your new product, you need to find a proxy instead. Use a tangential product that might have similar demand, and use the search volume for that site
5. For a growth-minded Product manager or marketer, the bureaucracy can be negated by embracing incremental wins as a method to succeed. SEO should be viewed as a Product in and of itself
Instead of asking the engineers to update a whole bunch of SEO requirements, ask for engineers (or content or money) to build X for SEO
All in all it’s a great book for product leaders and founders to understand and lay foundations around as to how SEO can potentially unlock growth for their product! For really low level details about the art and science of SEO, author refers to very authoritative sources which can be explored. Hope you enjoy reading this book!