🔥 What is an SEO product manager?
My take on the SEO PM role
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The SEO product manager job is a new role in the SEO industry.
However, there isn’t a lot of literature on what the SEO product manager's job, is and what are the responsibilities of an SEO PM.
In today’s newsletter, I want to break down how I view the role based on my experiences as a product manager and SEO professional.
In this newsletter, we are going to cover the following:
🚀 What is a Product Manager?
📈 What is SEO Product Manager?
🔱 The three responsibilities of an SEO PM
🤹 Top 10 Skills of SEO Product Managers
🚀 What is a product manager?
Before we define an SEO product manager, it's best to understand the product management role.
🤝 Business and Customer Relationship
At a basic level, all businesses aim to do the same thing: sell services/products that solve customer problems. If customers find value in the product/service (i.e. solve pain points), then they pay money for the product or service.
When selling services and products they focus on solving impactful problems. An impactful problem has three core parts that need to be aligned:
🎯 Target Audience - They need to understand their target audience.
❔ The Problem - They need to understand their target audience's pain points.
🚀 The Solution - They need to create a solution that solves the target audience's problem.
If a business doesn't identify impactful problems, there is a greater chance that customers don't find value in the product or service and don't pay for it.
Although this might sound "easy", if you've ever built anything and tried to sell it to a group of customers, you'll know it's hard to solve problems and sell things to people.
To solve impactful problems for customers a business needs to do a variety of activities:
🛃 Understand Customers - A business needs to understand its target audience, the market and its pain points, problems or jobs to be done.
👁️ Vision and Strategy - A business needs to align teams around a vision and plan, get everyone bought in, to create a product or service to solve the target customers' pain points.
🔄 Agile Delivery - A business needs to get its execution teams to deliver solutions to customers quickly using agile methodologies.
A product manager's role is to help a business solve impactful problems.
🤘 The job of a product manager
The best definition of product management (PM) I've found is from Lenny's newsletter:
“Your job as a Product Manager is to deliver business impact by marshalling the resources of your team to identify and solve the most impactful customer problems.”
Lenny Rachitsky, Lenny’s Newsletter
Lenny highlights that there are three jobs of any product manager:
📈 Deliver business impact - The PM's job is to deliver business impact; if the team is driving positive impact – you're doing your job.
🥋 Marshalling team resources - The PM's job isn't to build the solution yourself but to leverage cross-functional teams (UX, devs, analytics, etc.) to deliver impact.
🙏 Solves impactful user problems - The PM's job is to correctly identify, prioritize and solve the most impactful problem for target customers.
Product manager jobs range from working in massive enterprise organisations (Facebook, Stripe, Wise), government organisations (UK GDS), or startups (Inflow, Ello, Clipboard Health). Building digital products in today’s world is big business.
If we apply this definition of a PM to our basic business model, the role of a product manager is to ship features that solve target customer problems. They focus on maximising outcomes and minimizing deliverables to drive results.
Customers who find value in what is being shipped pay the business money, which is it's important to drive results for the business and customers. A product manager is constantly getting feedback from customers and keeping tabs on the market so that they can adjust the product strategy.
How do product managers do all this? Well, they focus on building impactful skills to get things done.
A famous quote about the product management role comes from Martin Eriksson:
"I’ve always defined product management as the intersection between business, technology, and user experience (hint – only a product manager would define themselves in a Venn diagram). A good product manager must be experienced in at least one, passionate about all three, and conversant with practitioners in all."
This Venn diagram means that product managers need to learn a variety of different skills to solve impactful problems, including:
Business Forecasting and Finance
User experience research
This list could go on, and on…
These skills allow product managers to identify an impactful problem, work with different stakeholders, align them around a strategy and roadmap, and turn initiatives into realistic release plans.
What does it have to do with SEO Product Management?
Well, there are actually different types of product managers in the wild.
In my travels as a product manager, in training workshops and conferences, I've met many different types of PM, including:
➡️ API Product Managers - PM focusing on solving problems with API products.
📈 Growth Product Managers - Focuses on growing user base by running experiments.
🤖 AI Product Managers - Data science engineers using AI to solve user problems.
These product managers are specialists in a certain field of expertise. Businesses require a specialist to help solve impactful problems and drive results for the business.
SEO Product Managers are just another specialist type of PM.
📈 What is an SEO product manager?
I define SEO product management as follows:
“An SEO Product Manager is a specialist who delivers business impact for an organisation's website through SEO by shaping the strategy, roadmap and goals, continuously syncing with teams to align on the strategy, and working with the team to ship the work.”
Adam Gent, The SEO Sprint
SEO product manager jobs are (usually) found in enterprise organisations with large million-page websites. They are usually found in organisations that already have product and engineering cultures and team structures (e.g. Just Eat, eBay, Wise, etc.).
Although I have met SEO PMs who work in smaller organisations and on smaller websites.
An SEO product manager is a specialist PM working within an organisation to ensure the website's content is useful, discoverable, and accessible to customers and search engines.
Unfortunately, SEO product managers must focus on solving problems for human users (customers) and the growing search engine ecosystem (bots). Googlebot is technically a user, after all.
SEO PMs work with product, content, UX design and development teams to make sure that the website gets crawled, indexed and appears in search engine results throughout the buyer's journey.
How do they do this? Holly Miller Anderson said it best in her article on SEO product management:
"At a high level, an SEO product manager (PM) helps teams optimize features and functionalities on a website so that it’s discoverable by search engines and humans alike."
Holly Miller Anderson
As Holly mentions in her article, SEO product managers work with teams to optimise the website to help make content discoverable in search engines. Examples of features might include:
🕷️ Crawling and Indexing: An SEO PM works with developers to ensure the website has business logic to automatically exclude low-value pages from being indexed.
🔗 Link Architecture: An SEO PM works with developers to add related articles and nearby location internal linking from core pages to other relevant pages.
💻️ Semantic SEO: An SEO PM works with developers to ensure page templates are always well-structured and each template is marked with the relevant schema.org markup.
✍️ Content: An SEO PM works with content and product to ensure that pages are optimised and that the brand/website appears through the buyer's journey.
🎫 Title Tags: An SEO PM works with developers to create a feature that allows the SEO team to make title tag changes to core pages without the need for a developer to make the change.
The goal of an SEO product manager shouldn't be to just "ship features" but instead maximise outcomes. Just like product managers, our work should aim to positively change user behaviour and drive results for both the customer and the business.
How do SEO product managers do all this? What is their actual job?
Well, SEO product management jobs are really defined by three responsibilities.
🔱 The three responsibilities of an SEO PM
Lenny's newsletter highlights that any product manager's job has three parts: shaping the product strategy, syncing the people, and working with teams to ship the product.
Since becoming a product manager, and working with clients, these three parts of the role have helped me understand the job of an SEO PM, and they go about solving impactful problems.
These three core responsibilities of an SEO product manager are:
🖌️ Shape - An SEO PM must create an SEO strategy and roadmap that aligns with the business strategy and identifies the most impactful problems.
📶 Sync - An SEO PM needs to get stakeholders' buy-in and align everyone around the SEO strategy and roadmap.
🚢 Ship - An SEO PM must work with developers, designers and other stakeholders (usually using agile methodology) to execute the strategy and roadmap.
When these three parts are aligned, an SEO product manager will start to solve impactful problems for a business.
Let's quickly dig into each of the three parts and get a better understanding of them.
An SEO product manager must identify opportunities to solve impactful problems, validate their ideas and create an SEO strategy and prioritised roadmap. To this, they need to focus on:
🌀 Identifying opportunities - The SEO PM will identify valid oppurtunities to solve impactful problems, from a sea of ideas, based on business, customer and SEO data points.
🥞 Crafting an SEO Strategy - Once the team has identified the valid opportunities, they will create a polished SEO strategy and a prioritised roadmap, and set SEO goals to measure success.
🌀 Identifying opportunities
The SEO PM must understand the business and its customers and connect SEO opportunities to the wider business strategy. Rather than just using SEO data, an SEO PM will consider customer and business data to identify oppurtunities that will drive results for the business.
I call this SEO Discovery, and if I were to visualise the process, it would be a diamond where the team discovered ideas and then defined valid oppurtunities:
Examples of work will include:
Understand the target audience by speaking to customers-facing teams
Understand the business by speaking to senior leadership and finance
Understand the tech stack of the website by speaking to developers
Understand business Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and metrics to track SEO success
Understand the viability of SEO opportunities by running SEO forecasts or finance models
Understand technical SEO issues by running crawls and doing analysis
Understand other teams' roadmaps and strategies by regularly syncing with them.
This SEO Discovery work allows the SEO PM to understand the business and build empathy for both teams and the target audience.
You read more about SEO Discovery in more detail in the following newsletter 👇️.
🥞 Crafting an SEO Strategy
Once the SEO PM has identified a set of clear valid SEO oppurtunities, they should have a short list of initiatives that connect to the wider business strategy and passes the three product constraints (viability, usability and feasibility).
Now the SEO PM can put together a "polished" plan.
An SEO PM will put together a series of documents to craft an outline of an SEO strategy for different stakeholders, including:
Strategy pitch deck
Goals or OKRs
Remember, SEO strategy is just putting your work into the context of company strategy and goals. The SEO PM uses discovery work to build empathy and context so that when they craft an SEO strategy, it contains valid SEO oppurtunities.
You read more about how I approach SEO Strategy in more detail in the following newsletter 👇️.
An SEO product manager needs to sync stakeholders within the business around the SEO strategy and roadmap to get buy-in and execute the plan.
Just like product managers, an SEO PM does not have the authority to make, anyone do anything. Instead, you need to influence without authority to get buy-in for the SEO strategy and continue to influence teams to get SEO projects executed.
This means that an SEO PM will need to:
💰️ Get buy-in
🔈️ Continuously influence
💰️ Get buy-in
Any SEO PM will need to get buy-in from senior management on their plan.
To do this, an SEO PM will create a polished SEO strategy which outlines ROI, a prioritised roadmap and a set of SEO goals to measure SEO success. If they've done their SEO discovery work right, none of what they are proposing should surprise other teams (because you've been speaking and aligning with them).
So when they do propose SEO strategies or plans to senior stakeholders, it will align with the business strategy, other team's roadmaps and the direction the company is trying to go in.
🔈️ Continuously influence
An SEO PM must continuously communicate the SEO strategy, roadmap and goals to the team to ensure the work stays on track.
Unfortunately, you can't influence or sync from the shadows. So, you need to learn to work within the spaces between teams and learn to build business partnerships with different teams.
For example, to sync with stakeholders, an SEO PM will:
Create weekly collaboration meetings to sync with sales, marketing, content, etc.
Attend company "update" meetings to communicate progress and what is coming up
Setup one-to-ones with heads of department to understand team progress
Continuously, meet with heads of engineering or tech leads to discuss future SEO projects
Like a product manager, an SEO PM must switch between deep work and constantly in and out of meetings.
Finally, an SEO PM must work with developers, designers and delivery teams to execute the strategy and roadmap.
SEO PMs help teams get shit done and have the skills to get things implemented.
Again just like product managers, an SEO PM is not implementing any code or content changes themselves (even if we wish we could). Instead, an SEO PM must learn to sync with the development team, create web dev strategies, and work within the development team processes.
How involved an SEO PM is with the delivery of an SEO feature will depend on the size of the organisation. I've interviewed in-house SEOs and identified there are three main types of team structures when SEO PMs work with teams to deliver initiatives:
✅ Product Squad: An SEO PM is leading a product squad of developers and designers.
✅ Central Team: An SEO PM is attached to a central team where website decisions are made.
✅ Advisor: An SEO PM works across the tech team to ensure projects meet SEO best practices.
Regardless of the team structure, an SEO PM must learn to survive and work within the project management practices to deliver work. Most product or engineering teams use agile methodologies (usually Scrum or Kanban) to iterate and deliver work.
SEO PMs need to work both within and outside official agile ceremonies to get things done.
When working with product and engineering teams, any SEO PM will focus on five core activities when working with teams to ship SEO initiatives:
☘️ Planning - An SEO PM needs to write Product Requirement Documents (PRDs), get feedback on ideas, and get developers involved early on in the process as quickly as possible.
🚚 Web Dev Strategy - An SEO PM must work with the team to create a web dev strategy and release plan for any SEO initiative.
🎫 Write Dev Tickets - An SEO PM needs to create realistic dev tickets that the development team can implement.
🌳 Backlog Management - An SEO PM needs to manage tickets in a backlog and ruthlessly prioritise them based on the changes in the delivery team.
🐛 QA - An SEO PM needs to be able to QA the tickets once they are marked as done, and constantly monitor the website to raise any priority issues with the tech team.
All of these activities are designed to help an SEO PM work with delivery teams to turn the SEO roadmap into realistic release plans.
🤹 Top 10 skills of SEO product managers
To make sure I’m not “being meta” about the SEO PM role, I've analysed ten SEO product management job descriptions.
I took job descriptions from companies like eBay, Wise and Reddit to identify the top 10 skills being asked for in these roles.
I created a Word Cloud based on the job descriptions.
I then grouped the topics into ten top attributes and skills. All of the ten roles I analysed asked for the following top 10 attributes:
Discovery - An SEO PM should be able to spot SEO opportunities to drive growth that aligns with business goals.
User-focused - An SEO PM is customer-centric and has the technical knowledge to advocate for search engine bot experience.
Evangelize SEO - An SEO PM educates and advocates for SEO best practices across the organisation.
Vision and Strategy - An SEO PM should be able to create a compelling SEO strategy and roadmap which overcomes a key challenge that will help drive the business forward.
Communication - An SEO PM excels at communicating with other teams, from engineering all the way to senior management.
Collaboration - An SEO PM builds trust, and lasting partnerships, and fosters collaboration with other teams to get things done.
Measure Impact - An SEO PM's work delivers meaningful impact through experiments and setting goals to measure the success of initiatives.
Planning - An SEO PM must be able to plan with different teams to execute the roadmap and create a plan to deliver the SEO strategy.
Ownership - An SEO PM owns the SEO strategy, roadmap and works with the development team to get the strategy implemented.
Execution - An SEO PM works closely with other teams to drive the execution of the strategy and roadmap through to completion.
This list is definitely the role of an SEO PM from my experience. It also aligns with my experience with the three responsibilities: Shap, Ship and Sync.
Note: In a future newsletter, I'll dig into these top 10 skills and help SEOs have a clear path to learning these skills.
Well, that was a lot to take in! Here is a quick recap:
Companies sell products - All businesses aim to do the same thing: sell services/products that solve customer problems.
Customers buy products - If customers find value in the product/service (i.e. solve pain points), then they pay money for the product or service.
Delivery is hard - To solve impactful problems for customers, a business needs to understand customers and create a product strategy.
Product management role - This is where product managers can help businesses, it is their role to solve impactful problems.
SEO product manager - An SEO PM role is a specialist PM who focuses on solving impactful problems by helping the business’s content be crawled, indexed and ranked for non-brand keywords.
Three responsibilities of SEO PMs - An SEO PM role is defined by three key responsibilities shape, sync, and ship SEO features to drive results.
What is an SEO product manager? - Holly Miller Anderson
What is product management - Lenny's Newsletter
What, exactly, is a Product Manager? - Martin Eriksson
Do you have trouble getting SEO projects executed?
Then check out my course designed for SEO professionals to think like product managers and use tried-and-tested techniques to get projects executed 👇.
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