Managing SEO projects can be a complex undertaking, with different websites having completely different requirements, and different SEO activites often requiring very different skills.
Despite its complexity, many SEOs find themselves in the position of managing projects solo. They could be freelancers like today’s guest, working in-house as the only dedicated SEO, or even simply the only SEO on a particular client’s team in an agency.
However you find yourself in such a situation, it’s always helpful to hear from other people who have a lot of experience managing SEO projects on their own. Kevin Kapezi is one such person, having worked as the primary SEO specialist at Experian before going full time as a freelancer with Growthack.
Kevin has appeared on the podcast before, back in episodes 11 and 12, and we were thrilled to have him back to talk about his decision to go freelance and his tips for managing SEO projects solo.
As always, you can listen to the interview right here on this page or on any podcast player of your choice. Or, if you want to see a few key points, keep reading for highlights of the interview. You can also follow all of us on the podcast on Twitter, at @KEVKDigital, @seoliviamae and @BenJGarry. If you have any questions for the podcast or you’re interested in appearing as a guest, we’d love to hear from you.
Kevin: A lot has changed in the last 12 months. A year ago, I was working at Experian as an in-house SEO specialist. However, I’ve always been dabbling in freelance projects on the side. When we were locked down, things escalated a bit because I had more free time – I wasn’t travelling as much, so I was doing more freelance work.
And then we started Growthack, which is basically myself and Leo, who is a paid media specialist, and we’re now both full-time doing that. We used to work together agency side at Hallam, and we really enjoyed working together. We like how each other works, so it’s a dream team!
Ben: During the pandemic, do you think there was a demand increase from the sorts of businesses that you were looking to work with freelance that helped on your journey?
Kevin: Oh yeah, absolutely. One big benefit of everyone being locked indoors is that businesses now think of digital as the major channel, whereas before, it might have been in the background. It was a top priority for probably every single business out there, so it was a good time in terms of us wanting to [launch Growthack].
Working freelance vs other SEO roles
Liv: What does your day to day role entail, and how might it differ from working in-house or agency-side?
Kevin: It’s different in terms of you being in control of everything – developing new relationships with potential clients, down to the delivery, as well as invoicing and collecting the payment for services, which is probably the most important bit! You have to start all of these processes from scratch and you are reliant on what sort of work comes in.
You can pick and choose who you work with to a degree, but sometimes you might need to work because you know you need the cash flow. If things are going really well, then you can cherry pick and say no if you don’t feel the client’s right, which is a major benefit, as opposed to having the work you do each month dictated to you.
Liv: What have you enjoyed about freelancing so far?
Kevin: I’ve enjoyed the freedom and I like variety. If you do like to try different things, it’s a good place to be. You can customise how you work and want type of work you want to specialise in.
Also, working with Leo again. We’re good friends as well as business partners, so working with him is always good, and I get to do the work I enjoy the most.
The money aspect is also good because you naturally earn a bit more when you’re freelancing. You’re the salesperson as well as the delivery person, so there’s definitely that financial aspect as well.
Dealing with stakeholders as a solo SEO
Ben: What’s good about being the only SEO in a team on a project?
Kevin: You get to be the owner of a particular project. Agency-side or in-house, there might be someone in a leadership position who is driving a project and doesn’t understand or doesn’t care for SEO. But when you’re the project owner, you can have SEO front of mind, and you can make sure that people are fully aware of what needs to happen on the project.
A common example is migrating from one domain to another, like .co.uk to .com. There might be a certain way to do it from an SEO point of view, so you can take that into consideration, and not just have it as an afterthought.
Ben: How important is it to be aware ofother concerns? Even if you’re freelance, you’ll be working with stakeholders on the client side. So how important is it to consider what other people might want and factor in their requirements alongside SEO?
Kevin: Even when you’re working solo, you’ll be working with other in-house teams and marketing leaders. When you’re working with them, you have to balance opinions of course, but you have to make sure that your voice is heard as well, which can be hard when you’re on the outside coming in.
You need stakeholder management skills. At Experian, some of the people I worked with were really brilliant at dealing with senior stakeholders. I learned quite a lot from some of my colleagues and managers there, because it can get quite political.
You have to play the game a little bit in terms of understanding what people are saying, how they want to be heard, and how to take that into consideration.
Listen to them, and make sure they feel like they’ve been listened to. Then you also have to come in with your opinion of what you think is right, and try to say it in the best way possible.
Ben: Are there any practical ways to make yourself heard, and make sure that people are listening to you?
Kevin: It depends on your communication style. I like to think I’m a good listener, and people will take your opinion a bit more favourably if they feel that they’ve been listened to first, then you speak second. That’s my personal approach, and other people might have an approach that works for them, but that’s what I do.
I try to understand people’s concerns, then when I speak, embed what they’ve said to me and echo it back to them. Then they might take my opinion a bit better because they’ve felt that it’s not just my idea, it’s their idea as well.
It’s always a collaboration, so if there’s a feeling of both people working together, I think it’s always more natural and easier.
Which clients/businesses work well for solo SEO?
Ben: What do you look for in the clients that you work with?
Kevin: From the start of the conversation, you can gain an insight into how that working relationship might develop.
From the first request, are they sending across Google Search Console and Analytics in a good response time? See if they’re going to fulfil that request quite quickly, or if it’s going to take weeks for them to give you access to basic analytics tools.
You can gauge how responsive they are, because you need the client to be responsive for SEO. If they’re slow with that, they’ll be slow with pretty much everything else, so that’s always a good indicator.
Ben: Are there any other factors that come into it in terms of the client’s resource? At Experian, you’ve said that a single web project could take four years, but you probably don’t have that length of time to prove yourself to a client, so when it comes to development resources or content resource for your recommendations, is there a baseline that you need to reach as a solo SEO to make sure your recommendations actually lead to results?
Kevin: Absolutely – it all comes back to honesty. There have been times where I can’t really add much value because other things aren’t in place; you don’t have a developer, or you don’t have content resource in-house, and you don’t have the budget to outsource it.
There are projects where it’s easier to do SEO. It helps if they’ve got a development team, or resources available for our content. One particular client I have is really happy because I was honest with them from the start, and said that they need to write a lot of content and that I need help from the whole team. They understood that from the get-go, so it was easy to get buy-in because it came from the top and got fed to everyone in the organisation.
Ben: What tools do you prioritise that make your life easier, now that it’s all your own money and not a company’s budget you’re spending?
Kevin: The honest answer is that I prioritise what I’m going to use day to day. Semrush is a tool I’ve used throughout my career. I’ve used Ahrefs before, but I just prefer Semrush. And Screaming Frog, of course, those are the essentials.
I’m also using a new tool called Frase, which helps with content briefing. It’s got AI built into it, so it helps you develop briefs a lot quicker. I’m experimenting with that, and finding it very useful. And then I use Trello for project management.
I pretty much trial tools first to try them out, because some of these tools say something and then I figure out that they’re not quite what the marketing material said!
See more from Kevin
Join the conversation
To hear all of the content from Kevin’s interview, listen to the podcast episode at the top of this page, or find the RankUp SEO Podcast channel on your podcast app of choice.
If you’re interested in being a guest on the show, please reach out to us on Twitter or via email.