Malte Landwehr is VP of Product at Searchmetrics and has a long career in SEO. In this interview, we talk about what SEOs can learn from product marketing, Searchmetrics’ product strategy, and some of Malte’s crazy stories.
Interview with Malte Landwehr: What SEOs can learn from Product Development
0:00 How Germans show their love by forcing foreigners to drink Club-Mate.
3:50 How Malte transitioned from one of the most respected German SEOs to product development
9:20 The SEO agency Malte started that lead to a boot camp in Greece.
21:11 Malte’s fake Twitter accounts
26:09 Why Malte wanted to “get out of SEO”
28:36 Being data-informed vs. data-driven
31:47 How Malte and his team came up with a product strategy for Searchmetrics
34:55 The tools Malte and his toom use on a day-to-day basis
41:00 What Malte learned from SEO for Product?
46:55 How SEOs can better collaborate with Product
51:02 Why SEO should be under Product and not Marketing
54:25 How Product can better collaborate with SEO
56:12 What Malte has changed his mind about in terms of SEO now that he’s “out”
Kevin: I love Tim Ferriss icebreaker, “what did you have for breakfast?”. So what was your breakfast, Malte?
Malte: I don’t do breakfast.
Kevin: Intermittent Fasting!?
Malte: No. I always have a chai latte. I like tea with a lot of milk and sugar for “breakfast”. So it’s definitely not fasting that I’m doing. And if I didn’t have anything in the evening I sometimes eat a little bit breakfast, but on a normal day I don’t eat.
Kevin: Interesting, so you’re fully on trend, is what you’re saying. So, for those of you who don’t see the video at the moment, Malte is drinking a Club-Mate which is a thing in Berlin.
Kevin: And I’m having a coffee, so we’re both full of caffeine and ready to rock this conversation. So what’s the thing with Club-Mate in Berlin? How would you explain that to an American or to a foreigner?
Malte: I’ve actually tried many times to get all my US colleagues hooked on it and from time to time we bring a case to our US office. I always describe it as something you don’t like, but after I force you a couple of times to drink it you will start to like it.
Kevin: That’s how German’s show their love. They force you to do something until you like it.
Malte: I mean it’s the same with beer. Almost nobody likes the first beer that they drink or coffee. Because it’s like bitter and then many people don’t like it. It’s the same with Mate.
Malte: The first couple of ones are really not that great but at some point you are hooked.
Kevin: It’s not my drug. Yeah. I think you’re actually right. I did my first beer and I was born and raised in a beer region in Germany in the very western part where they make Bitburger.
Kevin: I was actually… I grew up five minutes from Bitburger. So, heavily influenced by beer and wine. But I think you see your parents drink beer or wine and then I think that’s what instills that idea of mimicking it and then first time you just don’t like it.
Kevin: You push through it as you said and then you’re on the train and 20 years later you still have way too much coffee ever day.
Malte: Well I don’t do coffee. That’s why I need the mate and the tea.
Kevin: Got it. Why are you not doing coffee?
Malte: I hate the taste of it? I’ve tried like three times and once it was a milk coffee, coffee with a lot of milk and once it was some kind of latte drink with even more milk.
Malte: But I just don’t like the coffee.
Kevin: That’s fair.
Malte: I need the mate.
Kevin: So you’re telling me that you pushed through this desire, this human desire, of mimicking your parents drinking coffee. Do you drink beer?
Malte: Yes, I do. I do.
Kevin: What’s your favorite? What beer guy are you?
Malte: I’m… anything but IPA to be honest.
Kevin: Yeah there’s this whole trending going on here in the Bay Area with microbreweries and they have a ton of IPA’s. But, man… I’m sure there’s some really good beer here.
Kevin: There actually is but a lot of these IPAs are… hoppy, way too hoppy. They need some… like German purity laws for beer brewing here in the US.
Malte: Yeah. I had a couple of good beers in the US from some microbreweries but I forgot the names. I mean, if you’re used to the beer prices in Germany and you go to the US.
Malte: I can just order a cocktail if I want to pay $6 for one beverage.
Kevin: Yeah. It’s still okay man. You pay about 15 or 20 bucks for a glass of wine here in the bay area. For those of you who don’t know, Malte Landwehr is the VP of product at Search Metrics.
Kevin: We’re both from Germany and I’ve been stalking a.k.a. following Malte’s career for a long time. I remember when I started, that was 10 years ago, you were already a major expert in the scene.
Kevin: You were a huge household name. Yeah, you can deny this as much as you want but that’s the reality. You were definitely on the radar and whenever I heard your name people were speaking highly of you.
Kevin: Before we dive deeper into your background… I kind of want to make this episode focused a little bit on how your transition out of SEO… But for people to understand really why that’s important, why that’s so interesting, I actually want to talk about your past in SEO.
Kevin: You started as a blogger. You founded and SEO agency. You were a major expert and I’m curious as of… You don’t have give me the whole spiel but how did you fall into SEO and when did you start thinking about transitioning out of SEO? Let’s start there.
Malte: Okay, so how did I get started? As long as I can remember, I wrote stuff, put it in html and put it on the web. I don’t know, I think I had my first website with 14, obviously nobody ever visited it. I hope there’s no backup of it anywhere.
Malte: Around 16 I had my first interactive website, like a forum, where my friends from school could register and we would plan what to do on the weekend.
Malte: Then people started registering there but it was people whom I didn’t tell the exact URL. So I was confused. How did they find my forum? What’s going on here?
Malte: That’s how I discovered this thing called a log file, where you can see your affairs and then you can find out that they come from Google. So I started searching stuff. “How do people find my website,” on Google. That’s how I discovered picturing and these kinds of concepts.
Malte: I took it from there. At some point I realized if I have traffic I could show them ads and make money but I wasn’t 18. So I dreamt up a tax ID to register with some of these services.
Kevin: You dreamt up a tax ID? So you would get a fake tax ID?
Malte: I Googled one and then I changed a few digits.
Kevin: Wow, now I cannot publish this. We have to cut until here.
Malte: No, no, no. It was more than 15 years ago, it’s totally fine. I never made any serious money when I was 16. Come on, it was only to register there.
Malte: Then I realized that when I write about hotels in my region for some reason I make more money with the ads than when I write about party my friends and I went to.
Malte: Suddenly I was running this regional website for the city I was living in when I had the wrong date for some public attractions. Actually the mayor called me and told me that… It’s true.
Malte: There was a very famous ice skating rink and I had the wrong time slots on my website for when they opened so a whole class of students went there an hour to early and had to wait an hour.
Malte: And they said, but I got the time from the internet, they rank number one, it must be the official website. And the mayor called me and told me to change it. That’s when I realized this SEO stuff, this could go somewhere.
Kevin: That’s interesting it’s like you were like the Batman of that little town and the mayor was calling you saying, “Malte, the city needs you to update the times for this event”.
Malte: It was a little bit like that, yeah.
Kevin: Wow. Already famous. So let’s take a quick step back. How did you… so you said you always enjoyed putting things into HTML and uploading them on the web. How did you get to that point? What instilled that wish?
Malte: I don’t really know. I was a nerdy teenager and liked sitting in front of my computer and trying stuff and when I press a button and then I hit refresh in the other window and it looks different, that was cool.
Kevin: It is cool.
Malte: Yeah. It was not intended to start a career but just like… playing around with the computer. It was important to my Dad that when I have a computer or… we had a family computer when I was 13, that I don’t just play with it.
Malte: That it I learn something so I did.
Kevin: Nice. Really smart. Actually really sounds a lot like my upcoming or how I discovered SEO, was pretty much the same thing right. From computer games and then creating website for our little gaming clan or little gaming group.
Kevin: That was the same thing where I wondered, where are people coming from? It’s interesting how many people kind of fell into SEO and I feel like nowadays we’re a point where maybe somebody…
Kevin: Like where SEO is a bit more prominent and people might actually deliberately learn it. But I think back then, everybody just fell into it like by accident.
Kevin: And then, okay. Fast forward a couple of years you decide to start and SEO agency called SEO Factory. How did you… what was that about?
Malte: So at the point I had properly incorporated on my own because I was finally 18. I was going to University, studying Computer Science, running a couple of more-or-less successful affiliate sites.
Malte: Actually I was invited from some members of the… I lived in Munster to go to University, from members of the “Munster SEO Roundup”, whatever meetup.
Malte: And they are like, “Hey, let’s found and SEO agency,” and I as like, “No, thanks”. I didn’t go to the meeting. And then there was a second meeting and I was again, “No, don’t bother me I want to go to University”.
Malte: The day before the event actually, no the day of the event, a friend of mine whom I’ve known for a while contacted me, like “Hey, are you coming?” I was like, “No, I don’t want to found an SEO agency”.
Malte: But he convinced me to come and we actually had a really great idea. So there was this shortage of SEO’s back then. We said, “Okay, this is what we’re going to do”.
Malte: We’re going to raise some money. We’re going to found an SEO agency. We’re going to do an internship on Crete for six moths where we rent a whole… like a holiday vacation village.
Malte: Do training with people. Let companies also send some people really like… do a really great SEO Internship or SEO Apprenticeship or however we call it.
Malte: Afterwards we use all these newly trained junior SEO’s to found a really large agency in Germany with offices in the five most important cities and we’re going to offer SEO, PPC and web analytics and let’s do it!
Malte: We had a complete business plan. All the roles were assigned and then there was this financial crisis so all the investors pulled out. Then we said, “You know what, let’s just do it on our own”.
Malte: So we took our own money, most of the experts that were on board said, “No, no, no. If you don’t have investors you are out. You are out”. So, suddenly I was like one of the only experts left.
Malte: And I was, I think Head of SEO or something, was my title and I was 22 at that time right. I was still mainly going to University and I also didn’t want to take a break from University.
Malte: But we did… we recruited I think 35 interns, went with them to Crete for 3 months, did this SEO internship and had some really good speakers like ex-Google people. People from all the large affiliate websites, affiliate networks.
Malte: Actually some of these interns nowadays they work at some of the largest SEO agencies in Germany. One of them works at Google. Thanks to this I learned a lot about business at a very young age.
Malte: And I also built a huge network of people who I can say, “Oh, yeah, that person learned SEO from me 10 years ago”.
Malte: But we founded the whole thing with six people. I was the youngest at 22. The oldest was I think 45 and we were at very different points in our lives. Some of us said I need this to be my full-time paying job.
Malte: I was like, “I make money with my affiliate website, I’m a student, I don’t have any cost. I don’t need money from this or the money we make we should reinvest in the company”.
Malte: So we had very different opinions. So after like half a year the whole thing broke apart. We couldn’t salvage the rest, more or less. It turned into an in house SEO team for the companies for one of the founders who had a vacation rental company.
Malte: He sold that business, he was fine. I got the money back that I invested but I made zero profit out of the whole thing. I just learned a ton.
Malte: Especially about the separation about business and friendship. Just because people say they’re going to do X doesn’t mean they’re going to do X. And, yeah, it’s become… I had to grow up business wise very quickly.
Malte: Before that I was completely oblivious to most of the business aspects of SEO. I was spending, I don’t know, five dollars a month hosting and was making $500 per website and I was happy and I thought I’d figured it all out.
Malte: But turns out I was just a stupid 22-year-old who still needed to learn a lot.
Kevin: That doesn’t sound so stupid to me but it’s funny because I know that… I know a couple of those people that came out of this trip to Crete, which is on Greece for those who don’t know. Beautiful island.
Kevin: I also know some of the crazy stories that happened there, but we’re not going to go into those. I know some, I’m sure there’s so much more.
Kevin: Anyway I’m going to leave that open and never close this in the show.
Malte: I know some of the people you know.
Kevin: It’s kind of a… it’s fascinating though because so many people that helped me come up in SEO back then in Germany were in this program or did this kind of internship on Crete.
Kevin: So it’s kind of all connected in Germany, which I feel like, still is the case. Partially probably because Germany is a bit smaller than the US but it’s…
Kevin: Other than most things in Germany, it’s not that fragmented, right? You have the SEO campaigns which is this SEO conference that most people go to every year in Berlin, right?
Kevin: So I don’t think… I think there’s so many touch points for the SEO, seem to have… where they frequently come together and so many share things in the past so that’s kind of fascinating.
Kevin: But you said that a couple of the things you learned are that… only because people are going to… or saying they’re going to do X, they’re not going to do X. Can you elaborate on that?
Kevin: You can keep it generic you know. What did you learn about people doing what they say and how does that help in your job nowadays?
Malte: I don’t know if it helps in my job nowadays but with six founders and a seventh person saying, “Oh, yeah, yeah. I’m going to invest soon. I’m going to join as a founder.”
Malte: I was just very naïve and thought, “Okay, they said they’re going to invest 100,000 so next month we’re going to have 100,000 more”. Then it doesn’t happen and it doesn’t happen the next month and it doesn’t happen the next month.
Malte: Suddenly they’re like, “Oh, my wife is pregnant again. I don’t want to start a new venture”. Right? Or… Which is fine, people’s personal circumstances change and everything and I’m still friends with that person.
Malte: But there were also people with whom I would never again work together and people do weird things when they think they’re… somebody attacked their “work ego”.
Malte: Especially when it’s about money. You can put friendship down the drain.
Kevin: Oh, totally. And I feel like so many people have a story to tell about that. It’s a major topic that probably deserves its own kind of show or podcast or video or whatever.
Kevin: It’s a really good learning especially when you make it early on I feel like. So, you being 22, going through all of that, has probably majorly benefited you moving forward with your career.
Kevin: Do you feel like… Go ahead, please.
Malte: I would also say it made me more humble. I realized that only because I had “figured out” this SEO thing and can rank my own affiliate sites, that doesn’t mean that I’m necessarily great at teaching 30 people how to do SEO.
Malte: Which was a huge learning for me. Especially being involved with some of our customers and prospects made me realize that most of the SEO challenges that people have the business world are actually completely unrelated to whether the keyword must be in H1 or H2.
Malte: But the problem is more like, budget, headcounts, priority, intern communications, these kinds of things. Where, to be honest, I was really able to help back then.
Malte: Nowadays, if I were to do SEO consulting ever again, I would probably allocate 90% of my effort to that kind of thing and only 10% would be actual technical audit and implementation.
Malte: Because in the end it’s just about getting the basics right, and the hard work is in stakeholder alignment and strategy and stuff.
Kevin: Preach. You couldn’t say it any better. Totally speaks my mind here. To me, SEO is majorly or mainly an execution problem and not a knowledge problem.
Kevin: So I think you’re 100% on the money. It always cracks me up when people ask for the latest hack and trick and something… Deep down you know, having been through this, that the biggest needle mover is just… more resources, more stakeholder alignment, more back up, right? Eventualization of SEO.
Kevin: Those are… that’s what really moves into it, right?
Kevin: Fast forward again. So you’ve been through this whole SEO journey, had some… learned a lot about the business side of it as well. Established yourself as an expert.
Kevin: When was the point when you said to yourself, “Maybe I should step out of SEO?” And I think this is kind of… this is the key here of this whole conversation between you and I.
Kevin: Because I feel like every SEO that has some skin under their nails, right? That has some experience, regularly plays with the thought of getting out of SEO.
Kevin: And I think, this is just my theory, that it is because SEO is such a meta lay on top of other things. It’s not really its own type of thing. It’s something that you put on top of other things.
Kevin: So, a lot of people who deal with SEO, who are really doing SEO, they come to a point where they realize that they could do something else and still take their SEO learnings with them and establish…
Kevin: You know like, become an expert in something else that is a bit more tangible. Unless there’s kind of… this, instead of guidelines and rules.
Kevin: So, what was the point for you when you told yourself, “Man, I want to develop further, I want to step out of this”?
Malte: Actually for me it was more like I was interested in something else and then afterwards I found tons of arguments why it’s the right thing. Even when I was doing only SEO, I was always interested in trying out new things.
Malte: I mean I was… actually I was not just doing SEO, I was also doing lots of social media and was real and was fake accounts on Twitter.
Malte: And… Oh, you don’t know my fake account stories?
Kevin: I have no idea but I have a strong feeling that I want to know right now.
Malte: Do you know the show in Germany, Germany’s Next Top Model?
Malte: What’s the English name?
Kevin: Honestly I think they… it’s like Franchise I think. I think they have something similar [crosstalk 00:21:28] in the US and Great Britain.
Malte: Yeah. So, I was that Twitter account and I was-
Kevin: Wait, wait. You were the Twitter account for Germany’s Next Top Model?
Malte: Yeah @GNTM, I just registered it. And their-
Kevin: Wait, wait, wait. You saw that this show was coming and then you were like, “Oh, those fools are going to miss registering the Twitter account”?
Malte: Oh, no, no. It was already in the second season or something and the account was still free. So I registered it and Heidi Klum, the host, she retweeted it, all the TV shows retweeted it.
Malte: Some newspapers referenced it. Like, actually there’s an employee at the TV show who wrote in the note… I don’t know what it’s called. When they print in on paper that you read the TV Program.
Malte: I don’t know whoever still uses it. But in the official notes there was, “You can also follow the show along on the Twitter account”.
Malte: When they show one awards, the agency Scholtz & Friends, one of the most well known agencies in Germany, they mentioned the account as having won the award.
Malte: It was hilarious. I had a lot of fun. And I actually… I set up a system so that multiple people could access the account at the same time without knowing the password.
Malte: So I had a group of three female friends they would always watch the show together and drink champagne and I gave them access this account to live tweet during the show. It was magic.
Malte: You wrote a tweet and in less than one minute, you had like a hundred retweets, mentions and likes because all the fans watching it were waiting for things from “Official” account.
Malte: I had a lot of fun. I also had all the Twitter accounts for all the soccer clocks in the first and second Bundesliga. Had up to, I think, 20,000 followers per account.
Malte: I had a lot of fun back then. I also had the Google Webmaster Blog account. I lost it after I tweeted an affiliate link to a link seller.
Kevin: That is a crazy story. Another one of those crazy stories man. I feel like we’ve got to do more shows together.
Kevin: So, how did you monetize this whole Twitter… I don’t want to call it a scheme. It’s not technically a scheme, but…
Malte: A lot was just for fun, which is mainly my point. Most of these things… when I could prove, “Okay, that’s a way to make money and I have fun”. I stop doing it and did the next thing because I was young, I didn’t need the money.
Malte: I didn’t think about getting rich quick and investing it. Nowadays, I think, how stupid. Should’ve made the money, buy some stocks and now I would be well off.
Malte: I was… I like to challenge myself and for the soccer accounts, Amazon affiliate links. Whenever there was good weather, because for every soccer clock there is a Barbecue set in their colors.
Malte: And I would Twitter the affiliate link to Amazon.
Malte: Then there was this feature in Google that they would show the latest tweets in the sub when there was Query Deserves Freshness thing going on, so I tweeted that and… yeah, had some fun.
Kevin: Nice. Oh man.
Kevin: No, no, that was a great story. Thanks for telling that, that was amazing. It’s funny how many shady things come to my mind, when I think of having such power.
Kevin: I think it’s very honorable that you just did this for fun and you were like, “Hey, I’m trying this out”. Because my brain really goes to, “Hmm, what can I do with any redirects and cookie drops and all these kind of things”, but kudos. Kudos for not exploiting all the 13-year-old girls who were watching Germany’s Next Top Model.
Malte: I was also the Link Czar on Twitter if you remember that one.
Kevin: Yes. I do remember that one actually.
Kevin: You have a crazy Twitter history. Are all these accounts banned now? Or what did you do with those accounts?
Malte: So, some of them I sold and a lot of them I renamed. I had a source that told me, “Hey, somebody’s aware that there’s a lot of fake accounts in Germany, maybe watch it”.
Malte: And I actually lost some of the soccer accounts and then I renamed all of them to weird topics where I had random affiliate website. And I also have a folder full of screenshots from 10 years ago where people then complained.
Malte: Like, “Why am I following this weird account? I think somebody sold their soccer account, this is so weird”. Because I had weird affiliate websites. Don’t want to mention the topics but… lots of stuff.
Malte: Anyways, we were coming to, I think, why I wanted to get out of SEO. I felt like I had done it all and it was all fun but I also didn’t see myself doing the same thing over and over and over and over again. I needed a challenge.
Malte: For a time, I thought, “Hey, University is going to be that challenge”. So I started a PhD in Computer Science. I did some nice research projects for Vodafone, IBM, Microsoft.
Malte: The University has really great partners. I did some interesting Twitter scraping and social network analysis things. I once presented it to the University and the first question was if the CIA had already approached us.
Malte: Because we were… One of the systems I built, based on Facebook groups and friendships, I could tell you which students were falling behind in the semester.
Kevin: That’s even worse that Cambridge Analytica, you know that?
Malte: And I manually de anonymized the network. But if the University had given me access to register of all students and their subjects, I could have had some more fun. But they said no for ethical reasons.
Kevin: They were smart.
Malte: Yeah, but then I realized that academia is not for me. I like to analyze date in that and not do it for profit but to come up with insights.
Malte: But a lot of it was just about getting the data for… getting the grant, getting the research money, then doing like the bare minimum and using your time efficiently on other things.
Malte: That’s not me. If I do something, I do it all in. I don’t start 15 projects just to finance 10 other people who work at the University.
Kevin: Sorry for this little drop off. Skype just left us and crashed in the middle of our conversation. I’m sure you said something really smart and really intriguing so… Thanks for nothing Skype. Do you remember where we left off?
Malte: Yeah, you said a couple of smart things about how to be a… data informed instead of data driven. And I was just about to say that I think the same thing.
Malte: You should look at a lot of data, and the different kinds of data. Like, tracking what people actually do in your product but also talking to them. Understanding their needs.
Malte: And I think if you’re completely data driven you will always only build a small increment, and another small increment, and another small increment.
Malte: But for the big improvements you actually need to take a step back, look at what actually are the problems that my users are trying to solve. Which often is not what they want.
Malte: What users want is to be able to save clicks in their workflow. What you can actually do for them is automating the work flow. But nobody thinks about that.
Malte: I mean there’s the saying from Henry Ford, “If I had asked my clients what they want, they would have said faster horses.” Instead, he built cars.
Malte: And I think that’s very much the reality. For the big stuff you need to develop a really deep understanding of your users, or your target users, which might not even be your current users. And then just build.
Malte: And if you 100% believe that your vision is right you can be like Apple and you can decide, “What’s Flash? I hate it, I will not support it”. You can say, “What’s a jack for the speaker? I hate it, I will not support it”.
Malte: I mean they were right in both things, so now a few year later, everybody else also stops supporting Flash. Samsung just released a first line of smart phones without a headphone jack.
Malte: So Apple was right in what they said but I think very few Brands manage again and again and again and again to be right. It’s a very rare thing.
Malte: You need to be really visionary to pull that off. And that’s where, then it makes sense to be more data informed and listening more to people and understanding their needs and understanding their problems.
Kevin: Yeah, absolutely right. So the question that I immediately ask myself, when you mentioned that is, how do you get better at creating that vision? How do you feed your gut instinct or your gut feeling to create a great product.
Kevin: There has to be some stuff that you do on a regular basis that helps you get there.
Malte: It’s interesting we actually just went through an exercise of defining our product strategy. So a little bit of background maybe, in the past it was driven by the founder of this company Marcus Tober.
Malte: But he switched to a more non-daily business role, just like Chief Innovation Officer. So I know in my role as VP Product, and many other people have stepped up and taking on part of his responsibilities.
Malte: And one of the things we did together was coming up with a product strategy for the next three to five years. I try to say for the next five years and it’s less scary what we want to do.
Malte: But we use two different approaches. One is, we used a canvas approach. So there are… There is like 15 different canvasses for ideas, for features, for businesses.
Malte: We just pick one and we filled it out, I would say 60 times, with different ideas. I mean, we did this as a group. Then always talked about, “Okay, what’s a good idea here?”.
Malte: Looking and then of course, looked at our current financials and the desire where we want to be and we threw away a lot of ideas. But there were also a lot of things we said, “Hey, yeah, let’s do this try this”.
Malte: And that helped us a lot to find the right direction and whenever there was an area where we thought, “Hey, really not sure what we need to do here”.
Malte: “You do 10 canvasses, you do 10 canvasses, let’s meet next week”.
Malte: And we actually did it. We spent a lot of management attention on it up to the CEO and it really paid off. It helped us a lot to define what we want to do.
Malte: And the parallel, we did another thing. Like a framework from some X Mackenzie consultants about analyzing strengths and weaknesses of a company. And basically that way was these bottom up canvas approach and the top down model from the Mackenzie guys.
Malte: We kind of found our vision and our strategy and what we want to do. We also had some external experts provide their take on what are the current and future trends on SEO and content marketing.
Malte: We ask our internal experts, like myself, what do we see as the future trends and combine all of that.
Malte: It took us half a year but actually it’s a Monday right now and this week there’s a call to a company to reveal it internally to everyone, what-
Kevin: You can reveal it to us, I’m not going to publish before you-
Malte: Ah, no. I’m not.
Kevin: No, totally kidding. On a serious note, I think this is actually freaking hard. Vision, strategy, is so hard which is probably why so may people talk about tactics because it’s so much more tangible.
Kevin: I found myself in a similar spot where I now am in a much more strategic position and had to come up with a vision for my teams.
Kevin: It sounds so easy in theory or it looks so easy in theory, right? Like, yeah, just imagine some scenario in the future and then describe it. It’s like yeah… No. It’s not actually, that’s not enough, right?
Kevin: I totally understand why it took you half a year to come up with that. It’s a really hard, hard thing to do. Not only that but this vision has to be robust right? It’s going to define the road map for the next three to five years so…
Kevin: You can’t just dream something up, you have to actually think it all the way though. I personally love… I find this very intriguing. What helps you…
Kevin: So I’m curious in your day-to-day work and routine, what are some of the tools that you use in your role as VP of Product and what are maybe some of the tools you are still missing or where you find work arounds?
Malte: You mean software tools or processes?
Kevin: Both, both.
Malte: So software wise, Jira and Confluence, as a former Atlassian guy you might appreciate that.
Malte: NO, seriously that’s… they are perfect for what they need to do. Especially documenting things in confluence. Even little things, for everybody it seems like we know what we do, how we do it.
Malte: But like we… last month, this month, we are onboarding a lot of new people and product and development. And it’s so helpful if you just write down for each engineering team, how do they do the rate or how do they do the planning 1? How do they do planning 2?
Malte: Do they even do planning 1 and planning 2? How do they do grooming? Just having it all written down, it makes it so easy to onboard new employee’s.
Malte: Like we had three changes on the product management team and I ended up temporarily being a product owner actually for springs for one team which I’m normally now.
Malte: But since everything was written down it was so easy. We started the meeting and in theory nobody of us would have needed to know anything about how this team grooming is done.
Malte: We look at the confluence for this team, “Ah, this is how we do it, okay let’s do it”. And it’s so helpful for new people, it’s so helpful for people who switch between teams or people who are part of multiple teams.
Malte: Because they have more like an architect or consultant role. Super helpful for product managers who do like, stepping in when somebody is sick or on vacation. That’s super, super helpful.
Malte: Of course, Jira for tracking ethics and everything. Visualizing a road map is, I think, super important. And then also sharing this road map internally with everyone in the company is very important.
Malte: They’re especially making it clear for the people who are not part of product or development. What part of the road map is like properly groomed and planned out and what is just like a space holder bar, a place holder bar that could also end up being three times a long but could also end up being a lot shorter.
Malte: When you do that, I think that’s super helpful. We do it by giving some key stakeholders access to our road map permanently. We also do quarterly internal roadmap meetings where we always present, “This is what we want to do in the next three months”.
Malte: We already show some click dummies, some concepts. Also show what we are doing on the technical side. We often have to do work that doesn’t end up being visible in the product but it’s super important.
Malte: Because there are some databases that we use to their limits and yeah. I mean that’s what happens when you deal with big data, right? If you want to change something, you’re like, “Okay how much does this… how much will… how long will this take?”
Malte: “Oh, transferring this data to the new database will take three months.”
Malte: Like, okay, interesting.
Kevin: Yes, yes. I remember that at Search Metrics and also Search Metrics has insane databases and insane historical data. Probably some of the best in the game for sure.
Kevin: I remember some of these conversations. I remember doing some of the ranking factor studies back in the days and how much data there was.
Kevin: That is a major implication that I think a lot of people from the outside don’t appreciate or are not aware of right?
Kevin: They’re like, ‘Oh, why don’t just… can’t you just change those feature?” It’s like, “There’s a ton of stuff attached to this, it doesn’t go that far or what well”.
Kevin: But also love how you mention confluence because that was actually one of the biggest… I wouldn’t even call it a tip but, one of the best things I did.
Kevin: At Atlassian, I saw how when confluence or you can call it an internal Wiki or whatever you want to attach to it. Doesn’t have to be confluence itself but it would have this kind of digital brain incorporated in the company and what that can do.
Kevin: At Atlassian you were able to read block posts from the founder from 15 years ago, right? There’s so many benefits that it would take me probably a whole day just to through all of them.
Kevin: Every company should do this. Every company should have something like a confluence or a way to document things and communicate.
Kevin: Just going back and understanding how the company grew and what the mindset was back then, there’s so, so much you can learn from this. That’s one of the first things that I did actually too, was bring something like that in, make people document.
Kevin: Make people write things down. Because not only do you think about things more and more in depth when you write them down. You also internalize them, so there’s this saying that I read somewhere that said, writing something down is like saying it out loud seven times or something like that.
Kevin: Just in terms of how well you’re able to memorize it. Then also, it’s clear communication. That’s what I love about it. Communication is so hard and if SEO means… or as many about getting things done then…
Kevin: It’s also a lot about communicating clearly which is not as easy as it sounds. Those are just one of the reasons for why I love an internal kind of Wiki that forces you to document and put things into writing.
Kevin: One question that came up is, what did you learn about… what did you take away from your time as an actual SEO practitioner for your job nowadays? Obviously you’re also part of the target group because you are an SEO expert. So it makes perfect sense for you to take over product.
Kevin: But what did you learn in terms of the way you think and the way you approach things from SEO for a product?
Malte: The way I did SEO as always looking at data and trying to come up with something. Either finding like, “secret ranking factor” in industry or just scraping some data and presenting it in a different way for content marketing purposes.
Malte: I also had custom plug-ins developed for my worker sites. And of course there I was basically doing product management. I was writing specification, finding a cheap developer in Indonesia, sending to him what I want.
Malte: He would get back to me. I would intuitively provide feedback. I wouldn’t say I did any kind of Kanban or Scrum but I basically wrote some kind of “user story” right.
Malte: That’s actually what may SEO’s do, like technical SEO’s. That’s the perfect foundation for product management in my experience. I actually have one product manager on my team who used to be an SEO and in the interview it turned out he was already familiar with, for example, writing Jira tickets.
Malte: Because that’s what he did as a technical SEO right? He would crawl the website, look at some things and then make recommendations how to change most of the timed template or the internal links.
Malte: That is what part of the product management is all about.
Kevin: Man, I can hear a thousand technical SEO’s in front of the computer shouting, “Hoorah, he’s saying it, he’s admitting it, he’s right!”
Kevin: I think you totally are, 100%. That feeds my kind of theory, that SEO is… or it’s not my theory right, but that kind of feeds that fact that SEO’s so much about product.
Malte: But I’ve also encountered complete opposites. One of the smartest SEO’s I know, I will not say her name, she said she doesn’t want to get into product because she tried it and she can’t handle the stress of the developers coming back, pushing back on the tickets.
Malte: Having questions for clarification and… that’s also part of being part of a product manager. You need to be able to… You need to be a story teller like… and an educator.
Malte: You need to convince people why your tickets are important or why the whole epic you’re working on is important. And when people have questions you need to answer them.
Malte: When people have… assume that they have knowledge and are subject matter experts but are actually not, then of course it’s the hardest challenge, right?
Malte: Because then you need to, in a friendly manner, tell them that you know better, or the X experts you ask know better and this is how it should be and this is how it works.
Malte: Of course that’s a challenge for many people. Of course, I also believe many, many SEO’s should switch into product long term. I’ve actually seen some really good examples of that happening.
Malte: It’s not for everyone.
Kevin: No, I’m sure it’s not. You’re absolutely right. I love how you pointed out that good product people have to be story tellers. I 100% believe this.
Kevin: I actually believe everybody has to be a good story teller. It’s probably a part of sales, right? To be not too philosophical, I think there is a very tangible benefit of actually dissecting what story telling is for product people.
Kevin: Not even only internally but also externally when you market the product. That’s where I see the lines between marketing and product blurring. That’s where I see there’s a strong case for growth, but anyway…
Kevin: Don’t want to drink into all of these avenues. A lot of the things that you said are actually much deeper and there’s a lot more to them than we can handle in this conversation but…
Kevin: Maybe we can quickly touch up on stories. What is your kind of… We don’t have to take this super far, but what is your kind of high level frame work for telling stories? How do you approach this or how do you tell a good story in product?
Malte: Honestly I don’t have a framework. Since I’m also an ex subject matter expert and since I’m used to telling stories, and I’m used to using data for my assumptions… It just comes naturally to me.
Malte: Which is a problem because it means I don’t have a process that I can easily analyze and optimize or teach to other. I’ve never really thought about it a lot.
Malte: Normally I just tell people, “Okay, look, here’s the problem, here’s how I think we should solve it, please keep in mind to never take my word for the truth, here’s a couple of internet stakeholders to talk to, please verify this with five customers, go”.
Malte: I actually have the reverse problem, I sometimes need to tell people to not just do something because the idea came from me. I actually stopped recording bugs in my name because then for reason the ticket is super high priority even though I was just like, “No, I meant when we have time, let’s do it, it’s not locking a customer, it’s not a priority”.
Malte: To answer the… I can’t really answer the question how to best tell stories and how to approach it with a framework.
Kevin: Sure. I’m pretty convinced that you probably have one you just can’t point it out but probably you internalized it over all these years and it’s there subconsciously.
Kevin: I’m pretty sure you have an approach but… Anyway. You’re on the other side. A lot of SEO’s are really curious about what they can learn from you about better working with products.
Kevin: What should… what is the thing that SEO’s don’t know that you can tell from the other side that they should be aware of?
Malte: How SEO’s can work together with product better?
Kevin: Yeah. How do they fail on a continuous basis?
Malte: Take your product manager out to lunch. Step number one. Step number two is actually join planning and grooming.
Malte: Unless the product manager knows SEO themselves, they will not be able to tell the engineers all the details in the grooming. So you need to be there, you need to exactly explain what should be done.
Malte: Also, be there in the planning because all the engineers ask, “Why is this important? Why should we do it this print”, and you are not there… Maybe the project manager will fight for your ticket, maybe not.
Malte: I think that’s the most important thing to become part of the sprint. The development team needs to accept it if you enforce this you have a problem.
Malte: Then, definitely have buy-in from Chief Product Officer, Chief Technology Officer or VP Engineering, VP Product. These kinds of people, because if you don’t have the buy in, if you are just like, “Ah, that’s one of the guys who are sent by marketing, we’re going to ignore him”. You have already lost.
Kevin: You could do it like the Club-Mate in the beginning. You force them as long as they… until they like it.
Malte: That’s… not how I would recommend anybody behave in the business world.
Kevin: Come on.
Malte: I’m sure there are companies where you can do it but that’s not my recommendation.
Kevin: It’s worth a try. No, I’m just kidding. Totally kidding. I agree. It’s a really good point, good learning, good lesson for myself. So more of the meetings.
Malte: Also, important is to understand how user stories are written in that company, because everybody has a different style. To just write your tickets just in that way, not come up with your own definition of what a user story should look like.
Malte: Look at how they do it normally for the other technical topics and if you have to decide between providing too much or too little context, always go for too much.
Malte: Even if it’s a super simple thing and you think the user story in itself makes it obvious what the acceptance criteria is. Click on acceptance criteria and write down what the acceptance criteria is.
Malte: So that it’s really super clear for everyone who, even when you are not in the room and they read it, they understand what is meant. I think that also ties back nicely to how to document knowledge inside of the company.
Malte: I’ve also realized that when you write meeting notes in every meeting, which is super helpful, one of the important things to think about. Somebody who doesn’t have any context and reads this, do they get it or not?
Malte: That’s what you should also think about when you write your tickets. Don’t assume that somebody is working on this with whom you had the meeting the week before explaining for two hours what you want to do.
Malte: Assume that somebody gets this, it’s completely out of context, they don’t know about your new… I don’t know, tagging strategy and the new framework for information architecture.
Malte: They just have the task to put the link to the five most related texts or something and make it clear that they can grasp what they need to do on the level of the task. The level of the ticket.
Malte: That’s the best advice I can give.
Kevin: Yeah, totally. Comes back to clear communication right? But it’s… I love that you point out that people should think about the context, or providing all the context.
Kevin: Most of the time it’s not that hard and you don’t have to write a ton. It’s just catching people from zero right?
Kevin: Basically introducing them from scratch to a certain situation. That’s super helpful and I think there’s an ongoing challenge I see is the conversation between SEO and product.
Kevin: Because in most cases SEO is under marketing which I think is a mistake for most companies. Especially when they scale through SEO, right?
Kevin: Any sort of marketplace or e-commerce site, social network, publishers. Any site.
Malte: If SEO was one of your gross channels and it’s not a gross channel because you are a large brand that is using an under serve market. SEO absolutely should be in product management.
Malte: There should be product managers for SEO. Maybe you also have a content SEO team in marketing that works with content marketing social media.
Malte: But the tech SEO should be part of product management. I’ve actually seen one company, they are customers so I can’t name the name, but their SEO visibility was flat-lining for like two and a half years.
Malte: The month they moved the SEO team from marketing to product the SEO visibility started to grow.
Kevin: Yeah, because Google knows where the SEO’s are in the organization. No, I’m just kidding.
Malte: No, of course they got, one, two, three… I don’t know how many engineering teams. Funnily enough they spent a lot of their time and resources on improving the user experience of the landing pages that are not ranking well.
Malte: It was not about putting the keyword in the title, it was about, “Oh, we have these 3 million landing pages with really shitty bounce rate, let’s maybe look at the template and improve it”, and that’s what they did.
Kevin: Absolutely. I 100% agree. I think probably one of the best hacks for most companies out there to double their organic traffic is to just give dedicated developer resources to some SEO’s right?
Kevin: Make them a growth team or… in best case, include them in the main product team but even if you just create a growth team with a couple of dedicated resources you can do so much.
Kevin: I know so many SEO’s that if they have their own resources they would kill it. Probably two or three or four X organic traffic.
Kevin: Then reality is that in most companies the product team just asks for some SEO guidelines or just, “Explain SEO to our developers”. It just does not work like that.
Kevin: You can’t just offload a set of rules and guidelines and articles on a product team and make them successful in SEO. You have to have a dedicated person thinking about SEO driving those things forward, testing and iterating.
Kevin: I think also the whole idea of testing becomes more important for SEO, blah, blah blah. There’s so much to say about that.
Kevin: I love that you point this out, documenting, including SEO, under product and then just embracing growth within a product tea. I think it’s also super important.
Kevin: What is something that’s… Because we talk about what SEO’s can learn from product. What is something that… How should I phrase this question?
Kevin: That… you think more product people should kind of… or what have you learned in your time under products that would be really beneficial for other product people to learn in terms of SEO? Without going to SEO tactics, but how can you make product people more successful in collaborating collaborating with SEOs?
Malte: I think if you incentivize them, they will. I think… it’s not that they can’t interact with SEO’s. It’s more like in most places, product is not incentivized to work with SEO, not at all.
Malte: Even if they are, then engineering is not incentivized. For one of our clients whose… need to be careful how I phrase it, not reveal it, whose stock market evaluation is very much tied to the SEO visibility.
Malte: Where we did mainly consulting work and help them fix and SEO issue and their stock price went up similarly to the SEO visibility. And it was actually one of the investors who brought us in.
Malte: Suddenly there was pressure on the CEO, and the CEO put pressure on the CTO. Then it was very easy to get all the SEO stuff done.
Malte: Most product teams that I know… I spend a lot of time meeting other companies in Berlin at meetups or just talking to people to learn how others are doing it.
Malte: SEO rarely comes up in product teams. It’s not on their radar and I don’t think it’s the people who don’t want to do it. It’s that management doesn’t incentivize it. That’s all.
Kevin: Yes. 100%.
Malte: Give them visibility or traffic or revenue from SEO or something as as a KPI and they will figure it out.
Kevin: Totally, totally. Hey, I don’t want to take up your time for way too long. There’s just one or maybe two questions that I have.
Kevin: One of them being, have you changed your mind about something in SEO now that you’re stepped out from being a practitioner mostly?
Malte: I think the one example I gave earlier that I realized SEO success rarely depends on who’s the best SEO. It depends on many, many other things. Like buy in, head counts, budget, etc. etc. Alignment, especially alignment.
Malte: I think that’s the main thing where I changed my mind. Then I would say… 10 years ago I’ve always advocated for, “Oh, yeah use the structure data. Show Google, even better, all the data you have”.
Malte: Nowadays I’m more like, “What’s your long term strategic approach here?” Like Google for jobs right? Do you want to be one of the first movers and get some of the traffic or do you want to delay the point in time where Google makes you redundant.
Malte: I’ve become a lot more strategic in that regard. I would say 10 years ago if you had told me to do SEO for a company I would have crawled a website and said, “Oh, let’s change this, this and this”.
Malte: Nowadays I would say, “Okay, what’s the plan for the quarter? What’s the plan for the year? Which of your business units makes the most… has the best ROI? If you’re selling physical goods. Is there still stuff in storage we need to get rid of?”
Malte: I would look at a lot of different factors that are completely unrelated from SEO before I could even start prioritizing SEO work.
Malte: I also don’t think that I could ever limit myself to SEO again. Because like so many use cases I would be like, “No, no, no if you want to strap in tomorrow we do it with Edwards”.
Malte: We don’t try to rank the landing page tomorrow. We don’t waste time on that. If you’re running a campaign for only two weeks, you’re going to pay for it with Edwards.
Malte: There’s no way we’re going to rank a landing page quickly. These kinds of things, right?
Malte: I could only look at it holistically, including product and marketing, otherwise I would feel like… I would get restless and try to change too many things.
Kevin: I think there is no better note to end on than the last couple of things that you said. There’s so much wisdom in that and I feel, kind of… all these decades of your experience are included in that quote.
Malte: Decades. Dude, I’m 32.
Kevin: Yeah, come on. Yeah, but still. That’s at least a decade. You started your SEO agency ten years ago. One and a half decades almost, let’s call it that.
Kevin: There is so much to gain out of that. Thank you so much for your time Malte. Where can people find you? Where can people follow you and where can they stalk you?
Malte: On LinkedIn and Twitter, just search for my name, my full name and you can find me. If you like mirror selfies you can also follow me on Instagram.
Kevin: I was going to bring that up. I was going to bring that up. What’s the story with mirror selfies?
Malte: I don’t know it just randomly happened. We have this mirror here in the stairwell at Search Metrics and just for fun I started taking pictures and using a lot of fake hashtags.
Malte: Like, outfit of the day, etc. etc. Now it’s just what people expect, so now I just do a mirror selfie everyday.
Kevin: Yeah. That’s how I know you’re alive and well because when I see the mirror selfie [crosstalk 00:59:51] I follow you. One day we’ll take one together or basically the next time that I’m in Berlin.
Malte: That’s a [inaudible 00:59:59] man. Do that, absolutely do that.
Kevin: 100% we’ll record another session in front of the mirror with Club-Mate, how about that?
Malte: Yeah, I’m in.
Kevin: Awesome, now you’re committed. I got this recorded, perfect.
Kevin: I’m absolutely dead serious. People will find out when we do this. Malte thanks so much man. That was super generous of you. I really respect you and everything you did for the SEO community but also sharing your wisdom.
Kevin: Thank you, thank you, very, very, very much. People, go follow Malte. He drops a lot of daily wisdom and selfie mirrors. There’s always value in that. There’s a deeper philosophy that I’m not going to explain.
Malte: People should just follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn where I post the SEO stuff.
Kevin: Now you’ve got to become an Instagram influences. I’m telling you that. I’m going to direct them all over there. Again, thanks for your time. Everybody have a nice day and talk to you soon.
Malte: Thanks, Bye-Bye.