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GLOBAL REMOTE - FIRST TEAM BUILDING: INSIGHTS FROM ALEXANDER REHNBORG

Head of SEO at GetResponse

Discover the secrets of building and managing a successful remote-first team as Harshit Gupta from Wytlabs interviews Alexander Rehnborg, Head of SEO at @getresponse. Dive into their insightful discussion on aligning goals, tracking KPIs, and the strategies that have made his team thrive in the remote work environment. Gain valuable knowledge from this in-depth conversation with a seasoned expert in global team collaboration.

GetResponse, a marketing software company,  largely dominating the SMB space.

 

Alexander Rehnborg
Head of SEO at @getresponse

Hello, everyone, and welcome to another SaaS thought leader interview. My name is Harshit and I’m the Director of Business Alliances at WYTLabs. And I’ve got Alexander with me today, head of SEO for a leading marketing platform, GetResponse, largely dominating the SMB space. A big welcome to you, buddy. I’m so happy to host you today.

Thank you, Harshit. It’s a pleasure.

Let’s start from the very beginning of your journey, man. I would love to know a bit more about you, the place you were raised, what you were like as a young kid, and how you made your way up to your professional journey so far.

From early childhood, I’ve always been a curious child. This was actually told by my mother a few years back. When people asked me what I would like to be, I used to say that I wanted to be a journalist. And at this point, I can’t even remember that that was the case. But yeah, apparently I had that dream. So it was ironic and interesting in a way that I actually ended up pursuing a journalist career. My short background is I was born in Sweden and I was always leaning towards language, but I also like technology and I was going back and forth between these two. At gymnasium, I studied more technical subjects, mathematics, physics, but then at university, I switched over to humanities. I ended up taking a Bachelor in Journalism and I did work a short time, I should say, doing some journalist jobs, mostly at local newspapers. But I discovered it was a hard business. It was hard to get a stable job, a lot of hard work. It was just really challenging to mark up and craft a piece of the market and create a career for yourself there, I would say.

I ended up being a content marketer at a software company in Sweden that produces accounting software. They had long discovered content marketing, but I think they were ahead of the game in the sense that they were employing journalists such as me because they realized that being able to produce content, engage customers, and educate them also led to better sales, better customer retention. At the time, they even had a customer magazine with a real editor and journalists writing it. I got into content marketing that way. When you start with content marketing, you discover SEO, so did I. I was trained by some consultants in the field in Sweden and I became an SEO specialist and worked with that for a number of years and found that that was really interesting. For sure, different from journalism. But if you’re a journalist, you are curious, you like to learn new things all the time. You can quickly acquire pieces of information and turn it into something. And in fact, you have to. When you’re a journalist, you work on a deadline and you go out, you make a story, and when you come back, you have to write something.

That’s it. And you got to have something to give the readers. I think that that translated somehow well into the business of SEO, where one day you wake up, you read a blog post, you realize that something has changed, and people are expecting you to come up with an answer for how you should react. I found that a CEO was an interesting field that combines the curiosity, the creativity of, let’s say, more content or journalistic oriented work, but also the technology part and the facts numbers business. That’s what’s kept me in the game for these years and will continue to do so, I think. It keeps on changing. That’s how I started out. Then I moved to Denmark, and was able to lead an international SEO team there within iGaming. It’s a sports betting casino. We IPO’d at the time, went in the stock market. That was a really challenging but interesting time. I learned a lot of things. The affiliate business is brutal and iGaming is extremely competitive.

 

For sure. It’s a very different niche altogether.

Yes! It’s a very different niche. It’s like a world of its own when you step into it. It’s like most businesses. But iGaming has its own conferences. You have Malta as the… How to describe it? It’s like a capital of iGamers, really, who come there and work. In one sense, they even have their own country if you want to look at it that way. I learned a lot there. Then I moved to Poland here for GetResponse, a marketing software company, back to SaaS again, I would say. Full 360.

Brilliant, man. For your love for PR, is digital PR still part of your big part of your SEO strategy? Is it something very used to, I would say, a tactic, or you don’t use it much now?

It is a big part of the tactic. I think it has to do with partly the way that outreach and building connections today within SEO works. You can see if we’re talking about link building methods like guest posting, huge inflation on this market. Every single day, probably most of us receive spam about that. It gives you an idea that this is now already being overused to a large extent. So it’s difficult to create long term qualitative relations with other people in your same industry. And that means also that you need to add value to the market. Pr is one such strategy. But also when you talk about our core business, email marketing, market automation, which is the core of our software, it comes down to numbers a lot. We are producing software for other marketeers, and marketeers are persistent about data. So I think telling a captivating story today, getting mentions, maybe somebody will link to you or discuss your brand online. You need to offer something beyond a statement, subjective opinions. You need to have some facts. That’s where digital PR comes in. Creating a story based on data. We sit on a lot of it and producing stories based on that data can generate visibility.

It is important. It’s a lot of money making keywords as well that you’ll be targeting through SEO. A lot of PR sites would be coming up on top. And it’s not just your credit measure, it’s not just about branding, it adds a lot of SEO value as well. You get a lot of free traffic too from those sites. That’s one of the most overlooked strategies by marketers and business owners, but it really does wonders. I’ve seen it work brilliantly well for multiple business niches altogether. I think it’s nowadays a must to include strategy in your marketing altogether. Let’s talk about your current role and responsibilities and get a response of what your day to day activities look like.

 

I’m responsible for a global SEO team working fully remotely first. Primary responsibility is to coach, support, train, lead my colleagues, support them anyway I can with the goal of driving new accounts for the business, the organic search. That’s the core responsibility. I usually say that’s the first one, the business side of things. The second part is we are obsessed about our competitors. We look at the data all the time, we do deep keyword research. It also gives us an idea of what customers are interested in, what they’re happy about, what they’re not happy about. I like to see the SEO team as a way to funnel business insights and business feedback back into the organization. I think that’s true for a lot of inbound marketing teams, but SEO especially, we’re so vulnerable to what other people want and what they demand. If we don’t create something that they like, whether it’s a product or whether it’s the website, which actually the market website is a product in a way. It needs to be maintained properly presented and needs to be properly set up so that Google wants to crawl it in the first place. Our responsibility there is to keep our ears to the ground and listen to what the market says, what the users say, and funnel that back into the organization.

I do a fair bit of that also.

Brilliant, man. I’ve seen your stats a bit, and you’ve been expanding very aggressively globally. Would love to know your approach and how exactly your team… Just like you mentioned, you have a remote post team. How exactly does that hierarchy look like? How do you guys coordinate? What systems do you use? Please tell us a bit more about that.

Sure! We’re a pretty flat hierarchy in the team, partly because we’re not so many. But basically the set up is this, we have, you could say, a global part of the team and a local serving team. The global part of the team serves all of the markets. For instance, we have a senior technical SEO specialist. His job is to make sure that Google crosses our websites, can render it efficiently. Of course, we’re on top of things, but also giving some input into the product itself. That is true for all of the markets that we target. We also have a senior SEO specialist. He’s native Polish, based in Poland, but also supports global markets. Then the strategy is to… We wanted to expand and take charge of primary markets that we have identified. This is where we really need to have a big market presence, like Poland, Germany, Italy, and so forth. And there we would like to have one SEO manager per market. So that’s how I’ve tried to recruit and build out the team. So we have SEO managers that are strongly oriented around content on page, but also outreach and building relations to other websites and companies.

And that’s also fueling our SEO strategy, basically. So somebody who understands the language understands the market. Simple things such as getting grammar right, language flow, which always is better when you write it natively versus having a freelancing translator, for instance, doing it because it’s just not the same. Language is difficult. That’s one of the properties. Simple things like that, but also down to making a blog so we can get non-branded traffic in, looking over the product content, how we should position and present the features in Italy versus Poland, for instance. If you just take, let’s say, Poland and Germany, completely different ways of talking about the product. If you look at product marketing, what type of fact convinces people? That difference between the markets. Who’s going to have knowledge about that? Well, somebody who knows the language in the market and who does research, perhaps. Yes, that’s basically how the team is created. Then we have a small sub team emerging, especially around the Asian market market. Yes, I’m the person responsible for the English speaking markets where the United States is our biggest one. I’m also managing an SEO manager in Vietnam. It’s a new experimental place for us, but it’s among the toughest countries for us to deliver revenue over time.

We see big growth there and we see big possibilities.

I think a lot of SaaS companies do have a support team setting, maybe in some South Asian countries, for the fact that it helps them reduce their operational cost to a lot of extent. That’s one of the biggest benefits that I see. It might not be true that they are serving that specific market. That’s a global support team setting out in South Asia. That’s there, but that’s brilliant. How do you go about building a remote first team altogether? What exactly goes into the planning and then maybe planning a structure? I’m sure there must be multiple people working for a common goal there. How do you think about that?

That definitely needs to be broken down into different sections. But the first one is, I think, the viability of the market. If you take Vietnam, for example, we need to do some market research. Some of the basic criteria that I had before we invested there was, what’s the revenue like today? Is it positive? Does it represent a substantial part of our total revenue? We know that actually customers do want to pay for the software there. The second one is that I would like to see some type of market growth historically. The last four or five years, have we seen a steady increase? Because we can see that there’s more and more demand. If so, if yes, then okay, check. Then of course, we need to do some SEO research also. This is a tricky one for, for instance, South Asian markets. In Malaysia, for instance, they have their own language, but English is a very common business language. In India, exactly the same, lots of languages, but English is very common. How do people Google? Do they Google in English or in Malaysia, for instance? This is something we need to know before we go in and we invest resources.

Then it comes down to recruitment, of course, and finding the right person. You’ll make lots of discoveries along the way. I think with us now being remote first, I wanted to have a location agnostic hiring strategy, meaning that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world. If you’re the right person for our team, let’s talk. Of course, that has proved challenging sometimes. How do you send the money to a place in Brazil, for instance, if they don’t accept the local currency? How do tax authorities work in different countries? There’s a lot of things that you need to be prepared as a leader to learn if you’re going to enter, especially for us in Europe. We’re sitting in a small bubble in a sense because the European Union is very integrated. Once you go outside of Europe or the Anglo Saxon countries, it gets much more interesting. Some flexibility here in terms of budget, but also in terms of having patience and really learning how things work. I think that’s something that you shouldn’t underestimate. Yeah, so finding the right person. I think as a hiring manager, you should be involved really from the start and not only let HR do all the work, but you need to also have your fingers in the play and really know that we’re finding the right person.

Since people from different countries have different approaches also in general, I think it’s also important to set up some type of work assignments or similar just so you get a feel for how this person approaches SEO. There are many different ways to do that. Just as one example, how is link building work in Russia, for instance, or in Vietnam? Think of two extremes, very different from here in Europe. That’s something that you need to be aware of also and have an open discussion about that during the recruitment process. Getting your facts right and knowing that the market is viable, they need to find a person that you can trust that rimes with your values and runs with your team.

That’s brilliant, man. Like you mentioned, there’s one very good point. There are a lot of ways to skin a cap. You hire a person, say, in Malaysia, and the approach will be entirely different from what you do sitting in Kuala Lumpur.

How do you align their goals? I mean, their processes, because I’m sure there must be multiple training sessions. You might be using some system to set those SOPs for them. It’s great. How do you approach it? Please tell us a bit more about that track.

Yeah, that’s a good one. You mentioned SOP. This is really crucial. You need to be way more organized, I think, working remotely first compared to being in the office. There’s something with that physical aspect of when we work together. It becomes more challenging when you’re remote first. Documenting the processes and being organized is key. I’m going to be honest, I don’t think it’s for everyone. I’ve been talking to some people sometimes when recruiting in some markets and some really skilled people in SEO, but they would say, you know what, remote first, 100 % or 90 % is not for me because I’m not organized enough. I don’t really know what I’m going to do next week. I think that’s something that you need to be clear from the start also. As a leader, you need to prepare exactly what you expect of people and you need to lead by example. You mentioned S&P, you definitely need to document your processes. Have a place where you describe all the important work processes. Since people from different backgrounds have different ideas how to approach SEO, which is totally normal. In the best of cases, it’s a strength, actually.

Try to set standards. I like to set frameworks and best practices, but try to avoid doing A, B, C, and then you get D. Not to be too detailed. If you take a simple thing such as keyword research. There’s so many ways to do keyword research. Some people like to generate pivot tables. They want to see it visualized. Other people focus on something else. They don’t like Excel, for instance. They want to work instead of tools. From my side’s standpoint, I would say that’s fine. Whatever method you want to use, it’s up to you. But there needs to be some basic criteria. We want to know if the search is intense. We need to know that we’re going after the right keyword. We need to segment the keywords together into a content piece. Otherwise, we can’t plan what we’re going to do with the keywords. There are some things that need to be there. But if somebody wants to adjust a template that we have to their needs, great. Actually, I promote it. In some cases, let’s say we have a keyword research template, we have created four or five different versions of it. Someone likes to use their version, somebody likes, somebody else likes to use their version.

It’s good. As long as we arrive at some standard level of quality.

Then, all is good. I think templates create lots of them, but allow for flexibility and also document the processes. Make it really clear. Step by step, use screenshots, maybe even recorded video. This is also great for onboarding. Somebody new comes in. It takes a few months to learn how a company works, especially remotely. When you’re not able to see your manager, maybe directly physically, there needs to be material that you can consume. It also takes some relief, I think, off of the shoulders of pressure off of you as a manager because you can actually sit back and say, you know what? I’ve already created some documentation for you and you can do it when I’m sleeping and you’re working because we have different time zones. It’s not a problem. You can go in, you can check the video and pop your message the next day. It’s really important to set the processes. It is work. It’s a lot of work, but it pays off long term, definitely, especially when you build out a global team, because otherwise you will have to repeat the same thing over and over and have these discussions. That’s really important. Then you mentioned training, and this is also really key.

This is what people demand today. Okay, you got processes, you got templates. How can I grow in this team in this company? This is what everybody asks. It’s not just about compensation and about whether we will meet at a conference. These things are important, but people want growth. And if they feel like they can’t develop in a team or company, take them to leave. And people discuss a lot now, the great resignation, a lot of people turning off the labour market. I guess it’s somewhat of an American phenomenon, but it’s probably true also here in Europe that we saw a lot of people switching jobs because they realized that, hey, remote first, I don’t have to work in the same city where I live. That’s a game changer. So what you can do as a manager is to create training material and a clear development path. Make it really clear what is my next level and what do I need to know and do to get there. This is really fundamental, but a lot of companies that I talk to, they don’t have such a plan. They will tell you that you can become a senior one day, you can become a leader one day.

We don’t know when and it’s not really clear what you need to do to get there. But there is such a role for you. But most people today will ask, Give me a plan. When can it happen? I have something to strive for. We as managers, we need to build out that plan. Super important.

That’s very wise and brilliant, to be honest. When you have a clear laid down plan in front of your team, they know what skills they need to acquire and how to grow within. Definitely the sense of belonging has increased. That’s very vital for sticking to and building that brand loyalty all together. I completely agree with everything that you say here. Let’s talk about some of the benefits of hiring remote force teams. You clearly mentioned that there’s a good understanding of the market that they have. What, apart from that, do you like with respect to the benefit that you can get from your experience all the way until now?

Yea! I’m reflecting a lot over this and I think I’m not done yet. It’s a process for everyone, what’s been happening since the pandemic, honestly, everywhere. But my feeling is that it is no longer really a benefit, it’s just a reality. It differs between the countries. But for instance, I’m sitting here in Poland and in the tech sector, most jobs available right now, they’re remote first. And if you sit in a company and the management refuses to go at least to a hybrid, a lot of people in Poland would say, It’s not good enough. I’m doing something else. And the crazy thing is, for that employer, they can get a job in the United States, Germany, Italy, India, wherever, and they can get paid another salary and they will just switch. And that wasn’t really the case. If you go back two years ago, some people had the luxury to do that. That’s when remote was a benefit. Today, it’s becoming a market standard in more and more countries. There are differences, I can see that, but it’s moving in that direction. And I think this will just accelerate. So that’s just one thing.

This is really a market standard soon. But the benefits, I think one of the most obvious ones, is to find the most appropriate talent. Let’s say that you would like, as we would like to expand in Latin America. Well, if we don’t have an office there, previously, most companies, they wouldn’t even consider doing such an expansion because traditionally you need to have an office, business entity, HR, legal, finance, the story. And you make a huge investment. It takes at least one to two years to set that up for a startup, maybe six months if they’re super fast and nobody knows what the result will be in a couple of years. And now you can actually just reach out to key people that will start to get the market growth going. So in my case, I’m looking for SEO managers. If I can find a person who has the background or is sitting in Latin America, as we did do, we found one in Brazil who is now actually moving around from place to place, then you can actually start to prove to the board that, hey, if we invest in Brazil and if you give it a few months, we might be able to see some growth and results and then you can request more funding.

So find the talent that’s most appropriate. That’s not just in the city or in the same country. That’s a huge benefit. That’s something completely new. I think also hiring speed in general. I mentioned earlier that it can be problematic or challenging to hire abroad, and it can be sometimes for sure. But there’s still a factor of speed because previously when you had an office, it took so much time. You often need to do relocation to convince the person to move to the city to be close to the office. The story was a completely different job market. Now the person is sitting somewhere else. In some cases when we’ve had talks, they’ve said, You know what? I live in this country right now, but next month I’m going to live in another place.

That lifestyle is becoming very popular now, especially in our niche. It’s been around, to be honest, but you correctly mentioned it. Pandemic just skyrocketed that particular thought process altogether. I also frequently travel a lot. I’m sure you will also enjoy your time. But yeah, that’s the reality of it.

Yeah! And that’s a benefit actually, because then you can tell the person that you’re hiring that I understand that you would maybe like to go to the countryside in the future and have a quiet life but still have a tech job. It’s possible. It’s not a problem. In fact, do what you want. If it suits you, it suits me. As long as you have the ground rules, you can have flexible working hours, but as long as you have some time slot where you work together, then I found that this works really well. We’re really stretched. We have some extreme time zones compared to European time zones in Vietnam and the Philippines. Basically, I joke that when I’m having my lunch, then my colleague is going to bed. It’s the reality. But we make it work by finding those common hours. Then you have people who say, You know what? I like to work late in the evening and I like to work close to midnight because I’m more productive then. Super, suits us. Or some people say, I like to work early in the morning. I think previously, if you go back a few years, a lot of companies overestimated the problems with having flexible working hours and having different time zones.

It is possible. You just need to sit down to the ground rules and champion those. Usually in my experience, it really works. I think the last one, besides letting your talent move to where they want to, that’s a benefit. I think the last one is also truly getting to know a market that you’re expanding into. Let’s say that you’re based, let’s say in India and you want to expand into Malaysia, for instance. It is very difficult to do good marketing work if you’re not in Malaysia because what are they talking about in the news? If you go on the street in the shops, what’s the mood of the business people? This matters. Right now, we are in a really inflationary situation, I guess, not just in Europe, but in many other places, including the US, that affects customer potential to buy, subscribe to a SaaS service. You will not pick up on that unless you’re in a place. That’s where the physical aspect comes in, I think. So being able to truly understand the market, to do a good job, even as the SEO, just think about doing outreach. We have people in our team who meet up people physically when they do outreach.

That’s impossible if you’re just using your phone or using LinkedIn. Truly expanding somewhere locally, you can find that person living there without having an office there. At least not yet.

 

Very nice! Let’s talk about a few ways, how you judge the productivity of your remote first employee as your manager specifically. Which KPIs do you mainly keep track of for ensuring that they’re delivering what’s being asked for altogether?

Yes! These are important parts. This is what motivates people. I think for us, measuring success is at the end of the revenue. Seeing revenue from the markets that we invest in, that’s always important. Even if you sometimes can only impact it indirectly because there’s so many things that go into why somebody would upgrade from a freemium account to a paid account. But still, this is a really important signal that the market is mature. Brand awareness. I actually look at a lot of Google trends and see how many people search for our brand. I find that to be a pretty good indicator of part of the market there, but also how interesting we are compared to our competitors. Also a measure of success, I think, is the conversion rate for upgrades. We have a premium model, but we also, of course, would like for those who are ready to upgrade to a paid account. What’s the conversion rate? In some markets, you can see that we have lots of accounts coming in on the premium version, but the interesting part is how many of them are willing to upgrade, which also is an indicator of are they ready to invest in their business?

Are they ready to level up and to actually do marketing work to earn more money, hopefully? So these are the things that I look at constantly. Otherwise, benchmarking is the KPIs that we have. That’s organic signups and actually even verified signups. So people who go in, enter the email address and so forth and verify that account. So we know it’s not spam, which unfortunately is something we have to live with, like death and text. Then I think when it comes to motivating people, this is an interesting part, but I think one part is social. How do you create social identity and belonging in a remote first team? I don’t have all the answers to it, but it’s something that we’re discovering. I know that physical meetings matter, meeting up. We were recently, just as an example, our whole global team attended the Friends of Search SEO conference in Amsterdam in Holland. We had people flying in from Colombia, from Vietnam, from Italy, not Germany, but we have from Poland and Philippines even. A bit of a logistical challenge to be fair, but it worked. It also proved that you can gather such a global team together physically.

I think it should be done now and then for people to see each other. It’s about trust. It’s about feeling that we are a team, we know each other and we have respect for each other. And you need now and then to have that physical check in, I think. That’s something that really matters. And also when you go to an office space, there are some social aspects that are really important that we don’t think about that I think we noticed when we were in these lockdowns, most of us during the pandemic. Somebody patting you on the shoulder on the coffee machine saying, Hey, great work yesterday. How do you do that remotely? How do you do that over Slack? That’s not so easy. As a company, I would really look into online systems that try to substitute that online. We are using one called Culture app, which is really interesting. You can give public recognition to people there. You can ask people for feedback professionally, and they will need to give you feedback back. You can set up personal goals there. That part, which is both social and professional, we need to find new ways online to stimulate people, to reward them when they do a good job and give them feedback when they need that.

I think that’s really important. Then for creating, yeah. Then involvement and engagement, we talked about building a personal development plan. I think that’s just something that’s just key. It’s the baseline for everything else. Document the career opportunities, make it clear for everyone. Don’t hide it, leave it out in the open so everybody can see what the possibilities are. The last one is remote first working style. That’s also something that’s in the making in every company, but flexible working hours is just a must. I think also that documentation like we talked about is key. When you cannot talk to people at work, at the office, then you need to be able to document it so that they can read it afterwards. Meetings need to be recorded so people can see them afterwards. Use Slack efficiently. Product management is also something that I personally think is important. Being organized, making sure that all the work that you do is somewhere on the board so we can see them, so we can follow it. At any given time, if somebody asked me, What are we doing right now in Italy? I need to have an answer. I need to know what we’re doing.

Are we spending the resources in the right way? And as long as people update and keep their tasks updated, then we don’t need to have a lot of check ins. Then everything is out there for everybody to see. So it’s a lot about taking that stuff that we used to do physically. When we stop and shout out the corridor, we’re saying, Hey, what product are you working on? That type of talk, which is really good, needs to be transferred over to the online world. I think we’re just discovering how to do that.

Alex, I would love to know, because you did mention before, how do you measure your maturity in a new market that you want to basically increase your presence into? By looking into your old stats and what business you’re getting, all of those things. But how do you measure your maturity of a new team member, remote first team member that you’re employing? What all criteria do you go after just to make sure that this guy is a good fit and would be able to do justice in the current room?

Yes! I think it partly comes down to the processes that we talked about. If you set out standard procedures or quality criteria for how things should be done. If I take a really concrete example, outreach to get mentions, to get partnerships, maybe some links back to our website, how is that being done? So if you set out some quality criteria, which says, for instance, these are four or five best practices that we think works because we have done it across multiple markets and we have seen good results. And here are some things you should avoid. For instance, here are websites that you probably shouldn’t be doing deals with, sites that have no traffic, no brainer, but still sites who talk about controversial subjects that may not align with our business. So if you set out such practices and you enforce them regularly through tasks, through projects, through training, discussions, then the person’s maturity will basically reflect to what degree they have understood that, but also taken it to heart. And in my opinion, the person who’s real mature is somebody who can say, for instance, Okay, I’m following these best practices, but I found in my market that this common practice here doesn’t work so well for me.

Somebody who can think critically, who can look at the practice and say, Yes, I like them. I follow them to a basic extent. But there are some things that I need to tweak for me to be successful. Or I have another experience that I would like to bring to the table. What do you think about this suggestion? This is the type of person that we are looking for long term because in the end it’s hard for one manager, especially in one country, to know it all. It’s just not possible. You need to find the people who can contribute with new knowledge. So keeping the same quality standard, same best practices that you as a manager need to uphold to do your job, but at the same time allow for some flexibility and find those people who come to you practically and say, I have an idea and I want this to become a new standard for the team. Perfect. Give me the data, show me how it’s done in the past and let’s document it. The majority of the person will be in the beginning, maybe there’s somebody who is discovering a field, how to do outreach in a new market.

That’s going to take some time and some practical experience. When you master something, that’s when you start to question some of the tenets. This is classical within SEO also. It happens all the time. We follow standards and then we realize that John Mueller, somebody from Google says, By the way, no follow on a link. We still look at those links just in a different way. Most of us don’t even know what that means. But it’s actually the same within the SEO team. You cannot map out all the work in detail, but you need to set the practices and the standards. Then some people who become more and more mature, they will start to question those or develop them rather. And that’s what you want as a manager, also a leader. You want that feedback and that input. I think that’s something that really reflects when the team has come to that point, and especially for each market, then you have a vibrant global team. And the people from different markets, they love to exchange this knowledge because it will give them new ideas. Something that works in Germany may not work in Italy, or it may.

We don’t know. We have to try.

Do you use any customs element system for your SOPs and just to push out the training material to your remote employees, or is there some other thing that you leverage for this particular object I want?

If I understand you correctly, exactly what type of formats we use for documenting the process? Yes!

Any tool that you use for it?

 

Yes! Actually, yes! We have Confluence, which is connected to Jira. This is more for written documentation. We have Office 365. I like, personally, to do a lot of recordings. Then I put it in SharePoint and I link to it so that everybody can reach it. Then we have something called a culture app. It’s a place to create personal development plans and growth for people. We use it for one on ones, we use it for personal goals such as I want to get X amount of brand mentions in my market by August, for instance. That could be a goal. Or it could be that I want to become better at Google Analytics. Fine. We have created something we call an SEO training hub. It is a place in Confluence where we not only document the practices, but we create training material. Every training material needs to have documentation, preferably a video recording, but there should also be a task or a quiz at the end. There’s some gamification going on. For instance, I mentioned Google Analytics. We have three different levels of training. We have one for basics, just to get to know the system. We have one advanced, how to do organic performance reporting, and then we have what we call the Master class, more advanced usage.

The idea is the person who wants to grow in GA can go in whenever they want to, because they might be in a different time zone. They can go through the questions, they try to solve them. Then after that, usually, we jump on a call and we discuss the findings. Sometimes we do that in a group. A lot of my colleagues, at least the feedback I’ve gotten is that they really find it useful. They can discuss what is challenging about creating a report, for instance. In some cases, we have tasks to help the knowledge to really start, or we create quizzes also. It’s more for fun, but it’s a way actually to generate that engagement. Then we use a culture app to track this. Every year when we have personal development talks between me and my colleagues, then we can sit down and say, Okay, you would like to grow more analytics this year. How do you think it went? And then the good thing here is we actually have a solid base to talk about. It doesn’t become subjective, which is so common otherwise in many companies that it’s a thing of the manager saying that I think that you’re not good enough, or it may be even the opposite.

We also have a lot of inflation of titles nowadays in the marketing scene. So automatically people will be promoted. Here we actually look at the core facts. Did you actually advance in analytics? Let’s have a look. Then we can go into Kultramp, we can see the progress, and it’s actually up to each colleague to practically update their status. I support them to create the goals, to set up the plan, maybe to create some material, but it’s up to them to actually do the job, learn more, and let me know when they have come a good way. Then we had a discussion. That has turned out to be a really good thing. The nice thing is there is tons of training out there. If you want to learn SEO, you can go to Mars beginner’s guide. You will learn a lot. It’s much better than I will ever do in my life, that’s for sure. But the thing is, how do you apply SEO, for instance in GetResponse? That is what’s interesting. Mars guide to SEO cannot tell you that? Yeah!

And you are giving more organizational level, your learning, your expertise, things that have worked really well for you in the past. So that counts better, right?

Yes! It caters to the organization. It’s super important because the guys who we’ve hired, hopefully know what they’re doing, but they want to grow and how to apply it in our business. Maybe they come from a completely different industry, so they will need to adapt. And that’s where the training material comes in. I think that this is something that it’s a really good model that works. It allows you to have much better discussions also with your colleagues about their growth. It becomes less objective, more clear, and honestly more fun. It’s not just the manager that’s involved, everybody in the team can produce training material. I have a senior technical SEO specialist. He created a team training about a lot of file analysis in Kibana. How to do that? He set up the presentation, video recording, and practical tasks. As a manager, I partake as well. I also learn new things. That’s how it should be. I think that when people see that the manager is involved, other people are involved, we’re all learning the same thing, and we’re doing it because we’re sharing knowledge and it’s fun to do it. You go to see higher engagement.

This is completely different from the old model where you try to hire somebody who already, we think, knows everything, and then you have lots of subjective ideas on how to rate people and how to discuss their progress. I think this new way of doing it was pushed forward by the pandemic. We had to figure out how to run the business without meeting each other every day over a coffee. We haven’t solved the problem, but we have come way further. I would say even if we would go back to the office on a hybrid or permanently, I would still apply this method, honestly, because it just works.

 

It’s real and actually one of the best things about these two marketing niches that I personally love and that gives me the kick to stay in the industry is because you would never acquire 100 % of knowledge. It’s always evolving. Every day there’s new things out there and basically reconstructing all that you know from the past. So brilliant. And for me, I crave for it always. It’s the best fit. I’m sure whoever is and whoever takes their job seriously in the digital marketing niche, this is one of the biggest things that you cling on to. It’s always an adventure. I agree. Let’s talk about some of the common challenges of working with your remote team and how do you overcome them. Since it has been pretty long now, since you’ve been managing these teams, I’m sure there must be really big roadblocks that you must have tackled.

Yeah! for sure. Many of them are these boring topics when it comes to legal and finance and so forth. But just as an example, there are different challenges when it comes to just hiring and it comes to legal setting up the contract, making that legally valid, making sure that you understand how to actually hire the person. If you don’t have an office somewhere, typically you need to have a business entity to hire an employee, for instance. What we found is we found different ways to recruit. It’s again based on this location agnostic strategy that we should hire anyone, anywhere if it’s the right person. We found, for instance, how to hire an employee without a business entity. This is possible today. There are companies like Lano, Lano. They are an intermediary company. They are a third party company and they actually have a business entity in that country.

On a contract basis, you hire these remote employees?

Yes, exactly. That is one example that we have used. So essentially the person is hired by a third party company, but it’s really working for us. So it’s more of a formality that they’re working for this third party company. Totally different set up than what I’m used to, but it has worked really well. And that is crucial in some markets. Then in many places, a lot of people like to have a freelancing contract. They like to have their own business because they save on taxes. Well, there are lots of other benefits with that, of course. Then we need to set up different types of contracts for that. I think one game changer for us was online signing of contracts. There are tons of platforms out there and we have used multiple of them. But this speeds up hiring a lot by getting the contract signed digitally. Unfortunately, and this is one of the challenges also, you need to know also what is legally valid. In Poland, for instance, we can definitely recruit somebody abroad outside of Poland using online signing. But if you want the copyright to still apply for us as a company, then it needs to be in paper and that’s Polish law.

That’s one of the realization and the challenges that there are some bureaucratic things, some legal things that you just need to swallow and you can’t do much about it. You need to put up a smiling face. Yeah! Just complain, man.

Yeah!

You know how it is. Bureaucracy will always exist and they thrive on this. But it’s also important, of course, for the legal security of both parties. But also some things that sometimes have surprised me that we have also learned is how do you get people paid? That sounds like the very basic thing, but how do you make an international bank transfer to Vietnam or to Brazil? We realized, such as some Brazilian banks, they don’t want to receive payments in their own national currency. That’s something new for me. You also need to be flexible. I think this has been a learning journey for the whole organization, but I felt like me as the hiring manager, we were always in the forefront of hiring in new countries. I had to do a lot of this digging myself. I had a lot of good support from my legal team and HR and payroll, but as a US hiring manager, it’s different when you hire abroad, especially from other continents. You cannot sit back and relax. It’s not like hiring in your own country that you have the standard forms, the contracts, big signs, and you just handle the interviews.

You need to be really hands on and be involved with which country supports the Swift standard for banking, for instance. This is stuff that you need to know if you want to hire abroad. I think the legal and finance part has been challenging at times, but overall, we managed to overcome them. I think a big dose of patience and also, again, creating trust and mutual understanding with the other party. The colleague sitting abroad also wants to get the stuff fixed. Actually, all the parties just want to get the job done. I think not panicking and just being confident that you will fix it. I think that matters also. Sending positive signals and having some patience. It will sort itself out in the end for sure. Especially when you.

Are in a leadership role. You need to boost confidence, man. You cannot, especially to your reporters.

A lot of people don’t think about that, but that’s, of course, the burden as a leader. But a lot of people think he’s doing SEO all day or doing marketing all day. That’s not the whole truth. We have to read up on Labour law. We have to know how to get people paid. We have to live up to legal requirements and invoices. It’s a standard job. You’re supposed to do it. But it becomes way more complex when you have people from multiple places because in each case it will be slightly different. You need to allow for that. I think, again, as your team is pushing for change in the organization, I think us being… Historically in GetResponse, we’ve had offices in different countries, but still, a lot of the organization thinks in terms of how it works in Poland. How do we send company equipment to somebody living in the Philippines? Is there a store there where we can repair the computer if it’s broken? Now that suddenly becomes the question. There’s a lot of things that you as a manager have to be prepared to look up, but I would say it’s part of the journey.

It’s fun and you will learn a lot. To be.

Honest, I do talk to a lot of people and SEO heads and department heads. What you’re doing is because you feel responsible for your team members and you have my respect for that. A lot of people would actually have this IT related stuff or finance related stuff. They would have just pushed it to that specific department and kept their hands up, especially. I’m just scared about the marketing. When you’re doing it, it’s actually very genuine of you. That shows character, man. My respect on those terms. Let’s talk about your compensation model because how exactly do you pay? Is it on the basis of location specific pay or is it a standard pay for a given role decided in Poland and that’s being stone written and you basically follow that? How exactly does that happen?

Yes, that’s a good one. I can say first of all that as a company, we decided to launch Transparent Salaries not so long ago and we do it department by department. Right now it’s based on Polish compensation because that’s where the most of the workforce is. But I think that’s just a good step in the right direction to actually show what type of pay you can expect in different role levels. But the compensation, it’s based upon… I do market research before we’re going to a new market, so it’s based upon where the person resides. Of course, it becomes challenging if the person is moving a lot permanently, then you need maybe to update that. I don’t think we’ve had that case yet, but it could become relevant in the future, I think. But yeah, it’s based on the location and where the person resides. So we know that, hey, you’re getting compensation so that you can cover your local costs. And that’s really important. I think this will slightly change in the future also. In some countries, it’s very common to be expected to live abroad. And it means, for instance, if you are coming from Greece and you move to Germany, for instance, you will need to have a German like salary in order to live there.

You cannot live on a Greek salary. That’s just common sense. So I think that’s something that you need to be prepared for also and open for as a hiring manager. And you need to do your homework there for sure. But the compensation itself and how it looks, it depends on the contract. We have all types of contracts when we hire, but employee contracts, regular role models, monthly salary. When it comes to people who have freelance business, I like to go with a simple, clear, static model of flat monthly compensation each month, not based on the working hours. It just wouldn’t make sense at all. We have flexible working hours. Some people work a lot of hours one day and less hours another day. It’s not the type of work that we would like to reward in that way. The more time you spend, the better you perform, for instance. That’s just not the case. I think also in general that when people work remotely, I think, at least for myself, I see a lot of other colleagues also. The problem for us is to basically close down the computer and get back to private life.

I think that’s one of the challenges with the home office actually, to separate between your private life and your work life. So for that reason also, people want to have a private and work life balance. You don’t want them to sit 10, 12, 15 hours a day or more just because of the importance of what’s being executed on, do we achieve the results? So that’s why we go for static monthly compensation. And then we have tons of different contracts within the freelance world, depending on which country you live in, basically. And then in some cases we’re able to offer benefits and sometimes not. That’s also something that depends on, again, on the country. And right now I can say that sometimes for each person, they have their own case. When we hired this third party company, we offered an employment contract, but it’s challenging for us, for instance, to offer private care outside of Poland because we just haven’t gotten to the point yet where we can still negotiate with healthcare companies. Here, I think as an organization, we have a bit to go. If you would like to do that in the future, you need a very robust organization and you need to do lots of research in order to do that.

I think right now I’m expanding quicker than what HR can keep up with in terms of that side. I think that’s something that needs to mature over time. But for people who are employees, at least in Poland, we have tons of benefits that go along with that besides salary. Something that we started early on was a monthly compensation for remote work. People sitting at home, suddenly you could consume tea, coffee, electricity, lots of food at home instead of going to the office. And we started to compensate people on a monthly basis for that. I think that’s a wise choice. In many countries, and I think including Poland, it’s going to become a legal requirement soon that you need to offer some type of compensation for people who work only at home. Makes sense. We also have a one off reimbursement for people to set up their home office because if you have the workspace, which is the first thing having a room to be in, you need a desk, you need a headset, you need all these things. And sometimes, it’s just break, you need to buy something new. So that’s something that we also do a one time reimbursement for.

And then something else that I thought was interesting that we also launched during the pandemic was a mental health help line. A lot of people felt lonely and I think maybe felt disconnected, especially in places where there were hard lockdowns. In Poland, we had one really hard one. We didn’t really have those tough curfews as they had in Holland just not so long ago, actually. But that took the heart of a lot of people. We offered a mental health help line online where employees can call in or do a video call and chat. The feedback that I’ve heard from people is that this is really appreciated. Unexpected move by Simon RCO, but that was a nice one, I think. Language classes, it’s something I use. I’m learning Polish. It’s something that I really appreciate. We also launched an employee stock option plan. For people who want to be long term in the company, who are advancing on higher levels, and somebody that the company would like to invest in, they get to have shares in the company. We’re not on the stock market, but being able to offer shares. A traditional model actually that companies used to have.

It was interesting for us to see that concept again because I think it can foster loyalty actually. Then we have stuff like sports cards, private care and private pension. That applies particularly to Poland, where we have negotiated those contracts. Brilliant.

Let’s talk about some of the best practices you use for reaching out to the new market altogether. Any specific tips that you can share?

Yes! I think it all starts with doing some type of after the market research, doing a really good, thorough SEO research, looking at, let’s say, top two, top three competitors and seeing where the strengths and where the weaknesses. Because in the SEO game, you can never be good at everything. It’s pretty impossible. But you can find the weak spots among your competitors. And traditionally, that will be depending on the business. It can be on the technical side, it can be on the content side, it can be on the links or outreach and brand building. For us, we have focused heavily on aggressive content growth, but also building relations with other companies and other brands. I think that has seen a good take off. It’s something also that we have made into a best practice that I would also suggest is, if you go into New Market and you have done so in the past without having resources, so maybe you have translated the website, do go over it. Check the language, check the grammar. It matters. It’s turned out to be actually challenging to produce content that flows well, that doesn’t sound archaic or doesn’t sound stale.

The US is our primary market and all of the stuff that we produce originally as a whole, as a marketing team, is English first. But we found that in order to be successful in Italy, Germany, or in Vietnam, for sure, you need to have a native first approach. You need to start by looking at the keywords there, first of all, and adjusting the content. But also what are the phrases that people use? What are the arguments that people like there? Having people looking into that through keyword research, market research is really important. I think it even affects commercial rates.

You rightly mentioned, English in the US is so different from English in the UK and English in Australia. There’s a huge difference, the words, the slags. If you want your marketing quantity to be really successful, definitely that native tongue helps you a lot. I completely agree. Please go ahead.

No! totally. That’s a good example. There are also complex languages where you mix, for instance, in Vietnamese, we noticed they mix their native language with English. I know in India it happens a bit. There are many other markets also where there’s a fusion between two languages, for instance. Super important. That’s hard for an outsider who’s not a marketer or SEO person to do that. That’s something we have focused a lot on language quality. We even do go beyond the website. We also look at the onboarding emails. We try to solve that because in the end, we can send all the accounts we want. But if they don’t upgrade, we don’t get the money coming into the business. I have a small one.

Question here. When you’re dealing with these language barriers, you’re improving your content, do you have your hire? Native writers? How exactly do you go about that, to be honest? Because I never really had a very good experience with these translator apps altogether. They don’t do a fair job. They don’t understand the tone of it. What’s your approach like?

This is a really interesting part there, Harshit. I think we have tried to level it, segment it. We have a translation team within the marketing team or in the business as a whole, and they are typically also using freelancers to help them. So I think that’s the first step. We have started to translate the app, the software, but also the market web into a language to test the waters. Then the second step is we declare, okay, this market is ready for take off and we can see that there’s revenue, there’s potential, let’s invest. And that’s when we start to hire. From my case then, it will be an SEO manager, native first or bilingual is fine, of course, but somebody who knows the language and the culture and he or she will take more charge of the content. Then we transition from translation to somebody who actually writes native first content. We go over the product content, we rewrite it, we start up a blog, we invest in marketing materials. Translation is not bad in itself, but it’s perhaps just a starting point. I would even suggest for people out there who want to make this journey with the markets, separate between translation and localization.

Translation is just to do a literal translation. You take one word and you exchange it for another. This is the type of language that doesn’t sound great. If you want to localize something, you need to rewrite the content as you translate. That’s something that our SEO managers also do. They look at the English version, but they write their own version. But this is something that we also debate often with the localization team or translation team, and we exchange a lot of knowledge and experience here. How do we move from a language that is just a literal translation to something that actually flows and reads well? And then you need to give the person the freedom to slightly rewrite the content. And then at the end, the final point is you have native first. It’s written from scratch by somebody who knows the language. So I think translation has a role to play, but maybe in the beginning. And then as you see the market take off, you switch over and you invest more heavily into original content. That means the product content in Italian, maybe it should be different from the US English version. Maybe the people who come from India should have a different experience compared to the people who come from the US.

In fact, I’m pretty sure they should have. It’s just all about getting those resources in the budget. I think the best way to do that is to show that you have growth in the first place. So taking the language and the market seriously is key. And that’s where we differ a lot from some of our competitors like Mailchimp. They’re highly successful internationally, but they only offer their software in a couple of languages. They don’t have it in Vietnamese, for instance. I think that long term, I think the local approach will win. It is more complex, more challenging to set up, but way more rewarding. Also for the customers, they want to be able, most of them, to have customer service and to have a local language experience. It shows that you care about them. I think that matters. Otherwise, something that we have also seen that has been really good is link building is and will continue to be a thing within SEO, but we like to look beyond it. I think we’ve just come to the conclusion that building marketing relations is in the end more important. Sometimes that will translate into a backlink.

Great! That can help us. But also being mentioned on important websites or maybe doing an email campaign together, doing something on social media together. All of that will help to build the brand. And indirectly, it will most likely also build the SEO performance, especially on the branded side. So we can see that when somebody is engaging in outreach in a local market, it does translate over time into better performance. Sign ups, conversion rate, for instance, it matters. I think reaching out to people and building relations over time and connecting with brands that you trust, that you feel fits with the quality of the and the tone of your brand, that is something that we should do much more. You mentioned digital PR at the beginning of our talk. That’s exactly it. That’s true. That’s so true.

 

You correctly mentioned, just building relations for the sake of link building doesn’t make sense. When people talk about you on social media, sharing your links, all of those things, it does have an indirect impact on your overall SEO as well through social signals, all of those concepts altogether. Branding, to be honest, is really an important aspect. Instead of just focusing on your short term goal, increasing sign ups and all of those things that eventually happens if you have a good strong brand presence and you’re good with building relationships all together. That’s really it, man. I think we’re coming to an end here, Alex. I would like to have a quick rapid fire with you. Are you ready for that?

Shoot.

What was your last impulse buy?

 

Last impulse buy! That was Dutch cheese in Amsterdam.

Your last Google search?

I think Inflation in Poland, unfortunately.

What was your inspiration? And why?

I think that one person I keep coming back to is Gary Vee, Chuck, social media guru. He talks about empathic leadership.

 

Totally agree. Perfect!

Anything new professionally happening in your life or exactly in your current role right now. I think.

At this stage it’s about seeing, having been able to have the pleasure to work with so many great people in the team, building up a global team, showing that it works, but also seeing that all of us together in the team, bonding, feeling like one team and exchanging knowledge at a higher level. It’s something that I dreamt of and we’re at this point right now. I think that is something that I take great pride in and happiness in and seeing that I can be able to support people to be at that level from so many different countries and seeing them interact and seeing them exchange knowledge. That’s something that’s powerful. And coming to.

Our last question, what’s one thing you would like to change about yourself?

Have ever more patience. I’m an impatient person. I’ve learned over time that you need to have patience. Things do not come overnight, although one would wish them to do so. But having more patience and giving some time because you can move the ball only to a certain extent and then you need to see the effects of that and things need to sink in at many different levels. So trust your team, trust the people around you. Have faith, have patience. It will work.

Measure, analyze and more. Take baby steps or even big steps. Measuring and analysis is a big part of it. So, I completely agree. Thank you so much, Alex, for all the time, all the wisdom, all the knowledge that you shared in today’s session. I’m grateful for that. Really appreciate it. Thank you. Thank you, Harshit.

It was my pleasure. Thank you so much!

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