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AMA with Samantha Torres


Areej AbuAli

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Welcome to a new

Ask Me Anything
edition where we share with the world our community Ask Me Anything initiative that takes place on our Slack group!


Samantha Torres
Sam is the Managing Partner for SEO consultancy, The Gray Dot Company. She specialises in technical SEO and data/analytics, as well as front-end dev solutions.

On Aug 4th, we spent an hour with Sam asking her everything about bridging the gap between marketing and engineering 💪🏽

1. What is your advice for those starting out in technical SEO on how to improve their relationship with developers?

First, remember that developers are people. As a group, developers do tend to be more reason or logic-driven, that's what makes them good at dev, but ultimately, learning to separate the code from the developer is key.

When working with a jr developer, understand that they're probably getting everything from a fire hose. They'll usually want a bit more handholding on any tech solves. If you're working with a Sr developer though, I encourage you to approach them with the problem you're seeing and what end result you would like to see. And be open to collaborating. They may be able to solve something even better without causing huge impacts or dev backlog.

Lastly, really master the language and reasoning behind user stories. A user story is generally structured like As a ____, I want to ____ to ____. So for example, As a search engine crawler, I want to find and parse structured data from to better understand the content of the page, as well as populate search results with rich features. You don't always have to follow this format, but if you start approaching your dev team with those types of data points (who is it for, why do they want it, what do they want to do), then generally conversations are much more productive. And most developers HATE pointless meetings and convos (don't we all) - so this is a great way to get on their good side.

2. When working with developers, we had the situation that they seriously doubted our calculation of saved time a new tool they had to build would buy. Any idea on how to handle this and get them to better understand our struggles with their custom CMS?

If you have a way to talk with Tech, then I would highly recommend it. If not, and understanding that I have no clue what it is you're trying to get them to build, then really listing out all the steps or loopholes/bandaids you have to go through to do this work at this time may help. Also still framing from that approach of what's the end goal you're going after. I've also found that usually leaving caveats of being open to other solutions or collaboration tends to soften the conversations. So the old "please help me understand how to do this better".

3. I've often experienced a decent amount of dismissal of my expertise when working with my client's external development teams. Do you have any suggestions for how to make your expertise clear and deal with those types of difficult conversations or set yourself up for success from the beginning?

Oh goodness, the number of times I've run into this. I tend to ask a lot of questions about a solution and try to present hunger to learn and understand. Once I see that the other team has shifted to being more educational, then that's usually when they're also ready for a bit more collaboration or hearing my own experience to have input on the solution. Let them feel like experts to lure them into a comfortable space - and then prove you're the smartest in the room

4. We’ve had a few clients recently where their developers want to keep access to the sites really locked down including not wanting to give access to do basic SEO tasks like title tags updates and redirects. In some cases, we’ve gotten access, and then they revoke it so we have to go through the whole process again a month or two down the line. Any advice on how we can build trust with them and better communicate why we need this access ourselves?

This one is definitely a classic. So what I end up doing is documenting all the changes we want to make, and offer that if they want to keep the access locked, it's no problem at all, we'll just need them to implement these changes. Then when they inevitably don't get implemented by that dev team, the client usually calls an audible and demands we get access relatively quickly. OR, the dev team sees how much time those things take and then give up that fight. I also may sometimes ask why they're nervous about us going into the CMS? And straight up ask them how can we build trust.

5. As you're agency-side, do you feel like you have less access to engineers than you would if you were client-side? And if so, what's some advice you have for agency-side folks to work closely with engineers?

So, I'm pretty lucky that most of our clients have internal dev teams and because of my own experience, I'm pretty integrated into them. In past relationships though, I've seen where not setting expectations of needing engineering help at times has really hampered success. Because of this, we include in our onboarding that we'll need a point of contact for those things to get those intros and conversations started earlier. Ultimately though, if the client isn't able to get buy-in from their engineering team, all we can do is make it clear that there's a ceiling to what we'll be able to reach. And at that point have to trust the client to fight that fight. We'll supply them with the data and info that we can, of course, but business priorities dictate resources.

6. How do you manage upskilling? For example, delving deeper into the Tech SEO while also working on current clients, winning new business and having that work/life balance?

To be honest, I'm still working on that myself. I'm starting to schedule dedicated time to take classes or work on passion projects. It helps immensely that my husband is a back-end developer so we'll actually work on projects together. Other things I've done for work/life balance: I take off every Friday afternoon to spend time with my hubs without the kiddo. And I have started treating dinnertime as sacred time. There are some times where I'll be texting my partner, but I generally do not do any real work during that time. And the Women in Tech SEO community helps me stay informed and learn about new things to try for SEO. I also subscribe to some newsletters for the front-end of things - JAMstack, Netlify, etc. That way I can stay up-to-date on trending web technologies.

7. As an SEO who sits in Tech team, how can I get the whole team excited about SEO?

Consider running a presentation on SEO to the team. Since you're on the engineering side, I'd recommend going into the super nerdy part of search, like how the algorithm works, machine learning and its impact, etc. I've done presentations like that to engineering teams a few times and while they don't all get excited, usually about a third to half do and hey, that's a win in my book!

Look for the win-win" - aka, get ppl excited about SEO by translating what it means to their performance in their role if SEO works well. Plus, make it as easy as possible for them (specifically what little things they can do to make their results better thanks to SEO traffic).

8. How do you handle making tech recommendations when you're not entirely confident in the back-end "how"? I want my engineering team to be the ones recommending 
 to make a fix, but I also don't want to leave them directionless. Who's job is it to lay out the step-by-step fix?

Always the engineering team lead. That's who is responsible. For me, I like to lay out as much info as I have, and be completely transparent on the pieces where I'm uncertain. That way, the lead knows where they need to step in and make a call, and also, where they don't.

9. How can you say that your job is not to provide the recommendations without passing the buck? I want to provide recommendations on what I think is best but do not want to be judged too much.

Unless you were hired as a developer, you're not "passing the buck". You're taking what you're responsible for and relying on your team and their skill set to carry it through. That's the reason we have multi-person teams. Also, your secret weapon when you feel uncertain will always be this group. And just from what I've seen, 9 times out of 10, we're doubting ourselves because we've been conditioned to do that. Trust yourself. SEO is an art, not a science. So that means sometimes we'll find a way of NOT doing something, and there's value in that too.

10. Any new tech/platforms you are really excited about? What's your next frontier?

Well, I'm starting to get into creating my own Google Chrome extensions using Python, so that's been fun. Also just trying to get up to speed on TypeScript, as that's kind of the next level of JavaScript. Lastly, I've got on my list this year to learn more about Web Assembly. It's been around for ages but isn't hugely adopted. But from what I understand, it compiles in a way that the code is automatically optimized for each browser and device, so that means no longer having to QA all the different capabilities of each. And I haven't seen much of anyone talking about SEO with Web Assembly - so maybe I'll try to own that.


Thanks Sam for a truly insightful AMA and thanks to everyone for asking questions. You can learn more about Sam through her agency's website and connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.