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Natalie Mott

Host: Areej AbuAli & Sarah McDowell

Guest: Natalie Mott

In this week's episode, we chat with Natalie Mott, freelance SEO consultant, about all things core web vitals. We also find out what inspires Natalie and what empowers her to be the brilliant woman she is today.

You can connect with Natalie through her LinkedIn and Twitter.

Episode Transcript

Sarah: Hello and welcome to the Women in Tech SEO podcast, where your hosts are myself, Sarah McDowell, SEO Content Executive at Holland and Barrett, and the delightful Areej AbuAli, who is an SEO Consultant and the Founder of the epic Women in Tech SEO community. 

This week, we have the wonderful Natalie Mott joining us, who is an SEO all-rounder with core interests in technical SEO, content strategy, project management and outreach. She has had senior SEO positions at several digital agencies and is thoroughly enjoying spending time in the world of freelance consultancy. A very warm welcome and hello to both of you.

Thank you so much for spending your Saturday morning with me and Areej. Very, very appreciative. How are we doing? How's your morning been?

Natalie: Quite productive, actually quite got up early. Had a good, good breakfast. That's a bit unusual for Saturday to be honest, but yeah, it was going very well. How about you?

Areej: Yeah, all good. All good over here. I'm just really, really excited to have you here with us. We've met several times, since the very start of the Women in Tech SEO community. But I'd love you to tell the community, a bit more about you. So how did you first get into SEO?

Natalie: Well, I think it's probably a similar story to a lot of people. I sort of fell into it a long time ago now. I didn't have a clue what it was. Although I'd been involved with website building from being a teenager, you know, I took a website development qualification at the age of 16, so I was very much online.

I didn't know what SEO was when I went into my first job as a data researcher for a hotel advertising website. And it was amazing. It was completely aligned with how my brain works as a thing to do. So I was obsessed with it. And as soon as I was introduced to it as a concept, but yeah, I studied music at university. I had no idea what SEO was until I started that first job. 

Areej: I know that you've talked a lot before, about how much you enjoy the world of freelance consultancy. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you found that journey so far?

Natalie: Yeah. Anyone who will listen. I don't shut up about it, but I'm so much better suited to self-employment. It's probably not for everybody.

And certainly through the lockdown. I've thought at some points that I might've preferred the structure of having a full-time role or being part of a team. It can be quite lonely as a freelancer, not just, not immediately having a team to bounce ideas off of. I didn't realize how much I valued that when I was on the agency side.

So the projects I love the most are the ones where I am working with agency teams or with in-house teams. And I'm sort of part of the crew. But overall, it's good to have control of your schedule. You get a bit more control over, you know, to be frank, your earning potential.

It's so much more when you're self-employed. Seriously, in a sense, it's a bit of a scam. Maybe edit that bit out, but. It's just awesome. I still love it. It can be very, very stressful, but it can be very, very wonderful. And that's what I'll say about it.

Sarah: Yes. I suppose things that are challenging and stressful can also be very rewarding at the same time. Can't they? Lovely. Well, it's wonderful to sort of learn about how you got into the industry and your career and that side of things. 

[Quick Fire Round Questions]

Areej: Well, I think in terms of just before we dive into the main topic that we're here to talk about today, you know, you being a part of the women in tech, SEO community, I'd love to know more about what empowers you to be the brilliant woman you are.

Natalie: Okay. Well, just, just by talking about the community itself, I am forever inspired and I'm empowered, by seeing what others in our community are doing. Some amazing people in the women in tech, SEO community. Just, you know, show you what's possible. And there are also some very kind and supportive people in the group as well.

So yeah, I try to be an active member, in that community and yeah, that's often been very helpful. On a personal level. I'm going to be quite personal, I'm fairly empowered by my sobriety. I don't drink anymore. And it has changed my life, just immeasurably.

And I'd say that if that wasn't there it could be a whole different story. And it's that in the spiritual practices that come with that and, and all the things you learn about yourself, I'd say that's, that's what empowers me the most.

Areej: Yep. I love that.

And do you have any advice that you can share? Can you give it to women who are still starting to go from the industry and feel very overwhelmed?

Natalie: It's so easy to be overwhelmed because you see it, you see all these resources, all these training resources that show you all the things that there are to learn.

And it looks like it's like this insurmountable thing too, to grasp. But so I'd say it's, it's like any of these things, it's like, we use the cliche of eating an elephant, eat an elephant at a time. So yeah.

Yeah, I can see how it would be overwhelming, but it's once you get into it. It's not as difficult as it looks. I believe that about SEO. There's an awful lot of smoke and mirrors and making it look like it's harder than it is. So don't be put off.

Sarah: I have to agree as well.

And there's a lot of lingo that isn't there and jargon. That can be a bit off-putting and like, don't get me wrong there are terms that you need to use. And there's the proper terminology, but I think sometimes that can be a bit scary. Do you know what I mean? Like it's like when you start a new job and there's a loss of acronyms that the business uses and stuff. Until you get used to the terminology and comfortable with what people are saying then yeah. Yeah.

Natalie: It's like in Line of Duty.

Sarah: I love how you managed to get Line of Duty in there. Epic, epic series. And also I've never heard of the elephant analogy before. Then, how do you eat an elephant a bit at a time?

Natalie: One of my first bosses said that to me. I'll never forget it.

Sarah: I mean, yeah, it sticks with you. Doesn't it. Imagine an elephant to be a bit to it. Anyway, I feel like we're getting on a tangent here. So we are talking today. So the main topic is everyone's favourite in the SEO industry, core web vitals.

Now, how would you explain what this is to someone who's just come across Core Web Vitals for the first time?

Natalie: Core Web Vitals is a set of metrics that Google has pulled together a definition of user experience which is quite helpful because the things that go behind these Core Web Vitals is to be in a kind of sprawling list of recommendations on PageSpeed Insights.

So it's been helpful to kind of consolidate those into these three metrics, which are Largest Contentful Paint, which relates to loading the part of the page that takes the longest to load. First Input Delay, which measures interactivity and Cumulative Layout Shift, which measures visual stability, and those three elements, other things that sort of go into what makes or breaks our user experience essentially.

If it takes too long to load, it's a frustrating user experience. If you can't click on it. Certain elements you can't interact with what you want to, that's extremely frustrating. And if things keep moving about one of the main causes of that is things like cookie policies or live chat overlays, or things keep moving about, that's a very frustrating user experience as well. So all of those things have been instilled into these three hopefully fairly easy to understand metrics.

Areej: It is. It's interesting how always we tend to everything you mentioned. So it's all about user experience, right?

So even if we think of ourselves as users and how frustrating it can be to go on a website and then have any form of slowness or bad experience or things popping up, it feels common sense. Doesn't it?

Natalie: Well yeah, you would think so. But um, just user experience is kind of nebulous. It means different things to different people.

I'm finding it means different things to UX specialists and developers and SEOs. And then you've got the users themselves, it's sort of subjective. So Google is, you know, is trying to make this a little less subjective and make these things much more measurable and much easier to control.

Yeah, because obviously, Google knows good user experience. It's just a bit easier to distil it into those metrics.

Areej: Yeah. And how, how do you, how did you feel when you heard that the update is being pushed back? Do you think that's a good or a bad thing?

Natalie: Oh. Definitely. Good. I imagine most, most of them, bring this little sigh of relief when they see that, but then again, it would depend on who you are and how prepared you were, because there may be people that just nailed it.

Their sites were all ready to go. You know, game on, but no, I mean, it depends where, what you read the stats space that the same 90, at least 90% of all the websites are failing the Core Web Vitals assessment at the moment. So that's a lot of SEOs developers, UX specialists that are getting a reprieve here.

On the flip side, there's a school of thought that it isn't going to do much to the SERPs at all because everyone, almost everyone is failing the assessment. I don't quite subscribe to that because there are sites that are nailing it, you know, certainly in the.

Like in the insurance industry, that's always been a sort of a shining light of page speed and user experience. You know, the big players in the insurance industry have always focused on that and got it. Right. Amazon has got it right. eBay's got it right. Certainly, many e-commerce retailers haven't so it's anyone's guess. I think it's good that it's been pushed back and good that it's been confirmed to be more of a phased rollout rather than some kind of flick of a switch, like the likes of Panda and Penguin.

I remember, sites that, you know, well-known brands decimated as a result of those algorithm updates. And although Google's algorithm has become much more sophisticated, you know, there's, less of that drastic change, you know, for the majority of sites, unless they've done something seriously wrong with their LinkedIn practices or their content strategy or whatever.

I still think there's a risk of this affecting sites more than people may think.

Sarah: Yes. And just want to play a little bit of a devil's advocate on the like, Update being pushed back. Because I have had some people saying things like, obviously it's hard to get buy-in from web developers and the tech team at companies and stuff.

And I have had that, some people we use in the earlier day is a bit of urgency. Do you know what I mean? And now that I like it, there. The update has been pushed back. Yes. It gives time to websites to get things sorted. And it sounds like that's what's needed because a lot of companies are failing then, but they might also be on the other side.

It might be hard to get things implemented because the urgency side has gone. Do you know what I mean?

Natalie: Yeah, but it's, I mean, it's been pushed back to, you know, by, by month and, and even in my personal experience with one of the sites I'm working on even with that urgency added into the recommendation, there were still too many conflicting priorities to prioritise the thing, you know, I think there will be business owners and product owners comfortable with the risk of not sorting Core Web Vitals across all of their pages because there are so many other development things to do.

So I think the urgency is still there. It's just not as urgent as it was. There's still, it's still going to happen. It's still on the horizon.

Areej: How do you currently work alongside? You mentioned, you know, developers, engineers, UX designers how, how can we get that volume in and make sure that they can, you know, prioritize implementing some of these recommendations that we developed.

Natalie: Well it's another one of those things that are situation dependent? For some sites I'm working on as a consultant, I work directly with the developer in a small team. There are not that many other things in the development schedule and we can just do it. And in those cases, I work closely with the developer on pointing out where, you know, what's causing the Largest Contentful Paint

What are the specific nodes that are causing this? That issue or the CLS issue, for example, and you can work quite closely with the developer and get it done in larger organizations. You know, you have more stakeholders, more people vying for development, time and space. There may be resource issues you don't know about as an SEO, if you're not privy to you know, how things are staffed, you know, there's just all kinds of things you have to deal with if you're a larger organization.

But I would say the best way to get buy-in is to keep making your case, figure out who the stakeholders are, you know, make acquaintance with the product managers, the UX people get close to the developers. Not always easy depending on the organization. But you know, don't just swan in with your SEO recommendations, you know, and try and try and push it through.

Now, you need to demonstrate how it's going to help everybody, how it's going to help the organization achieve its objectives.

Sarah: Yeah. I suppose, like relationships and talking in, like in ways that they understand why it's important, I suppose. Isn't it. Awesome. Okay. So obviously what sort of advice would you give for prioritization like the key things to get done within Core Web Vitals?

Natalie: Well, I would. Focus on again, it depends on the size of the site. So let's just talk about, you know, large eCommerce sites and just take that as an example, if it was a small site, just get it done. But when there's a need for prioritization, I prioritize based on the pages that stand to lose the most traffic, if they were affected by the updates.

So imagine the worst-case scenario that failing Core Web Vitals assessment will mean that your competitors leapfrog you and you do lose traffic. That's the reason that you'd focus on the pages that are most important, generating the most organic traffic at the moment, all the page types, page templates but then also the competition and this is something I'm still sort of weighing up about this competition element because you don't know that in 28 days if I get the context in this 28 days thing, 28 days is the lag on the field data provided by PageSpeed Insights user experience report.

We benchmark our competitors based on, what their field data score is at the moment. There's no visibility on what development work they're doing at the moment. So we sort of there's a 28-day lag. So I'd say, do prioritize the work based on how much of a risk the competition is, but also bear in mind that you might not have full visibility of that.

Areej: Yup. And what are the best ways? So you mentioned benchmarking data a lot. So what are the best ways that we can make sure we're set up for success and we know exactly what we're benchmarking against? So how would we go about measuring and tracking our metrics and how do we ensure that we can constantly report on that?

Natalie: So I would say the first port of call is taking a look in Google Search Console. When the report has been rolled into a Page Experience report, which is in line with the update, which is you know, due to cover, not just Core Web Vitals, but mobile friendliness security, you know, all kinds of things that go into the user experience. But Search Console gives you a summary that is very top-line and you do need to do further analysis on it, but it will summarize how many of your pages are achieving a good score on the core revised assessment. How many are a needs improvement and how many are poor? And then it rolls up and helpfully groups together the similar issues across page types. So it will tell you how many similar pages are affected by the same thing. But it does only say this is a cumulative Layout Shift issue, or this is a Large Contentful Paint issue. You need to dig deeper to figure out what's going on, but I'd take that as the first benchmark and, and always be monitoring.

You know, once you're making the changes to the page templates and everything be monitoring your performance within the report in Search Console. I'm not brilliant with dashboards and Data Studio, to be honest, I'm someone who just deals with all my benchmarking in Excel, sometimes quite manually.

I could probably do that a bit better, but I do that so I can be hands-on with the data and intimately acquainted with it. So I'll take benchmarks, I'll try and crawl for all the whole site and take a benchmark of all of the field and the lab data using Screaming Frog, and PageSpeed Insights API.

And then summarize from that how the different page types are performing, I'll put them into a sort of a summary sheet and then you can see at a glance exactly what the scores are against the different templates. But also, Data studio has provided some, yeah, some good dashboards.

Just literally I think it was a Google Core Web Vitals dashboard. The data studio dashboards will come up. So they are a good starting point as well.

Sarah: Wonderful. I feel like there are just so many more questions, things that we could talk about. But just be conscious of time because time is flying, isn't it?

So sort of like my last question in this area is where can people go to learn more about Core Web Vitals? What are some of the good resources out there, or like good things that you've come across?

Natalie: I think the person who's owning this space at the moment is Jamie Indigo. She's done some amazing, good articles.

She put it out the other day on Search Engine Journal and the talk she did at Tech SEO boost. Jess B Peck did a deep dive into what affects Cumulative Layout Shift. So that's good if you want to get into sort of a deep dive into that specific metric.

But I'd also Google's documentation on this. So web.dev is the best resource to start with, but then if you want to add colour. Start with those kinds of people.

[Feature Quiz]

Sarah: Lovely. Well, that brings us to the end of another Women in Tech SEO podcast. Natalie, where can people find you? So if they want to carry on learning from you or see what you're sharing, what you're doing, what you're talking about, where's best that they can do that.

Natalie: I mostly use Twitter. So I'm @njmott on Twitter. I'm on LinkedIn. Don't go looking for my website. I've not had a chance to make it anything resembling a proper website.

Sarah: I love Twitter. I love the community on Twitter. It's so nice and lovely. Isn't it? I mean, how can people get in touch with us?

Areej: Yeah. So womenintechseo.com, you can find our podcast on there. If you want to be a speaker, fill out a form and we'll be in touch to schedule you in, we've got a sponsor form up there as well. And you're more than welcome to join our community. We've got a Facebook and a Slack group, all the info you can find on womenintechseo.com.

Sarah: Wonderful. And then the only last thing that I would say is if you enjoy our podcast and you've not yet subscribed, please do. Because yes, that means that you get notifications of when new episodes are ready and waiting for you. Right. I think. The only thing left for us to do is say goodbye, goodbye, goodbye. And until next time.