Optimize Episode 007: Shaun Hinklein on Ramp’s SEO & Content Marketing Strategy, Setting KPIs, and Buyer Journeys

Join Nate Matherson as he sits down with Shaun Hinklein for the seventh episode of the Optimize podcast. Shaun is currently the Head of SEO at Ramp, with previous notable experiences leading teams at Squarespace and Jet.com. This episode breaks down SEO KPIs and goal setting, crafting buyer journeys, and user experience optimization. Have your notepad handy as Shaun and Nate openly share techniques and outline frameworks that drive conversions at scale. For more information please visit www.positional.com, or email us at podcast@positional.com. What To Listen For: 02:40 Shaun’s Background 04:56 Shaun’s Thoughts on SEO Team Composition 07:45 Ramp’s Competitive Landscape: FinTech Startups & Legacy Companies 09:47 How To Craft SEO Buyer Journys That Convert 13:11 SEO is Cross-Functional 15:23 Are Cross-Functional SEO Relationships Mutually Beneficial? 17:13 What Does It Mean To Build Topical Authority 18:46 How To Set KPIs & SEO Goal Setting 27:26 How To Prioritize Revisiting & Optimizing Content 29:23 Shaun Speaks Pros & Cons of AI-Generated Content 31:24 Are Backlinks Important In 2023? 34:00 Are Internal Links Worth Doing? 35:06 Lightning Question Round

Jul 19, 2023

Learn More About Shaun Hinklein

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shaunhinklein/ 

Website: https://ramp.com/ 

What to Listen For:

02:40 Shaun’s background

04:56 Shaun’s thoughts on SEO team composition

07:45 Ramp’s competitive landscape: Fintech startups and legacy companies

09:47 How to craft SEO buyer journeys that convert

13:11 SEO is cross-functional

15:23 Are cross-functional SEO relationships mutually beneficial?

17:13 What does it mean to build topical authority

18:46 How to set KPIs and SEO goal setting

27:26 How to prioritize revisiting and optimizing content

29:23 Shaun talks pros and cons of AI-generated content

31:24 Are backlinks important in 2023?

34:00 Are internal links worth doing?

35:06 Lightning question round

Episode Transcript

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

00:00

If you really want this person to convert, you have to be that person. So what kind of content and user experience do you need at the top of the funnel? What do you need to see? If you've never heard of Ramp before and you're reading an article about a business credit card and you're EIN only, or you're a founder, or you're an accountant, and you're saying, “You know what? I have an accounting firm, and I need Ramp to make my life a lot easier, but I've never heard of Ramp, or I don't really trust it.” Well, what do you need to see? Notice how I haven't said anything about keywords. I haven't said anything about links. I'm just asking what you would need to see. You start there. And that's how the top of the funnel starts. Now we know what they saw, and we have an idea of what the first interaction is. Well, what's that second interaction look like? What's the third? Is it an email? Is it maybe a display ad? Maybe it's out of home. Maybe it's something that, like, really attacks a core competency of theirs or, like, addresses a core competency of theirs. He goes, “Oh, I love the fact that I can scan receipts. I didn't know that. I just needed a tool that was better than QuickBooks or Intuit or NetSuite.” That's how honestly we approach content and how we approach organic search.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

00:55

Hi, and welcome to the Optimize podcast. My name is Nate Matherson and I'm your host. On this weekly podcast, we sit down with some of the smartest minds in content marketing and SEO. Our goal is to give you perspective and insights on what's moving the needle in organic search. Today I'm thrilled to sit down with Shaun Hinklein. Shaun currently works at Ramp as the head of SEO, one of the leading corporate card and spend management platforms. And before that, Shaun has worked for a number of incredible companies like Comic-Con, Jet.com, and Squarespace on their SEO teams. In our episode today, I'm excited to learn more about his approach to building an in-house SEO team, building organic search channels in competitive categories, how he thinks about KPIs and measuring the success of an SEO channel, keyword cannibalization, and more. 

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This episode of the Optimize podcast is brought to you by Positional. At Positional, we're building tools for content marketing and SEO teams. We've got a great selection of tools for everything from content optimization to keyword research and technical SEO. And you can visit our website at positional.com.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

02:07

Shaun, thanks so much for coming on the podcast today. 

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

Thanks for having me, Nate.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

02:10

Yeah, I'm really excited for this conversation. I think what you're building at Ramp on the organic search side of things is really incredible. And I know you've got some great experience at some of the best when it comes to SEO — like, companies like Squarespace and Jet. And I know that you've been in this industry for longer than I've been in this industry. I think it goes back to, like, 2010 or 2011 when you first kind of got into content marketing and SEO. How did you get into this industry? And what does the journey look like so far?

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

02:40

Yeah, man. Thanks again for having me here. My journey into SEO — I mean, I don't think most people want to do search engine optimization right out the gate. I think they kind of find it along the way. And I was no different. I actually graduated with a journalism degree. I wanted to be Hunter S. Thompson, and I got a gig at MTV News. And then I found out that I was doing WordPress blogs for like Kurt Loder and Chuck Norris — not Chuck Norris, John Norris; I wish Chuck Norris. And then I kind of found out what SEO was by doing those WordPress blogs, like MTV Multiplayer, MTV Subterranean. And then once I found out that you needed to do SEO in order for people to read your stuff, I just kind of kept doing it — kind of kept digging more and more into it, going further and further down the rabbit hole. That led to consulting opportunities, that led to agencies, that led to kind of … really more focused on how do you get really good experiences to the top of search and how do you get people to read your stuff. And fast forward a few years later, and suddenly I'm an SEO.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

03:31

Yeah, and you've been at Ramp for almost a year, I think, right?

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

Yeah, it's gonna be a year in October. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

Yeah, and I know you've worked at an agency in the past, and you've worked in-house roles, too. What made you want to go back into, like, an in-house role at Ramp?

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

03:44

I love being an IC dude. I've been the head of SEO at a lot of different places. I've been very blessed to kind of weirdly be the first SEO at a company and build out that SEO team. And I just love being a part of something bigger than myself, as cheesy as that sounds. Building something with really, really cool people and making people's lives better is a really good way to justify optimizing for search engines as an existence, you know? So I think that with Ramp, that fits the bill, like, almost perfectly. We're revolutionizing and radicalizing the entire corporate card space. For Squarespace, we did it with websites; with Jet, we did it with e-comm. And it's just really, really awesome to be part of a bigger team that's kind of taking a stab at a … kind of like an antiquated industry. With Ramp, it's honestly just so much fun. Every day is something new that you're just diving into. It's very, very interesting, what we're working on, and it's never a dull moment.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

04:35

It's truly a great company and a great product. And it seems like an amazing team that you've built. I've met some of the other members of the Ramp team on, like, the SEO side of things. And a question that I'm always asked is, like, “What should team structure look like?” As you're building out your SEO team at Ramp, like, what does that current team composition look like? Is there any key takeaways or learnings you've had so far in terms of building that team?

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

04:56

Yeah, I mean, I don't want to sound too much like a hallmark card here, but a lot of the SEO, building-your-team type of stuff is really going to be more universal in terms of building a team, in terms of managing a team. Everything is really built around trust. You need implicit trust, and you need to know that people are looking to build the best user experience for our customers, and that their SEO strategy and approach is really built on that pillar. But getting into the nitty gritty, which is probably what you're more curious about, you definitely want your technical SEO chops, but you don't want to hire specific to technical until the need presents itself. What you're really looking for is a jack of all trades, master of none. You're looking for somebody that has a willingness to learn, that doesn't admit right out the gate that they know everything under the sun. The coolest part about SEO is that it's ever-changing. Like two days ago, Threads just came out, right? And already we have SEO guides around Threads. People are already talking about devaluing Reddit links. Twitter just got 50% removed from search. It's an organic environment and an organic organism in and of itself. And the people that like that chaos and love that kind of ingenuity and that currentness, those are going to be the best SEOs. It's not so much, like, “Oh, you need a content person, and you need a technical person, and you’ve got to get somebody who has HTML5.” It's more “Do you have somebody that cares how the internet works? Do you have somebody that really is invested in the growth and evolution of user experience? Do you care about Google E-E-A-T, or are you just buying links on Fiverr?” It's really figuring out, like, “How's that person think about SEO, and what drives them? Do they want to rank number one in the world for something, or do they want to provide the best user experience for that query?” And those two things are incredibly different. So I think it's more about the people that want the best for the user. And then you look into the toolbox. And then, of course, you know, you talk about, like, link gen experience, outreach, header tag audits — like, tools, using different things like Ahrefs and Semrush, Positional even. But yeah, I think it really comes down to more of, like, a core: Do you care about the user experience? Do you care about the internet?

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

07:05

I love that. Yeah, I think with the people I've hired on our SEO teams in the past, I think the team members who have truly excelled just have that inner curiosity. They're always trying to learn. They're always up for, like, a new project. And like you said, SEO and content, it's always changing. And that's part of the reason we're doing this podcast: so we can all keep up with the constantly changing landscape. At Ramp specifically. I know that you guys are in, like, a fairly competitive industry. I know that you're not afraid of competition, given some of the previous roles you had. But coming into this role at Ramp, was competition, like, something you were worried about? Was it something that you saw as, like, an opportunity? And, like, how do you think about competition — like when you're building out your content portfolio and building out the strategy at Ramp?

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

07:45

Yeah, that's a really good question. Is it something I'm worried about? Absolutely. I feel like anybody who says otherwise is just lying and trying to look cool and be a badass. Competition is a mountain to climb, but a lot of the cool things about SEO and online marketing in general is that it's all out there in the open, right? Like you can pull keywords, you can pull metrics, you can use tools to figure out what this space really looks like. And as long as you've got time and enough coffee, you can really figure out what you wanna create and what kind of plan you wanna execute against. It's something that is always top of mind. The cool thing about Ramp and the fintech space in general is that we are in a space and we're really uniquely positioned against companies like Capital One, Chase, Bank of America, Divi, Brex, you know, Rowe, and all of these kind of radicalized corporate card solutions. It's almost like an evolution in technology. So yeah, there's definitely competition in the traditional SEO landscape and PPC landscape, too, but there's also industry competition in general, offline. People are looking for a new solution. So it's not just ranking for keywords. In regards to your question of, like, how I approach the competition, it's not just “Hey, I got to stick this keyword in the H1 or else Google's not going to like me.” It's more “What do I need to say to this person to show them that this space is changing and getting better, and that Ramp is at the forefront of that, versus the 50-plus years of history of banking?” You know, like, that's a much cooler way to approach it in my opinion than it is to, like, “How do I rank for ‘corporate card’?” Because, you know, people are ranking for “corporate card” right now, and they're having four-second sessions. It's not about ranking for “corporate card.” It's about getting the traffic and showing them the journey and showing them the story.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

09:21

And there's, I'm sure, a lot of keywords that you could go after. I think “corporate card” is probably a good one, but there's probably many other different, kind of, stages of the funnel as you're kind of tracking that visitor and soon-to-be Ramp customer. How do you think about, like, buyer journeys and, like, using, like, content as a way to, like, move someone through that funnel, whether they're finding you at, like, the very end of the funnel, or maybe they're not ready to sign up for a corporate card, but you're still reaching them with a piece of content?

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

09:47

Yeah, that's a kickass question, too. So you kind of hit it in that last beat, that last beat right there. Without sounding too cheesy. I like to imagine it's me, I like to imagine that I'm the person that's making that search. And I'm not the person or the type of person that's going to sign up for a corporate card or a business credit card just because I read one blog article. I'm not gonna give you my email address just because I read one thing one time. I'm gonna give it to you after you've let me trust you, after I know that you are a pillar in this space and I know that you're providing value for people and saving them time, money, or whatever you have out there in the marketplace as a value proposition. And then I'm going to let you in on my world, and then we can figure out how we're going to interact together and basically transact. And I use myself as kind of that litmus test. And I've done it across a lot of different jobs because at the end of the day, it's really about user experience. Yeah, get the traffic. You know, I'm not saying marketing is the devil or anything. Like, I love it to death. But if you really want this person to convert, you have to be that person. So what kind of content and user experience do you need at the top of the funnel? What do you need to see? If you've never heard of Ramp before and you're reading an article about a business credit card and you're EIN only, or you're a founder, you're a small business owner, or even you're mid-market and you're looking to move over to a new solution, or you're an accountant and you're saying, “Oh, you know what, I have an accounting firm, and I need Ramp to make my life a lot easier, but I've never heard of Ramp or I don't really trust it.” Well, what do you need to see? Notice how I haven't said anything about keywords. I haven't said anything about links. I'm just asking what you would need to see. You start there, and that's how the top of the funnel starts. Now we know what they saw, and we have an idea of what the first interaction is — well, what's that second interaction look like? What's the third? Is it an email, is it maybe a display ad, maybe it's out of home, maybe it's something that really attacks a core competency of theirs or, like, addresses a core competency of theirs, and goes, “Oh I love the fact that I can scan receipts. I didn't know that. I just needed a tool that was better than QuickBooks or Intuit or NetSuite.” That's how honestly we approach content and how we approach organic search. It's creating a really kick-ass user experience and establishing that trust through social proof, through validation, through authority, through expertise, all the good boy and good girl Google E-E-A-T stuff that Google is making everybody kind of get on board with. We love that stuff, and I selfishly absolutely love that stuff. I think that's, like, guarding the internet and making the quality of content rise to the top, especially with all this AI stuff, dude. Like, all these people that are donking off 50,000 pages with gobbledygook stuff, that's how you make sure that it's protected. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

Yeah, and I know E-E-A-T is a highly debated subject and topic in certain SEO circles. And whether it's a ranking factor or not, I think just by, like, applying E-E-A-T best practices like having an author and an author bio and a terms of service and a contact page and an about page: like, all of those things are just helpful for that person that's coming to your website. It's providing a better experience. And if I'm going to go and sign up for, like, a corporate card, like, that website better have, like, an about page and a contact us page at a minimum for me to want to trust Ramp, especially if I've never heard of them before. And it sounds like SEO might be cross-functional. It sounds like as an SEO team, you probably work across and alongside a number of other teams at Ramp. I know you mentioned email as one part of the buyer journey. Does your SEO team often find itself working with other parts of the business? 

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

13:11

So I'll be very transparent here and tell you that throughout my career, one of the best happy accidents, if that makes sense, is the natural way SEO is a cross-functional component to organizations and companies. It has been a monumental life changer. Not even really dressing that up, it has been a life changer that you get to be in the engineering room, the product room, the product marketing room, the marketing room, because, yeah, everything kind of touches SEO as long as you allow it to. SEO can really help every part of that work. Ramp is no different. Squarespace was no different. A lot of the SEO teams that I build are cross-functional by nature because the managers that I've had that I love to death, and the mentors that I've had, have taught me that SEO should be cross-functional by nature. Over-communicate: that's the key to SEO success. Like, if we know and have data that can help an email campaign, and if email or product marketing … not to go on a super big rant here, but product marketing and SEO, they should be best friends. CRO and SEO: best friends. Paid search and SEO: absolute best friends. And if they're not, something's wrong. Like, there's absolutely no reason that those people shouldn't be getting beers or coffee and hanging out on a regular basis and sharing data insights and ideas and brainstorming. Content marketing and SEO: best friends. Cross-functional is part of SEO's nature. It's the super power. A lot of times, agencies kind of silo off SEO, and they think of it as, like, keyword jockeys — you know, like, “How do I subsidize my PPC spend? How do I save money in paid search?” That's just like one tenth of what you can do. Like a lot of the best SEOs I've ever met are the most creative people I've ever met. They're kids that were in bands, they're theater kids, they're drama kids. And it's because they have, you know … what's that meme, the Dave Chappelle one? It's like “Modern problems require modern solutions.” Like, that's SEO. Like, it changes every 10 seconds. You need to be on top of this stuff. But yeah, that's my long-winded way of saying yes, cross-functional, very important.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

15:06

I love that. And I wanna get a little more in the weeds on the cross-functional relationship with the paid search team. Do you find yourself, like, giving data to the paid search team, or do you find the paid search team giving you data more often? I guess who's asking who for more help, or is it a mutual relationship?

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

15:23

Yeah, it's definitely a mutual relationship. And this is for all the listeners that are a lot younger than me that want a career in SEO. Here, I'm going to give you the deets right now. You want to get an SEO job? Here's what you do. You go to this paid search people, or whoever the marketing manager is, and you say, “I'm gonna save you so much money, and here's what I'm gonna do. I want your AdWords data. I wanna see what gets you the biggest conversions. I wanna see the keywords that provide you the best clicks. And then I wanna build a dashboard where I can show you the organic share of voice that you rank for on those paid keywords.” And normally, it's gonna be a big old goose egg. And then you're gonna create a content plan, a data-driven content plan, so that you can go rank for those things and create topical authority and build authority so that you can start subsidizing that paid spend. The paid search team is absolutely gonna love you, the marketing manager is absolutely gonna love you, and now you've built an SEO campaign. That is my long-winded way to answer your question, which is absolutely, it is a mutually beneficial relationship. Paid search helps SEO because we get to see for free what works. You know, like, all right, let's say you got a client that's selling luxury safes at the Hamptons, and they want to rank number one in the world for “jewelry safe” — cool. But what if I spent $500 in AdWords and found out that that didn't do a damn thing because you needed to do CRO first, or no one trusted you because your website looks gross. Like you have no idea until you spend that money. So paid search is the best friend because they give us that data for free. And SEO is paid search's best buddy because once we have that data, we create the thing. We create that content, we create that song, that movie, that piece of art, that website, that product. And then they can scale it and make us a bajillion dollars because they've got the money. They're friends with the rich uncle; we're not. So it's a very mutually beneficial relationship.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

17:10

What does it mean to build topical authority, as you mentioned?

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

17:13

If you're listening this long, you probably would agree that I know a little bit about SEO. So I am topically relevant and authoritative in SEO. Building topical authority is convincing the world, the internet, Google, your friends, your parents, that you know exactly what you're talking about, and that you have the right to represent what you're talking about. And basically, without cursing, it's the BS detector. Like, are you full of crap? If you are, we're gonna find out. The internet will figure it out really quickly. But building topical authority is really building trust. Remember that whole earlier rant about trust? That's really what it is. Like, if you are WebMD and you're talking about pancreatitis, you better damn well have somebody that knows what the hell they're talking about. Because if you don't, I'm going to Columbia Surgery or Columbia Presbyterian, and I'm gonna research pancreatitis. Because they have built topical authority over years and decades, and they're putting it on the internet versus WebMD, who may or may not allegedly be just writing about it. You just don't know. So they have to have those topical authority checks within Google to figure it out. I'm not saying one is better than the other, but that's what topical authority is. It's kind of like the check.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

18:20

OK. And I know that we just started Q3, and I'm sure you've got some big goals for the third quarter. And I know that SEO teams and an SEO function, it's not for free. I know it costs money to create content, it costs money to build a team, and you've got to hit some goals. How do you think about those KPIs for, I don't know, the third quarter or for this year or just in general? How do you set them? What are they? And then how do you actually go out and achieve them?

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

18:46

Earlier in my career, I made a big mistake. I was afraid of metrics. I was afraid of data. I was afraid of being responsible for stuff that I necessarily couldn't control, because I convinced myself I couldn't control it. And without beating around the bush here, I'm really talking about, like, conversions, revenue, closed/won, you name it, Whatever — logos are the B2B thing. The biggest recommendation and advice I can give and answer your question head-on about the KPIs and the OKRs is, rally them up to a metric that's universally understood within the organization. Keyword ranks, cool. Traffic, even better, awesome. Organic traffic, love it. Love organic ranks, too. Love ranking for stuff. Love time on site, love engagement, love it. Google Analytics, all good. Looker, Amplitude, the best. But what's the North Star at your company? And how does SEO contribute to that? Is it revenue? Is it conversions? Is it leads? Whatever that is, that's your goal. Reverse-engineer from there and figure out the little pillars that you need to stand up as OKRs to ladder into that goal. And if you can't get there because of some sort of not provided or data integrity thing or privacy setting, OK, cool. Then just say that, you know, don't shy away from it. Don't do what I did for the first two years of my career as an SEO and only focus on the metrics that you can control. Learn whatever that North Star is and go after that. And if you don't know what it is or if there's something that's kind of, like, unknown, ask, ask other people. SEO is cross-functional; I already talked about that. You should probably have no real reason not to figure out what that is. But let's get really granular. OK, ours, I want money. I want to figure out who's buying into whatever company I'm working on for SEO. If that's sales for e-commerce, conversions, awesome. But again, I reverse-engineer my way to that. So time on site, that's incredibly important. Are people actually clicking? Page views per session? That's important as well. Organic visibility for non-brand and brand, incredibly important. A lot of people assume that you shouldn't take credit for branded traffic as an SEO. To that I say, no, you absolutely should take credit for brand. Here's why. There's a lot of long-tail branded stuff out there. Let's say your brand is Shaun Enterprises. Well, if I Google “Shaun Enterprises” a bunch of times, that could be because of a YouTube ad, that could be because of a podcast buy, that could be a million things, right? But what if I Google “is Shaun Enterprises a scam?” And what if Trustpilot pops up? Is an SEO going to help me there? I would say so. Little things like that, where brands and non-brands come into play. The share of voice and how share of voice is defined is pretty debated in SEO land, but I look at it as organic market share. Let's say I want to rank number one in the world for “refrigerator.” All right, that's great. So what happens when I rank number one in the world for “refrigerator”? What's that user experience? How do I dissect that into OKRs and actionable data and intelligence so that I can get to my North Star KPI, which is selling refrigerators? I know this is very ranty, but to answer your question head on, Nate, it's whatever that North Star metric is as an organization and reverse-engineering that into OKRs that the SEO team understands that can ladder up into sales. That can be engagement, that can be keyword rank, that could be brands, non-brand split, that could be page views per session. Lots of different ways to splice and dice that data. But the most important thing is that it's a universal, understandable goal that the whole org understands. And it's not something like, “Hey, we rank number three for this keyword.” Oh, great, did you sell anything? Can we pay the rent this month? Don't be afraid of that conversation.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

22:23

And I want you to, like, fact-check me in like some of the previous goal setting that I've done. So, like, at the first company I started, we marketed consumer financial products, and Dave, my VP of content and SEO — Dave's fantastic; he was just on, like, a recent podcast episode. You know, he worked with me for like six years, and we really struggled to come up with, like, the OKRs on a quarterly basis for a few reasons. There were a lot of algorithm changes and there still are; especially during, like, the 2016 to 2020 years, it felt, like, extremely volatile. I think, like, the algorithm changes are still quite volatile, but like we would enter into a quarter and set, like, traffic goals because for us, like, more traffic largely equaled more revenue. I do always like to say page views doesn't equal dollars, but at my first company, it largely did. Like, the more traffic we drove to our site, the more money we made. And so, like, the number one OKR for Dave was, like, drive more traffic. And in a certain quarter, we might set a goal and there might be, like, a shift in the algorithm, and, like, we would blow out that goal by, like, 50%. And then in another quarter, we would set a goal, you know — the wind was against us, things shifted. And no matter what Dave did in that quarter, no matter how good he did his job, like, there was no way we were going to hit that traffic goal. And so it felt impossible to set, like, accurate goals in terms of, like, traffic, which would … is, like, the top of the objectives. But it sounds like you break down, like, the goal setting a little bit more granular than we did. So, like, you're actually setting goals on user experience–related metrics to that content that … or pages that you're actually creating.

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

24:01

Yeah. Thanks for sharing that story, by the way, because I have a very similar one, too. There's no such thing as algo-proofing or future-proofing. Google's job is to make the internet and search better. We have to believe that. I know that they want to make a bajillion dollars and sell as much ad space as possible and steal organic click share with schema and all that stuff. Totally understandable. It's Google. But at the end of the day, we have to agree as a SEO community that Google wants the best user experience for their users. And the reason that I say that first is because there are ways to splice and dice these goals so that you create the best user experience when they land on the site, so that when an algorithm hit does happen, it's not as detrimental to your site. So things like conversion rate — let's say your traffic decreased but your conversion rate increased because you focused on the UX. Well, now it's not gonna hurt as much. Page views per session. What's the pagination look like? What's the technical SEO look like? What's your site health? That could be an OKR. Your site health could be like an 88 versus a 95. And that doesn't sound too important. It sounds super arbitrary because we're making it up, because it's a totally made-up example. But what if within those seven points, you fixed a canonical issue that led to a 20% increase in indexation. Well, there's your traffic. There's the traffic you just lost. So it's more about the story and what that story looks like versus what you're looking at. If you're just looking at the top of the funnel in traffic because traffic equals dollars, well, then you're missing a lot of the other parts of the story. What happens when that traffic hits your site? The 50% example that you just gave, the 50% blowout. OK, so you had that new traffic spike, you had those unique users. That's awesome. What'd they do? I'm curious, like, I'm not asking you legitimately right now, but, like, what did they do? Did they bounce in five seconds? Was your average site duration four seconds? Was it 20 minutes? Did they read everything that they possibly could? Did they give you the email address that you want? Did they do it 4% or 5% of the time? That's the story. And I don't know, honestly, doing this for over 10 years, I still don't know if it's really called SEO, but I always thought it was. I always thought that SEO was kind of just the culmination of all of this stuff. And now I'm finding out that it's really called growth marketing. And I feel like if you approach it from that lens with people in a cross-functional perspective, you're not gonna fail, because you're gonna be focused on the people versus the product in search. The product is so important. The product in search is your ability to get clicks in SERPs. Like, that's really what that is. So if an algorithm update happens, like, the helpful content thing or the generative AI thing and all these 50,000 page subdomains, you know, they get donked. Well, why did they get donked? Did they get donked because they weren't focused on the user experience, because they weren't focused on quality, or did they get donked because Google just hates AI? Like, we really won't know, but I do know that if we're focused on one part of the story, we're gonna miss out on all the other opportunity.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

27:04

OK, I have a few follow-up questions right away. So it sounds like you spend quite a bit of time thinking about user experience and the quality of the site. Like, how often are you guys coming back to, let's say previously published content or pages, versus, like, how much time do you spend creating, like, new content and pages? Is revisiting what's already on the site, like, a huge focus for your team?

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

27:26

Yeah, without getting too behind closed doors about it, I can tell you that we actually spend more time tuning than we do creating that new, because we need something to say. We don't want to create content if we've already said what we wanted to say within one piece of content. If we did, then it's our job to make it better. It's our job to go back to that piece of content and update it with relevant information: news, you know, beats, social proof, validation, new media, new technology, new data. There's no real reason to have the same article 15 times just because we want to rank for some keywords. I would actually hate it if a company did that to me because I would feel, like, cheated. I'd be like, “What the hell? I just wanted this one thing, and now you're making me go through this crap to get there.” Like, that's why user experience is kind of, like, the crux — because I would rather tune a piece of content eight times in a month, knowing that it's the best user experience for the people that are coming to Squarespace, Ramp, or whatever site I'm on, than write new blog articles just because. That doesn't mean I'm against content — quite the opposite. I mean, talking to me, you can tell I love content. I love the internet, but that doesn't mean creating stuff just for the hell of it. It means creating stuff that you really care about. And I got to assume that my audience is gonna care about it too.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

28:41

And I know you've got a lot of pages. How do you determine which ones you should come back to? And how do you decide what you should tweak?

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

28:48

Conversion data, you know? So like, what pays the bills? What do people actually get value in? What's my email capture rate look like? What's my conversion rate look like for these pages? What are my opportunities for growth? Is the traffic trending upwards? Do I have keywords that are indexed in traffic generating positions with high MSV? Overall exposure so that I can get a wider net and a wider audience, so that I can get more data to ultimately make the next thing I ship better. Like that's kind of the cyclical nature of SEO.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

29:14

And I have to ask because you brought it up. What should we think about AI-generated content? Should I be using AI-generated content on my website?

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

29:23

Yeah, so I'm going to get a little preachy here. And this is just my take. I don't want to start any wars. Or maybe I do. I think that AI is kind of amazing. I love it. But here's why I love it. It helps efficiency. It doesn't help quality. So what I mean is I use GPT for a lot of, like, note taking and project management stuff. I work with a lot of really amazing, talented, smarter-than-me product and project managers, which are very different jobs. But I am a terrible note taker. I am. I'm the type of guy that, like, speech-to-text stuff in my phone, back of the napkin, literally writing stuff on the palm of my hand. So you can imagine GPT-4 is kind of dope for a guy like me. But it doesn't mean that I'm going to write my next concerto with GPT. It doesn't mean that I'm going to create the next big SEO blog article with GPT-4, Jasper, or Midjourney. It means that I need to use it smartly. So I think that AI and programmatic right now are awesome, ingenious tools for SEO and content creators. AI honestly comes down to Spider-Man. With great power comes great responsibility. And it's nothing wrong with using Jasper, Leonardo, Midjourney, GPT, Tome, all of these tools. They're great tools, but don't donk off content that's low quality just because you think it's easier. Like, get an editor. Get somebody that's a subject matter expert. Google's literally screaming at you to do it. Like, Google E-E-A-T is a thing. It's been a thing long before it was a thing. Remember Authorship Rank, for all the old SEOs listening to this thing? Remember 2014? Like, this was a thing a long time ago. I think AI is kind of amazing and kick-ass, and I use it myself, but I don't put all my eggs in that basket. I use it to scale efficiency and to scale infrastructure. And then I focus on real storytellers, subject matter experts, editors, specialists. I use AI to make what I'm doing more efficient and scalable, but I don't do it to ship products.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

31:17

Backlinks, do they matter in 2023? Is it something that you're focusing on?

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

31:24

Yeah, quality backlinks matter a ton. Offsite SEO will always matter. I think that what these AI tools are just now trying to figure out is how to use interlinking and backlinking to tell a quality story as opposed to a quantity story. And they're figuring it out, and it's gonna take some time, which means that backlinks that are organic are going to be a lot more heavily weighted and authoritative. So it's something that's always gonna matter and something that should always be on the top of an SEO or a content person's mind, but focus on the quality. Don't focus on the quantity. Like, even if you get one backlink every two weeks, which doesn't sound like a lot, is it something that's relevant to your users and to what you're writing and talking about? Are you getting a backlink on a municipality government website when you're talking about water bills in that area? That's awesome. Keep that backlink. Go for it. Don't just spam backlinks on directory sites if they're super low quality, just because it's some juked stat in Ahrefs or Semrush because you want to see that number go up. Focus on quality. I, again, sound like the hipster uncle with user experience, but backlinks are definitely going to matter. It's about what they are, not how many you've got.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

32:35

I totally agree with you. And it always amazes me. I get asked, like, once per week from our customers, like, one, should they buy backlinks from Fiverr? And I always quickly tell them no. I often always get asked, like, should I hire a link-building agency. And the next thing I'll say to, like, our customers, like, you should ask for some samples. Like, you know, there are some great link-building agencies out there. A lot of people do do it the right way, but I would say 99% of them don't. And I always say to, like, ask for samples before ever hiring a link -building agency. And I'll see some of these samples that then get sent. And I'm like, “You actually don't want these backlinks going to your website.” But I do, I do agree with you. I think backlinks are still really important here in 2023. And I think too, though, as far as off-page goes — and now I'm going on a little bit of a rant. I think, you know, all of that other social signal that, like, people used to talk about in, like, 2014, 2015 — like, you used to be able to buy, like, social signals on, like, Twitter; you might still be able to. People used to try to optimize for social signals. But I think in 2023, Google's gotten really good at seeing social signals on TikTok, YouTube. And we've seen, like, a number of our customers have big spikes in organic search performance when they go viral on some of these other channels that are completely disconnected from SEO. So I definitely think off-page is probably, like, more important than it's ever been, in my opinion. And as far as internal linking goes, is internal linking something that we should be spending our time on? Is that worth doing?

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

34:00

I think so. Absolutely. Depending on the size of your site, that just changes its prioritization, but it will 100% always be something that you need to focus on. The interconnectivity of a website is so paramount now because so many websites are scaling using AI that they're just becoming top-heavy, and they're becoming a lot more difficult to crawl. With a lot of dynamic and programmatic content, you have a lot more redirects, you have a lot more 404s. So interlinking and telling Google what's important and what's providing their users value I think is going to be a manual human thing that is incredibly important. That, again, on my whole AI rant earlier, it's about efficiency. So if you can use a tool to do that and have those recommendations, awesome. But it's more important than ever to have them, because if you don't have them, what you're inadvertently telling Google and your users is that you thought it was really important to have a piece of content but you didn't think it was super important to show other people the content you created. That kind of is a weird contradiction. So I would say that to avoid that contradiction and avoid that hypocrisy, you definitely want to focus on interlinks.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

35:06

Shaun, this has been a great episode and if it's OK with you, we're going to jump into a lightning round where I'm going to ask you like five or six pretty pointed questions and I'd love to get your thoughts.

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

35:14

Cool, let's do it. I didn't know there was a lightning round, but as long as there's a prize at the end, I'm all for it.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

35:20

The prize is that we're going to include a link back to Ramp's website in the show notes. So you'll build at least one backlink today through doing this podcast with us. All right, so with the first question, I saw on your LinkedIn that you've invested in a handful of startups. It's something that I've enjoyed doing myself. I guess my question to you, well, rather a … would you rather invest in OpenAI here at, like, a $30 billion valuation if we're calling it a startup, or would you rather invest in Jasper at a $1 billion valuation?

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

35:48

Oh man, I want to be cool and say Jasper, but I'm going to go with OpenAI, and here's why. My dream is that this AI stuff actually changes the course of the environmental destruction and the collapse of the civilization as we know it. So Boston Dynamics and healthcare companies getting into OpenAI so that we can actually reverse a lot of the damage that we've been doing. And I think OpenAI is more suited to do that than Jasper. So open AI.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

36:11

What's the number one thing that SEO teams waste time on? 

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

36:14

DR. I hate saying that, but it's true. Domain rating, domain authority. You can build a really cool website and a really good product and a really good user experience. And if you do that, your links are gonna happen. Don't just link-fish for DR and artificially inflating it. Focus on the experience, and make sure people love you to death and want to sing your praises, DR will come. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

Shaun, I know there are a lot of tools out there. There's probably hundreds of different SEO tools you could buy. What's your favorite tool or the tool that you find yourself using most often?

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

36:46

Screaming Frog, no matter what. Screaming Frog, it should be the pillar of every SEO. Go on to YouTube, find a tutorial, learn how to use it.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

36:53

Keyword cannibalization, it's an issue I've dealt with for like 10 years now. Is keyword cannibalization something that you spend time thinking about or something that you battle pretty regularly?

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

37:03

A little bit, but it's more about the user experience again because keyword cannibalization, right — as long as we're talking about the same thing, and I'm pretty sure we are — is if I rank for “used cars near me” and I have two listings, and they're in the third and the fourth position, then I'm cannibalizing my keyword and I'm splitting my equity in half. Well, what's the better user experience, the third or the fourth? And what is the point of the third listing and the point of the fourth? Do they have the same intent? Do they have the same conversion endpoint? Maybe I should redirect it. Maybe I should just get rid of that page altogether if it's really ranking for that focus keyword. Or maybe I should just take that entire page and make it so that it ranks for another focus keyword and figure out what that user experience looks like. Or maybe I should ask my users on exit survey on that fourth link that I'm cannibalizing on and go, “What did you want when you got to this page?” Maybe I screwed up. That's a cheap answer, but the real answer is I battle it, but I battle it because it means that I screwed up on the user experience, and I want to figure out where do I need to fix it, so that I can provide the better user experience to my users?

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

38:03

Is SEO still going to be an important channel in five years from now?

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

38:07

I think it'll be the most important. I think it's going to be how quality content surfaces to the internet in a world of AI. And if you don't have it, I think you're going to be lost in a sea of programmatic. I think that Google E-E-A-T and SEO and paid are going to basically be the information network, and content will live on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram, and visualized media. And then that visualized media will be embedded into the information network. So yeah, I don't think SEO is going away. I know there's a lot of people out there that think that SEO is going to be dead and it's going to be replaced with robots. But SEOs are creative people. If we were just kind of like, “This H1 needs to have this keyword or I'm not going to get the traffic,” like, then, yeah, OK, that'll probably go away real quick, but that's never been what it is. Does your permalink structure matter? Yeah, because it determines how easy or hard it is for Google to crawl your site. Permalinks absolutely matter. It's a CRO factor. Like, if all of these links are super ugly and gross, people are going to maybe click off. They're gonna think that your site is antiquated, old. Also, people just like having it organized. And Google, Google likes having it organized. Some of the best sites have the best permalink structure because it's just easy to crawl.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

39:17

But Shaun, I really enjoy you coming on this podcast. I think this was one of our best episodes yet. And like I said, we'll make sure that you get a backlink in the show notes to the Ramp site as well as to your personal LinkedIn. Is there anything else you'd like to say for our listeners?

Shaun Hinklein (Speaking)

39:30

Man, this was a lot of fun, guys. Thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate that there are SEO nerds out there that care about UX just as much as I do. So shout out to Nate, shout out to Zach, shout out to the Positional team. And for all you SEO UX dorks that are listening to this, that lasted this long to the episode, thank you for listening. I really appreciate it. And quality is everything. Keep the dream alive. Share your stories, share your content. Don't get caught in the sweep of marketing. Use it as a tool to create kick ass content experiences.

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We used to create outlines for our posts, either by paying a consultant $75+ each, or by spending 1-2 hours researching and creating each one ourselves. With Positional, we can create the best outlines for our target keyword clusters and get alternatives within a couple clicks.

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Positional has proven indispensable in our SEO strategy. Its rapid optimization capabilities for our blogs led to noticeable improvements in search rankings within a month. From planning to making our content better, it’s like having a teammate. Our team loves it!

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Positional is a must-use tool for any growing startup that cares about SEO. It's simple and easy to use but as powerful as anything out there. Plus their customer support is next level.

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Positional has been an amazing addition to our SEO and Content team's workflows, enhancing our overall efficiency. We particularly love using Auto Detect and Internal Linking on a daily basis!

Lindsey Barnes
SEO Manager at Klay Media

Nate and the positional team are the best of the best in SEO, content marketing, and helping you grow your organic traffic. The combination of their expertise and the SEO and content tool they’ve built has allowed us to build a scalable content engine. Reach out to me anytime for a testimony. They are truly phenomenal.

Alan Zhao
Co-Founder & Head of Marketing at Warmly

As an SEO novice, Positional makes it easy. I can quickly go from keyword research, to clustering, to content outlines, then go focus on just making good content. I felt like it helped bridge the gaps between what would’ve taken 3 or more tools in the past.

Kevin Galang
Head of Growth at Definite

The first time we used Positional's toolset was to revamp an older but important piece of content. We used Optimize for optimization, and Internals for internal linking suggestions. We went from position #6 to #1 with the changes and increased our organic search traffic to the page by 400%. Today, Positional is an integral part of our blogging strategy, from topic generation to blog renovation.

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Positional's tools are an essential supplement to any search-driven content effort. They help us save time and produce better content for both our company blog and our clients.

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Positional's tools are an essential supplement to any search-driven content effort. They help us save time and produce better content for both our company blog and our clients.

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