Welcome to “This is how we SEO” interview series. This is a brand new series where we interview thought leaders and amazing personalities from the SEO industry. Pick their brains and understand how SEOs really work. Enjoy!
Victor Pan. Does the name ring a bell?
Everyone knows HubSpot. The name is synonymous with growth. They championed “inbound marketing” back in the days.
They showed the marketing world, how to execute and scale content marketing for businesses and still make it look cool.
Victor Pan, is the Technical SEO Head at HubSpot.
Popular for his honest opinions on SEO, Victor is one of those few in the field, who stands grounded by his convictions and is known for his performance and results.
“Head of Technical SEO and a good human being at HubSpot” reads his LinkedIn title.
In an industry where everyone squeezes in every word to “market” themselves, you gotta have very strong convictions to lead with such a title.
In this interview, we managed to pick his brain on SEO, its future, strategy, execution and some very interesting things in between.
Thank you so much for doing this Victor! Here’s the interview.
How do you define SEO?
Influencing an algorithmically determined ordered list.
What are some of the cool things you’re doing at HubSpot?
“Multi-step subfolder to subdomain migration using proxy redirects.
Turning content into product.
Turning product into content.”
What was your biggest challenge in SEO and how did you overcome it?
Victor has an interesting Twitter thread on this. check it out here.
Will X hurt SEO? Will X improve SEO? “It depends” has become the filler word for SEO’s to buy time as they gather their thoughts. It’s also a way of saying “I don’t know without more information,” or “I’d have to search what you’re trying to ask me – because jargon.”Victor Pan
Comment: We hear you Victor. Wish more SEOs were honest about it.
What’s your idea of an SEO team – How should it be structured?
The ideal SEO team would change its structure based on the values and goals of the business. If the business evolves the structure needs to evolve.
For example, HubSpot’s marketing team has restructured three times since I’ve joined as an employee and the results speak for themselves.
What do you think of Google turning out to be this one stop place to find everything? Is it good or bad for website owners?
Google’s one-stop search experience hurts small businesses and individuals that lack time and digital expertise and benefits those who follow and adapt to their changes.
Where do you think SEO is headed beyond 2020?
Over 50% of voice searches will be through a voice search in 2030…. you heard it here first!
Comment: Victor is candid at best here! 😀
What are the biggest skills for an SEO in your opinion?
EAT is not a ranking signal but guidance that Google’s ML algorithms strive for. It’s pedantic semantics, but an important one – at the end of the day too many people are shrugging off John’s (Mueller) advice to do what’s best for the user. Yes, do that and be nice to Googlebot. Nobody asked you who’d you save if your wife and mother fell in the water!
Comment: Empathy is a value that I’ve seen HubSpot advocate (and implement) top down, right from Dharmesh Shah to everyone! 👏
How do you stay updated with trends in the industry?
I used to have an RSS feed on Feedly on every outlet you can think of. At first it’d take me 3 hours to go through it every day, then it was 1 hour. You build up a skill to skim and understand the main points of things very quickly.
I may not know how to solve something at a deep level, but I know who to reach out, whether a problem has been “solved before,” and veteran SEO’s have a culture of giving back.
What’s something that you see a lot of people do and follow in SEO but doesn’t really work.
“SEO optimized images” that are stock photography and expecting it to rank in image search when it’s being used metaphorically.
Sure, add the alt text for accessibility, trim down that image for better performance, but don’t get too excited when impressions skyrocket, CTR plummets, and average rankings increase for something that doesn’t turn into business results.
Unless you’re in the business where images convert (e.g. stock photography) traffic without a purpose is a wasteful business cost.”
How does your typical day at work look like?
I’m not counting in times of COVID19. Ideally in 2021, 50% family+life, 25% unplanned projects, 25% planned things set out for the year.
Realistically, work will bleed over to life because I have that Asian work ethic that’s culturally ingrained in me the way my parents worked really hard and spent very little time with me as a child.
I am not working in Taiwan because I don’t want that 8AM – 8PM life where work becomes your identity and life.
I’m privileged to do have work-life design at HubSpot because I can be very particular and intentional on how time is spent.
There’s nothing quite like raising kind, thoughtful kids and seeing your partner become a better version of themselves through a pandemic.
What’s your favourite productivity hack?
Follow people and their problems.
When you run into a similar one, reach out and learn from their experience. They’ll become your mentors and you’ll make a lot less mistakes.
What’s your advice to young SEOs who are exposed to a lot of information from the industry?
Focus on your fundamentals. Solve a lot of problems.
Your intuition will get better (I swear) and the promotions will come not as a result of your seniority (or job hopping) but rather your ability.
Comment: Wisdom! Couldn’t agree more.
What’s a recent SEO experiment/win that you’re proud of at HubSpot?
Because people love to emulate what HubSpot does, to an extent that I’d argue it makes the internet worse, I’d like to defer answering this question.
What do you think SEOs should do during and after a Google update? Especially when things look bad. Should they immediately make changes or wait?
Look at the data and their priorities. Follow the money and follow your values.
Your little SEO secret that you’ve never revealed.
I am not an expert on Baidu, but people assume I am.
What KPIs do you suggest SEOs measure?
Organic traffic, page-level ROI, and something qualitative about your users.
A long time on site can mean either the user can’t find what they’re looking for or your content is really engaging. A survey or user study answers that question.
Should these definitions change (e.g. different way of measuring them) be sure to add footnotes highlighting changes in your charts and presentations.
Comment: Couldn’t agree more. Fancy v/s real metrics!
On a scale of 1-5, how important are page load times in your opinion?
One of your article tops No.1 on Google and after X months, slips down. What do you recommend to do in such situations?
“First determine if that article is important. Like hey it creates leads or product sign-ups for my company – or hey it’s a nice number and my clients would be happy. If it doesn’t pass that test, ignore it.
If it’s important..
- Check for penalties.
- Inspect that URL to uncover whether your robots.txt or meta tags are to blame.
- If it’s nothing crawling/indexing related its time to look at the SERP, your competitors, and empathize with the searcher.
Improve the existing page, don’t change the url, and see where it goes after it has been crawled.
Comment: Take away. Don’t be manipulative. Be empathetic.
Do you recommend using any SEO Chrome extensions?
Whatever makes you more productive. I use Safari so no comment.
I’m kidding I use Chrome Dev tools the most, Ayima redirect path, Tag assistant, and the Great Suspender a lot.
Yes, I have over 50 tabs open in any given day and over 40k unread emails because they’re not worth my click.
Comment: 40K Unread emails! 🤯
What skills do you look for in SEOs when you’re hiring them?
I’m fortunately not doing any hiring these days – that’d be the team managers Aja and Karolina.
At HubSpot HEART is looked at – Humble, Empathy, Adaptable, Remarkable, Transparent and it is a solid framework to not hire assholes in the workplace.
The only addition I’d add is to look to hire someone who has a different upbringing so you can mutually learn from each others’ perspective.
What are some creative ways to build/earn links in your opinion?
Pretty sure the Four Seasons Total Landscaping company built a lot of really impressive links.
Comment: LOL! For those missing context, read this.
Who’s your favourite personality in SEO/Marketing you follow (if at all) and why?
Ohgm is hilarious.
Comment: For context, click through. LOL!
Final question. A quote that you live by.
I’ve known Victor since a long time. On a funny note – His elusive nature was a bit worrying first (profile pic checks out! :-p), but has become his trademark today.
Victor is a great human being. Smart, yet humble, hilarious, and empathetic. His career and work speaks volumes about his skills but you won’t find him talking much about it, unless it made sense or was in the right context.
I sincerely appreciate the time Victor took to do this interview. He clearly could have said no, but didn’t. Thank you Victor, from all of us at Rankz!
Learned so much from this one.
Images courtesy – Victor Pan YouTube Channel