While I’m not the biggest fan of writing a “101 guide”, I only started understanding what an SEO Product Manager does when I became one. It’s relatively a new job title that’s rising, so I believe it’s worth explaining what an SEO PM does (based on my experience) and why it’s different from other SEO roles.
Essentially, an SEO Product Manager spends most of their time building features. These features can be fairly technical, but not necessarily. For instance, last year I got to release author pages. This involved UX (to design the page) and Content (to collect details from hundreds of authors) and Engineering (to build the pages) - this project wouldn't even get started unless everyone was on board.
From idea to going live, there’s a lot of "paperwork": a product requirements document, feedback on PRD, hypothesis, effort estimate and competition with other initiatives, sometimes not just from SEO. It’s simple on paper but gets complicated with hundreds of thousands of pages. The more you dig, the more layers of complexity you find. Did I mention we had these pages in over ten languages?
Building features and proving impact
The most exciting thing for me, as a Product Manager, is that you get to build a vision for many features. Most are user-facing, some are internal tools as well. You’re highly dependent on other teams, like engineers, for ideas to become reality. Some initiatives have multiple layers: cross-team, cross-country and cross-product. So knowing how to pitch, finding the right arguments, stripping to the basic elements (aka Minimum Viable Product, MVP) and proving impact are all part of the job.
Usually, SEO PMs only have a handful (or fewer) of initiatives running at the same time. These are discussed with different teams for feasibility, impact and effort and take months to go live. That's a moment of excitement, but there's a huge step afterwards: prove impact on the business. Traffic and conversions are one way to do it, but they don’t work alone to prove the impact of a specific initiative. As I've heard from a Senior Product Manager, "the growth could have happened for another reason". I’ll briefly touch on how to prove incremental impact during my brightonSEO talk on 15th September.
Once something is live, you keep tweaking them to find more wins. Some require more engineering (and other teams) resources, but it's usually not as heavy as the MVP. So you keep testing new angles and try to squeeze more, even when an idea is already successful.
As an SEO PM, often you’re also part of the engineering team - stand-ups, sprint planning, triage - and you might be the gateway of many requests - so you’ve to learn how to prioritise. What can actually have a business impact vs a nice to have feature?
The discipline of Product Management has made me better at evaluating trade offs of technical SEO factors and which ones to prioritize at scale. Holly Miller Anderson, Lead SEO PM at Under Armour
To fix or not to fix...
Do you fix a bug first? Do you focus on short or long-term? Once you’ve to prove impact at scale, a lot of things become trivial - Suddenly a type of structured data that is only applicable to a small percentage of pages becomes irrelevant when you find that it costs the same to complete an internal link feature that’s usable worldwide.
Inspiration from other SEO PM
A complexity comes in when you are in a bit more of a hybrid SEO PM role. You need to do discovery and prioritize new features or feature improvements but you also need to take care of more operational optimization, juggling this can get pretty difficult. Where possible I would definitely advocate for a clear separation here even though a product mindset is still beneficial to have across the entire SEO team and across the organization. Vanda Pókecz, SEO Team Lead at Ladenzeile
Being or acting as an SEO PM also means adapting and translating SEO into business language as well as for developers and UXs. For example, most of the time, execs want to know about business impact, revenue, LTV and so on and not traffic, impressions, ranks. It requires training the business and product vision at the same time. Luiz Freire, SEO Consultant
While I don't currently hold the job title, I've been fulfilling these responsibilities since day one. In my view, success as an SEO Product Manager hinges on mastering communication with diverse stakeholders in their language. Shri Vidhya, SEO Manager at Spiceworks Ziff Davis
It's a HUGE advantage to have an SEO on your team that straddles marketing and product. Personally, they learn how to prioritize and scale better than if they are only in marketing. But being a voice that can pull the two orgs together is unbeatable. Working with a good PMM, you can realize opportunities more efficiently than teams with a marketing-only SEO structure. Clif Claycomb, SEO Consultant