Growth in internal leadership for SEO with Tessa Nadec

Evolving and maturing in your career from a tactical SEO professional to a strategic leader is no easy feat, and there are plenty of people who will question your aspirations along the way.

Just ask Tessa Nadec, Senior Director of SEO Content and Product Strategy for Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader.

Your club recently told me, “I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told that ‘SEO is not a career path’.”

“SEO is a satisfying career path with endless growth opportunities, especially if you do well in analysis, critical thinking, and constant change. I spend a lot of time thinking, ‘What next?” When in reality SEO is a career path. Very fit.”

Tessa was a technical web analyst for United States Steel when an acquaintance presented her with an interesting opportunity: a small steel manufacturing/sales company looking to hire someone to build their SEO and inbound marketing presence.

“I honestly ended up doing SEO by accident,” she said. As the company’s only marketing employee, she was single-handedly figuring out how to solve a manual penalty that was discovered on her first day.

In this interview, Tessa shares her professional journey from an introverted marketer to an in-house SEO leader – someone who became adept at developing talent, motivating teams, and evangelizing SEO across the organization.

Paving the career path in search engine optimization

Can you tell us more about what drove you to work in SEO? What was the path that got you to where you are today?

Tessa call you: “After spending a year in that first role, I went to DICK’S Sporting Goods, where my SEO career accelerated.

The team was bigger than most, and I had the opportunity to learn more than I could have ever imagined, and fast.

I worked a lot with our onsite SEO SaaS partner, Matt Grabiak, learning the ins and outs of technical SEO.

I am forever grateful to Matt and the other people I met along the way who taught me not only SEO but how to build and lead a team.

As an introvert, I never envisioned myself as a people leader in the early years, but the transition to earlier companies was necessary.

In my first role as a people leader, I learned a lot about managing teams and the kind of leader I want to be.

Since then, I’ve worked a lot on my role as the leader and environment for my team. To my surprise, I also fell in love with the leading teams, removing barriers, and celebrating their victory.”

Transferable skills will serve you well in SEO

I have worked in a variety of sectors – steel buildings, sporting goods, vehicles, education and more. What do you think are the most important transferable skills in SEO that will take you anywhere?

Tessa call you: “There are many different paths in SEO, but there are skills and characteristics that make SEO successful based on my experience.

Communication skills are a must no matter the position. The ability to communicate who, why, and how effective it is is invaluable.

Second, being adaptable. Algorithms change, industries change, and we have to change with them. There will always be parts of SEO and any functionality we can’t control.

However, we can control how we adapt, and if you succeed in adapting, you will do well in SEO.”

Evangelize at the leadership level

On your LinkedIn profile, one of your responsibilities is to “advocate and propagate your SEO through organization and leadership.” What tips can you share to help others do this successfully?

Tessa call you: “As a senior manager, my responsibilities have expanded.

Our organization has gone from about 11 to about 30. And while this expands my scope, the work on evangelism is still there.

In this organization, we are fortunate to have a lot of executive endorsement – this wasn’t always the case in previous roles.

SEO can take a back seat to other priorities, but anyone can change this perception with the right approach.

Not only is executive support necessary, but the involvement of your colleagues and cross-functional teams is critical.

Strengthening those relationships and demonstrating value are two things that will change the game. You can’t expect a team to prioritize work when they don’t understand ‘why’.

As an SEO, it is your job to show ‘why’. SEO is no longer a black box where we have no idea what will happen. We can certainly make informed predictions.

Get rid of impostor syndrome and acknowledge the fact that no one in your company can do it like you can.

You also need to know when to compromise and when to pay the most for something.

Maturity in your career means you can see the bigger picture, which means SEO isn’t always your top priority. Realizing this is a game changer and makes working with others more manageable and productive.”

Striking the right balance between leadership and management

At your leadership level, how is your time divided between SEO strategy, people management and other activities?

Tessa call you: “At my level, I balance my time around managing strategy and setting the stage for achievement.

I always emphasize that I am my business leader in that I am not just talking about SEO or leadership; I can also optimize for search engines.

This is something I emphasize and is vital to me because when our team needs a vacation, or when something else comes along, I’m here to provide coverage and fill without a problem.

I spend most of my time collaborating with our team to discuss ideas and stimulate their growth.

We have a great environment where everyone has a voice and is not afraid to say “I don’t know”.

We all have strengths and weaknesses, and it’s my job to make sure our platforms allow everyone to express their opinions, ask questions, collaborate with purpose, and grow in their roles.”

Make sense of disruptive trends

Are there any emerging trends in the digital space that you think will become particularly disruptive and what should marketers know about them now?

Tessa call you: “In my opinion, there are always trends that come up and disrupt SEO.

This is why it is essential to ensure that you align with the partners in your organization.

Consider the emergence of more paid features, video, social networking, news, and other features entering the space.

Without productive synergies with your partners, this is devastating to SEO, but it becomes an overall strategy with partnerships.

Best-in-class enterprise SEO cannot be done in silo alone; It takes the village.”

concluding thoughts

What do you wish you knew before getting into the field of SEO that you would share with others to help them grow and succeed?

Tessa call you: “Although SEO is not always easy, it is a satisfying career path with endless growth opportunities.

SEO can be a great career path if you are good at analysis, critical thinking, and constant change.

Note that I said career path: I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told, “SEO is not a career path.”

I spent a lot of time thinking, “What next?” When SEO is actually a very valid career path, whether that’s traditional SEO or growth! “

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Featured image: Courtesy of Tessa Nadec

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