Interview with an SEO specialist: Arnaud Mangasaryan, Head of SEO for SSENSE
In this article, we interviewed Arnaud Mangasaryan (aka Ramenos). Working in SEO since 2005, Arnaud received his Masters’ Degree in New Technologies & Project Management at the French school Hetic, located in Paris. Recently, he became head of SEO at SSENSE, a luxury clothing online retailer located in Montreal, and a Trustpilot client.
We spoke to Arnaud about SEO, eCommerce, and what companies can do to improve their SEO.
Trustpilot: How long have you been an SEO specialist and across what industries?
Arnaud Mangasaryan: I decided to start doing SEO because of the simple question: “why should we create the most beautiful, fast, and easy-to-use website if nobody can find it?”
Back in 2005, SEO was still a mysterious job, not really known in the web industry. I started to work in an agency and then I decided to move myself in-house. I prefer long-term SEO strategy and participate in the product evolution instead of working by contract. During my career, I worked for classifieds, real estate, and online newspaper companies based in France, UK, Germany, and Canada.
In 2011, I created the only SEO Association named DoYouSEO, based in Montreal. It’s goal is to promote the expertise and encourage group learning via SEO camps that are focused around specific topics decided by attendees. Two speakers share case studies around the chosen topic to let DoYouSEO members learn by example.
I have also been an SEO teacher at different universities in Paris and Montreal for 4 years. Sharing knowledge and experience is the best way to promote an expertise and working in SEO for an international eCommerce site like SSENSE is really exciting!
TP: What is your general approach in SEO - whether on technical SEO, overall SEO strategy, content and SEO, and other subsets of SEO?
AM: SEO is an expertise driven by Marketing & Performance. The main goal of SEO is to offer a great experience to potential customers that land on your site via organic search.
With that goal in mind, you can choose how you would like to approach the job. There is no unique answer for this but here’s my approach.
Globally, there are 3 main pillars around SEO:
Technical & structure: The primary part of SEO. Having a website structure that is easy for search engines to crawl and users to navigate is essential. Then, you need to prioritize what to index according to business goals and user intention.
User intention: Knowing how to structure your site, your pages, and your content for search engines is great but don’t forget that visitors generate traffic and revenue on your site, not search engines. That’s why it’s fundamental to know the profile of your customers. Generally, I like to have a long meeting with PR or Branding in order to learn more about who we target, who they are, and how they live their day-to-day life.
Skipping this step means you don’t want to adapt your strategy for your customers and you just want to do basic keyword research. Whatever you provide/sell on your site is associated to one or multiple topics. You need to understand how your customers are searching for these topics, around these topics, and understand what they expect to see. This is where the fun starts.
When you perform your keyword research, you need to anticipate what kind of emotion your customer is filled with as soon as they perform a search. This may affect the kind of result they are expecting to see.
User intention analysis is long, tough, but useful. Ideally, you perform keyword research, adapt it for your customers, your website, and for each country you are targeting if you have an international presence.
Off-site acquisition: The number (and quality) of backlinks is one of Google’s primary criteria to evaluate the popularity of a domain. Developing your popularity is crucial for SEO because this will impact mid/long-term incoming traffic from organic search, branded, or non-branded. Having these external signals matter to search engines. The context of each link is important and in 2017, you don’t want to linkfarm, unless you don’t care about the visibility of your site on Google (don’t forget, a sneaky penguin is watching you).
This third pillar of SEO requires creativity and solid communication skills if you want to diversify your approach and find new potential customers within several industry fields related to the culture of your company. And don’t forget: diversity - regarding business goals - is the key, much more than the number of backlinks.
TP: What has been the most recent Google algorithm change or update that has made a significant SEO impact for you?
AM: The 3 Google changes that may affect our organic visibility on mid-term traffic, are:
- The severity of Google penalties for Schema.org validation (you can have small manual penalties for unexpected details).
- Google AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) which affects the order of organic results. Consider this as an alternate simplified/superfast template of your pages (with an amp URL). This template must respect several rules from Google in order to be displayed on Mobile SERP.
- Space occupied by Knowledge graphs and Adwords results on Google SERPs (search engine results page).
TP: How is SEO different for an eCommerce company like SSENSE? Does anything change given that SSENSE is a high fashion company?
AM: Working for an international eCommerce company is really exciting. Fashion online eCommerce is a dynamic world, for both users and search engine bots.
First, the conversion is represented by something concrete (purchases) and you want to be the best for countries you target. For example, competitors are not exactly the same between France and US. In addition, the behaviour of our customer is fun to analyze. The funnel used to buy something is sometimes…really creative! Forget linearity.
Having a big catalog of products and knowing more of what’s sold pushes me to imagine new ways to capture potential customers - how can I better use all data available on the website to develop its structure and better answer to customers without affecting the value of the company?
At the same time, I need to develop the popularity of SSENSE as a brand, locally, nationally and internationally.
It’s a lot of work!
TP: I noticed SSENSE’s homepage is akin to a publication, rather than a virtual storefront like most eCommerce sites. How has that, if at all, impacted the SEO of the site?
AM: SSENSE has a specific culture and this makes a huge difference compared to our sales-oriented competitors. For SEO, this is clearly a challenge because you need to find alternative ways to achieve your goals.
At the same time, nothing is static, so I regularly work on different ways to find good balance between performance & creativity in order to reach my goals without affecting culture. I know that the first page does not show the potential of the virtual storefront we have, but like I said, nothing remains unchanged… ;)
TP: What are some of the most common SEO best practices that most companies/sites fail to implement? Why do you think they don’t do it?
AM: The most common failure I see on SEO is the misunderstanding of the expertise. A lot of companies are still thinking that they need to rank in 1st position for 2-3 keywords in order to generate revenue. Trying to rank for keywords is NOT a business goal. You can spend a lot to achieve this, but it’s going to be a waste of time and money.
The other mistake I see on eCommerce websites concerns the rules applied to the structure of the website facets, filters, and categories. All of this is required for user experience but they also represent an open door for useless crawling, duplicate content, and SEO performance dilution.
SEO is not an exact science. Doing only and exactly what Google asks is a good start but it’s not enough. SEO requires creativity, business affinity, and technical interest. According to my experience, good SEO is, like we say in French, “a sheep with 5 legs.”
The world of SEO is small and a lot of misinformation could be found easily on the web, even on popular SEO news websites. That’s why you need to be careful. Don’t consider a declaration as a 100% true fact. Google likes mystery and nobody knows how the search engine works completely. Like I often say, SEO is 50% technical, 50% business/marketing, and 100% tests.
TP: What has been one of the more challenging accomplishments for SSENSE from an SEO perspective?
AM: For now, I have focused on 2 main things:
- Change how SEO is perceived internally and show how SEO is critical for the company: like I said earlier, a lot of people don’t know what SEO necessarily is. One of the ways I eliminate myths and share concrete facts/actions is by organizing SEO workshops adapted to each department I am working with: IT, Sales, Marketing, etc. This way, people will know who you are, what you exactly do (really important), and how your work will impact them/help them.
- Establish and validate an international long-term SEO strategy for the company: time is money and SEO is not an exception. Whatever you want to change will be accepted if you can estimate with some precision how much additional revenue it will generate.
This part is not easy because SEO is not SEA and you need to find several criteria to establish your business case. For example, after some time, we found a way to evaluate incoming additional revenue for organic search for each new backlink earned from a new domain.
TP: What are some of the most impactful actions one can take to improve their SEO? What about for eCommerce companies?
AM: Here are a few things you can do.
- Structure your website in a way that makes it easy to expand.
- Manage duplicate content, unavoidable in eCommerce, especially on product filters & categories.
- Decide whether you need to segment your eCommerce website by language or by country.
- Innovate in order to better fulfill user needs from search engine results by defining your business goals.
- Take care of your online reputation: for example, I care about SSENSE reviews written by our customers. Buying luxury clothing online is not an easy decision and it is necessary to find trust signals for our potential customers.
TP: Are there any myths or misleading SEO philosophies you still see people following?
AM: Here are some myths that I often read/hear:
- Duplicate content on the same website generates Google penalties: wrong, it will just dilute the SEO performance of your page.
- Linkbuilding is SEO: wrong, especially if you work only on this like a spammer.
- SEO expertise is a marketing job: wrong, it’s driven by Marketing. You need technical skills. It’s crazy to see some senior SEO experts who don’t know what status codes like 503, 302 or 410 means.
- Think by keyword to rank for: wrong again. You can see a lot of results on Google that will rank for a keyword that does not appear on the title. You should target a topic that is associated to a semantic field but forget the concept of exact keyword. We are not in 1999 anymore.
- Focus on the page rank: Page Rank is just one criterion among 400 or 500 different criteria.
- Delete a page on the site to remove it from the SERP: wrong again. Google has a huge brain and the search engine memorizes everything.
I just want to thank you Trustpilot for this long interview and the time they spent with me on this.
TP: We’d like to thank you for your time! This was an extremely educational interview.