Growing Into In-House SEO Leadership With Tessa Nadik

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 Nadik, the Senior Director of SEO Product and Content Strategy for Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader.

“I cannot count the number of times I was told, ‘SEO is not a career path,’” Nadik told me recently.

“SEO is a fulfilling career path with endless growth opportunities, especially if you do well with analysis, critical thinking, and constant change. I spent too much time thinking, ‘What’s next?’ when in reality, SEO itself is a very valid career path,” she added.

Tessa was a technical web analyst for United States Steel when an acquaintance introduced her to 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 in SEO by accident,” she said. As the company’s only marketing employee, she was on her own in figuring out how to resolve a manual penalty discovered on her very first day.

In this interview, Tessa shares her career journey from introverted marketer to in-house SEO leader – one who has become skilled in developing talent, motivating teams, and evangelizing SEO across the organization.

Paving A Career Path In SEO

Can you tell us more about what led you to a career in SEO? What was the path that brought you where you are today?

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

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

I worked a ton with our SEO SaaS on-site partner, Matt Grabiak, learning the ins and outs of technical SEO.

I am forever grateful for Matt and the other people I met along the way that taught me not just 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 it was necessary to move up in prior companies.

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

Since then, I have worked a lot on my role as a leader and my team’s environment. To my surprise, I also fell in love with leading teams, removing roadblocks, and celebrating their wins.”

Transferable Skills Will Serve You Well In SEO

You’ve worked in a variety of verticals – steel buildings, sporting goods, vehicles, education, and more. What would you say are the most important transferable skills in SEO that will take you anywhere?

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

Communication skills are a must regardless of position. Being able to communicate the who, why, and how effectively is invaluable.

Secondly, being adaptable. Algorithms change, industries change, and we have to change with it. There will always be parts of SEO and any career that we can not control.

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

Evangelizing SEO At The Leadership Level

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

Tessa Nadik:  “As Senior Director, my responsibilities have expanded.

Our organization has gone from around 11 to roughly 30. While this expands my scope, the leg work to evangelize is still there.

In this organization, we are fortunate to have a lot of executive buy-in – that was not always the case in previous roles.

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

Not only is it essential to have executive buy-in, but your peers’ and cross-functional teams’ buy-in is just as critical.

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

As an SEO, that is your job to show the ‘why’. SEO is no longer this black box where we have no idea what will happen. We certainly can make educated projections.

Throw that imposter syndrome out and own the fact that no one at your company can do this as well as you.

You also need to know when to compromise and when to push as hard as possible for something.

Maturing in your career means you can see the larger picture, which means SEO isn’t always the top priority. Being conscious of this is a game-changer and makes working with others more manageable and productive.”

Striking The Right Balance Between Leadership And Management

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

Tessa Nadik: “At my level, I balance my time around strategy management and pave the path for achieving.

I always emphasize that I’m a hands-on leader in that I don’t just talk about SEO or lead; I can also do SEO.

This is something I emphasize and is vital to me because when our team needs vacation time, or something else comes up, I am here to offer coverage and fill in without a problem.

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

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 is my job to make sure our platforms allow everyone to speak their mind, ask questions, collaborate with purpose, and grow in their roles.”

Making Sense Of Disruptive Trends

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

Tessa Nadik: “In my opinion, there are always trends that emerge and disrupt SEO.

This is why it is essential to make sure you are aligned with partners in your organization.

Think about the emergence of more paid features, video, social, news, and others that have entered the space.

Without productive synergies with your partners, this is disruptive to SEO, but it becomes a well-rounded strategy with partnerships.

Best in class enterprise SEO can’t be done in a silo alone; it takes a village.”

Closing Thoughts

What do you wish you had known before entering the SEO industry that you’d share with others to help them grow and succeed?

Tessa Nadik: “While not always easy, SEO is a fulfilling career path with endless growth opportunities.

SEO can be a great career path if you do well with analysis, critical thinking, and constant change.

Notice I said career path: I cannot count the number of times I was told, ‘SEO is not a career path.’

I spent too much time thinking, ‘What’s next?’ when in reality, SEO itself is a very valid career path, whether it’s traditional SEO or growth!”

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Featured Image: Courtesy of Tessa Nadik