Episode Overview: The internet has become a massive forum, bringing people together to exchange knowledge, ideas and goods. This exchange is rooted in philosophical principles creating a marketplace of sharing news, information and strategies amongst the SEO community. Join Ben for career day as he interviews Mozilla’s Global Head of SEO Raphael Raue who shares how philosophy has inspired his passion for SEO and fostered his drive to solve problems posed by the SEO community.
- Raue’s passion for SEO arose from his experience with the internet’s philosophical capability of giving people the ability to share specific point of views, connecting people and the ways people use it to interact with each other.
- “As an SEO you write for robots and people think you spam the internet via robots. But at the end you’re, most of the time, really an advocate for users.” – Raue
- Raue identified with Mozilla’s mission to ensure that the internet remains open and accessible and found it matched his interest in sharing his skills and knowledge to create a bigger, better internet ecosystem.
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Ben: Welcome to the Voices of Search podcast. Today we’re going to learn about the skills accumulated and lessons learned from a great SEO throughout the various stops on his career. Joining us for career day is an SEO veteran who works for one of the biggest and most important companies on the internet. Raphael Raue is the global head of SEO at Mozilla, which is a company and a foundation that’s mission is to ensure that the internet remains open and accessible. They’re best known for producing their Firefox browser. Beholden to neither shareholders nor investors, Mozilla Corporation is wholly owned by the non-for-profit Mozilla Foundation. And prior to his role working at Mozilla, Raphael held a variety of SEO-focused roles in the media and publishing industry.
Ben: But before we get started talking to Raphael, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise-scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data driven decisions. And to support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a free trial of these Searchmetrics services. That’s right, you can test the Searchmetrics or Research Cloud, the suite, the content experience, every little bell and whistle on the Searchmetrics Suite for free, no credit card required, risk-free. To try the Searchmetrics Suite, go to searchmetrics.com/freetrial.
Ben: Okay. Here’s my conversation with Global Head of SEO at Mozilla, Raphael Raue. Raphael, welcome to the Voices of Search podcast.
Raphael: Hey man, nice to be here.
Ben: Very excited to have you on the show. Thank you for staying up late. You are currently in Germany. I’m in the suburbs of San Francisco. It’s late for you, it’s early for me. And let’s just say I’m having my coffee and what are you drinking?
Raphael: I’m having a beer.
Ben: Like a good German boy, it’s the 7:30 beer.
Raphael: Of course, after work. Even though I’m on PTO today, so I just came in to talk with you and I thought a beer was a good choice.
Ben: Well it’s late in December. It’s appropriate. I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself and I really appreciate you coming in late. Let’s talk a little bit about your career. Obviously you’ve done very well for yourself. You have a very important role at Mozilla. Talk to us a little bit about the beginning of your career. How did you get into SEO?
Raphael: At the end, I think most of the people back in the days, I mean I’m old, but it’s still like it’s back in the days when we had completely different search engines like we have today, it was just by luck and accident. So I studied philosophy, bachelor and master actually. And at the beginning, I really needed money to fund my studies and I worked in construction. And I’m a tall guy without much muscles, so construction work is really hard work for me.
Raphael: But I always built websites. It was a fun thing. I don’t know, I did this in school, I think my first website was up when I was 16 or something. And at some point I found out like, “Yeah, you can earn money with this.” You can put advertising on your blog, you can build affiliate websites, focusing on a small niche and doing some stuff. And visitors come from, then Google, later it was a little bit about Facebook and stuff as well. But at the end I cared much more about SEO.
Raphael: Back in the days when I started, we didn’t call it SEO, I’m pretty sure the term was out there already, but I just like optimized websites and I tried to earn easy money. With easy, I mean I can do it whenever I want. So I can study and at night I can build my websites and optimize a bit, write some codes, do some pictures, that stuff. So, it was sort of a hobby. In my studies, most people laughed about me because they read Hegel and Goethe and stuff like this and I was building websites and doing crazy stuff on the internet. The internet wasn’t that important, but now it is.
Ben: It’s an interesting start of a career where you’re a philosophy major, right? Very much liberal arts focused. And on the flip side, you’re working in construction, so a very physical and demanding type of role. And on the side you start working on websites, right? It seems like three different parts of the brain, one very theoretical, one very foundational and physical and one very technical and engineering focused. Why is it that you enjoyed building websites more than you enjoyed building houses? What was it about the software development process that got you interested in building websites and eventually into SEO?
Raphael: At the end, I like knowledge. And the problems of the internet at the beginning was to be the biggest and most efficient knowledge base ever built by human beings. That was my step into the internet. Of course, I was chatting with friends on MSN and messengers like this, but it was you can read about basically any topic in the world and search engines have been the connector to this world. I don’t know, how do you find in these millions and billions of pages the right information. And that always interests me a lot. It’s like as a child, as a teenager, I hang out in libraries and read a lot of books. I was really like a bookworm, do you say this in English?
Ben: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Raphael: I think so. So it was really about knowledge and finding out that you can earn money with it was an easy choice. I didn’t need much money, it was just, I don’t know, to pay my rent, buy some beer and study, right? We don’t have to pay so much for our studies in Germany.
Ben: Life in your 20s, cheap and easy.
Raphael: Yeah, exactly. And that’s exactly what I did. And it was cheap and easy. It was easy to spend money and I was really always interested in the connection between content and technology. Because this is what’s the internet about, was not just people are sharing knowledge, it was always in a very specific point of view and way done. So it’s, I don’t know, at the beginning the internet was not the same like it is today, it feels a way more disconnected to me. Even though Google and other search engines are way better than they have been before, but the sheer mass of information and content put out there is a different thing. But it was always about the connection, man, because my brain works like this. If I cannot connect to things I’m interested in, I get bored. I get bored pretty fast.
Ben: Yeah. It seems like there’s a connection there between the thirst for knowledge and the understanding of philosophy and some of your studies. Why is the internet interesting in general? It’s the aggregation of information that people can share.
Ben: Talk to me about as your SEO career started, how did you get into SEO? What was your first actual role other than building websites where you actually had an SEO-related role?
Raphael: My first role was really this job next to my studies. At the end I did freelance jobs for mostly local SEO, like the dentists around the corner, the florist, and the butcher, and the real estate agent and stuff like that. So it’s like I build websites, I optimize websites, so they rank and I got really good money for this. It was not just my own projects, I even have a business, I registered it.
Raphael: But the first real role was then at the Rheinische Post, it’s a big local newspaper in Germany. And I knew when I did my bachelor I thought about, “Should I really do my master or just like, I don’t know, get a job?” And I saw that the Rheinische Post is searching for a head of SEO. And I was working for the university doing some front end work on the email clients and that was too boring for me. So I said like, “Okay, what am I good at? I don’t want to do my PhD. I want to go like real work, and at university is a little bit boring.” So I remember, “Hey, they have a head of SEO, so maybe they need somebody who is a little bit skilled.” Honestly, I was not much of a conference visitor back in the days, so I didn’t know much people, so I just wrote to him on Twitter and we talked and we matched.
Ben: So, you started off in local SEO, doing some consulting, some advisory work, right? And focusing on helping small businesses build their web presence. You finish your schooling, you decide you don’t want to get a PhD, you’re going to go into the working world. And you looked at the technical skills that you had and found a blend where you’re mixing content and your engineering background. You’re all self-taught here. And you mentioned you reach out to someone on Twitter. How are you packaging your services and skills? How did you actually land a full-time SEO job without any permanent SEO experience, right? Basically, this is your first job after school and you land an SEO role for a pretty significant newspaper in your area. That seems like a pretty sweet gig and it seems like something that would be relatively sought after. How’d you find that job and how did you actually convince someone that you had the experience to be able to do it?
Raphael: It was really one phone call. I mean I wrote him a Twitter message because I knew like, “Okay, he’s the head of SEO.” I thought like, “Yeah, they’re super huge.” But I know journalism. My father’s a journalist. I wrote myself for papers and it was like, “Yeah, there I can connect both of the things.” And how I sold myself, I just told him how I optimize websites. And I showed him my portfolio, which have been back in the days like 60, 70 domains, all, I don’t know, with content, some more affiliate related, some more bigger, like travel websites and so on. And he was basically sold by they are ranking, they’re earning money, so I know sort of what I’m doing there. And the rest of it I never experienced, like Google News SEO, he will teach me, he told me. Always when you come from university, you get your first job, it wasn’t paid in first year very good. But it was a good start and I learned a lot.
Ben: But you had all of your affiliate revenue from your other sites still.
Raphael: Totally. So, yeah. I mean nowadays I don’t have nearly any of the websites because updating them constantly is too much work, too much hassle. But yeah, it’s always nice to have a passive income on the site. And to be fair, always when you come from university, you have to prove that you are willing and that you are capable to learn and do. And I learned a lot there, but I did from day one a lot. Because I know how a newsroom works so I know how journalists tick, because I live for 20 years under the roof of one and my father is a quite well-known journalist in Germany, or he was. That was the perfect connection between doing technical SEO and bringing technical knowledge to the newsroom because journalists these days, and I still think that it is in a lot of newsroom, they lack sometimes to view of the internet as not just like, I don’t know, you send out your thoughts, your articles, your news, but it’s like it’s back channeling as well and there are rules which are completely different than the rules of the print business.
Raphael: When I started my job in publishing, it was still the case. They have been doing mostly just journalists and they have some social editors. But to care about how Google is managing Google News, and in general information and how you can win with this was sort of new for this newsroom. That’s why I really loved the first job and the second job as well, that you can teach people who are already super knowledgeable, they are really great journalists, that you can teach them how to reach way more readers and the right leaders as well, just through caring about some technical limitations and opportunities.
Ben: So, you spent a good portion of your career working in journalism. Talk to me about what you learned going from working on local SEO for yourself to being in a newsroom and how did that help vault you forward in terms of your overall SEO knowledge? Why is media and publishing an interesting place to work?
Raphael: That’s an interesting question. I mean doing this local SEO and doing websites to my own really teach me the basic of SEO. I mean, every week, every month, every quarter there’s a new big hype in the SEO scene, but at the end it comes down to basics. If you have a basic good working and crawlable websites and you have kickass contents, you will rank. That’s the thing. Because people will link you, people will write about you, they will like what you have. And maybe you need some ad dollars to push this at the beginning, but at the end, good content really wins. It’s not the only thing but it does.
Raphael: So, having the basics how Google is crawling a website, how on-page SEO, off-page SEO and how the connection there works was really valuable going with quite a self-confidence into this newsroom. Because I came from university and there have been editors doing journalism for 20 years, and then I had to tell them like, “No, you have to write this headline different.” Because Google doesn’t understand what they’re writing there. I don’t know, back in the days when you wrote, “Land of like the new sun,” or something like this, Google doesn’t understand what it is about, so just write there what country you are talking about.
Raphael: And you need to know your stuff to go into, I don’t want to say a fight, but I don’t know a better English word right now, but it’s like into do a conversation which is tough because they do their job as well for 20 years. And if you don’t know your things and if you don’t have quick wins at the beginning. So, if you convince them write a little bit different headlines and let’s implement this, let’s put the H1 into the breadcrumb and write the different, still journalistic one, for Google and Google News, and let’s keep the one you have on the website for website visitors because it’s a different audience, you need quick wins and if you get them you need to know where to start. And that’s something when you have a variety of different websites optimized, you know where to start. And this is still today one of the most important things you can learn as an SEO, how to prioritize.
Ben: It seems like your background working in local businesses sets you up for success in journalism because a lot of what you’re doing is writing locally focused content, right? If you’re writing a local SEO for the Berlin paper, obviously you want it to rank for people in Berlin. And so you have the understanding of local. And there’s also this notion of not necessarily writing evergreen content, but being relevant and being able to rank quickly. You’ve moved away from media and publishing. You’ve had a couple of different stops. Talk to me about the path moving from your first SEO job. What were some of the other roles that you took that led you up to Mozilla?
Raphael: Yeah. After the Rheinische Post where I’ve been just an SEO editor, I started basically the SEO team at Spiegel Online, which is one of the biggest publishing houses in Germany. And honestly, don’t ask me how I got this job. I still don’t know it. It’s like, I don’t know, some of their product teams and editors came around because there’s a huge connection in the publishing business, everybody knows everyone. And they heard that we are doing quite a good job in Google News and in general in Google optimization they wanted to talk about us, about Adobe Analytics, Google Analytics. So, we talked with them. They said, “Yeah, we need an SEO.”
Raphael: So, they hired me and I started my own team at Spiegel Online and it was one of the most fun times. In my team have been just journalists, I teach them SEO and they have been awesome at journalism, and that’s always what I and how I wanted to do that. It’s like, I don’t know, have a SEO mind but don’t over SEO things, because a publisher is a publisher and evergreen content should be still journalism as well, that’s my mindset. Because at the end you have one audience and you get it from different platforms and different sources and funnels, but at the end you need people who want journalism. So, don’t write about everything, write about journalistic views.
Raphael: But journalism can do way more than just the news. Evergreen content is for journalism the same importance. I don’t know, most big publishing houses, for example in your country, The New York Times has one of the largest archive that’s in the world, and there’s so much knowledge inside. And optimizing this then is again a technical task, but do you need journalists organizing this with you. It is not just, okay, build out some folders or topic pages and make it crawlable, it is about make it usable as well. So, you need the UX people, you need journalists and you always need an SEO to look at it, and so this really working for a search engine.
Raphael: So, what I really was interested in and what I learned is how to not just organize my way in a technical content way information, but how to do it so it is really of value to society. Moving to one of the biggest publishing players in Europe, and therefore in the world as well, was the biggest challenge in my career because I needed some new thoughts. Can you say that like that? It’s so huge and there’s so much information was built in 1948 or something, so the whole new Germany is in the archive there. And building this out with all these stakeholders, with everyone having an opinion about it moved myself way more from doing technical stuff, having an opinion about content and writing content into a management role and to really managing in huge parts knowledge and what which visitor sees when. And that’s still very important for SEO as well.
Ben: So tell me a little bit more about that transition. In your first role, you’re getting your operating experience, right? You’re learning the technical things and, again, getting an opportunity to work in journalism, do optimization, figure out what gets into Google News, figuring out what works. And in your second role you move to a managerial role. What were some of the challenges that you faced and what were some of the skills that you had to develop?
Raphael: Patience. Patience. I’m still working on that. When you an expert and you do stuff on your own website or just for a client or something, you have to make one person happy. But the more stakeholders and the more people really, I don’t know, being passionate about their product you’re working on as well, what do you need to learn is real management skills. Even though in my first job at Rheinische Post I haven’t been a manager, I was just an editor, it was like managing because everybody was sort of a manager or their type of role in the newsroom. Because in minutes we had to do a decision on headlines and I was writing all the headlines there. Like for SEO, we had two different types of headlines. And moving to Spiegel Online, I was really a manager, I had a team, at the end I even had two teams because I did web analytics as well, the editorial part at least.
Raphael: You have to figure out how people tick. You have to figure out what is the real interest of other stakeholders. Because sometimes you just get them wrong and you want the same thing, but you articulate in a different way or you talk in a different way because you have completely different point of views, because mine obviously is a more technical point of view. So, really figuring out how to get everyone in a room talk things through and yeah, move to HR, move to strung, do several sheets, all of that stuff to really figure out what’s everyone’s view on the thing and how can we leverage all this points of view to build the best product for our users.
Raphael: That’s always a challenge as well, as an SEO you write for robots and people think you spam the internet via robots. But at the end you’re, most of the time, really an advocate for users. Because people searching for things show way higher intent than people just kicking on the link on Facebook, let’s say, or on Twitter or Pinterest or something like it. That’s valuable traffic as well, but the intent is not completely clear. The intent usually at search traffic is pretty clear, and when you know the intent and what people are doing, you can optimize a website way better.
Raphael: It’s difficult. It’s not just data driven, but data can help you a lot with leveraging here. So, management skills and understanding statistics, user needs, via data, I will say that was the biggest challenge, and while doing all of this being patient, because it takes a lot of time, you have to convince a lot of people not knowing what you’re even talking about and sometimes you ask yourself, “Do I know what I’m talking about?” So, you have to be really confident all the time, even though you’re not completely sure. But trust your way and don’t be hesitant to fail sometimes. Just don’t fail at your first gig.
Ben: I think going from being an operator to a manager is: A, some of that is just inherent talent and it doesn’t surprise me that you made that transition smoothly, just thinking about what your background was going from a philosophy major to working in a relatively technical field. In SEO you clearly are able to use both the left and the right side of your brain, so the communication skills matched with the technical skills. That’s challenging for a lot of SEOs to bridge that gap. Eventually in your career you move outside of the publishing space into your existing role. Tell us a little bit about what you’re doing at Mozilla and why was this the right place for you?
Raphael: What am I doing? It’s like I’m doing SEO for Mozilla. I’m sitting in marketing. That was the first time in marketing. I think, I don’t know, almost the first questions you wanted to ask me is, “How did you get started in marketing?” Actually, I’m working in marketing since now two years nearly. In February, I will be two years at Mozilla. And it’s my first marketing job. But I don’t see it just as a marketing job as well, the whole marketing department that Mozilla is doing way more just marketing. It is the same in publishing. It’s like, yeah, of course it is marketing. You market your concerns of your publishers, of your journalists, but at the end it is more it is important. And that’s what I’m doing here as well.
Raphael: I’m really into the mission of the Mozilla. Mozilla is the player on the web, producing a lot of code in open-source and always with the whole society and the whole internet and accessibility in mind. So, we’re not just building products, but we try to make the internet a little bit better place. Journalism tries to build transparency for societies, so I want to use my skills and my knowledge, not just to earn money and have a good career, but to do something what is my interest, what excites me, but what is at the end good for all of us. And Mozilla felt like the right place because I wanted to go bigger. I really like big websites.
Raphael: Sometimes I just like to overwhelm myself, so that’s why it was the right move. I was very sad because it’s a great team and I love Spiegel Online and I still miss my colleagues, even after two years. That was really not an easy choice, but at the end you have to grow. It’s like I said before, I get bored when I know what I will do the whole day.
Ben: So, I can connect the dots in terms of understanding why you’d be interested in Mozilla. One of the things that is interesting to me is how it’s a foundationally different SEO challenge, where you’re working in media publishing, a lot of the content that you’re producing is quickly consumed content, and then going into Mozilla, I actually didn’t think there would be a ton of content, I thought it was a browser and an email client and more like, “Hey, we’ve got these five to 10 products and we have a blog.” Why is there a lot of content on the Mozilla site and how is working on what you do now different than media and publishing?
Raphael: And because Mozilla’s mission, like you said before in introduction, is accessible for all, a free internet accessible to all, we have a huge community. So, it’s not just the foundation and the corporation, there’s a huge community, a Mozilla community, translating all of these articles and websites and there’s tons of content in, I don’t know, nearly 100 languages. And that makes it complex and I like complexity and I like to reduce it and make it usable for people all over the world, even for small locales where there’s maybe a community of three people, and in general not much people are living in, I don’t know, tell me a small country, Latvia or something like this. I’m pretty sure most of our important pages are translated into Latvian as well, let me check that later so I’m not talking something which isn’t true right now. But that’s super interesting. And to work with people who voluntarily work for your, not company, but for your mission and translate marketing content and knowledge-based content and even code, still we get a lot of contribution in code. And it’s awesome.
Raphael: So it’s a feeling of doing the right thing and still learning so much about SEO. I never did international SEO and, as everyone will confirm, it’s a hell. I’m not sure why Google still hasn’t figured that out. If they would completely figure out languages and would not have a problem there, we would not have to work so hard to get it right. It’s honestly something that feels a little bit like, I don’t know, the beginning of SEO where you could spam, you can spam with every mechanic in the algorithm, but mostly you did it because Google doesn’t understand what you’re doing there. And so you have to translate it to a small technical child and international SEO feels a bit like that. But once you have it right, you see that your content is scalable. Wow, it’s amazing.
Ben: Lots of new challenges in the new role. The last question I have for you is, as you look back on your role, you started off as a philosophy major, you got your master’s, eventually transitioned into SEO from a hobby, a side business, it became your career, for the philosophy majors that are out there for the people that have different interests that are outside of SEO but are considering getting into the field, you’ve obviously had a successful career and this was not your original intent, what advice do you have for people that are early on in their SEO career to try to have the same type of success that you’ve had?
Raphael: I think the most important part is always be curious. If you don’t like something you can make a career but you will not you happy while doing that. So, find your career where your real interest is and don’t be afraid to change your career sometimes. Yeah, changing from philosophy to SEO, even though I did both, but I did of course more university and more philosophy than I did SEO back in the days. When you are curious, when you’re interested, when you’re burning for a field, just go for it and you can teach yourself so much. It’s awesome. And I met so many great SEOs showing me so much things about management, so much about, I don’t know, tricks and tips. But at the end you can teach yourself, but reach out to skilled people. Most of the people really like to give advices and they will talk to you, even the big names. Reach out to me, write me on Twitter or something and I will try to help you. The community sometimes is a little bit weird, but most of the time it’s really helpful.
Ben: It’s one of the reasons why we do this podcast is the SEO community is one that is a vibrant and active and also very welcoming, right? SEOs just generally try to share best practices. It’s one of the things that I appreciate and I’ve really learned while doing the Voices of Search podcast. Well, Raphael, I appreciate you coming on the show, I appreciate you telling us about your experience. You’ve clearly had a lot of success and I love the mission that you’re working on and thanks for being our guest on the Voices of Search podcast.
Raphael: Thank you, Ben. Was a pleasure talking with you.
Ben: Okay. And that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Raphael Raue, head of global SEO at Mozilla. If you’d like to learn more about Raphael, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can shoot him a tweet, his handle is Raue, R-A-U-E, again, it’s R-A-U-E, Raue, or you can visit his company’s website, which is Raue.it, R-A-U-E.it.
Ben: If you have general marketing questions, if you’d like to talk to me about this podcast or if you’re interested in being a guest on the Voices of Search podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes. You can send me a tweet, our handle is Voicesofsearch, or you can reach out to me personally, my handle is BenJShap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P.
Ben: If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, or to gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com/freetrial for a complimentary risk free trial of their Searchmetrics Suite and content experience tools.
Ben: And if you liked this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed soon. All right. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.