Interview – Murat Yatagan, VP Growth @Brainly & Oncrawl ambassador

January 15, 2019 - 15  min reading time - by Emma Labrador
Home > SEO Thoughts > Interview – Murat Yatagan, VP Growth @Brainly & Oncrawl ambassador

Welcome to this Oncrawl Interview. Today we are pleased to host our newest ambassador Murat Yatagan. He has recently joined the board as an ambassador and today we’re going to talk with him to learn a little bit more about his background, his SEO ties, and what he’s doing today.


Can you talk a little bit more about yourself and why and how you started in the SEO industry?

After finishing my studies in computer science, I worked as a researcher on neural networks while getting a master’s degree in engineering management.

After that, I worked for five years in Ireland on Google’s Search Quality team as a Senior Product Analyst. The team has now been renamed as Trust and Safety.

At Google, my job was to find website issues at scale. We were trying to use crawling and indexing signals to develop scalable solutions to figure out which websites were not high quality or not relevant for specific search terms.

I then spent an extremely successful period working for a German company in Munich called Global Savings Group. They are the biggest coupon player in the industry. I was there working as Senior SEO Manager, so I had a team that helped me to oversee the organization of over 100 platforms. It was a great ride.

I now work for Brainly in Krakow. I’m working as VP of Growth and overseeing all of the marketing activities in the company.

I also run my own SEO Consultancy, and I have over 65 international clients.

The reason I started working in the SEO industry was to contribute to the industry by using my knowledge that I obtained in the last almost 10 years. I have developed an expertise and I wanted to try some of the findings that I had discovered in Google. What I have seen in the industry is that mainly people are focused on only low-hanging fruits, by focusing on only the easiest findings they see. But there is a deeper level of how search engines work.

I mainly focus on what Google keeps highlighting: focus on the user, and everything else will follow. That has never changed and I’ve seen a lot of great impact for my clients when I was implementing these things.

Why did you decide to leave the Google Search Quality team? And if you could keep one thing, what would it be–what do you take from it?

After five years working on the Search Quality team as a Senior Product Analyst, I wanted to try something else. You know the concept of going out of your comfort zone? That was my calling.

After being specialized on Google’s core product of Search, which was absolutely amazing, I learned many lessons. One of the biggest ones was how to approach a complex problem, pull it into parts, and work on them one by one.

I was something of a perfectionist. I wanted to be like a scientist doing my research. My experience at Google changed that. Google gave me the idea that progress over perfection is something we might want to choose. Keep trying things, fail, and fail better–but keep learning. That was the biggest, key lesson that I learned at Google and that changed my mentality about looking at complex problems.

Also, working with brilliant minds, the smartest people, I gained an appreciation of the importance of teamwork. It’s always the best option to discuss your opinions with your partner or business partner. Even when you are 100% sure based on your gut feelings or the insights that you gained by using business intelligence, discussing with people who you know are smart and care about the business always gives you a different perspective.

As you said, you’re working for Brainly. It’s one of the largest social learning networks. Could you tell us a little bit more about your biggest SEO challenges there?

Yes–and as you just mentioned, it’s not just one of the biggest. It’s the largest online learning community for homework help. We help bring students, parents and teachers all together to solve their academic problems and exchange knowledge. We have more than 150 Million monthly unique users. We answer thousands of questions every day, so our Knowledge Base is gigantic. That all comes down to a scalability issue.

As VP of Growth my role is to make sure that the domain’s healthy enough to serve the users what they are looking for, to provide them with the best user experience. My team works on multiple aspects of how to provide this user experience to all users and, of course, we focus on optimizing for organic search.

When it comes to so many URLs, so many users and ever-growing content, I find that one of the most important things is to make sure our crawl rate is high enough for all the answers to be crawled as fast as possible. That’s why I constantly focus on the relationship between my team and the engineering and product teams.

Additionally, I like to focus on getting higher quality mentions on other websites because our brand is getting to be much better known, but most people are still finding us by organic search.

How do you track user experience? How do you optimize it on the website?

That’s a great question. It’s always been tricky, and it’s based on the industry you’re working for.

For our industry, it’s specifically important that users get the answers they are looking for to their questions, because they come to our sites for academic knowledge. We have a lot of moderators and people that help each other. We’ve got teachers who help the students as fast as they can.

We are constantly doing tests. There are a lot of A/B tests running. We continually do QA (quality assurance), and I work with almost all departments. The Growth team is at the core of this company; our growth is extremely important. But growth relies on more than just my team. I’ve created strategies and assistance for the engineering team, the product team, the content team, and our communities…

So how do we make sure the UX is still good?

Tracking some metrics and testing them will help you understand the UX. For example, if we’re looking at the heatmaps, we might try to conduct some interviews with users to understand the effect.

We also try new things: changing the design, adding new features. For example, one of the biggest new features that we have right now is Brainly Plus, a service in the US market. It’s one of our monetized markets, so we’re working on a lot of experiments to make sure that the monitized tunnel is still creating a lot of engagement for our users. I talk with the business owner of the monetization team quite a bit and we make sure that we have the right guidelines of service for the users, and that whatever experiments we try don’t create a huge strain on growth.

I saw also that you wrote a few posts about the importance of and structured data. Do you think structured data should be at the heart of any SEO strategy?

Yeah, you’re right. I am super excited about structured data.

If you are using the right structure, you get more prominent search appearances on the search engine results pages, and that increases the CTR. And after the CTR increases, if you satisfy the users, then your rankings might increase. So it definitely helps you to grow your business, especially in the last two years.

Recently, I was looking into what I could do at Brainly from a structured data point of view. I have talked with the engineering team and we had a lot of success with this new Q&A Page markup. It works well because our pages are a question with multiple answers. We were the first online education service to implement this markup and have live in the SERPs. At first, it was an experiment only on the French domain, but then I scaled to all domains.

I’m still gathering data because this experiment is kind of new, but the indexing rate of these questions is quite high. From what I’ve seen from many markets is that the CTRs driven by rich results using Q&A Pages is at least 20% higher than the other pages. So that was a great implementation.

I believe that not only using structured data, but structuring your pages is extremely important. You’ve heard of the featured snippet. It falls at ranking 0. To aim for featured snippets, you should structure your content in a more readable way, by using the right titles, using headers, creating bullet points, using tables…

I would highly recommend using structured data and structuring their webpages.

You’re also a US, UK, EU & MENA Search Awards Judge for the past three years, I guess. You have reviewed quite a lot of different campaigns in the SEO industry. How do you see it evolving regarding technical SEO?

I have probably seen more than 1000 applicants’ entries throughout these last three years on these four events. Among them there are some amazing campaigns–like, absolutely stunning. Some of them touch on outreach, some on content. But what I have seen in general, especially with agencies helping clients to create these amazing campaigns, is that there is a specific pattern. And this pattern generally has five common elements:

  • Define your KPIs, your objectives and key results very clearly.
    Create an absolute understanding of the power of the indicators you use, and what you would like to achieve.
  • Then, talk about the precise implementation of your campaign or your project.
  • Next, never skip the foundations of SEO. Focus on the technical aspects like crawl issues, indexing problems, on-page implementation, etc. before going further.Even if your are just going to build backlinks, if Google cannot crawl crawl you, they cannot find your URLs very well, and they cannot index you. It’s highly likely that you will never rank very well because your URLs are not being reviewed by Google correctly.
  • Clearly explain the steps you took to achieve your goals.
  • Finally, it’s very important to keep it simple but solve tough problems and go straight to the point.

If you’re an SEO agency, you now have all the keys to apply.

Speaking about technical SEO, what would be the key steps to auditing your website?

In my opinion, the definition of SEO is: creating a compelling online experience for users and making sense to search engine bots.

In order to achieve this, in my training and workshops I also give these 4 main pillars of SEO. Let me walk you through these 4 main points.

The first pillar is Content. Content should be:

  • Relevant
  • Contextually comprehensive instead of only keyword-oriented
  • Term frequency
  • Spam-free
  • Deduplicated

The second pillar is Engagement. You should look at:

  • Page views per session
  • Time on site
  • Bounce rate
  • Ratings, thanks, comments, plus ones and reshares by users

The third pillar is Technical SEO. You’ll ask questions about:

  • Crawlability: Is your website discoverable by Googlebots or by other search engine bots?
  • Indexing: What about the indexing of your pages? Especially if you are dependent on Javascript, you need to make sure that your website is being indexed correctly.
  • Is your website structured enough? It’s very important to tell Google briefly what your page is about. You can facilitate this by structuring your site.
  • On-page signals: Are you using the right meta elements, using headings or alt tags for your images or additional tags for other key elements?

The fourth pillar is Backlinks. As you know, Google was invented based on the PageRank algorithm. It’s based on links, and it’s still being used. It has been normalized and changed, of course, throughout the last twenty years, but backlinks are at the core of online search.

Consequently, it’s very important to look at your backlinks. There are so many metrics you can look at like:

  • Amount of backlinks
  • Quality of backlinks
  • Relevancy of backlinks
  • Distribution of anchor texts
  • Distribution between Follow and NoFollow backlinks
  • Make sure that your backlinks are natural enough and that they are spam free.
  • Because PageRank is a complex algorithm, don’t try to sculpt PageRank.

What is in your toolset to use these metrics?

I start by focusing on all these pillars. I try to understand the big picture instead of fixing every little thing.

It’s extremely important to first decide what will have the biggest impact and what will be the easiest to implement. It’s a four-way matrix. Easy to implement, big impact? Definitely do it first. Hard to implement, low effect? I don’t even touch it.

At this stage, if you want to have a successful audit, you need to invest into crawlers. I’ve had the chance to use many different crawlers, and I’ve had the chance to write my own crawler. Among the most important things we want for crawlers is how accurately they crawling your pages, how fast they are at doing this, and what kinds of insights they provide you. Many crawlers give you a lot of data about everything, but then you have to take your time and crunch the data. Some crawlers, one of them being Oncrawl, provide a lot of insights instead of only drowning you in data.

The most important thing in an audit result is to show what you have found. One picture is worth a thousand words. I try to use insights, create graphs, create tables, and show clients or my company’s teams that this is important because of that.

Once you transform the data into insights, the insights become the wisdom at some point, and everything changes. It’s worth more than 5 hours of conversation or a hundred pages of audits.

That’s why I use Oncrawl as one of my tools.

What kind of data do you use, do you crunch, or ingest into these custom dashboards?

When I started working with Oncrawl, they invested time for me to onboard the product. That helped me discover a couple features, like using custom segmentation, scraping data, and of course creating custom dashboards. These three steps, if you combine them all, are extremely powerful. What you can do is you can play around with your log files, plus your search analytics, and crawl metrics as well. These three dimensions come together.

This allows you to make an analysis between, for example, the length of time between the first crawl, first indexation time, and the time you get the first click. If you can optimize the distance between them, you can see 10x of growth for your website. You can’t accomplish this much growth through standard strategies like content creation: it’s not scalable.

You need to focus on how bots discover your website; you need to focus on showing the great things you have done to make it visible to bots as well, not only to the users.

One of my favorite Oncrawl features is “Characteristics of ranking pages in structure info” under Ranking report. It briefly gives you an insight about what makes certain types of pages rank higher by showing the correlation between ranking and a comparison of different parameters. It’s extremely useful to understand, in short, what the most important metrics were on your site. Was it payload? Was it the number of words? Was it better titles? Was it the number of internal links point to the page?

I use way too many dashboards. However, when I collaborate with different teams, I try to focus on golden metrics: a single metric that summarizes the most important points. This is key when you go from conversations with the BI Analyst or the Technical SEO Manager to conversations with C-Suite level employees. For the first, you need tons of data, but for the highest level, you need to create one golden metric.

Creating this golden metric takes time. Currently, I’m working on one metric: I’d like to call it “domain health review” and take all my market reviews and all my key pages crawled every week and try cover these three points:

  • The search appearance ratio
  • Crawl rates—and not just looking at the crawl rates in the Search Console—in order to see if our website has a high crawl rate
  • Indexing capacity

On the personal side, what do you do in your free time?

I keep on working!

Joking aside, I try to take very long walks, especially over the weekend. On weekdays, instead of taking the tram or the subway, I sometimes walk home or go to the supermarket that is farther away from my apartment. It’s just to get some exercise and fresh air to clear my head.

I’ve been playing guitar since I was 14 or 15 and I still do that at times. I’m trying to experiment with electronic music a little bit by using laptops and stuff.

And I’m constantly reading. It’s a cliché, but it’s one of my new year’s resolutions to read more. I just bought myself a Kindle because, while I’m really keen on reading books by holding them and feeling them, I keep on moving internationally. In the last five years, this is my fourth country, and I cannot carry all my books with me, so I bought myself a Kindle so I can read more.

Last question: you joined the Oncrawl ambassador program recently. How does it feel to be one of our ambassadors?

Oncrawl is not just a crawler tool. Personally, I would say that I love the relationship I have with your employees, especially with your Customer Success team. It’s amazing. Every time I need some help, they are there. Every time I have even a silly question, a complex question, or an easy one, they are there to help. All the people that I know at Oncrawl are very friendly, smart and they care about what they do. And this just helps the relationship that we have together get better and better every day.

With Oncrawl, we regularly catch up with the team members. It’s not just “they use your name, you use their crawler”. It’s building a relationship, and it isn’t like the different ambassadorships that happen elsewhere; it’s very well implemented. I can very honestly say I’m quite glad that I joined as an ambassador.

Emma Labrador See all their articles
Emma was the Head of Communication & Marketing at Oncrawl for over seven years. She contributed articles about SEO and search engine updates.
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