We spoke with Alex Villamizar, SEO Manager at Scotiabank, as part of our project to share what Oncrawl users are doing in SEO in their day-to-day jobs.
“It’s been quite a journey since I started to learn about SEO: Now, I am working on education and evangelization, trying to get the message across the benefits of SEO.”
Alex Villamizar: from web engineering to technical SEO and content
Alex got his start working at an agency in Colombia, where they started offering SEO services. He initially approached SEO from a technical perspective because of his background in engineering. The more he learned, the more everything about this subject interested him, from content to strategy, and he began working full-time as an SEO.
Today, Alex is based in Toronto and manages SEO for Scotiabank. It is a Canadian multinational banking and financial services company which serves more than 25 million customers around the world.
What SEO looks like in the financial sector
Alex shared with us that he spends a lot of time on education and evangelization around SEO. Scotiabank has a really large organization, both on a digital side and the traditional site. Alex makes sure that when a new project or even a landing page comes up, there is an SEO point of view. Getting to know the developers, project managers, talking with them and being present in meetings is a big part of his day-to-day work.
On the other side, he also provides reporting to showcase results and SEO impact across the leadership team.
Evangelization and fundamentals
“My job actually consists of a lot of education and evangelizing SEO, and trying to get the message across about the benefits of SEO.”
Oncrawl: Has evangelizing the benefits of SEO in-house been a major challenge this year?
Alex: We’re taking foundational steps towards improving our visibility. And a lot of that is just being present, being in meetings, talking with project managers, talking with developers. I think that at this point, it’s a lot about getting to know the program and the benefits of SEO as a channel.
We are actually getting more buy-in from our leadership and that’s coming in the form of more resources, getting writers for content, etc. For us, getting those small wins have been tremendous and that’s going to help us a lot in the future.
Reporting and showcasing
Alex: The other part of my job is about reporting and actually showcasing what we do to get the buy-in from leadership: “Okay, if we make this small adjustment, or improvement, we’re seeing this increase in traffic.”
This has been a big part of what I’ve been doing this year, at least. It’s been challenging, but I think that we’re starting a new phase and planning ahead.
Legal implications and project oversight in the finance sector
Oncrawl: What is different about working in the finance sector, compared to other industries you’ve worked with?
Alex: By the nature of the finance sector, there are more people involved in producing SEO content. For example, I used to work in the travel industry. And we had far less strategic requirements to actually publish or modify content.
In finance, if you want to update anything that might come up on the web, we have to make sure that it complies with everything. This means we have higher revisions and more people involved.
It means SEO requires project management and connecting with the right people within the organization. There’s definitely more scrutiny to make sure that everything we publish is going to be compliant with legal and with what the bank represents.
Project spotlight: From COVID-19 relief measures to evergreen financial advice
“I think that, overall, our 2020 Covid relief project has been a really good experience not only for SEO but for the bank as well.”
Alex has spent a lot of 2020 working on a project that grew out of an initiative to provide information on financial measures for Covid relief. It provided rapid and promising results on the SEO front, and inspired different teams at the back to envision how an informational content hub could help the bank’s visibility.
The need: quick and accurate information about COVID-19 relief measures
Alex: The biggest project that we worked on in 2020, was communicating about the relief measures for Covid.
The first stage was communicating: what does the bank offer in terms of relief for personal business and people?
We launched a microsite with information around this topic and we noticed that a lot of people were getting there organically.
Information as the key to the microsite’s success
Oncrawl: What do you think contributed to the initial success of the microsite?
Alex: The internal journey was really good, and the impact for our users was as well.
We made sure we were getting users the right information. We wanted to respond to questions about initial relief measures.
There was a lot of uncertainty at that time. And actually making sure that we had the right information for them was really important for us.
SEO in action: an opportunity to evangelize
Oncrawl: Have you seen results from this project yet?
Alex: Yeah, I think that seeing how the microsite got immediate organic attention opened the door to getting more SEO buy-in. People realized that it was a natural need: “Naturally people will search in Google for some information, and then they will get to our site!”
Transformation to an educational hub
Alex: We’ve been transforming the microsite into more of an educational hub. Beyond all the relief measures, people are still looking for a lot of general financial education. “What do I do with this?” “Is it good to invest in that?” People are looking for advice, and have a lot of questions.
We are developing that content and the resources to answer those questions.
Content is the biggest project that we’re working on right now. We are trying to get the information first for users, but it is going to work very well for SEO because we already know that people are searching for those questions.
I think that’s a really interesting perspective for an SEO project.
Reinforcing teamwork to meet tight deadlines
Oncrawl: What was one of the challenges in creating a microsite for answers to questions about COVID relief measures?
Alex: For this project, we were working on tight timelines and there were a lot of reviews. Everything that we put up on the website has to be reviewed by legal or business lines — everything.
A larger team is working on this, and it’s been good to be part of that team. To have a deeper explanation, our Director of Global Content Experience, shares in this article what it was like to develop our educational hub from a content and UX perspective.
How SEO projects bring value across the board
Informing product design through an understanding of how people search
Oncrawl: It sounds like this is a project that has broader implications not only for your SEO strategy, but also for the bank.
Alex: It is always interesting to see how people surf for certain information. And sometimes, what’s interesting is that it doesn’t always match what the product team expected.
In SEO, we come up with insights like, “People are searching for this particular topic in this way.” And then the people on the product team are surprised because they never thought about that.
What’s interesting in SEO is that we’re actually providing real insight about how real people are searching for something. And then we see that transform into actual content on the site.
We are working with different tools, including Google Search Console to look how people are searching online about educational things, and we are using that to find better content and actually answering those questions for people.
Integrating SEO content into non-digital pre-sales and upselling phases
Alex: There is a lot of information we can provide. If we’re looking at [how this will grow over the next year], I think that the advice element is going to be important — not only for digital, but also for the bank in general. The goal is to provide that advice for people. I would like to see this used for SEO, but also by other stakeholders in the bank. We have a lot of financial advisors who can rely on that microsite to connect with people who are actively using that digital hub to seek out financial advisors.
The objective is that the content hub is used as a tool for the bank as a whole as well. I think that will be the long-term goal of that project: to see how the rest of the company can use it.
Using content to provide greater visibility for the value of SEO within a company
“Getting SEO basics right has gotten us more buy-in from leadership.”
Alex: Our content relief hub is actually what’s getting us more visibility at the leadership level. Because the executive team are also users, you know. So they say, “Okay, I want to know about something” and then they will Google that. It sort of connects for everybody.
Takeaways from chatting with Alex Villamizar
This conversation with Alex shows us that the content side of SEO linked to trends and news can be a powerful tool for any organization. We all experienced a changing context in these past months, and being able to share useful content and gain visibility is a great way to use it.
First, it’s essential to focus on your users: What are they looking for? Which questions are they asking? If you can determine this, you will be able to create meaningful content specifically designed to answer their queries.
Next, keeping other departments and leadership involved and aware of all the SEO related projects can lead to big improvements. Not only can they see how SEO results can help improve their own work, but collaboration can help an SEO project become a company-wide tool.
Finally, don’t forget that some crises can also be opportunities: Covid was the occasion for communicating about financial relief measures, but by extension, there’s also a need for sharing general financial knowledge and connecting people asking questions with advisors who can help provide answers.
We’d like to reiterate our thanks to Alex Villamizar for taking the time to talk with us and share his views on the day-to-day issues faced by SEOs everywhere.