Organic Search is a constantly evolving field, but the basics still remain the same, which is the ability to connect to your audience through engaging stories driven by the power of technology.
Sidharth Iyer, our next pathbreaker, Regional Head of SEO at Resulta (Canada), leads a team of subject matter experts to drive the SEO strategy for a diverse client portfolio, while meeting the overall organizational objectives.
Sidharth talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about leveraging his decade long experience spanning journalism, brand strategy, and corporate communication, in a new, all-encompassing role that demands the right blend of creative and analytical problem-solving skills.
For students, you have to determine your measure of success. Once you have made up your mind, strive to achieve it !
Sidharth Iyer: The Journey Less Traveled
This is not the story of winning against all odds, but more about the journey of how a win or loss should not be detrimental to either sticking to your guns and going against the tide or going with the flow of things and living in the moment. Every decision in life has a positive and a negative impact not just on our lives directly but also on the lives of our near and dear ones indirectly as well.
I have been lucky to have early exposure to foreign shores in both personal and professional capacities, but I don’t believe these opportunities were only by chance, but equally complimented with my constant desire and urge to explore the unexplored and always being curious about what lies beyond.
So where am I heading with all this? Well, every question doesn’t always have a desirable answer, but it always raises enough doubt for debate, so let’s see where this one takes us.
Sidharth, can you shed light on your background and growing up years?
I come from the typical Tamil Brahmin family (“Tam Brahms” as popularly known) where education is paramount to leading a successful and content life.
Three cities in India kind of encapsulate my metamorphosis from a child to a teenager to a young adult.
Jamshedpur (Tata Nagar or ‘The Steel City’) is where I was born and did a fair share of my primary and secondary education. Pune is the city I called home for a couple of years when pursuing my post graduate program from Symbiosis International University. And, Mumbai was where I began my professional career, and have also done my graduation from.
To quickly capture my education, I had given my ICSE boards in science & pure mathematics, then chose to switch streams to commerce & economics in my 10+2, continued to pursue a bachelor’s degree in accounting & commerce and then finally secured a master’s degree in journalism & new media.
During my educational journey, I was also very active in extra curriculars like cricket, table tennis, debates, and quizzes at a competitive level.
What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?
I always say that Pune is the place that made me human, specifically my two years post graduate program at Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication (SIMC).
I was away from the comforts of home, being the youngest in the family and most importantly, being surrounded by people I barely knew. This was a very different experience for me personally, as being an introvert, opening up to people doesn’t come naturally. But as time progressed, I became more comfortable in my new habitat or as you call home. Unknown faces became friends for life and slowly the introvert in me gave way to leading constructive debates on progressive thinking in the field of education, as I was also the Head of the Student Academic Forum for my institution.
The two years were instrumental in making me realize my own potential as an individual and as an industry ready professional wanting to make a mark.
What were some of the influences that drove you towards such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
It was during the time that I was in Grade 9 that I already knew that I would like to go onto build a career through which I can inform, and educate people with my thoughts and writing, as well as leverage my strong communication skills to amplify my thoughts and touch lives.
I could potentially see two professional paths in front of me, one as a lawyer and the other as a journalist. Looking back now, I am really glad that I went the journalism route as it helped me gather valuable perspectives by crossing paths with some of the most diverse groups of individuals from various walks of life who were at different stages in their own careers and personal journeys.
The earliest influence on my choice for a career in journalism that I remember was following Harsha Bhogle’s columns in Print Media as well as his command over the English language when carrying out commentary for cricket matches.
Fun Fact: Coincidentally, Mr. Bhogle and I also happen to share our birthdays ☺ 19 July
I also vividly remember a talent hunt show that ESPN Star Sports had carried out in 2005 called ‘Harsha Ki Khoj’ in an effort to find the next Harsha Bhogle in India. It was truly a one-of-a-kind television show, which played the role of a catalyst in driving me towards seriously considering a career path in journalism.
How did you get to where you are today?
While pursuing my post-graduate degree at SIMC, Pune and building the foundational knowledge around journalism to build a career in the field, I also got the opportunity to gain some on-ground and hands-on experience through a couple of internships.
My first internship opportunity was at CNN-IBN in the Mumbai Bureau. This was a great learning ground to understand the nuances of how the broadcast news industry runs, and what goes into creating a bulletin, doing live news reporting, scripting for non-fiction shows as well as getting to understand how an entire capsule or show is produced from scratch.
During this two-month internship stint, I also got to feature on television in a citizen journalist capsule; doing a few fun live sessions with Cyrus Broacha & Kunal Vijaykar from the Wankhede Stadium Mumbai during the IPL season of 2012; and also doing live news coverage for a few political and entertainment events.
Following the first internship, and having gained knowledge of the broadcast medium, my second internship was a purely digital content and new media driven experience at… ESPN Star Sports in Noida!
Yes, I made my way to interning at the organization where the seed of a career in journalism was planted nearly seven years prior.
At ESPN Star Sports, I assisted in creating match round up voice over reports and doing mobile feed updates of live cricket matches. I was even given the opportunity to do live radio commentary in English & Hindi for two test matches between India and England, during the 2012 England’s tour of India.
It was a dream come true indeed!
My editor, a well-known name among Sports Journalists in the country, Mr. Soumitra Bose, was very pleased with my performance as part of his team and I had a good chance of getting a pre-placement offer as well with ESPN Star Sports. But fate had other plans, as ESPN and Star Sports disbanded in India soon after.
So, after completing my degree at SIMC, Pune, I was keen to explore professional opportunities that allowed me to stay close to sports and cricket, but still allow me to widen my horizon.
That is when Indiantelevision.com came into my life as my first professional opportunity. At Indiantelevision.com, I got to learn from one of the brightest minds in business journalism – Mr. Anil Wanvari – who mentored me and gave me the freedom to also learn and grow as a business journalist.
I was covering news around diverse topics like Cable & DTH operators, General Entertainment Channels, Kids Channels, Technology Players, Media & Advertising Landscape, and much more.
In my brief stint of about a year with Indiantelevision.com, I had the opportunity to not only look after the desk and day-to-day functionality of the site but more so cherish some of the most memorable and enriching interactions with stalwarts of the broadcast, technology, film and other industry verticals. During the course of this year, I picked up a lot of experience not only on content creation, but also content management and presentation. It was a great experience to work closely with the tech and design teams to build a more vibrant and new age looking Indiantelevision.com (as it stands today); and it’s humbling when you are still remembered for your contributions towards an entity which boasts of a rich legacy of its own.
After completing a year, I was presented with the opportunity to revive and grow another group property – AnimationXpress.com – which covered news around the Animation, VFX, Games and the Comics space. This is the time when as the saying goes ‘I grew up from being a boy to a man’. Working on rebuilding a legacy is much tougher than creating one. There I was learning every aspect of these creative industries from scratch to justify my comments and coverage on the space.
From carefully building a team of young and hungry aspiring journalists to rekindling hope among industry veterans that this platform which had lost its voice, is slowly beginning to speak again, here is when I learnt that it’s not only investing in mutual funds that gets you good returns, but also in relationships and imparting ethical values.
Along the way there was a thought (which I believe is a movement) to create a property with a fresher and more inclusive approach towards the very same ‘creative side’ of the M&E space. That was the birth of TheGraphicSlate.com (Now Inactive). Launched with the mandate to blur the lines between creative and business coverage, and bring out interesting case studies, intricate analysis and researched features, the site which made its debut on the World Wide Web in July, 2015 skyrocketed to dizzying heights.
The industry began to throw its weight behind this fabulous team again to support its unrelenting contribution towards its amelioration. I once again made new friends for life in the industry who not only respected me for my work but for what I stood for as well.
After completing three years as a journalist, I was presented with the opportunity to look at the world from the other side of the fence, heading marketing and community outreach efforts at Redchillies-VFX – A subsidiary of Red Chillies Entertainment, the production house founded by Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan.
From being the voice commenting on different stakeholders of the industry, to being the voice for a leading stakeholder in the visual effects industry was a rather enriching experience. For starters, from being at place with 50 individuals to going to a place with 250 individuals, it provided me with the opportunity to refine my people’s skills. It also meant I had that many more creatively driven brains to interact with.
The biggest learning was to be proactive in driving projects and ensuring quality control on deliveries which are a direct representation of the company’s image.
I took the plunge of immigrating to Canada in September, 2017, a country I knew very little of, but the only little I was exposed to briefly was reason enough to pull me in. This was not just a difficult decision personally alone; I was leaving behind a great career, yet it just seemed like the right thing to do.
There was no tide to swim against or go with the flow here. The only tide was, the tide of change, the tide of opportunity which I believed in and took the plunge.
Here is where I completely pivoted my career into being a Digital Marketing / SEO Expert, relying heavily on all the transferable skills that I had honed over the last 4 years as a working professional.
Since moving to Canada, I have had the opportunity to work at some of the biggest and fastest growing technology & SaaS companies like: AMD (NASDAQ: AMD), Echoworx and Docebo (TSX & NASDAQ: DCBO)
After growing and learning on the enterprise side of the business, I then wanted to explore how Agency Life feels like. And that’s when in the most recent past I was with a B2B SaaS client focused digital marketing agency – Powered by Search.
And more recently, I have grown into a leadership role at one of Canada’s leading Affiliate Marketing Agencies – Resulta!
If there is one common thread that ties all these professional experiences together over the last 8 years, it is the passion and love for ‘Storytelling’. Stories connect people, and when you are able to tell a story through any medium that resonates with the other person, and creates a positive impact on their lives – you have mastered the craft of storytelling.
How did you get your first break?
Your first job is just like all your other firsts in life and always remains special. This does stand true for me as well. Fresh out of SIMC and not opting for campus placements, I was on the hunt for that first break in the industry. Having been exposed to both the broadcast and digital media platforms, courtesy internships at CNN-IBN and ESPN Star Sports respectively, I chose to stick with digital as a career path simply for the diverse opportunities that a career in digital content provided.
So that’s when I started out as a young sub-editor cum reporter with Indiantelevision.com; soon in a period of a year I had broken news, conducted interviews, wrote opinion pieces and analysis on a wide gamut of topics in broadcasting, sports, regulations, advertising, cable, DTH, OTT, kids entertainment, movies and a whole lot more.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
- Unlearning & Relearning
We are all aware of the phrase ‘change is the only constant in life’ or ‘change is inevitable’, but not everyone is able to ‘adopt’ the change even if he/she ‘adapts’ to it.
You may wonder what’s the difference? Well, the difference between ‘adapt’ and ‘adopt’ is the thin line that divides ‘lust’ and ‘love’… How you may ask? Well, it’s rather difficult to explain, but here goes!
Again, I will draw inspiration from personal experiences; I have always all my life wanted to become a sports journalist by profession, because I simply loved watching and giving my views on different sports from a very tender age. But it was only once I had my fair share of covering a few sporting events as well as understanding how the sports ecosystem works, I came to terms with the fact that it was only my ‘lust’ for sports, never the ‘love’ for it.
And that is also when I realized, my ‘love’ was in making people aware of the various happenings around them, rather than just being a mere spectator of the occurrences. I could have either just ‘adapted’ to this change by learning things along the way by stumbling and taking a few falls, or ‘adopt’ the change and work my way towards understanding how to successfully tell a story.
I happened to choose ‘adopting’ the change even while I ‘adapted’ to it, and not the other way around; one has to come to terms with the change, even before contemplating changing with the same. So, all I would say is take calculated risks in life, because you never know how the change in plans could lead to you ‘adopting’ a change that will metamorphosize your life forever.
- Challenging the Status Quo
I love to be hands-on with anything and everything I do, and being hands-on doesn’t equate to being a micromanager. I take equal pleasure in strategizing, analyzing and crunching numbers, but when you get tactical and have your ear closer to the ground you grow tremendous ‘gut check’ abilities.
When you are a practitioner, your ability to challenge the status quo stems from the intel you pick up while functioning from ground zero, and yet being able to soundly defy or challenge business objectives for carrying forth a project or task.
The knowledge and wisdom come with a few attributes that you hone and pick up along the journey. As a Journalist I was super observant of things and people around me, which led me to always over analyze and ask deep rooted questions which were probably blindly accepted by others around me. This attribute also made a lot of people uncomfortable around me whilst discussing story ideas in the brainstorming sessions.
- Building an Appetite for Taking Risks
Journalism, Business Development, Corporate Communications, Creative Audio-Visual Direction, Social Media Marketing, Product Marketing, Content Marketing and SEO are a few of the roles that I have dabbled in, across industries like: Media & Entertainment, Advertising & Marketing, Cable & DTH, OTT, VOD, Audio-Visual Technology, Animation, VFX, Gaming, Comics, Sports, Semiconductors, Cybersecurity, E-Learning, among others over the last 8 years.
The thirst for knowledge and the pursuit of happiness have always enabled me to keep growing from strength to strength. I am a firm believer that knowledge gives the confidence to think outside the box and go beyond your limitations. Acquiring new skills always uplifts you, and when you are on the journey going from awareness to knowledge, it ignites the fire in you to dream big!
I have always believed in taking calibrated risks in life, as without stepping into the unknown you will never know what lies on the other end of the spectrum. But there is a difference between being a gambler and a risk taker. While the fear of losing is what both sides share, the risk taker is more aware and in a much better head space to deal with failure than a gambler.
Where do you work now? Can you tell us about your role?
As the Regional Head of SEO at Resulta (Canada), my role is crucial in the Marketing team, consulting on key strategic projects that underpin the company’s growth objectives. I am responsible for leading a team of subject matter experts across SEO to deliver exceptional results in support of the organizational objectives towards our clients.
I bring my passion for SEO, my energetic leadership style and diverse management experience to the table. I am equally involved in coaching, developing and supporting my team to constantly improve and deliver against the commercial goals of the business. All while, managing the workflow and team members on a day-to-day basis.
And finally, I am also responsible for implementing and improving the company’s global SEO strategy across business units and cross-functional departments.
Creating a career path in SEO can be summarized by one axiom: “What got you here doesn’t get you there.” Building sharp SEO skills when you start out is important, but that alone doesn’t bring you to the top of the game. It’s topics like project management, product management, and developing the next generation of leaders that pull you forward. Pair it with strong communication & leadership skills and you have a chance to ‘get a seat at the table’.
The three ways that SEO has worked for me:
- SEO being the intent engine for all marketing channels, it has enabled me to work cross functionally across teams in small and large organizations. It has allowed me to leverage my transferable skills from earlier careers in Journalism, Content Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Brand Strategy and Corporate Communications to bring a perfect blend of creative and analytical problem-solving skills to the table.
- SEO is constantly evolving and is an ideal career for anyone who wants to be on the cutting edge of online marketing. Companies need a site that is crawlable by search engines (requires technical skills) and one that has a pleasing user experience (UX and UI) with content that is worthy of being shared and cited (social and trust signals). To do this, you need a combination of experience and skills in Communications, Marketing, Content, and UX.
- SEO is not for the weak hearted, you’re building – marketing campaigns, relationships, social campaigns, partnerships, content that ranks, efficient processes. It’s a big, broad, scary profession where, when you make a mistake, everyone knows about it and they know it’s you. But when you have great successes, it’s dollars and cents for your clients and your company. This means that every day is a new adventure!
Since I started my career in digital as an online business journalist, I was already aware of what I was signing up for since the inception of my professional journey. That said, I would urge upcoming digital marketing professionals to know the importance of finding a mentor or a peer support group, with whom you can exchange ideas and strategies to be a lot more confident with your ideas and thought process when it comes to planning and owning a campaign strategy for a product or service.
SEO is also an ever-evolving industry and a lot of it is dictated by Big Brother ‘G’ (Google). If I were to highlight a couple of big trends we will see in the near future, then here goes:
- The New Age of Search is here, powered by AI! Google recently released a new technology Multitask Unified Model (MUM), similar to BERT, it’s built on a transformer architecture but is far more powerful (1,000 times more powerful) and is capable of multitasking to connect information for users in new ways. So, in the near future we will get to see Google Lens, Voice Search, YouTube, Image Search & Text based search combine forces – supported with localization, accessibility and serving results based on which content format best suits User Intent!
- Data and Analytics should become your priority if you want to remain ahead in rankings. Data science lets you understand buyers, visualize campaigns, and create targeted messages. Analytics can help you verify which URLs are getting crawled, identify referral sources, check page loading times, indexing, redirects, response errors, bounce rates, and more. You can also use data science to identify pages that you do not want crawlers indexing and pinpoint unusual traffic sources, such as potential spam sites (which will hurt your EAT credibility). The right tech stack will help you measure everything, from rank tracking to competitive research, on-page SEO, technical SEO, link building, and more. Staying on top of these details lets you address problems and continuously improve your web presence.
How does your work benefit society?
SEO is a super power that not only ensures that netizens enjoy a seamless and informed search journey, but it also enables you to define how safe and secure that journey can be for the user.
It is the perfect amalgamation of art and science, which pushes you to stretch your imagination and look for solutions that are unique and tangible. There is value in its interdisciplinary nature, so any skill you have gathered will always find purpose.
SEO is probably as much a community driven profession that one would associate social work with. It pushes you to question your biases and appreciate the power that community insights can have in influencing shifts in your approach to ensure the World Wide Web is safer.
As an SEO professional, you can orchestrate the search results that would perfectly align with your product or service, as it would be mapped to a search query from a user’s search made on the internet.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
In my career spanning over 8 years now, I have been at the helm of leading many website revamps, migrations and launches. So, I figured, sharing the importance of these feats would give a better sense of how it has enabled me to also make the seamless transitions that I have shared earlier.
The primary reason for any individual or company to have a website is ‘visibility’ and the ulterior motive is to get better ‘business’ and ‘opportunities’. Visibility and business go hand in hand; and business cannot succeed if you score poorly on the visibility criterion.
A website acts as the catalyst to help one get connected with his/her target audience in a meaningful manner. The idea is to also stay connected with all the stakeholders if one wishes to be ahead in business. It is very important for every business to understand the importance of having a fresh website which is compatible across browsers and gadgets.
The website is one of the easiest ways to reach prospects, subsequently convert them into leads and ultimately into lucrative deals. The fresh new look of one’s website can attract a good number of hits/visits at any given point of time. Keeping in mind the clutter on the World Wide Web, it is always advisable to create a website with features that are more acceptable and user friendly to its visitors.
To share a few insights, website revamping is done with the help of usability and creative experts. While a usability expert ensures that all elements on the page and its placement are interactive and user-friendly, which enables a visitor to easily navigate his/her way through the site with minimalist effort, but at the same time not missing out on important message sections. Whereas, a creative expert helps with the colour combinations and branding to provide an impressive look and feel for the best user experience.
Going by experience, website revamps are best conducted by experts who are well versed with the existing market trends and customer behavior. While revamping an established website one must ensure that content, images, and the technology that is being served is of top-notch quality.
It’s also important to have updated pages which talk about the service or product offerings, news, events, awards and achievements, among other things. This information helps potential and existing customers in keeping a tab about the company and will in turn help generate more business. Through experience, it is also very important to engage all the visitors so that they can provide their valuable feedback and suggestions. It is also advisable for a business to include a Google Map on the contact page, therein enabling visitors to reach the exact location.
Posting great and unique content is fundamental to every website. If your website is made to sell and market your products, your content should be sales-oriented. But don’t make the mistake of exaggerating your sales pitch. Write articles related to your offerings concisely without unnecessary rigmaroles to lead your market to purchasing your product. The tone should be informative as it should be persuasive but not forcing customers to buy. Insert snippets of trivia and show your personality through your posts to excite visitors. What’s also important is to have constant updates. So, if you think your writing won’t impress viewers and you can’t keep up with providing regular and frequent news, a good idea is to hire an expert.
My final thoughts are… a considerably decent website is one that is composed of strong design and content. More than a pretty face on the internet, your website should contain comprehensive product information for the target audience. Plan wisely to earn positive impressions from both new visitors and returning ones alike. Remember, your website reflects much about your business. Thus, as I had said earlier, “It’s not important to make an impression, but to leave one!”
Your advice to students based on your experience?
The measure of ‘Success’ is very subjective in nature. One may do so by looking at the number of Zeros in your bank account, or the assets you hold against your name, or even how many pages of searches does it take on Google to locate you on the World Wide Web; but clearly none of these can truly define your quotient of success.
Here is where I would like to introduce you to the five E’s (Enthusiastic, Energetic, Efficient, Effective, Enigmatic) of my life that have helped me reach where I am today. There is a reason why the 5 adjectives have been mentioned in that particular order and not if any other order… So let’s get to know why!
Enthusiastic: Everyone who starts out in his/her professional career is always filled with enthusiasm to prove their mettle and also show all their critics (peers, friends, relatives, etc.) that they deserve to be what they set out to be. This is probably the best stage in one’s professional life, as they are fueled by passion and grit to perform and excel in whatever they do.
Energetic: Carrying on from the initial enthusiasm, one doesn’t really need a can of highly concentrated sugar water to grow wings. The euphoria of taking on responsibility for a particular project or leading a team is enough to keep one on their toes and tread with caution but with immense confidence to complete or achieve any given task within a stipulated time period.
Efficient: The previously mentioned attributes heavily contribute in achieving high levels of efficiency as well. As a guy in a red and blue spandex was once reminded: “With great power comes great responsibility”; young minds have a greater capability to handle pressures as they do not carry any baggage, which is helpful in delivering the goods when the need arises.
Effective: This is probably the most important aspect for being successful. One may possess all the right ingredients for being a master craftsman in whatever he/she sets out to achieve, but along the way there will be many hurdles which if not dealt with effectively will prove to be the reason for failure or downfall of the project or assignment in question.
Enigmatic: This is the joker in the pack, just like the character of the late Heath Ledger from ‘The Dark Knight’, one must always wear a cloak of mystery which keeps everyone bewildered about your next move. Achieving success (for me) is just like a hand of Texas Hold ’em up, where sometimes you go ‘All In’ while playing blind and force your opponent into folding, but left with the ever-dying question in his/her head “What cards was he/she holding?”
There is one motto I have lived my life on: “Follow your heart and you will always excel in whatever you do, if not – at least you won’t ever have any regrets!”
To have a desire to explore the unexplored is one thing, but it’s a whole different ball game to venture into a journey without knowing the destination.
From being a graduate in commerce, to pursuing a postgraduate degree in communication, being a journalist for three years, to switching to brand strategy & corporate communications, and finally making the seamless transition to a flourishing career in digital marketing, the only thing that connects this thread is the undying desire for storytelling and having the curiosity always to learn more.
So, I will continue on my journey of storytelling using the digital medium to influence thoughts and spark new ideas!