I’m very excited to introduce today’s Day in the Life interview, which is with Andrew Ramm, the President and General Manager of the Amazon-owned keyword research, competitive analysis and website ranking service Alexa.com.
I chatted to Andrew to find out about what his role entails, how Alexa.com is structured within Amazon, the ups and downs of the job, and how he came to work with Alexa.com. He also spoke about recent developments in the SEO landscape that have caught his eye, and his advice for anyone looking to begin a career in SEO.
(If you would like to appear in our ‘Day in the Life‘ feature, get in touch!)
Hi, Andrew. First off, can you describe your job for us? What’s your role at Alexa.com?
Andrew Ramm: I’m the President and General Manager of the company, so in a sense, I’m ultimately responsible for how we perform as a company. More than anything else I’m responsible for the things we do to help our customers succeed and whether or not we’re making them happy.
How is Alexa.com structured within Amazon? Who do you report to?
Andrew Ramm: Alexa.com was acquired by Amazon 20 years ago because of our expertise in search technology and machine learning. We now operate independently as part of the Amazon family.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective as Alexa.com President and General Manager?
Andrew Ramm: Customer empathy has to be number one. If we’re not solving real, difficult problems for the customer, then we’re just not doing our job. The ability to understand and internalize these needs, and then decisively act on them is critical.
The second thing is the ability to prioritize. Being exceptionally clear about what we will not spend resources on – even to the point of causing ourselves a bit of pain – means we can over-invest in the things that make the biggest difference to customers.
Finally, it’s maintaining that very delicate balance of being human and having empathy for the team – all while maintaining incredibly high standards, expecting the best from everyone and constantly looking for ways to raise the performance bar.
Tell us about a typical working day.
Andrew Ramm: It starts with a healthy dose of impossibly strong coffee, scrambling to get the kids wherever they need to be (school, summer camp, etc…) then catching the ferry to the office in SF.
My day is usually occupied with one-on-one meetings with my staff, product planning and development meetings, product performance and product usage analysis, customer research and sometimes doing a rotation in customer support.
Amazon is also a very doc-heavy culture with almost no use of PowerPoint, so I find myself doing lots of writing as well. There’s a lot of time spent on resume review and interviewing also. And on the best days, there’s a customer meeting on the calendar.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
Andrew Ramm: There are two things I love most about my job. One is seeing people on the team grow and develop – seeing them evolve professionally and personally.
The second probably comes as no surprise, but I truly love when I hear positive feedback from customers that we’ve made a real difference for them, that somehow they are better at running their business or better at having meaningful conversations with their own audience because of something they’ve been able to accomplish using our service. That’s the best!
What sucks? Like any other organization, there is a responsibility to invest technical resources in infrastructure, security, and back-end development. That work has to get done. And it’s the right thing to do for the customer. But the customer does not feel the benefit of those improvements in the same way as front-end feature development. Every cycle spent on those is important, but it’s probably my least favorite thing because it’s not as immediately tangible for customers.
What kind of goals do you have either for yourself or the business? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
Andrew Ramm: For us, it’s simple. We want Alexa.com to be the most loved service in our segment. We want our customers to feel like they got more than their money’s worth while using the service.
The number one way I measure this is subscription churn and customer lifetime value. When churn is declining and CLTV is increasing, I know that customers are deriving value from Alexa.com because they commit to staying in the service for a long time.
What are your favorite tools to help you to get your job done?
Andrew Ramm: It may not necessarily be my favorite, but I have my nose buried in Excel a lot of the time. It helps me understand trends in our business and propose ways of reducing friction or creating more value for customers. It also highlights areas where we need to improve and has led to initiatives such as a dramatic revamp of our onboarding process and a total reimagination of our freemium Site Overview tool, all designed to help customers get the most they can out of Alexa.com and ultimately grow their traffic and business.
My true favorite tool is Alexa.com itself. I use the service almost every day – both to get a better sense for the real competitive dynamics of the segment we play in, but also to be constantly walking a mile in the customers’ shoes. If something is full of friction to use, I’ll highlight this and ask for improvements. When something is really great, I’ll highlight that and make sure we double-down on it.
How did you end up at Alexa.com, and where might you, or the company, go from here?
Andrew Ramm: I’m a complete data and analysis junkie. It’s something I’ve always had an affinity for during my entire 25-year career. So, in 2013, when a role at one of the world’s most prominent data analytics companies opened up, I jumped at the chance with absolutely no hesitation.
Prior to Alexa.com, I held product leadership roles at Avid Technology and Autodesk. And even earlier in my career, I was in PR. That was a great experience because it exposed me to so many other CEOs and companies launching new products and services. By being a part of so many product launches, I really learned to spot what was going to work and what wasn’t.
In terms of where we are going at Alexa.com, we’ve identified a number of truly onerous and costly problems our customers face, ones that create tremendous waste for marketers at small and medium-sized businesses who are competing with limited resources. Our mission continues to be centered around helping these marketers outsmart their competitors.
What developments in the SEO landscape have caught your eye lately?
Andrew Ramm: One aspect that has surprised me, yet I see it happening more and more frequently, is companies using the competitive keyword research and share of voice research on Alexa.com to determine how to position and differentiate their brand.
When there are so many brands competing for the attention of the same or similar market segment, they are looking for unique ways to position themselves that hasn’t been saturated by another entity. In doing so, a brand can say, “We’re about this thing, this is the thing that makes us unique and important to our audience.”
Do you have any advice for those beginning a career in SEO?
Andrew Ramm: The biggest piece of advice I’d give new entrants to the field is to always focus on your customers and continually pursue a deeper understanding of them. Ranking organically on Google is all about delivering the best content and experience for the user. So keeping that at the forefront as you build your SEO career is the best foundation for success. You can never know too much about your audience and their changing interests.
Of course, continue following SEO best practices and optimizing for the keywords your audience is searching for, but if the content itself isn’t centered around the customers’ interests, passions, challenges, etc., then ultimately it’s a waste of resources, even when it’s a win in the SERP.