Insight from Our R&D Team: An Interview with James and Tom
In a world as fast-paced as digital, it helps to have such a savvy and innovative in-house research and development team that keeps us at the top of our game.
We chatted to James and Tom, members of WMG’s R&D team, who shared insight into what they do, why R&D is so important for our clients and what they’ve been working on recently.
Tell me about the R&D team and what you do…
Tom: The R&D team work on creating and maintaining the agency’s tools, templates, documents and processes.
James: We develop and improve systems, tools and processes for the team and the wider agency.
When you’re a technical account manager or working on campaigns day-to-day, it’s very easy to lose sight of what’s happening in the industry. It’s basically our job to gather that information and disseminate it into the different teams across the agency.
For example, the content team use Google’s EAT concept to underpin how they write and that came from the research that we did around the EAT update when it happened. With the research and development that we’ve done in this area alongside the content team, the variety and depth of our content offering are now more all-encompassing.
We work to upskill our teams enabling us to keep on the bleeding edge of the industry. In the R&D team, we should have one conversation so that a team can go on to have 140 conversations. We train it into our team once so that they can share it and support all their clients.
H2: Tell me more about your roles within the team…
James: At the moment, there are four of us. My work is more overarching, so I have conversations with senior management and I’m in the middle of everything that’s occurring.
Then you have Tom Chappell who works mainly on information and tools. So, things like our Competitor Analysis and the Content Quality Score tools.
Then there’s another Tom in our team too who works more on our internal systems. At the moment, we’re changing a lot of processes around how content is managed and, what I call, its lifecycle which is basically from when it’s ordered to when it’s delivered to the client. Tom supports us on this.
We have a new joiner – Olivia. Her main project is data analysis across all our search volume data. We’re fortunate to have access to “actual” search volume data, not 12-month rolling averages like most. Now, we want to leverage this data to understand and identify emerging trends and markets for our clients. This will enable us to be closer to, and advise on, critical business decisions about market direction. We’re working hard to build a system that surfaces this opportunity from – what will currently be – around 8.6 million data points.
When it comes to creating new tools and processes, how do you spot an opportunity?
James: It really depends. The Content Quality Score tool was developed from a very quick phone conversation I had with our managing director, Ian Lloyd.
We noticed that we had a score for technical optimisation so things like keyword optimisation can be measured through factors such as title tags and H1s. We have the same kind of concept for links but nothing for content at the time. Content was entirely subjective. What you think is a good piece of content might be very different to what I think is a good piece of content, which may be different to what someone else thinks. That meant that content was working more on the old theory of “I’ll do it this way because my experience tells me I should”, rather than it being aligned to the data. That spurred further conversations on how we can boil content down to a score to really show its value.
These conversations started a very long process that Tom went through. This included looking at around two dozen different content measurements and metrics before analysing thousands of phrases, the content that ranked for those phrases and the position it ranked. Then we found the correlation from that.
A lot of tools, a lot of processes, a lot of the things we do come from very small conversations that snowball.
Tom: A lot of our insight comes from our business development team too. As they get exposure to other businesses, we’re able to understand what others think and if there are different ways we could be doing things.
How do our tools and processes differ to others in the market?
Tom: We use a lot of bespoke, internal processes. I’ve been on calls with James and people try to pitch us a tool to buy and we’ve usually already built what’s on offer. I think we’re quite efficient in that respect.
James: With our own tools, we’re in control. We can be more neutral and objective about our analysis and, as a team, we’re not trying to sell what we build so we don’t need to justify that it’s good. The results show that it is.
In a strange way, by building our own tools and processes, we can be more neutral, and we can let the data lead the story.
Another factor is that when you buy into a third-party service you often only want one-third of that service, so it ends up being three times more expensive than it needs to be. Instead, we can make a tool, a process or a system exactly how we need it.
How do we use the different tools that R&D create within our work for clients?
James: At the moment, we build tools and systems as standalone units. There are certain concepts that we build that feed into everything, for example, the Content Quality Score is built within the Competitor Analysis and it’s also a Word plugin.
But individual tools or processes like the migration checklist or technical audit documents are stand-alone. So, it’s not the case where a client comes on board and there’s a package that they’re encompassed within. But this is what we’re progressively moving towards.
Within the R&D team, we can prototype very quickly. We can conceptualise a product or a tool that we want to build, and we can start to build it very fast. We want to make even more of the data we generate, leverage it more intelligently, and really level up what we do.
What kind of things have you recently been working on in the R&D team?
Tom: Pretty much the last two months of my time have been solely focused on creating our new Japanese Content Quality Score tool. These types of projects are always big ones because we analyse so much data to work out where the correlation is – and this one had the added bonus of being in a language I don’t know how to speak!
However, I had the roadmap of how we built the English Content Quality Score, and it follows a similar process but with Japanese keywords, Japanese rankings and Japanese content.
James: We’ve also completed the product development behind the Core Web Vitals tool. This tool helps the team audit a website and understand what a client needs to do to not be as impacted by the update.
We were then able to train this tool out to the team and they can now have conversations with each of their clients to disseminate that information to audit, analyse, understand and hopefully correct what needs attention.
What are the benefits of WMG having an R&D team?
Tom: Efficiency and scalability. We’ve got the time to really research topics and totally understand them before developing new processes and tools and training entire teams in them.
James: I always enjoy it when we find and save time. I think in many companies it’s common that a task will never change. Processes will always remain the same because it was once the right thing to do. Whereas for us, as we grow and develop, we’re always asking how we can make sure that what we’re doing is beneficial to the client.
How can we save time on what we’re doing? Not because we want to cut corners, but because actually, if we can save 35 hours on a process or a task, then that’s 35 hours that can be spent doing other things that are beneficial to the client.
One example of that is the reporting on outreach deliverables. A couple of years ago, all the link reports were done manually by members of our outreach team which took about 60 hours each month. We developed a system that now does it all automatically. It took a week to develop that system so within a month, you’re in time profit in terms of what you save. That’s one of the huge benefits – we can go into any team and look at how to make things better. By having an R&D team, we can be both proactive and reactive.
We’re lucky to have our very own in-house R&D team constantly working in the background to make improvements that benefit our client’s performance. If you want to know more about what they do and how it supports the way we work with you, don’t hesitate to get in touch.