Continuing our SEO education series, we will be diving into the world of SEO for executives. To address this topic in a thorough and well-rounded way, we will be taking a two-pronged approach to executive SEO education. Some of the information covered will be geared towards executives and how they should be thinking about SEO and managing it as a channel, and some will address the roles of SEO managers and practitioners and how they can best work with executives in the SEO space.
One of the biggest challenges within SEO is establishing proper communication between management and SEO practitioners, either in-house or from an outside agency. This is primarily due to misconceptions surrounding how SEO works, how ROI is measured, what SEO initiatives cost, and the true value that SEO provides an organization. In order to establish alignment between SEOs and executives, SEOs must be proactive and educate management on some of the misconceptions listed above so that everyone is on the same page when it comes to understanding and measuring the impact and value of SEO initiatives. SEO is not as linear as some of the other marketing channels executives are used to seeing. Therefore, SEOs and executives must address some of the ambiguities that exist and find common ground between some of the unique characteristics of SEO as a channel and the metrics executives are familiar with utilizing to make organizational decisions about resource allocation and support. By connecting the dots between SEO KPIs and the organization’s broader goals, alignment and trust between SEOs and executives can be achieved.
Table of Contents
Setting Goals and Reporting Progress
Managing communication regarding goal setting and progress reporting in the SEO channel is the foundation of any beneficial working relationship between SEOs and executives. Establishing the expectations for SEO, how it can grow and scale, and how to measure its success can be challenging due to the nonlinear trajectory surrounding many SEO strategies. The best way to combat this ambiguity is through education and alignment.
All companies, websites, and enterprises have goals they want to achieve. For SEOs, one of the best ways to align with leadership is to figure out how your initiatives and goals fit within and contribute to the broader ambitions of the organization. This will provide the context through which you can effectively communicate the value of SEO strategies and educate executives on the what, why, and how of SEO initiatives. Ask yourself: what are the main goals the executive team is trying to achieve, and how do my SEO activities align with them?
For executives, proper alignment means understanding how certain initiatives are connected to an outcome. Instead of a collection of random requests related to individual SEO tactics, a deeper understanding of the impact of an SEO strategy will allow executives to see how initiatives work within the context of the broader SEO strategy and the OKRs of the organization as a whole. This leads to more informed decision-making and builds trust between the SEO team and the executives supporting the channel.
Allocating Resources and Investment
One of the most important components of a successful SEO strategy is investment. Knowing when, how, how much, and how often to invest in SEO depends on a variety of factors, and it can be challenging for executives to make the right decisions for their organization. To be positioned for success, an in-house SEO needs sufficient building blocks to work with in order to establish a viable SEO strategy. Yet SEO investment can take many forms. It may not make sense for a startup to hire an SEO in a full-time role before constructing the foundation upon which a proper SEO plan can be built. Instead, a startup may benefit from an investment in SEO education for their product, engineering, and content teams, so the foundation of the company website can be built to support and integrate future SEO initiatives. Introducing the proper timeline for SEO investment will help your organization establish the momentum necessary to create an efficient SEO model.
Similarly, in a large enterprise, prudent SEO investment may require targeting certain deficiencies that exist in your product and marketing strategy. Depending on your situation, you may need better content, more technical expertise, or additional analytics to support your SEO foundation. Where SEO exists in the organization matters, and executives need to ask themselves: why am I investing in this particular mode of SEO, what is the output that can be achieved, and how does it align with the company’s overall goals?
The next thing to consider regarding SEO resource allocation is how much to invest in internal resources (in-house SEO teams, organizational education, etc.) versus external discretionary spending (SEO consulting, agencies, content contractors, etc.). To answer this question, you need in-depth knowledge of your organization’s assets and deficiencies in the SEO space. This can be a tricky evaluation to make, but it is a crucial one. To create real growth and scale, executives must find a balance between the skills and capabilities of their in-house SEO system as they pertain to the needs of other teams in the organization, and the need for specialized external tools, analysis, and content that an outside agency or consultant can provide.
Management and Leadership
When we talk about the role of executives and the relationship between executives and SEOs within an organization, it all comes down to management and leadership. The SEO channel encompasses so many different disciplines and areas of focus. Stakeholder groups involved in product, engineering, analytics and performance, and content each make up different facets of the SEO space, but they are all driven and guided by your organization’s leadership.
Executives don’t need to be SEO experts to successfully manage how SEO functions within an organization. Rather, quality executives will know how to find and implement the right people with the core knowledge to offer accurate and realistic assessments of your organization’s capabilities and needs in the SEO channel. Executives need to be able to ask the right questions that will identify areas of potential improvement or bottlenecks that can be unclogged to move along initiatives. This will provide the knowledge to facilitate changes, make bigger decisions about allocating SEO investment, and weave an effective SEO strategy throughout the various stakeholder groups and the broader fabric of the organization to scale, grow, and meet long-term company goals.
SEO success can be difficult to evaluate and quantify. Some initiatives cannot be accurately measured using the same linear metrics used for other marketing strategies. Leadership needs to look beyond the immediate performance of an initiative or team member in terms of generated traffic to include the growth of skills, capabilities, and contextual knowledge. The SEO landscape is constantly evolving, and success is better measured through cumulative and compounded efforts over time. It’s the executive’s job to recognize the pain points that may have held back an initiative and make the appropriate reprioritizations and course corrections regarding what’s working and what isn’t in the context of the organization’s broader goals.
Communication in SEO is a two-way street. As we mentioned in previous episodes, there can often be a disconnect between the SEO team and executives regarding setting goals and measuring success, where resources should be allocated, and what initiatives should be pursued. Regardless of what side you are on, the key to alleviating this tension is rooted in thorough communication, trust, and a mutual understanding of potential frustrations and pressures that the other side may have. This will allow SEOs and executives to empower and enable one another to succeed in their roles.
An important consideration when cultivating successful SEO communication is what information you should share. For SEOs, this means deciding on the type and depth of reporting to provide to executives that will be most effective in showing how initiatives are performing and the context of that performance within the scope of the organization’s overall goals. At the executive level, this broader view and understanding of SEO performance, both within your organization and externally among your competitors, is essential. Having clear indicators regarding the general trends and movements in the SEO industry and how your company’s efforts compare to them is necessary in order to make informed decisions about resource investments and the pursuit of specific strategies.
For SEOs to supply the most useful information to executives that will aid their decision-making process, it may be necessary to showcase and present different aspects of performance data to different members of the executive team. For example, showing the product management team a chart that displays the growth of SEO traffic in relation to specific tickets they have worked on can help encourage resource investment into those initiatives. On the other hand, showing a particularly successful piece of optimized content and how it was able to boost page ranking may elicit a more positive response from a content team’s leadership. Being strategic and selective about how you present data and results can help stimulate support for SEO and engage positively with executives across multiple departments.
SEOs can also help executive teams and CEOs communicate SEO effectively to board members, investors, and other stakeholder groups outside the company. It’s important to frame SEO impact for what it is: ambiguous, cross-disciplinary, and complex combinations of various tactics within a single strategy. If you present results as a simple direct relationship between a particular technique and a specific result, you will end up creating false expectations and will invariably be asked to repeat that particular technique to gain more of those same results. But that’s not how SEO works. SEO is a collective investment across the business that is full of proactive and reactive solutions to a constantly shifting landscape and cannot be boiled down to a few formulaic procedures. What worked today may not work tomorrow, and it is crucial to convey the all-encompassing nature of a successful SEO process as much as the results themselves. This will provide the proper lens through which stakeholder groups should look at SEO and will do well to align the expectations of leadership and practitioners. When executives and SEOs are on the same page, natural SEO buy-in can be achieved across an organization, leading to genuine support, significant impact, and successful growth and scalability.