In the first part of this series, I outlined a powerful method used by successful enterprise SEOs to tackle the challenge of enterprise SEO. While operational planning is critical to get in place, the best laid plans are useless unless you can execute on them.
In this second part, I would like to share another secret of highly effective enterprise SEOs that I’ve learned over the years while working with many of the largest and most successful enterprises in the world: their unique perspective on developing a “winning team.” Surprise — it’s not about hiring the best SEO talent out there to get the job done.
Irrespective of the organization’s stage of SEO maturity, there are a few characteristics that differentiate the SEOs who are, or will be, exceptional at achieving results versus those that, despite the most amazing talent, fail to move the needle. Here are a few such characteristics of highly effective SEOs that I’ve noticed:
- Their ability to get buy-in from all levels of the organization
- Their ability to get large, complex projects done that affect many different departments
- Their ability to continuously impact change without being involved in absolutely everything going on within the organization
How do these SEOs get the job done? The answer is simple: they invest in building a winning team.
Anyone who has been doing SEO for any amount of time will tell you that it’s a team sport. While the contribution of each individual player helps get things going, it’s the combined effort of the team that truly brings about game-changing results. The team I am referring to here is not the team of SEOs alone, but a team that spans across the entire enterprise and across all departments and responsibilities.
While this concept is easy to understand, the devil, as they say, lies in the details — or in this case, the perspective you take on what constitutes your “team.”
Typically, within enterprises, this is how SEOs see their team:
The internal team in the graphic above acts as the core, while external consultants and agencies act as an extension of the team.
In reality, successful SEOs realize that their team is actually much larger, more diverse and more powerful than what is shown above. A successful enterprise SEO is supported by a team like this:
It is the combined effort of all the team players that make the SEO successful. So how do you go about building such a team?
3 Traits Of A Winning Team
Here are the three characteristics on which winning SEO teams are built:
You may be the smartest, most knowledgeable SEO in the world, but to the person sitting in IT reviewing your latest request, that doesn’t mean anything. (Well, maybe it means something — just not a lot). Getting others to trust you is not something that happens overnight. What all successful SEOs know and understand is that trust is something you have to continuously work on building. It doesn’t come automatically with a title, either — it’s earned. This is especially true if your role involves guiding someone else to do something the way you want it done. They must trust you in order to avoid having simple things erupt into long approval processes.
People will be more willing to do things for you if they trust what you have to say and if you’ve consistently given them reasons to trust you. Here is a simple process that I’ve found very successful in helping build trust over time. Think about this before you approach someone within the enterprise with a request to help you get something done:
- Can you explain clearly what you want to do and how you want to do it?
- Can you demonstrate through examples — or better still, with hard numbers — the reason behind why you want to do what you want to do and specifically the way you want to do it?
- Are you able (either by yourself or through other resources) to provide the support necessary for what needs to be done?
- Are you able to provide feedback on success OR failure — and can you explain why what was done was a success or failure?
Many SEOs will complain that being able to provide hard numbers/estimates for SEO activities is a fool’s errand, but I can tell you it’s not. SEO, like any other marketing activity, can be forecasted — and like any forecast, you will never quite hit it on the head exactly right. But, a good forecast is much better than a “gut” feeling when you are walking into a meeting with other stake holders.
You have probably heard an old proverb that goes like this:
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
One of the smartest things I have seen within successful enterprises is their ability to take search engine optimization from being a job only for the SEO team to a responsibility that is a shared among the entire organization. The benefits of search optimization impact everything from user experience to traffic and conversions, so it makes sense that everyone from the IT team to merchandisers to department managers take a keen interest in doing what they can to improve the company’s SEO results.
In enterprise organizations, the SEO acts more like a coach than an individual player. Training different parts of the organization on how to make SEO a part of their daily routine, like teaching a man to fish, has a far longer lasting and profound impact on the organization’s overall results than hiring the ten best SEOs in the world. It’s easy to do a one-time training on the basics of SEO and consider the job done; but in order to be truly effective, SEO training needs to be a part of an ongoing series for the various teams, customized to their specific roles and updated to include the newest information that emerges.
Formal training programs for SEO within enterprises are hard things to get off the ground, but can serve as one of the key competitive differentiators over the long run. An organization that thinks about search optimization as part of their process at every level rather than as an afterthought is a force to be reckoned with.
Building a winning team also means equipping it with the right tools to be able to do the job and track progress. While training helps equip the team with the knowledge of what to do, the tools help it get the job done and empower it by enabling a direct view into the impact of team effort.
The tools are different for the different teams. Content teams need tools to help research content ideas. IT teams need tools to help analyze bot activity or identify crawl issues. Designers need tools to help make sure the basics of SEO-friendly design are taken into account.
For example, say you need the IT team to help fix 404 errors on the site (assuming you have trained them on the importance of having an error-free site). Your chances of success improve dramatically if you can also provide them a way to quickly and easily identify the source of the errors and track the impact of it on the end results.
This is true for any team member from any part of the organization. It’s highly motivating to them to have a clear understanding of which direction to move in and then be able to see the impact of their work.
Enterprise-class platforms can help bring all of these tools and more into a single place, but in the SEO industry, there are also hundreds of point-solutions that can help provide the basic functionality needed. The point is that with the appropriate tools and tracking, it’s much easier to keep large, diverse teams on the same page. With clear direction and visibility into results, you’ll ensure that trust and SEO training have a lasting impact.
One of my favorite quotes says it all:
“The team with the best players wins.”
- Jack Welch
As you start thinking about your priorities for 2014 — from semantic markup to expanded global SEO or content marketing — take a moment to think about the most valuable asset you can work on developing: your team. Winning at SEO means developing a team that can execute tasks more efficiently and effectively than your competitors. All the best for 2014!
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.