The Keys To Success In Enterprise SEO
In the world of search engine optimization, Enterprise SEO is an odd bird. Most professional SEOs cut their teeth for years in agencies or independent consulting, doing a jack-of-all-trades level of work.
As a result, they are used to digging into source code issues, optimizing individual landing pages for content and metadata, running a variety of detailed, hands-on social media campaigns, running deep analysis on their customer’s Web analytics data, and much, much more. You’d think these would be great skills to have in the enterprise.
Well, for the most part, you are right. But, not exactly so. When websites scale up to the enterprise level, the typical work that one SEO might do for a small customer running a modest website is typically divided up and performed by many large, separate teams of people.
Sure, you’ll want to have a solid understanding of that work because it gives you context to the quality of the deliverables these teams produce. It’ll help you evaluate whether the work they produced is what you want it to be or not. But as an enterprise SEO, you won’t likely be doing that work yourself.
Whose Work Is It, Anyway?
In fact, you won’t likely be doing a whole lot of tactical SEO work at all. OK, I hear the few random voices out there screaming, “Hey, I do SEO work for an enterprise site, and I do all of that!”
Well, every work situation is different, but in general, I stand by my words. To assert otherwise implies either you don’t know or understand the scale I am referring to when I say “enterprise” (think Big!), or you are in one of the most woefully under-resourced organizations in the world. (I trust it’s not the latter because, like trying to drain the ocean with a garden hose, you’ll be hard pressed to accomplish anything significant. Heck, even Sisyphus eventually got that giant boulder rolled up to the top of the hill from time to time!).
More likely, if you are doing SEO for a site with several million unique published pages, your organization’s Web team will be scaled to meet the challenge, including entire teams dedicated to development, content development, and reporting (and likely other facets of the work as well).
In fact, the site may be broken up into departments, each one with its own development, media, and marketing teams! Worse yet, where SEO sits in your enterprise organization may not be an optimal place to get even the minimal support you’ll need to move that mountain.
So how can you be successful as an SEO in such an environment? You need to understand your role, what is expected of you, what you can hope to accomplish, and most importantly, know how you can accomplish those tasks. Yes, you certainly need a variety of SEO skills and education as fundamentals, but probably even more important than that, you need excellent interpersonal and communications skills.
Why are interpersonal and communication skills so important, you ask? Well, for the most part, your job as an enterprise SEO will be a small piece of the enterprise website pie (potentially very small). Most likely your role will be predominately strategic in nature rather than tactical.
And in fact, the tactical part of your job will likely be conveying the strategic challenges of the other teams who actually do the tactical implementation of the work you identify, not to mention the strategic interpretation of the reports created by the data teams for executive management!
In terms of the classic cross-organizational RACI matrix, where the roles of project members are categorized as either Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, or Informed, enterprise SEOs are often accountable for the work without being responsible for doing the work.
Dotted lines org charts rule here. To succeed in this role, you need to have excellent people skills. After all, you won’t get people to do the work you need done if you treat them with condescension or disrespect. You need to understand they have other work to do, and that you are (typically) not their manager.
So, even though SEO is likely an executive-sponsored organizational goal, the workers upon whom you will rely to do the work needed to move the needle on improving search click-throughs, page views, time spent on site, conversions, online revenues, and other key metrics will get their bonuses, raises and promotions by doing the work their direct managers ask of them.
You need to accommodate the needs and goals of those folks, find what motivates them, help make their jobs easier, and most important, publicly share the successes you earn through SEO work with them.
6 Point Success Checklist For Enterprise SEOs
While this is a short list (there are certainly more things to consider), here are a few of the things I think every prospective enterprise SEO should be prepared to do (and none of this is tactical SEO!):
1. Training & presenting
As the enterprise’s SEO strategy person, you know more about the topic than the people doing the daily work of developing new site features, creating new content pages, and building up online communities. You should be prepared to offer training sessions or workshops for each of these teams, helping them understand, in the terms of the work they do every day, how SEO considerations can be seamlessly integrated into their daily workflow.
If your enterprise doesn’t already do such training, volunteer to start up such a program. In the meantime, offer lunchtime brown bag sessions dedicated to one basic concept and leave time for Q&A.
2. Writing documentation
When the training is over, offering a quick reference guide or 1-pager SEO cheat sheet as a takeaway is great reinforcement of the ideas conveyed.
You can also create an internal intranet website with links to your training session PowerPoint slide decks, cheat sheets, and other documentation on about the what, how, why, when, where, and even who of SEO in your organization. Of course, all of that has to be written. You might even consider making short training videos, too!
3. Working with others
Ultimately, the enterprise SEO role is a people-person role. You’ll need to engage with other people and teams to do the work you define as needed to improve the site’s performance as you’ll rarely have a chance to do it yourself (it’s hard to scale you!). To be really successful with this, keep the next few steps in mind.
4. Being empathetic with others when their priorities are not SEO
Respect the hard work these folks have to do that has nothing to do with your SEO needs. If they are sitting around with nothing to do (and even if they’re not, it’s not your place to call them out on that!).
If you can get them to be on your side in the efforts to get SEO tasks done, to improve the way they write page metadata, or learn to include you in new Web project planning meetings (where your work will have the greatest impact instead of looping you in just before the product ships when you can barely put an SEO Band-Aid on senseless, gaping Web optimization wounds), your work will be far more successful.
5. Making others great!
Focus on making the other people successful, and you’ll earn their trust. Make your emphasis how SEO will make them successful, and when good things happen, make a big deal of giving public acknowledgement of their vital contribution.
If your focus is self-centered, you will always find it hard to get others to work toward goals that are important to you. And just to set expectations, please understand that when you make others great, it may not be reciprocated. Some people may not thank you for your help in meetings. They may keep the kudos without sharing credit with you.
That’s fine. As long as your manager knows what work you’re doing, you can live without the reciprocated kudos. Indeed, your selflessness may itself be the key to your organizational success. In a healthy organization, others will notice the value of your work, rest assured.
6. Being a great technical resource, but don’t BS folks
This is paramount. You are the designated expert in the field, and people expect that you will know it all. Of course, you and I both know that you and I don’t know it all. And, that’s OK.
To be the most valuable resource, in the long run, it’s far less important to deliver information instantly than it is to deliver it accurately. When you are not certain about a question, promise to get them the right answer ASAP rather than giving them a glib, wrong answer immediately.
Why? When they take your bad info to their team and it is revealed to be wrong, they’ll be embarrassed, they’ll blame you, and as a result, they’ll probably refuse to work with you in the future. It’s ultimately self-sabotage. Don’t do that!
Successful Enterprise SEOs
To be a success in enterprise SEO, you need to be a lot of things. You need to be smart, well-versed in the field, willing to learn, and resourceful about where to get the best technical information (which typically changes over time).
You need to be ready to work with the many people it’ll take to get the job done. Show them respect (even the few who might not deserve it!), give them the tools and information they need to succeed, and when success comes, let them (and their managers) know of their good work.
Don’t be insincere about it – false praise is in the same realm as condescension. But, when the job is done well, make them great. Your enterprise SEO career will get the same bounce as the website on which all of your teams work.
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