The enterprise business of SEO: Communicating to the C-suite
Learn how to effectively engage with your organization's leaders and help them understand the incremental value of organic search.
Change is the only constant in SEO. At the moment, change is the only constant in the economy.
Adapting to SEO shifts, reduced paid spending, and the general consensus of having to do more with less have hit marketers hard.
As C-suite members look to reduce costs and improve efficiencies, SEO has risen to become an essential boardroom agenda item.
SEO is impacting website performance across every type of industry. It provides vital business insights into consumer behavior and intent while helping content get discovered and measured.
With this in mind, and as we look toward 2023, how SEOs communicate to key stakeholders across their organization will be of the most critical importance.
Additionally, as competition for digital marketing budgets intensifies, the importance of SEO success and performance must be recognized and rewarded.
As SEO becomes engrained in many parts of a business – from providing insights for sales and product and optimizing content to partnering with digital media teams – it is critical to address the following.
- “What key metrics matter to the CEO?”
- “How best do I talk to my CMO and the CFO on budgets?”
- “When and how should I communicate SEO performance across the organization?”
- “How do I handle multiple requests for insights from other departments?”
Here are some insights and tips to help you communicate to the C-suite.
SEO in the boardroom: Challenges and opportunities
Conversations at the C-level are constantly pivoting due to changes in the economy, fluctuations in demand and supply, and organizational changes.
Companies of every size across every industry face the constant challenges of innovating for the future and meeting the demands of tomorrow’s customers.
Understanding the needs of the customer and their experiences has become the number one focus for every business.
The organic channel is perfect for helping key members of the C-suite to:
- Stay ahead of market trends with vital business insights.
- Determine competitive pressures.
- Identify new opportunities.
- Glean an overall better understanding of the customer across the whole business.
C-suite conversations are also highly focused on performance. However, it is not about driving performance at all costs.
Instead, it is about driving performance in the most efficient way possible with the best gross margin possible.
When it comes to the organic channel and SEO, C-level executives appreciate the ROI of the organic channel.
Organic search drives over 51% of website traffic – a percentage that has held constant for nearly eight years. This is a great starting point when building conversations with C-level executives.
However, the challenge that many SEOs have is twofold:
- Getting visibility.
- Getting buy-in through clear reporting and communication.
And you cannot get one without having the other.
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Understanding the C-suite and key business metrics that matter
The C-suite drives the company's business strategy and manages employees. However, not everyone in this position has an equal amount of knowledge about digital marketing techniques.
Some may be more skilled than others in technical skills like coding or designing websites.
At the same time, another person could specialize in product strategies instead.
Regardless of their SEO knowledge levels, all members work toward common goals:
- Results (revenue).
- Performance metrics (how well we're doing relative to our competitors).
- Organizational impact.
Regarding organic search, measures of one campaign's success do not always translate directly into what members in your organization view as a victory.
To bridge this gap between communication and understanding for everyone involved, you should begin by establishing how vital SEO is on an individual level with those who can make decisions based on these numbers.
You can also show them how your efforts are helping promote other digital marketing channels while boosting customer retention rates through more personalized offerings based on understanding the customer experience.
As media budgets are reduced, organizations are being asked to do more with less with more. There has never been a better time to communicate the importance and value of SEO.
Your goal here is to establish that:
- Search plays a role in our lives, regardless of economic conditions.
- Unlike other channels, search doesn't fluctuate with consumer behavior.
- Good SEO drives the most cost-effective type of revenue.
- SEO is good for brand awareness, equity, and visibility.
- SEO provides vital business intelligence at a macro (market) and micro (intent) level.
- SEO drives the content that fuels other marketing channels and does so more efficiently.
- SEO insights help the broader business, such as product development and sales.
SEO is an investment that provides compounded interest from short-term wins to long-term incremental gains.
The time and effort that goes into it are sticky.
It does not go away and builds over time. It is durable and provides exponential growth.
These are things a C-suite member loves to hear!
Every organization has different hierarchical structures and titles. However, for illustrative purposes, below are a few examples based on a generic enterprise C-level structure.
The chief executive officer (CEO) is always interested in overall performance. CEOs:
- Want to understand the contribution SEO makes to the top line of the business and whether the contributions are completed efficiently.
- Can make only a limited number of investments to grow the company and need to know that their investment in SEO will pay off.
- Want to see the sales numbers and how the company stacks up against its competition.
Metrics that matter:
- Market share.
- Share of voice.
The chief marketing officer (CMO) is interested in the overall demand generation portfolio. Organic search is exciting because of its sheer size.
- Wants to grow traffic and revenue from organic search.
- Wants to know how well it converts and the role it plays (assists) alongside other marketing channels such as demand generation, event strategy, industry influencers, social, and PR.
Metrics that matter:
- Conversion rates.
- Acquisition costs.
- ROI compared to other channels.
The chief financial officer (CFO), like the CEO, is interested in overall performance.
However, the CFO will also be interested in budgeting and forecasting.
They will want to determine:
- Where new investments can be made.
- Where best to allocate SEO budgets and technology spending for the coming year.
With so many fluctuations in the economy and pressure on budgets, ensuring the CFO understands the why of what you are doing related to the end result is essential.
Metrics that matter:
- Operational costs.
- Budget efficiency.
- Forecasts and ROI compared to other channels.
A chief technology officer (CTO) is pivotal in modern-day SEO.
- Are involved and interested in data, insights, integration, and product development.
- Must be able to keep up-to-date on all technical advancements to make informed decisions about future products or services for their company's roadmap.
Metrics that matter:
- Site performance.
- Product development.
The chief operating officer (COO) will be interested in:
- How SEO contributes to other aspects of the business, such as recruitment, branding, sales, retention, and upsells.
- Associated costs across the business (such as design).
- How SEO structures, people, and processes are integrated across the organization.
Metrics that matter:
- Operational costs.
- Business intelligence.
- Contribution to cross-functional goals and objectives.
- Cost savings with automation.
Collectively, the C-suite wants to know the following:
- The size of the competition.
- The value of the market.
- Their share of voice in the market.
- The maximum possible return vs. the actual return.
Remember that your time with the C-suite will be limited. Hence make sure you choose your words wisely and make them count.
To evangelize and elevate your SEO work, remember who you are talking to, and remember to speak their language.
For example, a CMO would rather hear about revenue than rank because they are more concerned with how well an SEO campaign translates into tangible results for their company's bottom line.
You should always strive to speak "their language" when communicating effectively – which means understanding how to translate.
CEOs are less interested in seeing keyword ranking changes (outside of your crucial core terms) and more interested in seeing your share of voice, revenue from organic campaigns, and success within the competitive landscape.
This offers you the chance to elevate SEO and the importance of your role. Again, language is key to communication.
Here's how to frame what you say and what it means to the C-suite.
|SEO language||C-suite language|
|SEO||The organic channel|
|Algorithm updates||Google changes|
|Keywords||Topics that customers are searching for – intent|
|Rank and rank change||Where content is performing|
|Optimizing||Attracting and converting customers online|
|SERP CTR||Share of voice for an online search query|
|Share of voice||Versus the competition|
In addition, use reports and visuals that quickly and clearly communicate your progress and the direct benefit to the company.
Elevate SEO by being transparent
SEOs have a history of making SEO esoteric and exotic, implying that there is a bit of dark magic involved.
But, unfortunately, that serves neither the SEO nor the executive audience.
Take the opposite approach by:
- Increasing transparency on progress. SEO usually takes longer than paid channels or even sales to bring in results, but include SEO progress reporting at least monthly in the standard management report vehicles. Also, don't forget that SEO investments bring compound (interest-like) returns that no other channel can.
- Being curious but also focused on critical wins. Sales would not share the tactical minutiae of every deal with management – and SEOs should not, either. Instead, they identify repeatable patterns and tell the executives how they will scale it out to other reps and deals.
Communicate SEO’s value to the C-suite
The role of SEO is continually rising. It has become an active participant in business planning and part of many companies' business intelligence. As a result, alignment with multiple stakeholders is becoming critical.
Ensure your strategies are sound while creating alignment across various stakeholders across the C-suite as your organization advances.
Most of the time, SEO teams are expected to do more and provide more value with fewer resources than other areas of the business may have.
While that speaks to the value and importance of SEO in an organization, it also means you have to be methodical in approaching your work if you're an SEO in this scenario.
Use your time to showcase success and manage expectations. Traction takes time, so balance strategies to make incremental gains while focusing on long-term success
Keep elevating your success by building appropriate dashboards and presentations that tie SEO strategy and tactics to business objectives. This will directly help you position and promote your success.
Continually engage with C-level executives and help them understand the value of SEO and its role.
Use data, AI, and deep learning to share powerful insights, tell content-rich stories, and develop new skill sets that help you understand and adapt to the broader digital and marketing technology landscape.
The ability to communicate effectively in meetings is a crucial part of your success as an SEO.
Invest some time developing valuable meeting room traits like confident speaking abilities or compelling storytelling so that you can engage with leaders.
This will allow you to engage with your organization's leaders and help them understand the value of what you and the organic search channel offer.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.