How To Prioritize Search Marketing Work At A Large Company

Although it’s rarely discussed, a huge part of an in-house search marketer’s job is setting priorities on work items.  In an even broader sense, this role expands out to encompass staffing, budgeting, content planning, infrastructure management and more.  But fundamentally, setting priorities is a crucial part of assuring your internal search marketing activities are successful. And […]

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Although it’s rarely discussed, a huge part of an in-house search marketer’s job is setting priorities on work items.  In an even broader sense, this role expands out to encompass staffing, budgeting, content planning, infrastructure management and more.  But fundamentally, setting priorities is a crucial part of assuring your internal search marketing activities are successful.

And the process of setting priorities is different for organic SEO work and paid search advertising campaigns. Let’s take a look at both.

Setting SEO Priorities

While many feel organic search marketing is “free,” the reality is it actually can cost quite a bit of money.  Granted, not usually on the scale that paid search can move cash out the door, but organic SEO work is hardly “free,” even when done by an internal team.  When you set an SEO plan into motion, it touches developers/programmers, content creators/editors, marketing folks, advertising sales people and potentially even more folks depending on your company’s structure.  When considering all of the time these people will spend implementing your plan, making changes to web sites in efforts to rank better is anything but cheap.  So what do you do?

Set priorities.

Let’s start with the basics:

Step 1 – Keyword research

This is a critical first step, as everyone should know.  Setting up the plan and developing the critical keywords you’re going to focus your work around, a mundane to experienced SEOs, is actually a bit of a black art to many outside our world.  Most folks stare in sheer amazement and gawk in awe when our team showcases the level of detail around keywords and query volumes.  Knowing which keywords you’re targeting helps you guide the effort on two main fronts:

  • Reworking existing content. If you already have content, maybe it only needs a few tweaks to perform better and capture more traffic.
  • Content creation. As you develop your keyword lists, you can look for matching content on your site.  If you have none, you now have a list of topics that your content developers can use to create new material.

Step 2 – Platform level issues

Your publishing platform may be your best friend or worst enemy.  Depending on the size of your site, you may be locked into a less than desirable situation.  In truth, even the worst content management systems these days can be managed with an eye toward effective SEO. What’s critical is that you identify the major issues caused by the publishing platform that negatively impact organic search visibility and start discussions with your platform team about ways to fix them.  Be ready for in-depth discussions, and be ready to do your best to not only rank each issue you bring forward in a prioritized list, but also to back up your requests for changes with projected improvements to ROI to justify this work.  A developer’s time is not cheap, so be ready for tough questions when you try to make changes to your content management system.

If you’re blessed with a search friendly publishing platform, you’ll still want to make that list and identify items that can be further tweaked.  The same rules will apply as above around justifications, but at least you know the lifting isn’t as heavy.

One added tip: Making your platform team feel like heroes by giving them the credit for any success here will go a long way to helping next time you need work done.

Step 3 – Template level issues

This step involves prioritizing all of the technical, on-page items that need attention.  Often, these issues relate to template design.  You might be using templates and simply not call them that.  The bottom line here is to make a list of the top on-page issues and track down why they exist and how they can be fixed.  The road splits here into “it exists and is properly used” and “it exists and is improperly used.”  Both have clear paths, so make sure you get the right people in the room and start the discussions.  Missing header tags?  Get it fixed.  Duplicating titles?  Decide if this belongs here, or with the platform team, then fire off the “fix it” message.  A good way to get the attention of non-search marketers here is to outline the negative consequences of not fixing the problems.

Step 4 – Editorial items

This step is one of my favorite parts of managing an in-house SEO team.  I’ve worked with a lot of editorial folks over the years.  While no writer or editor enjoys being “told what to write,” when you trot out keyword research info and show them exactly what their readers are searching for, the pitch on your “suggested content ideas” is an easy one.  These conversations usually start in a guarded fashion, but most editorial teams quickly see the easy route to producing winning content.  And any time you can help your editorial team be the center of attention because they created new, valuable content is good.

If you are sensing a theme here—namely, that you should be generous in your praise and acknowledgment of the efforts of the teams implementing your priorities—you’d be correct.  Organic search work is still marketing, and I see marketing as a support function in any business.  By enabling others to gain their fair share of credit as part of the process, everyone benefits.  Trust me, no one will think it was anyone but you, the internal SEO expert, that offered up the necessary guidance to get things done properly.

Prioritizing paid search campaigns

Setting priorities on the paid side is relatively straightforward, namely, set goals for your campaigns and track the results.  Once you have ongoing data, you can really begin to drill into what is a keeper and what to turf.  Being easier to prioritize, however, in no way implies that the paid side is a piece of cake.  In fact, in today’s environment of cost cutting, squeezed budgets and must-have-ROI’s, the paid side of the house is under scrutiny as never before.  Thankfully, the domain of PPC is so well tracked as to make it simpler to stem the flow on foundering efforts.  By setting clear targets, and pulling the plug on non-performers, you can effectively manage a budget to the penny.

A larger challenge may be getting money to put into paid campaigns.  When management bristles at the idea of money being spent on paid search, it’s often because paid search can run through large sums of money quickly.  Tie this effort to specific goals and timelines, though, and folks breathe easier knowing the angles are covered.   In the end, it’ll usually help persuade the doubters to note that that brand awareness jumps when you hold both a high paid placement and organic listing on the same result page .

Setting priorities is critical these days.  Most managers are understanding if you make a mistake, as long as you learn from it and do not repeat it.  Most managers also understand the inherent lack of trackability around SEO activities (for example, it’s impossible to provide an exact ROI number for implementing a header tag in the way you can track the ROI of a paid search ad).  If you set out clear priorities, set expectations reasonably, structure realistic timelines and manage the plan you’ve created, your program is well on its way to success.

One final tip: Keep track of the tasks you ask others to implment.  When you set something as a high priority work item, and others do not get it done, having their sign off via e-mail that your work item was bumped on their say-so can make all the difference in the world.  This isn’t about CYA either.  It’s about establishing who sets the priorities around work items.  This may be the in-house subject matter expert, or someone else.  Often it comes down to balance between your efforts and available resources, but if you’re outvoted, you’re outvoted.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Duane Forrester

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