SEO: Just Deal With IT (The IT Department, That Is)
Every corporation large enough to have an IT department has had search engine optimization problems at one point or another. Well, at least every corporation that I’ve dealt with. And dealing with these issues sometimes requires the diplomatic skills of Henry Kissinger, the technical skills of Bill Gates, the persuasion skills of P.T. Barnum and the people skills of Barack Obama. If you’re in that position, here are some tips for the successful care and feeding of IT people.
Back when I first started doing natural optimization, this job always fell to the IT department. Most of the time, the marketing department wasn’t even involved, and advertising didn’t even know what search was. So I worked with the geeks. So, these IT guys were in charge of keeping the Website running, making sure that everyone’s e-mail worked, keeping viruses out of the system, evaluating and purchasing new hardware and software, teaching the CEO how to use a mouse (or his secretary how to print out e-mails so the CEO could read them) and initiating world peace. As you can imagine, sometimes search engine optimization would get pushed to the back burner.
At one large corporation where I was hired to do some consulting, it took us almost two years to get meta tags changed (back when that was a big deal). For two years, I was paid to be a consultant who said the same thing over and over again. Change the meta tags to my suggestions. This was early in my career and I had little to no persuasive skills, so it just sat. Finally, one day the tags were changed. Traffic to the site increased by more than 100% and I was a hero. I got my mojo then. IT wanted to hear from me.
There’s a lesson to be learned in that story that applies even today when dealing with IT departments. The lesson is, there is more persuasion in small (and large) victories than in all the mandates, dictates, pleadings, impassioned speeches or bribes in the world. If you can show a small step of progress, you will more than likely win over the folks in charge of IT.
But these days, the IT problem is more masked. Most of the time the marketing department is calling the shots. The IT department is there to “serve” the marketing department. Many times this does not make the IT department happy. In some organizations this can lead to passive-aggressive tactics by IT that can actually doom a natural search engine optimization program rather quickly. The biggest of these is what one of my clients affectionately refers to as “17” in reference to the 17th letter of the alphabet. The Q, or queue, as it is referred to can be the lowest level of hell for all search engine optimization requests. These requests get pushed back for more “mission critical” projects, like installing a network to play Quake or watching hours of StrongBad at Homestarrunner.com. Only a directive from the C-level suite can push these through. Thus the need for internal champions.
I’ve heard a lot of SEOs talk about internal champions, and I’ve been one of them. But when dealing with an overly passive-aggressive (or merely insanely overworked) IT department, these individuals with clout can be the messiah or an otherwise doomed search engine optimization initiative. However, cramming things down the throats of IT should be used sparingly. My suggestion, get an internal champion that works in IT.
This part of SEO is all about relationships. I don’t care how much you know about 301 redirects, keyword density, Google’s algorithm, etc. If you can’t get the IT guys to like you, you are screwed. They control the Web site. Many times they don’t like the marketing people who you are reporting too. You must make friends in IT – take a geek to happy hour, buy a guy a Monty Python DVD. Just check in on other IT projects and offer a shoulder to cry on or a place to vent. But if you become friends with IT, the benefits are countless. This is a tactic the best marketing managers know, and the mediocre ones ignore. You are only as good as your IT connections when it comes to search engine optimization in a large organization.
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