How to get more of what you want in SEO

Get more SEO buy-in and budget by aligning with company goals, telling compelling stories and improving your communication skills.

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It’s rare that you always get what you want in life. 

As SEO professionals, we all know the sheer pain of not having enough resources because “others are not understanding the value of SEO.”

You can’t win all the time. But, often, we lie to ourselves.

It is not that the other side is wrong but that we are not doing a job that is good enough.

You will not improve your position by seeing yourself as a victim. 

You need to break out of this cycle of learned helplessness.

Dale Carnegie wrote this in 1936:

“Do you know someone you would like to change and regulate and improve? Good! That is fine. I am all in favor of it. But why not begin on yourself? From a purely selfish standpoint, that is a lot more profitable than trying to improve others – yes and a lot less dangerous.”

To get more of what you want in SEO, you need to change yourself.

The common denominator here is communication.

We are great at everything SEO and bad at dealing with people. This article will help you overcome this problem.

If you are short on time, here are the takeaways:

  • Derive SEO goals from company goals and use input metrics, not just output metrics.
  • Deliver a hot story of how SEO helps achieve company goals, not just ice-cold statistics.
  • Sell SEO as growth, not marginal optimization.
  • Improve your communication skills, not your SEO skills.
  • Work with others in united clockwork, not isolated silos.
  • Make SEO easy and uncomplicated, not nerdy, esoteric and too complex.

How to get more SEO buy-in and budget

To do anything in SEO, you need two things: 

  • Buy-in.
  • Budget/resources. 

To get both, you need to show that you understand how the business works and how SEO will impact it. Then, tell the right story and reframe how you sell SEO.

Company goals > SEO goals: Get in line and leverage input metrics to get more buy-in

I see SEO failing most often due to a lack of execution and throughput. Why does this happen? 

There is a severe lack of understanding of SEO’s value. But it’s not that other people are stupid. Instead, it’s that we are not doing a good enough job communicating this value.

Adam Goyette hit the nail on the head with this statement:

  • “The problem isn’t that your CEO ‘doesn’t get marketing’ as many marketers love to lament. The problem is they care about how marketing is impacting revenue and you are making that impossible to understand or even worse hiding from it.”

You need to show that you understand what the company wants. Then, you must demonstrate to the company how organic search can help to achieve that.

The solution: Derive SEO goals evidently from business goals.

For example:

  • The company needs to reduce paid media costs.
  • As a result, the goal is the same amount of paid media revenue ($1 million) but in organic revenue, so about 50,000 average sales.
  • SEO can help achieve that goal by:
    • Getting a certain number of leads/sales deducted from existing numbers.
    • You will need 300,000 organic page views to money pages (old and new).
    • To get there, we need to meet more market demand (keyword coverage).
    • As a result, we need to have more category/product pages, sales enablement content, etc.
    • To create these pages we need writers, designers and developers.
    • This will cost us $100,000.
Graphic inspired by Alexander Rus and his presentation at SMX Munich
Graphic inspired by Alexander Rus and his presentation at SMX Munich.

Going from business goals to SEO goals to input metrics is a concept made famous by Amazon and covered in the book “Working Backwards.”

In brief, instead of reporting only on output (something you cannot influence directly), you derive metrics that, when increased, influence the output. 

Amazon, for example, started with a number of product detail pages. 

Input metrics often need to be refined over time because you will not always find the best denominator immediately.

Amazon refined the metric to the number of product detail page views because a product page no one sees is a product page no one needs. 

This was again refined to the percentage of product detail page views but only counting when products were in stock.

🚫 A product no one can buy is a product no one can buy.

✅ The final input metric was refined as the percentage of product detail page views where products were in stock and immediately ready for two-day shipping.

Here’s an example of how this could be visualized for the company described earlier:

A graphic that shows how input metrics work as leading indicators, influencing the north start metric which then influences the output metric. In this example it would be # of page views for category pages and in stock product pages, as well as # of indexed money pages. The north start metric is # of purchases per month. The output metric at the end is annual recurring revenue.

Note: The goal is not to avoid using outputs but to communicate how your actions contribute to increasing them. SEO takes more time than PPC, for example, so your report should include the fact that you are working on the right things.

It can also motivate you, your team or your client to see what the SEO (team) achieved in a month or any other period.

Make the invisible visible – both your understanding of how the company works and your work to create profit.

Dig deeper: SEO outcomes vs. SEO outputs: Understanding the difference

A compelling story will get you more SEO budget than ice-cold statistics

In “Same As Ever,” Morgan Housel states: 

“There is too much information in the world for everyone to calmly sift through the data, looking for the most rational, most correct answer. People are busy and emotional and a good story is always more powerful and persuasive than ice-cold statistics.”

Human beings are not rational, even if we think we are. When you are pitching to get more of an SEO budget, what you need is a good story.

Here’s a quick example:

A graphic showing how you can tell the right story to get more SEO buy-in and budget. You need a situation (Organic Traffic is declining). Then you need Evidence (Because of a test we did in the US we know we can drive significant organic growth). After that comes what you are asking for (We should invest $ 100,000) followed by the coherent actions (in SEO, UX, and Accessibility teams to compete with [insert key competitor] to achieve a result (to achieve $ 100,000-150,000 / year incremental growth). Lastly, communicate why the ask is aligned with the company strategy (This aligns with our company strategy because we focus on inbound traffic and are an inclusive company).
Graphic inspired by Tom CritchlowHow to Get SEO Buy-In

Here’s an example slide (inspired by a client we are consulting) to show the “urgency” to act on the developments in their industry and the opportunity it presents:

An example slide with a headline that says "Case Study: X took the industry by storm". The graph below shows years from 2019 to 2023 on the X-axis and organic traffic on the Y-axis. In blue there is competitor X and in red our client's domain. Over the years our client was ahead of this competitor but didn't decide to invest deeply into SEO. The competitor took over in 2021-2022 and now leads massively by having more than 2x the organic traffic our client has.

We don’t see stillness but movement. With the right slides for your pitch, you can show two states: going from downfall to dream outcome.

Show how your plan, as outlined before, is supposed to meet this challenge and opportunity.

People think they want accuracy. What they actually want is certainty.

People don’t “buy” something. What they actually buy is an emotion that is tied to their dream outcome.

Dig deeper: How communication issues prevent you from getting buy-in for SEO

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Reframe how you sell SEO: Growth > optimization

Something can logically or mathematically be the same thing, yet be perceived differently psychologically. You can use this fact to your advantage by reframing how you communicate and sell SEO. 

SEO is a long-term investment in organic growth. Because of that, it is only logical not to use monthly numbers but yearly numbers.

To say you will get 10,000 page views or 100 leads per month can be reframed to 120,000 page views or 1,200 leads per year. Technically the same, perceived differently though.

Another example is the CTR of positions on page 1:

  • We assume the SERP to be quite crowded with SERP features. 
  • Position 1 has a CTR of around 15% and position 10 of around 1%.

🚫 You could now say this: By going from position 10 to position 1, we can increase our CTR by 14%.

While that sounds good, something else sounds much better:

✅ By going from position 10 to position 1, we can 15x our traffic for this keyword. 

It’s technically the same, though perceived differently.

Another thing is the tonality of your language. Instead of making SEO seem uncertain, esoteric and unpredictable, you can use high-modality language to communicate the opposite: Certainty, tangibility and predictability.

🚫 What you need less are the following words:

  • Can
  • Could/Couldn’t
  • Might
  • It depends, haha

✅ Instead, use these:

  • Is
  • Will/Won’t
  • It depends on X, Y and Z

Also, SEO is often perceived as “some kind of optimization.” I know what the O stands for, but it’s a problem with how SEO is being perceived. 

Optimization sounds marginal, while growth sounds infinite. We need to stop communicating SEO as something marginal because it isn’t.

Reframing is the martial arts of language.

Use your words wisely because they can be turned into weapons of persuasion.

How to influence others as an SEO

Dealing with people trumps hard SEO skills.

You will get absolutely nowhere if all you do is talk over others in a cryptic language only the deepest nerds will understand. 

The recipe for success is being good with people, listening carefully, working together instead of against each other and understanding the human brain.

Communication skills > SEO skills: Let others ‘steal’ your idea and listen carefully 

You can have the greatest SEO knowledge. However, if you don’t understand how people work, this knowledge is multiplied by zero, resulting in zero. 

25% SEO skill + 75% communication skill > 75% SEO skill + 25% communication skill.

One thing I would avoid is pushing others. It makes everyone uncomfortable. We resent being told what to do.

Orders irritate.

Opportunities excite. 

A common mistake many people, including myself, have made is trying to convince others of our ideas.

🚫 Someone might say something wrong. It’s an instinct to correct them. Or to convince them they are wrong and you are right. 

✅ Instead, try to lead them to your idea. Let them take your idea and think it is theirs. The human brain is wired to distrust information from the outside and prefer information from the inside.

We negotiate all the time, in life and in SEO. We tend to miss that we are rooted in very basic emotions like wanting to feel important or understood. To give other people that feeling we must listen to them. 

🚫 When you go fishing you are thinking about what the fish want. We somehow fail to use the same logic when dealing with people.

✅ To be interesting, be interested. It’s blatantly obvious but gets ignored just as blatantly. Be a better listener and people will open up to you, revealing their real motives, problems, pains and unmet objectives. Then you can sell them on your proposal to help them (like explained earlier).

The greatest thing you can do to influence people is to show them that you understand them and that you can help them achieve what they want.

Think of others and yourself as clockwork, not silos

Instead of viewing other people as roadblocks, we have to see them as opportunities.

If we fail to do that, we are not talking with each other but over each other. Everyone is just listening to their own voice in their head. 

🚫 I see SEOs as lions hunting for their prey, aka resources of others. As a result, no one really likes SEOs. We always want to take but rarely give. 

✅ We should aim to be seen differently like beekeepers helping others produce more honey. We rely on many people, such as writers, developers and PR, but we can also serve and support them.

For example, we can help writers get more exposure for their work. Or we can help PR people understand how high-quality links influence organic performance, resulting in an even bigger impact of their work. 

What we need is connected clockwork, not detached silos.

To make people do something, make it easy

Why do a lot of pitches fail?

We know too much about the topic we are pitching.

We often think what happens in our mind is what happens in the minds of other people.

It’s not.

We need to make SEO as easy to understand as possible.

Others need the basics, not the details. 

🚫 Avoid talking about Ascorer, Twiddler, vector similarity of content, link juice, SERP overlap, etc.

✅ Instead, communicate what matters to everyone: 

  • There is an organic demand in organic search. 
  • We need to meet it with the right offer. 
  • Google is a business that earns more money if users are happy and satisfied with their search results. 

We need to meet expectations by creating content that aligns with our offering for existing and new search demand.

Oren Klaff said the following in “Pitch Anything”: 

“You don’t send a cargo container full of information to your customers or potential investors and say, ‘Here, look through this stuff. See what you can make of it.’ They can’t absorb it and if they could, they don’t have the time. This is part of the presenter’s problem: Deciding what to pitch and how is not like a math or engineering problem that can be worked out by having more and more information.”

Less is more, more is less.

Don’t make people think too much. 

You can do better, and if you do, you become undeniable

SEO requires a lot these days.

Pure SEO knowledge isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Communication, however, has always been part of being good at SEO, so there are no excuses to make.

Life and SEO are complicated, but nobody cares about them except you.

If we want to be taken seriously, we need to grow up, take accountability for not getting what we want and be willing to improve communicating properly. To do that, we have to

  • Show that we think like businesspeople. 
  • Tell convincing and persuasive stories. 
  • Empathize with the perspective of others. 
  • Make things easier to understand.

It should be your desire to become undeniable.

If you can do that, you will get what you want more often and, at the same time, make the people around you, both in life and in SEO, happier.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for Search Engine Land and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the search community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Philipp Götza
Philipp is an Online Marketing Expert, SEO enthusiast, as well as a Web Sustainability and Accessibility advocate with multiple years of experience. His mission is to help businesses improve their websites through tailor-made Organic Growth strategies and solutions. He works as a Junior SEO Consultant for Wingmen Online Marketing. He also hosts his own website project, is an avid reader and is active on LinkedIn – his social media of choice.

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