Thinking smarter: Take your SEO work to the next level
Columnist Brian Harnish explains how you can streamline your workload and improve client relations through education, planning and communication.
Search engine optimization is a complex marketing discipline, and it can be a challenge to perform high-level, high-quality SEO work every single day. When you’re working hard to get the best results for your client, it can be tempting to cut corners here and there to meet (or even beat) deadlines.
While this approach may be effective sometimes, ultimately, it can create more work for you down the line. By taking the time to be thorough, you can anticipate and avoid future obstacles that impede progress and create headaches for you and the client.
Let’s discuss a variety of ways that you can think smarter in order to create a more streamlined working experience.
Ensure you have all necessary materials before you start the SEO project
We’ve all been there: You begin to work on an SEO project and find out that you are missing a critical part of what makes the project tick. If you deal with large teams and international brands, chances are that part of the project slipped through the cracks. There are ways to help keep this issue from cropping up time and time again.
If you deal with highly complex projects on a frequent basis, and these projects require client material that takes days or even weeks to obtain, it makes sense to ensure that everyone involved on the client side understands the impact this client material makes.
In these cases, it may be beneficial to spend a couple of hours creating a road map for the client, which they can use as a reference throughout the project. That way, they can have it handy in the future. Create the road map prior to project launch, and then refer to that road map when requesting materials from the client.
The road map should not only outline what materials you might need from the client and by when, but also provide some basic SEO education so that clients can understand why you need a particular item at a particular time. It can be challenging for non-SEOs to remember things like dynamic URLs, other types of project requirements and client-side information that no one is ever realistically going to be prepared for.
Create a realistic project timeline, even if it’s slower than the client prefers
I get it. For those SEOs who are client-facing and have to make sure that their clients are happy every step of the way, it is possible to get caught up and think, “Man, we need to beat Competitor 1 and Competitor 2, so we need to do y and z in a much faster time frame to accomplish this! I will tell the client this, and they will be overjoyed!”
Unfortunately, all too often, the faster approach leads to unmet expectations, poor-quality project deliverables and unrealistic client expectations for next time. When you are forced to explain to the client that an initial project timeline was not right because of things like project scoping, it can be very awkward.
Even though you want to, and may be capable of taking the fastest approach and turning in everything 100 percent, errors will always creep in and make your project less than it can be.
In other words, always ask: Will this project timeline result in everyone being happy (me most of all, by keeping my sanity)? Or will this project timeline result in a pissed-off client because they did not receive everything they expected to receive?
If you’re an SEO manager, 15 minutes of detail is always better than two hours of yelling
Let’s take this scenario. You’ve just hired a new employee. It’s their first day, and you take a few minutes to hastily explain the rules of the department. He smiles and nods, seeming to understand.
For around eight months, everything is great. Then you look at project completion times, and something isn’t right. He is supposed to be pretty fast, but the project is behind schedule, and his hours are through the roof. Where did things go wrong?
When you speak to the employee, he says that he has done everything the way you explained on his first day. Or so he thought. You get angry. You yell. You spit. You might even curse. But at the end of the day, this problem could have been avoided if you’d spent adequate time in the beginning explaining certain instructions in more detail.
Always ask yourself: Did I adequately explain our SEO processes? Could someone interpret what I said incorrectly? Even long-term employees might misinterpret instructions if they’re not explained in depth.
Even when thinking about the instructions, ask yourself: Is a deeper level of detail required so that everyone on the team can perform at their highest level? If that is the case, then it is always better to spend 15 minutes on that level of detail than spending two hours yelling at an employee for the mistake that you made in presenting those instructions.
Always be sure to ask: Am I providing these instructions for my benefit (less work) or for the employee’s benefit (greater understanding)?
Don’t fall into the long-term trap of industry rot
Industry rot can happen to the best of us. It occurs when people have been in the industry for a long period of time. We get to a level where we forget that others do not know as much as we do, so we leave out crucial details that may be necessary for the successful execution of a project, because to us, they are details that “everyone should know.”
I’ve been guilty of this, too, so I am constantly checking myself to make sure the information I provide is enough to be valuable, perhaps even impressive in scope. In addition, I am always checking to make sure I provide the very basic levels of info that are necessary for the inquiry and at the same time ensure that my communication is never condescending to anyone who may read it (another minor problem stemming from industry rot).
Client and employee communication can be a delicate balancing act. You want to make sure that everyone is mindful of what they are presenting, so that proper execution of the project can proceed. Industry rot can lead to a little too much ambiguity of detail. This ambiguity of detail can lead to the failure of a project to reach the proper final resolution stage where everything should come together nicely.
Some SEOs do have the problem of industry rot. We make general assumptions that our new client or employee associate outside the industry knows everything we do, and we gloss over details that are crucial to that project’s success. Or we hate details so much that we don’t bother to make a thorough assessment of the client website’s current status.
Some issues that can arise under the industry rot banner include:
- Not knowing what deliverables will be required for a project. Without reviewing the details of a particular client’s website or SEO status, we can’t identify sections of a project that might take more or less time than anticipated. For example, perhaps a site widget is generating dynamic URLs for portions of the site that you expected would have static URLs. Optimizing these URLs might then take longer than expected, as you try to figure out how to work around (or with) this widget.
- Using technical terms that are basic to us but jargon to the client. Meta descriptions. Title tags. Alt text for images. As experienced SEOs, these concepts are generally well ingrained into even the most seasoned practitioners. However, assuming your client understands these terms can lead to important details being glossed over. So, how much should you explain? If you know the client well, this can be a judgment call to make in the interest of communication efficiencies. If it is a new client, it’s best to explain industry terminology so that the client is aware of these items and their impact on project deadlines and the final outcome of the project.
- Not understanding what is required to obtain necessary client materials. Say you have a client that requires legal compliance to sign off on any website copy optimizations due to advertising regulations (common in the pharmaceutical, finance or legal industries). Late materials can impact the deadlines of these projects significantly, so factoring in time for these legal reviews is crucial to setting expectations and delivering results.
When you fail to communicate with the client or review the details of the project in full, it creates problems. It can lead to awkward client conversations down the line about having to extend deadlines because of a lack of oversight; it can lead to the SEO turning in inferior work with a deadline crunch; and it can lead to the internal team dynamic of forcing push-back in order to obtain proper timelines for completion of the SEO evaluation.
Step out of your comfort zone and always be learning
At the end of the day, taking your SEO work to the next level also means attending industry conferences, expanding your SEO knowledge and developing relationships with industry partners. Stepping out of your comfort zone and tumbling down the rabbit hole is necessary in order to grow. Keep expanding your thinking beyond the traditional.
Stay updated on the industry by reading on a regular basis, keep learning new tools, take webinars and attend conferences. Learn from your successes and failures by developing case studies around projects you’ve completed. Doing this will allow you to be more confident and effective, both in your client communications and in your work itself.
As an SEO leader, if you don’t step out of your comfort zone, you will be left in the dust by the more seasoned industry veterans. Reach your goals beyond that comfort zone, develop new ones and exceed the old ones.
How else can you expect to take your work to the next level?
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.