SEO

The Politics of Being an Enterprise SEO

It’s getting harder to find a large company that does not appreciate the value of SEO, whether they have an in-house enterprise SEO team or an agency on retainer. SEO is everywhere: an abundance of open SEO positions, companies actively approached by SEO agencies looking to improve their brand, and the Mobilegeddeon coverage on CNN and other major news outlets, the latter of which woke up most of the remaining holdouts.

But just because large companies have come around to the importance of SEO… still does not make it easy to be in an enterprise SEO role.

As an enterprise SEO, you face special challenges like managing thousands of keywords, aligning to new content efforts, or building reporting that speaks to all levels. But mastering these will only get you so far: there are “political” hurdles too. Political, in this context, relates to the skills it takes to communicate and catalyze support and action internally within a big organization. Because we know: if you want to accomplish anything as an enterprise SEO, you cannot do it alone.

In my enterprise SEO career at companies like M&T Bank, Wilmington Trust, and Under Armour, and talking amongst other industry enterprise peers, I’ve noticed the use of these skills have led many, myself included, to internal success. In this post, I’ve broken them in four main skillsets that can help you get over political hurdles:

As an enterprise SEO, you have to approach challenges intelligently and proactively. Besides your hands-on SEO skills, you have to be creative, persistent — and, yes, political — to succeed. twitter-icon

Skillset 1: Sell With Intelligent Listening

No matter how large your company is, the backbone of doing SEO, building an enterprise SEO team, and inserting the practice of SEO into your organization’s process is simple: listening.

Enterprise SEO: Skills that Start with Coffee

You might be surprised to hear that one of the jobs that best prepared me for the politics of my enterprise SEO career was with Starbucks where I served as a barista, shift manager and assistant store manager.

barista-seo-lessons-2

I loved my roles with Starbucks because I was able to interact with customers constantly. I tweaked and personalized their drinks, I stocked up on our regulars’ favorite pastries (low-fat blueberry muffins and lemon pound cake, oh boy!). All in all, the job was about getting to know our customers and making their experience amazing.

After I was recruited out of college, working at dot coms and beyond, I took that truism with me: listen to what your customers and coworkers want, make them happy, and you and your business will thrive.

Listen to what your customers and coworkers want, make them happy, and you and your business will thrive. twitter-icon

Now take that concept from the abstract into the enterprise SEO realm. I was once tasked with acquiring a new enterprise customer at my old agency, R2integrated. My team and I did a mass discovery session with our prospect. For four hours, we just listened. Then we analyzed all of their content, analytics, product offerings and search results looking to align our suggestions with their goals. But mostly, we tried to solve for all of the known and unknown questions. In the end, we submitted a massive concept strategy covering every aspect of their prospects and buyer’s journey.

buyers-journey-seo

We presented the strategy to the client who said, “In my 20 years of working in marketing I have never received something of this depth that finally listened to what I was asking for.” This goes back to the backbone of enterprise SEO: listening. twitter-icon

Skillset 1 Takeaway
When meeting with stakeholders, product teams or campaign managers, try to collect their goals beforehand. Ask yourself (and them) are these the goals for this particular project or campaign? Do they reflect what this effort will inevitably measure? With the launch this project, how is the target market or audience affected? The more questions you ask, the more they will appreciate your ability to listen intelligently and understand.

Intelligent listening will make a massive difference whether you’re at an agency pitching a new client, or you’re an enterprise SEO pitching other parts of your organization.

Skillset 2: Use Suggestion Questions: Think Like a Shopping Cart

Our job as enterprise SEOs is not simply to regurgitate what we’ve heard. Alongside listening, we need to suggest and help educate our organizations about what could be best for them.

After all, they don’t know what they don’t know.

Think about an ecommerce checkout experience. The sites goal is to give your customer or prospect exactly what they’re shopping for. While you may have that item in stock, you should also suggest and recommend. You know the line, “You may also like…”

ecommerce-you-might-also-like

This same practice works on me. Whenever I go to my favorite ecommerce retailer and put a shoe in my shopping cart, I see recommendations like “Customers also bought this.” I immediately get interested and say, “Oh, really? I didn’t think about that. I want that too.”

Customers, prospects, and your coworkers are similar: they know what they’re looking for and they know what they want their end goal to be. If you give that to them or provide them with the statement that aligns with the goal, great!

Customers, prospects, and your coworkers are similar: they know what they’re looking for and they know what they want their end goal to be. If you give that to them or provide them with the statement that aligns with the goal, great! twitter-icon

But will they come back? Have you thought about those unknowns or unspoken questions that if answered, could elevate your SEO campaign with suggestions to move outside of a boxed deliverable?

Why not give them what they’re looking for and a little bit of something else? They’ll remember you and come back for more. The power of suggestion supported by competitive insights, social monitoring or even analytics may trigger an invite for you to another meeting or project.

Skillset 2 Takeaway
Let’s say you’re asked to apply a few on-page recommendations for a set of gardening tools. (I must caveat and say I am the world’s worst gardener). As you research and collect those long-term phrases, review the competition and take some social insight, why not also gather some evergreen phrases or look for questions that could be asked AFTER someone purchases the gardening tools.

So if you’re optimizing for a 2-way hose connector, think about why customers would purchase it? Where would it help them in their yard? What are some tips that they should know about watering their lawn? Dig into those questions and poof! You’ve got some targeted new phrases to share with your team that could help with new content creation or help drive interest from backlinks.

Skillset 3: Establish Dedication to Education

If you’re hired to do SEO within an organization, you’re hired for a reason. You’re hired because of your expertise. But you can’t succeed alone.

Education, in my opinion, is the best and easiest way to win people over to your SEO cause. twitter-icon

Education, in my opinion, is the best and easiest way to win people over to your SEO cause.

Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, getting your coworkers to take the time to listen and learn can be hard. These three principles have helped me along the way:

1) Know Thyself

Before you mount the SEO soapbox preaching the benefits of an organic search strategy, you should start by taking a hard look at your own end game. What are you trying to achieve? What are your goals? twitter-icon

Before you mount the SEO soapbox preaching the benefits of an organic search strategy, you should start by taking a hard look at your own end game. What are you trying to achieve? What are your goals?

Figuring out what exactly you are after will help you better understand what meetings you need to be in and with which people you need to communicate. It’s easy to rush off to spread SEO without taking this step – but you’ll often realize too late that you left out a group or individual you need to get on board in order to achieve your goal.

2) Sweat the Small Stuff

Start the educational process slowly, and by – you guessed it – listening. Begin by talking to people slowly and getting into meetings. Learn how everyone’s tasks align with the business’s goals, their goals and yes, eventually, SEO goals. Get forensic and uncover the deeper motivations behind everyday tasks. When someone asks you, “Can you update this page for me?” what are they really trying to achieve? Can you meet that need and take it one step farther?

So, enterprise SEOs: take those earphones off, get off your balance ball chairs, and participate in a call. Knowing how and why your business runs the way it does is a powerful weapon in your arsenal. It will help you understand how to sell the idea that an SEO education is paramount to meeting the business’s overall goals.

3) The Miraculous Power of Coffee (Talks)

For me, internal SEO education has taken the form of “SEO coffee talks,” which I’ve been hosting in my career for 5+ years. These are casual but consistent gatherings where coworkers can ask SEO questions and explore how SEO can impact and meet their needs.

coffee-talks-seo

How do I measure success of coffee talks? By the number of post-chat invites I receive to join calls or projects. I love getting messages like, “Do you want to be involved in this project?” “Can we ask you some questions before we kick this off?” I know that they were listening to me. That’s a powerful spot to be in as an enterprise SEO.

Skillset 3 Takeaway
Make this principle your own, finding a way to establish rapport and create a hub for SEO information and communication. Whether that’s with SEO coffee talk for the morning-minded, or SEO chocolate talk for those 3pm snack runs, sneak in some education to start building your internal army.

Skillset 4: Shift Gratification Expectations with Goals

One of the greatest obstacles for any SEO is the desire for instant gratification. In other words: your executive wants numbers, but some tactics can take time to pay off or demonstrates success in another manner. twitter-icon

The best way to counteract this as an enterprise SEO is to embrace the importance of numbers. Always start off a project with, “What are we trying to measure? What is the outcome? What are the goals?”

Those goals should be bigger than just leads, conversions, or dollars. You need to train your team and executives by setting expectations up at the beginning of each project. Help them jointly understand what success looks like, and what those results will look like and how often you will provide updates.

goals-seo

The challenge of instant gratification does not go away no matter how long you’ve been in the industry. Regardless of your tenure or title, you should always expect someone to ask: “What are you going to achieve? What should we expect from you?” For me, I have adapted to become even more accountable, more proactive, anticipating the questions by mapping out my SEO activities to align with the business goals before they even ask.

By shifting the gratification expectations away from a snap of the finger number to a business goal that everyone is working towards, you can put SEO in the game rather than the sidelines.

Skillset 4 Takeaway
Communicate the value of SEO by linking the business goals and SEO goals. Use terms the C-Suite understands, use metrics that your executives focus on improving and map back to your efforts that you’re applying to bring value back to the business.

No matter what your title is or how hairy your enterprise SEO politics are, learning to adopt some or all of these skillsets could help you jump those hurdles to success.

Tackling SEO without the right resources, executive buy-in, or departmental alignment is a common challenge for organizations both large and small. So what can you do? Check out this webinar about Building for SEO without a Dedicated Resource!

vitacost-featured-image-logo

Breaking Down Silos: How to Help Your Team Win at SEO

Read More