Our guest poster today: Josh Braaten is the Senior Director of Marketing at LeadPages, a content scientist, and avid Squarespace blogger.

Working with other departments as an SEO can feel as muddy as swimming in old pudding.

You’ve seen countless mission-critical projects fail, stall, or never receive approval in the first place – all thanks to the linguistic and systematic dysfunction between SEOs and, well, everyone else.

Any in-house SEO worth his or her mettle knows the best SEO programs employ tactics that reach across departments and teams, and yet, full buy-in from your organization is required to reach those results. This is undoubtedly one of your biggest opportunities and biggest challenges.

Increase your ability to drive internal SEO knowledge, support, and collaboration – and by extension, success – by focusing on five vital behaviors that propel SEO within organizations.

What Does it REALLY Take to Drive SEO?

Driving SEO initiatives within an organization ultimately comes down to building and wielding influence. In Free Prize Inside, Seth Godin identifies three things that drive change in organizations:

  1. Your leaders need to recognize the opportunity
  2. Your peers  need to believe that the opportunity is attainable
  3. Your team needs to believe that you can lead them there

Achieve these three objectives, and you’re on the path becoming an influencer. That likely means improved workflow, larger budget allocations and technology upgrades for your department.

But building influence is easier said than done. Try integrating these 5 behaviors into your approach to win over your whole team.

Key to Success #1: Focus on Objectives

The world of SEO ranges broadly, and as such, it can be difficult for colleagues to fully grasp the relative importance of your efforts.  First, identify your biggest opportunities and determine the order in which they must be pursued. Then  present your objectives to your leadership, complete with strategies to achieve the objectives.

What comes next is critical.

Avoid raising every single SEO-related issue in the organization unless it has something to do with your primary objectives. This approach helps leadership see the difference between your top projects and those of less immediate importance.

TIP: Resist the temptation to die on every hill. Your peers and leadership will be more willing to listen when you bring the attention back to your top objectives.

seo organization

Key to Success #2: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

The second vital behavior of an SEO influencer is to take the advice of the late, great Stephen Covey.

The fifth habit listed among his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People rings particularly true for SEOs:  “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

So many teams fail because of poor communication skills and low emotional intelligence. Human beings are all different, and therefore perceive the world differently.

Your approach to your colleagues should be as nuanced as your approach to posting content to social media networks. A blunt conversation may be welcomed by some, but for others it smacks of using a hashtag in a Facebook status update.

Make time each week for getting to know your colleagues. Use both informal interaction and proactive research. Become a champion in your organization for StrengthsFinder, Myers Briggs, and other personality assessments. Once they’re identified, be sure to share your teams’ strengths with the rest of the organization.

A poignant example of the power of Strengths comes from an encounter with a former boss. She was Deliberative; and I’m a strong Activator. Even if you’re not familiar with Strengths, suffice it to say my frustration grew as my boss consistently poked holes in my new initiatives. I took it personally until I realized her strength was to be a devil’s advocate.

From that point forward I brought pros/cons lists whenever I pitched ideas to her. The change was immediate. She praised my thorough preparation as she was able to see all the risks clearly laid out, and mitigated, in front of her. My project approval rate doubled overnight and I felt like a late-90’s Kristin Scott Thomas due to my new-found powers of communication and persuasion.

TIP: Dedicate at least a half hour per week to proactively investing time to know your team better and build your own emotional intelligence.

seo organization

Keys to Success #3: Help Others Before You Help Yourself

You want to change the organization, but you must first gain the support of your peers before taking on the projects that matter. It’s crucial to your end goal to help with as many colleagues’ projects as is feasible.

The immediate benefit here is that you’re establishing with your colleagues a record of competence and dedication to the greater company goals. Start by demonstrating that you can help meet your team’s goals, and soon they’ll gain confidence in your ability to deliver upon your SEO-specific ambitions.

The long-term benefit here is reciprocity. “There’s not a single human society that does not teach its children the rule of reciprocity – the idea that you must not take without then giving in return,” says Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: Science and Practice.

Clearly, doing favors shouldn’t be a quid pro quo type of thing, so give generously and your work relationships and projects will flourish.

TIP: Volunteer for other peoples’ projects. Break down the “we vs. them” mentality by becoming a “we” to more people instead of a “them.”

Key to Success #4: Use Metaphors, But Be Concrete

You’ll never get all the time you want to cross-train your organization, so your SEO education must be efficient. Search tactics can be abstract, so it’s worthwhile to use vivid, concrete metaphors when teaching concepts and strategies to those unfamiliar with SEO.

Metaphors are one of the best shortcuts in the learning process because they take constructs most people already know and apply them to something new.  As a result, seemingly vague concepts become much more concrete. Put simply, the more concrete an idea is, the better people will understand it, say Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick.

For example, I often tell people that attracting links from other websites is like attracting votes in a high school popularity contest. Relevant, authoritative websites are the “popular kids” deciding who’s cool and who’s not. Get votes from the popular kids in the form of links to your website, and you’ll be cool enough to rank in Google’s mind.

TIP: Before your next cross-training session, brainstorm vivid, concrete metaphors for the concepts you’ll be teaching that day.

seo organization

Key to Success #5: Employ Vicarious Experiences

To get people to think differently, they first have to feel differently. Master influencers don’t convince others with words alone. They instead focus on creating vicarious experiences for people.

Expressing your SEO project goals in the form of a story is a great way to create a vicarious experience because they shift your listener into the role of participant. Stories transport people to a more empathic place, allowing them to feel what you’re saying as a protagonist, not just hear it as an observer.

TIP: Find case studies where others have succeeded in the areas you need to address. Share blog posts, websites and results if you can find them.

More Keys to Advancing SEO

If you can’t find case studies, create your own by creating a small-scale experiment on your blog or website.  For example, experiment with Google+ Hangouts on Air to help your company understand how they could be the protagonist in a similar story. If you can do it, your brand can too.

Engage in these behaviors so they become habits because your habits will ultimately define the SEO results you produce within your organization.

Please note: All guest posts are the opinion of the author and may not reflect the views of Conductor.

8 Responses to How to Propel SEO in Your Organization: 5 Keys to Success

  1. Adam Dince says:

    Excellent article, Josh. Reppin’ for the Minnesota SEO community!

  2. I was searching for information about the SEO functionality of Squarespace as an e-commerce platform and found this gem of an article that is so much more valuable than what I was searching for in the first place. 🙂

    Such a great reminder of the power of vital behaviors and building communication within your team a non-negotiable priority. There is no better SEO success formula than having a dedicated team of believers alongside you! Thank you for reminding me of this wisdom.

  3. Josh Braaten says:

    That’s great news, Carrie. I’m glad you found the article to be helpful.

    Funny enough, I also write about Squarespace. And FYI The Squarespace e-commerce is 100% SEO-friendly because each page in your catalog is able to be indexed and optimized. This is different than most other all-in-one carts that take up a single URL on your page.

    There are a bunch of other perks of the platform (e.g., mobile-friendly templates, built-in canonicalization, etc.), but the new e-commerce platform is especially shiny.

  4. Carrie Ingley says:

    Thanks for the confirmation on Squarespace’s SEO! I really like what I see so far!

  5. Great article. I will definitely keep this in mind moving forward.

  6. Wardo says:

    Josh, I follow the three most successful behaviors associated with weight loss:
    – Owning your own workout equipment at home
    – Weighing yourself every day
    – Eating breakfast
    Now it’s only a matter of time… 😉

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