If we wanted to determine how an organization achieves SEO success, what would we analyze? We might examine the technical breadth of knowledge of their lead SEO, the volumes of content they create, or even more abstract indicators such as their org structure. To be sure, there are any number of ways of examining the success of an organization that consistently succeeds in search.
With this article, I want to start with the hypothesis that the extent to which an organization has management buy-in correlates closely with their success in the search listings. We’ll test that hypothesis and then trace what downstream factors ultimately lead to success.
Testing the Link between Management Buy-In and Budget
To test the hypothesis, we surveyed 380 search marketers, asking them about a wide breadth of behaviors, tactics and strategies related to how they practice SEO. I’m going to zoom on the survey questions related to management buy-in and explore the organizational characteristics that lead to this optimal state.
We’ll start by segmenting those respondents who say they have most or all of the budget they need for SEO and test for the degree to which they evangelize (market SEO internally).
In this segment, 55% of those who evangelize often have most or all of the budget they need compared to just 25% of those who never or rarely evangelize. We don’t want to conflate correlation with causation, but it seems reasonable to conclude (and fairly intuitively logical) that evangelism is correlated with increased management buy-in. (And, the 55% is likely underreported because, let’s face it — who wants to admit they have all the budget they need?)
55% of those who evangelize often have most or all of the budget they need compared to just 25% of those who never or rarely evangelize.
Do Conversions Correspond to Management Buy-in?
To ‘follow the thread’ and see what leads to success, next we looked to see if there was a correlation between management buy-in and natural search success. We segmented those who grew their search conversions at rates far greater than that of their colleagues and looked to see their proportion of ‘high’ versus ‘low’ management buy-in.
The data showed that the group of highly successful SEOs were more than twice as likely to have ‘high’ management buy-in rates than ‘low’.
The conclusion seems clear: Evangelism — the concerted effort to get management buy-in — is critical to natural search success because it leads to budget, headcount and technology investment, which ultimately is a critical catalyst to natural search success.
You Know SEO Evangelism Is Significant, but What’s Next?
If you are on board with the conclusions we have drawn from the data, management buy-in seems pretty darn important to search success. So how do you successfully evangelize to your management?
There are many valid approaches out there in the public domain for how to best handle an activity as critical as evangelism, but I want to focus here on three approaches that our experiences over the years at Conductor have shown us are particularly effective:
1. Speak the Language of Your Manager:
If you aren’t speaking the same language as your management, you won’t get much past the very first slide in your pitch deck. Start by asking yourself “What metrics does my manager care about?”
The answer may very well vary widely depending on your company type, industry and even from one organization to another in the same industry. Ask others in the organization what their perspective on your management’s targets are. Use the successes of your direct competitors of a baseline for metrics. Certainly, address ROI; IBM recently came out with a study on CMOs which is another helpful resource.
Start by asking yourself, “What metrics does my manager care about?”
Whatever you do, be sure you are entering any discussion with them talking about the metrics that are top of mind for them.
2. There Is no Talk; There Is Only Do:
Traditional search market opportunity assessments are typically presented to budget holders as an assessment of what could be achieved with proper budget allocation. While well intentioned, search opportunities can be perceived as little more than a promise, and these are often met with “I’ll believe it when I see it” skepticism (whether explicitly expressed or not).
Instead, in the first face-to-face meeting with management, provide conservative estimates of the growth you think you can achieve in a specific period (we recommend 90 days), and then go out and do whatever it takes to achieve that. In a follow-up meeting, present the success you achieved in the 90 days to management with growth estimates you think you can achieve given the proper management support.
It’s not without risk to put growth estimates out there, but it’s arguably at least as risky to make a pitch for management buy-in with ‘theoreticals’ rather than ‘concretes’. For more on how to execute the specifics of this plan check out A 3 Part Plan to Overcoming Management’s “Show Me Success Before I’ll Invest in SEO” Catch-22.
3. Find Your Internal Champion:
Our (informal) analysis of successful SEOs over the years has shown that a not insubstantial percentage discovered internal champions in unlikely places in their organization. A common place to find internal champions is in finance: successfully demonstrate the return on investment in search to a budget-controlling CFO who speaks the language of numbers, and you may be well on your way to getting the budget and support from management you need.
A common place to find internal champions is in finance.
Evaluate Your SEO Evangelism Efforts
Although our analysis is not exhaustive, we know from a variety of factors (including this data, common sense, and our clients’ experience as well as our own) that vocal evangelism leads to management buy-in, which leads to the organizational and budgetary support needed to succeed in search.
Given the connection between evangelism and search success, consider if the techniques above can assist you in gaining the management buy-in and budget you need to succeed. At minimum, resolve to take a step back from the day to day to consider if your evangelism efforts need leveling up. Whatever you decide, good luck in your quest for the ever-critical manager support in search.
What concrete steps will you take to win management buy-in in your organization? Download our roadmap: A 90-Day Plan to Get the SEO Budget You Need to get started.
A version of this article was originally published by Search Engine Watch.