Achieving success in SEO is hard. For many businesses, SEO is often a long process that first involves assessing and identifying weaknesses for a given site, working to remedy those problems as quickly as possible, and then forming a longer-term strategy for increasing rankings, targeted traffic, and ultimately conversions from organic search. This is a challenge for any size organization, but it’s exponentially more complex for large businesses.
Larger companies might contain several divisions and many key internal players that will be involved with the initiative. During my career, I’ve had a unique opportunity to experience this dynamic from several viewpoints. Specifically, I’ve led SEO in-house at several organizations, I’ve been part of a global interactive agency helping large brands with SEO, and I’ve also helped many companies as a consultant. This means I’ve had to deal with the internal battles and compromises that an in-house SEO faces, while also being on “the outside” as an agency and consultant. Based on this experience, I can usually tell within a short period of time whether a specific SEO initiative will be successful or if it won’t move the needle. Unfortunately, the failures in SEO that I’ve witnessed are typically based on various negotiations that take place internally and the resulting compromises that are agreed upon.
The Barriers, The Players, and The Compromises
When I begin helping new clients with SEO, I typically conduct a thorough SEO Audit, which produces a remediation plan and SEO roadmap. The roadmap is the list of all projects that need to be completed in priority order. There are times that the final audit presentation is 30-40 slides in length, and then there are more extreme cases where it’s over 70 or 80 slides. After the audit is presented to my client’s core team, a second meeting is usually held to create a plan of attack for fixing any serious structural problems and then tackling the rest of the projects that make up the SEO roadmap.
-This meeting is typically where it gets interesting.-
For larger businesses, you might have 10-15 people attend the meeting to represent their given department or function. To me, this meeting is critically important, as I’ve seen several SEO initiatives fall apart at this stage (at least from my perspective). There are times I leave this meeting energized knowing that we are going to move at light speed and have a great chance of success. But there are also times I leave the meeting knowing it’s going to be a long, tough road for my client, SEO-wise.
What Compromise Looks Like
As the various players go back and forth during the meeting, with what sometimes looks like a twisted game of SEO poker, negotiations start and compromises are made. There are times those compromises are minor, but there are also times those compromises are big enough to completely derail an SEO effort. The problem is that there might be key people involved that are unfamiliar with SEO, and they don’t know the extreme impact that those compromises could have. It might seem like a nice gesture in Corporate America to acquiesce, but from my perspective, certain compromises set the SEO team up for failure. And I despise failure.
For example, maybe the group agrees to tackle content optimization in Q1, but the massive canonicalization problem can’t be addressed until Q3 or Q4. Or how about you can fix the navigation and internal linking structure in Q1, but you’re told that you can’t fix the thousands of URL’s that randomly change until Q2 or Q3. Don’t laugh, I had to deal with this specific issue on a large scale (impacting millions of pages in total, and tens of thousands of URL’s that could change at any given time). Or how about agreeing to a robust content generation strategy, but each piece of content must pass through two internal committees (which will essentially water down the effectiveness of the content.) Needless to say, many of the compromises that take place won’t work well SEO-wise. You might simply end up spinning your wheels.
Below, I’ve included a graphic showing how you can start with a robust SEO roadmap (based on an audit) and how negotiations and compromise water down the effectiveness of the entire initiative.