Does your neck hurt? You might have whiplash from all the changes in the past 18 months, especially with so many consumers flooring the gas pedal on the digital economy.
The past two years have been transformative, to say the least.
Organizational maturity matters more than ever and in this column, you’ll see why.
The Rise of SEO in Organizations (Finally!) is Just the Beginning
While most of us were already aware of a trend where power was shifting to customers, the pandemic has certainly accelerated this. A lot of businesses were caught off-guard and haven’t been able to adapt to market demands.
The pandemic left both consumers and the businesses that serve them with more questions than answers.
And for that, we all turned to our trusted search engines for answers.
This forced marketers to not only reimagine how they were doing business during strange unchartered times but also to reassess how to communicate that to their audiences. In many cases, the survival of their business depended on it.
As a result, long-awaited digital transformation has been thrust upon many organizations. The decade-long echo of the SEO chant is somehow awoken within.
Even as marketing budgets were slashed, openings for SEO roles hit an all-time high in 2020, as did the salaries associated with them.
Finally, the day so many of us have dreamt of has arrived — at least one SEO per company… we did it!
It only took a decade, but some will call it an overnight success. CMOs may now sleep well at night.
Hold on a second. Sorry to stop your champagne bottle popping. But one lonely SEO — or worse, a fraction of one — does not a success make.
Have we forgotten so quickly what it takes to be successful at organic marketing?
It takes a lot more than one hire. You need organizational maturity and for that, you’ll need a plan.
What is Organic Marketing Maturity?
Today’s business climate demands an organic marketing practice — and organic doesn’t mean just SEO.
SEO certainly plays a large part. But organizations must see the bigger picture and start thinking about their organizational maturity rather than just thinking myopically about SEO as “that tactic.”
To be successful in organic marketing, you must become an internal marketer — the educator; the one to empower, break siloes, and drive the engine of unity.
Content teams, web development, and even product need to align and work together in order to make your organization an effective customer-first, audience-centric brand.
All need to ensure that marketing not only speaks the customers’ language but produces content in those terms to meet them literally on their terms.
Involve these teams early in the process in order to achieve organic maturity.
In an operational sense, we break down organic maturity into four distinct aspects:
Becoming a Digital Leader
Your company’s operational maturity in those areas falls along a spectrum:
- Level 1 – Conceptual.
- Level 2 – Tactical.
- Level 3 – Foundational.
- Level 4 – Strategic.
- Level 5 – Transformative.
It’s important to note that high-growth companies are typically at levels 4 and 5 across people, practice, systems, and metrics.
Your own organization may not be at those same levels across all areas. But that’s okay; it means you have room to grow.
Everyone starts somewhere, and the most important thing is understanding the value of operational maturity.
There are three equally important subtopics here.
Have you invested in the right people, and are you adequately staffed?
With the sharp turn towards a digital marketplace, having a dedicated SEO specialist (or better yet, a team of SEO experts) is compulsory.
Did you catch me say “a dedicated SEO specialist?” Not someone who splits their time 50/50 between search and, say, product marketing – you want someone full-time.
Because let’s be honest… who really excels at anything when they can only give it 50% of their time, care, and attention?
Fortunately, companies are getting this, and although layoffs and furloughs were rife throughout the field of marketing last year, SEO professionals were far less affected.
Don’t fall behind. Consumers’ shift to the digital marketplace is permanent, and staffing up across not just SEO but web development and content creation is a must.
If your SEO specialist or team are the only people who understand organic marketing at your company, you have a problem.
Unless you can teach the value of organic marketing to different roles – your webmaster, for example, or your content marketer – then your SEO needs will remain low on their to-do list.
Help them see the value of SEO not just to your goals but to theirs, as well. Show your content writer the data on their work, for instance.
Do her articles that use certain keywords perform better? That’s the kind of insight she can share during performance reviews, and you can bet her interests and goals will begin aligning with yours.
Buy-in is everything.
When teams across the business understand the contributions that organic marketing makes towards the company’s (and their own) bottom line, you’ll see faster turnaround times, higher sales, and better numbers across the board.
With teams aligned, your SEO practice will also fall into sync. That’s because practice, comprised of both process and workflow, requires frictionless team collaboration.
First, process: That’s the series of steps that need to be followed for your organization to meet its goals.
Second, workflow: While workflow is often framed in terms of the steps you or your team takes towards any output, that’s not what I mean here. That’s a siloed way of looking at what should be collaboration.
Instead, begin framing workflow as a series of guiding principles integrated into the work of your co-collaborators.
Let’s say, for instance, that the SEO team takes step one in the process. When you have a workflow that hums along without a hitch, then the content team pops in to take care of step two. Meanwhile, your dev team begins building the web page that’ll house that content in step three.
By creating defined and agreed-upon processes, you empower your company with effective cross-functional workflows.
Technology is the common language in a digital marketplace and, increasingly, in the workplace.
But it isn’t just a platform or a series of platforms that teams work on separately, with one using Basecamp, another using Jira, and a third using Trello.
Your tech stack should be shared. Technology accelerates organizational maturity when the right tools are deployed, integrated companywide, and — more importantly — adopted and actually used.
Having a tech stack that provides data and analytics multiple teams can use supports all of the above.
Search data is some of the most valuable data there is. Better yet, think of it as audience intelligence.
When your product, marketing, and communications teams have a shared platform that gives them information on who they’re building for or marketing and messaging to, then you’ve established a symbiotic (dare I say beautiful?) relationship with your technology provider.
Otherwise, all you’ve got is a bundle of point solutions. They may save you money, but they won’t save you time. You’ll have teams pulling data from various sources that may compete with one another. Yuck.
We live in a world of big data. You know this. So how do we get to metrics that are transformative and achieve that ultimate level of organizational maturity?
At its most basic (level 1), metrics are simply reporting. When you move up a level to tactical, then you’re dealing with spreadsheets – lots and lots of spreadsheets (also yuck).
When you can begin to use that data to tell a story, then you’re at a foundational level – but foundational for whom?
If it’s for the SEO alone, your approach is too myopic.
You want to move towards cross-functional metrics, like the example I mentioned earlier with the content writer. When teams are using metrics to support and amplify one another’s work, then we’ve begun telling the company’s digital story — not just one team’s.
But for true transformation, metrics are predictive. They’re almost like guarantees that “if I do X, then Y will happen.”
You’ve hired the right team, perfected your practices, built the right tech stack, and can now accurately sail the company through the goalposts.
Return on Action (ROA) More Than ROI
Your organization can be at various levels of each of these areas – people, practice, systems, and metrics.
You may have the right people in place (level 5), but your tech stack is disjointed. One team is all about working Jira, while another is all-in on Asana, so you’re more like a level 2 there.
Or maybe you’ve got that stellar team (level 4) but still have to educate other teams on the value of SEO and gain buy-in from the C-suite. That pulls you down a notch or two.
But hey, you’re on your way. And ultimately, you’re working towards ROA, not just ROI. The latter typically measures investment in terms of ad spend, how much your tech stack and people cost, and so on.
ROA focuses on action. What action did you actually take, and who took it? Did your teams collaborate successfully?
“Action” can sound vague, but there are lots of concrete examples we can point to. Brainstorming and launching content is one; changing an SEO tag is another.
So are identifying opportunities, optimizing content, and making technical enhancements.
Look at how quickly and efficiently you can complete each, and you’ve got your ROA.
After all, in a digital marketplace, speed and efficiency win. That’s what mature companies understand; and now, so do you.
- 5 Ways to Better Communicate Your SEO Work
- The 12 Areas of SEO Knowledge You Must Master to be Successful
- Enterprise SEO Guide: Strategies, Tools, & More
All screenshots taken by author, May 2021