For SEO to be truly effective it needs to have impact across the breadth of a business.
From product, to design, to engineering, to customer services – SEO can and should be baked into processes far beyond digital marketing.
But how do you change an organization’s mindset from SEO as a marketing channel, to SEO as the bedrock for success?
With insights from my talk at brightonSEO, we’ll identify ways of refocusing your business with an SEO-first mentality.
What Is SEO-first Thinking?
Many companies claim to be “SEO-first” in that they understand its importance at a marketing, product, and development level. Unfortunately, they stop there.
When it comes to decision-making, the SEO team gets a token hearing, or just an alert to run checks after a project has been completed.
SEO-first thinking isn’t about the SEO team’s views having more weight than other departments. It’s also not about designing a company’s website to serve the needs of SEO above all.
Encouraging SEO-first thinking in a company is about raising its importance and benefits to all stakeholders.
It is about changing the culture, so the questions surrounding any new initiative or feature start with “What might the impact be for SEO?”
Why Is Thinking SEO-First So Important?
That all sounds a touch arrogant. In any organization, there are lots of departments championing what is right by their channel or specialism. What makes SEO so special?
Mistakes Are Costly
The main crux of the argument for bringing SEO to the fore is simply this: If something happens that negatively affects SEO, it can take a considerable amount of time for it to be rectified.
SEO, especially for an online organization, is highly important for reputation management, leads, brand awareness, and ultimately revenue.
It’s not alone in that.
But it is fairly unique in that not many other departments that impact these can be damaged so easily and take so long to then repair.
A coding mistake might bring a website to its knees, but it can often be rolled back the same day.
Writing a product description in a way that reduces conversion can be rectified as quickly as it takes to edit a page in a content management system (CMS).
A PPC campaign is accidentally turned off; it just needs to be turned back on again to be effective.
SEO issues, on the other hand, are not always as quick to spot. It might take time for our tools to alert us to a crawling block; a drop in rankings or traffic might be the first indicator that something has gone wrong.
It can then take months for rankings and traffic to return to where they once were.
In some extreme cases, they simply never do.
Rewards Can Be Huge
Arguably, no other form of marketing has the same breadth and duration of impact as SEO.
Stop paying into PPC campaigns, and the adverts will stop showing.
Don’t send any more email marketing campaigns; the existing ones will be buried in inboxes.
Get SEO right, and you can have a continuing source of highly converting traffic for years to come at no additional expense.
SEO Takes A Village
There are many moving parts to successful organic search engine marketing.
There is little that an SEO team can accomplish on their own.
We often need to work closely with developers, content writers, and project managers.
We need sign-off from product owners, clients, and leadership before we can move forward with an idea.
Encouraging an SEO-first mindset can help those stakeholders buy into SEO recommendations.
How Can You Encourage SEO-first Thinking?
Once you’re on board with the idea that it’s OK to raise the importance of SEO in your business (and it really is), how do you go about it?
Identify Key Stakeholders
An important step in embedding SEO-first thinking in an organization is identifying key stakeholders. These are any people in and outside of the company whose work can influence or be influenced by SEO.
Identify Departments And Teams
You will want to look across the organization at all of the departments that can help or hinder your work as an SEO. These are departments whose own work can cause changes to the way the website works, such as engineering and content teams.
It will also be any team that can impact online reputation, like branding and customer service teams.
One of the biggest stakeholders in SEO in any organization is the senior leadership team.
If you work in an agency or as an external consultant, this might take some time to ascertain. If you can, take a look at your client’s corporate structure.This might be available on their website under a “who’s who” type page, or you may have to ask your contact there to run you through it.
Don’t forget that they may have other external partners like development agencies you’ll need to consider or even other teams at your own agency who are also working on the client’s website.
Prioritise Teams By Impact On SEO
Put together a matrix like the one below that will help you identify the level of risk and opportunity each team represents. Plot the department or agency on the matrix based on how much impact their work has on the outcome of SEO in the organization.
For example, the finance team may have little opportunity to negatively or positively affect SEO, other than signing off on the budget for the latest tool! That team would likely be plotted under low risk, low reward.
The engineering team can help to implement changes in code, improve load speed, and add schema mark-up to a page. Their department can yield high rewards for SEO.
Conversely, they can take the website offline, block search bots and no-index the website all too easily. They are, therefore, also a high risk.
Identify SEO Champions For Each Team
Next, look for one or two people in each team under “medium” or “high” risk and reward. These people will be the ones that you use to help spread changes in the process and thinking around SEO. They are your champions.
It helps if they are people who already show curiosity about SEO and are in a position within their team to help lead and develop others.
Make sure you have regular catch-ups with these champions. Fill them in on the relevant developments in SEO that may impact their team. Offer them training and mentoring.
All of this will help with getting buy-in from the teams they represent.
Motivate From The Top Of The Team
Often a good way to get your colleagues to care about SEO is by making their management and leaders care about it.
If the department head understands the risks and rewards that SEO poses for their team, they will likely be motivated to help you achieve your SEO goals.
Train Them In The Importance Of SEO
The key to this is helping them to understand the importance of SEO.
Look at department-specific impacts that SEO can have.
Speak to your Brand Director about the importance of reputation management and how SEO can help encourage favorable sentiment online. Discuss the benefits of keyword research and optimizing copy for search intent and conversions to your Head of Content.
Make it clear to each stakeholder why they should care about SEO.
Link SEO To Their Success
Help the leadership, and their teams, to be bought into the work of SEO by sharing the impact they are having on key results.
Demonstrating to the engineering team that their work on reducing load speed had a direct, measurable impact on Core Web Vitals can help them see the link between their work and organic traffic and leads.
Show the customer success team that the survey they filled in detailing the most common questions asked by customers has been turned into an FAQ. Explain how this has generated an uplift in organic traffic.
The more you can link teams’ work to SEO success, the more amenable they may be to your ideas going forwards.
Bake SEO Into Their Processes
Along with training and gaining buy-in amongst your or clients’ teams, have them bake SEO into their own processes.
This might look like adding SEO considerations into their templates, like copy briefs or product requests. It may be adding SEO team members as stakeholders to engineering tickets.
Try to ensure that you are involved in QA and sign-offs for the type of activity that may pose a risk to the success of your SEO work.
For SEO to truly promote growth in an organization we need to break down siloes, encourage training, and keep SEO top-of-mind.
This means identifying knowledge gaps in key departments and ensuring ongoing upskilling in those areas.
SEO needs to be front and center in company communications.
Find the best way to do that at your company, whether it’s a monthly report and email briefing to key stakeholders or a company-wide message on your internal chat.
It is very possible for a company to begin thinking SEO-first, but it takes time and strong stakeholder relationships to make it work.
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