The ABCs of a Great SEO Leader

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So, you can audit a site. I’ll bet you have a methodology in place to do it a thousand times over. You probably do it pretty darn well. You insure the proper keywords are in page titles, canonical issues are addressed, internal anchor text is optimized, and so on. You know your stuff.

Yet, you personally yearn for more. You want to drive an overall business strategy. You not only want to optimize content, you want to brainstorm new content to optimize. You, in short, want to lead.

So, if you have the knowledge, what can you do to evaluate whether or not you have that ‘it’ factor?

Beyond knowledge, there are personality traits or inherent characteristics shared by the best leaders (across verticals). They are able to use their knowledge effectively, and implement, entirely because of these very traits. Some of these characteristics were touched on in my previous post, 10 Ways to be a Great SEO. But there’s much more.

Below, from A to Z, you’ll find what I believe are the traits, qualities and intangibles found in the people that lead not just SEO, but entire companies.

Analytical: Know what to look for, and be able to create an action plan from your findings.

Business savvy: Give your team some job security. Make money and plan to make more.

Calm under fire: Your rankings just went off the radar. No reason. Can you keep your team calm?

Decisive: If you don’t believe in your decisions, no one will.

Ethical: If you represent a brand, there’s no room for questionable tactics. Win within the rules.

Fast: How long does it take your plan to go from your mind to moving the needle?

Gap Bridger: PR, SEM, Tech and more are lurking. Can you bring them all together?

Historian: Know what’s happened in the past or you’re doomed to repeat mistakes.

Innovator: Can you create new ways to succeed?

Jumps in: A leader gets their hands dirty. Lead by example.

Killer smarts: Intelligence, and more importantly common sense, attracts followers.

Loves what they do: A miserable leader can only be effective short term.

Mass thinking: It’s all about scale. Do your plans build in chunks to leverage infrastructure?

Never give up: If you quit, your team will too.

Out of the box: It’s ok to win by being unconventional. It’s actually a lot more fun.

Patience: Giving up on a plan too quickly can lead to a lost opportunity forever.

Question everything: If you understand the ‘why’, it’s that much easier to get the ‘how’.

Respectful: Treat everyone with respect and you can expect them to go to battle for you.

Stand up guy/girl: You’re the leader. You take the credit, you take the blame.

Tester: Don’t be afraid to fail. Try new things. It may take many small failures to see great success.

Understanding: Step into someone else’s shoes. Get their perspective, whether or not you agree.

Visionary: What’s coming down the line? Are you prepared with a plan for it?

Winner: When it comes time to win for your idea, can you step up?

X-factor: A great leader has a charm or charisma that makes people want to follow their lead.

Yes man: No way! Can you tell your boss that their idea is going kill organic traffic?

Zero mistakes: Everyone makes mistakes. Leaders have plans in place to find and correct them.

As always, this is just one man’s opinion. And, frankly, thinking of a quality that begins with every letter of the alphabet can be quite time consuming. Did I miss one? Do you have a favorite trait, or a related story to share? Please comment below as we’d all love to hear it.

Matt Leonard currently directs SEO, SEM and Revenue Management for Cruise Critic, the world’s largest cruise site and part of the Trip Advisor Media Group. You can follow him on twitter to keep up with his updates.

Matt Leonard
Matt Leonard currently directs SEO, SEM and Revenue Management for Cruise Critic, the world’s largest cruise site and part of the Trip Advisor Media Group.... Read Full Bio
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  • It is very hard to keep the team calm when rankings fall.

  • Valuable words of advice for leaders in any position. I’ve recently realized how very much I’ve learned from my mistakes, so my favorite was Z.

    Complementary to that, here’s an addition: C – Check your ego at the door. In order to be successful, you must have first failed. I try to remind myself and my team that every time we try and fail, the pot for future success becomes sweeter.

    I’ll definitely pass this article along.

  • this is basically for any leader . . not just an SEO leader

  • Matt,

    When I first saw “a-z” I thought “dude, no way – 26 things? 🙂

    Then you went and hit it so well. And I’m proud to say that I’ve got about 20 of those nailed consistently, and the rest actually show up from time to time. 🙂

    Great article!

  • Thanks, Alan for both the kind words and taking the time to see how they relate to you. 20 of them consistently is pretty damn good.


  • Thanks for sharing this and I agree that this doesn’t just apply to SEO leaders but to all interested in a success online.

  • I have to say… it mirrors my profile, do you believe? and do you care?

    Believe it or not.

  • Thanks for the post on SEO, its really very useful and to the point.

  • Gayle Leonard

    Great article Matt. Very well thought out. There are several things that just about any leader would relate to as well as benefit from. I enjoyed reading it..send me more.

  • I think every SEO person should not only take an SEO approach to a website but they should take a look exactly how to lead and incorporate steps outside the website to build not only traffic but business as well.

  • Great post, but I agree that these are good traits in any leader.

    I also think that it’s not just about SEO, you have to wear a few other hats while practicing complimentary disciplines such as business development or marketing in so far as educating in-house teams about marketing trends and research tools.

    @ Ricky – yes, for many, when rankings fall, so does the sky. Education and prozac works wonders.

  • I am agree with above points but it is very hard to implement, especially when you are handling big team. To become a good leader, we always need to gain respect and faith of our team. if one person is not respecting you, it will affect whole time.

  • Staying calm under the pressure of some sort of set back i.e. falling rankings, is the one I struggle with the most.

    Though my time between wallowing in panic and devising a way to deal with it is getting shorter every time. Feels like hours but is actually minutes 🙂

  • Great ABC, but for every leader the same ABC. However, its a great list to keep in mind ;).