Embrace a product manager mindset to improve 2018 SEO KPIs

For the first half of my 20-year career, I focused primarily on technical, enterprise SEO for brands with dozens of domains and millions of pages. For the second half, I’ve been on the product side of a software-as-a-service platform designed to help large multilocation brands achieve digital success.

Living and breathing product development has been helpful in reshaping how I prioritize and execute in all areas of my life, SEO consulting included. To that end, I believe it would be helpful for SEO professionals to think more like good product managers.

Product managers and SEO experts actually have quite a lot in common. They both:

  • operate on the front lines of a company’s brand.
  • create measurable outcomes.
  • manage multiple variables: product managers need to decide what features and product updates to prioritize, and SEO experts need to prioritize hundreds of ranking factors.
  • sometimes struggle to measure and communicate their impact to their internal clients.

All of the above issues are interrelated. Because product managers and SEO professionals operate on the front lines, they are under the microscope, needing to prove their value constantly. The good news is that both create measurable outcomes. The bad news is that because they manage several variables, product managers and SEO professionals sometimes get lost in the weeds, placing too much importance on metrics that provide little value to their business.

Greg Gifford underscored the challenge for SEOs in a recent Search Engine Land column when he wrote about the problem of marketers creating SEO reports that don’t measure valuable outcomes. Too often, monthly reports get mired in reporting SEO data that means a lot to an SEO practitioner but nothing to anyone in charge of creating customers and building a brand. The creation of irrelevant reports mirrors a misguided obsession with measuring every single ranking factor, regardless of how influential each ranking factor really is to a business.

Tasks like adding H3 tags, updating meta descriptions because they were nine characters over the recommended length or refining your fully indexed site’s sitemap.xml file might provide some incremental value to your SEO. But just because you can, should you really place a high priority on that action, especially if your resources and budget are limited?

As an antidote to obsessing over details that have little impact, I suggest embracing the ways that product managers such as Shopify Director of Product Brandon Chu approach their roles. Not long ago, Chu discussed the role of the “MVPM,” or minimum viable product manager. He cited a few points that really stand out.

First, the job of a product manager is not to deliver a perfect outcome. Obsession with perfection is distracting. An obsession with perfection mires a product manager in details that provide, at best, an incremental value relative to the effort required to manage them.

Second, product managers need to focus on the activities that provide measurable impact to a company’s most important goals. He wrote:

When your team is debating the highest leverage thing you could build next, it’s important that you can develop a model of how the product will move the dial on those metrics.

An SEO who applies Chu’s thinking might ask:

  • What are your business’s most important objectives for 2018?
  • Of all the things you could do on a given day to improve your site’s SEO, which ones are going support those objectives most efficiently?
  • Which activities are least effective relative to the effort required to manage them?

Once you’ve used the above questions to vet your most essential SEO actions, then:

  • Gain consensus with your stakeholders that you’ll place a higher priority on those activities.
  • Stay disciplined and avoid getting distracted by managing outcomes that have diminished value.
  • Focus your ROI reporting on the high-impact outcomes you agreed upon with your stakeholders.

By focusing on the most important outcomes and reporting them, you will become more valuable to your organization and improve the value of SEO as a profession. Here’s to a successful 2018!

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