SEO Can’t Always Get What It Wants — Or Can It?

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Everyone can, and probably has, argued over what part of working in SEO is the hardest. From the frequent algorithm updates and never really knowing what Google is thinking to constantly explaining yourself to executives and fighting tooth and nail to correct our bad reputation, we have plenty of options to choose from.

Personally, my nomination for one of the most difficult challenges is managing the push and pull within organizations to ensure SEO gets the resources it needs to achieve results.

As an SEO, you don’t really “own” any one digital asset, but everything in digital has an impact on your organic search traffic. It’s a disturbing situation because when something changes — even if you have nothing to do with it and perhaps don’t even know about it — you’re still on the hook when your organic traffic tanks.

So, how do you work with other teams to get what you want?

First, a few generalities that apply to anyone you’re working with:

  1. Speak their language. Throwing out acronyms and industry jargon is going to leave your listeners confused.
  2. Compromise. Don’t come in guns blazing demanding it’s your way or no way. Being a good business partner requires a bit of give and take so people actually want to work with you again.
  3. Talk on their terms. The easiest way to get what you want is to show how it’s actually going to benefit the other person. Focus on how whatever change will impact their KPIs, not just organic traffic.

Now that we’ve got the basics covered, how can SEOs work with specific departments so everyone gets what they want?

C-Suite

Company adoption of SEO ultimately comes from the top down; if your C-suite is on board and understands the value, you’ll have an easier time working in the weeds with the people who actually make the changes.

To do that, prove the value of SEO without drowning them in data. We have tons of metrics at our beck and call, but, in most cases, the only numbers C-suites really care about are traffic and revenue. Focus on overall business impact, not just how what you’re proposing affects organic traffic and revenue.

You’ll make even more impact if you can show competitors gaining more market share, because no C-suite wants to be second place to direct competition.

UX/Design Department

Designers don’t want to compromise their design for SEO, and they don’t want to design something solely for search engines. And rightfully so. Your site should first and foremost serve the needs of your users, but too often we’re forgetting that search engines are primary users of your site — probably the biggest ones in terms of how many times they access your site.

Each time you speak with your design team, watch your wording: Avoid things like “designing for SEO” or “building it for bots” because you’re only perpetuating the stereotype that SEOs don’t care about users.

The likeliest chance of conflict comes over content. Everyone knows you need live text on your web pages if you expect them to rank, but the design argument is that users don’t read content, and all it does is push down the important stuff (images, products, CTAs) that’s aimed at spurring people to make a purchasing decision.

The most popular compromise is the eyesore of a content block at the bottom of a page.

Sure, great for SEO, but this is useless for everyone else.

Yeah, I’m sure everyone is reading this 11px sized font.

Sure, that content block is great for SEO, but it’s a sub-par user experience, and it’s definitely not the only way to rank for competitive terms. There are plenty of companies doing good design that have great SEO without that damned content block:

  • Otterbox ranks for “iPhone cases”
  • Target ranks for “bathing suits”
  • Best Buy ranks for “digital cameras”

The point is there are plenty of ways to to have well-designed engaging site that kicks butt in search engines, using things like web fonts, expandable divs, mouse-overs on images to show content, and small chunks of content scattered throughout the page rather than one large block at the end.

There’s no silver bullet solution, and what works for one site may not work for yours. Thankfully, designers love testing even more than SEOs, so approach your suggested changes not like, “This is what we have to do,” but more like, “Hey, I think this could help; let’s see how our users and search engines react.”

Present a couple of design options, put them out in the wild for six to eight weeks, and see what improves your positioning most while also increasing your overall engagement.

Copywriters

Whether you believe all SEOs should know how to write by themselves, or you rely on external copywriters, we all know SEO can’t exist without content. (Remember, content doesn’t have to be blog posts or marketing copy. Title tags and meta descriptions, two things which SEOs historically “own,” are pretty important content pieces for SEO, too.)

Copywriters are pretty much the sorcerers of today’s digital landscape as most everything that exists online includes some form of written content. It’s a primary driver for search engine rankings, and it’s the number one way users interact with brands, whether that involves content in emails, social posts, articles or product descriptions.

Copywriters are also always looking for things to write about, and that’s exactly where SEO steps in. SEOs have a pulse on what users are searching for and should be steering the content topics. That lifts some of the burden off the copywriters in coming up with the ideas, while also providing new organic entry points across your website.

Development & IT Teams

There are obvious elements that make for good SEO (like design and content), but there are even more nuances when you pull back the curtain and look at a site’s foundation. If your site isn’t built correctly, no amount of good design and quality content will bring you organic search visibility. Your developers are your lifelines, and you need to make sure you’re their favorite SEO.

This is the one team where speaking their language makes the most impact. Whether you’re working with network support or programmers, you’re interacting with highly specialized and highly technical people. If you’re not familiar with how websites are built and don’t understand the relevant jargon, you’ll get lost in their conversation.

You don’t have to physically know how to do it, but you better know how to clearly explain it. This makes a huge impact when you’re requesting work or putting in a JIRA story. Are all the requirements there? Did you note specifically where on the site you need the change to go? Will they be able to pick up the story and successfully complete the task without having to track you down for more information?

Even with the SEO and digital landscape changing every day, I don’t think there will ever be a time when we — not just SEOs, but anyone working in digital — can do our jobs in a silo. We’ll always have to rely on other teams to meet our KPIs. So, what’s worked for you? How have you been able to interact with other team members to do what’s best for the business and what’s best for SEO?

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