Learn SEO Basics
If you’ve ever been involved in defining an organization’s SEO strategy, chances are you’ve experienced a situation like this: an executive calls you into her office with an important request. She needs to you to improve or fix her site’s SEO. The problem is, in her very next breath, she restricts your ability to do that. She says stuff like, “Our site is too wordy. Can we remove some copy from the page?”
Why are executives so undereducated about SEO best practices? Is it because they’ve always had experts on their teams to whom they can delegate SEO research and activities? That could be one very plausible explanation. Another possible reason is that search engine optimization rules and best practices change all the time, so it’d be impossible for someone at the senior level to stay updated on the specifics.
The fact is, though, that a baseline of knowledge of SEO is essential for any brand that’s seeking to implement a successful marketing transformation. I’ve determined that it’s my job (and my team’s job) to educate executives on what SEO is, and what it isn’t. If we don’t educate them now, we will never be able to meet their expectations later.
1. Brands Don’t Control Search Engine Performance
The idea of control versus influence is really the first core concept that executives need to understand and accept. Brands can’t control their listings in search engine results; the best they can do is hope to influence and shape them. As you likely know, brands can’t just decide to top search engine results pages (SERPs), flip a switch, and make it so. They have to work toward that goal—and in most cases, they have to work really hard to do it.
It’s your job to educate your executives on this fact—because if you don’t, you will quickly find yourself and your team in a no-win situation. Everyone wants “better, stronger SEO” but they need to know that it’s a process, not a commodity that can just be purchased and installed. And there’s no SEO exchange rate, either; no rule that says for each dollar spent, you get X amount of SEO benefits in return.
I realize this can be a tough sell, but don’t be discouraged. Investments in SEO can be quantified. Be sure to identify and baseline any metrics related to SEO that are important to your leaders so that you can show improvement over time.
2. There Are Factors You Can Control
At last count, there are well over 200 individual factors that go into determining where a page will land in SERPs. That’s a lot to contend with, and it’s definitely not something I’d expect the average C-suite executive to understand. However, it is important for them to understand the difference between the factors brands can control and the factors they can merely influence, so that resources can be directed to the most efficient areas.
Search Engine Land created a resource I regularly refer to, called The Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors. The table breaks down SEO factors into two major groups first: on-the-page and off-the-page factors. The vast majority of brands have a lot of room for improvement in both areas, but can really only control the on-the-page factors—and that’s where you should start your SEO efforts.
3. Only Search Engine Developers Know Exactly How SEO Works
Most people who are versed in SEO know what they know from the experimentation of others. I’m personally included in that group. If your leaders want to hire an SEO expert because they believe that doing so will guarantee success, it might be worth helping them reset their expectations. Proven experts in search engine optimization are certainly around, but, in my experience, they’re few and far between.
When it comes to expertise in SEO, it’s your job to temper the expectations of leadership whether you’re the (official or unofficial) in-house SEO expert or not. The fact that expertise is a relative term is a critical concept for your leadership to understand. Unless you were once a search product manager or engineer at Google, chances are you rely on others’ expertise to drive your knowledge. You can become an expert on known best practices, but SEO isn’t magic—and there will be bumps along the way.
4. If You Don’t Provide Any Budget, Don’t Expect Miracles
Once upon a time, SEO was known as the “free” way to gain web traffic. There was paid search, which required a budget—and then there was SEO, which didn’t.
That’s no longer the case. In fact, some brands spend thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars improving SEO every single month. If your leadership doesn’t provide budget, they shouldn’t expect miracles—and it’s most definitely your job to educate them as to why.
Being charged with improving SEO with no budget is like being asked to raise brand awareness with no money. Search engine optimization, like billboards, TV, PPC, and other tactical marketing efforts, requires resources. That’s because good SEO requires good content—and good content is never free. Constant production and refinement of content across media and channels should be planned and budgeted for in the same way your other marketing tactics are. Doing so without a budget will definitely hamstring your chances of success.