Getting Organizational Support for SEO and SEM Projects and Campaigns

A while back I provided some advice on pitching for budget and headcount for search marketing projects, and for your own personal raises and promotions!

Even when SEO and SEM managers get the budget and headcount they request, projects don’t always go exactly as planned. Getting great results from SEO, especially at large companies, is not just about understanding the latest nuances of Google’s algorithm, or being an expert linkbaiter or quality score smoother.  More often, it’s about managing organizational dynamics, leveraging best practices in project management, and being a great influencer, communicator and leader at all levels of your company.  I’ve found that these factors can be the difference between success and failure.

Based on my experience working with more than 75 Fortune 500 / Global 2000 advertisers, here are five key learnings (translated into actionable insights):

  1. Get executive support for your project
  2. Use objective measures for comparisons
  3. Establish concrete milestones throughout the project or campaign
  4. Make SEO part of the regular workflow, and make it easy
  5. Have fun with competition

Bonus Actionable Insight #6:  Align incentives and compensation for the people most involved

ACTIONABLE INSIGHT #1: Get an official executive sponsor for your project

Just because you got the budget and the headcount doesn’t mean you necessarily have executive support.  In traditional project management, the project manager (you!) gets a senior executive to be the “executive sponsor.”  This may or may not be your direct boss.  The key is getting an executive sponsor who is at a level where he or she can reach across teams and organizations to get things done and to get other folks to cooperate with you.  The executive sponsor needs to be enthusiastic about your project and understand its importance to the company — and he or she must be willing to step in if things are going sideways.

ACTIONABLE INSIGHT #2: Use objective measures for progress reports and business unit comparisons

In SEM, objective measurement is fairly easy — total revenue, ROI and other conversions tend to be the key metrics. CTRs, CPCs and bounce rates are additional metrics that paid search managers can use to gauge campaigns across the corporation, even if they have different end objectives (e.g., one group may be focused on ecommerce while another may be focused on lead generation).

In SEO, the metrics around a successful campaign tend to be less readily available — especially as “rank” becomes less useful in the age of personalized and targeted search results pages.  Covario clients use Covario Organic Search Insight, the leading SaaS search engine optimization (SEO) software solution,  to audit over 56 on-page and off-page elements for SEO health and roll them up into a single, easy to use score at the business unit or program level.  We often hear from our clients that the Covario SEO Audit Score™ is a great way to use a consistent and objective measure for comparison across business units, geos, and product lines — and it helps to eliminate the subjective discussions about who is doing better or worse.

ACTIONABLE INSIGHT #3: Establish concrete milestones throughout the program or campaign

We see a lot of SEO projects get kicked off with a “never-ending” mentality.  Folks get hired to do SEO, that’s their jobs, and they’re sticking to it.  We recommend that even long-term SEO projects and ongoing optimization programs be broken into phases or campaigns. Some examples for specific phases might be:

  • Get 1,000 more pages indexed by Google / 60 days
  • Secure 25 more quality inbound links / 30 days
  • Improve total conversions by 20% / 180 days
  • Increase Covario SEO Audit Score™ by 5 points / 90 days

Not only will it give your team and constituents a sense of “pace of play” and objectives met or beaten, it will also provide visible measures of progress and success throughout the life of the program.

ACTIONABLE INSIGHT #4: Make SEO part of their regular workflow, and make it easy

While you and your team might live, sleep, eat and breathe SEO all day, every day, it may only be a small part of your content creators’ and business owner’s busy schedules.  The more you can understand their current workflows and processes, and make SEO activities and reporting part of their existing processes, the better.  If your content creators log in to a CMS every morning, ask them to log in to your SEO solution at the same time.  If they already provide an activity report every Thursday, then have them incorporate their SEO activities.  If your business owner gets her total marketing dashboard every Tuesday morning, make sure your SEO reports are delivered at the same time.  Asking constituents to do something different than their current processes will be like pulling teeth, working your requests into what they already do will win you an army of supporters.

ACTIONABLE INSIGHT #5: Have fun with competition

There’s nothing like a little intra-company competition or even peer pressure to get teams moving toward the same goal. A sure sign of success is when SEO makes it to the CMO or even CEO-level of awareness.  At several clients, the Covario Organic Search Insight has become the bi-weekly “report card” for the CEO.  In fact, at one well-known consumer packaged goods company, the CEO doesn’t think of it as their SEO score – it’s simply a measure of their “Google strategy.”  This CEO wants to know, every other week, “which 10 of his several hundred sites were doing the best, which 10 were doing the worst, and why.”  This simple request by the CEO became a major good-natured competition between the business units.  No one wanted to be on the bottom 10 of the report card!

BONUS ACTIONABLE INSIGHT #6: Align incentives and compensation for the people most involved

This one is a “Bonus” insight because it actually involves bonuses.  We’ve only seen this at a couple of clients, but in certain places, the SEO manager has gotten the support of their executive sponsor to tie special rewards and bonuses to their SEO contributions.  This can be more subjective like MBOs (management by objective) or more precisely and quantitatively measured using solutions like Covario’s.

Word to the wise:  You will get more buy-in for this if bonuses and special compensation are based on things that people can control and measure easily — like the number of pages optimized with appropriate SEO rules, the number of quality inbound links obtained, etc — and not just to “ranking #1 on key terms” which we have seen as a good intention/bad execution target at a few places. It’s great as a rally cry but not necessarily a fair shot at attaining bonus unless you are using a highly analytical solution like Covario’s D3:  Data Driven Decisions for SEO, which uses an analytical and data-driven process to calculate which terms have the greatest potential for achieving top rankings, and which of those terms will yield the most value.

In summary, if you really want to get the attention of your content creators, IT folks, CMS managers and business unit marketers, tie rewards or bonuses to their participation in the SEO process but make sure you have thought through the implications and behaviors you might drive.

So, good luck in your SEO efforts and I hope these tips help you succeed within your organizations!