June 14, 2022
Adam Audette, SVP, SEO Business Leader
The real purpose of SEO is to attract relevant, quality visitors to a site and lead them towards a conversion of some sort. I've talked before about how SEO should be invisible https://adamaudette.com/seo-is-invisible/, and that's true. But a lot of work goes into that appearance of invisibility. And ironically, with SEO, most of it requires implementation from another (different) group: engineers, front-end designers, marketing, PR, social, content teams, or IT. Or sometimes, the CEO. SEO is a function that exists as a strategic layer across a business and works best when it's integrated with other groups as much as possible. Integration and collaboration are a regular part of its functioning. It is truly built on the idea of partnership.
This got me thinking more about partnering cross-functionally among other groups. For an in-house SEO, this is hopefully standard procedure and, depending on the company's culture, can work really well (or not at all). But from the consulting side, this presents some unique challenges. Who really needs to be on the weekly check-in calls? Who do we need and when to get something accomplished? What is our timing for communicating the roadmap, and to which groups? SEO becomes a logistics game as much as a matter of subject expertise.
The Problem - Most Companies Aren't Setup for Partnerships with SEO
In my experience working with companies of many different sizes and industries, SEO is usually considered a capability or function that works independently of others, in a very similar manner to paid search marketing, email, or any performance marketing area. But this is a grave mistake. While SEO is its own capability, with its own subject expertise and knowledge, it's heavily dependent upon others to get stuff done. Those organizations that realize this, and even further, that build SEO into the company's fabric, see the best results and long-term growth.
A great case in point for this type of success was Zappos back in the early days of 2008. The CEO, Tony Hsieh, was personally involved in SEO and pushed initiatives from the top of the organization. This created a large amount of momentum and the ability for Zappos.com to perform exceptionally well in organic search for years. Other organizations that are known for a similar approach are Trip Advisor, Amazon (who of course, acquired Zappos), and Etsy. There are many others. But there are also, unfortunately, many organizations (most) that don't have this innovative approach, and their SEO and their business performance suffer because of it.
The Solution - It's All About Partnership
Realizing that most companies will not have a top-down approach to SEO directly from the CEO into the organization, what can be done to maximize results? In a word, a culture of partnership. While we typically think of partnerships as aligning companies together with a shared vision or incentives, in this sense partnering with SEO is actually about driving value from the capability across a business. We see this need all the time with our clients: audits are performed, recommendations prioritized, and a strategy outlined. Then, when it's time to take action and begin implementation, there is a total disconnect between the SEO team and the rest of the business. Resources aren't aligned, teams haven't spoken and don't have shared roadmaps or transparency into each other's work, and the SEO recommendations stall or are placed on a shelf. This does double damage: on the one hand, all of the investment of time and money into creating the recommendations is lost because it isn't acted upon. On the other hand, there is a greater time lost while competitors push on their SEO programs, and the brand loses ground.
Partnership works best when there are shared incentives and alignments when teams have a joint vision and are charting towards the same goal. This is easier said than done within most companies and organizations. In my experience, many brands are split into silos without a shared vision and goals. Teams do their work and act on their own roadmaps regardless of plans from other groups. And that's probably okay: especially in large companies, we can't expect to have tight alignment and coordination across complex organizational structures. The answer, then, always comes back to partnership.
Let's go back to our previous example of the SEO audit. Months of work were not acted upon because teams essential to implementing the recommendations didn't know anything about the work. They already had full roadmaps and projects of their own. To step around this obstacle, the SEO team and especially decision-makers within the organization should have communicated the project is scheduled to be delivered. By partnering with leaders of the engineering team, content teams, and other groups essential to execution, the audit and its roadmap would be expected and fit into their busy schedules. Then when it's delivered, it's expected and can be implemented. Even further, an effective strategy can be to roll out pieces of the audit as they're being completed, rather than wait and deliver it all at once as a "big reveal." This has the added benefit of allowing teams to start plugging away on the work as the audit is still being completed.
SEO is a Partnership Capability
Partnering is a great strategy but must be focused on to bear fruit. It doesn't "just happen." It requires effective communication and shared goals between groups. When companies can get aligned and excited around a shared vision, which is most effective when it is championed by senior executives in the company (even the CEO), SEO can and does thrive. This results in increased traffic and conversions and can be meaningful in driving a business towards its goals. SEO can be game-changing for a company. But it requires much more than performing an audit and following a checklist. SEO requires a partnership mindset to be most effective.