When I first started working at an agency providing SEO services for third parties, I was under the impression that all of the sales work was done up front. That is, once a prospect was convinced to become a client, all future discussions would focus on how to get things done and there’d be little time spent selling the merits of the SEO recommendations I provided. It didn’t take long to realize that the sales process at the beginning was, in many ways, easier than the ongoing “sales” an SEO practitioner has to do.
In the past, many of the roadblocks to SEO were put up by the IT team. Not out of spite, of course, but rather because they were being pulled in so many different directions that they had to let something drop or risk failing to get anything done. At the same time, the brand/product folks didn’t really care about the specifics and just wanted assurances that the necessary SEO gaps were being closed.
More recently, as the scope of SEO has increased to include some aspects of social media, content development, and content distribution, those same brand and product folks who once didn’t care are now erecting roadblocks of their own. Like the developers, this isn’t being done because they have something against SEO, but because they’re responsible for an aspect of the business that SEO is encroaching on.
The visual I use to explain how I think about these issues is that of an archery target with three circles or rings.
The outer circle represents all of the ideas I can come up with to move the needle when it comes to organic search performance of a site. The part of the circle that doesn’t overlap with the other circles, i.e., the ring, would closely align with 90 percent of what typically comes out of a brainstorming session, i.e., the pie-in-the-sky list of things that will never see the light of day.
Let’s skip the middle ring for the moment, which leaves us with the inner circle that represents ideas that the client readily accepts. As you might guess, there’s little to talk about when it comes to the inner circle.
The middle ring represents ideas (which will be different for each SEO engagement) that cause clients some hesitation, and as a result where much of the friction with an SEO effort occurs. Often this friction results because the SEO hasn’t stepped into the brand person’s way of thinking and isn’t considering all of the angles from which a particular SEO tactic may not align with the brand messaging. Now, an SEO tactic doesn’t have to align with branding to be effective, but brands are hard to create and so those responsible for them are extremely defensive.
To resolve these conflicts there’s really only one course of action. The SEO must start thinking like the people who need convincing. The discussions need to be less about the SEO value of a tactic and more about how those tactics support other marketing efforts – think of the SEO value as an added bonus. Here’s how to go about bridging the gap:
- Start with something simple like actually reading the About Us page(s) on the client’s website. This content will likely contain some fluffy language, but you should be able to pick out meaningful parts.
- Look up recent press releases and read the boilerplate. The copy here will be shorter, but should align with the content from step one. Consider looking at older press releases to see if the brand messaging/positioning has changed.
- Look for TV commercials on YouTube. Large companies often target different market segments with different commercials, so don’t stop at just one.
- Compare your findings from steps one, two, and three to what you find when you do the same exercise with competitors.
- Ask your client for copies of their social media strategy document. If the social media team is good and well-funded, they’ll have put together research and insights to inform their activities.
- Ask your client for other brand strategy documents and market research. Connect this request to what you’ve learned in the above steps so that your interest in such things is understood to be real.
These steps (and they’re by no means exhaustive) will get you on the path toward thinking like your client. The harder, but necessary part will be to then position your recommendations in a way that highlights how they align with previously approved strategies. If you can do that, the inner circle will be so full of activities that you’ll start complaining about having too much to do!
There is of course a lot of discussion about content and what does and doesn't work online. Is long-form the key? Does short-form content have a role to play? Are there other factors at play?
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