When Corporate Politics and SEO Collide

Implementing an organic SEO (define) plan for a large corporate site is far more complex than getting a small business’ Web site on target in search engine results. The number of project stakeholders increases exponentially with the size of the business, further complicating the project.

Education about the SEO process helps all involved set realistic expectations. As an in-house SEO expert, you must speak several languages to keep the project on track.

How you communicate with a PR director, copywriter, or Web designer is completely different from how you communicate with IT staff and programmers. Then, there are executives. They require boiled-down sound bytes and bullet points to make critical business decisions on the fly.

Sometimes, a large SEO project can go off the rails. Not because the project itself is flawed, but because somewhere, somehow, someone unlearned his lessons and lost focus on the mission.

Counseling Executives

Executives are generally the weakest link in a complex SEO project. Their communications are filtered by others, their daily priorities are set by unpredictable business demands, and everyone attempts to influence their priorities.

As a result, an executive’s work environment is inherently politically charged. And when corporate politics and SEO meet, they can produce a curious collision of emotion and logic. There’s an inverse relationship between corporate politics and the goals set for a challenging SEO project: as political influences increase, the likelihood of SEO success decreases.

Much of an SEO project relies on expert judgment regarding how data interrelates with site performance in the search engines. To an extent, an effective corporate SEO becomes a statistician, constantly keeping score of these relationships to observe and respond to opportunities revealed by minute changes in trends and patterns.

Understanding data is also one of the best ways to quash irrational political influences over executives. Don’t be surprised when an influential business partner throws a monkey wrench into an SEO plan. The average executive does like to keep strategic business partners happy.

If you must sit through a secondhand pitch from a business partner’s third cousin’s brother’s son who he just got a job doing keyword research for a full-service Web hosting firm, do it with a smile. Beforehand, arm your executives with the facts so they can make a logical business decision about alternative SEO proposals.

A major SEO project sometimes becomes everyone’s business. As the in-house expert, you know the facts. Stick with them, communicate them on a regular basis, and trust your instincts. Political winds shift quickly; what’s critically important to the company’s future today is tomorrow’s office drama.

Set realistic goals and expectations for every project. It’s easy to fall prey to corporate politics and tell executives what they want to hear, not what you know to be true. Don’t fall into that trap. Your integrity and intelligence about the project should inject common sense into the situation. Repeat the facts to end squabbles.

Keep Your Umbrella Handy

Timing is everything when you communicate with executives about a major SEO project. You must quickly gauge whether they need handholding and reassurance, or brute force reason to reach the right conclusions. Know when to raise the level of debate about each tactic employed in a major search campaign. Be open to different opinions.

SEO nuances are unfamiliar executive territory. They know how to run a business and manage the people who make the business work. You know how to grow the business by way of the search engines. Return to common ground to keep the SEO project on track. Emphasize the positives but acknowledge the negatives.

To be an effective corporate SEO, you must balance passive persistence, patience, and an understanding of when to fight for what you know is right. Corporate political storms have a tendency to gather slowly. When a storm appears on the horizon, unfurl your umbrella of facts and logic to shield executives from the political downpour.

Nothing quells a political corporate storm like success. In a large corporate environment, there’s always another political squall brewing. Be patient, communicative, and accessible. Then, ride the storm out knowing the spirit of your SEO project can be dampened, but not drowned, by corporate politics.

Meet P.J. at Search Engine Strategies in Toronto, Canada, May 4-5, 2005.

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