How to get things done in SEO

From Wordtracker, the leading keyword research tool.


Most business is as simple as trying to get the obvious done by people whose job it is to do it. Yet it’s still difficult. SEO is more difficult still because you need to get the not-so-obvious done by people who have other jobs to do already. Mark Nunney considers the problem of implementation and has some suggestions to help you get things done in SEO.

Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard.

SEO plans of action are easy to write (for an experienced SEO). But implementation is hard.

Getting things done is the hardest part of SEO.

Here I’ll look at why the simple becomes difficult and what to do about it.

A familiar tale of woe

Here’s a true story about a then-new client of mine …

The client had recently rebuilt their site but didn’t have a 301 redirect from some old versions of the homepage URL (yes, they had more than one) to the new site’s homepage URL.

This means that many inbound links to the old home page URL were not being passed on to the new site. That means lost link power = lost visits and response. This is a serious site and those links were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Of course, I suggested a 301 redirect from the old to the new.

From a nameless person in an unknown department came the reply: ‘we can’t do 301s with our site’.

Their site can do 301s. They use open source software that has modules available for the job. It’s a quick job by many other ways. What they really meant was …

”We would need to test relevant procedures and modules, our time is planned for the next six months and who the hell are you implying we’ve not done our job properly. We build the site, SEO is BS so ‘spin on this’”.

One year on and the job is still not done.

Every experienced SEO will have similar stories to tell.

What’s going on? Why isn’t it easy to get the obvious done? …

SEO does not work in isolation

SEO is a multi-faceted discipline.

Lots of different things need to be done by different people in different departments

The website’s developers (the techies) usually need to change how the site is built and works.

The editorial team might need to change what stories they write about and, just a little, think about their headlines.

The PR department might be asked to change the content of their press releases and how they are distributed.

The finance team might be asked to authorize new spending on third parties (like SEOs) doing jobs they have never heard of. "What the heck is link building?", they cry. "Where’s the return?"

The marketing department might be asked to, well, change their marketing a bit.

There may be a social media team you need to ask to change their work a little too.

The business strategists might be required to change their planning.

SEO does not work in isolation.

SEO needs every department to change what they do. To consider something new.

This brings SEO implementation up against the following two obstacles:

• People don’t like outsiders telling them what to do.

• Everybody is always busy.

Let’s look at each of those …

People don’t like other people telling them what to do

In a start-up situation, if you’re the boss, people will do anything reasonable if you are clear and fair.

But working in an existing organization (especially as an outsider) it’s difficult to get people to change the way they do things.

No matter how small the issue or (the opposite) how important it is, there is usually resistance to change.

Other than for an open-minded minority, you need to either inspire or yield very clear authority.

This gets even more problematic when you are asking professionals to change how they do what they are supposed to already be experts at.

‘Defensive’ is not the word. They are furious.

However, you might be sitting next to their boss when you say how great it would be if there was only one URL for the home page, or headlines contain the occasional keyword. In which case, the response might be a calm but cold …

… "we are really busy already".

Everybody is always busy

It is pretty much a law of nature that people at work are always busy. Even if they are busy doing nothing.

Parkinson’s Law states that the time taken to do a job will expand to fill the time available for a job.

Watch out for Parkinson’s Law. It’s everywhere and chances are, it controls much of your life.

What the heck is SEO anyway?

If things weren’t bad enough for the SEO trying to get things done there are more hurdles to get over yet …

Nobody understands SEO.

SEO is new. There is no experience of what SEO is, how it works and why.

People can’t see SEO.

It can be hard to explain SEO.

Oh, and SEO might not work (especially if you have a small budget).

And SEO has a bad rap thanks to idiot commentators, spammers and rip-off artists.

That’s a tough sell to a busy, skeptical, defensive and furious crowd.

But enough of how hard life is. Let’s look at how to deal with it …

The paperwork

An SEO audit and road map is a clear document that all relevant parties can read and refer to.

The audit will outline a website’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

The road map will define goals and give a clear path to follow to achieve them.

When writing SEO audits I recommend leading with summaries that include specific and easy-to-understand figures showing market size, market share and therefore opportunity.

That could include:

• Opportunity graphs (keyword niche size alongside the site’s visits from those keywords).
• Visits over time to the site from searches with those keyword niches.
• Estimates of trends in use of those keywords from Google Trends.

Show success that already exists on your own site or others.

Make clear any limitations of current success. Eg, it’s common for what seems like search engine success to come mostly from own-brand searches that require no optimization to achieve.

The human work

Make friends with the other departments you need help from.

Win friends and influence people.

Find out "how things get done around here?"

Ask WICH? Who is in charge here?

What is the decision-making process? If there isn’t one, introduce one. I use the 4Ds:

iDea, Discuss, Decide, Deliver.

We might add a fifth D for ‘Deal with it’ (for those who don’t get what they want).

Educate your new network formally with presentations and discussions. Make sure you listen and find the objections and the objectors.

Educate informally over coffee, lunch and at the water cooler. Find out what key people are interested in and then use websites in those niches as examples.

Lots of people aren’t very good at what they do

Find out who the influencers are.

When deciding who is most important, those with their name on the door might not hold the key …

The Peter Principle is Parkinson’s Law’s partner in the crime of making organizations inefficient (and making it hard for you to get your SEO work implemented).

It states that "in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence". And work gets done by those still ‘on the move’ who have not yet reached their ‘level of incompetence'.

These movers ‘manage up’, working around incompetent managers, finding ways of getting things done.

Look for the movers. They will be looking for causes, ways to make things better and maybe make a name for themselves.

Also look for incompetent managers’ confidants, mentors and most-trusted advisers. These are the real power brokers. They might be the finance guy, the lead dev, the sales manager or the secretary they're seeing.

Campaign for budget

SEO is in competition for budget against PPC, PR, other marketing and pretty much everything.

So campaign for budget.

Compare the costs and returns of different marketing investment.

Show the history of progress for them all. Is response from TV advertising in decline? Are costs for PPC going up?

Point out that SEO is an investment with a long tail of return over time. Once you’ve achieved success with SEO, if you stop, good results will continue, slowly tailing off.

Stop PPC and other forms of marketing and the response stops dead.

The paper workaround

Always look for a workaround when what you want done is being blocked.

I once had a client that couldn’t authorize us to do some SEO work because my company was an SEO company and they already had an SEO company in the UK.

"Can we call it PR?", I asked.

"Yes we can", the client replied and promptly signed the contract.

No SEO budget? Raid another budget.

The technical workaround

Can’t get menus changed? Add blocks of unique copy to the lower part of the page. Within the text include links the pages you want to direct link power to (these links are better than menu links anyway).

Menus in Flash? Use ‘links in blocks of unique copy’ again.

Actually, most internal linking issues can be sorted with blocks of unique copy containing link text.

No CMS or prospect of getting one? Try a ‘bolt-on’ CMS like Copycopter or ask the developers to build one (it’s not a big job).

Manage expectations

From the start of any campaign to get SEO implemented, manage the expectations of all involved. Don’t be tempted to promise quick and easy riches.

Manage and monitor

You’ll have to say the same thing many times over to the same people.

You can save a lot of time by recording your work in a knowledge base.

Your knowledge base might be a private website, a collection of Google Docs or part of your project management (PM) software. Use whatever software your company uses. Or try Basecamp or my own favorite Teamwork PM.

Use your PM software to manage and monitor the work of the different parties implementing SEO.

Don’t expect others to use the PM software diligently. They won't. But you can and you can use it to send reminder emails that link to job briefs and any related jobs or background reading.

Get early results with quick wins

While there may be no quick easy riches there are usually some quick wins.

Find your site’s quick wins and focus on getting them implemented. You can use the results to get more budget and help.

Quick wins often include the following:

• Unique page title and description tags across the site.

• Identifying obvious target keyword niches to prioritize. The Keywords tool will help with this.

• Links from home page to key internal pages using target keywords as link text.

• Internal links across the site to key pages.

• Easy-to-get external links to key pages using relevant target keywords as link text.

Follow up, stay in contact with the key people.

Success in getting things done needs work to be continued.

Maintain the relationships you developed.

Personnel may change. Make sure you quickly get to know new people and they get to know what you’re doing and why.

Especially stay in contact with a driven entrepreneurial leader. One of their drivers is often a streak of paranoia. Any vacuum created by lack of contact will be filled with their fears. Example …

After a year working for a particular company, our SEO was delivering fantastic returns. SEO outperformed PPC and TV. The company expanded fast with new investment money and this meant the CEO became very busy and stressed.

Monthly face-to-face meetings stopped happening and we were happy to keep out of his way. All was going well so we thought this didn’t matter. How wrong we were.

Fueled by a false whisper from the in-house techie who could never quite contain his disdain for our existence, the CEO became convinced we were stealing his leads. We had to sue to get the money we were owed.

Report results

Last on our list of recommendations for getting things done is to report your results clearly.

Make sure that people know when things go well, and not so well (you’ll earn credibility for that).

I’m useless at reporting. I like getting things done and reporting bores me. The result is that great work and results often don’t even get noticed.

That’s why you should try to report everything on one page. Results like:

• Ranks on Google’s results pages
• Ecommerce conversion rates
• Popularity over time from Google Trends graphs
• Visitor numbers
• Market share %s
• Bounce rates
• Goal Conversion Rates

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