Have you ever made SEO recommendations that just don’t go anywhere? Maybe you run into a lack of budget, or you can’t get buy-in from your boss or colleagues. Maybe your work just keeps getting de-prioritized in favor of other initiatives. Whatever the case, it’s important to set yourself up for success when it comes to the tangled web of red tape that’s part and parcel of most organizations.
In this helpful — and still relevant — Whiteboard Friday episode from autumn 2018, MozCon speaker Heather Physioc shares her tried-and-true methods for building yourself a toolkit that’ll help you tear through roadblocks to get your work implemented.
What up, Moz fans? This is Heather Physioc. I’m the Director of the Discoverability Group at VML, headquartered in Kansas City. So today we’re going to talk about how to build your red tape toolkit to overcome obstacles to getting your search work implemented. So do you ever feel like your recommendations are overlooked, ignored, forgotten, deprioritized, or otherwise just not getting implemented?
If so, you’re not alone. So I asked 140-plus of our industry colleagues the blockers that they run into and how they overcome them.
So if you’re in-house, you probably said that not enough budget and resources was your biggest problem. But on the agency side or individual practitioners, they said low understanding or knowledge of search on the client side was their biggest blocker.
So a lot of the time when we run into these blockers and it seems like nothing is getting done, we start to play the blame game. We start to complain that it’s the client who hung up the project or if the client had only listened or it’s something wrong with the client’s business.
But I don’t buy it. So we’re going to not do that. We’re going to build out our red tape toolkit. So here are some of the suggestions that came out of that survey.
First is to assess your client’s maturity. This could include their knowledge and capabilities for doing SEO, but also their organizational search program, the people, process, ability to plan, knowledge, capacity.
These are the problems that tend to stand in the way of getting our best work done. So I’m not going to go in-depth here because we’ve actually put out a full-length article on the Moz blog and another Whiteboard Friday. So if you need to pause, watch that and come back, no problem.
So the next thing to put in your toolkit is to speak your client’s language. I think a lot of times we’re guilty of talking to fellow SEOs instead of the CMOs and CEOs who buy into our work. So unless your client is a super technical mind or they have a strong search background, it’s in our best interests to lift up and stay at 30,000 feet. Let’s talk about things that they care about, and I promise you that is not canonicalization or SSL encryption and HTTPS.
They’re thinking about ROI and their customers and operational costs. Let’s translate and speak their language. Now this could also mean using analogies that they can relate to or visual examples and data visualizations that tell the story of search better than words ever could. Help them understand. Meet them in the middle.
Now let’s seek greater perspective. So what this means is SEO does not or should not operate in a silo. We’re one small piece of your client’s much larger marketing mix. They have to think about the big picture. A lot of times our clients aren’t just dedicated to SEO. They’re not even dedicated to just digital sometimes. A lot of times they have to think about how all the pieces fit together. So we need to have the humility to understand where search fits into that and ladder our SEO goals up to the brand goals, campaign goals, business and revenue goals. We also need to understand that every SEO project we recommend comes with a time and a cost associated with it.
Everything we recommend to a CMO is an opportunity cost as well for something else that they could be working on. So we need to show them where search fits into that and how to make those hard choices. Sometimes SEO doesn’t need to be the leader. Sometimes we’re the follower, and that’s okay.
The next tool in your toolkit is to get buy-in. So there are two kinds of buy-in you can get.
One is horizontal buy-in. So a lot of times search is dependent on other disciplines to get our work implemented. We need copywriters. We need developers. So the number-one complaint SEOs have is not being brought in early. That’s the same complaint all your teammates on development and copywriting and everywhere else have.
Respect the expertise and the value that they bring to this project and bring them to the table early. Let them weigh in on how this project can get done. Build mockups together. Put together a plan together. Estimate the level of effort together.
Which leads us to vertical buy-in. Vertical is up and down. When you do this horizontal buy-in first, you’re able to go to the client with a much smarter, better vetted recommendation. So a lot of times your day-to-day client isn’t the final decision maker. They have to sell this opportunity internally. So give them the tools and the voice that they need to do that by the really strong recommendation you put together with your peers and make it easy for them to take it up to their boss and their CMO and their CEO. Then you really increase the likelihood that you’re going to get that work done.
Next, build a bulletproof plan.
So the number-one recommendation that came out of this survey was case studies. Case studies are great. They talk about the challenge that you tried to overcome, the solution, how you actually tackled it, and the results you got out of that.
Clients love case studies. They show that you have the chops to do the work. They better explain the outcomes and the benefits of doing this kind of work, and you took the risk on that kind of project with someone else’s money first. So that’s going to reduce the perceived risk in the client’s mind and increase the likelihood that they’re going to do the work.
Another thing that helps here is building a really simple, clear plan so it’s stupid-easy for everybody who needs to be a part of it to know where they fit in and what they’re responsible for. So do the due diligence to put together a step-by-step plan and assign ownership to each step and put timelines to it so they know what pace they should be following.
Finally, forecast ROI. This is not optional. So a lot of times I think SEOs are hesitant to forecast the potential outcomes or ROI of a project because of the sheer volume of unknowns.
We live in a world of theory, and it’s very hard to commit to something that we can’t be certain about. But we have to give the client some sense of return. We have to know why we are recommending this project over others. There’s a wealth of resources out there to do that for even heavily caveated and conservative estimate, including case studies that others have published online.
Now sometimes forecasting the opportunity of ROI isn’t enough to light a fire for clients. Sometimes we need to show them the cost of inaction. I find that with clients the risk is not so much that they’re going to make the wrong move. It’s that they’ll make no move at all. So a lot of times we will visualize what that might look like. So we’ll show them this is the kind of growth we think that you can get if you invest and you follow this plan we put together.
Here’s what it will look like if you invest just a little to monitor and maintain, but you’re not aggressively investing in search. Oh, and here, dropping down and to the right, is what happens when you don’t invest at all. You stagnate and you get surpassed by your competitors. That can be really helpful for clients to contrast those different levels of investment and convince them to do the work that you’re recommending.
Next use headlines, taglines, and sound bites. What we recommend is really complicated to some clients. So let’s help translate that into simple, usable language that’s memorable so they can go repeat those lines to their colleagues and their bosses and get that work sold internally. We also need to help them prioritize.
So if you’re anything like me, you love it when the list of SEO action items is about a mile long. But when we dump that in their laps, it’s too much. They get overwhelmed and bombarded, and they tune out. So instead, you are the expert consultant. Use what you know about search and know about your client to help them prioritize the single most important thing that they should be focusing on.
Last in your toolkit, patience, persistence, and parallel paths. So getting this work done is a combination of communication, follow-up, patience, and persistence. While you’ve got your client working on this one big thing that you recommended, you can be building parallel paths, things that have fewer obstacles that you can own and run with.
They may not be as high impact as the one big thing, but you can start to get small wins that get your client excited and build momentum for more of the big stuff. But the number one thing out of all of the responses in the survey that our colleagues recommended to you is to stay strong. Have empathy and understanding for the hard decisions that your client has to make. But come with a strong, confident point of view on where to go next.
All right, gang, these are a lot of great tips to start your red tape toolkit and overcome obstacles to get your best search work done. Try these out. Let us know what you think. If you have other great ideas on how you overcome obstacles to get your best work done with clients, let us know down in the comments. Thank you so much for watching, and we’ll see you next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday.
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