Businesses opt not to implement SEO recommendations for a variety of common reasons: lack of understanding, limited resources, bureaucracy and more. While this stonewalling will unfortunately sound all too familiar to SEO practitioners, there are ways to tackle the issues head on that increase the likelihood your recommendations are put into effect.
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Fighting a Lack of Understanding
A lack of understanding pervades our industry about why SEO is important — and also how it actually works. If it’s not embedded into the given organization, or at the very least into its marketing department, the result is people won't know why or how they should implement your recommendations.
First, take on the issue of why they should implement your recommendations. Explain to them the financial and other benefits SEO can bring them, using case studies of projects you’ve done before, and (most importantly) what the competition is doing. If there’s one thing that’ll pique people’s interest and put them in action mode, it’s the thought of the competition surpassing them.
If you successfully grab their attention, they’ll ask you: “OK, so how do we do this?”
Tackling the issue of how they should implement is all about transferring knowledge. That’s done by providing resources, such as an SEO beginners’ guide, interesting experiments, and also through training. Put together an “SEO Basics” slide deck and start educating people. In doing so, you build up useful relationships and create valuable ambassadors.
Making the Most of Limited Resources
Even if your partner has sufficient understanding of SEO, if there aren’t enough resources to implement your recommendations, they will have been in vain.
In some cases, it may really just be there are very limited resources available in general. In that case, prepare yourself for a slow process. But what you often will encounter is this: there’s plenty of resources available within the organization, they just aren’t allocated to SEO (yet) because of a lack of understanding or buy-in from management.
In both cases, it’s important to start by implementing high-impact changes that require few resources. These changes are the “low-hanging fruit.” Implementing the low-hanging fruit shows the power of your recommendations, and will pave the way to getting the rest of them executed. These low-hanging fruit will form the foundation of the business case you can use to obtain more resources.
If even just implementing low-hanging fruit is a bridge too far at this stage, you need to back up and get buy-in from management using case studies and forecasts.
Getting Buy-In From Management
If there’s no buy-in from management, your recommendations will end up in a desk drawer and never see the light of day. The fact that management requested an SEO audit doesn’t necessarily mean it’s actually going to be implemented. Managers are only human. They may have requested it as a formality, or at the request of higher-ups.
Whatever the reason, addressing management on their terms will increase their understanding and buy-in. They don’t necessarily know a thing about canonical links and hreflang attributes. But they do speak return on investment (ROI) and revenue forecasts.
So to get buy-in, speak their language. Create a business case that details the ROI if they allocate X amount of resources. Based on your experience and your knowledge of the market their organization is in, you can and should make conservative forecasts of your SEO recommendations’ impact.
But if that’s not possible for whatever reason, show them the impact SEO can have by sharing case studies of similar situations, plus articles about SEO in general. One example of such as manager-friendly article is "How Content Marketers Rank SEO."
Once you’ve got buy-in from management, it becomes a lot easier to get the resources needed for implementing your recommendations.
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Turning Skeptics Into Believers
Perhaps the key people involved in your SEO project had bad experiences with SEO in the past. They’ve learned to be more careful, and that’s good. But sometimes they also lose all faith in SEO. People turn skeptical. And the “good guy” SEOs need to work twice as hard to earn back the trust in SEO that these people have lost.
Besides people’s past bad experiences, SEO includes an inherent uncertainty that not everyone understands and is able to deal with. Skeptics are often found among management and/or developers.
Even before you get to the stage where you need buy-in from management, you first need to lay the foundations for the buy-in conversations. How? By giving the skeptics correct and credible information about SEO that dispels the skepticism.
Share Google’s “How to hire an SEO” video, case studies, articles from Gartner, Harvard Business Review, and the like.
To get skeptical developers on board with your recommendations, you often need to persuade them with pragmatic and well-founded articles that back these recommendations up. Here you should aim for third-party articles and experiences from other developers on platforms like StackOverflow.
Unlike with managers, talking with developers about “canonical links,” etc., where relevant, won’t be a problem. In fact, it helps to have a bit of a technical background to create some common ground between you and the developers. That helps you speak their language and understand their position.
Navigating Your Way Through Bureaucratic Organizations
When dealing with bureaucratic organizations, it’s essential you understand their entire decision-making process upfront, so you can prepare all of the collateral beforehand.
Let’s take an example: you’re talking to a digital marketing manager who wants her employer’s website audited. She wants to work with you, but she needs to convince her higher-ups. There you need to help her with a forecast as to what they can expect when your recommendations are implemented.
After the audit has been approved, you get to work. You keep in mind that IT needs to implement your recommendations, and that the only thing they understand well about SEO is that it can sometimes be hard. Make sure your recommendations are actionable and backed up with solid resources.
Preventing a Fire-and-Forget Mentality
Often people think they’re “done” with SEO after the initial SEO recommendations have been implemented. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Implementing initial SEO recommendations merely marks the beginning of a website’s SEO adventures. Those recommendations are instead about making sure the platform is in good shape, so that everything done after that has maximum impact.
What are the follow-up actions, then? They could include anything from adding new Schema.org types that have been launched to writing new content and building links.
How do you make people see this? Do it by helping them understand that it takes time to rank well, and that you have to continuously monitor your SEO performance, keep your platform’s technical foundation in great shape, write great content, and gain authoritative, trustworthy links. And remember, an organization’s SEO evangelism needs to be spearheaded by its own SEOs.
SEO needs to be embedded in the organization. It’s not a feature you enable — the entire organization, or at least the marketing department, needs to live and breathe SEO.
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Don’t Let Your SEO Recommendations End Up in a Desk Drawer
As noted in my previous article, the most common SEO fail of all is the inability to get people to implement your SEO recommendations. SEO is about much more than a technical skill set. It’s about understanding people, organizations and politics, so that you can get your recommendations implemented.
Before starting an SEO project, make sure to do a feasibility analysis — one as to whether your recommendations will be implemented — so you can always decide to not move forward because it just wouldn’t make sense.
When you do move forward with an SEO project, and you’re hitting roadblocks, determine what the underlying issue is so you can address it appropriately.