SEO Strategy 101: Command and Control

In the first of a short series of posts, I’ll be looking at the nuts and bolts of the problems facing someone managing an SEO campaign.

The skills of SEO as a discipline are split among many different people. And the people actually interested in any given SEO campaign can represent a vast gothic array of  competing special interests. As the Oatmeal showed for designers, the bigger the cast of characters and ego issues, the harder it is to get from where you are to where you want to be.

SEO falls between many stools, and there are many people who would like to stick their oar in at any time. Establishing control over these competing forces is absolutely necessary to implement any successful strategy.

Here are the likely cast of characters and some of the things that motivate them. In future posts, we’ll look at how you can talk to each of these people and how to understand your way around the maze of conflicting opinions and loyalties.

  • Developers….
    …build the site, implement changes as asked of them and futz around in obscure programming languages for fun. No-one understands the mechanics of the site better than they. They can be your best friend to get things done.
  • Development managers and account managers…
    …oversee the work of developers and often are the first port of call when looking to make site changes. They can make things happen on the development front and offer their opinion as to why taking various courses might helpful/unhelpful.
  • Marketing managers…
    …generally exist in companies with an offline presence. Often their knowledge of the web – particularly in technical terms – is extremely limited, but they have great creative instincts.
  • SEO Agencies…
    …provide capacity and knowledge that often you can’t find in-house. Within an agency, there are a variety of specialist roles, although many SEOs will flirt with them all to various levels.
    • Account Managers…
      There to report back to you on the workings of the agency, be the first point of contact for issues around the campaign.
    • On-site Experts…
      The guys with a technical eye on your site  who should understand the structure of the site and how Google will see it, what shortcomings the site has and a bunch of ideas to remedy them.
    • Linkbuilders…
      …are out in the field building links to your site. Like, duh.
    • Strategists
      Most SEO companies have a ‘figurehead’ attached to them – normally either the founder or the public face in general. These guys do the ‘big picture’ stuff and are great pools of knowledge from their speaking gigs,
  • Designers…
    … are increasingly involved in the actual production of websites. No longer do they slice and dice photoshop files to hand over to their minions, but they are directly coding the front end of the site – which increasingly has an SEO impact
  • PR…
    …will be out and about pushing the value of your brand and your stories into the media. Oftentimes (although the situation is improving) they are hardcoded into offline channels and don’t/won’t interact with blogs and social media
  •  Stakeholders…
    …are people with direct interest in the site’s performance. This could be the owner of the business itself, advertisers, resellers or users.
  • Assorted busybodies…
    …are an inevitable fact of life. Just because someone was hired to make the tea doesn’t mean they won’t have an opinion on your SEO. That’s just life and in most jurisdictions murder is illegal.

How To Establish Control

Committees kill decisions. You only have to look at the way the Bank of England is dealing with one of its primary responsibilities – keeping inflation below 2% through the use of interest rates. Instead of vesting decision making in one person, a committee of experts talk shop every month and then vote to do nothing. Their record is awful, but what do you do when you’re faced with a committee? You can’t sack all of them and the lines of responsibility just aren’t clear enough to decide who to apportion credit and blame to: do you sack the people who keep voting against interest rate rises?

While they’re busy killing the economy and ruining people’s lives, you just have to run an effective campaign. Simples!

Rule one: avoid committee decisions

With SEO, many of the people with fingers in the pie will have opinions – many of them valuable. Your SEO agency might want to talk about conversion rates. Your designer might want to talk about image replacement for content. Even so, a proliferation of ideas is a surefire way to make sure nothing gets done and you just can’t have everyone running around waving their hands in the air competing for your airtime.

Rule two: establish who does what

A good SEO campaign means ensuring that everyone knows what they are responsible for and it is all coordinated in one place – and preferably through one person. That means:

  • In-house SEO Manager
    Sets strategies and targets and is ultimately responsible for how the site performs
  • Link builders
    Either in-house (unlikely) or external agencies whose sole responsibility is acquiring links according to the direction of the SEO manager in terms of anchor text, quality metrics, volume and budget
  • Content writers
    Tasked purely with producing content to the direction of the SEO manager
  • Developers/Development Agency
    • Make changes to the site for SEO purposes according to the direction of the SEO manager
    • Keep the SEO manager in the loop with all other changes to the site

Rule three: establish KPIs

It’s amazing how few SEO campaigns have even the most basic set of measures. Are we chasing traffic? Rankings? Sales through organic channels? A lot of campaigns descend into a kind of melange of all of the above. Often, this is because the SEO is so outsourced that agencies focus on whatever makes them look best: if the rankings are poor, then they might look at traffic overall. If both are poor, perhaps the conversion rates look good. All very logical to them, but distracting to the main goals.

Rule four: simple reporting

Discussion-point documents are entertaining to read and fun to argue about around a table. But in reality, clarity is the watchword. For the linkbuilders, a list of links bought is all that is necessary and not some running commentary about the shape of the market. For content writers, which articles were asked for and which were produced. For development work, either deliverable specs with a cost attached or a ticketing system should suffice.

The SEO manager can then look at these as separate entities and quantify and assess each one in isolation.

Summary

There’s a tonne more to be said about the intricacies of inter-agency dynamics and the kinds of personality drivers that make dealing with an SEO campaign such a frigging nightmare in many ways, but the overriding principles are – and must be – clarity of purpose.

So the next time the guy who designs your flyers phones you up to say he couldn’t find you on Google for [obscure keyphrase] and asks to share his ideas with you: put the phone down.

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