Get more buy-in from stakeholders
Gus says: “My number one tip for SEO in 2023 is to actually spend more time getting buy-in from stakeholders when you’re executing your projects.”
Why is this so important?
“I think this is really important because there are so many directions you can take in SEO - and they’re not as clear as they would be with some other channels.
If you’re doing a commercial for TV, everyone understands what it is. They’ve seen a commercial, they get the idea, and they can picture what’s going to happen. If you’re working on PPC it’s also easier to say, ‘We’re going to spend this and we expect to make this amount of money or bring in this number of bookings’. People don’t really need to do to know the nitty-gritty to understand what’s going to happen in a project.
With SEO, however, you’re talking about what the algorithm thinks, or what people are doing. The outcome you’re going to get is not as clear and it’s much harder to make predictions and estimations.
If you don’t get buy-in from people before you start working on this project, it gets a lot harder to actually bring them along, going from start to end, in the way that you hope.”
What are some of the important job titles that SEOs need to start reaching out to and building relationships with?
“At Indeed, the people around me that I need to get buy-in from include someone that looks after content in the US and someone that looks after content internationally. We also have a team lead on the engineering side, we have a product manager, and we have someone else that manages the CMS.
In my case, I’m essentially looking for engineers, department heads, directors, and product managers. I tend to get as close as I can to the work they’re doing and the language they use so that I can see how we can actually work together.”
What kind of conversations do you have with people working in content?
“I try to understand the process that they use right now. When I started talking with them, I discovered that we had content writers on the team, and we also have career coaches that are writing. They’re quite specialised in what they’re doing, so the quality of content they produce is going to be at a much higher level. We also have some vendors that are part of this process.
As you start talking to people, you discover who’s involved and who’s doing what. In one of these conversations, I realised that someone I was talking to about some content we wanted to create was also managing our YouTube channel, so she does a lot of video content and written content. This person is not looking at keywords and rankings - she is thinking, ‘Am I helping job seekers?’ As you start talking with them, you will discover a lot more about the people that are involved.”
How does she measure that? Does she look at the audiences and analytics on YouTube to see who’s watching the videos?
“Certainly. She’s going to look into analytics and she’s looking at who is coming to the website. I can come up with a list of keywords, or a cluster, and say, ‘We need to cover those areas.’ That person is not going to say, ‘Well, we have the H1 and H2 and we’ll put those keywords in here.’ She’s trying to answer that question holistically, so there will be a lot of moments where there will be no keywords in mind.
That person is writing fully with the intent of helping someone who’s looking for a job or someone who wants to get better at their job. We can come back and do some SEO behind it and see if some other areas weren’t covered as part of this content, but a lot of this is not written with SEO in mind. Honestly, it’s a very good direction to go in these days. Google is a lot smarter at understanding content, context, what is being answered, etc.
It’s very interesting to have these conversations with different people, and you stumble upon different solutions that may already be happening - you just didn’t know about it.”
Should you be understanding their objectives, understanding what they’re trying to achieve, and then having an open conversation about how you can help them to achieve that, rather than speaking too much about technical SEO?
“Absolutely. You shouldn’t be making them feel bad about the fact that they haven’t incorporated keywords into their content. They’re doing a great job creating content that resonates with people. It’s about tweaking that, rather than completely changing what they’re trying to do.
It’s also about learning their thought process. I try to get to know people before I have a specific project with them in mind. I’ll give an example. The UX team was working on creating some more classifications for content. They wanted to release new types of pages to help users by classifying content that is only about a specific profession.
SEO had a similar project, before I joined, where we wanted to do something along those same lines. Some of the thoughts we had were a bit manual, and a different team came up with a way to automate a lot of this process.
They were not looking at which professions had a higher search volume on Google, or which professions would bring more people, but, holistically, do we have enough content related to all of these professions? Are job seekers at Indeed looking for these types of professions and do we have these jobs on the platform?
I would have loved to lead the project, but once I got to see what was on the table, it was clear that SEO wasn’t really the right owner for it. The thought process that was already put behind it by a different team was way more advanced than I would have thought. So, I just joined forces.
This is a very important part of getting buy-in on a lot of projects. Sometimes you can be the lead on something, but sometimes you can join something that is already in motion because someone else might own it or know it a lot better. Maybe you want to release an ‘estimated time to read’, a table of contents, or something else that has some SEO reason behind it, but SEO might not be the best place to actually start.
We can benefit from it, and we can give our input, but there are other people and other teams that will know the project a lot better. It’s about not having the ego - not thinking you should own something or that SEOs know best - but actually partnering with people that are already owning that project. They could be the ones that you would have to get buy-in from, but they have already done that hard work for you, perhaps for different reasons, and you’re just joining forces on something that is already in motion.”
When it comes to conversations with heads of product, are you trying to understand what’s coming down the line in terms of new products, then maybe consulting and assisting them with things like phraseology and targeting?
“That is absolutely right. You have to be smart in order to join forces on all of these projects. Some of them will be relevant to you, and some might not be as relevant. You need to measure what the impact is going to be, for your team and your product.
I join forces at every opportunity that I have. Another example is when we were doing some work on PageSpeed. There’s an engineer that is not part of my team, so I don’t talk with him very often, but I saw that there was a ticket with his name, and he was leading a project. So, I dropped him a message and he was available for chat, maybe half an hour later. In that half hour that we were on the call, we built a very strong relationship, because I had a lot of thoughts about things that were already in motion.
I could just support the project. There were some hints that maybe certain pages weren’t performing well - for reasons A, B, and C - and I could come back to him and say, ‘I believe that you’re right. I can get the arguments for you to prove that this is the right way to go.’ Equally, I might do the analysis and realise that it’s not.
The project was already there - it was already discussed in a different meeting with different people. I was just giving a little SEO touch, and I can claim all the benefits. The engineer will get credit for the project, but I can also say, ‘Look at all the results we’re getting on SEO because of this project.’”
In a COVID (or post-COVID) world, more people are working remotely. Is it more difficult to build relationships with people virtually?
“I thought it would be very hard, but it’s completely the opposite. Pre-COVID, you would start at an office, meet 20 people in a day, and you won’t remember their names or know exactly what they do.
It once happened to me that I got a job at an agency and the person that interviewed me and offered me the job was my boss, so I thought I knew who my boss was. After a couple of days, someone else came and talked to me as if he was my boss. He was very friendly, but he was planning for me and telling me what I should be doing. He never actually introduced himself to say that he was also managing the team alongside the person who interviewed me. Over time, I realised (doing some digging on documents) that both of those people led the team, and they had the same power over the team.
In a digital post-COVID world, or a remote world, you don’t have that. People introduce themselves to you one-on-one. Having those one-on-one conversations with everybody is really helpful. You get some time to meet the person and work on that connection. For me, it was much easier to build that over time.
Also, because a lot of people are remote, you don’t have too much friction. You don’t have to deal with being outside of a bubble, because everybody is kind of outside. For me, it is much easier to build connections, book calls with different people, introduce myself, and understand what they’re working on. Often I don’t really have a project to work on together, but I can picture that I might in the future. If this person already knows who I am, and I start suggesting things that I could do for them, it makes the initial connection much easier.”
How do you persuade someone to partner with you when they’re not that keen, to begin with?
“I actually had a situation like this not too long ago. I was talking with an engineer, and I wanted to do something that I thought was very simple, but he felt it was very complicated and we would need to rebuild a lot of things. It was almost a plain ‘no’.
I had already discussed this with different stakeholders and they were on board so, instead of just having the conversation again, the next time I came in with a spreadsheet. I wanted to show: ‘This is what’s happening. If we don’t do this, this is the problem that we’re having.’ A conversation that I thought would be very difficult turned out to be, ‘Okay, I get it now. I think I have a direction for it.’ As it turns out, there was an easy solution and we managed to put that into production in around two weeks.
I needed to come ready for that next conversation. Instead of just saying, ‘I talked with A, B, and C, and they’re all on board, so you have to find a solution.’ I came in with a spreadsheet and showed what wasn’t working if we kept it the way that it was. I could show exactly what was happening and the amount of money we were losing. Then the conversation was very different.
Sometimes it’s about changing the argument or preparing a little bit better for that conversation. In that case, we have recurrent meetings. Instead of coming in with a list of things, I can decide on just one to discuss. One thing might be very important, and I would rather get it done instead of talking about 10 things and maybe not getting to the really important ones.”
What shouldn’t SEOs be doing in 2023? What’s seductive in terms of time, but ultimately counterproductive?
“I think we shouldn’t believe too much in AI content. This is not just because of the helpful content update - which really scared everybody - and the conversations they had with SEOs that made it sound like it was going to be really big. It turns out that, up until now, it wasn’t.
I don’t think that AI is the way of the future. You might use it for some bits and pieces of your content, but I wouldn’t trust AI to run your websites. I don’t think you’re going to get good results. Regardless of Google being able to identify all of that, I think there is a much higher chance of things going wrong than things going right.”
Gus Pelogia is SEO Product Manager at Indeed, and you can find him over at @pelogia on Twitter.