SEO Management in 10 Words – Part 2
With a growing number of companies in the market for SEO services, growing and improving the SEO team is a priority for many digital marketing agencies. Whilst there are a huge number of resources published every day on how to be a better SEO, how to run a successful SEO team is a topic which gets covered fairly infrequently by the SEO community.
At my agency, we believe that 10 words can be used to describe a successful search culture which should instigate lasting growth and success. Part 1 of this article covered off the first 5 words: Opinion, Curiosity, Innovate, Understand and Proactive. Today I’m back to finish the job and share some more ideas for turning these words into action within your team.
Many people within SEO are keen to stand up and talk about their experiences and their ideas on what makes for successful engagements with clients. Heck, I’m doing it right now! However, not everyone shares this passion for sharing. Providing a forum for people in your team to share their opinions and experiences is a great way to develop team member’s confidence. This needn’t be complicated:
- Start an email thread on an issue you think other members of your team will have an opinion on.
- Provide an online system like Basecamp or Chatter as a place for people to post links, documents or thoughts.
- Have a rotating slot in your team meeting each week for a team member to present on a project they have worked on.
- Ask members of the team who you feel could share more often to write a case study based on a recent client success.
Another reason for encouraging sharing is that it will benefit your own career in the long run. As the manager of a search team, you probably aren’t spending as much time ‘at the coal-face’ as your subordinates are. Unfortunately, it gets harder and harder to focus on actual SEO as your team grows, and without a culture of sharing knowledge you can find yourself left behind when it comes to discussion of niche topics like anchor text diversity in a post-penguin world. Do yourself a favour and get your team to help you understand what it’s like on the ground.
A culture which values sharing enables your team to learn faster, increase their confidence and provides you with lots of ammunition to use in the new business arena.
It’s worthwhile to spend some time every so often focusing on the question “why should people use my search team?” To answer this question well, you have to understand what makes your team different. I’m not saying you need to be different to every other agency and search team on the planet, but you certainly need to be able to stand out as the team to use when weighed up against the most likely alternatives.
A good starting place is to say “why should clients / colleagues use my team instead of doing this work themselves?” Hopefully you will be able to find several good answers! Think about efficiencies that can be achieved through your level of experience.
One way to make it easier to understand and communicate why you’re different is through the regular production of case studies. Whenever a new tactic is trialed, the results and methodology should be written up into an easily-digestible format. Once you’ve built up a few of these it becomes much easier to demonstrate that you really add value when it comes to search in a way the competition might not be able to do.
Recently, we’ve been cleaning up a new client’s link portfolio by contacting site owners who have given our client site-wide links and asking them to take them down. With over 10,000 sites receiving link penalty notices, it seems like a good time to differentiate our agency as one that has direct experience of helping people react to these warnings.
It’s also important to differentiate yourself as a leader. Whilst most of your team will point to their wages as the key factor in whether they stay with you or not, the reality is that if you’re a good boss they are more likely to stick around and produce great work. If there are things about your manager that make you annoyed or demotivated, it’s important to put as much effort as possible into never repeating that experience for those who are in your team. Little things like this all add up to more loyalty within your team.
With such a wealth of information available on the web about SEO, it’s easy for you or your team members to feel intimidated about developing your own methodologies and new SEO services. However, it’s important to remember that your way of doing things could be your greatest strength. Ideas and approaches to problems that aren’t what your clients expect could be the very things that clinch your next new business deal.
8. Client Service
Duh! Bit of a no-brainer here. If you don’t provide a great service to the client then you’re going to struggle to retain business and get referrals.
This is a well-covered topic so I’m going to be brief! It’s my belief that good client service boils down to making the client’s life easy; never give them something they are not expecting, and never give them something they couldn’t explain to their boss. For instance, before you deliver a piece of work, they should know what to expect and made time to discuss it with you. Don’t deliver a report one week, then the same report again a month later in a completely different format with no explanation. Avoid creating new KPIs if you have already settled on some previously.
At all times make sure your team put themselves in the mind of the client. I find that when a member of staff is frustrated with a client decision, its best to try and show them how things look from the client’s point of view; even if that means arguing for something you know will be to the detriment of SEO. Slowly but surely you will help them train themselves to think of the client’s agenda rather than their own. This new way of thinking should help them move their projects forward in a way that maximises the chances of success with the client.
If you can get your staff to think like a client would instead of focusing on their own priorities, you will be on the way to having a fantastic client services team.
In part 1 I discussed how important it is to really understand the client’s needs, and one universal desire all clients share is to impress their employers. Delivering real insight is a sure-fire way to do this. As a search team it is imperative that you are not just delivering information, but that you are delivering it in a way which helps your client to understand both cause and effect.
One place a lack of insight manifests itself is regular search reports. There is a huge difference between a report and an insight, yet all too often search agencies simply deliver reports and leave the client to work out why change has occurred.
For weekly or monthly search reports to deliver value, your team must seek to explain the most important trends using further data and relate it back to the activity within the search engagement. Of course, I am not advising that every data point be explained exhaustively, but it is crucial that your team explains the direct correlation between real world decisions and performance. This is insight.
Account managers should be encouraged to get better at insight generation. Challenge them to deliver a useful data-driven insight per week, which can be turned into an actionable item for the client or the rest of your SEO team. I believe that some areas deserve a priority focus; indexation of main landing pages, content relevancy, conversion rate and goal funnels are all good places to start as you can closely easily show the direct impact of change upon results.
Focusing your team on arming the client with real insights is a great long-term strategy to improve retention, as you are challenging them to help their clients look good. Insights are the spark that lead to real change within search, relentlessly pursuing them is a key factor in long term success.
10. Cross-Channel Expertise
So it’s not exactly one word, but ‘expertise’ was too obvious! Independent search agencies are quite rightly keen to demonstrate their mastery and knowledge of search as a marketing channel, but it is a rare client that focuses on search alone. If you want your team to work with big name brands then you will need to understand more about the wider marketing mix and the place of search within it.
If you can, try to arrange sessions where your team can meet and work with media planners, buyers, and people working on communication strategy.
I have a fair bit of experience of this and when you put these two groups (SEO and media) in a room then good ideas tend to be generated. For the guys working in paid media (note: this is not paid search) an SEO can deliver loads of new information about customers and what they want, and for the SEO, a media planner can often provide an insight into what the client’s real strategy is; where their brand is going, who’s driving this at a CMO level and how it will affect the website.
Similarly, having a PPC-literate SEO team will open up new opportunities for your team. There comes a point in an SEO engagement where it is possible to make much bigger performance gains through optimisation of both paid and natural together than through incremental improvements in just one channel.
Often, the quickest way to make a client respect and appreciate your input is to outline exactly where you feel they could be better served by a channel that isn’t SEO or paid search.
It lets them know you can appreciate the bigger picture they are faced with. If your entire client management team can replicate this level of understanding you should enjoy a higher client retention rate and be able to deliver much greater levels of RoI. It can also open the doorway to projects outside of search around cross-channel attribution, marketing comms planning and big data analysis. Hello new revenue streams!
In these two articles I’ve tried to describe the attributes that can help you lead your search team to success. Hopefully you agree with me that a great working culture is necessary for building a successful search team.
At the core of this ten point plan lies a fairly simple truth: focus on the thoughts of others. Be it your clients or employees, as the leader of a search team you have to understand these motivations to make these people happy. If you can instill this idea in your team members as well you will be well on the way to building a better team.
I am sure there are many other factors that could make up a great search culture (I’d love to hear what you think makes for a winning team and how you encourage it where you work) but the most important thing is to keep ask yourself each day “what can I do to make my vision of our culture a reality?”
You need to put in place frameworks and working practices that allow the culture to develop. Culture should not be a list of words on a board, but something you can see happening everyday amongst the people that work for you.