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Voices of Search Episode 24: SEO Planning Goals and Alignment

Episode Overview

Listen now for the first episode of SEO Planning Strategy Month as Jordan and Ben take a deep dive into what you need to do to put together a cohesive and effective SEO strategy for 2019. In this episode we explore goal setting and driving for internal alignment.

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Episode Transcript

Ben:                 Welcome to planning strategy month on the voices of search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro, and today we’re going to deep dive into what you need to do to put together a cohesive and affected SEO strategy for 2019. But before we get started, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are a team of SEOs, content marketers and data scientists that help enterprises scale their business, monitor their online presence and make data driven decisions using a mix of software and our expertise. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary digital diagnostic consultation. A member of our Digital Strategies Group will advise you on how you can evaluate your historical performance, identify problem areas that are slowing your growth, and implement a foundation for sustainable success with your SEO and content marketing efforts. Just go to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic to get started.

Today we’re going to sit down with Jordan Koene, who is both a world renown SEO strategist and the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc and to talk about the three most important factors you need to nail to put together your effective SEO strategy for next year. Jordan, welcome back to the voices of search podcast.

Jordan:             Thanks Ben. Looking forward to diving in here.

Ben:                 So, we’re talking about what to do to get ready for next year. It’s the end of the year, it’s time for company planning, putting your strategy together, and I think that you’re uniquely qualified to talk about this because you’ve been an in-house SEO. You’ve been an outhouse SEO, you’ve-

Jordan:             Outhouse?

Ben:                 Outhouse, yeah. You’ve been in the outhouse.

Jordan:             I’ve been in the outhouse doing SEO. Yes, that has happened.

Ben:                 And the dog house, and you’ve seen some great companies put together their strategies and gone through their planning cycles with them. So you’ve had a lot of reps here. I’m really interested in hearing about what you think are the most important factors in putting together an effective and will planning strategy session. So offline we talked about the three pillars of putting your strategy together, figuring out what your macro plan is, your career development and the development of your team, and then putting together a content strategy and execution plan. Let’s talk about those one on one. Starting with the macro strategic planning. The process for connecting your company’s quantifiable vision and goals to your SEO initiatives. What are the ways to make sure that you’re in line with the overall company mission?

Jordan:             Absolutely. And you know, Ben, this is where it all starts. It all starts in SEOs in the various talented, search experts ability to connect the dots between what is that your company’s trying to achieve and how can SEO influenced that. If you want any executive in your company to resonate with your SEO plan, you have to be able to make that connection happen. And so ultimately, most companies DNAs are going to be focused on a few areas. One of them could be awareness or traffic. The other could be conversions or leads, other businesses have other objectives that may take precedent over those. But rarely that’s the case. Usually it falls in one of those two buckets, but the themes that connect to that are the ones that you want to really focus on and be able to deliver a core set of SEO initiatives. And that’s where things get really interesting.

If you understand what the overall company’s vision is and goals are, and then you’re able to connect that to specific SEO initiatives. You’ve really reached a key milestone in the planning process. And that’s what I would encourage all SEOs to do is ensure that those initiatives are tightly connected to the overall vision and goal of the company.

Ben:                 So I get what you’re saying is you have to be aligned with what the company’s overall goals are to make sure that your strategy is going to help achieve the overall milestones the company’s trying to reach. And in a perfect world there is documentation and alignment from up on high saying we are going after this objective. And the overall marketing strategy is very clear. What do you do in the odd case where your management isn’t very clear on what the objectives are? What happens when your leadership doesn’t provide you the documentation and direction that you need to align with their overall goals?

Jordan:             Well, I hate to say it, but I guess you might as well pack up your bags and leave. Not I’m just kidding, but this is not an uncommon status, right? This is something that happens at a lot of companies and in some cases it might not be the case that there’s just a pure lack of them, but sometimes the timing is off or sometimes there’s changes in leadership and that makes it very hard to have that clear vision and goals prioritized. All companies have DNA of wanting to achieve certain things so you can use your best assumptions and the reality is that in any of these strategic plans, you’re going to have to course correct throughout the year. The one big failure I see a lot of SEOs do is, they start the beginning of their planning process, determining what their top priorities are, and then only sticking to those top priorities the rest of the year.

That’s a recipe for disaster or conflict, one of the two. And the reality is that if you’re really truly managing the expectations of your search plan, you’re also throughout the course of the year, making adjustments and pivots to how the business is changing. And it can happen. I know the client of ours right now where at the beginning of the engagement and relationship started off exclusively focused on one thing and one thing only and that was traffic. We are in a three year slippery slope, decline in traffic, figure out a way to change it, figure out a way to get that traffic up and nine months into the thing, the whole conversation switch to can we figure out conversion, can we start getting higher conversions on the site and it’s okay if traffic’s slips a bit, but can we at least make sure that the visitors who are coming are high converters. And you can do that. You can create a search strategy for both of those things. They just are very different.

Ben:                 I think it’s always good to have distant milestones to shoot for and hopefully directionally you’re heading in the right direction the whole time. But I think when you’re putting your strategy together, it makes sense. What Jordan is saying here is that you have to be flexible and sometimes the tides of the sea are going to change direction and you have to be able to be flexible. And I think that in my experience, just as a general marketer, when there are times when there isn’t a clear objective being passed down from on high, what matters the most is your ability to communicate with your executive team to say we don’t necessarily have something to align to because the company goals haven’t been expressly stated.

So we’re going to try to delve to go in this direction, understanding that we might have to pivot and just having that clear line of communication if there’s not an objective that you’re trying to achieve to align with the overall company goals, just clearly state what your objectives are. So at least your leadership team knows why you’re trying to accomplish something that might not be aligned with the goals they set down the road.

Jordan:             One of the really important things that we pride ourselves on at Searchmetrics is setting initiatives. And usually it can vary depending on the organization, but it can be anywhere between 3 and 7 initiatives, big top line initiatives. And then from there, breaking those down into very specific tasks or projects. Depending on the organization, we’ve even gone down to the detail of epic level and sometimes even ticket level and in creating that granularity behind each one of these initiatives to showcase exactly the work that needs to be done and the impact that that work can have on the organization. And this exercise, again, it starts at the initiative level and works its way down to that very specific unit of work.

And that helps people visualize and understand the complexity and depth in the relationships and the interconnectedness that search has in the organization. And in creating that visual for your management leadership team can be a significant step forward in your ability to get your plan approved, resourced and ultimately executed on.

Ben:                 So you bring up a good point where in theory, let’s hope that you know you have a macro goal that you’re able to distill down into, like you said, the ticket level into the actual execution plan. The next pillar that we talked about in terms of putting together an effective strategy for planning for a year is thinking about not only your personal career development, but also the development of your team. How do you align the development of your company’s success with your career goals, with your team’s career goals?

Jordan:             So, one of the important components here is understanding that your initiatives will require a set of talent in a set of skillsets to ensure that they’re delivered upon throughout the organization. And so let me give you a quick example. You might have a big initiative around say content development. Say you’re an e-commerce shop, you really want to start to increase your traffic. And one of the ways you believe you can do that is through the production of say, guides or editorial content. And so, in order for that initiative to take flight, you’re going to need a content rich background search expert and someone who can coordinate, communicate, collaborate with the stakeholders and departments that are producing this content for you.

And those are the types of connections between your plan and the personnel you need that you want to identify and you may have that talent already, you may need to go to the market and find that talent, but that is one of the most important next steps once your plan is finalized, refine, revised and your ability to connect those resources will really have the most dramatic impact on the success of your search strategy because ultimately, it comes down to people being able to execute these things. And I’ve seen the most elaborate detailed plans in the world fall flat because the talent behind them would never implement a single task that was on that list.

And I think that’s one of the biggest crimes behind many of these SEO plans, is that the resource planning component is often overlooked partly because I think A SEOs have a tendency of saying, hey, we’ll just figure it out. We can solve this on our own and not really resourcing themselves and their teams in an effective way. And B, I think a lot of companies also make that same mistake saying, oh, there’s just this SEO guy who’s going to figure it out, who’s sitting in some dark room all by himself or herself, and again, that’s a really big mistake and if you’re finding yourself in that place as an SEO, your most important task is to educate the organization about type of resources needed to make the plan successful.

Ben:                 I think at the end of the day, it’s people that are executing against your strategic plan and understanding what resources you have from a people’s perspective, what their strengths are, trying to get people who can work well together, but also, giving them projects and work that allows them to have some sense of ownership of some sort of project. And then also understanding how their achievements aligned with the overall goals of the team and of the company is explicitly important, right?

You need a great writer, you need a great technical SEO, you need a great whatever it is. Make sure that they understand what is expected of them. And then make sure that they understand how they’re being evaluated and make sure that they understand the impact that their work is going to have on the overall team and company strategy. To me that is the core and I’m sure that there’s as a much broader topic of team management, setting expectations, making sure people that have ownership over their work and making sure that their tasks are clearly defined. That’s the way to get your team aligned and focused and motivated.

Jordan:             Absolutely. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Ben:                 Okay, great. Let’s talk a little bit about the nuts and bolts of actually doing SEO. When you’re putting together your content strategy and your execution plan. How do you figure out what you’re going to do and how you’re going to get done with the resources that you have?

Jordan:             This is I think one of the more exhilarating parts of the journey, because as you start to identify and understand what your initiatives are, you plan in terms of resourcing them appropriately from your SEO team side, then you come to the realization that there is dependencies and partners that ultimately make this a success. And those dependencies and partners can vary depending on the organization and the company. They range everything from, I need the right analytics resources or I need analytics resources on my team to measure and predict and to understand the performance to, we have a 5000 person engineering team and there are certain engineering pods and units that I need to collaborate with and work with in order to get these tasks completed and shipped. To, we use a third party who manages our website and I need to make sure that I secure budget to fund and resource that tech talent so that we can make the improvements critical to the infrastructure that we want to change and improve.

These scenarios vary depending on the organization and the execution plan first starts with the awareness of what kind of talent, resources and collaboration is required in order to make your plan successful. And that is, I think, one of the biggest misnomers that a lot of SEOs, especially new SEOs who are just starting in an organization, they totally overlook that. They just expect by default that engineering teams are going to get what they say done because they said it needs to be done. That’s never how it works because all those teams and all those resources they have plans to and they’re prioritizing their own efforts. So you need to have that conversation in advance to ensure that you’re securing the right amount of time, the right amount of budget, the right amount of resources from those partners and counterparts to execute on the SEO plan.

And it’s a difficult balancing act between, what are the things that my team and my SEO resources can deliver and fulfill versus what are the elements that I need my partners to deliver and fulfill on. I did spend a lot of time talking about a technical teams there and I’m sorry I went into that, that rant I think it’s the one that often creates the most friction, but the same rules apply to content teams, editorial teams for the big media publishers or any content publishers out there.

Ben:                 Yeah. Pro tip, get your strategy done first. If your able to know what you’re trying to achieve and you can communicate that to your cross functional partners while they’re putting their strategy together, you have a higher likelihood of them blocking off the resources you need to execute against your strategy, then if you ask them at the end once their planning cycle is already baked. So, hopefully we’re getting to you early enough while you’re putting your strategy together, but the faster you can move putting your strategy together and communicating it to the rest of your team, the more likely you are to be able to have them block off the resources you need. Back me up here.

Jordan:             That’s exactly right. Timing has a lot to do with this. And for some of the folks that are listening to this right now, they might be saying, hey, I’m behind the curve or I’m ahead of the curve. The reality is that your ability to go in and push that plan is absolutely the foundation of your ability to be a search leader and to lead your team and organization down a path that’s actually going to execute on a search strategy.

Ben:                 At the end of the day. Whether you’re putting together your strategic plan, whether you’re talking to the people on your team about what your expectations are for them, or if you’re talking to your cross functional partners about how you’re going to execute against your goals, communicating with the other people in your organization early and often, and being able to clearly articulate what you’re trying to accomplish is going to do nothing but help you. And here’s what we want to do to support you in your SEO planning strategy.

We’re going to actually talk to people in each one of the three pillars that we mentioned. We’re going to bring on an executive that manages a SEO team, which is very strategic to his business to try to understand what he is looking for, to understand an SEO strategy. We’re going to talk to an SEO manager that has a large team so he can talk about how he figures out what the career development and what the resources he has and how he aligns his team, and then we’re going to talk to somebody that produces an incredible amount of content so you can understand how high functioning large volume content production teams are [inaudible] that this will serve as a template for you to put together your SEO planning strategy before the beginning of 2019.

So that wraps up this episode of the voices of search podcasts. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, the Chief SEO Strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can find a link to his bio in our show notes or you can reach out to him on Twitter. His handle is @Jtkoene.

If you have general marketing questions or if you want to talk about this podcast, if you’re interested in being a guest on the show, you can find my contact information in our show notes, or you can tweet me @Benjshap. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, or to gain competitive insights head over to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic for your complimentary advisory session with our Digital Strategies Group.

And if you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app. Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast and you’re feeling generous, would be honored for you to leave us a review in the iTunes store or review this in your podcast. Okay, that’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.