When we talk about SEO, it’s easy to look at it as a series of tasks, optimisations, and technical changes to please Google. And while we can all agree on the importance of good SEO, it isn’t always top of the list when changes to a site. 

From time to time, it’s important to take a step back from the roadmaps and remember that SEO is about serving customers – not search engines. This might seem obvious, but it’s a reality that’s easy to lose sight of amid the day-to-day activities of a busy digital marketing team. 

If we take the fact that SEO is about getting the right content to customers when they need it, then good SEO can’t be just the remit of the natural search team. SEO should be the centrepiece of all on-site activity and needs to be at the heart of any company’s digital ambition. 

It’s by putting SEO at the heart of all site updates and changes, and making every team within the organisation a little bit SEO, that we begin to see improvements across the site. 

What does it mean to have SEO at the heart of an organisation?

This can be a difficult one to pin down because the detail will differ from brand to brand, just like team structures, targets and company focus. However, brands that do well here tend to share some distinct identifiable elements that contribute to having SEO at their heart. 

1 – The brand has a clear vision for SEO

A clear goal will help galvanise teams towards a common pursuit; driving effective change in an organisation requires all digital teams to pull in the right direction. Being clear with the teams from the start will help create a focused approach and help deliver the change which is needed. 

As mentioned above, putting SEO at the heart of the business isn’t just a job for the SEO team, but any team that can have an effect on the site. These teams will have their own priorities and stakeholders too, so being clear on what we’re trying to do, and why, is vital.

2 – All teams understand the importance of SEO

Getting a team to understand the goal, and showing them that it’s important to them, are two different things. Teams – who in the past may have had little to do with the SEO functions – need to be clear on just how powerful their actions are. Getting teams to buy into this may require multiple approaches: think case studies, on-site metrics, education. 

The buy-in of wider teams, who can understand that the work they’re doing is generating positive change for the site in a way that matters to them, will help to change colleagues into advocates.

3 – SEO thought-leaders are included in all site changes 

All changes to the site can affect performance, including everything from content optimisation to technical changes. But how often are the SEO leaders informed of a site change too late, or not at all? SEO should be included in conversations for any site changes, especially fundamental site changes, and this should be from the very beginning of any planned changes to get maximum benefit for the effort spent. 

We’re not saying to get the head of SEO in for a title change, but an appropriate plan and response to a change is needed. This could be an SEO advocate in the content team, for example. 

For every company, resources are limited, and no-one can afford to make changes that aren’t moving the needle, so make sure any change is going to work as hard for you as possible. 

4 – The brand has an integrated approach to SEO 

Developing the above point, this means giving the skills, tools and responsibility to the right people to allow them to make the best choices to drive the performance of the site. This in turn means empowering the content team to complete keyword research, or educating the taxonomy department on appropriate site structure. 

What this doesn’t mean is just sending them a cheat sheet and letting them get on with it. Rather, it’s about creating a nurturing environment where teams can learn and develop and see the ways that they make that positive change. 

5 – There is a continual review of the performance 

A good position for SEO is to be moving – always looking for improvements. With the challenges of a shrinking market, developments in technology, along with factors outside of anyone’s control like the current pandemic, large e-commerce sites are like a shark: stop moving and they risk death. 

We have seen over recent weeks the strain that established brands have felt on their sites, struggling or failing as the strain highlights their weaknesses in their current digital setup. That, alongside the emergence of newcomers to the market who are hungry and more agile, shows that e-commerce has more challenges – and opportunity – than ever before. 

To get the best out of digital all teams need to have an open and honest approach to improvements. Using a cross-team approach to improving website performance is a great way of making the step changes that are needed for an e-commerce site to survive. 

6 – The organisation is open and generous with education and knowledge-sharing. 

None of us are as smart as all of us. The best way to create advocates across a business is with education, finding ways to give teams buy-in to what we’re doing by sharing skills and giving responsibility. 

All of the above statements point to this as a cornerstone for any strategy to put SEO at the heart of an organisation. Without having your best people doing the jobs which make the most sense, and giving them the skills and tools to do so, you’ll be facing an uphill battle. 

What do you need to do?

After outlining the elements which count towards a brand having SEO at the heart of the organisation, it can be difficult to create a plan to get there. While the finer details of how the plan works will vary for each company, creating a structured approach is the best way to move forward.

Remember that putting SEO at the heart of an e-commerce brand isn’t all about the SEO team. A lot of the work will be with in-house and agency support, but you need to delve deeper than that. Other departments and teams will have their own priorities and stakeholders to deal with, not just the SEO work. And this means your in-house team and agency will need to extend their network outside of the immediate team rapidly, to win trust and authority with these teams to help you get things done. 

First and foremost, you need a structured approach. Getting to the position of having SEO at the heart of an organisation is not a simple process; it requires careful planning and buy-in across the organisation. Here’s what you need to focus on to create an effective plan:

1 – Data 

It’s crucial to have a solid understanding of the challenges at play. This includes external issues – such as where the organisation sits in the market and amongst competitors – but also internal challenges which aren’t always to clear. 

2 – Education 

As we’ve mentioned, changing the way that SEO is viewed in an organisation takes a lot. You need to win trust and inspire people who in the past haven’t had SEO as one of their priorities. 

3 – Support

Educating people on making smart decisions is great, but won’t remove the need for a dedicated SEO team and support. 

If the site stops looking for improvements, it risks losing traction, so having a resource to support daily hygiene and answer questions from across the business, and looping everything back into training, is vital to keep things moving in the right direction. 

4 – Expertise 

From time to time there will be a heavy lifting challenge – migrations or large site changes which are tricky and easy to get wrong. You’ll always need expert support to plan for and execute these changes, as well as a way to communicate with other teams. 

All these elements combined will help to build relationships across the organisation, with SEO at its heart. Relationships really are key to getting this right, and expecting good work alone to help develop this may not be enough. That’s why you should try – as a partnership between the agency and in-house SEO teams – to work on getting in front of key stakeholders as much as possible, and where appropriate working in a single sprint or scrum and have weekly or daily catch-ups. 

The output from this way of working is so valuable, creating a sustained level of success and giving a clear understanding of immediate and planned actions, while continuing to allow wider teams to understand how their work affects the performance of the site. All of this helps develop the buy-in we need to put SEO at the heart of the organisation. 

How can you make it happen?

A full picture is a must when it comes to creating a plan which works and solving a brand’s unique challenges – so the first step is getting your data straight.

Allowing for a period of time to obtain the right information will enable the in-house team, partners and wider teams to truly work in collaboration and create the right plan, while also developing the advocacy for SEO across the organisation. This is what’s going to drive the change you need. 

Prioritise these points: 

1 – Clarity 

Holding stakeholder sessions will give team leads an opportunity to communicate any challenges and obstacles they’re facing, which might not be immediately obvious. 

2 – Audits 

An SEO staple. A clear understanding of the immediate and potential issues on the site is vital, and a smart team will also use this time to get to grips with the competitive landscape and market share.

3 – Interviews

Spend time with the wider teams, SEO executives and content writers, as well as developers and planners. Finding out how they work, what friction exists between the teams, and understanding dependencies and redundancies, will allow you to get the right people doing the right thing. 

From here, you and your team will be able to develop a structured approach to SEO – a sensible roadmap and training plan. If a plan is attempted before getting this information together, you run the risk of missing something or making an error. 

What’s important is allowing your brand to get the right elements in place to create digital success. This may well require changes in approach or attitude within the digital teams, but if you can use your experience and bring in the expertise of agencies and partners, you can truly put SEO at the heart of your brand. 

Original article featured on New Digital Age.