How to Discuss SEO with Beginners

Are you talking about SEO…but in the wrong way? Have you noticed that this topic creates a collaboration gap between digital marketers, creatives and other departments? If you’ve ever gotten blank stares or confused looks when you bring up SEO, you have some work to do. Help bridge the gap by talking more about the benefits — not tactics — of SEO.

SEO: The Departmental Divider?

Throughout my career, I’ve seen tensions around the topic of SEO between digital marketing teams and other departments. In fact, I believe SEO is a major point of contention and a huge divider between teams of creatives, PR professionals, product managers and digital marketers. Non-SEO specialists sneer that digital marketers focus too heavily on what search engines think and not enough on what people think; creatives want the freedom to build the most beautiful page and use the most affecting and on-brand headlines; and product managers decide on product names and descriptions based on a marketing strategy that will put them ahead of their competitors.

At a leading window and door manufacturer, for example, an SEO Specialist suggested changing product names and descriptors on the company’s website from “gliding window” to the more commonly used industry term “sliding window.” (Today, the term “sliding windows” boasts 3,600 monthly searches, whereas “gliding windows” has just 140.) From a purely SEO perspective, adjusting the terminology makes sense. From a product management perspective, however, abandoning the “gliding windows” term would be detrimental. It was a part of the brand name and had been associated with the product since 1971. Additionally, the term gliding means to move smoothly and continuously along, without effort or resistance, while sliding means to move along in continuous contact with a smooth or slippery surface. The company believed that “gliding” implied a better window and a better product experience, so for the SEO specialist, it was back to the drawing board to brainstorm alternatives.

The SEO game is full of stories like this one, examples in which compromises must be made. As a content strategist, I’m tasked with helping bridge the demands of each field to tie business needs with web deliverables that also meet audience needs.

Defining the Value of SEO

To be honest, digital marketers haven’t done a good job defining the true value of SEO. On top of that, I think if we had real conversations about what SEO really means to achieving business goals, it would help bridge that gap between our departments.

When we talk SEO, we often spend a lot of time focusing on the process or techniques to optimize a website or content, and limited time discussing benefits and value. We blab on about page speed and “crawlability” or “link juice,” which only makes other departments feel frustrated and confused, and possibly unwilling to have a conversation with us.

This is something I learned early in my career as an account manager at a local search agency. I was promoted internally from an implementation role to a sales role, which meant I had a deep knowledge of how to launch and optimize our clients’ campaigns for local search. What my manager taught me, though, was how to sell local search by talking about how the campaigns we were building would tie back to their business goals of reaching local audiences for each franchise. This was a much different conversation. This can be a hard transition for specialists and practitioners to make, and in fact, I am still learning years later how to perfect it.

Focus Your SEO-Related Discussions on People, Not Techniques

So how can we refocus the conversation among our cross-functional teams and improve the outcomes of our digital marketing projects? Start by centering the conversation around your combined goal of reaching people — your current and potential customers.

Last week, I was able to share my perspective on SEO’s value to our writing team at Brandpoint (you can view the presentation here). Sure, we focused a bit on techniques for writing for SEO, but I had a hunch that our team was coming into the conversation with scars from previous talks or articles on SEO, and I wanted to bridge the gap between their world and search engines. In order to tell a story, the writers start by defining who their audience is, determining the best tone to get their message across, and framing a clear takeaway at the end. Therefore, writers may feel a disconnect between writing for people and writing for SEO. But, if we focus the SEO conversation on people, there are clear similarities between SEO and a writer’s goals and processes. For example, from a search engine perspective, Google puts effort into understanding and anticipating a person’s search intent — what they really mean or hope to find when typing their search term — and whether a given article can meet those needs.

How to Start a Different Conversation About SEO

Consider these tips when switching the conversation from SEO tactics to benefits:

1. Focus on SEO’s value in building trust with your audience.

In your business, you may have 2-3 key competitors who offer similar products or services, but in the digital space, you have millions of web pages competing for the reader’s attention. With this in mind, explain how you will focus on whether the content, the page and the site as a whole create the best vision of the company, providing the most trustworthy experience. Just like the writer will use style and tone to adjust their message, and the designer will choose an image to create a strong emotional response, you bring value by making sure all of these elements come together in a web experience the user can trust. SEO’s role in building trust is to inform your target audience that you have relevant content that is compelling and useful.

2. Tie SEO back to a specific business goal.

SEO is not done for its own sake. SEO drives traffic to your site that will ultimately lead to sales. Similarly, sometimes it may feel like content is being made without a clear purpose. If you can tie that content back to a goal, and then suggest necessary changes to better meet that goal, you may have a better shot at using the information for SEO. For example, “This content is great! It meets the needs of <insert business goal>. What if we did <your suggestion to update copy/design/code> in order to better meet that goal?”

3. Determine when your content needs to be found during the buyer’s journey.

Great product managers, sales people and customer service teams speak with customers regularly, so if you are also speaking about your customers, you will be talking the same language. Help other teams understand that your page needs to be found at an opportune moment: when the searcher is looking for an answer to their question. Therefore, it’s important that you seize that opportunity when it arises by creating and optimizing your content around your customer’s purchasing journey — guiding them from awareness to transaction.

4. Create a process for each type of project and define clear owners for each step.

Every team member should know that their contribution to content creation is open to discussion. For example, if it’s the designer’s role to create a beautifully designed page, they should expect that an SEO specialist will determine whether the page achieves that goal. Remember that emotions are often on the line when creativity is involved, so the more up-front you can about setting expectations, the better.

When you talk about SEO to your colleagues or clients, they don’t want to know how to do SEO (that’s your job). Rather, they want to know why they should care and how it improves their role. For stronger collaboration between teams, we owe it to our colleagues to take another approach in discussing SEO.

As part of Brandpoint’s 20th Anniversary celebration, we’ve developed “Content Makers,” a four-part blog series giving you a behind-the-scenes look at our passionate team of content creators and strategists. 

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