Getting SEO a Seat at the Table
- Take the Initiative and Improve Processes
- Create an Information-Sharing Environment
- Key Stakeholders to Build Relationships with for SEO
- Build SEO Criteria into Website Requirements
- How to Prioritize SEO in Small Companies with Minimal Budget
- Scaling SEO from Small Companies to Enterprises
- Content Quality Standards as a Proxy for Good SEO
- SEO Problems You Can Fix for Free
- How to Align SEO Standards Across Large Teams
Bill Hunt: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the latest episode of SEO, The Other Stuff. Today we're going to be talking about getting SEO a seat at the table. How do we get other people to play along with our madness and do some of the things we actually need them to do?
A couple of things we're going to talk about today is that getting a seat at the table, how do we be part of the bigger planning? Making SEO more relevant to the organization, and then how do we get and shared data between other people.
We actually have two great guests with us today. First up is Cindy Yerkie from Hewlett-Packard Enterprise. Cindy has been around for a while doing things. She's the global head of SEO there at HPE. Welcome, Cindy.
Cindy Yerkie: Thank you.
Bill Hunt: Okay, great. Also with us is Bill Scully. Bill Scully is the CEO of Digital Marketing Fuel. It's his own company. Bill, also like Cindy has been in the enterprise and has decided to share that wealth and knowledge with other size businesses. Bill, where are you coming from today?
Bill Scully: Just above Hartford, right between New York and Boston.
Bill Hunt: I know when I started in search, there was nothing. There was no real roadmap. We made it up as we went along. One of the things that we try to do is share like this with other people. Both of you come out of the enterprise. One of the things we have to do there is, try to scale things. The biggest way we can scale it is to get other people to do it.
You know, one of the things that I've often ranted about is that a good portion of what we do as SEOs is, you know, I've jokingly said—make sites that don't deserve to rank—rank. Really what it is, is fixing other people's broken workflow.
Recently I told a CMO when he asked me, "What's my job" (because I was there as a consultant): I said it's “eliminate the need for SEO”. You know, we don't mean literally remove it that you fire the SEOs of the agencies or anything, but that we integrate it into the process.
I want to circle back to Cindy because I think this is an area that you're very experienced with. I don't know how many people know but HP, Hewlett-Packard was Hewlett-Packard and then decided they wanted to be two companies, Hewlett-Packard and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise.
One kept all the cool toys and computers and things like that. The other one got pretty much everything else. That's the side Cindy sits on with servers and all kinds of consulting practices.
I think one of the big challenges for you, Cindy was... There was two. One was migration. As part of the migration, you had to stand up a separate site. It actually gave you a number of opportunities to integrate this.
The most recent, we'll circle back to the migration, but the e-commerce. You had to stand up a new e-commerce... they wanted a new system. They were going to basically change everything.
I remember you telling me that never in your history there had you really been part of any planning or process. Can you tell me about that? What you did, who you talked to, how you were able to get a seat at the table way before the first line of code was written to try to make this more effective.
Take the Initiative and Improve Processes
Cindy Yerkie: Back at the time we had an e-commerce platform but I didn't have anything really to do with it. I was running the marketing side of the business. I didn't really have insight into who was even doing e-commerce.
One day I just had this epiphany, okay, I want to do an audit on the e-commerce site and then go to them. I had been there and it was pretty crappy. I said, "Okay, let's do an audit and come up with some things and go to them and show them how they can do things better."
We took this to their management. They were like, "Oh, wow. We didn't realize that that's why we weren't getting natural search traffic." We continued to work with them and told them, "Hey, fix two or three things for us and see how this helps."
They did and all of a sudden they were getting indexed and they had traffic coming into the site. We went back and said, "Look, results are good. Do you want to continue? We've got all these other things you could fix. We'll help you with it."
They said, "Well, actually, we're going to go to a new platform." They would love it if we could be a part of that and work with that process. We kind of got there by being proactive and not reactive. We went there with just an idea to help someone and it turned out that they really did want our help and they were going to the platform.
We got a seat at the table where we could be there right from before day one. With that, they liked everything we were doing so much during the early stages that we were able to hire someone full-time to work on this. It was a pretty good deal.
Bill Hunt: Yeah. Well, what I think what was interesting is that you took the initiative. If you maybe come to them in a non-threatening manner, like you said, "Hey we found a couple of things. Can you fix this?" Then being part of the migration and the rebuild, I think, was pretty great.
Create an Information-Sharing Environment
One of the things, Bill, that you did when you were at Siemens, another very big company, is you created a digital center of excellence. Can you tell us what that is and why that's not just for big companies. What is the digital center of excellence? How did you get it started and how can other people use it?
Bill Scully: Sure. Siemens is a very progressive company. It's a global matrix, really complicated. I was running a digital marketing team including the web for one of their global divisions. Because of my passion, I had kept SEO and PPC for myself.
The US had two other global headquarters and a US headquarters. Between us, we had about a dozen digital marketers that would get together a couple times a year to share best practices. Which is really back then unheard of in big companies.
Then the German headquarters learned about this and our success and started to participate. It became apparent really quickly that we were all individually looking at tech decks, road maps, and marketing plans for the same customers, wasting time because we're each going through the vetting process and hitting the same customers. In some cases even, for PPC, we were basically raising bids because everybody was bidding on the same terms.
A few of us got together and we pitched to corporate to create a cross-functional team where about a half a dozen of us were contracted to spend 25 to 50% of our time as global subject matter experts.
Obviously I was I search, but our mission as we proposed it was to increase digital adoption while reducing cost. When we rolled up all the costs that we knew about and the money that we could save, it was easy for them to make that investment in this team.
That team became a center of expertise. Now they have a big corporate center of expertise that works out of Germany. I think that the real goal is to help build bonds within the company of people doing the same things, share best practices, and gain those advantages.
Bill Hunt: I think that's the key, isn't it? That sharing the information because I've been in meetings where the head of web development comes in and they have a laundry list of things to do and problems. Then you're there from an SEO perspective sometimes giving them even more things to worry about.
I think one of the points you made is sharing best practices. I think if we can teach them some of the things we have to do from an SEO perspective and they integrate it into their workflow, we can get some scale out of that.
Key Stakeholders to Build Relationships with for SEO
Who are some of the people you might bring to this? Let's say I'm not a Siemens or an HP but maybe I'm a, I don't know, five million dollar company, a little smaller. Who would I invite to the first meeting and who do I think could benefit from this type of relationship?
Bill Scully: For this type of group, it would be anyone who has an investment in the success of the company, I would say, that could impact either the work you're doing or you could impact the work they're doing.
The obvious would be sales management, marketing management, product managers. Those people could have input into your work. I think for a five million dollar company, you probably have a digital marketer or two. It's not your typical center of expertise but more of a group of people with a shared interest in the success of the company.
Bill Hunt: Right. A lot of times sales is there and they're doing their thing; they're not necessarily thinking about search. One thing that I find very successful is showing salespeople what people are looking for with site search.
Like Cindy did with going to the e-commerce team and saying, "Here are some things we've found," I think sharing keyword data with sales teams, with the marketing team, even talking to product managers.
You know, even a five-person company probably has somebody in charge of product and letting them see the way people look for their widgets is a great way to start. You know, sharing some of the reports that you can get out of SEMrush.
Build SEO Criteria into Website Requirements
I want to go back, we've got a couple of people that have posted: “When are you going to get to people with no money and no budgets and small teams?” If we took out HP from that equation, it's exactly the same.
They split the company. They had no website. They didn't even have the domain. They had to acquire the domain. It was the exact same thing as a startup.
Number one is: whoever is building this site for whatever size company: give them some basic requirements. If you have zero money and somebody is building you a website, the easiest way to eliminate or minimize the need to do SEO later is put SEO requirements into your acceptance checklist.
I came from two very large agency groups. We tried to sell SEO as part of every website that was built. Their view was let's build it and then we can sell them $100,000 worth of SEO after it’s built.
I think the small people, small sites, limited budgets, startups, is much of your SEO requirements as you can integrate into the specification for the new site and put in very specific acceptance criteria.
The more of those you put in as your upfront acceptance criteria, the more likely those things are going to make it into the build. They can't sign off on the final check for the website unless those are there.
That does pivot into the question I had for you, Bill. You know, you've worked with different size companies. The question we got from Peter was: “small companies, startups, people with limited or no money, what do you suggest they do?”
How to Prioritize SEO in Small Companies with Minimal Budget
How does the, maybe the part-time marketing person that's sort of been anointed the SEO... how do they get heard when there's no money to do any of these things? What are ways we can get that seat when there's no money to do a lot of these?”
Bill Scully: You know, I think large and small companies have the same issues. I think you can use the same approach for a lot of different things. Let me give you an example for large and then it almost answers the question for small.
When big companies put together plans, there might be a headcount. I'm using a specific example. There might be a headcount for one SEO. That person probably doesn't even have a budget. Their job is to increase organic.
There might be other people that write content or that person might also be responsible to create content. In a big company outside of marketing communications, no one has a KPI with an objective for search.
It's really important to approach individuals that can help you; speaking to them in their language. Figure out what can help or hurt their personal goals. That's the same for large and small.
The easiest people to approach, like you mentioned earlier; product managers, product marketing managers, salespeople. You might have a wealth of graphs and tables.
Really want you want to do is you want to find the leaders. You want to invite them to coffee. You want to find out what's important to them, how you can help them. Nobody has time to do more work. Don't ever approach them with how can they help you.
Have that meeting. Ask them what is it you do, what are you responsible for, how's it going. Don't leave that first meeting without having a list of competitors and a couple of the main keywords that support their objectives. Schedule a follow-up meeting within a week to present some competitive data after that.
It's important to keep the momentum because in large and small companies, priorities shift and once you're no longer on the radar, it's really hard to get back on that radar. You want to build the relationship before you start hammering them for keywords and budgets.
When you meet with them that second time, you want to create something that is valuable to them, that they can actually repurpose and share to their boss or their teams. I would suggest at minimum you create a single analysis for each competitor they gave and an analysis on the couple of keywords that they gave you.
Most big companies, the way you do this is a PowerPoint deck. I've had coffee with people where I basically print out the PowerPoint deck as I'm going through it with them. What you're doing is you're helping them, you're giving them information to provide that makes it look like they've done the work themselves.
You start to build this relationship. The goal is really to have an opportunity where they'll want to meet with you in the future. Over time, you can ask to be invited to their meetings. You know, I've been invited to executive meetings in big companies.
Bill Hunt: I think that's key. I think one thing, the help me help you type thing. I want to circle back to free and no budget. There's this idea that big companies have unlimited budgets.
When I was at IBM, I had no budget. The whole budget went to pay me. The biggest thing you can do for free is figure out who does these things that impact you. I think that's one thing SEOs don't do well.
We either don't want to share or... we like to tell people, "This is broken, go fix it." Sometimes we don't explain why it's broken or we don't do preventative maintenance.
Another thing that I see more and more people using is this idea of a missed opportunity matrix. That's what I used to use at IBM to say, "Look, there's X amount of searches for this. We're either here or not here."
I think the most powerful thing, like really page one of that deck that you said you show them over coffee, is here's the results page for a query of something we do. A, we're either not there and do you think we should? B, we're there but this is how we're represented. Those are, I think, very powerful ways for someone senior to say, "Hmm. That's not optimal. Let's find a way to fix this."
I think one of the big points from all this has been sharing a little bit of data. I think it all comes down to data. Building a simple matrix that says, "Look, if we lose all this equity and all this value and all this stuff," because remember as Bill said, not many people understand the gorpy details of SEO.
Scaling SEO from Small Companies to Enterprises
We've gone through the matrix of how do we take big company practices and apply them to the people with no budgets or smaller teams or no team. What are some things that we can take form that (small) size project and maybe adapt it on the enterprise side?
Bill Scully: Yeah, so there's tons and tons of great information locked up in people's computers. Especially when you're working with a small company, you'll find out they have 1% of the content on their website. They have 99% of the great content locked up in letters and white papers and things that never see the light of Google.
Those things surface themselves when you're having conversations with product managers. Find out from the product manager who's their best sales guy. Go to the sales guy, take both of their information and put together a plan.
Bill Hunt: I think along those lines, sometimes big companies have too much content. Or they've got that arrogant voice and maybe they're not nimble. Maybe we can look at, like you said, let's take some of this valuable content, that precious content that we've scraped together as the little guy. Maybe we can do that.
I think probably 50% of the SEOs now aren't SEO's but they're content managers or content creation people. Somebody posted recently on how the number of people with SEO in their title on LinkedIn had declined. The number of people that were content people went up.
Content Quality Standards as a Proxy for Good SEO
We're pumping out content. One of the things Cindy, I remember that you worked on, was some content quality standards. The most brilliant thing about this was, and what I've tried to tell people is, well, let's stop talking about SEO.
In your case, you looked out and said, "Look, we check a lot of things." We check trademarks, we check spellings. We checked links to privacy and all the rules that we have. We even have rules that we check around accessibility. There's a whole lot of checking going on.
How should SEOs think about checking stuff beyond SEO things? Then, two, if we're not able to afford tools, so going back to our no money, no budget type things... we need tools to do our job. What is a way for checking other stuff that we might be able to get SEO checks included.
Bill Scully: Well, I guess it's different in a small company versus a big company. In a small company, what I always try to do is I try to put them through training. Basic trainings; understanding Google SERPs, why they show the information they show. Try to get deeper into the intent.
Then start to get into the technical reasons as to how you rank. For small companies, it's basically just a .doc; it's a 15 point checklist of things that should take place. Usually what I would do is have them get ready to post it, send me a link. I will review it and then give them feedback and reasons why.
Bill Hunt: Cindy went around and found out that they were using about a half dozen tools. There was a tool that crawled the website to basically to collect URLs to put into their site search. There was a tool that took URLs, that looked at URLs to make sure that the HP trademark was listed on a page, that the right graphic for even the header graphic was correct.
You know, they were using all these different tools. What she did is she found one of the tools in there was to find, you could add checks to it. She simply said, "Well, let me write these in there."
They were able to check things like titles and headers. They were able to check things like now we can check schema. In addition to that, if I remember, one of the best things that she was able to get since now they were checking all these things and they were official standards, we didn't want them to be SEO things.
You come up with a web quality scorecard that...by removing all the SEO stigma, if you will, you were able to get your SEO things checked as part of that.
I think this is one of these, so going back to our free, cheap, we don't have any budget, it doesn't sound like other than any cost to add you to the tool and the time to do the education, this didn't cost you anything.
The nice thing about, again, this idea of a seat at the table is now the person creating the content is thinking about these things. A big missing piece for a lot of SEOs is that there are things that are already managed or mandated.
We've called this SEO judo or corporate judo where you use your corporate regulations to your advantage. It sounds like by getting these people to understand this, a good portion of what would have had to be fixed later is actually working after the fact.
I think that's good and it goes back to Bill, your point of creating some of these checklists, sharing them with people, giving them to the different people to say, "Hey, did you think about this? Did you think about these things?"
Bill Scully: We've also used gamification, which helps a lot. It makes things move easier, I think, and definitely raises awareness. Especially when there's competition.
We had done something similar but it was a manual process. We had so many old product pages on the site that were lacking information. We got management to agree that all the product pages needed to meet a certain standard. We actually created a contest out of it so it was by product and we made product teams.
We basically broke up the products into product teams and we gave an original score and a finishing score. Minimum requirements like you needed a case study, you needed to have a brochure, there had to have the features, it had to have the benefits, and you had to find areas on the site outside of your normal navigation to build links back to the page.
It was more about getting the work done. In the end, basically, we showed the additional traffic and conversions that were created. That created a great incentive for people to understand why it's important to have content and the types of content on it.
Then from there we actually went into an SEO contest for all the content writers. I picked out three pages that were on page two for each of the people that were responsible for that area. We actually had monetary gifts, we had like $50 credit card gift cards and things like that that we would give out on a weekly basis to the winners. Like I said, people that are competitive, they're competitive. Even if it works for 50% of the people, you get a lot done with a little bit of money.
SEO Problems You Can Fix for Free
Bill Hunt: A couple of questions we've got…”What can I do for free? What are the resources?” Well, setting up a meeting with someone and it costs basically a lunch. That type of thing can be relatively expensive.
I want to circle back to this idea of free. There are some things you could do. You can use Google Search Console which is free. I go to Google Search Console, I search for, sort by words that are ranking in the top five and not getting many clicks. That means that I'm ranking well but nobody is clicking.
If I look at the snippet it's usually crap. That's something I can identify and potentially fix for free. Another thing that's free, I think both Cindy and Bill you touched on, is education. Getting whoever is touching the web to learn about it.
Another simple one, somebody was asking about links. I think talking to your PR team, your external relation team, though you may not be big enough to have it but somebody is doing some sort of outreach. Getting them to link to you. Partners, we find a lot of times big companies, small, you're selling to somebody. That's partners.
Ask them to link to you. I think that that's far more valuable in many cases than guest blogging.
How to Align SEO Standards Across Large Teams
We just got a question here. I think it might actually be a great way to wrap this up today. It's how do you manage information sharing and SEO alignment across large teams, especially when different SEOs have different views on ranking factors?
That's an interesting one so we'll hear from both of you. What have you done to try to moderate between people that might have different views or have read different things?
Cindy Yerkie: Right so one of the things that we did at HP was to actually centralize the SEO team so that anybody that had their own ideas throughout the company, let's say a country manager had their own ideas of what SEO meant, they would have to come through us to get approval to do whatever it is that they were thinking.
We basically hold the keys to the kingdom of SEO at HP. We hold the rules and the regulations; we document these. We have standards in place. Anyone that wants to change those is welcome to come to us and talk to us and see if maybe we missed something, or something new changed that we hadn't quite gotten there yet. It helps to have collaboration amongst everyone.
We actually have a keyword list of every keyword that we have on the site, what page they belong to, and we roll this out to every person that does content on the site so that nobody is cannibalizing each other.
Avoid these, "I think it goes this way," "No, I think it," you know? Where does this keyword belong? That sort of thing.
Bill Hunt: It's like some people say title tags matter or H tags matter. I think testing those things and coming up with like you said, a collaboration between people.
Bill, I have a question for you. It's a two-part question that we've got. I know you've got a great answer on how do you sort out who's right or wrong about the SEO nuances.
This person has been working on a big site. They had a massive traffic drop. They were providing them both ranking data and a variety of data as part of their consulting contract. You know, the question is as a contractor or as a freelancer or as an SEO like yourself in an agency, how much can you give for free? Or how do you structure that?
You talked a lot about sharing here's what's broken, here's some data. How do you balance getting compensated for that if you're paying for different tools, et cetera? What do you give for free? How do you package it? How could someone package it, and what should business owners expect to get from you from a data standpoint within your price point or for free?
Bill Scully: Well, I always try to go with a retainer. As priorities shift, my work shifts. What do I give away for free? I only give away work that would help the person when they need help.
Like if there were no time left and there was something critical that they needed, I would probably do that work for free within that month, maybe slack off a little bit more the month after. You know, I always try to basically make the person that I'm working for successful.
Bill Hunt: Great. Yeah, so as much as necessary to make them successful and happy within the bounds of what you're being compensated to do. That takes us right to the top of the hour.
I want to thank both of the wonderful guests for an amazing discussion. With that, we'd like to say thanks to you guys for listening in.