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Getting your Boss to Appreciate SEO

English

Transcript

Introduction

Bill Hunt: Hello everyone, and welcome to this first episode of a series of webinars where we're going to talk about some things other than the technical details of search. With me today is David Dalka who is the CEO and change advisor at Fearless Revival. 

David Dalka: Hi, Bill. Thanks for having me on. It's a pleasure to be with you and the folks at SEMrush.

Bill Hunt: We were talking recently about the sort of Hertz fiasco, and that led to a couple of different discussions. From that, we just simply said why is search underappreciated? How does a big company not ensure that search was part of their RFP and part of the QA process, and all that? 

Why don't the salespeople understand that search is a key driver, that people actually have a need, a want, a problem, and go to Google to try to find it? Why do you think we have such a challenge with getting salespeople or our boss to understand what we do and why we do it, and how they can help us?

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Why Search is Misunderstood

David Dalka: Let's just go back to people's basic training and the other disciplines of the company. If you're a salesperson, very often the training is very minimal and you just get on that desk, and you dial for dollars. 

Your knowledge of marketing is going to be very low, and then there are other departments across the company where people have traditional business training, where they haven't been exposed to any of the stuff.

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Bill, you always talk about; it's one of the things you talk about how freshly minted graduates in marketing don't know anything about search. These people don't see what's really possible because they don't really understand the issues. 

Even those basic things, I mean, we still see the studies that most people don't know the difference between an organic result and a paid result. We still see the issues were people don't understand that there are cash flow implications.

One client I once went in and radically changed their marketing mix, I got them… They were addicted to this SEM, paid search. Due to a change in their industry, they were forced to turn that off with 30 days notice.

They came back and I said, “We need to diversify. At least until people are going to search.” We had to manage this 3,000-page website to SEO mandates for the first time. At the same time, every single other person in the industry had to do the same thing. It was kind of like a public SEO contest across industry with 25 websites.

You saw some of the people that do build the black hat links to the few keywords, and then you saw people that were looking for some of the more mainstream monetizable keywords. 

And then we learned about how some of the people who were some of the SEOs working on that, and some of the sites that never moved the needle are some of the most famous SEOs. 

And then six months later, we had this thing where the cash flow… The CFO came up to the President and said, “The cash flow is now up and our margin is 600 basis points better.” 

Sometimes you and I both walk into companies right now where they're sometimes addicted to the false paradigm of ROI, so much that they don't see the bigger picture, which is a risk, right?

Bill Hunt: Right.

David Dalka: What's the risk that this website isn't being seen for a customer that's searching on the internet right now while Bill and I are talking? That's the problem with web analytics; they’re built to a branding paradigm. 

What you really want to know is who are all the people that were searching for my product or a product like mine yesterday who never found us? That's what the valuable SEO is going to help you figure out. 

That's not about pressing a button like you said. It's not about the technology, it's about how do we get there, where do we go with it, and how do we make those things work?

The cool thing about that was that massive cash flow and margin change; that was a complete accident. It wasn't our mandate. Our mandate was to keep the company in business.

But what it shows you is when you do the right things, and you do them with urgency, good things happen. The challenge there is most SEOs; the people above them don't have urgency because they don't understand what they do. 

Getting the Boss on Board with SEO

I think the first thing that we can do to help people out there think about this is just do the simple thing. Go invite some people that aren't in your group out and say, “Hey, I'd like to understand what you know about us, and what you do,” and ask them questions about what they do, and what they're concerned about in your spheres of influence.

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Don't do it in a big meeting with 15 people because people will be afraid to ask the questions, right? You've seen that, Bill. You go through a two-hour presentation, everybody says great, and then you meet some guy in the hallway and he's like, “I didn't understand that thing at the five-minute point you said. I didn't catch anything else you said.” 

Bill Hunt: I want to mention that “boss” is a relative term because I see sometimes somebody is part of a marketing mix, part of a digital agency and they don't know what the SEO does. 

That could be a VP of digital in your company. It could be a client that doesn't understand in the case that David was explaining. But you mentioned one person, and I don't think a lot of search people especially SEOs ever think about, and that's the CFO.

Explaining the Value of SEO to Your CFO

I wrote an article about a year and a half ago about “have you ever talked to your CFO about mitigating the risk of SEO?” What's interesting is I found the last time I looked there were about 120 companies that actually had a Google risk statement in their financial report. 

They were actually saying that if Google were to materially change their process and we lost the free traffic, the organic traffic we were getting, we'd have to pay for that traffic. I think that's an interesting thing that I've never heard any other SEOs talk about. The question I posed was when was the last time you talked to your CFO or your controller?

This is obviously if you're a publicly-traded company. Talk to them about that. I think another thing that we can do is look at the cost of not ranking. The CFO, they care about money.

If we can show them that there are words that we’re buying. We're just simply saying there's words we buy. For whatever reason we're buying them and that if we could rank for them, we could offset that cost. If we could get one click on a $40 CPC word to come in for free that's $40 we saved.

I think one of the people that can drive this is the people who control the purse strings beyond marketing. Because marketing is going to say, “Hey, pay for that traffic all day long. We've accounted for it.” 

What can we as SEOs do with the financial side of the business to improve things?

Translating SEO to Business

David Dalka: I think we go back to that basic thing you talked about a few minutes ago which is who do you talk to and why. You need to understand their roles. I think it starts with that informal conversation just invite the person and say. “I want to have coffee. I want to have lunch,” and so on. 

Don't get in all these technical mumbo-jumbo. Don't talk about Matt Cutts. Don't talk about cats. Don't talk about any of this stuff. Talk about what they care about in their language, and then go back and say, “You know what, I want to think about that, and think about how what I do can I help you with your goals.” 

Then make another appointment with that person again, one-on-one. Don't do it in a big meeting because then there will be people jumping all over you or different things around there. 

But don't limit it to just the CFO; look at other departments that care about risk. Your legal department cares about risk. Your head of operations cares about risk. 

It's it brings up one of the really big questions, Bill, why does the boss not understand your SEO team? I think we talked about one of the reasons which is they don't have any classical training in it. They've never had it translated for them. 

That's a lot of what I spend time doing, how do you translate this to pure business conversations so that they understand it? Because they can't understand the value and put resources to it and price it right if they don't understand what the value is. 

What is the Right Business Department for SEO?

Bill Hunt: Well, I would think… You touched on two or three things that we actually have in the presentation. Number one is are you in the wrong department? SEO is typically relegated to the DevOps team, the IT team where hopefully we think through osmosis.

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I've yet to find anybody on the dev side that's ever had any formal SEO pieces integrated into anything they've done. Take for example redirects. There are six ways to take an old page and move it to a new page. Only one of them really works well for search. But developers learn whatever is the path of least resistance.

I think one of the challenges we see is that SEO is often in the wrong place. Do they belong in marketing because we view it as a marketing function? Do they belong in tech because it's the technical stuff? Are they in advertising because that's where your SEM is?

I think one of the things that's been going on forever in search and it will circle back to the wrong department is that idea that we over complicate things.

To your point that if you're talking to the VP of advertising about how you could complement what they're doing in other forms of marketing by talking about algorithms, and backlinks, and all this stuff like that, you're going to lose them. 

If we can simplify that for people, and talk to the right people about how that works, I think you're exactly right, that's going to improve how we fit in the organization better.

A lot of times somebody will hire an agency or one of the big consulting companies to build them a website with the very premise that they're going to be able to bolt on SEO and fix it later. 

I think that's sort of circling back to where our bosses don't understand things. And your point about classical marketing and classical web development is that it's fascinating how many people don't integrate this into the process. 

How do we get a blend of that where they truly understand what we do, and what we contribute to the organization?

David Dalka: Yeah. This one viewer said nowadays most of the marketing departments are completely underrated. We are looked as simple designers, IT guys, or in my case, hey, the guy that can run the page. 

I think we should be treated not like heroes, which sometimes we are, but an independent pillar of the company with a high grade of responsibility. Which gets us back to this basic issue, which is SEO won't succeed if your culture is not focused outward on the customer.

If you're focused inward on a bunch of financial statements, and what can you do 24 hours from now, and why is this other thing better, and ROI number is the only thing that matters. You're never going to get there. 

But then this gets back to the whole wrong department thing because you can't have the right skills or budgets, or the interest in the activities if you don't have the right person managing these things.

Plugging the SEO Knowledge Gap at Companies

Bill Hunt: Right.

I'm going to try to tie it into an experience that I had. I sold my agency to a big agency, and then as you mentioned got disillusioned by that we were being relegated to project work, and because they didn't understand where we fit into the food chain. 

When I left, I had to meet with one of our biggest clients, and I had a room, the CEO, and a bunch of other senior executives. As I was telling him I was leaving, and that they were going to be in great hands, a couple of them said, “I have no idea what you were doing for us. We know you were here talking about search, but I've never seen any reports.”

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These were all like senior vice presidents, and it was probably one of the biggest epiphanies of my career, but also a kick in the gut. Here I am leaving the agency the next day essentially, and hearing that our biggest client had no clue what we did for them.

One of the things the recommendations that I give people is let's simplify this performance. I'm assuming if we're in mid-sized companies where there are two or three levels between us, create some simple videos or share factoids. 

It was interesting hearing from the team once I left that as they went to meetings after that, they were hearing from people say, “Hey, we started doing the little three to five-minute video. We put in three things that work, three things that didn't, and three things we're going to try.

They started parroting these back, “Hey, did you hear we got a 20% increase in traffic? Or did you hear we're ranking for this term? Or do you hear that well, nobody actually searches for this.” 

I think this reporting, a lot of SEOs try to report or do reporting by the pound. We build out these massive ninety tab spreadsheets. When I was at IBM, we took 17 days, 17 actual work days a month doing nothing but reports for where our massive 150-page presentation came down to one stat in the master presentation. We just started saying, “Why do we do this?” and it's because everybody has to do it.

I think if we can tease out some things to show what did we do, and...how do we predict or how do we show what we've achieved? Beyond this traffic went up, and it's not a seasonal increase, but what are some of the ways that we can predict or forecast to senior executives what this SEO stuff is doing.

Understand the Customer for Better SEO 

David Dalka: It goes back to that issue about the customer. Who's your customer? How many of them are out there? What's the market size? What percentage of that are we getting right now? There are all these things that have to be considered to then be able to judge the SEO because if you don't answer any of those questions, you just dive in, you're not going to be where you need to be. 

If I say, “Bill, write down all the queries you did four weeks ago today,” unless you're buying a house or car that day, you're not going to remember. If we can't internalize how we're using that to substructure our thinking, how can we expect to extrapolate that to others?

Bill Hunt: I've helped three or four companies in the past month try to find new SEO people. I think we only get two or three people in each one of these that actually had any real SEO experience; all the SEOs that were applying were all content people. 

What they were doing is they were HubSpot certified, or that's what their claim was that their SEO skill was producing lots of content or maybe getting backlinks to lots of content.

This was an interesting question we posed to them. “If a set of words were not performing well, what would you suggest we do?” In every single case, it was like “produce more content.” And it's like, but we have pages for these. It was very hard for these people to articulate let's figure out why these aren't performing. 

I think it comes back to your question or your statement that we don't often understand the customer. 

One of the projects I did I had a guy come to me and said, “We're spending like 8 million dollars, and we get this new service called branch transformation management. And I need to be ranking well for it because we got all this media money behind it.

So I said I can get you ranking for that probably by Tuesday or Wednesday. He's like “awesome”. Then a couple of weeks later he comes in, he goes, “I know you got me ranking. Thanks for that, but we don't get any traffic.” Of course, because nobody knows what that (branch transformation management) means. 

When we architected that content to match what the searcher wanted, and then the light bulb went off for him. It's like, “Oh, we come out with a buzzword, we spent a million dollars telling people about the buzzword, but people still remember this other stuff.”

I think a lot of times the SEOs themselves are in the wrong position. Not to insult all the SEOs out there, but if you were an SEO in a midsize company, and you've now got to talk to senior executives, and you could have been an amazing SEO on small mom-and-pop websites. I think Jessica Bowman made this comment once that her first enterprise job less than 5% of her day was actually spent on actual SEO stuff.

The other 95% of her day was educating people, increasing awareness, doing reporting. I think if people aren't prepared for that, they may not be able to succeed. Any suggestions to people on how to sort cool your jets a little bit, come in, get the lay of the land, and then sort of drop the big 900-page report on them of what they should fix?

David Dalka: For every one thing you do in that big company situation there might be nine things that are being broken in some other place in the company the moment you're doing that. Your website might be redesigned to look great on an iPad and they destroy 15 years worth of perfect SEO from some of the greatest people around. 

It's crazy, but it happens, and it's around those things. I think people, again, they really have to understand the other people, and not force the SEO on them, but say what are your needs and problems, and then show them how in business terms, how search can help that. “I need more traffic. I need more revenue. I need to lower my costs.”

Whatever their gripe is, figure out how does what I do in search map to that. 

I mean, if you're in an oligopolistic industry with a couple of things, you might get that keyword ranking next Tuesday. If you sell t-shirts online, and for sports teams, you're not going to rank number one for the New York Yankees next week Tuesday with a new website. It's not going to happen.

There's no one really asking the customer strategy question. If you really look at the history of marketing, this era of branding, being the top of everything is an aberration from history. It started in 1965 when TV was created and people needed to explain the spend, the effects of all that. 

But if you read all the books before that, it just said business strategy, customer strategy and copywriting. Those were the three things. That was it. There was nothing else.

I mean, those things still matter now. People don't know their business strategy, they don't know who their customer is, and they're writing terrible copy. It's how do you look at that, and then how do you align that with other actions? 

Using Annual Reports to Persuade Bosses About Search

Bill Hunt: There's a couple of things in there that I want to unpack a little bit. Number one you're talking about the different sizes, and that leads to one of the things we had in the presentation is what is the expectation? I think that that varies based on the type of company you're in.

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Number one is if you're working for the owner, they want to see dollars. They want to see leads coming in. They care less about traffic and where does that traffic convert. 

The last part is the person, making sure the person can articulate what you contribute to those goals. A very interesting track tactic I've always used with bigger companies and any kind of public company; I go read the annual report.

I can't tell you how many times I've come into a meeting, and the annual report said we're going to do X, Y, and Z. We want to increase market share by 20% in this category, we want to reach these markets. 

I'll come in. I'll get the big dog-and-pony from the existing agency or the internal team. “But wait. The annual report says you want to focus on this area or go after these markets, but yet I don't see any SEO being done in those markets. I don't see any paid in those markets. I don't see any keywords being focused on related to this product category.” 

I think that's a big thing that any SEO can do that's trying to get some awareness is actually go back and look and see what your company's plan was.

David Dalka: Everybody defines this as ROI, but really isn't it more about the effectiveness and the risk of achieving those things versus not achieving them.

Bill Hunt: Right. We got about 15 minutes left. I want to touch on a couple of questions that we got. Brandon, you asked about which one of the redirects work best. It's a 301 redirect. 

Now, we could have a whole webinar about the pros and cons of 302s, and JavaScript, and all that nonsense, but why confuse people? Zero second meta refreshes are the go-to for many web developers because why? They can drop that in a page, and it's done and dusted. 

Those are one of the things in a lot of systems default to 302, but to answer the question directly, it's typically a 301 that works the best.

SEOs and Artificial Intelligence

Bill Hunt: All right. The next one is an interesting one, David. I want your take on this is that I'm going to read this verbatim, “What is the role of AI and SEOs? AI has become an essential part of companies in all sectors regardless of size.”

David Dalka: And the answer is it depends.

Bill Hunt: Right.

David Dalka: Because a lot of AI that I see out there is noise and hype. AI is not a new concept. That's the first thing people have to remember. It's not new in 2019. It's been around for 30 years in various forms. 

It's going to be the same problem who should own that because right now the technologist owns it, and if they don't know what they need to do with it for a business purpose, it's going to be like SEO all over again, but it's probably going to be worse because it doesn't have any direct line to any business area. 

It actually could be more security because you could turn that thing on, and if it makes the wrong decisions nobody knows what the heck's happening. I think it's way too early to depend on AI is that's going to solve all your SEO problems is where I would go. Do you agree, Bill?

Bill Hunt: I agree. We hear a lot of this that Google is using it, so it's really putting a wrench in SEO. I think it's putting a wrench in SEO because there's a lot of crap that ranks that shouldn't rank.

If I had to unpack where I think AI is being applied, and it's simply the way we've always thought about it is somebody did a query; when they did that query what did they mean? If I'm looking for pizza restaurants, now Google already knows my location, so we're able to deduce that it's in Hartford, Connecticut or in Chicago, Illinois. If I did it on a mobile phone, does that change anything?

David Dalka: Right.

Bill Hunt: I think this is where it's being applied to say if I did a simple query without any context of those other things, device or location or that, what should I present to people? I think you nailed it with the idea that it could be potentially wrong. That's where I think Google's using it. There's no way to really counter that if you will or optimize for that.

I want to come back to one more question that was asked, and one of the things that said investing in SEO can be a threat to the client’s revenue stream if anything changed in Google's algorithm.

Yuri, this is what we were mentioning early on with these Google warning statements that public companies have been issuing lately. They essentially say QVC has them and pretty much anybody that's an e-retailer that's public has the statement that says if Google really changes to bring the traffic we were getting for free, we're going to have to pay for it. 

Obviously, we can use the cost per click as a lever for what I call cost of not ranking. If we're not ranking today we're already paying for it. What would be the negative impact? 

And that was David's recommendation of having a conversation with the financial side of the business to tell them, to give them a prep, “Hey, this could be the potential business impact. Traffic loss, but to replicate the traffic it's going to be this many visits times this average cost-per-click. 

David Dalka: I think a lot of CFOs if they're really seeing the trends of what's happening, just being somebody that creates reports. It's just like SEOs. Just creating the report isn't what's valuable, it's about what you can think about, how you can add value, and what you can change.

Closing Thoughts

Bill Hunt: We've still got about three to five minutes left. What can somebody do today to go get their boss, whoever that may be to better appreciate them?

David Dalka: There's your direct boss which has short-term things, and then there are these people outside of the thing. I think, start today. Take a blank piece of paper and say, “Who are the five most interesting open-minded people in this company that I know?” And start with them because those are the safest, right? 

You don't have to cold-call the CFO and say, “I want to have lunch,” you can start with one of the analysts on the guy's team, or the gal's team, and go from there. I think it's just about identifying the people that are open-minded, and I think it's around that.

Bill Hunt: Okay. We did get one last minute question. Any suggestion if SEO has been increasing organic traffic in revenue, but that is being overshadowed by search revenue losses. 

I think the thing we see now is because Google is getting pretty heavy-handed with paid... I'm a big fan of paid. I think actually paid is one of the most strategic laser-focused tools available to marketers. And that's coming from a primarily SEO person.

Bill Hunt: But Google now with their AI is actually rewriting your crappy ads into better ads that may be more targeted toward conversion. I'm seeing cases where a paid ad that was crappy before is now stealing people from organic because it is more tuned toward the conversion. That could be one of the things.

Now, if you start talking about search revenue losses, we may need to look at how we're attributing that. One thing that I've been doing is trying to show traffic to pages and revenue to pages.

If we can break down that revenue, and we can see the traffic increased or decreased from organic search, we can still take our share of the revenue from that. 

We see that paid has become easier for a lot of people especially now that the organic results are dropping down.

David Dalka: Google your company's name, and if you got a paid ad for it, you got a direct opening to talk to anybody in finance about that. If you're the only paid ad, and you have the organic results right there, you're just burning cash flow. There's no reason to do that.

Bill Hunt: Great. Thanks, David, for being with us. A lot of great insight.

What we want to do at our next webinar is that we want to sort of extend this concept a little bit further. We're going to have some folks on to talk about how do we get a seat at the table. 

So now that we've got our bosses are loving us, they appreciate what we do, how do we get the rest of the organization to appreciate us? 

All levels

Check out other webinars from this series