DSC_0265 Zach Doty Cover Photo How to Win SEO Long Term

Winning Long Term SEO for Years

A few years ago, the average CMO tenure was 23 months. Yikes. That’s barely long enough to get acquainted and jamming with your staff. Happily, a recent indicates a CMO’s average tenure now sits at 45 months. It’s no secret that personnel and vendors come and go with the executive. For agencies and in-house digital marketers, burgeoning attention and spend in digital means unprecedented opportunity. Naturally, there is tremendous potential for fruitful, long term, agency-marketer-executive relationships. Yet success seems anything but simple, we can’t just ride off into the sunset. (Darn, I like Westerns.) Long term digital marketing engagements still seem precarious at best, especially for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The “quick wins” and short-sighted quarterly business environment is still firmly entrenched. With a bit of work and love, long-term client-marketer-executive relationships can be profitable foundations that bolster your agency or brand for the next 10 years.

Succinctly, winning SEO for years is a bit like a strong friendship. It’s not perfect, but an active exchange of trust and vulnerability makes something great. It’s not always “up and to the right”. Every friendship is different, but there are guiding principles and helpful tidbits all can apply.

1. Be a Good Wingman: No Paid Links, period. Just don’t do it. More profound material that follows, but an astounding number of folks still buy crappy links. The alleged 3 month benefit isn’t worth your 5 or 10+ year relationship. Consider the latency of SEO: bad backlinks bought today probably won’t help much this quarter. However, they could be indexed in 1-2+ years and derail your campaign at a crucial moment. Because you’re a star marketer, you may find yourself explaining this to other. Less enlightened (don’t tell them that!) colleagues, staff and supervisors need to know that optimizing for the user, not the search engine, brings the win home. Provide an enchanting user experience, and results will follow. Bonus: If you want to scope out your link situation, check out Link Detox or use a great SEO software platform to audit your link profile quality.

2. Be a master of reporting and storytelling. A common agency story runs like this, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: 3 months into an engagement, the client loves the work, everyone is excited! 6 months: communication tapers off and so does the work. At 7-8 months, an email arrives, “Can we get an audit of our billings and work?” Next month, “We’re not seeing the value…can we talk?”

Learning to communicate and report intelligently will help you avoid the account/campaign death spin and 9at least) double the life of your engagement. How you say and show success is the lifeblood of your agency’s (or brand’s marketing) future. In agencies, you’ll often hear, “We don’t have time to educate the client.” True, but you surely can’t afford to leave them in the dark. Build small bits of education into your reporting at each step. Your client (or executive) should be educated enough that they could dispose of you, but so satisfied that they’ll never want to.

Reporting over a long time horizon is tricky. Before you have a full year of data, seasonality can make your work look bad if you’re uninformed on market trends. (What if your 6 month evaluation is in a demand trough?) Furthermore, it’s not realistic to primarily report on the same metric month after month. (E.g, keyword rankings) The client or executive may deem organic traffic the determining KPI at your campaign start. However, fascination is fleeting. Revenue or return on investment will likely be your KPI in 12 months’ time.

Use a consistent mix of metrics to paint a rich picture of your phenomenal digital marketing campaign. When you forecast, it’s common to use upper and lower bounds (like economists and weathermen!) to ensure you don’t look like too big of an idiot in any case. Similarly, use “upside metrics” such as revenue generated from organic and ROAS/ROI and “downside metrics” like cost per acquisition and results decay analysis if your client or executive stopped working with you. Assuming sound communication, your reporting should become easier over time. When showing CMO’s and presidents year-over-year, 3, 5 year trends of their performance, we don’t have to do much selling.

3. Learn to live through redesigns. The shelf life of a website is (and should be, to a degree) these days. Blanket statements are a great way to get in trouble. However, many sites (looking at you, Fortune 500 companies) are on the cusp of major changes for mobile friendliness. If you’re around for more than a couple of years, you will see the client’s site go through a redesign. Ideally, you will start the redesign process small pieces at a time. When you present conversion improvement data, mash up clickstream analytics with heatmapping data for compelling improvements.

However, if you’re not regularly testing, you should start. If you approach a redesign without aforementioned experience, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • You must exercise discretion and attention to detail. Choose carefully which battles to fight. Web design & development projects are notorious for being past schedule, over budget and largely dissatisfying on the whole. Don’t be the unnecessary logo critic and save your clout for things that matter to SEO.
  • Here’s what you do need in a redesign: a seat at the table, the power to veto content, technical matters and the ability to test after completion. Conventional wisdom in design is at best, a starting point. Best practices will not transfer from one client to the next.
  • Here’s what you don’t need: Approval on typography, creative direction of promo tiles and so on. Did we mention you should pick your battles?

A redesign done well can bolster traffic, interest and conversions. A poor redesign can break a site, its rankings and the business behind it. Mind your technical details such as URL aliases, file extensions, redirects, robots files, sitemaps and more. Don’t know what I just rattled off? Send me a message, I’m happy to explain.

4. Visible Progress. Related to reporting, what tangible value can you demonstrate on a regular basis? Clients and executives often refer to digital marketing as “black box” and “murky”. Their perception is understandable. However, many facets of digital marketing are so precise and complex at scale that simple explanations are very difficult in quick meetings. What pieces of content or site changes can you point to? Given that digital is complex, your client or executive must have concrete, simple wins they can shop as their own.

5. Deep involvement in the client’s business. Don’t get left out in the cold. Many agencies suffer volatility because they enter late in the marketing game with a client. Brand managers suffer irrelevance by thinking small, too late. When a client or executive says sales or down, don’t nod and make a cursory note in your moleskin. Unleash a barrage of intelligent questions about their customer intelligence, acquisition, retention and sales process. Your ability to engage on a deep business level (down to P&L and EPS) will be a large determining factor in your long term success.

This is not an all-inclusive guide to winning SEO long term. However, it’s my hope that this will a jump off point for your team as it conquers its next digital marketing success.