Your biggest barrier to ranking well may be — your own company

I was in a meeting earlier this week that had nothing to do with search marketing. However, once they learned of my background in search marketing they started lobbing search questions. They went on to tell me they have hired a half-dozen agencies and consultants over the years and nothing has ever really gotten them the results they wanted.

Not sure if it was the inappropriate misuse of the situation or just frustration from years working with large companies but I sort of snapped and told them that it was most likely “them” and not the search consultants. They were obviously taken aback by may answer so I had to explain what I meant.

In my experience if you can get a half-dozen of the recommendations implemented from a site audit you are in luck. I believe iProspect conducted a study a few years ago and found that 87% of all recommendations are never implemented by the client.

I do have to say that my last real project – working on Adobe they implemented nearly all of them but that happens about as frequently as an eclipse.

It all starts out innocently enough with all sorts of excuses but the reality is the deck is stacked against the SEO from the start. My first project as an embedded search strategist for a health information portal I learned that if SEO fixes are not in the top 10 planned projects for the IT team it is not going to get implemented.

Everyone is an SEO Expert

You can’t throw a rock now and not hit someone who things hey have real SEO skills. You encounter them everywhere. If they are internal search talent, they are often threatened by the external SEO consultant who, in many cases, will try to make them look bad so they can look good to the client. Unfortunately, many internal SEO’s can experience a form of “Stockholm Syndrome” where they actually no longer fight the issues but simply agree and continue the rhetoric that things can’t be changed since they have tried hundreds of times already.

I worked with a large advertising agency where every site they made was as far from search friendly as you can get yet they tell you they know SEO and integrated it into the site. It was a great source of revenue for us at the time since we just needed to wait for the site to launch and about a month later swoop in and show the client that it was now invisible in the engines.

But we can’t change that…

The following is from a real conversation with a brand manager from a designer goods company:

Brand Manager: We are one of the worlds leading brands of designer handbags and we must rank well for this key phrase so we can show case our products against our key competitors. We are sick and tired of those affiliates and scammers welling knockoffs ranking higher than we are.

Search Expert: Great, since it is so important to rank well are you prepared to make the changes necessary to you site to get higher rankings?

Search Expert: If you want to rank for the phrase “handbags” you need to add it to your title tag and while you have it as a header now, that needs to be changed to text rather than an image.

Brand Manager: Hmmm… we can’t change the title since that is the way the CMS was developed and that title, we have our own special font and since people don’t have it on their computer we need to present it in an image so it renders correctly.

Search Expert: Are you certain the CMS won’t allow you to make that change? We have done it before on that same system. Also, can we get an exception to the unique font on the page for the header so we can make it text?

Brand Manager: We are not willing to make an exception since our image is very important to us.

In this case we did not work with them very long. In a focus group they did shortly after they learned that the font type had no impact on visitors and when asked none realized that the font was any different from other standard fonts on the web.

Integrating Change Management into SEO Programs

I think SEO has evolved to where it needs to be handled as a change management project and not your standard audit/optimization program. You need to really understand the organizational dynamics and personality of the wider team to understand “why” there is a problem min the first place.

SEO consultants need to develop an operational and organizational auditing process to understand the team and workflow dynamics which will make the process of integrating marketing and analytics functionality into the content creation workflow of the organization exponentially easier.

This process should start with interviewing all the key players to understand their role, perceived needs, barriers and next steps for improvement. The learnings are amazing. We should understand the web workflow and once understood and then mapped out, we could integrate marketing best practices into that workflow. For search it allows you to integrate and identify key quality assurance checklists at each of the development phases. This ensures that you don’t have to dig up the concrete and rebuild the site to make it search and analytics friendly.

Yes, you are barrier to success

Search consultants need to start getting tough with clients especially those who have been through a number of consultants before they got on board. In the situation I recently encountered I was not pitching search nor could I so I had no reason not to be brutally honest with them. Hearing what was recommended by the consultants and then their lame excuses for not making the changes were just that – lame excuses. If you want success you need to be willing to make the changes necessary.