I entered the world of SEO as an affiliate marketer working from the bedroom of my college apartment. Even as my career progressed, I still worked alone. But when I became an SEO consultant at Distilled, managing a project that might involve multiple people became an vital skill.
I’d like to share some tips on improving SEO project management, some things I’ve learned along the way, and also give you some insights into the way Distilled works.
#1 Project Management Is an SEO Skill
The success of an SEO campaign is not limited to your ability to execute SEO tactics. It’s often dictated by your ability to manage projects, people, clients, and external factors. As your strategies become more complex, learning how to manage a project is an invaluable skill. I believe skills as a project manager helps an SEO manage expectations, put out fires, and work to get buy-in on an idea.
#2 Define and Execute Goals
SEO strategies are complicated, but I believe Distilled has strong process for evaluating and executing a project. I’d break this process into five major components.
- Project Kickoff – This is the initial call with the client. Goals and expectations are discussed and often defined during this call, or in a follow up email.
- Monthly Scrum – At the beginning of each month, I meet with a project’s team. During this meeting, we discuss the last month, task completion is reviewed, the tasks for the next month are reviewed, and new tasks are delegated.
- Weekly Sprint – These are like mini-Scrums and happen on a weekly basis. These are quick meetings to review the last week, task completion, and set a new set of tasks for the upcoming week.
- Monthly Reports – At the start of each month, a report is sent to the client that covers the tasks executed in the prior month, the tasks planned for the next month, a stoplight color-coded outline of project milestones, and results to date.
- Line Manager Meetings – These are not so much “project” meetings, but personal meetings. However, I think these are integral to the way Distilled executes projects. Generally, I have full autonomy on my projects and the work I execute. These meetings are a chance for me to meet with Rob, discuss my personal progress, give input, set a monthly goal, and evaluate my previous goals.
This is an iterative process that allows a project to be adapted to changing demands. It would be nice to walk into a project with a complete and accurate set of requirements for a project, but that rarely ever happens. That piece of link bait may take longer to develop than anticipated, developers might not have the bandwidth to execute your recommendations in time, and many other internal distractions and agendas may be competing for your client’s time.
#3 Use the Right Tools for the Job
Having the the right tools to manage your project is important, but there is no need for a complicated system. These are tools we use at Distilled to manage projects.
- Toggl to track time.
- Google Docs to share documents.
- Dropbox to share files.
- Gmail and GTalk to communicate.
- Google Calendar to keep up with dates.
- Excel and Word for spreadsheets and reports.
We use a wide variety of cool SEO tools like SEOmoz, but nothing complicated for project management. Back in my hometown, Raven has built some cool internet marketing tools that can help you manage a lot of aspects of SEO projects. These guys are both working to raise the bar in SEO workflow management.
Get as close as you can to your client, because there are few problems that can’t be solved with better communication. You should work hard to build a relationship, even a friendship, with your client. This relationship could even save your ass. By building a relationship with your client, you’re able to better understand and manage your client’s expectations.
A weekly recap email can help a lot. Set expectations, eliminate surprises, and get input before it’s too late.
Pro Tip: Pick up the damn phone!
I’m as guilty of avoiding the phone as anyone else. I’m an SEO right? I work on the interwebs so I don’t have to talk to people. Wrong. The phone clears up things faster than almost anything except Skype and in-person communication.
#5 Be a Leader
As the lead SEO on a project, you’re accountable for the quality of work being produced. When projects get irksome, motivation to produce awesome may waver. It’s your job keep the level of win and awesome being produced high. This means reviewing work before it goes out and stepping up even in face of push back from clients, developers, and coworkers.
Something I took away from my time working with Hannah Paramore at Paramore|Redd, was a firm belief to respect the client. This means, no matter what, keep yourself in check on your attitude towards a client’s project. A project manager’s attitude is contagious and can affect the results of everyone involved.
#6 Client Happiness is Key
“There is only one boss-the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” -Sam Walton
As an SEO, my goals are to optimize, build links, improve rankings, drive traffic, and increase conversions to make more money for my client. However, this can sometimes be too idealistic for a project manager. As a project manager, my job is to make the client happy, while doing my best to achieve my idealistic SEO goals. This means sometimes I have to do things that aren’t optimal. I’d rather keep the client, mitigate potential negatives, and continue to educate them and push effective SEO tactics, than to lose the client to someone who’s going to harm their business.
#7 Know Your Tactics & Resources
Before you can come up with your tasks, you need to know the tactic required to meet project objectives and the resources you have available. SEO resources may include time, money, bandwidth, and talent.
This is where the SEO dictates the project. Paddy wrote a great post on planning link building strategies, which discusses how the goals and resources available play into the planning of an SEO strategy.
I also recommend checking out Lucy Langdon’s post on SEOmoz about project management for SEO.