How to Bake SEO into the Marketing Cake: Integration as a Recipe for Excellence

Last year the SEO community talked about the importance of integrating SEO with marketing. Particularly enlightening was Search Engine Watch’s “The New SEO," which discussed the importance of integration, particularly with PR and social. Working with clients, I have seen that the integration of channels is absolutely critical to excellence in marketing, and to achieving the goals of most businesses--getting more traffic, conversions and revenue. I think this is an often neglected area in SEO: we talk about lots of technical things, and those are important and exciting, but it's crucial that we are also able to do work that is actually impactful, both for our own sense of accomplishment and for the success of our company. SEO needs to be nestled into the entire organization’s operations for it to provide the most impact.  

Image Source: Search Engine Watch

But I'm not sure this fully captures integration. Truly integrated SEO seems more like sugar in an iced cake--it should be in the cake, and in the icing, and maybe, just maybe!, sprinkled on top. But you mostly don't see the sugar itself when you look at the cake. It isn't a distinct ingredient, but rather baked in.

Image Source: Blogspot

Our very own Craig Bradford used the metaphor of a soccer team to discuss how to make decisions about channels, if you prefer a less delicious (but perhaps more healthy) example. But his premise is spot on--whether you think of it as a soccer team or a baked good, the end goal of winning (or tasting absolutely delicious) requires that each of the team members/ingredients work together and play their part.

But you know all of this to be true. If you're in house, though, how do you actually make it happen in an environment where, as Stephanie Chang (another Distiller) explains, only 8-10% of companies think search contributes to marketing success?! These are not particularly favorable conditions.

(Side note: Stephanie's piece has some fantastic examples of campaigns that showcase fabulous integration work between PR & SEOs, offline marketing and PPC/Branding/Content. Definitely worth a read).

While we all have to accept the things we cannot change, I'd like to offer some specific actions and simple approaches toward integration with other departments--particularly as an in-house SEO, where changes come much less swiftly than for those of us not in-house. If you're a CMO, you can just come in and make changes, but if you're a bit siloed into a role with "SEO" in the title, integration may be more challenging.

Baking is a Process: Be Patient, and Don't Give Up

Change is always hard, and we're at a place now where the pain isn't so great that it is pushing companies to change the way they think about SEO quickly and/or drastically. Some of them are getting there, but it's slow, and restructuring in companies is nearly always a long and difficult process. This is especially true with SEO because SEO has often been one of the more accountable forms of media. We can often ascertain more or less what our impact is.

While that may be surprising for those of us in SEO, just think about marketing more generally: advertising is all about estimating the number of viewers. Think about not being able to link those viewers back to how many people walked into your store because of them, let alone how many people actually purchased (nor how much they purchased!) because of that particular advertisement. But we have been able to measure, rather directly, how an increase in ranking impacts traffic and revenue to our sites. However, that may not exactly be the case in our brave new world (more on that in a bit).

It is important to keep looking and pushing for opportunities to expand what "SEO" does. Intentionally go out of your way to discuss things outside the SEO bubble, especially with folks from social media and PR. Ask them what they're doing, if you can take them out to lunch and chat--whatever! It doesn't have to be a big deal initially, but take that small step of just getting to understand what other departments are up to, on what project they’re working, and what they care and are thinking about. Baby steps are still steps.

Carrot Cake or Red Velvet? Figure Out What Drives Your Boss (and Your Boss' Boss)

There are two layers of what motivates people--how we think about things, and how we feel. It's easy to assume that the way we think about things is motivating our behavior; yet looking at what we actually do in a given circumstance is often a better indicator of what really motivates us, which tends to be driven by emotion. So, it is critical to understand what actually motivates your boss, and perhaps even more importantly, their boss, to do things differently. Their behavior, not their words, should be your measurement. They may say it's revenue (isn't it always?), but they get really excited when you start talking about social media, which generally doesn't directly generate revenue. Why do they care about social media? Is it simply because it's buzzy? Do they just care about the latest trends? Find out what is underneath that excitement, and it will help you understand what to bring to them - which ideas to chase and expand upon.

We certainly have to pay attention to the bottom line, but most of us, being human, also have certain things that spark our interest, or have an idea about how we should be getting that increase in revenue. Mapping out the way your boss (and his or her boss) thinks helps you align your goals with theirs, figure out what to prioritize, and explain what you know is important in a way that he or she will understand.

Always Share with Your Neighbor: Give a Little, Get a Little

This circles back to the idea of the process and the baby steps. Once you're actually communicating with other departments, look for opportunities to help them out and support what they're doing. The goal is to be a part of the conversation, and the more that you can offer them, the more they will understand your value and will likely include SEO in their conversations earlier in their processes. This is especially true for social media, but depends a lot on your company. If you've got budget to spare, use it in ways you know will help search, but might not make sense to those who think of SEO in a purely technical or siloed way. Social media, content, creative, PR, and brand awareness are all areas that, when doing well, will make search successful. The aim here is to get yourself and other departments thinking as a unit.

It's All About the Final Product: Measure Like You’re on the Same Team, Not Just as Separate Channels

This step will likely be the most difficult. As I mentioned before, most other forms of marketing have much less stringent requirements in attributing their impact. They've proved their worth over decades, and everyone just knows and believes it. SEO is not so. But let's take one example of a measure that should be changing.

It's important to start measuring traffic and revenue/conversions by search referrals to URLs instead of just keywords (since those are quickly becoming dinosaurs), and providing those metrics to the folks who ask for keyword data, perhaps along with the keyword data for a while if you've done a good job at discussing how important ranking data are. SERPs are changing, and users are using long-tail queries that you wouldn't be tracking, but might see (positive) impact on your conversion/revenue and traffic. That’s what we got into this for anyhow, right?

So it's important to review how we're measuring things and what we consider a success. If you've got massive increases in rankings, but the conversion/revenue/traffic don't follow, is that actually a success? What about vice versa? Isn't that, in fact, success? Don't lose sight of that. Regularly assess the measurements you're using to define "success" with what your company sees as success (understanding what your boss & boss' boss care about will help with this).  

The real nugget here is about seeing yourself and SEO as an integral part of the success of other departments, and that you are all on the same team. Remember that everyone wants the company to make money. Everyone wants the company to be successful. If it's at all possible, measure the impact of all channels together and minimize the amount that you measure success separately. Remember that you are competing with your outside competitors, not the other people in your organization. Make sure to keep track of the integration with other teams (how you’re doing it), celebrate wins together, support each other. You can make an impact with SEO by making sure that you take small steps to work more closely with other departments. There will surely be road blocks and things that get in the way, and it will never be perfect. But keep pushing, and don't forget that you are all part of the same team (or delicious cake).

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