Tips for Effective SEO Project Management

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.



Scrum Process

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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.

#4 Communication!

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.

    SEO phone call


    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.

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    1. Definitely, we should consider SEO as a project and manage it. When we start a SEO project, we should evaluate the result weekly and monthly.

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    2. I'd also add : art of delegating to other employees.

      A lot of the time we feel overwhelmed. But this is often our mistake. As SEOs we want to do all the job. We need to learn to easily give work to others and trust them everything will be fine.


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    3. Joe

      Wow! Thanks so much especially for the tool: Toggl to track time. Damn! It's just what i have been looking for. Thanksssss

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    4. Sharon

      Damn straight! This is great advice and to the point. Thanks

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    5. I usually encounter clients who understand SEO works are just about bookmarking, article submissions and all those spammy strategies they read over the internet. I could not blame them.

      In my experience, I usually explain the entire process of doing SEO right and what SEO work entails. Admittedly, your article, Justin makes my life easier talking to clients and of course, managing our SEO team.

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    6. Hi Justin,
      Great article. I also prefer email over phone, not because I don't enjoy speaking with clients. It's just good to have a written confirmation of their decisions.

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      • John Doherty

        Hey Tomasz -

        Thanks for your comment. While I agree that email is great to use with clients, I think picking up the phone is amazing. They feel listened to, like they matter, and like you are accessible. What I'll often do is send a followup email based on our call (I take notes while I chat with them) and say "This is what we talked about. Let's keep the conversation going!"

        I think it's that personal touch that keeps clients around! I love talking to my clients on the phone.

    7. Hey Justin, very helpful tips for managing multiple SEO projects.

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    8. Great writeup Justin :)

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    9. A incredibly useful post! I would rather speak to a client on the phone as you get the answers you need quickly.

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    10. This is going to be helpful for me now that I handle multiple SEO projects. This is why managing time is important in success. This is also a good breakdown of what should have done so my clients would know what I am going to do.

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    11. Hello Justin,
      Thanks for this post but I feel that one main part of project management is missing here, the REPORTING section. Reporting to client is an important part of project management, don't you thin it should be added here ?

      But I really like the post as I got a new useful tool for me, even if I've been working as a project manager for my own company I had not used this tool yet, will try this tool definitely.

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    12. Great article. I have trouble keeping track of all the different SEO projects I am working on. I guess it would help just focusing on one a day or something, but that gets too boring. A time tracking app can therefore be quite useful

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    13. Good write-up Justin. It's very easy to get lost in your work in this industry, well planned project management is the key, oh and using great tools for managing data like Raven as you suggest and Linkdex.

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    14. Sam Walton is right, the only boss is the customer. We can all get fired if we don't deliver results on time. Your post did give me a better view on how to efficiently manage SEO projects in a manner where everyone will benefit. Seeing everyone (clients and SEO company) happy is very fulfilling. There's a sense of achievement.

      This post will remind us how to treat our clients, as well as our team right. Sometimes, we tend to forget simple things that make people happy because we are too focused in achieving our goals. Seeing everyone happy and satisfies is actually part of that goal.

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    15. Justin awesome explaining on project management. Organisation of our busy work schedule is really important factor to success every where including on the internet. Once again great post.

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    16. I find active collab to be a lot more hassle than its worth. It would be awesome if they created a tool specifically for the SEO companies. One that will monitor everything your doing, and keep emailing you with updates from your team etc.

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    17. Yep Justin - you have hit it on the head - the results being only PART of the picture to running a successful SEO company... project management and client comms are VITAL to the trust building that is needed. We have used SEO ICE CREAM as a tool for 3 months now and these sort of tools are invaluable -- especially as they evolve (we gave them lots of feedback) ... so tools are important as well as remembering the human side.

      Keep up the HIGH quality - very well structured and delivered article - thank you.

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    18. Spook SEO

      I'd say defining goals and proper job delegation while constantly communicating are key elements to a successful SEO project.

      I've been thinking about "Client Happiness is Key" though… I've always thought that "employees happiness is key" and not the other way around.

      The thing with client's happiness is that sometimes it comes with a cost (which is employees being frustrated). When that happens, its only a matter of time before employees will have enough and under perform (let along not performing at all).

      But if we focus on the employee's happiness, they tend to work better and naturally produce top class results which almost always leads to the clients being happy.

      Just my two cents though...

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