There are three basic, conflicting truths about organic search for CEO’s and CMO’s: it’s too important to ignore, its opacity requires you to understand not just what it can do but how it does it, and you don’t have the time to wade through the endless debates about what works and what doesn’t. This post is for you – it’s a 60-second guide to strategy and staffing.
1. Organic search should be part of your marketing team’s budget and staffing plan.
“SEO is dead” has become a popular refrain lately, but if you don’t staff for organic search at all, you’re making a mistake. Google is part of the fabric of people’s lives. Someone in your organization should be focused on understanding the latest in search and helping apply that understanding to your business.
2. Organic search should not be your entire marketing strategy.
Organic search is not a strategy in and of itself, because the return is uncertain. Other tactics (paid media, social media, email marketing, etc.) need to be part of a balanced marketing portfolio.
One or maybe two people should be dedicated to organic search, depending on the size of your organization. One senior person should be tracking trends, developing plans, and identifying tools and resources. That same person or a more junior person should be directly conducting site audits, updating citations and executing other tasks within the function. Depending on the size of your business (number of locations, breadth of SKU’s, number of industries served), the number or junior positions needed may need to scale.
3. Organic search is inherently cross-functional.
Whoever heads up organic search should be highly collaborative and comfortable leading through influence. It’s not as simple as sitting behind a desk, building links and editing title tags.As the concept of search has expanded, the implications can touch virtually any part of your business. Whoever heads up organic search needs to be able to work across marketing, technology and probably other groups as well. They need to be able to explain what they’re asking for and substantiate why it matters without dragging other departments through the sea of opinion that is SEO.
4. Create a long-term culture around search.
You may be tempted to treat organic search like everything else in your business: set specific goals, measure the inputs, measure the outputs, hold people directly accountable for results in the current quarter. If you do this, your organic search leader will try to game the search engines and look for a new job before the chickens come home to roost. You definitely should look at results (increased traffic, lower traffic costs over time), but put an emphasis on getting a sound long-term framework in place and baked into the work of all departments.
Search also changes so fast that a short-term approach may result in a series of disjointed efforts (for example, the recent emphasis on content marketing led one company I know to staff almost exclusively with content positions, making it much harder to diversify their marketing efforts). Play for the long-term.
5. Manage ambiguity, don’t try to eliminate it.
The inherent ambiguity around organic search can make a lot of senior leaders throw up their hands or try to over-simplify. Look to your organic search leader to manage, not dispel ambiguity. Task that person with creating a shared framework for how your company will make decisions in the absence of crystal-clear data. The approach this blog is dedicated to is trying to understand what Google is trying to achieve at a high level, rather than trying to understand what tactic right now might be powering some results. Respecting the ambiguity can also help avoid the danger of arrogance: thinking you can outsmart the search engines. That arrogance can lead to missteps that your company later has to undo at great pain and expense.