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Be an SEO Chameleon: How to Get a “YES” from Stakeholders


Ashleigh Noad

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When we think about the day-to-day responsibilities of an SEO, we tend to focus on deliverables: doing audits, carrying out health checks, making recommendations and delivering performance reports. But for those working with or within large websites and organisations – which going forward I’ll refer to as enterprise SEO – you’ll know that working on actual deliverables is not the bulk of your day-to-day. Actually, getting initiatives out of planning decks and into the production pipeline is where the majority of the work lies. And it is definitely not an easy feat. 

When I moved from an agency role into my first enterprise in-house position, I already had a bit of experience working on large Ecommerce sites. Armed with a long list of items I wanted to “fix”, I naively thought that my solid Technical SEO knowledge combined with simply being in the same organisation as my stakeholders meant it would be far easier to get my SEO initiatives implemented. 

It wasn’t. 

In fact, it was just as difficult, but the rejection cut deeper as it felt a lot more personal!

Turns out, there is a lot of nuance and skill involved in this whole “getting things done” business. And I would know, having failed numerous times and in many different ways. But after a lot of setbacks, I started to understand the enterprise SEO world a lot better and felt a huge sense of accomplishment when my teams and I were able to gradually build momentum and get things over the line.

Now I am back agency-side, I still see enterprise clients as being challenging but since I have changed my approach to SEO, they have become my favourite type of clients to work with. Using these experiences, I will share how to get that highly-coveted “Yes!” from different types of stakeholders, plus share suggestions to keep building momentum when working in enterprise SEO.

Don’t Deliver SEO During Onboarding

When you’re onboarding, you might be tempted to spend the first few weeks on “low-hanging fruit” SEO tasks to try and get some quick results, and prove that you really know your stuff. 

Tried that - didn’t work. 

Or for us introverts, it can be tempting to hide away in our home offices and work on a comprehensive technical audit, hoping that the final result will dazzle others into action. 

Nope - that didn’t work either.

I would argue that you don’t actually need to focus on SEO too much within your first few weeks. Instead, you should focus on being able to answer 3 key questions:

  1. Who are the key teams and stakeholders?

  2. What do they do?

  3. How do they operate?

Identify and Meet the Key Players

At the top of your priority list should be mapping out all the potential stakeholders in order to figure out what they do, what they own, and how they collaborate with each other.

Initially, you can lean on your line manager or main client contact to set up any initial introductions. You can also use internal organisation charts, often found on intranets or pinned to popular Slack channels to understand the hierarchy of different teams.

Introduction Meeting Tips

  • Share an agenda in advance. These stakeholders are likely to have busy calendars, so make it easy for them to accept your meeting invite. In the invitation, introduce yourself, propose a short 20 minute meeting and list out a few key questions you would like to cover off.

  • During the meetings, keep the main focus on their responsibilities and internal approval processes rather than potential SEO projects.

  • You should also ask them which teams they collaborate with most often. This will help you start to draw connections between different teams and later be able to determine who is the best person to talk to to get different projects moving.

  • For non-technical teams such as Marketing, Content and Editorial, you’ll want to ask questions around their existing workflows and the process for getting any changes implemented.

  • For technical stakeholders such as product managers, you can ask more industry-standard questions on how initiatives are approved. Useful follow up questions can include: 

    • What project management methodology do they use?

    • What is the process for discussing a new idea?

    • Are there any quarterly or yearly planning deadlines for raising new initiatives?

    • Who will need to sign off on a ticket?

    • What are their KPIs?

    • What metrics are used in business cases or forecasts? 

    • Who validates and approves these forecasts?

Remember to take lots of notes!
You are likely going to hear a lot of information and it might take some time to properly sink in.

Embrace the Organisation’s Cadence

After your onboarding sessions, you should be able to determine when budgets and resources are allocated. This will help you formulate your SEO plan and ensure that you aren’t trying to push large ticket items during inopportune times of the year. During these periods, you can focus on pushing smaller tickets or projects as well as getting your business cases ready and advocating for SEO.

When you are looking to bring potential projects to the table, avoid playing Tetris with stakeholder calendars and instead try to make use of existing Drop In sessions which are set up by teams to discuss bugs with existing products and most importantly, discuss new ideas. Approval stakeholders often find themselves in a lot of meetings and are generally quite short on time, so this is an ideal way to ensure they will be receptive.

If there is no formal process for raising new ideas, I’d still recommend regularly attending Weekly Stand Ups or Drop In sessions. Initially this is a great way to spot opportunities to piggy-back SEO onto existing projects rather than create new workstreams. Beyond that, it will also show your active involvement in broader company goals and will increase the likelihood that your calendar invites will be accepted by the recipients. 

If you find the best way to initially approach a team is via the team Slack channel, make sure you have a read of any pinned etiquette rules before you reach out. This will give you the best chance of receiving a timely response. 

Be a Team Chameleon

Once you’ve figured out to whom and when to present your business case, you need to figure out how to get it prioritised within their roadmaps. This process is often non-linear and can involve different teams from across the business. Teams will have different KPIs and varying SEO knowledge levels - so there isn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all approach.

It will take a bit of trial and error to figure out the optimal way to present to a particular team. However, if it is your first time trying to get buy-in from multiple teams, I would recommend creating a deck which contains all of the relevant information and forecasted KPI improvements. Then, review successfully implemented initiatives to figure out what to include or exclude for different teams.

I would also recommend using the other team’s documents to figure out how to amend the layout or format. It sounds like a very minor point to focus on, but small considerations like this can influence stakeholders to see you as an ally or even as an extension of their own team.

Focus on their KPIs

A common cliche in the SEO industry – and one that has often given me the major SEO ick – is that you have to “buy your developer a beer”

to get SEO initiatives approved and implemented. Putting that ick aside, the underlying principle of this trope is to build relationships and to properly incentivise stakeholders. It should go without saying that incentives do not have to involve alcohol or your personal time!

Remember, “best practice” isn’t a good enough reason to incentivise teams. Try to avoid justifying doing something because “Google said so”. Also, save linking out to any Google Developer docs for your resources section in future tickets.

Instead, laser-focus on the KPIs which matter to them

Lead with the possible business impact by forecasting an improvement for metrics such as sales, leads or revenue - or by focusing on improvements to their KPIs. Of course, you can caveat any SEO forecast with the usual explanations that there are variables outside of our control. However, it will be exceptionally difficult to get approval without an estimated business impact at most enterprise organisations.

Don’t Go Overboard with Detail

Regardless of the stakeholder being presented to, I would try to avoid throwing the SEO kitchen sink at them. At the enterprise level, stakeholders who approve projects are rarely the ones doing the work themselves. 

They care about:

  • How this will tie in to the overarching business strategy

  • How this will improve KPIs

  • How much resource or budget they would need to allocate

You might be tempted to provide every single piece of information to your stakeholders, but in my experience, this often ends up working against you. For example, I was once trying to get initial buy-in for an hreflang project. I prepared a presentation covering: hreflang best practice, common hreflang errors, three different options for implementation and finally, the proposed revenue benefit. 

When I caught up with the three product manager stakeholders, one of them was quite keen to show off their technical prowess and asked a lot of questions. By the time we got to the proposed revenue benefit, I could tell that the others’ interest had waned and they were thinking about anything but hreflang.  

Since this not-so-great meeting, I’ve learned to lead with the proposed benefit to pique stakeholders’ interest and to always have an executive summary so that all major points are covered off at the beginning. Any granular technical detail is now saved for the appendix.

Learn their Language

You don’t need to become an expert on every team’s unique jargon and acronyms, but I would definitely recommend building out a glossary to ensure that you are using your teams’ preferred terminology for fundamentals such as page types, the names of APIs, and on-page components. 

Similarly, when you hear any acronyms or technical terms you’re unfamiliar with - don’t be afraid to ask what they mean. It can also help to ask them to explain what they mean with examples.

I once had an hour-long Introduction with a stakeholder who may as well have been speaking a different language aside from an occasional reference to GTP. I came away from the meeting not understanding what they were responsible for at all. It was only in a subsequent meeting when I asked for a few examples of previous tickets that I realised that when they were talking about GTP, they were referencing improving the speed of “Getting customers To a Product”. The penny dropped. After a little digging on a JIRA board, I figured out the team looked after the internal site search functionality. Ultimately, I would have saved myself from a lot of confusion if I had just asked them to clarify earlier.

Collaborate with Developers

Even though they aren’t typically approving the initiatives, successfully collaborating with developers is a really important part of enterprise SEO. Not only does this ensure that tickets are released successfully, it also improves relationships with their teams for the future. 

To be sprint-ready, make sure you are providing concise details for ticket creation. I would recommend reviewing previous tickets to understand the structure the team prefers as well as doing some general research on how to write good tickets for the project methodology being used.

It is also worth considering how much detail to give developers so that the ticket will pass SEO requirements but that developers still have enough freedom to explore and propose solutions of their own. This means you should focus your efforts on refining success criteria, rather than filling out tickets with guidance from Q&A articles you found from Stack Overflow.

Share Insights with Wider Teams

Making time to share knowledge and insights with other teams in the business is also a crucial part of embedding SEO into internal processes. You don’t necessarily have to get other teams on board with understanding how search engines work, but calling out SEO wins and sharing relevant search volume trends can go a long way. 

Previously I worked as part of a team to create a quarterly report which looked at the top trending products and competitor brands across different departments. It was relatively low-effort from our point of view, but it allowed our buyers to understand changing customer behaviour and spot emerging product trends to tap into.

Always Share Updates

When you are able to get projects live, you should ensure that you are sharing updates and celebrating them within the wider business and that the teams involved are properly credited. This will keep teams invested in SEO and make them more likely to collaborate in the future.

I would always recommend creating shareable Slack messages which can be forwarded in just one-click rather than relying on an email with a lengthy wrap-up deck attached. Instead, I prefer to create a time series graph and a couple of sentences to summarise any KPI improvements. These wins can be quickly circulated in both public and private channels as well as DMs.

Keep Calm and Carry On

Working in an enterprise organisation, there are a lot of competing priorities which can result in SEO initiatives being rejected or moving very slowly. Because of this, it’s easy to feel as if you are getting nowhere and the dreaded impostor syndrome might even start to sink in.

To prevent yourself from feeling frustrated and burnt out, it is very important to keep track of the things that you have done – no matter how small. This can include anything from a count of Metadata optimisations to the number of meetings you’ve had with particular teams and logging any outcomes from them. Not only will you find that momentum actually is building up over time, but this will also help you report back to the wider business when you are asked for a progress update.

Final Thoughts

Enterprise SEO is definitely a marathon, not a sprint - and despite feeling a lot more comfortable with the processes, I still find myself learning more about it every day. I also love learning about what others have found worked for them – do feel free to connect via LinkedIn, and I’d love to discuss what has worked well for you.

If you’d like to learn more, I’d recommend checking out the following resources:

Ashleigh Noad

Ashleigh Noad - Senior SEO Consultant, Builtvisible

Ashleigh is a Senior SEO Consultant at Builtvisible and has previously worked as the in-house Technical SEO Manager at John Lewis. She has been in the SEO Industry for over 8 years and specialises in Ecommerce and Technical SEO for Enterprise websites.