As SEOs, we’re great at building roadmaps for technical fixes or content releases, but not always so practised at writing them for our careers.
You might not have even considered the need to plan out your career in this way. Not, that is, until you’re suddenly faced with that increasingly-popular interview question; “what would your first 90 days look like if you got this role?”.
So why spend time creating a roadmap? Perhaps you feel like you’re ready for your next step in your current job and want to move towards promotion. Maybe you are brand new to a role and want to make a positive impact in your first few months.
A 90-day career roadmap can help you to identify what you can do in a short time-period to set yourself up for future success.
By the end of this article I hope to equip you with the tools and motivation to identify where you want to be in your role and how to achieve it. Whether you’re looking to make a splash in a new role, become the “most valuable player” (or MVP) in your current team, or just reset expectations around your workload and output.
We’ll be looking at identifying what matters to the stakeholders who have an impact on your job. We’ll discuss who are the key players in your current or prospective job and how to align your goals with theirs. Most importantly, we’ll look at how you can celebrate others and yourself in a way that resonates with your senior leaders.
All so you can put together a 90-day plan to thrive in your SEO role – current or future.
To identify how to thrive in your new or current job you’ll first need to identify what thriving looks like for you. This means working out the minimum you need for you to be happy in the role and for your employer to be happy with you. From there you can look at what your plan needs to contain to get you beyond that, into loving your job.
One of the problems we often run into when we’re trying to make a good impression is sacrificing our own needs and wants.
An important part of thriving in a role is knowing what you need to be satisfied in the role and what will make it exceptional for you.
Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory talks about two types of factors that will impact satisfaction in a role. There are “hygiene” factors such as job security, salary and status which are necessary to keep you in a role. There are also “motivation” factors like challenging work to get stuck into, recognition and reward from others, and involvement in decision making.
A good place to start when considering what thriving might look like is identifying the hygiene factors which are important to you. These might be things like remote working, a minimum salary or job title. Without these elements you may not feel like you are thriving, in fact you might wonder if you are even surviving.
Next, think about what would make this job something you wake up excited to do each day. Would it be working on a challenging initiative that makes a huge difference to organic traffic? Perhaps it would be being the person who gets called into strategy meetings when key decisions are being made.
Example of a list of personal maintenance and hygiene factors
Really consider what you want and need out of your job, and what you want to achieve. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to achieve everything in just 90 days, but it might help you understand the smaller steps you can take now to reach those goals in the long-term.
Establishing what your employer might want can be a bit harder. If you can get hold of a job description for your role this should give you a guide to the base expectations of your job. If you haven’t got a job description, see if you can find a copy of the original job advert.
If you are interviewing for a job, or you’ve just started, ask what the company would like to see after your first 3-months. Find out what they would expect your core achievements to be during that time.
If you are already in a role, look at your growth plan (if you have one) or ask your line manager to clarify what the difference in work expectations are for your current role and the next step up. From here you can begin to map what you are already achieving and what you need to do more of.
Another consideration is how do you want people to perceive you at the end of your 90-day plan? Do you want them to think of you as efficient, funny, pragmatic, easy-going? Do you want your name to spring to mind when they need a mediator, champion or motivator?
All of these, along with the motivating factors and your employer’s expectations will help define the end-point of your initial 90-day plan.
A critical component to thriving in your role is setting healthy boundaries. In our current age of hybrid working, emails on our mobiles, and flexi-hours, it can feel like you’re never truly away from work. For some people, this is exhilarating and motivating. For others, it’s exhausting.
For you to truly thrive you need to identify what your work boundaries are.
What works for you in terms of communication? Do you prefer communicating a strategy in a meeting room of managers or through a detailed document? Does the idea of your boss communicating with you via WhatsApp make you baulk?
It’s OK to set these boundaries. There will be instances when you need to be flexible - for example, not all of your colleagues will love a meeting that could have been an email as much as you! It will really help to understand your limits in terms of how many back-to-back meetings you can handle or how many days working from home you’d enjoy.
Many of us have a contract that states our hours of work, and yet many of us will still receive emails and messages outside of these hours. Consider whether you are the sort of person who likes to have a clean delineation between work-time and home-time or if the idea of emails piling up in your inbox overnight is much worse for you. It can help to inform your colleagues of whether you will or won’t typically be available outside of your working hours. If you set these boundaries early on, then you help them to know what to expect from you in terms of replies.
If you work for an agency, or as a freelancer, it can feel very important to reply straight away to a client. Typically though, an agency will have a service level agreement with the client explaining how soon they should expect a reply outside of typical office hours. Use that as a guide. This may need to be discussed with your employer if they are expecting you to respond outside of your contracted hours regularly and you are not happy about doing that.
Now for the tricky bit. Setting and enforcing those boundaries.
It can feel like you have little power when you are working for a company that demands a lot of you. This isn’t true. You are a highly skilled professional. SEOs are hard to train and highly sought-after. You deserve to be in a work environment that values your skills and experience. It’s OK to have boundaries and to discuss them with those people who you will want to help you enforce them.
If you are interviewing for a new role it can help to gently enquire into those hygiene factors you have already identified. For example, if regular hours of work are important to you, or the freedom to not check your laptop over the weekend, then make sure you understand the company’s stance on that.
If you are new to a role your first 90-days can be critical in establishing your boundaries. It can be a good idea to discuss the important ones with your line manager. For example, if you have a policy of not using your personal phone for work, perhaps you can raise that the company will need to supply you with a work phone if they expect to give clients your phone number.
Once you have established those boundaries with your line manager, and you get a better feel for what your employer will be happy with you doing, then start to educate your colleagues in that. For example, book your lunch break in your calendar so you don’t get roped into meetings when you are expecting to have a break. Put your out of office on when you aren’t going to reply to emails.
There will be some preferences that you’ll need to be flexible with and others that are a deal-breaker. Identify what they are for you and discuss with your manager if they are likely to be challenged.
Who are the key people in your organisation for SEO and your role? This is a crucial question to ask. If you are currently in the job you are hoping to become MVP in then you will likely know the answer to it already. It will be the people who are able to make or break your site’s SEO performance. They are people like the account managers, client contact and budget holders if you are working agency-side. They are your engineers, product managers, copy-writers and UX teams if you are brand-side.
Take a moment to list everyone who can impact the success of SEO in your or your client’s organisation.
Then, think about who has an impact on your career at your company. Who is involved in petitioning for your pay-rises and promotions? Who could block them going through? Think about your line management chain and the senior leadership in your organisation.
Once you know who your key stakeholders are then you can look at what matters to them.
In terms of your SEO stakeholders, look at what aspects of your role impacts their success. Speak to them and find out what they are measured on. For example, your content team might be measured on pageviews or time on page. You can start by showing them how SEO work has improved the pageviews to their content, or by driving more relevant traffic to those pages you have improved the average time on page.
The key here is finding out how you can show off the benefits of SEO to those who you need to be aligned with.
For the stakeholders who have an impact on your career progression, you need to know what impresses them with other members of staff. Have a look over who has recently been promoted or celebrated publicly and try to gain an understanding of why their work is considered valuable. Perhaps it is the results they’ve achieved, or their impact on the culture of the company.
90 days isn’t that long. Your first task is to set a realistic goal for those 90 days.
If you are new to a role, and looking to make a great first impression perhaps a lot of your 90-day plan will actually be taken up by some of the points I covered earlier in this article - i.e. you may need to spend the first few weeks identifying your stakeholders and understanding how they measure performance.
If you have been in your role for a while, think about what you want to achieve – is it putting yourself in a better position to be considered for promotion? Or, perhaps you just want to be recognised as a vital part of your organisation. Maybe you just want to re-balance your work/life split and form some stronger boundaries with colleagues.
It can be whatever you picture “thriving” in the role to be, or a small step towards that.
When carrying out your 90-day plan you are likely to need to speak to other members of staff. Start looking at when you can book in those important meetings with them. This will really give momentum to your plan and also start raising your profile amongst your key stakeholders.
Let them know that you are wanting to discuss how you can better align with the work they are doing or how you can be more impactful in your role.
Once you have worked out what you want to have achieved in the 90-day period you should work backwards to identify what you will need to do to get there. For instance, your 90-day goal might be to end your first 3-months in a new role with at least 5 key stakeholders knowing who you are and why SEO is important. For this your deliverables might be along the lines of setting up meetings and organising training sessions.
If you are wanting to be considered for promotion at the end of the 90 days you will need to book in meetings with your line manager to discuss what is needed for promotion. You will also need to look at what can be done to help position you in the minds of key stakeholders as an obvious candidate for progressing.
Your 90-day plan might include a project that you can carry out within those 3-months that will have a big impact on how others perceive you. This might be an existing project you can get involved in, or one you create yourself. For example, if your company is thinking of migrating to a new CMS you could ask to be involved in those discussions to present the SEO considerations. Or perhaps you noticed during your interviews for your new role that the marketing team is really siloed, so you could set up a regular marketing knowledge-share meeting to help foster collaboration.
The idea is to find something that you will enjoy doing. This way even if it doesn’t help you to get to your ultimate goal after the 90-days, you will still have added another competency to your skillset or another experience to put on your CV. You will also (hopefully), have raised your profile in your company all whilst discovering something about SEO that you love.
Another good consideration for your 90-day plan is whether there is any training that you can carry out for your colleagues or clients that will help them to better understand SEO and your role.
Training others is a great way to get noticed. It demonstrates your expertise but also shows that you care about the development of others. The more SEO training you can provide the more buy-in for future SEO projects you’ll likely get too.
Achieving your 90-day goal might require a change of processes or communication. For example, if your goal is around showing the importance of SEO to your colleagues then you may need to look at how SEO is reported on. Perhaps you need to revitalise your SEO reports so they better align with the goals of your stakeholders. Maybe you need to work on understanding the processes of other departments so you can fit SEO into their workflow more.
A key to being seen as an MVP by the end of your 90-day plan is to report on your progress. There’s no shame in showing off your achievements!
Look at how other people in your organisation are celebrated. Does their line manager share a Slack message? Do they update a central document of “weekly wins”? Make sure you are taking part in this kind or result sharing.
Alongside sharing your success, also look to celebrate the success of others’. Becoming a valued member of the team in your current or future organisation isn’t just about getting and sharing awesome results yourself, championing your colleagues can go a huge way to making you an MVP.
Not working outside your hours, or in a manner that drains you is very important. After all, if your 90-day goal is to make a name for yourself at a new company or show your competency for a more senior position, you need to do it in a way that is sustainable.
Make sure that you are considering your boundaries throughout your plan setting. Don’t over-commit to work that you aren’t going to be able to deliver on. Don’t push yourself outside of your boundaries to appear amenable to others or to take on responsibilities that are actually theirs if it won’t get recognised.
The final step of your plan is looking at how to fit this all in. After all, you do have your regular duties and responsibilities to attend to and we have already spoken about a healthy work/life balance.
Look over your calendar for the 90 days and see what sort of time you can set aside to achieve these deliverables, all whilst sticking to the boundaries you’ve identified.
If it doesn’t look possible then don’t worry. Go back and refine your plan to make it more manageable. This might mean reducing the number of things you want to achieve in the 90 days or perhaps being more generous with the time frame than three months.
A 90-day plan can help you clarify what you want from the short-term in your role. It can also aid you in identifying manageable steps you can take to get there. We all want to be seen as valuable in our roles but we don’t always take the step back to pinpoint what “valuable” is in our circumstances.
For those of you who’d like to give this a go, I’ve created a template to assist you in devising your own 90-day plan.
If you want to be recognised and rewarded in your current or future role then designing a roadmap to help you achieve your short-term objectives might be just what you need.