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When it comes SEO, diplomacy often trumps technical ability

Just wanted to share that for the umpteenth time in my career, my direct experience is once again confirming that diplomacy trumps technical skill when it comes ensuring long-term SEO success.

Mind you, I’m not suggesting that any palooka off the street can succeed at SEO. Having at least a decent understanding of the fundamental underpinnings of natural search are still a prerequisite. However, more often than not, it’s the ability to collaborate with both internal and external stakeholders that makes the difference between mediocrity and rock start status.

Moreover, this key skill is required at all three core facets of SEO:

  • Technical SEO
  • Link Building (and yes, I’m lumping “SEO friendly” social content marketing in this bucket)
  • Analytics

At the technical level, diplomacy can be the difference between getting your page, site, and server-level recommendations implemented quickly versus waiting weeks if not months (maybe even years in some extreme cases) for the dev/IT team to “get around to that SEO stuff.” It can also be the difference between getting looped in at the most preliminary stages of a major site redesign or CMS migration versus finding out about these initiatives midstream (or worse yet, after they’ve already been completed!).

As far as analytics is concerned, the value of diplomacy is inversely correlated with the size of the company involved. With smaller companies the SEO can often have direct control over analytics implementation as well as direct access to analysis via Google Analytics. At larger organizations, that precious SEO data can be a lot hard to access, particularly if said company is using more complicated analytics platforms like Omniture or Coremetrics. And when this is indeed the case, diplomacy can be the difference between getting direct access and setting up the necessary SEO-centric reporting dimensions versus performing SEO with a blindfold on.

I left link building for last because in my experience, it is where diplomacy is absolutely critical, particularly when dealing with enterprise-caliber brands. For starters, diplomacy is one of the skills that facilitates effective link building outreach. You have to get along with bloggers and webmasters in order to build the relationships that lead to inbound links.

But that’s 101 stuff.

The real heavy lifting occurs in terms of building the diplomatic ties that facilitate the kind of large-scale, authoritative link building activities that not only lead to an unassailable SEO advantage but can also set the stage for success in parallel channels like social media and public relations. But building these stakeholder ties is often fraught with all sorts of communication hurdles and bureaucratic red tape. It can require getting face time with and approval from:

  • the social media team
  • the PR team
  • the brand marketing team
  • the copy/content team
  • the merchant team (if you work for a retail brand)
  • the dev/IT team
  • the legal team
  • the tax liability team
  • the finance team
  • the executive team
You get the picture.
The good news is that if you can run this labyrinth while simultaneously lining up the the right talent (either internally or via agency partners) to produce the content, identify the link prospects, and effectively build relationships with those link prospects via that aforementioned content, it will only be a matter of time before you build the kind of SEO authority that is immune to the ups and downs of search engine algorithm updates and actually helps buoy parallel marketing channels at the same time.
And in my experience, there’s nothing more satisfying and ROI friendly than executing SEO without the need to chase any algos and with the full, top-down support of your organization.



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  • http://twitter.com/jeypandian Jey Pandian

    Agreed. Diplomacy is definitely key in enterprise SEO. I’ve been hard at work breaking down information siloes and bending over backwards to help build cross channel relationships.

    It’s slowly starting to pay off. My way or the highway methodology doesn’t work here, one has to give before receiving.

    Enterprise SEO is also about trust. If cross channel/agency teams trust you implicitly then its a lot easier to push your requirements through the channel and get it implemented.

    • Anonymous

      What’s up, Jey! Thanks for swinging by to chime in. Hope all is well. By the way, you hit the nail on the head; trust is key. Without it, your strategy and tactics won’t be implemented, no matter how smart or useful they are.

  • http://twitter.com/dohertyjf John Doherty

    Hugo – Love the post. I agree, and this is also the hardest thing about enterprise-level SEO/marketing/business consulting. It’s a huge challenge!

    I’d love some of your more specific thoughts on how to make this happen, though. What do you look for first? When you are first going into a new company, where do you start? What questions do you ask?

    • Anonymous

      Hey John! Thanks for chiming in. Glad that you asked for more specifics. I think I’m going to write up some follow-up posts to hit on your questions. Thanks again!

      • http://twitter.com/dohertyjf John Doherty

        Looking forward to them! Thanks Hugo.

  • http://twitter.com/EmailCreatives Maarit Durity

    Great article Hugo. I just shared it with my other clients.

    • Anonymous

      Glad you enjoyed it, Maarit, and thanks for passing it along!

  • http://www.crossingmarketingandit.com/ Elmer Boutin

    Very good thoughts, Hugo. I often write and talk about IT and Marketing types working together for SEO success. Communication is a huge challenge in all that and diplomacy certainly plays a key role. Well done.

    • Anonymous

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Elmer! Also, thank you for mentioning it in your weekly review post over at crossmarketingandit.com. It’s much appreciated.

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  • http://www.SmallBusinessOnlineCoach.com Matthew Hunt

    This is one of the reasons why I love working with smaller companies, we can move some much faster and we don’t have all the read tape you experience with larger companies.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for chiming in, Matthew! That is definitely one advantage that’s often inherent when working with smaller companies, but on the flip side, smaller companies can suffer from ills like lack of budget, resources, or brand equity, all of which can make SEO much tougher. I think there are pros and cons on both sides. Both make for a fun challenge!

  • http://twitter.com/supaswag Ingo Bousa

    Soft Skills. Still very underrated in a world of ‘short-term technical loophole SEO trickery’. Great post!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Ingo! Glad you enjoyed it. Those soft skills can lead to some hard ROI.

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    One of the challenges with enterprise SEO is that there can be a lot of red tape. If everything needs to be approved by more than one or two people, it takes forever to get done. The SEO process needs to keep moving and this kind of hold up can effect the success of a campaign.

    • Anonymous

      Yep, but that can never be an excuse for an enterprising SEO. The ability to overcome bureaucratic obstacles is often the difference between success and failure at the enterprise level.

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