Stakeholder Alignment and Engagement for Search Engine Excellence

Think about your favorite bank heist movie (I’m partial to the recent Tower Heist). What do most heist movies have in common? They typically involve multiple participants with integrated, yet singular responsibilities. The drivers, the guns, the tech person all seek the same objective. Enterprises seeking to optimize search marketing operate in the same way, though from a nobler place. If the goal is to maximize your digital assets for search purposes, you need stakeholders to come together and get involved.

Stakeholder Alignment

Stakeholders need to be aligned in a common cause established with a clear customer optimization strategy. When SEO and search marketing practices are siloed, the enterprise runs a disjointed search campaign that can’t effectively accommodate the overarching goal: to optimize digital presence toward brand leadership.

It may sound obvious to say “getting buy-in is critical,” but the fact is without appropriate stakeholder on boarding, there is little chance of achieving a successful comprehensive search strategy. No single search discipline is effective in and of itself, so managers across paid, organic, and site search optimization functions must align to effectively deploy assets.

When we talk about stakeholders, we mean any function area that is impacted by SEO. And there can be many. The first step is to analyze which functions in the enterprise fulfill the SEO stakeholder role. IT, Web production, social, Web strategy, and global localization teams are most commonly involved in SEO, but as the graphic below shows, managers from product marketing, executives, UI, and other functions will need to be engaged with and influenced by SEO best practices.

Alignment involves enterprise-wide strategies that involve communications, key performance indicators (KPIs), functional objectives, global development, and market segmentation. Alignment is also necessary for your engagement strategy. When to time launches, where to build audiences, what keywords and URLs to deploy? The myriad of questions that come out of stakeholder alignment sometimes derail well-intentioned efforts to build a cohesive strategy.

The next step is to align functionality and accountability with respect to SEO practices. There are tools available that support cross-functional alignment while allowing area managers to measure unique KPIs. Adobe Analytics, for example, allows SEO stakeholders to report and analyze online user behavior and customize the reporting dashboard to suit their individual metrics analysis needs.

Search marketing can be your most cost-effective global revenue channel when implementation leans on the alignment of all stakeholders associated with search. If necessary, a service-level agreement is a good way to gain commitment. Stakeholders know clearly what the goals and objectives are, what is expected from each function area, and when outcomes will be evaluated.

Consider the functional objectives required to maximize search presence: content distribution, site architecture, linking, media deployment, and so on. Each stakeholder brings expertise related to inline functions that may or may not be synthesized into your enterprise’s overarching objective—digital presence optimization.

The next step is to develop a stakeholder alignment model which includes

The last criterion is critical to success within the second realm of developing a Search Center of Excellence (CoE) model. Emotional investment leads to buy-in, which is fundamental to stakeholder engagement. Disharmony at the managerial level is often a significant contributor to unsuccessful alignment outcomes.

Stakeholder Engagement

After all stakeholders have been aligned, the second step is to ensure that all parties are engaged in the effort. Building an SEO CoE requires a few fundamental engagement pillars. Engagement should be consistent, somewhat frequent, and lead to best practice development. Meetings tend to be more effective when they’re held at a consistent interval, at least quarterly. Early in the process, a biweekly or monthly schedule might be appropriate as processes mature. Once practices have been standardized, monthly or quarterly meetings are usually sufficient. However, for some stakeholders (especially content and Web), consistent weekly meetings lead to the most effective partnership.

Training—both formal and ad hoc—is typically a necessity as disparate function areas such as Web strategy and product marketing become aligned. Static training will be necessary when aligning independent function areas. While the search engine landscape continues to evolve toward a customer optimization strategy (COS), ad hoc training will fill in to address changes in tactics.

Once the team is engaged, the next step is to optimize the team to focus on SEO signals. The chart below shows the breakdown of a Moz analysis of 2011 search engine results page (SERP) factors. Each stakeholder has a presence within most factors; some will have a significant presence. Therefore, engagement among managers of affected function areas will, at a minimum, be occasional and, optimally, be frequent.

The SEO team should be deployed with priorities and workload expectations. While certain areas will be focused on keywords and content, others will be optimizing site architecture (remember, site optimization is one leg of Adobe’s COS). Product support, social, linking, reporting, and localization should each be within the SEO scope.

It’s not always easy. As fellow Adobe blogger Warren Lee puts it, “most stakeholders do not willingly (assuming they know how) incorporate search best practices into their daily work.” In the end, however, the results of your SEO campaigns will be improved and optimized toward digital brand leadership.