The enterprise business of SEO: Communicating to the C-suite
Today, I want to focus on and provide insights into a common SEO challenge that is vitally important to personal and professional success: how SEOs can communicate the performance of the organic channel more effectively across their organization and in the boardroom. As competition for digital marketing budgets intensifies in 2018, it is essential that success and performance is recognized and rewarded.
As a CEO with a background in organic search, I am often asked questions like:
- “What key metrics matter to the CEO?”
- “How best do I talk to my CMO and other members of the C-suite?”
- “When and how should I communicate SEO performance across the organization?”
- “What do I need to do to accelerate and develop my career?”
Here, I hope to share some insights and tips that will help you do just that.
SEO in the boardroom: Challenges and opportunities
Conversations at the C-level often center around the transformation of the business. Companies of every size across every industry face the constant challenges of innovating for the future and meeting the demands of tomorrow’s customers. Understanding the needs of the customer is vital for the long-term success of every business.
The organic channel is perfect for staying ahead of market trends, determining competitive pressures, identifying market opportunities and gleaning an overall better understanding of the customer.
C-suite conversations are also highly focused on performance. However, it is not about driving performance at all costs; instead, it is about driving performance in the most efficient way possible with the best gross margin possible.
When it comes to the organic channel and SEO, C-level executives appreciate the ROI of the organic channel. Organic search drives over 51 percent of traffic to websites — a percentage which has held constant for nearly four years, according to our data. This is a great starting point when building conversations with C-level executives.
The challenge that many SEOs have is twofold: getting visibility and getting buy-in through clear reporting and attribution. And you cannot get one without having the other.
Understanding the C-suite and key business metrics the matter
It is important to remember that in any organization, and across most C-suites, not every person has the same level of digital marketing acumen. Some are more technically proficient, while others may have a bias toward other disciplines that span across new business, customer success, PR, HR or recruiting. However, all C-suite members work toward common boardroom goals: results, business performance and organizational impact.
When it comes to organic search, measures of one campaign’s success do not always translate directly into what members of the C-suite view as success. To bridge this gap in communication, you should begin by establishing the importance of SEO to others in your organization. You can achieve this by identifying direct sales and revenue attributed to SEO, or you could show how organic is powering and promoting other digital marketing channels.
Your goal here is to establish that:
- good SEO drives revenue.
- SEO is good for brand awareness and visibility.
- SEO helps marketers understand marketing opportunities and customer demands — search is the voice of the online customer.
- SEO drives the content that fuels other marketing channels and does so more efficiently.
- SEO can help develop messaging, define personas, map customer journeys and drive deeper engagements with your audience across all digital channels.
We know that SEO is all about targeting personas. So, when communicating with the C-suite, it’s good to understand their personas, too. This is something that many SEOs forget, but it is the most important thing they can do when looking to improve C-suite communications.
Every organization has different hierarchical structures and titles. For illustrative purposes, below are a few examples based on a generic enterprise C-level structure.
The CEO is always interested in overall performance. He or she wants to understand the contribution SEO is making to the top line of the business and whether the contributions are done in an efficient way. The CEO can make only a limited number of investments to grow the business, and they need to know that their investment in SEO will pay off. The CEO wants to see the sales numbers and see how the company stacks up against their competition.
Metrics that matter: ROI, sales, market share and Share of Voice
The CMO is interested in the overall demand generation portfolio. Organic search is particularly interesting because of its sheer size. Every CMO wants to grow traffic and revenue from organic search — and they want to know how well it converts and the role it plays (assists) alongside other marketing channels such as demand generation, event strategy, industry influencers, social and PR.
Metrics that matter: conversion rates, acquisition costs, ROI compared to other channels
The CFO, like the CEO, is interested in overall performance. However, the CFO will also be interested in budgeting and forecasting; he or she will want to determine where new investments can be made and where best to allocate SEO budgets and technology spend for the coming year.
Metrics that matter: operational costs and budget efficiency, sale forecasts and ROI
The Chief Operating Officer will be interested in how SEO contributes to other aspects of the business such as recruitment, branding, sales, retention and upsells. In some businesses, the COO may also be interested in associated costs across the business (such as design) and how SEO structures, people and processes are integrated across the organization.
Metrics that matter: operational costs, compliance, contribution to cross-functional goals and objectives
Collectively, the C-suite wants to know:
- the size of the competition.
- the value of the market.
- their Share of Voice in the market.
- the maximum possible return vs. the actual return.
To evangelize and elevate the work you do in SEO, remember who you are talking to, and remember to speak their language. For example, a CMO is less interested in hearing about rank but far more interested in revenue. That may bother those of us that have worked in the SEO field for a long time, but it is not a negative — it’s an opportunity to tie your hard work to specific metrics that matter most to your boss.
CEOs are less interested in seeing keyword ranking changes and more interested in seeing share of voice, revenue from organic campaigns and your success within the competitive landscape. This offers you the chance to elevate SEO and the importance of your own role. Language is key to communication.
If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think.
Framing what you say and what it means to the C-suite
|SEO Language||C-suite Language|
|SEO||The organic channel|
|Algorithm update||Market trends and risk analysis|
|Keywords||Topics that customers are searching for|
|Rank and rank change||Where content is performing|
|Optimizing||Attracting and converting customers online|
|SERP CTR||Share of Voice for an online search query|
In addition, use reports and visuals that easily and clearly communicate your progress and the direct benefit to the company.
Elevate SEO by emulating Sales
SEOs have a history of making SEO esoteric and exotic, implying that there is a bit of dark magic involved. That serves neither the SEO nor the executive audience.
Take the opposite approach and emulate what Sales does:
- Build a forecast and commit to a plan. Yes, this will put more pressure on the SEO team, but it will also engage the executives, most of whom pay little attention to programs not formatted as a plan tracked with a number. Welcome quota and accountability for the plan.
- Increase transparency on progress. SEO usually takes longer than paid channels or even sales to bring in results, but include progress reporting at least monthly in the standard management report vehicles. Use numbers and graphs, just like Sales does.
- Focus on the big rocks. Sales would not share the tactical minutiae of every deal with management — and SEOs should not, either. They identify repeatable patterns and tell the executives how they will scale it out to other reps and deals.
Every day, I am inspired by the great work that the SEO community is doing. Keep elevating your success by building appropriate dashboards and presentations that tie SEO strategy and tactics to business objectives. This will directly help you position and promote your success. Continually engage with C-level executives, and help them understand the value of SEO and the role it is playing in company growth.
Use data, AI and deep learning to share powerful insights, tell content-rich stories and develop new skill sets that help you understand and adapt to the wider digital and marketing technology landscape.
I would highly recommend that, in 2018, you invest time in cultivating valuable meeting room traits, including confident speaking skills and effective storytelling abilities. This will allow you to engage with the leaders of your organization and help them understand the value of what you and the organic search channels must offer.