This is the third and final installment in this particular series about certain special considerations with SEO project management. You should read Part 1 and Part 2 first. This isn’t intended to be a guide on how to perform SEO project management, since that would be quite a lengthy document. Rather, my aim in this series is simply to shed light on certain areas that project managers used to working in other disciplines might want to consider, as well as to help business owners understand things that make SEO different from other types of Information Technology projects. Without further ado, let’s begin.
SEO Project Management ModelAs mentioned previously, a fairly standard set of activities will generally need to be performed at the start of any SEO project. These activities include the identification of digital assets, an assortment of various on-page tasks, competition analysis, and early off-page tasks such as link clean-up, just to name a few. Custom SEO agencies may apply their own secret sauce during this phase as well. While the general nature of these activities will tend to be consistent within an agency in how they handle client SEO, the exact details and level of effort required may vary greatly from one project to the next.
Once these baseline tasks are complete, the project will likely go through a series of progressive cycles until the desired results are achieved. A project management methodology that supports this approach of iterative work through successive cycles is recommended in order to maintain flexibility and avoid a constant stream of change orders that would likely result from trying to hold to a traditional waterfall approach.
SEO ROIThere are a lot of opinions and approaches to calculating the ROI of an SEO project. Certainly, every project requires a clear and compelling reason why the business would invest money in it. The bottom line is that SEO is not simply a marketing cost due to the fact that it potentially creates residual value in a way that other forms of marketing do not. SEO is a strategic investment that a business owners makes to help ensure a regular flow of inbound customers that don't depend on paid advertisements. While beginning to realize the ROI may take anywhere from two months to a year or longer depending on your particular industry and location, this varies widely depending on the level of competition and the skill of your SEO.
Perhaps most importantly, SEO creates an exit-strategy for the business owner. It has an incredible ability to transform a business that’s just getting by into a valuable target for corporate acquisition by a larger company. Simply put, if you're sitting at the top of the search results for things that generate revenue, someone's likely to be interested if your business is for sale. From such a perspective, the potential ROI is possibly much higher than when simply compared to alternative marketing strategies.
Project CommunicationA communication plan is an important part of a project that details how communication is going to occur. This is important in order to prevent a free-for-all of instant messaging, email, phone calls, and cellular text messages that may result not only in complete chaos and missed deadlines but also the potential loss of important project data. A communication plan brings structure to how different types of communication will occur, both internally within the project team and with stakeholders, with the goal of ensuring that the project is successful. In this instance, my particular focus is on certain things that can come into play during communication between the client and the SEO provider which must be considered.
Having managed projects of so many different types, one thing I’m certain of is that SEO is… different. One thing you may encounter in an SEO project is that semi-technical people are very likely to try and understand things which are simply never going to make sense to them. While that could be said for IT in general, what makes SEO a bit unique is that we deal with a lot of things that people are used to looking at constantly, and, being smart people, they will be quick to think they understand them – but they’ve never looked at any of those things from an SEO perspective.
This can potentially lead to a lot of conversation because it arouses people’s curiosity when they suddenly discover that the online world that’s been right in front of them has immense depths of subtlety they never previously imagined. Analytical people will be naturally inclined to want to get their heads around it, so to speak. Creative people may suddenly find themselves having no end of ideas they want to contribute. For all of these reasons, business owners should decide up front whether they want to pay for their staff to have kind of this extra dialogue or simply let the SEO firm do their thing.
As an example, consider a scenario in which the project is moving into content marketing. Suppose an appropriate piece of content can be sourced by the SEO for $50. Creative staff employed by the client, however, want to hold additional meetings to discuss the content to be used, possibly create their own content, and then invariably have to conduct additional meetings to discuss changes required to make the content suitable for SEO purposes. That type of dynamic creative process takes much longer, and the additional hours required are usually not going to be covered in a standard engagement. As a result, the client needs to determine in advance whether a creative engagement is worth the cost and schedule risk, or whether they prefer to simply let the SEO procure an appropriate piece of content to keep the project on-target in regard to both time and money. Neither approach is right or wrong; it’s a question of cost and preference, and it’s something that needs to be established during project inception to avoid any potential heartburn later.
Because SEO may take anywhere from three months to a year or longer, some type of regular contact is certainly needed to assure the customer that something meaningful is happening. I caution, though, against the standard inclination to produce detailed activity reports with tons of detail. If you go into too much detail, what may well happen is that when people read a report with a bunch of activities listed of things you did and digital documents or properties that you created, for example, people are going to try to look at those things online and try to understand both the individual activities as well as how they all fit together. It’s human nature to do that. Unfortunately, there’s a huge potential for them to end up feeling confused and frustrated for several different reasons. First, some of the things we do in SEO can be counter-intuitive or go against many common misconceptions. Second, they simply lack the years of experience to understand the strategic approach behind why these things are done the way they are. Unless you’re dealing with another actual expert, consider the level of detail that’s really going to be beneficial to the customer. More is not always better. Seek to provide meaningful indicators of progress while avoiding the inclusion of unnecessary data-points. There is another reason to consider keeping reports at a high level, though.
A critical consideration for any SEO firm is intellectual property and trade secrets. No one expects to walk into a major brand fast food restaurant and walk out with anything more than the vaguest understanding of their secret recipe, and SEO is no different. Within the field of SEO, there is a great amount of highly specialized tradecraft that changes on a very frequent basis. This tradecraft represents an SEO firm’s secret recipe in how they address the 200+ ranking factors. Accordingly, if you want anything more than a high-level report, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to execute a legal Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) which attaches a hefty financial penalty for violating the terms of the agreement. I prefer to avoid such a situation entirely and keep trade secrets and propriety business processes strictly on a need-to-know basis. As long as you can deliver results, people will not only understand that you’ve got something special, but they’ll also appreciate the fact that you don’t take just anyone as a client.