23 May 2013

5 Common Problems Leading to SEO Implementation #FAIL

Search Engine Optimization is difficult to implement, and often more problematic for mid to large-sized organizations with complex internal structures and multiple decision makers involved. Using the popular hash #FAIL, I recently created an acronym to represent what I feel are 5 of the top reasons SEO doesn’t get implemented properly or completely. (Originally presented at Pubcon SFIMA 2013)


#- Numbers

LOE FAIL MemeThe problem: In this case, “numbers” refers to level of effort (LOE) and resources required to complete implementations. If either an agency/consultant or a client (hereafter referred to as “all parties”) has the wrong assumptions about the people that will be required to complete and approve changes, this can cause serious and fatal delays. An example of the sometimes crippling ripple effect this can cause is when a technical implementation is a prerequisite to a content update, and gets de-prioritized or sent to the wrong person or department.

Improper people-planning can be one of the reasons that LOE is also misjudged. Usually all parties have differing estimations of how long something will take to implement. In my experience the client often calculates more accurately, but I have seen SEO engineers illuminate both executives and IT teams quite often, and introduce them to better coding techniques that actually reduce LOE.

The #FAIL Points: Lost time; Inability to implement; Improper implementation; Agency loss of margin

The solution: Communicate effectively during the Discovery phase of the project. Ask more questions and be sure that both sides have clear expectations of the teams that may be required to support SEO implementation


F – Fact Sharing Across Teams

The problem: Once the project is underway and all parties’ teams have been established, appropriate people don’t communicate properly or at the right times. For example, content that has been developed can occasionally get improperly approved. SEO agencies may use a sample of a few pages of optimized content and deliver it to the SEO contact on the client side, who then approves it. Once the full content delivery is made, it can turn out that the SEO contact didn’t have the authority for final approval. I have seen this increase iteration cycles and cause both sides to lose time and money, which is a shame considering that the samples could have been used to also finalize the client-side sign-off workflow.

Content isn’t the only area of SEO that is subject to fact sharing misfires- broader marketing programs which include CSR, philanthropy and partnerships often fail to share highly valuable insight into future online and offline promotional calendars and events, which could greatly benefit site authority growth.

The #FAIL Points: Lost hours developing erroneously-approved samples; Trashing entire recommendations; Inconsistent (non-integrated) marketing

The Solution: Establish clear workflows once Discovery is completed, in order to maximize the potential efficiency of implementation, as well as the information that can be used to support authority-development strategies.


A – Approach to Expectations

The problem: The first three #FAIL sub-categories have one main category in common: communication. However they each are unique problem types. The Third has to do with proper and constant setting of reasonable business results expectations. Nothing is more frustrating as an SEO to hear clients complain after only a few weeks or even months, that the results aren’t there yet. For some business owners, SEO ROI can be a painfully slow goal to attain. Every SEO program is subject to a completely different competitive landscape and keyword set. The pain therefore often comes from unrealistic expectations – either of general SEO curing time or of the industry/niche competitive landscape.

Assuming SEO recommendations have been implemented (which is sometimes in itself a misunderstanding at the executive client level), business owners should be given initial and quarterly estimations of the type of metrics they should see improving and the timeline. For obvious reasons, I have found it’s much easier estimate a longer time frame and then happily announce performance improvements ahead of schedule. This is a slippery slope however because losing agency business sometimes ends up based on projected goal-attainment timing, with one agency/consultant promising faster results than another.

All parties involved have to be reasonable, and agree to commonly desired performance indicators to benchmark and measure against.

The #FAIL Points: Unrealistic expectations; Unmet goals; Relationship unlikely to be renewed (or early cancelation)

The Solution: Executives and business owners should meet early and regularly to discuss goals, expectations, and progress. Although most SEO client-side leads can be trusted to properly message status to superiors, there is no substitute for higher level steering committees.


I – Information Technology and Content Client Teams

Not the Code MemeThe problem: The one is simple, and involves the lack of established buy-in and gained trust from the client-side I.T. and/or Content owners. The oldest “fights” in SEO programs are those that result from often territorial concerns between all parties. SEO recommendations can easily be construed as “calling my baby ugly” by both in-house developers and writers. This can also be exasperated by turnover on the client side, on the developer/writer level and also at the CTO or Chief Content/Brand Officer (a more commonly discovered C-level) level. Often “newbies” have their own ideas and/or vendors that they will look to implement.

The #FAIL Points: Arguments; Sabotage; Client-side personnel changes; Jealousy; Program delays

The Solution: Compromise is the best way to reach a common point and increase speed of business requirements and content approval implementation. If the sides are far apart, Executive level meetings including all C-Levels should be scheduled as quickly as possible, in order to clear the impasse.


L – Lackadaisical Implementation

The problem: As hinted above, sometimes SEO implementations are alleged to be completed, but in reality they have been done poorly or partially. Not every case is a result of the other “L” word I considered for this: laziness. However if those tasked with the implementation don’t understand the importance of every approved character or code change, the all-too-human desire to get it done can lead to errors. For SEO, missing an H1 or Bold tag or closing tag, as well as changing a seemingly inconsequential word, can cause a big difference in performance.

The client isn’t always at fault here. Some recommendations may not work with the site CMS properly and throw off the look and feel, and others may break navigation or desired visitor path based on conversion goals. In short, both sides need to be vigilant when developing of implementing recommendations, to ensure that neither the SEO nor the site experience is broken.

The #Fail Points: Non-Optimal SEO performance; Poor user experience; Disappointment across both parties

The solution: SEO consists of carefully crafted recommendations, and should be treated very clinically. The SEO team has to understand every ramification of a link or style suggestion, and the implementation teams have to stick to the letter of instructions. Proper Subject Matter Expert quality assurance should be performed on the SEO and UX sides, prior to making content and experience changes live.

(Image sources www.quickmeme.com and www.memegenerator.net)