Posted by randfish
One thing we can all agree on: there's a lot to think about when it comes to your SEO tasks. Even for the most organized among us, it can be really difficult to prioritize our to-dos and make sure we're getting the highest return on them. In this week's Whiteboard Friday, Rand tackles the question that's a constant subtext in every SEO's mind.
Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we're chatting about how to prioritize SEO tasks and specifically get the biggest bang for the buck that we possibly can.
I know that all of you have to deal with this, whether you are a consultant or at an agency and you're working with a client and you're trying to prioritize their SEO tasks in an audit or a set of recommendations that you've got, or you're working on an ongoing basis in-house or as a consultant and you're trying to tell a team or a boss or manager, "Hey these are all the SEO things that we could potentially do. Which ones should we do first? Which ones are going to get in this sprint, this quarter, or this cycle?" — whatever the cadence is that you're using.
I wanted to give you some great ways that we here at Moz have done this and some of the things that I've seen from both very small companies, startups, all the way up to large enterprises.
Look, the list of SEO tasks can be fairly enormous. It could be all sorts of things: rewrite our titles and descriptions, add rich snippets categories, create new user profile pages, rewrite the remaining dynamic URLs that we haven't taken care of yet, or add some of the recommended internal inks to the blog posts, or do outreach to some influencers that we know in this new space we're getting into. You might have a huge list of these things that are potential SEO items. I actually urge you to make this list internally for yourself, either as a consulting team or an in-house team, as big as you possibly can.
I think it's great to involve decision makers in this process. You reach out to a manager or the rest of your team or your client, whoever it is, and get all of their ideas as well, because you don't want to walk into these prioritization meetings and then have them go, "Great, those are your priorities. But what about all these things that are my ideas?" You want to capture as many of these as you can. Then you go through a validation process. That's really the focus of today.
Prioritization questions to ask yourself
The prioritization questions that I think all of us need to be asking ourselves before we decide which order tasks will go in and which ones we're going to focus on are:
What company goals does this task serve or map to?
Look, if your company or the organization you're working with doesn't actually have big initiatives for the year or the quarter, that's a whole other matter. I recommend that you make sure your organization gets on top of that or that you as a consultant, if you are a consultant, get a list of what those big goals are.
Those big things might be, hey, we're trying to increase revenue from this particular product line, or we're trying to drive more qualified users to sign up for this feature, or we're trying to grow traffic to this specific section. Big company goals. It might even be weird things or non-marketing things, like we're trying to recruit this quarter. It's really important for us to focus on recruitment. So you might have an SEO task that maps to how do we get more people who are job seekers to our jobs pages, or how do we get our jobs listings more prominent in search results for relevant keywords — that kind of thing. They can map to all sorts of goals across a company.
What's an estimated 30, 60, 90, and 1 year value?
Then, once we have those, we want to ask for an estimated range — this is very important — of value that the task will provide over the next X period of time. I like doing this in terms of several time periods. I don't like to say we're only going to estimate what the six month value is. I like to say, "What's an estimated 30, 60, 90, and 1 year value?"
You don't have to be that specific. You could say we're only going to do this for a month and then for the next year. For each of those time periods here, you'd go here's our low estimate, our mid estimate, and our high estimate of how this is going to impact traffic or conversion rate or whatever the goal is that you're mapping to up here.
Which teams/people are needed to accomplish this work, and what is their estimate of time needed?
Next, we want to ask which teams or people are needed to accomplish this work and what is their estimate of time needed. Important: what is their estimate, not what's your estimate. I, as an SEO, think that it's very, very simple to make small changes to a CMS to allow me to edit a rel=canonical tag. My web dev team tells me differently. I want their opinion. That's what I want to represent in any sort of planning process.
If you're working outside a company as a consultant or at an agency, you need to go validate with their web dev team, with their engineering team, what it's going to take to make these changes. If you are a contractor and they work with a web dev contractor, you need to talk to that contractor about what it's going to take.
You never want to present estimates that haven't been validated by the right team. I might, for example, say there's a big SEO change that we want to make here at Moz. I might need some help from UX folks, some help from content, some help from the SEOs themselves, and one dev for two weeks. All of these different things I want to represent those completely in the planning process.
How will we capture metrics, measure if it's working, and ID potential problems early?
Finally, last question I'll ask in this prioritization is: How are we going to capture the right metrics around this, measure it, see that it's working, and identify potential problems early on? One of the things that happens with SEO is sometimes something goes wrong — either in the planning phase or the implementation or the launch itself — or something unexpected happens. We update the user profiles to be way more SEO friendly and realize that in the new profile pages we no longer link to this very important piece of internal content that users had uploaded or had created, and so now we've lost a bunch of internal links to that and our indexation is dropping out. The user profile pages may be doing great, but that user-generated content is shrinking fast, and so we need to correct that immediately.
We have to be on the watch for those. That requires validation of design, some form of test if you can (sometimes it's not needed but many times it is), some launch metrics so you can watch and see how it's doing, and then ongoing metrics to tell you was that a good change and did it map well to what we predicted it was going to do.
General wisdom regarding prioritization
Just a few rules now that we've been through this process, some general wisdom around here. I think this is true in all aspects of professional life. Under-promise and over-deliver, especially on speed to execute. When you estimate all these things, make sure to leave yourself a nice healthy buffer and potential value. I like to be very conservative around how I think these types of things can move the needle on the metrics.
Leave teams and people room in their sprints or whatever the cadence is to do their daily and ongoing and maintenance types of work. You can't go, "Well, there are four weeks in this time period for this sprint, so we're going to have the dev do this thing that takes two weeks and that thing that takes two weeks." Guess what? They have to do other work as well. You're not the only team asking for things from them. They have their daily work that they've got to do. They have maintenance work. They have regular things that crop up that go wrong. They have email that needs to be answered. You've got to make sure that those are accounted for.
I mentioned this before. Never, ever, ever estimate on behalf of other people. It's not just that you might be wrong about it. That's actually only a small portion of the problem. The big part of the problem with estimating on behalf of others is then when they see it or when they're asked to confirm it by a team, a manager, a client or whomever, they will inevitably get upset that you've estimated on their behalf and assumed that work will take a certain amount of time. You might've been way overestimating, so you feel like, "Hey, man, I left you tons of time. What are you worried about?"
The frustrating part is not being looped in early. I think, just as a general rule, human beings like to know that they are part of a process for the work that they have to do and not being told, "Okay, this is the work we're assigning you. You had no input into it." I promise you, too, if you have these conversations early, the work will get done faster and better than if you left those people out of those conversations.
Don't present every option in planning. I know there's a huge list of things here. What I don't want you to do is go into a planning process or a client meeting or something like that, sit down and have that full list, and go, "All right. Here's everything we evaluated. We evaluated 50 different things you could do for SEO." No, bring them the top five, maybe even just the top three or so. You want to have just the best ones.
You should have the full list available somewhere so if they call up like, "Hey, did you think about doing this, did you think about doing that," you can say, "Yeah, we did. We've done the diligence on it. This is the list of the best things that we've got, and here's our recommended prioritization." Then that might change around, as people have different opinions about value and which goals are more important that time period, etc.
If possible, two of the earliest investments I recommend are A.) automated, easy-to-access metrics, building up a culture of metrics and a way to get those metrics easily so that every time you launch something new it doesn't take you an inordinate amount of time to go get the metrics. Every week or month or quarter, however your reporting cycle goes, it doesn't take you tons and tons of time to collect and report on those metrics. Automated metrics, especially for SEO, but all kinds of metrics are hugely valuable.
Second, CMS upgrades — things that make it such that your content team and your SEO team can make changes on the fly without having to involve developers, engineers, UX folks, all that kind of stuff. If you make it very easy for a content management system to enable editable titles and descriptions, make URLs easily rewritable, make things redirectable simply, allow for rel=canonical or other types of header changes, enable you to put schema markup into stuff, all those kinds of things — if that is right in the CMS and you can get that done early, then a ton of the things over here go from needing lots and lots of people involved to just the SEO or the SEO and the content person involved. That's really, really nice.
All right, everyone, I look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments on prioritization methods. We'll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.
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