The Art of SEO Stakeholder Management: Saying ‘No’ Without Damaging Relationships

Take a journey with me as we master the art of effectively communicating potential risks, aligning key metrics, and navigating those challenging moments when SEO recommendations get sidelined due to business pressures. Are you ready?

Decisions in the realm of SEO are never solitary. They’re intertwined with various factors, each influencing the optimization process for search engines while considering their commercial implications.

Adept SEOs are continuously striving to strike the right balance, crafting pragmatic solutions that cater to search engines, users, and corporate objectives.

Most of the time, it’s feasible to find a common ground, a strategy that mitigates risks to organic traffic while satisfying the demands of other stakeholders.

But sometimes, it’s not.

There will be moments in every SEO professional’s journey when they are compelled to utter the word “no.”

“No, it’s not a good idea to migrate the website tomorrow without setting up a redirect map.”

“No, removing that subdirectory poses too much risk.”

In an ideal world, your well-articulated concerns would persuade decision-makers to tread carefully. However, reality isn’t always ideal.

There will be scenarios where your “no” fails to halt the course of action. So, how do you navigate such situations?

Measuring the Dangers

An effective strategy to make stakeholders realize the repercussions of disregarding SEO recommendations involves putting a value on the potential risks.

This can be expressed in terms of financial consequences or in relation to the metrics that hold significance for those stakeholders who choose to dissent.

Pinpointing the Metrics that Truly Count

Goals and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) aren’t a one-size-fits-all. They differ from business to business, and each of your stakeholders is likely to have their unique perspective on which ones hold the most significance.

To effectively articulate the potential risk of dismissing SEO recommendations, it’s beneficial to frame the risk in context of the performance metrics that resonate most with the stakeholders who might be inclined to overlook it.

Understanding Department KPIs

Explore the KPIs pertinent to the departments of your stakeholders. What are their internal measurement standards, and how can you effectively tie these to the impact of SEO?

For instance, if the stakeholder expressing disagreement is part of the marketing team, think about the influence of SEO on their marketing outcomes.

Chances are, KPIs such as traffic, conversion rate, and the cost of replacing traffic through media expenditure will be of significant concern.

On the other hand, if your stakeholder is in business development, you might want to highlight the risk in terms of costs per acquisition without organic traffic or new user activation costs.

The Power of Personal KPIs

There may be certain metrics that hold significant importance to a stakeholder. These are often tied to their performance-based incentives or personal growth objectives.

To maintain a proactive approach, it’s crucial to understand what each stakeholder perceives as the key to their success.

With this knowledge at hand, when the time comes to discuss potential risks, you’ll be equipped to emphasize metrics that truly resonate with them.

Illustrate the Consequences

At times, the wisdom of your SEO guidance may be overlooked or dismissed. This often happens because stakeholders struggle to envision the long-term repercussions of not adhering to your advice.

Take a proactive approach and use your data and analytical skills to predict the potential impact.

Consider this scenario:

  • “Imagine we remove these specific pages from our website. The fallout? We’re looking at a possible decrease of about X% in our organic traffic, as these pages currently generate Y organic visits monthly. Furthermore, our data shows that these pages play a crucial role in the purchasing journey for Z% of customers who end up buying. Therefore, it’s safe to project a potential loss of $XXX in sales annually.”

Leverage Past Experiences

Consider painting a vivid picture for your stakeholders by illustrating the consequences of disregarding SEO advice in the past.

Demonstrate the significant drop in rankings and traffic that resulted from website modifications that were against SEO best practices or specific recommendations. Also, don’t forget to bolster your arguments with data on leads or revenue.

This approach can be highly effective in fostering trust in your expertise and highlighting the implications of sidelining SEO.

Draw Inspiration from Other Websites

When you’re short on data to back your suggestions, turn to examples from other websites.

By conducting a thorough competitor analysis, you’ll likely pinpoint instances where other companies in your niche have migrated their website, pruned a significant number of pages, or gone global.

Businesses outside your industry can also serve as excellent examples. Look for websites that have undergone the same process you’re advising against.

A simple online search can often lead you to valuable case studies put together by other SEOs that you can leverage.

Visibility monitoring tools can quickly illustrate the impact of a website modification on its impressions in the SERPs.

A graph that clearly depicts a loss of visibility can effectively demonstrate how a proposed action could jeopardize your website’s organic traffic.

The Financial Implications for Your Business

Imagine the ripple effect a seemingly small change could have on your business. The impact can be quantified as the cost needed to regain lost organic traffic.

Consider your projections for traffic loss and compute the expenses of employing Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaigns to replace that lost traffic.

Don’t forget to factor in the time and resources that might be spent to correct the aftermath of this decision. Every minute and dollar counts!

Navigating the Path When Advice Falls on Deaf Ears

Let’s imagine you’ve tried everything. You’ve done your part, but despite your best efforts, the company decides to proceed against your SEO advice. What’s next? Well, it’s time to chart a new path forward.

In such situations, the optimal scenario for you as an SEO professional is to mitigate any potential damage as best you can.

However, if damage control is out of reach, your next priority should be to shield yourself and your team from any potential backlash.

Preserve a Record of Your Recommendations

It’s crucial to maintain a record of your investigations into the potential SEO implications of the proposed actions. Gather data, make predictions, and provide examples wherever you can.

Develop a robust business case that outlines your preferred course of action and the risks of not heeding your advice. Store this document in a central location and ensure it reaches the stakeholders involved in the decision-making process.

Develop Strategies to Counteract Risk

Don’t wait for the storm to hit. As soon as you sense potential traffic loss, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and devise strategies to compensate for it. If your efforts to persuade your company to avoid such loss prove futile, it’s on you to come up with alternative solutions.

Let’s say your website is about to undergo a major content cull, contrary to SEO best practices. This means you’ll need to double down on digital PR and content creation to boost rankings in other areas.

Document the Changes and Their Impact

Remember to keep tabs on traffic, rankings, and conversions both before and after the changes are implemented.

It’s crucial to note down the exact date of implementation for future reference. This will help you track any changes and their impact on your SEO strategy.

Maintain a central record of all changes and their effects on SEO. This will serve as a valuable resource for anyone trying to understand why there was a dip in traffic or rankings.

By doing so, you’ll be better equipped to diagnose and troubleshoot traffic issues in the future.

Keep an Eye on the Results and Update Stakeholders

Monitor the organic traffic and rankings that are directly impacted by the change. Don’t forget to share this information with your stakeholders. This might just be the wake-up call they need to reconsider the changes.

Even if reverting the changes isn’t feasible or could potentially make things worse, your proactive reporting will strengthen your position if a similar situation were to arise in the future.

When Business Priorities Clash with SEO Best Practices

As an SEO expert, your role is not only to offer guidance but also to proactively steer clear of potential risks. Yet, there will be instances when business imperatives take precedence over SEO best practices.

Here’s a handy tip: whenever you find yourself in a situation where your SEO advice is being sidelined, don’t despair. Instead, meticulously record your suggestions alongside the actions that were actually taken. This will serve as tangible evidence to underline the importance of taking SEO into account in future decisions.

James Ewen

James is an SEO consultant based in London working with clients around the world to get more traffic from organic search. He’s the author of the 100 days of SEO newsletter.

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