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Oil and Water? SEOs vs. Content Owners

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SEO is more than making technical and content changes to a Web site and helping to better its chances of drawing authority links. Larger organizations and brands in particular should carefully account for politics and the review process when planning SEO projects.

The classic tÊte-À-tÊte that most people think of when considering SEO consultants' clashes with internal directors and teams is the meeting of the designers and developers. Today, we'll focus on the possibly uncomfortable meetings that can occur when SEO meets content creator.

Eric Enge's column, "Large Enterprise SEO: Content Development" makes several great, accurate points and notes many important considerations. Regular readers of this column know that Frank and I both feel SEO should be a long-term engagement. Whether developing content on a massive scale over years to come, or optimizing a few dozen or hundred pages, establishing a relationship with the content owners -- and the process by which recommendations will be delivered, iterated, and reviewed for implementation -- is the first and most important thing that must happen.

Content Recommendation Process Flow

Fortune 500 and other large organizations typically have complex hierarchical and workflow structures, but the final ownership of content for each product category or line of business usually boils down to one person. In some industry verticals, such as health care and finance, further legal review is likely, and often non-negotiable.

When an SEO project is launched, meetings should be established with each of these content owners and their teams. First and foremost, this meeting should be to "make friends!"

It's crucial for SEO strategists and managers, as well as any executive sponsors attending the meeting, to make sure that the communication process is clearly outlined and in alignment with the typical workflow structure of the in-house team. I still get some butterflies when I attend one of these meetings because I never know if there will be uneasiness on the part of the in-house content owners and their teams.

It's always a great relief and a true feeling of satisfaction when I come out of such meetings with a strong feeling of organizational buy-in (like the meetings I had yesterday, which inspired this column). Scheduling multiple meetings over a day or two can sometimes be difficult, especially with larger organizations. However, having the SEO team meet in person with each product manager and the content development team(s) is also non-negotiable.

This allows for the following messaging:

  1. The brand always has the final say and is looked at as the expert.
  2. The keyword research that drives each recommendation is driven by the brand.
  3. The more involved the specific product manager is, the higher the likelihood of rapid success.

Once everyone's on the same page, it's helpful to provide specific examples of the deliverables that will be used to deliver content recommendations. Going through such a document together will save a lot of time in the future, as the page recommendations start to pour in. Lastly, discuss a timeline and prioritization schedule.

We like to be aggressive on our end to deliver the first optimized iterations, allowing for as much possible time for review. In some cases, we'll even recommend that this process could take two months. If the in-house team feels that their review teams, including legal when applicable, can be done in less time, they can be more aggressive with their end of the expected timeline.

Concatenation Schemas

Today, I'll only briefly address marketers using large dynamically-driven sites. Beyond the static pages that can and should be used to support the dynamic pages, content opportunities that exist within these sites are often overlooked, causing for a less-than-optimal organic search engine ranking performance at category and product levels.

When working in a similar manner with each of the product managers, establishing rules for pulling database elements into SEO and user-experience-driven page elements is crucial. There must be a clear understanding of what database elements are the most desirable for use within page titles, meta descriptions, and headers, and the design team must prepare placeholders for such content to be pulled dynamically. We create a concatenation schema for this purpose, and try to establish a clear set of rules for all levels of page templates that will be used within the site.

There are many effective ways to establish the right workflow for delivery and implementation of optimized content, no matter how small or large the project is. The suggestions above have come from positive and negative experiences in clearing this important hurdle.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions at the Search Engine Watch Forums discussion about "Establishing A Process for Implementation of Optimized Content."

For additional related information, you can review "Developing a Training Plan for In-House SEO."

Frank Watson Fires Back

I've had to deal with this problem many times, and the biggest thing I've had to overcome is perspective. Though the different groups share a common language, many times their understanding of terms or ingrained perspectives can lead to meetings where both parties think they understand what the other is talking about, but in reality, they're on completely different paths.

A good example is CMS -- to a programmer, you're talking about middleware, something that connects the backend to the Web presence; while to content developers, it's just where they drop their stories and have them wrapped in the Web site's template. I once had three meetings where everyone left thinking we were getting there, only to discover that a lack of common understanding didn't move us in a common direction. It took two more meetings to get everyone on the same page.

In the case of content writers, I've had to scrap work done by writers twice because they weren't listening with an SEO ear. It's hard for them to break away from the old school journalism teachings of writing clever headlines. The SEO stylebook weighs keyword importance when writing headlines, or even structuring paragraphs.

Hopefully this article will be read by both sides and develop a little more understanding. It'd be great if future meetings had this in mind at the start.


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