Any successful cause, country, or company has a strong leader behind it. Leaders can inspire people and motivate them to rise like a phoenix.
The 20th century saw great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, and many others. In the business world we have had notable leaders like Henry Ford, Sam Walton, Jack Welch, and Steve Jobs, to name but a few.
All jobs have a leadership component built into it in some shape or form. Search engine optimization (SEO) is no different. In fact, search engine marketing (SEM) and SEO is an innovative field which requires solid leadership.
SEOs, especially in-house SEOs, face many battles daily. Good SEO leadership skills can help you and your SEO program succeed.
We can draw parallels between the qualities of leadership and how SEOs can use those qualities in every day role, be it at an agency or in-house. So here are 10 top characteristics of leaders and how they can be used by pro SEO's.
1. Lead by Example
An essential leadership trait is leading by example. Be the example in both deeds and action so you can inspire followers to do the same. SEO can be one of those skills where you can put into practice what you preach.
If you’re an in-house SEO, you can zero down on a particular business or department that feels neglected or is small compared to rest of the business. Working with this team could be easier as they would welcome any help that they can get with their SEO. Generating results for this group is a great example of “small wins” and can prove you, the SEO, to be the one leading by example.
In business and day-to-day life, it's important to lead a life of integrity, and to be known for it. Al Pacino’s character Frank Slade in "Scent of a Woman" said it best: “He won’t sell any one out to buy his future and that my friend is called Integrity. That’s the stuff leaders should be made of.”
A classic example of integrity in SEO might look like simply refraining from renting or buying links to produce short term SEO results. In the long term it might even backfire and harm your SEO success as well as personal reputation.
We have to look no further than the JCPenney-New York Times expose. To save yourself and your company from this type of situation, it's important for SEOs to have that ethical approach to link building, and integrity plays a huge part here.
Many great leaders could attest that creating a culture of collaboration is essential for the success of any cause. That could be the nation, company, or even a small project at an agency.
Collaboration plays a huge part in bringing everyone together and letting the best minds work together to find a solution to a problem. Over the past decade, collaborative management style has grown in importance. SEO’s are at the forefront of this collaborative style of management as in order for any SEO program to succeed you would need not just input but meaningful contribution from many teams.
Whether it's developers, IT, your project managers, or designers, SEOs need to bring everyone together to your common cause and collaborate with each stakeholder. After all, a strong SEO program whether be it in-house or at an agency is hard to succeed without everyone moving in the same direction.
4. Celebrating Wins
In his book “Winning”, Jack Welch said “Great Leaders know that successes need to be celebrated.” Celebrating your wins can act not just as a motivational tool but also bonds teams together. Camaraderie between teams allows leaders to pose bigger challenges to them and motivates everyone to work toward their common goal.
SEOs should celebrate every win with their extended teams whether be it with IT for pushing their project up the queue or QA for ensuring they didn't reject any changes, or with designers who let go of their usual graphic heavy style in favor of a more textually based design. These wins can be in form of anything like a lunch, after work beers, or even a more formal appreciation email.
You can choose any mode of celebration you prefer, but remember to celebrate your SEO wins. After all, no win is small enough to not celebrate.
5. The Big Picture
Leaders are known as visionaries for a reason. When everyone else is mired into the nitty-gritty details it is the leaders who see through that and comprehend the big picture. The iconic Steve Jobs proved that time and again by revolutionizing so many industries.
SEO’s also have it in them to look at the bigger picture by envisioning how their SEO program could look in a year or two years time. Sometimes it could be picking a number from thin air like increasing x number of new site visits through long tail terms or generating y number of revenues through SEO.
It isn't uncommon for an SEO to start their gig and get pulled in many different directions. Working through the daily grind while keeping an eye on the big picture tend to work the best for long-term SEO program success.
6. Consensus Building
Great leaders build consensus among their followers before making any decision. The more you practice this trait of consensus building, the better you get at it.
An SEO needs to practice consensus building almost daily – otherwise your SEO efforts won’t come to fruition.
A classic example could be inserting SEO in a development process. If you don't build consensus among all stakeholders on how critical it is to insert SEO at the planning phase, then chances are SEO would be an afterthought. And we know how expensive that can be, and what a missed opportunity.
Any page level or server level changes in SEO also need to have the blessing of different teams. As SEOs, you need to be the consensus builder.
Many “leaders” talk about empowerment, but it usually ends up as nothing more than a bold statement. Empowering means giving folks the tools and letting them run with it and make the decisions. That of course has an effect on results as empowering team members brings ownership and accountability (or so you would hope!).
The best way to empower others is to train other people within relevant parts of the company in how to use SEO tools relevant to the area where their job intersects with yours. There are many avenues for SEO training, ranging from formal in-house training to brown bags to a more informal SEO chat during lunch hours.
Another way to empower your wider team, especially IT, is through sharing your SEO tools like webmaster console, analytics reports, your linking tools anything that you use. One of the tools that I let my IT use was Xenu Link Sleuth. Instead of simply showing them screengrabs of your SEO tools why not share the tools with other teams and you should see a marked difference in excitement and engagement on their part.
8. Making Swift Decisions
While others waste time pondering an issue, great leaders are known to collect all data and then make a swift decision. That decision can be as big as bailing out an entire car manufacturing industry or rather small as killing a certain project in your company.
A leader has to make hard decisions. SEO also needs to be able to make swift decisions, whether it's in the form of a budget or a list of SEO changes you requested. Not all your SEO requests will be acted on so those are the times that you would need to make a swift decision about which project is a high impact activity and which request you can do without.
9. Resolving Conflicts
The bigger the leader or the bigger your team the more conflicts you will encounter. A leader needs to walk a balance between resolving conflicts without making any team feel unwanted or feel biased.
Reams and reams of paper have been dedicated on the subject of managing and resolving conflicts as an essential part of leadership. For SEOs this can mean when marketing is in conflict with IT or designers are in conflict with you the SEO then finding the best solution possible to resolve conflict.
A common conflict is with designers and IT, where they want certain things their way in terms of graphics and SEOs the other. In those cases, developing conflict resolution skills can be very helpful.
10. Creating Culture of Transparency
Leaders strive to create transparency in their organizations as it engages the whole company. Transparency also creates trust in their leaders.
An SEO has a big part to play in creating transparency into the exact processes and changes you will need to follow in order to drive SEO growth. SEO often has a voodoo magic reputation and SEO’s characterized as “snake oil salesman”, so it is imperative that SEO be transparent with their processes and methods.
A great way to achieve transparency is by publishing to your team or stakeholders you’re working with all the changes you will be working on during the course of the project. This onus of creating SEO transparency falls on SEO and in the process you should be able to convert the skeptics into believers.
SEO can be a lonely battle at times so you should enlist as much support as you can from your wider team. The above leadership traits are perfect for SEOs to adapt for their day-to-day roles. If you have any additions to the list why not leave a comment below!
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!