Nobody Likes to Hear Their Baby is Ugly

Delivering your SEO recommendations and getting them implemented is a challenge. Many in-house SEOs think the biggest challenge is figuring out what needs to be changed. When you're an in-house SEO, your toughest challenge is often delivering a presentation that earns you respect and is crafted in a way that IT will like the message and want to act on your recommendations.

Typical Process for Delivering SEO Recommendations
  1. Before the Presentation: Document the findings, discussing what is good and what needs fixing. Then, create a presentation for IT so they can make changes.

  2. At the Presentation: You deliver your presentation. You think it's flawless. IT heard you say, "Your baby's ugly."

You see, a company's Web site is IT's baby. IT created it; they put in the blood, sweat and tears to launch it. They have nurtured it through redesigns and implemented regular enhancements. When the Web site goes down at 4 a.m., IT is called to get it up and running smoothly. It's their baby... and if you say it needs to be overhauled, you are basically saying their baby is ugly. Let's face it, nobody likes to hear their baby is ugly.

Getting Around the Ugly Baby Conundrum

What can you say to ensure that you aren't insulting IT's hard work? Honestly, it's a challenge, and you should face the reality that you will occasionally ruffle a few feathers.

We are dealing with what I call the Ugly Baby Conundrum – the site really is a bit ugly in terms of SEO, but you have to find a way to deliver this message so IT does not get defensive about how they have coded and architected the Web site.

I have found three key tactics that help get around the Ugly Baby Conundrum:

  • Don't work in a funnel. Many SEOs sit at their desks, do the standard site audit, and prepare a presentation for IT on SEO recommendations. Some SEOs think the presentation is the time to deliver their recommendations. Instead, talk to IT while conducting your analysis so you are able to include recommendations that can actually be implemented, and your recommendations don't come as a surprise when your audience is armed with many people having the same reservations. In the last in-house article, Tips for Your First Day In-house, I talked about meeting with IT to discuss your recommendations by saying, these are techniques that other companies are using. This allows you to gauge the IT department's reaction, while not indicating these are actual tactics you have in mind for the company's Web site. This approach is time consuming, but it will work to your advantage when your presentation includes several recommendations that are technically feasible in your client's current environment.

  • Do one-on-one trial runs with key stakeholders (technical leads, architects and project managers -- not VPs and directors). I tend to do trial runs with just one or two stakeholders at a time, refining the presentation after each. The reason for the intimate presentation is that when it is one-on-one, people seem more open to asking questions for clarification, tend to talk more, and often suggest feasible solutions that you may not have in your presentation. I also find these smaller settings can help identify and fix potential roadblocks in the delivery of your presentation – be sure to watch the facial expressions for each change you discuss, and ask how the team will respond to the issues discussed. The reason you want these trial runs with lower level stakeholders, rather than VPs and directors, is that upper management has typically bought into SEO conceptually; it is the lower level IT stakeholders that are opposed to SEO changes.

  • Use positive reinforcement. To continue the baby analogy... when dealing with proud parents, sometimes bad news needs to be spun in a positive way. For example, it's not that Susie isn't doing her homework or studying for tests; it's that she isn't living up to her potential and is capable of higher grades. To give positive reinforcement when delivering initial recommendations, I often start off with: "The site is doing OK in search engines, they have found us, we have some pretty good rankings, and we're getting traffic. But, with your help, we could be getting so much more – X times more traffic. I'm going to show you where the search engines are having some trouble when they visit our Web site, why they are having the trouble, and then talk about what we can do to drive more traffic to the site."

If you are the new in-house SEO delivering your first recommendations, consider this your "make-me-or-break-me" presentation. Be on your toes with tough questions, use positive reinforcement, include several recommendations that IT can actually implement, and be careful not to tell IT their baby is ugly. Make the most of your trial runs and you'll have a presentation that will position you as the most obvious expert with practical recommendations that IT can act on, and you'll gain respect from all levels.