If we wanted to determine how an organization achieves SEO success, what would we analyze? We might examine the technical breadth of knowledge of their lead SEO, the volumes of content they create, or even more abstract indicators such as their org structure. To be sure, there are any number of ways of examining the success of an organization that consistently succeeds in search.
We started with the hypothesis that the extent to which an organization has executive buy-in correlates closely with their success in the search listings. We'll test that hypothesis and then trace what downstream factors ultimately lead to success.
Testing the Link between Evangelism and Budget
To test the hypothesis, we surveyed 380 search marketers, asking them about a wide breadth of behaviors, tactics and strategies related to how they practice SEO. I'm going to zoom on the survey questions related to executive buy-in and explore the organizational characteristics that lead to this optimal state.
We'll start by segmenting those respondents who say they have most or all of the budget they need for SEO and test for the degree to which they evangelize (market SEO internally).
In this segment, 55 percent of those who evangelize often have most or all of the budget they need compared to just 25 percent of those who never or rarely evangelize. We don't want to conflate correlation with causation, but it seems reasonable to conclude (and fairly intuitively logical) that evangelism is correlated with increased buy-in. (And, the 55 percent is likely underreported because, honestly, who wants to admit they have all the budget they need?)
Do High Conversion Rates Correspond to Executive Buy-in?
To "follow the thread" and see what leads to success, next we looked to see if there was a correlation between executive buy-in and natural search success. We segmented those who grew their search conversions at rates far greater than that of their colleagues and looked to see their proportion of 'high' versus 'low' executive buy-in.
The data showed that the group of highly successful SEO professionals were more than twice as likely to have 'high' executive buy-in rates than 'low'.
The conclusion seems clear: Evangelism – the concerted effort to get executive buy-in – is critical to natural search success because it leads to budget, headcount, and technology investment, which ultimately is a critical catalyst to natural search success.
You Know SEO Evangelism Is Significant, but What's Next?
If you're on board with the conclusions we have drawn from the data, evangelism seems pretty darn important to search success. So how do you do it and do it successfully?
There are many valid approaches out there in the public domain for how to best handle an activity as critical as evangelism, but the following three approaches are particularly effective:
1. Speak the Language of Your Executive
If you aren't speaking the same language as your executive, you won't get much past the very first slide in your executive support pitch deck. Start by asking yourself "What metrics does my executive care about?"
The answer may vary widely depending on your company type, industry, and even from one organization to another in the same industry. Ask others in the organization what their perspective on your executives' targets are.
Use the successes of your direct competitors of a baseline for metrics. Certainly, address ROI; IBM recently came out with a study on CMOs which is another helpful resource.
Whatever you do, be sure you are entering any discussion with them talking about the metrics that are top of mind for them.
2. There Is no 'Talk'; There Is Only 'Do'
Traditional search market opportunity assessments are typically presented to budget holders as an assessment of what could be achieved with proper budget allocation. While well intentioned, search opportunities can be perceived as little more than a promise, and these are often met with "I'll believe it when I see it" skepticism (whether explicitly expressed or not).
Instead, in the first face-to-face meeting with executives, provide conservative estimates of the growth you think you can achieve in a specific period (e.g., 90 days), and then go out and do whatever it takes to achieve that. In a follow-up meeting, present the success you achieved in the 90 days to management with growth estimates you think you can achieve given the proper executive support.
It isn't without risk to put growth estimates out there, but it's arguably at least as risky to make a pitch for executive support with 'theoreticals' rather than 'concretes'. For more on how to execute the specifics of this plan check out A 3 Part Plan to Overcoming Management's "Show Me Success Before I'll Invest in SEO" Catch-22.
3. Find Your Internal Champion
Our (informal) analysis of successful SEO professionals over the years has shown that a not insubstantial percentage discovered internal champions in unlikely places in their organization. A common place to find them is in finance: successfully demonstrate the return on investment in search to a budget-controlling CFO who speaks the language of numbers and you may be well on your way to getting the budget and executive support you need.
Evaluate Your SEO Evangelism Efforts
Although our analysis is not exhaustive, we know from a variety of factors (including this data, common sense, and our clients' experience as well as our own) that vocal evangelism leads to executive buy-in, which leads to the organizational and budgetary support needed to succeed in search.
Given the connection between evangelism and search success, consider if the techniques above can assist you in gaining the support and budget you need to succeed. At minimum, resolve to take a step back from the day to day to consider if your evangelism efforts need leveling up. Whatever you decide, good luck in your quest for the ever-critical executive support in search.