In research, it doesn’t matter what you know but what you are shipping. Implementation is the ultimate goal of great SEO ideas.

Is this the case because “executives just don’t value SEO?”

No!

It is a question of good management. Most ideas fail simply because they aren’t clear to others, don’t have a meaningful opportunity size, and success isn’t well defined.

SEO professionals are subject matter experts. We dive into many roles, but we don’t have enough time or expertise to manage every SEO project from A to Z.

As consultants, the issue is even more complicated because they are paid to give recommendations and not to manage projects. It is the linchpin!

Enter SEO PM (product management, not project management), a role at the intersection of project management, alignment, and customer advocacy.

Many will say, “But Kevin, this is what SEO pros should be doing!”

And they’re right – in theory.

Practically, however, SEO teams (and agencies) would benefit immensely from SEO PM.

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What Does an SEO Product Manager Do?

SEO PMs are not glorified project managers. They are product managers – and that’s a big difference.

Most PMs will tell you that they “solve the problems”. Their typical job description looks something like, “This is bad; go fix it. “

Some describe the role of “janitor”, but I think a more accurate description is “universal problem solver in charge”.

They need to research, persuade other influential teams, and work on solid narratives. In a way, PMs are the glue of product organizations as they have to collaborate with many different functional teams to be successful.

In the Scrum framework, Product Managers are the equivalent of Product Owners. They help shape the vision, strategy, and roadmap with SEO professionals.

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They talk to users (SEO pros), write user stories and prioritize the backlog.

Most importantly, SEO PMs are the bridge between subject matter experts (SEO pros) and execution teams (engineers, content writers, UX designers, etc.).

Their job is to get things done.

How an SEO Product Manager Can Be Your Top Problem Solver

In the RAPID framework, SEO is the decision maker. Engineers, designers or writers Make and provide contributions.

MPs are seated in the middle. They can give recommendations and get the agreement of other stakeholders, but basically they bring the work of decision to execution.

This bond is vital because the constant back and forth between vision and execution can be time consuming. Engineers need to define functionality and SEO professionals need to understand impact or execution.

Someone who manages between the two (or more) sides and streamlining that process over time brings a lot of value.

In some organizations, SEO professionals play the role of product manager. But in many cases, there just isn’t enough time and many SEO professionals aren’t trained to take on this role.

They should focus on keyword research, monitoring, technical SEO, internal training, quality assurance, competitor analysis, etc.

Imagine, on top of all that, if they had to size opportunities, write user stories, create mockups, answer engineering questions, etc.

It’s just unrealistic.

Some responsibilities of SEO professionals overlap with PMs, and that’s okay. PMs can lead SEO professionals to define clearer roadmaps and strong visions.

SEO professionals can help PMs develop subject matter expertise and move projects forward faster. Together, they are an unstoppable force.

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A full list of PM responsibilities might include:

  • Shape the vision, strategy, and roadmap for an SEO feature or product.
  • Ask support teams to do so.
  • Remove the roadblock.
  • Collect questions, ideas and advice.
  • Create key documents.
  • Sizing of opportunities.
  • Align teams and stakeholders.
  • Report on progress, not just metrics.
  • Identify the dependencies.
  • Set the hours.

What do we consider to be SEO projects? The list is long:

  • Creation of a new content hub.
  • Updating a list of articles.
  • Technical optimization.
  • Internal tools.
  • UX changes.
  • New landing pages.
  • etc.

When you are doing SEO in a small organization, it might seem trivial. But in the larger ones, each of these projects requires management.

Imagine SEO was a product

The driving force behind the rise of SEO PM is the product of a search engine that helps to better understand the quality of content and overcome technical challenges.

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Google still needs help and is far from decoding the implied meaning. But giant strides in machine learning over the past five years are giving SEO professionals the opportunity to focus on great products and content.

In a recent unofficial research PodcastJohn Mueller talked about what I call “search fluidity”. I would summarize his monologue in six points:

  1. Google looks at many ranking signals and they change over time.
  2. It is difficult, if not impossible, for humans to reverse engineer all of the factors.
  3. We must avoid giving one factor the responsibility of ranking the position.
  4. Several similar pages may rank high if they meet different user intentions for the same keyword (example).
  5. As Google’s understanding of queries and user intent changes, so does the makeup of the rankings.
  6. Rankings can fluctuate wildly, sometimes for no obvious reason.

When we think of SEO as a product in itself, we break free from the obsession with ranking factors and algorithm updates.

Instead, we can take an iterative approach to SEO. I call it “zero-based SEO,” where we don’t think we know what users and Google want, continuously experimenting, and benchmarking the site experience against the best results.

Instead of following dogmatic SEO tactics, we develop tactics that match our unique product, market, and business model from A to Z.

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The “zero-based SEO” approach is much more convenient and faster than the classic waterfall model.

It allows faster feedback loops. In addition to working on an SEO feature for five months and rolling it out, the goal is to deliver an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and iterate quickly.

MVPs make opportunity sizing, a common bottleneck in getting things done, much simpler.

We SEO professionals are trapped in search volume, an imperfect metric developed for Google Ads. The successful alternative is to scale up an idea, measure the impact, and then scale it up.

PM SEOs play a crucial role in this approach. They align everyone, help set priorities, and can work with execution teams on the details.

You may have already noticed that “Agile”, “Waterfall” and MVP are terms from product development. This is my argument: why not consider SEO as a product in itself?

If we run it like a product, we can get rid of a lot of SEO constraints we’ve been facing for ages and just focus on things.

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SEO PM is a linchpin of this worldview.

More resources:


Image credits

In-post image 2: Bain & Company
All screenshots taken by author, May 2021



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