As I work with small business owners and thought leaders in doing SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and Digital Marketing work I am learning a great many leadership lessons.
Before I dive in, let me catch everyone up on what SEO is. Essentially it’s helping businesses or content be found on Google or other search engines. Pretty much every website you go to for content now, youtube, facebook, linkedin, instagram, Amazon and more all have some sort of search capability. It’s the job of the SEO to figure out how to get the client’s content to pop up first.
Some of this is technical, some of it is grunt work and some of it is writing content that will appeal to others. Taken to an extreme, you could almost call this a lesson in servant leadership. Creating content for the reader that adds enough value that they want to share it or link to it doesn’t have to just be a marketing exercise.
The point is that marketing whether via SEO or other means has lessons in leadership for us all.
In order to do effective SEO, I need to know what my client’s ultimate goals are. I need to have a big-picture vision of what they really want long term. SEO is a long term play and although it’s constantly changing what you do matters in 30-60-90 day increments. If the client lacks clarity it’s my job to help them get clarity around their own goals. What’s surprising is that so many entrepreneurs lack clarity around a specific vision. This does explain why so few have websites that perform well. In fact, one leadership blog says, Clarity is the antidote to fear. It’s this lack of clarity and fear of the unknown that I think paralyzes entrepreneurs.
A website is a reflection of the vision of the leader of the organization’s online strategy.
In fact, the best projects for me are the ones where the leaders have clarity around their purpose. It reminds me of “Start with Why.” When organizations know why they exist they are better able to articulate the what and the how. For an SEO, it helps create content that engages, attracts and influences others around the brand vs a “sales” letter. Whether it’s on-page optimization or simply doing Local SEO, we’re creating content (in different forms).
Great content leads people to make decisions, not simply buy.
Collaboration and Engagement
It’s not just the content that needs to engage, it’s the SEO. Ultimately, for me to be the most effective I need to understand as much as possible the team dynamic I’m working with. Nothing frustrates me more than doing a lot of work only to have to go back and redo it because there was a lack of communication. For the team, there’s nothing more frustrating to be working on a project and realize what you are doing is hindering them. So much of SEO overlaps into other disciplines.
A good SEO is someone who might have a little programming background and a little design background. While they have to have a deep understanding of SEO, often “jack of all trades” make good SEO. Because of this ability to be able to communicate with teams with different specialties and hence personalities, they need to take a leadership role. This does not mean they need to take over, rarely is an SEO in an organizational position that would allow that. They need to be, what John Maxwell calls, a 360 degree leader. That means they are taking initiative and leading in communication and serving the team, not necessarily telling people what to do.
Integrity & Responsibility
That brings me to one aspect of leadership that I wasn’t ready for. Responsibility. As a content marketer, I craft content that CAN influence. It’s important as an industry that we take responsibility for what content we create. The methods we can use to help a website are so well documented there’s even niche’s inside of niches. For example, there are websites devoted to nearly illegal SEO activities called “Black Hat.” When you dissect these activities most of them could be ‘white hat’ under the right circumstance. Which is why I put these two together. As SEOs, we must take responsibility for the success of the online strategy of an organization and perform our jobs with integrity. Lest you think only slimy “black hatters” do bad SEO, check out JCPenny