Everyone knows Deadpool. Scratch that. Everyone who's not living under a rock knows who Deadpool is. And that means you also know that Deadpool is all about maximum effort. That's what we expect from our superheros, and that's what we should expect from our search engine optimization teams. After all, maximum effort produces maximum results, right?
Not necessarily. While Deadpool might enjoy giving maximum effort when fighting the bad guys, the good guys, everyone, I'm far too lazy for that. Plus, my lack of regenerative powers don't give me as much room for failure.
No, instead of maximum effort, I’d rather have maximum efficiency.
In the end, there are just sooo many things for SEOs to put their efforts into, but not all of them produce results. Or produce results at the same level.
As the manager of your own SEO team, or marketing director responsible for outsourcing your SEO to an agency, it’s imperative that you get the most value for your investment. And while there’s nothing wrong with expecting maximum effort from your SEOs, there are some things that managers must do to ensure that their team’s efforts produce maximum efficiency.
1. Get strategy buy-in
Everyone on the marketing team, and the bosses they work for, need to have full strategy buy-in, regardless of who built the strategy. Those who are overseeing, those managing, and those executing the strategy all need to be on the same page in terms of what’s to be done and—more importantly—the expected results.
When managers are not on board with the strategy the SEOs have built, the team becomes dispirited, sensing that the managers are not approving of their day-to-day actions. And when there is a constant need for updates, data, and reports, the team is effectively taken off strategy duty to accommodate those requests. Any lack of progress that managers may be seeing becomes a self-inflicted wound as more and more time gets spent on reporting than fulfilling the strategy.
On the flip side, when managers push a strategy that the SEO team views as unrealistic, or focuses on the wrong things, they become annoyed for being tasked with busywork with no real meaning or impact on the bottom line. And once again, the lack of performance is self-inflicted.
But when everyone is on board with the strategy, then realistic expectations can be set. The SEO team is free to deliver the strategy and the managers can patiently wait the agreed upon timeframe for the expected results.
2. Delegate responsibly
When delegating the implementation of the strategy, assign the right tasks to the right people. Just as you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t!) expect your SEO team to be effective at implementing a paid ad campaign, you want to make sure that you’re using your team’s specific skillsets wisely.
If one strategist is better with content, give them the task of optimizing content, not the code. And the person who is the best at keyword research may not be the right one to fixing site speed issues.
SEOs have to wear multiple hats, but almost everyone tends to gravitate toward certain tasks that they can do better and faster than anyone else. Whenever possible, divvy up the tasks by the person best suited to execute it and who will produce the best results.
3. Provide the time and tools needed
An effective digital marketing campaign requires three things: time, resources, and skills. Let’s assume everyone on your team has the skills, which means that their success depends on the time needed to do the best job possible and having the tools that make their time effective.
When you don’t give your team the tools they need then, they have to find other ways to get the info the tools provide. That usually means a greater investment of time. In the end, you have to decide if slowing down the optimization efforts to save money on a tool is worth it. Or will it just push your success further away?
We all have budgets to adhere to but when there is room in the budget for bringing in additional help to your team, you might do wonders by bringing on a new tool instead.
4. Respect productivity time
One of the things my company does (or tries to do) is have No Meeting Fridays. While this is a way to allow team members the flexibility to work from home, it does something else magical: It allows everyone to get crap done!
But there’s a bigger picture than just setting aside a day each week for having no scheduled meetings, and that’s giving the team time to be productive. To actually do the tasks they are hired to do! I’m a huge fan of collaboration and making sure everyone is accessible to turn and talk to the person next to them for needed input. But at the same time, we need to give our teams time to dig into a strategy without fearing interruption. I’ve gone as far as allowing my team to engage an email auto responder to let anyone emailing them to not expect a reply.
Empower your team to turn off email, mute the phone, and hang a do not disturb sign on the back of their chair so they can buckle down with some uninterrupted strategy and implementation time.
5. Invest in education
Digital marketing moves at lightning-fast speeds. What you know today can change by tomorrow when Google rolls out a new algorithm update, Facebook changes how you can engage with your community, or technology creates new expectations of what your website should do. The only way to keep up on that is by giving your team the freedom, time, and resources to stay educated.
On the most basic level, you need to provide established guidelines for on-the-clock education time. At my last company, I made it mandatory that every employee invested in five hours of education each week. They were free to use that time to read blog posts, listen to podcasts, attend webinars, or read books relevant to their area of discipline—however best they saw fit.
Outside of that, consider investing in online courses that members of your team can take, or sending them to marketing conferences where they can learn directly from the top people in the industry. Those can be a higher investment cost but well worth it to keep sharpening your marketing team’s skills.
6. Encourage collaboration and communication
I briefly mentioned collaboration above but it deserves a point of its own. While every company needs structure and hierarchy, there is absolutely no room for one person to control every aspect of the strategy. If there is one thing I learned in my 21 years of digital marketing, it is that everyone has something to contribute.
Every person involved in the implementation of the strategy needs the freedom to provide feedback and suggestions on the best ways to implement their part, at a minimum, or contribute to the whole based on their experience. If the person at the top is dictating every level of the strategy, there’s no room for someone who’s in the weeds of it to steer the strategy in a better, more successful direction.
Make sure your team puts a premium on collaboration. If the goal is to improve results, all thoughts and ideas should be welcome. That doesn’t mean they are all given the same weight, but if you don’t allow for the free flow of ideas, you won’t get the ideas needed to be successful.
7. Don't micro-manage
Micromanagement kills creativity and the ability for your team to create and implement out-of-the-box solutions. Following through on the point made earlier, give your team the freedom to not just exchange ideas but to implement them. Basically, you need to leave room to fail.
When your team has the flexibility to implement the strategy in the most efficient way possible, they’ll often work overtime to find the right solutions rather than implementing the solution handed to them by the micro-manager. That extra time might “eat into profits” but, in the end, it’ll create greater profits as more effective solutions are being utilized.
That said, they need to know they only get so many failures before they may need to be reined in. I’ve told people before that if you find that you’re the only employee being micromanaged, there’s a good chance that it’s not that you’re working for a terrible micromanager, but that you require the additional guidance. But managers, don’t use that as an excuse to micromanage. Trust your people to do what they are skilled at doing.
8. Track "billable" hours over worked-hours
There’s nothing wrong with making sure your team is working when they are supposed to be working. Managers are absolutely right to implement systems of accountability. But there’s more to having an effective team than making sure they show up for work.
One of the methods I employ with my team is to track “billable” hours. As a digital marketing agency, that means the time we spend building and implementing our client’s strategies. Even though we don’t bill by the hour, this tracking helps us manage costs and keep the team focused on what's important.
In order for this to effective, you have to leave enough room in the schedule for non-billable activities. For us, that meant non-client related meetings, work on our own marketing efforts, education time, non-billed collaboration, and yes, even watercooler time. We put a number on what those billable hours were and let the team know that they had immense freedom within this expectation (while allowing for the uncommon exceptions.)
9. Set goals
One of my favorite all-time quotes is from Zig Ziglar. “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.”
In SEO, it’s easy to get caught up in tactics. I wrote a whole book on digital marketing tactics that will help your campaigns be more successful. But tactics without a strategy defining the goals is useless.
If you're not setting goals for your team to achieve, then there is no way to measure their performance. Goals help streamline your team into focusing less on tactics and more on what's going to provide the greatest success.
10. Hold your team to a high standard
With goals established, you now need to hold your team to them. That doesn’t negate giving them room to fail, but make sure every failure is a learning opportunity. People have a tendency want to live up to the expectations put on them, provided they are within reason. But don’t be afraid to stretch your team a bit. Encourage them to use their existing skills, but also challenge them to step outside their comfort zone.
The more your team strives to achieve a higher standard, the more they’ll have to evaluate how and where they spend their time as they look for ways to reach the high standards and expectations placed on them.
11. Celebrate and reward successes
And finally, there is no better way to boost efficiency than to reward your successes along the way. Successes in strategy, successes in implementation, successes in cutting the fat, successes in streamlining processes, and, of course, successes in results. The greater the rewards, the more frequently your team will push to achieve them.
Getting maximum efficiency with your team
Every team is different, and the steps above can be tweaked and added to as needed for your group in particular. But in the end, if you want to boost the efficiency of our SEO team, you have to make efficiency a priority. Doing work for work’s sake won’t bring you success. Nor will adding more effort onto flawed systems.
We should always be improving to make sure our efforts produce results. Show me 10 SEOs giving maximum effort, and I’ll put them up against one with maximum efficiency. And then we'll see who has the real superpowers.
Ready to take your SEO to the next level? Let us help.