“I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures…I divide the world into the learners and the non-learners.”
A Humbling Experience
When I first started in enterprise SEO at Quill, as an SEO consultant team of one, I went to work with fairly strong SEO acumen. I had previously worked on small and medium sized businesses, as well as some of my own blogs with good success, and so I figured I could re-apply my strategies, tactics and workflows. I’d prioritized in this order: start a company blog to load up on content, build deep links to our category pages, and do some technical stuff here and there. Most of the SEO world also emphasized content and links over technical.
Mert Sahinoglu was my new manager at Quill, and Paras Mehta was an SEO consultant and application developer at Staples. When they emphasized the focus on technical SEO, the consultant ego in me resisted their ideas, and I countered with buzzword tactics I’d heard from smart, popular marketers on the internet.
In my past, technical SEO felt like stretching and warming up before running full-court games of basketball. Important, yes, but for only about 20 minutes, while I hooked up a few plugins like Yoast and configured them before moving on to the real challenge of SEO. Once Mert and Paras showed me the true business performance value of technical SEO, I quickly realized none of this wisdom was ever shared on the popular blogs, and I began rethinking my approach towards e-commerce sites in an enterprise, where the battle now wasn’t about knowing what to do, but about working with the Information Systems (IT) partners and cross-functional business teams to actually get stuff done.
Over the next few years, I stopped with my presumptions, remaining teachable, and adaptable to information, encouraging my then team of 5 professionals to do the same. Over time, we successfully got stuff done, showed strong results to the business, and became better at our craft.
As I read Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, I looked back and remembered this experience as my tipping point from shedding a predominantly fixed mindset to a predominantly growth one. Since then, I’ve made honing the mindset a first priority, and the craft of SEO the second.
How Mindset Impacts Your Leadership Ability and Drives Results
Generally speaking, most people possess a combination of both fixed and growth mindset qualities. Sometimes you use one mindset, sometimes the other. One of these, though, leads the way at least 51% of the time. It’s important to remember that no one is 100% fixed or 100% growth mindset.
Growth mindset means the team knows what they need to do, but they remain flexible, they test assumptions, they’re always looking to learn more about SEO, about digital marketing / e-commerce, and about other parts of the business, they assume others have a big hand in SEO work, they believe they’re a constant “work in progress”…
On the other hand, a fixed mindset means the team knows what they need to do, but they remain firm on how to do it, they assume that deserve all the credit in SEO work getting done, they do SEO the same way it’s been done for years, they fixate on their favorite thought leaders’ ideas without question, they don’t adapt to Google, customer behavior, and company initiative changes easily…
A hybrid mindset is knowing the pros and cons on both, and using either one of them situation by situation. In enterprise SEO, this may be the best way to go. It’s an art form, one that the leader(s) constantly works to figure out, that plays the most vital role to the culture and norms of the team.
The collective mindset determines how successful your projects, how collaborative your efforts, how engaged your team, and how meaningful your team’s impact to the overall business.
Questions Worth Asking
How much autonomy does the SEO team have to try new initiatives?
What’s the SEO team’s big-picture purpose?
How will leadership help the team encourage mastery of the SEO team’s craft?
What is the approach on team building, and building good cross-functional team partnerships?
How will the team prioritize the workload, and divide up the responsibilities?
Which business categories, i.e. merchandising teams, should the SEO team support?
Does the SEO team support every category equally or only give priority to the the top business drivers?
What are the interest levels of executives / leadership in digital marketing and e-commerce initiatives?
How deep in the weeds do they get when discussing SEO and digital marketing?
How familiar are they with SEO jargon and concepts, and how do you fill in the knowledge gaps in order to show the value of your work?
Who supports cross-functional (Merchandising, IT, Creative, Analytics, etc.) teams as the primary SEO point-of-contact(s)?
How should you cultivate these initially weak ties into trusted and effective partnerships?
How often does the SEO team provide updates and share stories on the projects, the progress, the results, the team, new opportunities? And, to whom?
How will the team stay informed on newest and latest methods, tools, trends, and industry conversations?
On the same note, how will the team avoid information overload, and remain focused on the work at hand?
Your boss doesn’t care that so-and-so thinks “link building is dead”, or that Google announced that 302s are equally juicy as 301s. How should the team test and challenge industry assumptions, norms, Google warnings, best practices, buzzwords, and thought leaders so that they learn, apply, and adapt works for your own company and website’s situation?
What KPIs should the SEO team set their goals against?
How does the SEO manager distinguish white hat, gray hat, and black hat practices?
How does she or he determine which practices are acceptable to try, and which ones are too risky for the company?
What KPIs, corporate goals, annual keep the in-house SEO(s) honest?
Who makes final decisions on SEO projects, investments, and hiring: SEO Manager? (Digital) Marketing Director? Vice-President of Marketing? The CMO? All the stakeholders as a group?
In many enterprise companies, 80% of the real SEO work (code changes, copywriting, design, site structure updates, etc.) isn’t done by the SEO team, but by others.
How should you organize and manage all SEO projects?
The day-to-day job functions of the SEO manager or team are a constant balancing act of quantity and quality:
What part of the work can be automated or scaled to gain efficiency?
What part of the work needs to be done manually or ad-hoc to meet the needs of the business?
What part of the work is outsourced to 3rd parties: SEO agency, copywriters, consultants…?
Which mindset, predominantly, do you want the SEO team to work with? Does leadership hire and build the team, accordingly?
The nature of large e-commerce companies is slow and steady. How will you exercise patience during times when you feel frustrated, stuck, and unchallenged?
Most SEO methods seem practical until you realize you work in a large enterprise with lots of moving parts. How do you break down actionable tactics into doable work?
What is the SEO leader and team’s attitude when the company experiences changes in leadership, processes, or initiatives?
What is the SEO leader and team’s approach when on-boarding a new vendor takes months and months because legal, HR, Finance, and leadership teams need to review paperwork and sign off?
What is the SEO leader and team’s approach to meetings: scheduling them, managing them, and preventing them?
The mindset the SEO team operates with determines everything. How potent their personal and professional development. How well they’ll treat, help, and work with others. How educated the team remains with industry changes. How productive their work efforts. How long-lasting the website’s performance growth. How tangible and intangible their contributions to the overall business.