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While professional SEO (search engine optimization) is becoming increasingly recognized as an extremely effective component of an overall marketing mix, the SEO industry itself is still very much in its infancy. Because SEO is a relatively new industry, many key decision makers are not even aware that professional SEO exists, or they simply believe that it could not work in their industries or with the existing marketing mix. This is not because these decision makers are ineffective or backward thinking, but rather because, in most companies, marketing efforts are focused upon activities that have already been proven effective as a part of the marketing mix (direct mail, print advertising, trade shows).
Very often, the people who first recognize the potential benefits of professional SEO are not the key decision makers. They are the people on the front lines of the organization – the ones who deal with prospects and customers every day. However, proposing professional SEO as a new marketing initiative to the people higher in the chain of command can be a frustrating process – very often leading to disenchantment and a general sense that the marketing decision maker doesn’t "get it". Usually, however, the approach was more flawed than the decision maker.
Before getting into some ideas for approaching your marketing decision maker, it should be mentioned that if your company does not have a history of trying anything new, you may be better off spending your energies elsewhere. Professional SEO as an addition to your marketing mix can be a hard sell to a company that is still relying on computers that were cutting edge during the Reagan administration, no matter how convincing the argument. If your experience with your company tells you that your efforts will be in vain before you begin, you obviously don’t want to waste your time.
Speak on Their Terms
As previously mentioned, your motivation for suggesting professional SEO may not necessarily inspire your marketing decision maker to immediately add it to your company’s marketing mix. What will? Most marketing execs have a hot button issue, and they are rarely shy about sharing it. Is he or she concerned with increasing overall revenue? Is he or she always discussing cutting marketing costs? Does he or she talk about reducing the cost per lead? Does he or she always espouse the value of improving your brand recognition? For each of these scenarios (and virtually any other), there are specific studies on SEO that will support your recommendation. If you approach your marketing decision maker without keeping the issues most important to him or her in mind, you will diminish your chances for success.
Use the Competition
While different marketing decision makers can have different hot button issues, few things seem to motivate companies as much as the action (or sometimes the inaction) of the competition. With professional SEO, there are two potential scenarios – either some of your competitors have added it to the marketing mix effectively, or none of them have. If they have, it is fairly easy to demonstrate this fact by taking your marketing manager through a few keyphrase searches on any major search engine and showing him or her that your hated enemy figures prominently in the results while your company does not. This, of course, makes a compelling argument. On the other hand, if your known competitors have clearly not embraced the channel, it is just as easy to show a few searches on keyphrases demonstrating that you can have (for now) a competitive advantage. Such keyphrase searches can also turn up additional competitors – lean, forward-thinking companies that are embracing new marketing tactics. This eye-opening experience can also encourage a decision maker to act.
Use Your Potential Vendors
Talk to some established professional SEO firms before approaching your company with the suggestion that they consider adding SEO to the marketing mix. A good SEO firm has encountered all of the objections that you are likely to face and should be able to help you with your approach by compiling relevant stats and offering compelling case studies. Your time is valuable, and you needn’t spend it reinventing the wheel when you can get professional assistance for free. If a firm is unwilling, or unable, to help you to present to your marketing decision maker in a manner that will speak directly to them, perhaps you should look elsewhere. An inexperienced SEO firm might not be able to help you in this specific manner, and an overburdened firm will likely be unwilling to spend the extra time to help you customize your approach. The good news is that asking for this type of assistance can not only help you to sell to your company, it can also help you in the early stages of the all-important vendor selection process.
Offer a Plan
Piquing interest from the decision maker is only the first step. You should be prepared to offer a clear project description, including the price ranges of your proposed professional SEO vendors, how long it will take to see results, and, most importantly, how success will be measured. This is another area where your potential vendors should be more than willing to help – good firms will collect extensive data at the outset to measure success, and will be able to clearly define what "success" will look like.
As many companies are discovering, professional SEO is an incredibly powerful and cost-effective addition to the existing marketing mix. It is a sure bet, however, that the marketing decision makers of many of the companies currently embracing professional SEO did not come up with the idea independently. Some underpaid visionary in their organizations brought it to their attention first!