One of the reasons a company may leave its SEO potential unfulfilled is because they inadvertently box in the person or people responsible for SEO. They leave the responsible party on their own as an individual contributor forced to go through their manager to get anything done.
This flaw in structure is because SEO is viewed as a marketing function with tasks structured as campaigns relying on other marketing contributions such as content and design. Technical tasks like building or launching a page happen somewhere else in another org within the company.
Instead if SEO were viewed as a product, engineering tasks would be a part of the product roadmap and launch process from the start. Product roles are always reliant on other teams and are inherently cross functional.
This does not at all need to change the reporting structure of the individual as in many cases it makes perfect sense for SEO to be on the marketing team. Rather approaching SEO as a product function helps clarify inputs and outcomes on multiple levels.
Planning– When planning for SEO goals it is critical that all required resources from other teams be allocated at the exact same time. It wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to plan to launch a number of pages or a new microsite but not pre-allocate the design time and engineering plan. On the product management side, new initiatives are never approved with a hope and prayer that everything will just work out when the time is right. All products that are prioritized, will get the resources to complete the project.
Budgeting – When it comes to budgeting on a marketing plan, SEO usually falls to the bottom of the pile since the story on investment to output is harder to tell. This means that SEO will get the short end of the stick on hiring, software and contractors whereas paid marketing teams might be flush with cash. Thinking of SEO as a product instead realigns the expectations on investment as if it’s a product that needs investment because it is a priority. Typically product teams aren’t resourced as if they have a direct line to ROI but rather because it is a business necessity.
Output and reporting – On the same note, when SEO is thought of as marketing the KPI’s need to be similar to other marketing KPI’s. Paid teams have LTV goals (hopefully), brand teams have impression share, so therefore SEO ends up being measured on rankings. This is a terrible way of looking at SEO as rankings are just a vanity metric. Instead the same way any product is measured by adoption and engagement, the same lens should be applied to SEO. For this SEO this would be measured by growth in impressions on search pages. Obviously clicks are important too, but the clicks are a result of on page structure which is not necessarily SEO itself.
Resourcing – Making the case to add more headcount for SEO can be very difficult if the metrics for success are too hard to reach or they are inappropriate for the channel. Viewing SEO as product, the primary headcount metric moves from KPI driven to deadline driven. The question that should be asked is what is the headcount necessary to meet the goal within the desired time frame.
Not much really has to change on reporting, salary and even titles to make SEO more aligned with product, it is really just an exercise in awareness and management. If the current method for managing SEO is leaving value on the table, it may be helpful to change the structure of how SEO should be conducted in a company.