When good SEO can’t be implemented

I usually say that search engine optimization is relatively simple. It’s not that hard knowing what’s best in a lot of situations, because the basics of SEO are simple. It might become more complex when you face choices, such as is this kind of navigation better than that? But there is one occasion when it is nearly impossible.

I have been wanting to write this article for quite some time now and have made the assessment that now is the time. This is about a previous client, who, despite huge investments, never managed to resolve their issues. This story is partly about bureaucracy and backstabbing, but it is also about the need to pass on your knowledge in the right Way, or at least being able to perform the work yourself.

Our task was to serve in an advisory role. There was an in-house SEO department, but they were lacking in experience. This is a not an unusual situation, and our task was to guide the search engine optimizers onto the right path.

The company had made it public that they were doing a major investment in search engine optimization and that this channel should be prioritized above all other channels. The search engine optimizers at the company were, of course, extremely happy about it, since it previously had not been regarded as very important within the organization. Since SEO was what delivered most of the revenue, the SEO department got a lot of internal praise. This was a huge improvement in comparison to when the project started, and when no one in the company wanted to give any credit at all to SEO.

Here Is Where the Problems Start

However, this company is, as I see it, incredibly mismanaged, and that is an important aspect of the background. The reasons for its success are strong founders and a great product. But on all other levels in the company, when recruitment was necessary, all positions were filled with people who literally could have been picked up at the closest bus stop. So, it was not only the SEO department that lacked experience, most of the people I was in contact with at the company, were either completely new to the job or old chair warmers who could only thrive in a hierarchical and bureaucratic environment.

If it was envy towards the SEO department and its new successes or plain old incompetence that was the root of the problem, that I do not know. But what happened was that every change that the company’s search engine optimizers tried to implement, was either only half-heartedly added to the site, or altogether blocked. ‘The developer didn’t find this important…’ was a commonly used phrase when it came to SEO. The marketing department (search engine optimization was not a part of that) prioritized a specific font, which meant that text had to be published as an image when you couldn’t get it exactly as they wanted it, and so on.

This, is in combination with the fact that the senior SEO specialist in charge of the SEO work was a pretty weak leader, led to a situation where not only did not much happen SEO-wise, but the site actually got worse and worse with each passing day. In my view as an observer, the SEO department finally gave up their efforts to implement any changes on the site. We started to get more and more strange requests of help for different projects and answered as we always do: Sure, we can help you. But that is not good search engine optimization.

A Number of Different Solutions

I am convinced that there were a number of different solutions to this problem. The simplest would have been to hire an experienced SEO specialist, who actually knew what he/she was doing and was confident in what to do. It was too easy for others at the company to bypass the senior specialist, as he often took shots in the dark and missed a lot of things. We did our best to give him what he needed the but the competence just wasn’t there (and as an agency it was really not our position to steamroll our client). Since he didn’t have the guts to stand up for himself or have the knowledge to put force behind his words, that meant that suggested changes were never implemented.

Another possibility would have been to be a healthier and more well-functioning corporation. When internal politics and personal career motives overshadow the company’s objectives you have reached a point from which it is difficult to escape. It was more important to the marketing department to get credit for success rather than actually achieving success (this was most likely an aspect that was true for the SEO department as well).

They could also have based their actions more on measurable differences. Already from the start, they put themselves in an awkward position where the search engine optimization was valued based on how much traffic was driven by search engines. That meant that the brand searches were highly valued, since a huge part of the traffic came that way. This produced a strange situation since they were of course number one when people searched for their brand, and then evaluated their SEO based on how many such searches were made. That is a number that should have been attributed to the marketing department, since they are the ones that drive demand.

What Ever Happened to Their SEO?

Truth to be told, this was a long time ago and I’m not really certain how they’re working nowadays. They do not appear on any of the bigger keywords in the segment, but it may be that they have found other ways. It may also be that they never developed anything else other than a cautionary tale that others can learn from.

Magnus Bråth