SEO Project Management Considerations – Part 2

SEO Project Management Considerations - Part 2This blog post was originally published to and is Part 2 in a series about SEO project management. I recommend reading Part 1 first if you haven’t already done so.

SEO Strategy

My intent with this section is not to articulate any sort of one-size-fits-all SEO strategy, because such a thing simply doesn’t exist in any actionable form, but, rather, to explain some of the associated issues that are going to affect which project management methodologies are used and how they’re applied. Youve probably seen ads where marketing companies say theyll provide SEO services for $200 per month. Having reviewed many such services myself, I can say that, at this price point, what you’re usually going to get is a pre-formulated package of specific items like X number of blog posts, articles, and so forth, which are all done the same way for each and ever client. In the case where a business may be close to the tipping point in ranking, it is possible that such a formulaic approach mightbe all they need to tip the scales in their favor. In my mind, that’s really just a nailed-down business process rather than a strategy, because a strategy to achieve a particular result has to be specific to that result. If it’s generic, then I consider it to be a conceptual approach- not an actual strategy. It also doesn’t meet the industry definition of a project.

In most moderately competitive industries, the people that I encounter who’ve tried such offerings generally didn’t get the results they hoped for. This could be because they bought SEO services rather than SEO solutions. In other words, they paid someone to come do some plumbing and carpentry, but not to actually build them a house. Unfortunately, customers really don’t have any way of knowing whether what’s being proposed by a potential provideris going to work or not. How is a customer to tell whether the technical lingo in fancy looking Power Point presentations represents an actual bona fide SEO solution that’s going to create results, or just a bunch of paid hours keeping someone busy? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this which is why it’s important to select real business partnerswho have a vested interest in your long-term success. Let’s dig into somenuances of SEO strategy a bit further.

To begin, boiler-plate programs may not meet the commonly-held definition of a project since you are simply paying someone to provide a predefined commodity service that they sell the exact same way to anyone that asks. Within the field of project management, we refer to this as manufacturing since youre simply following an existing process that you do the same way each time. Is your company and situation exactly the same as everyone else’s? The question to ask yourself is whether you expect to beat a medium to high level of competition witha low-dollar service that does the same thing for everyone. I am not, by any stretch, disparaging this approach. In the right situations, boiler-plate services can achieve results. They may even create a good foundation on top of which more advanced services can be built. You just have to be careful in setting your expectations based on the level of competition and the degree to which the approach has been customized for your particular business. In moderate to high competition situations, a custom SEO approach will almost always be needed.

When you get right down to it, the goal of SEO is to help a website to achieve organic rank in search engines so that you get more traffic to your website, which leads to more customers and more revenue for your business. As a business owner, that’s the result you’re after.If thats the case, why do many companies sell standard list of pre-defined services? Because people keep buying it, hoping that it will work. Whether their service works or not, a single month’s payment covers their cost of having acquired you as a customer, so they come out ahead whether you keep paying them or not. When your business model is mass-production, your focus is different than when you cater to a small number of clients determined to grow their business successfully. As an SEO service provider, when you are working with such clients in your local area, you need to concern yourself with establishing a reputation for quality.

An SEO strategy is not simply developing a standard business process and using it the same way for everyone, knowing that it’s going to produce variable results for different clients since their situations are different. A strategy requires looking at what its really going to take to rank a given website based on the competition and, at a high level, mapping out the pieces involved. Several hours are neededto perform such an assessment. Due to the rapid evolution of ranking algorithms and the resulting adaptations made by SEO experts, any SEO strategy should be understood to be conceptual and that changes will be made over the course of the project.

Insofar as what project management methodologies to apply, traditional waterfall models that try to map the whole out from start to finish may lack the flexibility required for moderate to high level competition situations where the effort can span several months or longer and require adjustments at each step. At minimum, you’d be facing the high probably that two particular risks are going to manifest at any time without notice. These are search engine algorithm changes and additional actions taken by competitors. More iterative project management approaches should be considered.

Timeline and Milestones

Assuming that you arent simply following a manufacturing blue-print which follows a rote schedule, SEO is going to occur over a period of phases during which you will see website rankings fluctuate greatly. A process called the Google dance often takes 2-3 weeks for things to occur, during which time you will almost always see your website rank drop initially sometimes quite dramatically and then fluctuate for a short period of time. This is completely normal, is no cause for alarm, and can take a month or longer at times. After this period, if your SEO was successful, your website will return to a higher position than it was before. Your SEO activities should be organized around these cycles.

While the role of milestones in a more agile project management framework is a bit different than in a waterfall approach, there will almost always be certain things that need to be done early. It’s quite likely this willinclude such things as on-site website optimization, social media profile creation and optimization, and other such fairly standardactivities that might need to be performed prior tomoving on to content marketing and other activities, depending on your SEO expert’s analysis and recommendations.

In SEO, we are trying to woo Google to like our website. Like any romance, sometimes it requires more work and determination than you expected, and we aren’t in control of the timing. We have to take things as they come and be fluid. This canpresent a challenge inasset allocation for larger SEO firms that follow an IT governance structure such as the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and want to perform demand management. Resource scheduling is difficult when you don’t know when the next round of activity will need to commence.

Enter the SEO Expert

The role of your SEO expert is to guide you through these shark-infested waters to help you get your website ranked in the way that hopefully results in great long term results. This requires an intuitive understanding of SEO, an ability to assess risk, the application of technical skills, and the ability to keep things organized and on-track. Where the average lay-person will go wrong is mistakenly thinking the actual application of technical skills are the difficult part of SEO. In fact, once you know those things, they’re the easy part.

You are paying a real SEO expert for knowing whats actually going to work, and for having the kind of understanding needed to adapt as required throughout the course of the campaign.In practice, what a real SEO expert does may appear on the surface to be very similar to what a low-dollar provider might have done. For example, both might perform some content marketing such as writing blog posts as part of the engagement. The difference lays in the nuances of both how and when the techniques are applied and how its all knitted together. You may end up with just a bunch of digital tidbits floating in cyberspace, or you may get a well-orchestrated cohesive framework unique to your business that shows Google that you’re the real deal.

With Googles algorithmic updates happening on such a constant basis now, everything that you think you know is subject to change without notice. On any given day, you may be waking up to an entirely new set of rules. The SEO expert is on top of these changes and will make adjustments as needed based on knowledge that isn’t publicly available.

Project Deliverables

People want to know what theyre going to actually get. This is just human nature, and it’s the reason that standardized services are so easily sold. They readily cater to the basic human desire to eliminate uncertainty. It seems more of a “sure thing” when you’re told that you’re going to get A, B and C, and you can cancel at any time. I take the view, though, thats its crucial to be crystal clear that the one and only primary deliverable of an SEO project is an improved search engine rank, andother secondarily deliverables may be provided as needed over the course of the project. Such secondary deliverables may include the creation or optimization of such things as:

  • Social media profiles
  • Social engagement campaigns
  • Primary business websites
  • Images
  • Videos
  • eBooks and other digital content

Every project is unique; no two clients need exactly the same thing. The thing about these secondary deliverables is that they may well change over the course of the project, and they should not be recorded as obligations. Note that this will be in direct contradiction to the approach taken by firms that take a mass-production approach.

This is the crucial difference between generic SEO that gives everyone the same thing and a customized SEO plan. With a customized SEO plan, the focus is on achieving rank not checking off boxes for doing work and hoping maybe it helps boost rank. Secondary deliverables are going to be a natural result of the SEO process, but they should not be its focus. Trying to nail them down in advance and put them into a contract is setting both the customer and the SEO agency up for serious heartburn when the dynamic changing environment necessitates a shift in the approach or timing. This is a very realistic scenario that is best avoided by letting your customer know up front that while you may advise them on your activities over the course of the project, no specific secondary deliverables are guaranteed to be provided because your goal is to help increase their rank, not to create digital artifacts for their own sake. The right customer will understand this and value having a professional in their corner with the know-how to make that happen.

It really comes down to whether the customer is focused on an improved website ranking and trusts you to do whats needed, or whether theyre more concerned about secondary deliverables that may not lead to increased ranking if they’re set in stone. Unfortunately, many customers will have had prior experiences with the second scenario and thus have it in their minds thats what they need to ask for simply because its all that they know. Their prior experience shapes what they think working with an SEO professional should look like. Unfortunately, that way of thinking could undermine their success so the vendor may need to re-educate their customer prior to beginning work.

This concludes part 2 in this series about SEO project management that will be continued in Part 3.


SEO Project Management Considerations – Part 1

SEO Project Management Considerations - Part 1

The blog post was first published to

Welcome to this first part in a series about SEO project management and some factors that make it different from what some customers and project managers alike may have encountered.  As a Raleigh SEO services ( provider and certified project management professional working in the field of Information Technology, over the years I’ve managed a wide variety of information technology projects including both big projects such as multi-million dollar system installations, the relocation of large corporate data centers, IT in new construction of 30+ corporate buildings, live football TV broadcasts, and of course software and infrastructure projects such as web development in everything from ASP.NET and WordPress to custom Linux sites using API’s to manage legacy systems.  Out of it all, I think that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has to be the trickiest for project management because there are certain things which are virtually impossible to put numbers to with the kind of precision you might expect from other types of projects.  Before we talk about project management, though, let’s make sure you know what SEO is.

Search Engine Optimization

SEO strategy is about getting websites to rank in Google, Yahoo, Bing etc. so that a given website will show up near the top of the search results.  SEO methods have different nuances based on whether you’re selling services to local home-owners, products on the Internet, or electronic books on Amazon, and not all SEO experts are equally versed in these slightly different disciplines.

Origins of Project Management

It’s generally held that project management, at least as most people think of it with a traditional waterfall approach to planning, was born in the construction industry to provide a structured process to follow in first developing a design, and then building what you put down on paper.  Once you had a design and developed the specifications, it became possible to nail down exactly what things had to happen in what order to finish construction on schedule and within budget.  The catch is that it was all predicated on the idea of being able to accurately depict the duration of work streams and obtain hard bids for the labor and materials based on knowing exactly how much you need of every component.  The thing to keep in mind about construction is that once you finish putting in the last nail or screw and pass inspection, that’s when you’re finished.

Suppose, though, that you were supposed to not only build some houses, but win a quality award that you can’t control whether you get or not.  All you can do is try to understand what they look for, do your best to give that to them, and then cross your fingers.  Now, suppose that you didn’t get the award on your first pass, but that you know you’ll have another shot at it in a week, if you can figure out how to make them like your house better than the others, who are also trying to make their better than yours as you try to out-do each other a constant competitive struggle.  That’s SEO.

Why SEO Project Management Has to Be Different

First, the desired end result of search engine optimization – improved website rankings – occurs at the whim and mercy of commercial search engines that do what they do in order to make money.  They’ll rank your website when and if they feel like it based primarily on automated analyses.  It isn’t under anyone’s control but Google’s.  SEO is simply a deliberate attempt to woo their favor with things that experience tells us that they usually like.

The good news is that with experience, we can often at least guestimate how long it’s probably going to take to rank a website at least on page one for a given search term or keyword, and we can often guess at the level of effort required as well, but what we can’t do is say either of those things with any guaranteed certainty.

Second, you aren’t putting up a building on a fixed plot of land.  You’re working in a dynamically changing landscape that’s not only highly competitive where people may try to out-do you with every step you take, but the very rules of the game itself are subject to change without notice.  Search engine algorithm updates are constant, so every day you can be waking up to a new set of rules.

SEO Risk Management

A key activity within project management is risk management, the purpose of which is to identify and assess potential risks and present options to the decision maker on how that risk might be addressed, so that the decision maker can decide what level of risk they are willing to accept and allocate any additional resources that may be needed to mitigate that potential risk.  Within SEO, there is an ever-present risk that the project may take longer and cost more than anticipated since results occur at the whim of Google, and there is furthermore a risk that Google (or Yahoo or Bing) may, at any time, decide that they think you broke their rules and delete your website from their search engine entirely, a process called de-indexing.  This is potentially disastrous for a business that relies on inbound leads through organic search results.

Were this risk to manifest, the website in question would no longer appear in search results.  If you previously held a top ranking, you wouldn’t be anywhere to be found which would mean inbound customers would stop coming.  They would no longer be finding you online through organic search.  At minimum, your costs would increase greatly since you’d have to replace that free traffic with paid traffic, but even that might not generate sufficient volume to sustain your business at its previous level.  Simply put, the effects could be devastating.

Additionally, in creating any sort of digital content, there is always the associated theoretical possibility that someone might decide they think they have grounds for a lawsuit.  In hiring an SEO professional, realize that they are probably going to create and publish content on your behalf.  Because you’re the one that wants it done, you have a choice to make.  You can either:

    1. Review literally everything before it’s done at a much higher cost due to the time required for so much back and forth communication and changes, or,
    1. Accept that’s how it is up front, assume any legal risk, and give your SEO professional the green-light to create and publish content.

This particular risk can be partially mitigated by using various tools such as those at

If you do want to include such reviews as part of your project cost, you need to understand:

    1. What it is that you hope to accomplish;
    1. Who’s going to conduct the review;
    1. What standards you’ll apply;
    1. How they’re going to actually determine whether the content meets those standards;
    1. What will happen if they don’t;
    1. Whether it’s worth what it’s going to cost you both in terms of the labor to perform those tasks within your company as well as the additional cost with your SEO provider.

In other words, is it really just something that you think you want to do in order to make yourself feel better while slowing down the project and increasing the cost, or are you actually going to perform a thorough and proper analysis at the level that would be required to have the effect of appreciably reducing risk?  Very few customers will have either the budget or expertise required in order to undertake successfully this due to the level of effort involved, the cost, and the fact that they’ll invariably end up holding up the project.

Virtually all SEO companies will call out that the paying customer accepts any and all such risk.  That’s just how it is, but the likelihood of this happening is reduced tremendously by relying on local providers who have a true vested interest in seeing you succeed.

SEO Work Breakdown Structure

A work breakdown structure is simply a logically structured grouping that depicts the individual tasks needed to create the final end result.  That’s possible to create once you have plans for a building and a firm commitment on exactly what you’re going to build and how you’re going to build it.  SEO, though, by its very nature is like performing surgery on a battlefield.  Everything is moving and changing around you, and what you thought you’d need to do next month might be very different when the time comes due to changes in both search engine algorithms and the competitive landscape itself.  When it comes to SEO, you aren’t just being paranoid.  They are, in fact, out to get you.  Your competitors will try to actively out-do you for top rankings when those top spots mean incoming customers for a business, and they may well do so right in the midst of your project.  Your project management methodology needs to be nimble and provide fluidity if you want to not only get to the top but stay there.

Is SEO Really a Project

People often use the term project management fairly loosely to refer to keeping things organized when you have something that you’re trying to accomplish, but there is a very specific definition of a project set forth by industry authorities.  Some people might debate where SEO is or isn’t really a project according to the definition – and potentially with good reason.  I submit that it depends on who’s doing the SEO and their approach.  If the SEO company is following a standard methodology in providing a set of services such as X number of articles each month, that may not meet the definition according to industry guidelines.  That particular scenario represents the application of a manufacturing process.  Not all SEO is like that, however.  In fact, I contend that true results-oriented SEO does, in fact, represent a project.  Each competitive situation will be unique and the path needed to achieve results will vary from one client or website to the next, as I’ll explore in more detail as this series continues.

This concludes the first installment in our series about SEO project management.

Part 2

Part 3

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