Tag Archive | "maturity"

SEO Maturity: Evaluating Client Capabilities – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by HeatherPhysioc

Clients aren’t always knowledgeable about SEO. That lack of understanding can result in roadblocks and delay the work you’re trying to accomplish, but knowing your client’s level of SEO maturity can help. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, we welcome the brilliant Heather Physioc to expound upon the maturity models she’s developed to help you diagnose your client’s search maturity and remove blockers to your success.

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

What up, Moz fans? My name is Heather Physioc. I’m Director of the Discoverability Group at VML. We are in Kansas City. Global ad agency headquartered right in the middle of the map.

Today we’re going to talk about how to diagnose the maturity of your SEO client. I don’t mean emotional maturity. I mean maturity as it pertains to SEO capabilities, their ability to do the work, as well as their organizational search program maturity. Now a lot of times when a client signs a contract with us, we make the assumption that they’re knowledgeable, they’re motivated, they’re bought in to do the search work.

So we go dumping all these recommendations in their lap, and we’re trucking full speed ahead. But then we’re surprised when we start hitting blockers and the work doesn’t go live. I actually surveyed over 140 of our colleagues in the search industry, and they reported running into blockers, like low prioritization and buy-in for the work, limited technical resources for developers or budgeting for copywriters, low advocacy, high turnover, and any number of different things that stand in the way.

I didn’t just ask about the problems. I asked about the solutions, and one of the tools that came out of that was the ability to diagnose the client’s maturity. So a maturity model is intended to evaluate an organization’s capability to continuously evolve in a practice. The point, the purpose of this is to understand where they stand today, where they want to go, and the steps it’s going to take to get there.


The SEO Capabilities matrix

Let’s talk about the SEO capabilities first, the technical ability to do the job.

Harmful

On the low end of the scale, a client may be engaging in spammy, outdated, or harmful SEO practices that are doing more harm than good.

Tactical

From there, they may be tactical. They’re doing some super basic SEO, think title tags and meta description tags, but nothing earth-shattering is happening here, and it’s not very strategic or aligned to brand goals.

Strategic

From there, the brand moves into the strategic phase. They’re starting to align the work to goals. They’re starting to become a little more search savvy. They’re getting beyond the titles and metas, and they’re more thorough with the work. While good stuff is happening here, it’s not too advanced, and it still tends to be pretty siloed from the other disciplines.

Practice

From there, the organization might move into a practice. Search is starting to become a way of life here. They’re getting significantly more advanced in their work. They’re starting to connect the dots between those different channels. They’re using data in smarter ways to drive their search strategy.

Culture

Then from there, maybe they’re at a level of culture for their SEO capabilities. So search here is starting to become a part of their marketing DNA. They’re integrating across practices. They’re doing cutting edge. They’re testing and innovating and improving their SEO implementation, and they’re looking for the next big thing. But these groups know that they have to continually evolve as the industry evolves. So we don’t just look at their whole SEO program and figure out where the client goes on the map.

✓ Data-driven

We actually break it down into a few pieces. First, data-driven. Is the organization using information and analytics and combining it with other sources even to make really smart marketing decisions?

✓ SEO for content

Next is content. Are they doing any SEO for content at all? Are they implementing some SEO basics, but only during and after publication? Or are they using search data to actually drive their editorial calendar alongside other data inputs, like social listening or web analytics?

✓ Mobility

From there, mobility. Do they have no mobile experience at all, or do they have a fully responsive and technically mobile friendly site, but they’re not investing any more in that mobile optimization? Or are they a completely mobile-first mindset? Are they continuously iterating and improving in usability, speed, and content for their mobile users?

✓ Technical ability

Beyond that, we could look at how technically savvy they are. Do they have a lot of broken stuff, or are they on top of monitoring and maintaining their technical health and accessibility?

✓ On-page/off-page SEO

Then some standard SEO best practices here. Are they limited or advanced in on-page SEO, off-page SEO?

✓ Integrating across channels

Are they integrating across channels and not having search live in a silo?

✓ Adopting new technology

Are they adopting new technology as it pertains to search? Some clients have a very high appetite for this, but they chase after the shiny object.

Others have a high appetite and a high tolerance for risk, and they’re making hard choices about which new technology to invest in as it pertains to their search program. You may also want to customize this maturity model and include things like local search or international search or e-commerce. But this is a great place to start. So this does a very good job of choosing which projects to begin with for a client, but it doesn’t really get to the heart of why our work isn’t getting implemented.


The Organizational Search Maturity matrix

I developed a second maturity model, and this one is more traditional and you see it across other industries as well. But this one focuses on the search program inside the organization. This is the squishy organizational stuff.

✓ People

This is people. Do they have the necessary talent within the organization or within their scope? That might not just mean SEOs. That means are they scoping appropriately for content and development needs?

✓ Process

What about process? Are they actually using a defined and continuously improving process for the inclusion of search? Now I don’t mean step-by-step best practices for implementing a title tag. This isn’t instructions or a tutorial. This is a process for including organic search experts at the right moments in the right projects.

✓ Planning

What about planning? A lot of times we find that clients are doing search very reactively and after the fact. We want to reach a point with an organization where it’s preplanned, it’s proactively included, and it’s always aligned to brand, business, or campaign goals.

✓ Knowledge

Next is knowledge. We know that this industry is complicated. There are a lot of moving pieces. We want to know how knowledgeable is the organization about search. That doesn’t necessarily mean how to do SEO, but perhaps the importance or the impact or the outcomes of it. How committed are they to learning more through reading or trainings or conferences? At the very least, the organization they’re hiring to do search needs to be extraordinarily knowledgeable about it.

✓ Capacity

Then capacity. Do they have the prioritization within the organization? Are they budgeting appropriately? Do they have the resources and the means and the capacity to get the work done?

Initial

When we’ve evaluated a client against these criteria, we could find them in an initial phase where the program is very new, they’re not doing any search at all…

Repeatable

…to repeatable, meaning they’re starting to include it, but it’s not super cohesive yet. They’re not enforcing the process. They don’t have super dedicated resources just yet.

Defined

Up into defined, where they actually are documenting their process. It’s continuing to iterate and improve. They’re becoming more knowledgeable. They’re dedicating more resources. They’re prioritizing it better.

Managed

We can move up into managed, where that’s continuing to improve even further…

Optimized

…and into optimized. So again, this is where search programs are part of the organization’s DNA. It’s always included. They are always improving their process. They are maintaining or even increasing the talent that they have dedicated to the work. They’re planning it smarter and better than ever before, and they have adequate capacity to keep iterating and growing in their search program.


With that, the steps to complete this process and figure out where your client falls on either of these maturity models, I want to be clear is not a one-sided exercise. This is not a situation where you’re just punching numbers into a spreadsheet and the agency is grading the client and our job is done. This needs to be a conversation.

We need to invite stakeholders at multiple levels, both on the client side and on the agency side, or if you’re in-house, just multiple levels within the organization, and we should ask for opinions from multiple perspectives to paint a more accurate picture of where the client stands today and agree on the steps that we need to take to move forward. When you do these maturity assessments, this isn’t enough.

This is step one. This isn’t a finish line. We need to be using this as a springboard for a dialogue to uncover their pain points or the obstacles that they run into, inside their organization, that are going to keep you from getting that work done. We need to have honest and frank conversations about the things we need to clear out of the way to do our best work. With that, I hope that you can try this out.

We’ve got a great article that we published on the Moz blog to get into more detail about how to implement this. But try it out in your organization or with your client and let us know. Peer review this and help us make it better, because this is intended to be a living process that evolves as our industry does.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


Moz Blog

Posted in IM NewsComments Off

How to Diagnose Your SEO Client’s Search Maturity

Posted by HeatherPhysioc

One of the biggest mistakes I see (and am guilty of making) is assuming a client is knowledgeable, bought-in, and motivated to execute search work simply because they agreed to pay us to do it. We start trucking full-speed ahead, dumping recommendations in their laps, and are surprised when the work doesn’t get implemented.

We put the cart before the horse. It’s easy to forget that clients start at different points of maturity and knowledge levels about search, and even clients with advanced knowledge may have organizational challenges that create barriers to implementing the work. Identifying where your client falls on a maturity curve can help you better tailor communication and recommendations to meet them where they are, and increase the likelihood that your work will be implemented.

How mature is your client?

No, not emotional maturity. Search practice maturity. This article will present a search maturity model, and provide guidance on how to diagnose where your client falls on that maturity spectrum.

This is where maturity models can help. Originally developed for the Department of Defense, and later popularized by Six Sigma methodologies, maturity models are designed to measure the ability of an organization to continuously improve in a practice. They help you diagnose the current maturity of the business in a certain area, and help identify where to focus efforts to evolve to the next stage on the maturity curve. It’s a powerful tool for meeting the client where they are, and understanding how to move forward together with them.

There are a number of different maturity models you can research online that use different language, but most maturity models follow a pattern something like this:

  • Stage 1 – Ad Hoc & Developing
  • Stage 2 – Reactive & Repeatable
  • Stage 3 – Strategic & Defined
  • Stage 4 – Managed & Measured
  • Stage 5 – Efficient & Optimizing

For search, we can think about a maturity model two ways.

One is the actual technical implementation of search best practices — is the client implementing exceptional, advanced SEO, just the basics, nothing at all, or even operating counterproductively? This can help you figure out what kinds of projects make the most sense to activate.

The second way is the organizational maturity around search engine optimization as a marketing program. Is the client aligned to the importance of organic search, allocating budget and personnel appropriately, and systematically integrating search into marketing efforts? This can help you identify the most important institutional challenges to solve for that can otherwise block the implementation of your work.

Technical SEO capabilities maturity

First, let’s dive into a maturity model for search knowledge and capabilities.

SEO capabilities criteria

We measure an organization on several important criteria that contribute to the success of SEO:

  • Collaboration – how well relevant stakeholders integrate and collaborate to do the best work possible, including inside the organization, and between the organization and the service providers.
  • Mobility – how mobile-friendly and optimized the brand is.
  • Technical – how consistently foundational technical best practices are implemented and maintained.
  • Content – how integrated organic search is into the digital content marketing practice and process.
  • On-page – how limited or extensive on-page optimization is for the brand’s content.
  • Off-page – the breadth and depth of the brand’s off-site optimization, including link-building, local listings, social profiles and other non-site assets.
  • New technology -the appetite for and adoption of new technology that impacts search, such as voice search, AMP, even structured data.
  • Analytics – how data-centric the organization is, ranging from not managed and measured at all, to rearview mirror performance reporting, to entirely data-driven in search decision-making.

Search Capabilities Score Card

Click the image to see the full-size version.

SEO capabilities maturity stages

We assign each of the aforementioned criteria to one of these stages:

  • Stage 0 (Counterproductive) – The client is engaging in harmful or damaging SEO practices.
  • Stage 1 (Nonexistent) – There is no discernible SEO strategy or tactical implementation, and search is an all-new program for the client.
  • Stage 2 (Tactical) – The client may be doing some basic SEO best practices, but it tends to be ad hoc inclusion with little structure or pre-planning. The skills and the work meet minimum industry standards, but work is fairly basic and perhaps not cohesive.
  • Stage 3 (Strategic) – The client is aligned to the value of SEO, and makes an effort to dedicate resources to implementing best practices and staying current, as well as bake it into key initiatives. Search implementation is more cohesive and strategic.
  • Stage 4 (Practice) – Inclusion of SEO is an expectation for most of the client’s marketing initiatives, if not mandatory. They are not only implementing basic best practices but actively testing and iterating new techniques to improve their search presence. They use performance of past initiatives to drive next steps.
  • Stage 5 (Culture) – At this stage, clients are operating as if SEO is part of their marketing DNA. They have resources and processes in place, and they are knowledgeable and committed to learning more, their processes are continually reviewed and optimized, and their SEO program is evolving as the industry evolves. They are seeking cutting-edge new SEO opportunities to test.

Search Capabilities Maturity Model

Click the image to see the full-size version.

While this maturity model has been peer reviewed by a number of respected SEO peers in the industry (special thanks to Kim Jones at Seer Interactive, Stephanie Briggs at Briggsby, John Doherty at Credo, Dan Shure at Evolving SEO, and Blake Denman at Rickety Roo for your time and expertise), it is a fluid, living document designed to evolve as our industry does. If necessary, evolve this to your own reality as well.

You can download a Google Sheets copy of this maturity model here to begin using it with your client.

Download the maturity model

Why Stage 0?

In this search capabilities maturity model, I added an unconventional “Stage 0 – Counterproductive,” because organic search is unique in that they could do real damage and be at a deficit, not just at a baseline of zero.

In a scenario like this, the client has no collaboration inside the company or with the partner agency to do smart search work. Content may be thin, weak, duplicative, spun, or over-optimized. Perhaps their mobile experience is nonexistent or very poor. Maybe they’re even engaging in black hat SEO practices, and they have link-related or other penalties.

Choosing projects based on a client’s capabilities maturity

For a client that is starting on the lower end of the maturity scale, you may not recommend starting with advanced work like AMP and visual search technology, or even detailed Schema markup or extensive targeted link-building campaigns. You may have to start with the basics like securing the site, cleaning up information architecture, and fixing title tags and meta descriptions.

For a client that is starting on the higher end of the maturity scale, you wouldn’t want to waste their time recommending the basics — they’ve probably already done them. You’re better off finding new and innovative opportunities to do great search work they haven’t already mastered.

But we’re just getting started…

But technical capabilities and knowledge are only beginning to scratch the surface with clients. This starts to solve for what you should implement, but doesn’t touch why it’s so hard to get your work implemented. The real problems tend to be a lot squishier, and aren’t so simple as checking some SEO best practices boxes.

How mature is your client’s search practice?

The real challenges to implementation tend to be organizational, people, integration, and process problems. Conducting a search maturity assessment with your client can be eye-opening as to what needs to be solved internally before great search work can be implemented and start reaping the rewards. Pair this with the technical capabilities maturity model above, and you have a powerhouse of knowledge and tools to help your client.

Before we dig in, I want to note one important caveat: While this maturity model focuses heavily on organizational adoption and process, I don’t want to suggest that process and procedure are substitutes for using your actual brain. You still have to think critically and make hard choices when you execute a best-in-class search program, and often that requires solving all-new problems that didn’t exist before and therefore don’t have a formal process.

Search practice maturity criteria

We measure an organization on several important criteria that contribute to the success of SEO:

  • Process, policy, or procedure – Do documented, repeatable processes for inclusion of organic search exist, and are they continually improving? Is it an organizational policy to include organic search in marketing efforts? This can mean that the process of including organic search in marketing initiatives is defined as a clear series of actions or steps taken, including both developing organic search strategy and implementing SEO tactics.
  • Personnel resources & integration – Does the necessary talent exist at the organization or within the service provider’s scope? Personnel resources may include SEO professionals, as well as support staff such as developers, data analysts, and copywriters necessary to implement organic search successfully. Active resources may work independently in a disjointed manner or collaboratively in an integrated manner.
  • Knowledge & learning – Because search is a constantly evolving field, is the organization knowledgeable about search and committed to continuously learning? Information can include existing knowledge, past experience, or training in organic search strategy and tactics. It can also include a commitment to learning more, possibly through willingness to undertake trainings, attendance of conferences, regular consumption of learning materials, or staying current in industry news and trends.
  • Means, capacity, & capabilities – Does the organization budget appropriately for and prioritize the organic search program? Means, capacity and capabilities can include being scoped into a client contract, adequate budget being allocated to the work, adequate human resources being allocated to the work, the capacity to complete the work when measured against competing demands, and the prioritization of search work alongside competing demands.
  • Planning & preparation – Is organic search aligned to business goals, brand goals, and/or campaign goals? Is organic search proactively planned, reactive, or not included at all? This measure evaluates how frequently organic search efforts are included in marketing efforts for a brand. It also measures how frequently the work is included proactively and pre-planned, as opposed to reactively as an afterthought. Work may be aligned to or disconnected from the “big picture.”

Organizational search maturity

Click the image to see the full-size version.

Search practice stages of maturity

Stage 1 – Initial & ad hoc

At this stage, the organizations’ search application may be nonexistent, unstable, or uncontrolled. There may be rare and small SEO efforts, but they are entirely ad hoc and inconsistent, and retrofitted to the work after the fact, at best. They tend to lack any discernible goal orientation. If SEO exists, it is disconnected from larger goals, and not integrated with any other practices across the organization. They may be just beginning their search practice for the first time.

Stage 2 – Repeatable but reactive

These organizations are at least doing some search basics, though there is no rigorous use or enforcement of it. It is very reactive and in-the-moment while projects are being implemented; it is rarely pre-planned and often SEO is applied as an afterthought. They are executing only in the present or when it’s too late to do the highest caliber search work, but they are making an effort. SEO efforts may occasionally be going after goals, but it is unlikely to be tied to larger business goals. (Most of my client relationships have started here.)

Stage 3 – Defined & understood

These organizations have started to document their processes and are satisfactorily knowledgeable and competent in search. They have minimum standards for search best practices and process is emerging. Many people inside and outside the organization understand that search is important and are taking steps to integrate. There is a clear search strategy that aligns to organizational goals and processes. Proactive search preparation and planning happens prior to activating projects.

Stage 4 – Managed & capable

These organizations have proactive, predictable implementation of search work. They have quality-focused rules for products and processes, and can quickly detect and correct missteps. They have clearly defined processes for integration, implementation and oversight, but are flexible enough to adapt to a range of conditions without sacrificing quality. These organizations consider search part of their “way of life.”

Stage 5 – Efficient & optimizing

Organizations at this stage have a strong mastery of search and efficiently implementing as a matter of policy. They have cross-organizational integration and proactively work to strengthen their search performance. They are always improving the process through incremental or innovative change. They review and analyze their process and implementation to keep optimizing. These organizations could potentially be considered market-leading or innovative.

Scorecard exercise

Click the image to see the full-size version.

You are here

Before you can know how to get where you want to go, you need to know where you are. It’s important to understand where the organization stands, and then where they need to be in the future. Going through the quantitative exercise of diagnosing their maturity can help everyone align to where to start.

You can use these scorecards to assess factors like leadership alignment to the value of search, employee availability and involvement, knowledge and training, process and standardization, their culture (or lack thereof) of data-driven problem-solving and continuous improvement, and even budget.

A collaborative exercise

This should be a deeper exercise than just punching numbers into a spreadsheet, and it certainly shouldn’t be a one-sided assessment from you as an outsider. It is much more valuable to ask several relevant people at multiple levels across the client organization to participate in this exercise, and can become much richer if you take the time to talk to people at various points in the process.

How to use the scorecard & diagnose maturity

Once you download the scorecards, follow these steps to begin the maturity assessment process.

  1. Client-side distribution – Distribute surveys to relevant stakeholders on the client’s internal team. Ideally, these individuals serve at a variety of levels at the company and occupy a mix of roles relevant to the organic search practice. These could include CEO, CMO, Marketing VPs and directors, digital marketing coordinators, and in-house SEOs.
  2. Agency-side distribution – Distribute surveys to relevant stakeholders on the agency team. Ideally, these individuals serve at a variety of levels at the agency and occupy a mix of roles relevant to the organic search practice. These could include digital marketing coordinators, client engagement specialists, analysts, digital copywriters, or SEO practitioners.
  3. Assign a level of maturity to each criteria – Each survey participant can simply mark one “X” per category row in the column that most accurately reflects perception of the brand organization as it pertains to organic search. (For example, if the survey respondent feels that SEO process and procedure are non-existent based on the description, they can mark an “X” in the “Initial/Ad Hoc” column. Alternatively, if they feel they are extraordinarily advanced and efficient in their processes, they may mark the “X” in the “Efficient & Optimizing” column.)
  4. Collect the surveys – Assign a point value of 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 to the responses from left to right in the scorecard. Average the points to get a final score for each. (For example, if five client stakeholders score their SEO process and procedure as 3, 4, 2, 3, 3 respectively, the average score is 3 for that criteria.)
  5. Comparing client to agency perception – You may also choose to ask survey respondents to denote whether they are client-side or agency-side so you can look at the data both in aggregate, and by client and agency separately, to determine if there is alignment or disagreement on where the brand falls on the maturity curve. This can be great material for discussion with the client that can open up conversations about why those differences in perception exist.

Screenshot of scorecard

To get your own scorecard, click the image and make a copy of the Google Sheet.

Choosing where to start

The goal is to identify together where to start working. This means finding the strengths to capitalize upon, areas of acceptability that can be nudged to a strength with a little work, weaknesses to improve upon, agreeing on areas to focus, and finally, how to get started tackling the first change together.

For a client that is starting on the low end of the maturity scale, it is unrealistic to expect that they have connected all the dots between important stakeholders, that they have a clearly defined and repeatable process, and that their search program is a well-oiled machine. If you don’t work together to solve the underlying problems like knowledge or adequate personnel resources first, you will struggle to get buy-in for the work or the resources to get it done, so it doesn’t matter what projects you recommend.

For a client that is advanced in a few areas, say process, planning, and capacity, but weaker in others like knowledge and capacity, that might suggest that you need to focus efforts on an education campaign to help the client prioritize the work and fit it into a busy queue.

For a client that is already advanced across the board, your role instead may be to keep the machine running while also helping them spot minor areas of improvement so they can keep iterating and perfecting the process. This client might also be ready for more advanced search strategies and tactical recommendations, or perhaps more robust integrations across additional disciplines.

One foot in front of the other

It’s rare that we live in a world of radical change where we overhaul everything en masse and see epic change overnight. We tweak, test, learn, and iterate. A maturity model is a continuum, and brands must evolve from one step to the next. Skipping levels is not an option. Some may also call this a “crawl, walk, run” approach.

Your goal as their trusted search advisor is not to help them leap from Stage 2 to Stage 5. Accomplishing that trajectory and speed of growth is exceedingly difficult and rare. Instead, focus your efforts on how the client can get to the next stage over the next 12 months. As they progress up the maturity model, the length of time it takes to unlock the next level may grow longer and longer.

Organizational Search Maturity

Click the image to see the full-size version.

Even when an organization reaches Stage 5, your/their work is not done. Master-level organizations continue to refine and optimize their processes and capabilities.

There is no finish line to search maturity

There is a French culinary phrase, “mise en place,” that refers to having everything — ingredients, tools, recipe — in its place to begin cooking most successfully. There are several key ingredients to any successful project implementation: buy-in, process, knowledge and skills, capacity, planning, and more.

As your client evolves up the maturity curve, you will see and feel a transition from thinking about aspects only once a project is sliding off the rails, to including these things real-time and reactively, to anticipating these before every project and doing your due diligence to come prepared. Essentially, the client can move from not being able to spell “SEO” to making SEO a part of their DNA by moving up these maturity curves.

It is important to revisit the maturity model discussion periodically — I recommend doing so at least annually — to level-set and realign with the client. Conducting this exercise again can remind us to pause and reflect on all we have accomplished since the first scoring. It can also re-energize stakeholders to make even more progress in the upcoming year.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


Moz Blog

Posted in IM NewsComments Off

Customer-First Marketing Strategy: The highest of the five levels of marketing maturity

What’s your top marketing challenge right now? Generating traffic and leads? New business development? Producing engaging content?

Every organization is on a marketing maturity path toward more strategic marketing that addresses these challenges at a fundamental (not just surface) level.

How far along is your organization on that path? And what steps do you need to take to move to the next step? Read on for a quick snapshot of the progression.

MarketingSherpa Blog

Posted in IM NewsComments Off


Advert