Author: Olaf Kopp , 29.November 2022
Reading time: 7 Minutes

The role of successful SEO: Consultant, interface and enabler

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The SEO world has changed a lot in the last 10 years and with it the position and role of SEOs in companies and as well in the (online) marketing industry. The factors influencing rankings on Google are significantly influenced by measures that are not in the classic SEO task area. How should the industry and SEOs deal with this?

The topic is not only on my mind, as the attention around my LinkedIn post has shown:

That’s why I’d like to go into more detail here about my thoughts on the role of SEO in businesses.

Digital brand building increasingly important

Digital brand building plays a big role in Google rankings, and not just for YMYL topics.

But what actually is digital brand building? Here’s my definition:

“Digital brand building or online branding describes a method of brand management. Digital brand building is about positioning in one or more thematic areas and strengthening the relationship between a brand and potential as well as existing customers via the customer experience with digital touchpoints.

In most cases, digital (content) touchpoints are subject to the technical constraints of algorithms of the major online gatekeepers in distribution. The most important digital gatekeepers include social networks, search engines, portals for online news and media, and digital marketplaces.

The algorithms of the platforms must be convinced just as much as the users in order to make content and thus brands visible or findable there.

Since brands are increasingly dependent on digital touchpoints, modern marketers should be familiar with the basic occurrences of at least the largest gatekeepers such as Google, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and possibly Amazon, provided that the relevant target groups use these platforms.”

Digital brand building and SEO

E-A-T is Google’s concept to measure brands and has played a crucial role in the core updates of the last few years, thus gaining significant influence. I could see the increased influence of brand on rankings already since about 2013. Whether the whole thing was already running on Google under the term E-A-T I do not like to say. At least, the term E-A-T accompanies us since the Quality Rater Guidelines version from 2014.

The supposed measures that pay off on E-A-T have only limited to do with SEO in the traditional sense, as the factors are primarily influenced by measures in marketing communication, content marketing and PR.

On the topic of digital brand building and E-A-T you will find a lot of input from me from the last years. Here are some reading, listening and video tips:

In addition, Google’s ranking algorithms are no longer static, but more and more dynamic due to the increasing influence of Machine Learning or Natural Language Processing, which makes reverse engineering and testing measures more and more difficult. If Google itself no longer knows why a URL ranks how should an SEO know…

The (new) role of SEO in the company

SEO has increasingly become an interface discipline that seeks its place somewhere between marketing, PR, data, content creation and IT. The nerdy basement kid decoding the secrets of Google’s algo in his locked area is more and more a romanticized transfiguration these days. Interface also always means a lot of communication, education, persuasion and also in certain parts leadership, depending on where and how SEO is positioned in the company.

Where you can develop as SEO in companies always depends on several factors. First of all, there is the own interest and the strengths and weaknesses.

  • Do you prefer to do analyses and implementations yourself and work deeply in detail.
  • Do you like to train or advise others?
  • Would one like to take on a leadership role or assume responsibility for personnel and budgets

Second, the business environment largely determines where one can go.

  • How important are search engines as a distribution channel for the company and the topic environment in which one wants to place oneself?
  • How important is the topic SEO to the heads or how high is it hung in the company compared to other departments such as sales, brand marketing or PPC?
  • Does budget and size of the company allow for certain career steps?

Depending on this, there are then different scenarios into which role one would like to grow as an SEO.

SEO as cross-departmental consulting

In this role, the SEO proactively advises all neighboring departments with interface relevance and is accordingly provided with the necessary influence from the heads. The consideration of SEO in all neighboring search-relevant is a must in this role and is accordingly anchored in processes. However, this also requires a certain assertiveness and leadership talent to get all stakeholders on board.

The main focus here is to advise and train all stakeholders so that they can largely implement it themselves. In addition, SEO should also be established in the processes, e.g. in editorial, content creation, PR, IT … should be established. This job can be done by in-house SEOs as well as external consultants or agencies. SEO can also be effective enable processes in the HR department to make job postings more findable.

On the other hand, SEO needs information from market research, marketing, sales, SEA, UX and IT/development to be able to work optimally. Here, formats are needed for exchange.

Challenges for SEOs in companies and agencies

The new role of SEO creates challenges that need to be mastered. Probably the greatest challenge of an SEO manager, both in the agency and in-house, is to move proactively as an interface between management, IT, web design, content creation, editing, marketing, PR and sales. In doing so, it is always important to keep an eye on the different interests of these stakeholders. As an SEO, you are always dependent on the cooperation of colleagues from the various specialist departments, because a large part of the implementation does not happen by the SEO manager himself.

SEO managers spend much of their work analyzing and formulating recommendations for action for the various “implementers.” If you don’t have these parties on your side there is a problem. This requires diplomacy and empathy. If you convey the feeling that you are intruding too far into the territory of the respective area, you have to expect resistance.

SEO is more and more dependent on the consideration and implementation by the other departments, so that the SEO goals can be achieved. For this, one must solicit understanding and sell SEO in the company, otherwise one will run into dead ends. In addition, one should not make the mistake of wanting to press SEO into the departments from above. That will lead to resistance.

Activities that contribute to the strengthening of the brand and authority at domain level are largely not measures that are primarily operated for the ranking. That’s why an SEO manager should keep a low profile and only act in an advisory capacity. It is simply not his core competence. Just as little as the creation of content.

Whether SEOs proactively approach the departments or their SEO expertise is requested from the departments depends on the mindset in the company. If there is a digital spirit in the company DNA, the importance of organic findability in search engines will be clear. Here, other departments will approach SEO with intrinsic motivation.

If education is still needed, proactive execution is an advantage.

The general mindset in the company is also crucial. If all departments pull together to pursue the overall corporate goals and not just the departmental goals, it will be easier for SEO to establish processes.

What skills should SEOs have today?

In addition to technical expertise, successful SEOs are characterized by a holistic view of the company and a high degree of empathy. This is the only way to pick up colleagues from other departments and inspire them. Empathic assertiveness and persuasiveness are also an advantage.

I have often seen unempathetic SEOs run into walls and give up in frustration.

An SEO manager does not have to penetrate into other departments like a bull in a china shop, but to protect the interests of the respective stakeholders. A change of perspective or a bird’s eye view does good here.

Especially in-house SEO managers who are new to a company are busy in the beginning to identify the interest groups, to clarify or educate them and to build bridges.

The possible further development from SEO to (inbound) marketer

The step from a specialist discipline to a meta-role requires some experience, a broader holistic mindset and the will to deal with new topics. Strategic thinking and a view of the big picture are more important here than specialized knowledge in implementation.

Nevertheless, I think it is also very important to have been active in one or more areas of implementation in order not to be seen as a theoretician.  The principle of the T-Shaped-Marketer can be an approach here. In other words, marketers who have deep practical experience in at least one area and have a sound overall view of many areas in communications/marketing.

I have been able to observe this development or careers in some esteemed colleagues over the years.

Dominik Schwarz, who started out as a real SEO and over the years has evolved from SEO service provider to in-house SEO Director and Chief Inbound Officer of home2go.

Maximilian Muhr, who in the meantime worked for various companies as Head of SEO, is now Associate Director Marketing.

I think it is advantageous to have gained deep practical experience in at least two areas (PI shaped marketer) to fill such a meta role. The more practical experience in different disciplines the better (multi-shaped-marketer).

For example, a career in content creation and SEO would be an advantageous profile for such a move.

Below is an example of a multi-shaped marketer as an ideal occupation for a CMO or Head of Inbound. This is an ideal-type profile and requires 10+ years of experience in SEO, editorial and IT and a corresponding alignment of interest. A godsend for any company.

The role of SEO in the industry

Due to the described circumstances, I see the influence of SEOs in the marketing mix in the implementation as weaker than years ago. Many measures that affect the rankings on Google & Co are no longer in the hands of SEOs, but in marketing, content marketing and PR.

This is a thesis that I have often put forward in recent years, e.g. here at the Searchmetrics Summit 2017:

As a result, an increased dependence of SEO success on other departments is developing and the role of SEO in companies is changing. SEO has to educate, motivate, empathically convince and sell more and more departments that are not specialized in SEO.

I would like to conclude with a quote from an former article:

Most of the SEO industry has seen itself in the last 10 years as a self-sufficient discipline that can act detached from all other areas. Those days are now over. That’s why many SEOs are now desperately looking for support and orientation.

I hope I could contribute to this with this article.

Zu Olaf Kopp

Olaf Kopp is Co-Founder, Chief Business Development Officer (CBDO) and Head of SEO at Aufgesang GmbH. His work focuses on the topics of digital brand building, E-A-T, semantic SEO, content marketing, online marketing strategies along the customer journey. He is the author of the book "Content Marketing along the Customer Journey", co-organizer of the SEAcamp and host of the german podcasts Content-Kompass and OM Cafe. As an enthusiastic search engine and content marketer, he writes for various specialist magazines, including Search Engine Land, t3n, Website Boosting, Hubspot ... His blog is one of the most famous online marketing blogs in Germany. In addition, Olaf Kopp is a speaker for SEO and content marketing at Hanover University of Applied Sciences, SMX, CMCx, OMT, OMX, Campixx...

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