Overcoming Blockers: How to Build Your Red Tape Toolkit – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by HeatherPhysioc

Have you ever made SEO recommendations that just don’t go
anywhere? Maybe you run into a lack of budget, or you can’t get
buy-in from your boss or colleagues. Maybe your work just keeps
getting deprioritized in favor of other initiatives. Whatever the
case, it’s important to set yourself up for success when it comes
to the tangled web of red tape that’s part and parcel of most

In this week’s Whiteboard Friday, Heather Physioc shares her
tried-and-true methods for building yourself a toolkit that’ll help
you tear through roadblocks and bureaucracy to get your work


Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution
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Video Transcription

What up, Moz fans? This is Heather Physioc. I’m the Director of
the Discoverability Group at VML, headquartered in Kansas City. So
today we’re going to talk about how to build your red tape toolkit
to overcome obstacles to getting your search work implemented. So
do you ever feel like your recommendations are overlooked, ignored,
forgotten, deprioritized, or otherwise just not getting

Common roadblocks to implementing SEO recommendations


If so, you’re not alone. So I asked 140-plus of our industry
colleagues the blockers that they run into and how they overcome

  • Low knowledge. So if you’re anything like
    every other SEO ever, you might be running into low knowledge and
    understanding of search, either on the client side or within your
    own agency.
  • Low buy-in. You may be running into low
    buy-in. People don’t care about SEO as much as you do.
  • Poor prioritization. So other things
    frequently come to the top of the list while SEO keeps falling
    further behind.
  • High bureaucracy. So a lot of red tape or slow
    approvals or no advocacy within the organization.
  • Not enough budget. A lot of times it’s not
    enough budget, not enough resources to get the work done.
  • Unclear and overcomplicated process. So people
    don’t know where they fit or even how to get started implementing
    your SEO work.
  • Bottlenecks. And finally bottlenecks where
    you’re just hitting blockers at every step along the way.

So if you’re in-house, you probably said that not enough budget
and resources was your biggest problem. But on the agency side or
individual practitioners, they said low understanding or knowledge
of search on the client side was their biggest blocker.

So a lot of the time when we run into these blockers and it
seems like nothing is getting done, we start to play the blame
game. We start to complain that it’s the client who hung up the
project or if the client had only listened or it’s something wrong
with the client’s business.

Build out your red tape toolkit

But I don’t buy it. So we’re going to not do that. We’re going
to build out our red tape toolkit. So here are some of the
suggestions that came out of that survey.

1. Assess client maturity

First is to assess your client’s maturity. This could include
their knowledge and capabilities for doing SEO, but also their
organizational search program, the people, process, ability to
plan, knowledge, capacity.

These are the problems that tend to stand in the way of getting
our best work done. So I’m not going to go in-depth here because
we’ve actually put out a full-length article on
the Moz blog
and another Whiteboard Friday.
So if you need to pause, watch that and come back, no problem.

2. Speak your client’s language

So the next thing to put in your toolkit is to speak your
client’s language. I think a lot of times we’re guilty of talking
to fellow SEOs instead of the CMOs and CEOs who buy into our work.
So unless your client is a super technical mind or they have a
strong search background, it’s in our best interests to lift up and
stay at 30,000 feet. Let’s talk about things that they care about,
and I promise you that is not canonicalization or SSL encryption
and HTTPS.

They’re thinking about ROI and their customers and operational
costs. Let’s translate and speak their language. Now this could
also mean using analogies that they can relate to or visual
examples and data visualizations that tell the story of search
better than words ever could. Help them understand. Meet them in
the middle.

3. Seek greater perspective

Now let’s seek greater perspective. So what this means is SEO
does not or should not operate in a silo. We’re one small piece of
your client’s much larger marketing mix. They have to think about
the big picture. A lot of times our clients aren’t just dedicated
to SEO. They’re not even dedicated to just digital sometimes. A lot
of times they have to think about how all the pieces fit together.
So we need to have the humility to understand where search fits
into that and ladder our SEO goals up to the brand goals, campaign
goals, business and revenue goals. We also need to understand that
every SEO project we recommend comes with a time and a cost
associated with it.

Everything we recommend to a CMO is an opportunity cost as well
for something else that they could be working on. So we need to
show them where search fits into that and how to make those hard
choices. Sometimes SEO doesn’t need to be the leader. Sometimes
we’re the follower, and that’s okay.

4. Get buy-in

The next tool in your toolkit is to get buy-in. So there are two
kinds of buy-in you can get.

Horizontal buy-in

One is horizontal buy-in. So a lot of times search is dependent
on other disciplines to get our work implemented. We need
copywriters. We need developers. So the number-one complaint SEOs
have is not being brought in early. That’s the same complaint all
your teammates on development and copywriting and everywhere else

Respect the expertise and the value that they bring to this
project and bring them to the table early. Let them weigh in on how
this project can get done. Build mockups together. Put together a
plan together. Estimate the level of effort together.

Vertical buy-in

Which leads us to vertical buy-in. Vertical is up and down. When
you do this horizontal buy-in first, you’re able to go to the
client with a much smarter, better vetted recommendation. So a lot
of times your day-to-day client isn’t the final decision maker.
They have to sell this opportunity internally. So give them the
tools and the voice that they need to do that by the really strong
recommendation you put together with your peers and make it easy
for them to take it up to their boss and their CMO and their CEO.
Then you really increase the likelihood that you’re going to get
that work done.

5. Build a bulletproof plan

Next, build a bulletproof plan.

Case studies

So the number-one recommendation that came out of this survey
was case studies. Case studies are great. They talk about the
challenge that you tried to overcome, the solution, how you
actually tackled it, and the results you got out of that.

Clients love case studies. They show that you have the chops to
do the work. They better explain the outcomes and the benefits of
doing this kind of work, and you took the risk on that kind of
project with someone else’s money first. So that’s going to reduce
the perceived risk in the client’s mind and increase the likelihood
that they’re going to do the work.

Make your plan simple and clear, with timelines

Another thing that helps here is building a really simple, clear
plan so it’s stupid-easy for everybody who needs to be a part of it
to know where they fit in and what they’re responsible for. So do
the due diligence to put together a step-by-step plan and assign
ownership to each step and put timelines to it so they know what
pace they should be following.

Forecast ROI

Finally, forecast ROI. This is not optional. So a lot of times I
think SEOs are hesitant to forecast the potential outcomes or ROI
of a project because of the sheer volume of unknowns.

We live in a world of theory, and it’s very hard to commit to
something that we can’t be certain about. But we have to give the
client some sense of return. We have to know why we are
recommending this project over others. There’s a wealth of
resources out there to do that for even heavily caveated and
conservative estimate, including case studies that others have
published online.

Show the cost of inaction

Now sometimes forecasting the opportunity of ROI isn’t enough to
light a fire for clients. Sometimes we need to show them the cost
of inaction. I find that with clients the risk is not so much that
they’re going to make the wrong move. It’s that they’ll make no
move at all. So a lot of times we will visualize what that might
look like. So we’ll show them this is the kind of growth we think
that you can get if you invest and you follow this plan we put

Here’s what it will look like if you invest just a little to
monitor and maintain, but you’re not aggressively investing in
search. Oh, and here, dropping down and to the right, is what
happens when you don’t invest at all. You stagnate and you get
surpassed by your competitors. That can be really helpful for
clients to contrast those different levels of investment and
convince them to do the work that you’re recommending.

6. Use headlines & soundbites

Next use headlines, taglines, and sound bites. What we recommend
is really complicated to some clients. So let’s help translate that
into simple, usable language that’s memorable so they can go repeat
those lines to their colleagues and their bosses and get that work
sold internally. We also need to help them prioritize.

So if you’re anything like me, you love it when the list of SEO
action items is about a mile long. But when we dump that in their
laps, it’s too much. They get overwhelmed and bombarded, and they
tune out. So instead, you are the expert consultant. Use what you
know about search and know about your client to help them
prioritize the single most important thing that they should be
focusing on.

7. Patience, persistence, and parallel paths

Last in your toolkit, patience, persistence, and parallel paths.
So getting this work done is a combination of communication,
follow-up, patience, and persistence. While you’ve got your client
working on this one big thing that you recommended, you can be
building parallel paths, things that have fewer obstacles that you
can own and run with.

They may not be as high impact as the one big thing, but you can
start to get small wins that get your client excited and build
momentum for more of the big stuff. But the number one thing out of
all of the responses in the survey that our colleagues recommended
to you is to stay strong. Have empathy and understanding for the
hard decisions that your client has to make. But come with a
strong, confident point of view on where to go next.

All right, gang, these are a lot of great tips to start your red
tape toolkit and overcome obstacles to get your best search work
done. Try these out. Let us know what you think. If you have other
great ideas on how you overcome obstacles to get your best work
done with clients, let us know down in the comments. Thank you so
much for watching, and we’ll see you next week for another edition
of Whiteboard Friday.

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