The Buy-in-ish Cycle: The main reason SEO strategies fail
TL;DR The main reason strategies fail is because we accept agreement without commitment. This is a bad practice that can often create a cycle of bad behaviour. Healthy practices that can change this include, welcoming rejection, seeking healthy conflict, and understanding our organisation's maturity in order to create a culture that promotes accountability. I recently spoke about the importance of getting buy-in with commitment at MozCon, SearchLove, Benchmark Manchester, and London SEO meetup.
Getting buy-in for SEO can easily become one of the biggest challenges. How many times have you been told that your SEO tickets have been pushed back to the next sprint, even though you've been promised they would be released this time? Or you've been fighting for headcount in your team with a senior skillset, only to get the budget approved for a much more junior role? How many times did your leadership tell you that "SEO is indeed very important for the business" but did not commit to prioritising the initiatives you've proposed? On each of these occasions, someone said yes to you, because this is what you wanted to hear, but what they actually meant was no. This fake agreement happens too often and is one of the biggest issues we can actively lead ourselves into when we're trying to get buy-in for our SEO strategy and its initiatives.
So let's start by looking at the dictionary definition (from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary) of buy-in. It means "acceptance of and willingness to actively support and participate in something". Yet somehow, we tend to miss that the - actively supporting and participating - part requires commitment. The lack of this commitment leads to something I call; The Buy-in-ish Cycle.
The 3 steps of The Buy-in-ish Cycle
Fake Buy-in; Buy-in that happens without commitment
Half Results; Poor or no results as there's no accountability at an execution level
Lack of Proof; No evidence or proof to use to get buy-in next time, which keeps us in the cycle.
The problem with this cycle, as you might've experienced, is that it's really easy to get stuck in this loop. Due to the lack of clear rejection, sometimes this can feel like we're moving forward when actually we're just going around in circles, chasing our own tails. The cycle easily repeats itself, as there's an impression of buy-in, but without commitment. It's the typical situation of words not matching actions. We are being told 'yes' which means we feel encouraged to continue doing what we did before, which transforms these bad practices into a cycle of bad behaviour. In this article, we'll discuss three healthy practices to implement, in order to break this cycle.
1. Welcome Rejection
Remember that; a yes without commitment is worse than a no. Because a fake yes, doesn't allow you to produce results, but what is even worse, is that it also stops you from moving on to the next thing. This is why you want to apply critical thinking. You want to be seeking a real answer, even if that means getting rejected. Be skeptical of hearing the word, yes, and be open and welcoming to hearing the word, no. Agreement without commitment will create a lack of accountability, while rejection will push you to seek an alternative solution that has solid foundations, and real ownership from stakeholders, which means your strategy will be much more likely to succeed.
Seek commitment by getting your audience involved. This doesn't just include leadership, it includes your crucial stakeholders and potential blockers. When it comes to your projects, think about who needs to be accountable for the execution and appoint ownership to the relevant stakeholders. Who are the blockers? Are there any tasks or challenges that IT or procurement needs to be aware of? Why go through the hard work of convincing leadership of your idea, only for IT or procurement to throw another curveball at you and delay or completely stop the implementation? Plan the different stages of the process and decide who needs to be involved and when.
2. Seek Healthy Conflict
Often, we fear conflict because it opens the situation up to rejection, and we often (inaccurately) associate rejection with failiure. To add to this, once we are comfortable with rejection, we still need to remember to check in with our own confirmation bias. It isn't just the fear of rejection that makes us push for an agreement, but also our own biased research that's often too focused on finding information that proves our point, ignoring the nuances of how this applies to our current environment. Following this path, essentially blindfolded, it is only a matter of time to bump into some concerns that can not only lead to objections, but might also mean that our solution wasn't viable in the first place.
Instead of researching to prove our point, we need to remember to start our research by pre-empting concerns. How will our strategy impact different stakeholders in the business? Why have certain solutions not been implemented yet? Do we need to consider changes in processes, budgets, roles and responsibilities? Do all teams already have the skills required or will there need to be a time commitment for training? Being prepared to discuss questions like these will help to start open and transparent conversations with out stakeholders, and leadership that will promote healthy conflict. Having these conversations early on can help us progress faster and find solutions that truly work for the business, not just for SEO.
3. Understand the Organisation's Maturity
The last thing to highlight is self-awareness. Or business-awareness. This is where being experienced can mislead us from taking a step back to assess and evaluate our current environment. We often say 'it depends' in SEO, and as we know, success really does depend on a number of different factors. When it comes to solutions, strategies, and success, there really isn't a 'one size fits all'. We need to remember that different businesses, different industries, and different stages of maturity will require different strategies. The problem here is that if we don't realise this soon enough, we will push the wrong agenda and waste time, resources, and money. If we have the right people skills, might even be able to convince the business to commit to a strategy that isn't right for the business, which eventually will cause problems in the long run. When it comes to strategy, we need to make sure we are doing the right thing, not just for SEO, but also for the business.
We need to think about our organisational maturity. This isn't just restricted to the performance of our strategy, but also things like the technology we have available, the business culture, and efficiencies and inefficiencies in the processes. You can evaluate and assess organisational SEO maturity in many different ways. As an example you can use the free OMG for SEO - maturity analysis tool that Tory Gray and I developed to help SEOs understand the 4 key dimensions of business maturity; Culture, Efficiency, Strategy, and Technology.
I hope these three new healthy practices will help you transform your buy-in-ish behavioural cycle and turn them into the bought-in cycle. Where your strategy is getting real buy-in with commitment, your solutions are fully implemented as there's clear accountability, which then generates better business results that continue to promote these healthy behaviours.