Before we talk about how to get the IT and SEO groups on the same page, let’s talk about some of the reasons that problems can crop up in the first place. The people doing a site’s SEO, whether they’re in-house or an outside company, usually get grouped in with marketing. Marketing and IT departments share a long history of not getting along with each other. Part of the problem, I think, is that they often don’t understand each other: the daily pressures, the ambitious goals, the frustrations, the attempts to build something new and better than what they’ve done before. SEOs end up right in the middle of this pressure cooker.
When two groups are coming at similar problems from two different perspectives, it’s no wonder that they develop different ideas for how to achieve particular goals…or even which goals are worth achieving. As Bob Tripathi observed recently in a piece for Search Engine Watch, “In many organizations, the marketing, IT, and hardware groups are typically separate departments, and they may not even sit close to one another.” That’s quite a hurdle to overcome when you need to work pretty closely with IT. How do you do it?
Well, you can start by trying to speak the same language. IT uses its own jargon, but so does SEO. Face it; you’re every bit as much a geek as they are, you’re just geeky in a different way. When you talk about PageRank to IT, you might want to use the phrase “strength of web page.” Another concept that doesn’t translate well is “link juice;” talk about “part of website URL redirects.” You might think that IT would understand “domain canonicalization,” but that’s not common lingo for them, either; try “staying consistent as to www or non-www.” It might help if you remember that jargon is really a form of shorthand for those in the know, and you’re just unpacking the terms into their longhand versions.
Once you can communicate, you need to show IT that they and you really do have common goals. Tripathi discusses a number of excellent ways to accomplish this. You can start with a person-to-person, heart-to-heart talk with IT. Unless you tell them, they won’t know what you need from them as an SEO, or why it’s so important to the business. You need to explain clearly and transparently what you’re going to do, what you need to accomplish your SEO tasks, why it’s crucial to the company’s success, and where IT fits. Take on the role of an educator to help them understand the reasons behind what might seem to them like arbitrary and time-consuming changes.
This transparency in communication represents the first letter of an anagram – TEAM – that can help you and the IT group move forward together. Tripathi explains that the next letter, “E,” stands for “embedded groups.” For an SEO project that needs IT support, you’ll want to spend more time with the IT group, possibly even moving your work location to be closer to them (or doing the practical equivalent if you’re all working in different geographical locations). “Your projects will move faster with less errors and production level defects” when you take this approach, Tripathi notes.
The third letter, “A,” stands for “alignment.” To get SEO and IT on the same page, they need not only to understand each other’s goals; they need to see that they’re the SAME goals. Both groups want the company to do well in the marketplace. If you can show IT how your work will help benefit the company, you give their group and yours something you can focus on together. “After all,” Tripathi writes, “even IT would love to contribute to the financial success of your company.”
The fourth letter, “M,” represents management buy-in. Once the SEO and IT departments are working together, they can formulate an overall strategy to present to management to help get them on board. Make no mistake; this will require a fair bit of work. You’ll need to take your current traffic, conversion and revenue data, and then predict what those numbers will be based on the increased SEO activity you and the IT department will be implementing together. Seeing the IT and SEO groups working together, however, and jointly presenting this financial model and road map to the future, will probably increase the odds of management giving you the green light.
This is just the beginning of what you can do to help get IT on board with the SEO tasks with which you’ll need their assistance. Tripathi encourages you to “Think of it as a classic collaboration rubric, where each group needs to contribute, take responsibility, and value [the] other team’s viewpoint.” Keep that mental image front and center – collaboration, not confrontation – and you’re much more likely to meet with success. Good luck!