When your ‘no’ isn’t enough


SEO decisions never happen in isolation. The factors that go into optimizing for search engines have to be weighed up with other commercial impacts.

Good SEOs are always working to find that balance, to provide pragmatic solutions that consider search engines, users and corporate interests.

Usually, it’s possible to find a middle ground – a solution that minimizes risk to organic traffic while meeting the needs of other stakeholders.

Sometimes, it’s not. 

There will be times in any SEO’s career when they have to say “no.” 

“No, migrating that website tomorrow without a redirect map in place is a bad idea.”

“No, deleting that subdirectory is too risky.”

Hopefully, on most of these occasions, your carefully explained concerns are enough to persuade decision-makers to err on the side of caution. That’s not always the case, however.

There will be some instances where your “no” is not sufficient to stop the action from happening. So what do you do?

Quantifying the risks 

One of the key ways to help stakeholders understand the cost of acting against SEO advice is by quantifying the risks.

This can be in monetary terms or the metrics that matter to the dissenting stakeholders.

Identify metrics that matter

Each business’s goals and KPIs will be different. Each stakeholder will have their view of what matters the most out of those.

To help quantify the risk of ignoring SEO advice, it is worth positioning the risk in terms of the performance metrics that matter most to the stakeholders willing to act against it.

Department KPIs

Look at the department KPIs for the stakeholders. What are they measuring internally, and how can you link those to SEO impact?

For example, if the stakeholder who disagrees with you is in the marketing team, consider how SEO impacts marketing performance. 

It is likely to be KPIs like traffic, conversion rate, and cost of replacing traffic through media spend that will be the most hard-hitting. 

If the stakeholder is in business development, you could consider demonstrating risk through cost per acquisition without organic traffic, new user activation costs, etc. 

Personal KPIs

Even more specific metrics may matter to that stakeholder as they are directly related to performance-based bonuses or personal development. 

It is a good plan to be proactive in a role by finding out what each stakeholder feels is most important to their success. 

This way, when you are faced with explaining risks to them, you can ensure you highlight metrics that concern them.

Give examples of the impact 

Sometimes SEO advice gets ignored or overruled because the stakeholders simply can’t picture the long-term impact of going against it. 

Try to forecast the impact using your data and analysis.

For example:

  • “If we delete these pages from the site, we can expect to lose approximately X% of our organic traffic. This is due to these pages currently receiving Y organic visits per month. In addition, we know that for organic searches, these pages feature in the purchase funnel for Z% of visitors who purchase. From this, we can reasonably expect to lose $XXX of sales per year.”

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Use previous examples

You may want to demonstrate to stakeholders the impact of when SEO advice was not taken in the past.

You can show the dip in rankings and traffic due to changes made on the website, which went against good practice or specific advice. This can be augmented with lead or revenue data. 

This can help build trust in your expertise and show the impact of not considering SEO. 

Give examples from other websites

If you have no data to support your recommendations, you can draw examples from other websites.

Through competitor analysis, you will likely know when other companies in your niche have migrated a website, culled a lot of pages or internationalized.

Companies outside of your industry can also be good to use as examples. Find examples of websites that have undergone the process you are advising against.

A quick search online will often yield case studies from other SEOs that you can use.

Visibility monitoring tools can quickly show how a change to a website has impacted impressions in the SERPs.

A graph demonstrating a loss of visibility clearly shows how a proposed action could affect your website’s organic traffic. 

Cost to the business

Relate the change’s impact to a direct cost the business will incur to rebuild lost organic traffic.

You can use your predictions for traffic loss and calculate the cost of using PPC campaigns to substitute that traffic.

You can also detail the time and resources that may be incurred to remedy the action. 

What to do if recommendations are ignored

Once you have exhausted all the above actions and you are certain that the company will be going ahead against your advice, you still need to identify a way forward. 

The best outcome for SEO in this instance is that you will be able to minimize the damage.

If that’s not possible, however, you will want to ensure that you and your team are protected from backlash. 

Record your advice

Make sure that you have documented any investigations you have made into the SEO impact of the suggested actions. Pull data, predictions and examples where possible.

Build your business case about what you would prefer to happen and the risks of not following your guidance. Save this document centrally and share it with the stakeholders involved in the decision-making process.

If the project progresses as you fear, and there is a significant loss in organic visibility and traffic, you will have a record of what you have advised and why. 

Ask for acknowledgment that they understand the risk

After documenting your business case, ask for acknowledgment from the stakeholders that they understand the risks associated with not following the SEO team’s advice.

This will ensure everyone involved in the decision-making is responsible for the traffic or visibility loss.

Identify work to mitigate the risk

Start planning ways to remedy the loss of traffic as soon as possible. If you cannot convince your company to avoid traffic loss, you must work on ways to replace it.

For example, suppose your website is undergoing a content cull against SEO advice. In that case, you may need to work harder on digital PR and content creation to bolster rankings in other areas.  

Benchmark and record the implementation date

Keep a record of traffic, rankings and conversions before and after the activity.

Ensure you are recording the exact date that the implementation of changes occurred so you can refer back to it in the future.

Try to record somewhere central the changes that have happened and what impact they have had on SEO.

This will provide a reference for anyone as to why traffic or rankings has taken a dip and allow for better diagnostics of traffic in the future. 

Monitor outcome and update on progress

Keep an eye on organic traffic and rankings directly impacted by the change, and make sure to report this to stakeholders. It may be that these reports will be enough to roll back changes.

If that can’t happen or would worsen the situation, it will add credence to your case if a similar situation arises again. 

When business interests trump SEO best practices

Your job as an SEO is to provide advice and proactively mitigate risk. Sometimes, business needs will surpass SEO best practices.

If possible, when faced with a decision to go against your SEO advice, make sure to document your recommendations and what was implemented. Use this to prove why SEO needs to be considered more.  

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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