Do you go to work every day hoping to make an impact? I know I do 🙋🏼♀️.
Sometimes, our ability to make the impact we want can be hindered. Our drive to do well can sometimes cause conflict and can stop us in our tracks.
This article explores tools and perspectives backed by behavioral psychology to get buy-in for your SEO strategy.
We’ll look at how we can be more human, remove friction and add more empathy to how we work with our colleagues.
Navigating the path to alignment
I’ll start by telling you a story, so make sure you are comfy and ready to be taken away.
We’re going on a journey to a digital agency. It can be any agency. You know the type – brightly colored offices, bean bags, table football.
Alongside all of the fun, a lot of hard work happens in the agency. One day, they are about to go and present their SEO strategy to five key contacts at a large client they have just won.
The team is on a high. They finished the deck about midnight the night before and are so proud of it.
It is quite a big transformation for the client, but they said they wanted to be challenged so everyone feels ready. Plus, the data speaks for itself. The opportunity and projections are amazing.
Off they go to the meeting with a bounce in their steps. A few hours later, they return looking rather glum, not what the rest of the team expected.
The strategy director launches into telling everyone what happened…
“They just didn’t get it.”
“Their brand director said it was too far off brand.”
“They liked the numbers we shared but said it couldn’t happen as it was too much of a push.”
“They said we definitely couldn’t focus on xx keywords… but they really want to rank for them!”
The list went on… the team spent the next few days dissecting everything that had happened and all the feedback and quite quickly realized it wasn’t as bad as they thought at first.
They just had to put themselves more in the brand’s shoes, thinking a bit more commercially, giving them a different perspective.
So after a few more late nights, some education and negotiating, there was a fairytale ending and the strategy was signed off.
But haven’t we all been there?
Agency side or in-house, when your boss doesn’t get it or can’t sign it off, and yet you wholly believe it is the right thing to do.
Psychology-backed techniques to getting buy-in
My 15 years of experience in digital marketing have given me more than just the lines on my face. I have a catalog of examples, scenarios and moments of hindsight, coupled with an understanding of behavioral science
Now, I can share some lessons I wish I had known when I was just starting out. We will use behavioral psychology and, in particular, a toolset known as nudges.
Based on the earlier works of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, the “nudge theory” was popularized by Thaler and Sunstein in their book, “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.”
Nudges are psychological techniques that make a particular option more appealing.
They are not mandates but shortcuts to frame a pathway while still allowing people to make a different choice.
Education: Bridging the knowledge gap
If we don’t speak the same language or have a common understanding, it will always be hard to agree on concepts, strategies and ideas.
Ensuring all parties are well-educated on fundamental concepts is essential.
A key point is that education is done early, ahead of any key decision points that might lead to opposing views. Otherwise, it could be taken as condescending. It is also imperative that this education is on both sides.
From the SEO perspective, you want to ensure the person you need to get buy-in from understands the basics, keywords, search volume, search behavior and how this plays into your personas.
In many cases, the person you will be needing to get buy-in from will be a marketing or brand leader, so therefore you want to bring the language back to the terminology they are used to.
Using personas to outline our case shows we truly understand the audience and moves away from this being your idea to being what “Frankie” needs.
A nudge known as the “identifiable victim effect” states that an identifiable individual described in great detail evokes deeper emotions than a large group of anonymous individuals.
In SEO, we often use big numbers such as “10k searches a month.”
But this isn’t always as easy to grasp as putting you and the audience in the shoes of “Frankie” and how his search journey plays out.
If you get too wrapped up in trying to impress with specialist language, you can lose people and then they won’t have the facts they need to say “yes.”
Using the customer journey to bring your strategy to life will make it so much more accessible for anyone at any level to understand.
It also makes it much easier to loop in other channels and show how they can play together to convert the user.
When it comes to education, do not just think about the what and the detail of the activity that needs to happen, but go wider – think about the how and the impact.
On the flip side, you must understand the brand to put together the best SEO strategy you can.
What does the brand stand for, what does it care about, and who are the perfect customers?
Why not ask the brand guardian to take you through the brand guidelines actively?
Be inquisitive, ask questions and aim to understand the thinking that has gone into developing the brand.
Mind reading: Spotting potential issues before they happen
Now you might think I’ve lost it… but stick with me. Mind reading is possible.
We want to be able to spot potential issues before they become an issue.
This is where we need to have two more hats in our armory, aside from our SEO hat:
- A brand hat that may not be a good fit but gives us a different lens to see everything through.
- The business hat which is even further removed from the brand considerations but exists to think about the bigger, more commercial picture.
So how, how do we become mind readers?
The more you know about how the brand owner thinks and what gets them excited or what annoys them the most, the more chance you have of being able to think like them and push their good buttons, not their bad ones.
This is a great starting point, but we can all be affected by “availability bias.” We put undue weight on things that easily come to mind.
So picture this, you do this awesome training on both sides – SEO and brand – and then never revisit it.
It’s then 12 months later, you are about to present your new strategy. You have forgotten everything they really care about and they have forgotten everything you taught them.
We must ensure we keep training regularly like you would to stay fit.
You could make it a part of monthly meetings, even a 10-minute share on each side to talk about what’s new, etc. Keep abreast of what is critical to the brand team.
Another psychological nudge that would work well is the “endowment effect.” This is the idea that we overvalue what we own.
Thinking back to things the brand owner cares about, one being the brand guidelines.
Is there a world in which you could merge some of the SEO thinking into the brand guidelines?
Could you plant this as their idea and almost give them ownership over it?
This starts to formalize how SEO and brand work together and creates a tighter partnership, allowing that person to feel more connected to SEO.
From a mind-reading perspective, you know that SEO is always part of the brand agenda, and you have mutually agreed on what that looks like, be it set keywords, themes etc.
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Presenting your case
The meeting and strategy presentation is a small part of the overall process of getting buy-in.
But this part is what people will remember and where a yes or no can happen.
Regarding the presentation’s format, think about who you are presenting to and what they would like to see.
You can have your own, more detailed strategy document with all the intricate details you need, but that is rarely the document to share with others.
Preparation is everything when it comes to presenting your case. Hopefully, you have been prepping for this for months.
I would always recommend sharing nuggets along the way. Don’t leave it all to the day. Talk to the key stakeholders beforehand; do not wait until the meeting.
If you are in a meeting sharing your strategy and it isn’t going as you hoped, just keep your cool as. When the dust settles, you will be able to see their point of view.
When building your presentation, remember to think like an SEO, a brand owner and the business owner.
Take a research-driven approach and do not make the strategy in any way about you.
Here are a few things to look out for and to be prepared for:
People analyze and search for information in ways that support their current ideas.
Anyone in the room that arrives not on board will be looking for reasons that support their preconceived ideas.
Put those hats on and use your mind-reading skills to think about what you are proposing from all angles so that you can be ready for them.
Stress test the validity of your strategy. You don’t want that done by your peers or the stakeholders in the room.
People tend to do what other people do. We see this all the time, so there are a couple of angles to come at this from:
- Can you have an ally or allies in the room? Through your training and work to build relationships, can you ensure someone is already on board and there to help herd the others?
- Use your competitors. If your competitors are ahead of the game, demonstrate this. But proceed with caution and be sure to use the right competitors for who you have in the room.
Opportunity cost neglect
People tend to ignore what they give up when they make decisions.
Your job is to make it unignorable what they will miss out on by not saying yes.
Make this snappy and to the point. Use the data.
- Why: Why are we covering this, why is it important to your audience, to the business goals, etc.?
- What: What is it we are talking about doing?
- How: How do we do it? Do we have the resources? Is it in the budget?
- What if: What will be the impact if we do this and if we don’t?
The art of compromise
A straight yes can be rare, we often hear a “yes… but…”
To prepare for this, think creatively and have ideas ready to go. It is all about balance.
We had a client many years ago that sold apartments, not flats. Never could they be called flats.
We saw this coming a mile off and addressed it as part of the strategy.
We went headstrong to begin with, as ultimately, that was our favorite outcome and they would say yes to us using “flats” across key pages on the website.
Sadly, despite all the education and storytelling from personas and data, we still couldn’t get a yes, but we had a plan B.
We planned to launch content on deeper areas of the website, using it as parts of blogs, etc.
And luckily for us, not long after this, Google had made improvements to their algorithm that meant the words were pretty interchangeable anyway.
You must be prepared to find the balance and, when you do, document the decision-making process so there is absolute clarity for everyone involved in the process.
Getting buy-in by being human
Behavioral science must be used as a superpower for good. The advice above is not about conning people into doing something they don’t want to do.
This is about empowering you to get the “yes” quicker and more efficiently to accomplish more impactful work.
Often, we all want the same thing, we just see different pathways.
When we understand humans, we can format our actions and communications better to make them easier to digest and remove barriers to getting buy-in.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.