SEO: Driving Cross-functional Projects

Search engine optimization often requires planning and implementation from cross-functional teams.  For example, what initially seems to be a simple request to modify the header navigation may actually result in a lot of work from multiple departments — creative, user experience, operations, and information technology — with approvals from executives along the way.

How you manage those experts will likely determine the success of a project. Take cues from successful project managers.

Identify the Goal

The first step is to outline the challenge you’re trying to overcome.

Identify the SEO goals and objectives. Specify the high-level conditions that need to be met, such as ensuring that the header navigation is crawlable and indexable. Include current performance numbers and other relevant information, such as algorithm updates and search engine behavior patterns.

Find proof cases, such as headers from other ecommerce sites that feature the elements you want to implement. Or provide examples of sites that haven’t done what you’re proposing and have suffered in the search engine rankings because of it.

Form the Team

Assemble the team to move the project forward. Some team members will be supportive, and some may be roadblocks. Seek out supporters to convert the blockers.

For example, user-experience personnel are typically helpful with SEO projects because they represent the transition between function and form. In a header redesign, they’ll be as concerned with rollovers and nesting (development) as they will with aesthetics (design).

Identify the required layers of approval for the project and get the top-down buy-in to ensure its priority. Emphasizing return on investment is the quickest way to establish priorities in my experience.

Establish a Roadmap

With that team, hammer out the requirements for the ideal outcome. Hold a working session to discuss how the ideal outcome could be achieved, or how it could be modified to fit the current environment.

Take detailed notes. Write up the requirements based on the decisions of everyone on the team. Then send the requirements to the team for final approval.

Create a timeline of the tasks that need to happen. Note the key milestones and the work from each player to get to that point. Identify the dependencies where the product of one step informs the work of the next, as well as where tasks can run in parallel.

For instance, UX may be able to test which subcategories belong under which parents while the designers are sketching layouts. But the two paths will have to come together for the next step: to produce actual header mockups.


Hold weekly status meetings that focus on the actions in progress and upcoming. Create an agenda so that the meeting has direction.

Ask the owner of each action to give an update. This provides the opportunity for team members to ask questions and think about their next tasks.

At the end of each meeting, restate the next steps — with owners and due dates. This might feel uncomfortable but do it anyway. Without that public accountability and reiteration of everyone’s commitments, the project will lose its momentum.

Send out a meeting recap afterward. Begin with the next steps, with owners and due dates. Follow the “next steps” section with notes from the discussion to confirm what was agreed upon. These notes will come in handy during the project. They give team members something to refer to when they’re not sure where the project stands.

Hold yourself accountable, too. You have actions and milestones of your own. Drive yourself as you do others. Otherwise, you’ll lose the team’s respect, and the project will flounder.

Jill Kocher Brown
Jill Kocher Brown
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