I’ll just come out and say it…
SEO should be a product as it is an acquisition channel for organic traffic and sales.
SEO as a product essentially means the business:
- Understands that it operates in a digitized world.
- Strives to make its digital content (website, app, etc.) SEO friendly.
In this way, the following digital objects can be found when potential customers search online with their devices, look up via an app or start a voice search.
In short, product management is a problem-solving discipline driven by customer empathy. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the ever-evolving, broader consideration of being discoverable by customers using connected devices to find information, products, or services.
There are more and more places people can “search” outside of traditional search engines like Google, DuckDuckGo, Baidu, or Microsoft Bing. Prospects can start their product search on Amazon or use YouTube if it is a visual search.
All of this is based on intention – What does the customer want?
To be clear, this article is not about optimizing product detail pages for SEO.
Instead, it examines the bigger picture of providing product resources to increase organic traffic and sales, and why companies should consider SEO as a product.
SEO as a product: what does that mean?
Let’s quickly set the stage to highlight the fact that this is a relatively new concept.
A Google Trends search for “product management” shows interest peaked over time in December 2022.
In contrast, the search term “SEO” shows healthy interest over time.
The parallel is that SEO has been around for more than a decade (and is constantly evolving). While product management has only just started to pick up speed. It will take time for the role of an SEO product manager to become more mainstream.
More importantly, the way companies implement their SEO program must also evolve. When SEO is a product, it is viewed as an aspect of the business that increases sales and customer acquisition.
SEO as a product means that product management is applied to search engine optimization
For a long time, SEO has been all about keywords, specifically how many and which ones to use on your pages. Then, Google’s algorithms evolved significantly to detect malicious actors.
To evolve and thrive over time, Eli Schwartz outlines the concept of a product-centric approach to SEO. In his book Product-Led SEO, Schwartz explains:
“A product-oriented SEO measure does not only work for certain companies; Rather, it is a process that every website that deals with SEO should adopt.
The crucial part of building a product-centric SEO strategy is that a product (offering of any kind) is developed. This should be approached the same way as any other product: a product roadmap, a roadmap, project management of inputs and collaborators, and most importantly, incorporating user feedback.
In contrast to an SEO measure based on keyword research, a product-oriented SEO strategy has to fit the product market.”
Above all, this means empathy for customers who bring profit to the company. For SEO, it’s web crawlers like Googlebot and humans.
As an SEO product manager, you have two main clients to look after: search engines And People.
Most product managers focus primarily on a customer or target market segment (as defined by the company), but are unaware that major search engines like Google are customers in their own right because they leverage the products and features designed for the web.
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Top 4 reasons why SEO should be a product
Consider the following compelling reasons why SEO should be a product.
- Treating SEO as a product means treating it as an acquisition channel for organic traffic and sales. SEO best practices are incorporated into online operations to ensure search engines “see” your site. And People searching online will discover your brand website or social media pages.
- SEO product managers understand the external factors (e.g. how search engines work) and how aspects of the website need to be optimized in order for the website to be SEO friendly and generate organic traffic.
- Due to the fluid nature of search, SEO should have its own roadmap to continuously address improvements (e.g. advances in machine learning), areas of growth (e.g. creating helpful content), and maintenance.
- No business has infinite cash or capital to acquire new customers through significant investments in paid search. Organic traffic is a scalable and increasing revenue stream for new website visitors. This source needs protection and development to grow.
For everything else that is important for a company, there is a product manager. So why not search?
Some companies have product managers for search, but these typically deal with the on-site searches performed by customers and their experience of finding or not finding products.
In contrast, I’m more referring to an SEO product manager who focuses on two primary external clients – search engines and clients who visit the site through a search engine results page.
Read the job description for each product manager role and you’ll see that at a high level, it’s critical for companies to build a best-in-class app and/or e-commerce experience by delivering a branded customer experience that drives sales and retention.
The role requires a balance between analytical and creative skills and a strong consumer instinct.
Product managers write the requirements into tickets that the development teams work on. This is where SEO requirements or considerations can come into play.
Is there a link? Then it should be encoded as
<a href> Attribute so that search engines can “read” it.
SEO is an evolving discipline as it is linked to generating organic traffic from Google’s searches and understanding search queries and user intent that change over time. This ultimately means that the composition of the leaderboard itself will shift and change.
On an episode of the Search Off the Record podcast, John Mueller spoke about the fluid nature of search. He pointed out that ranking composition can change as Google’s understanding of search queries and user intent changes.
Human nature is dynamic and our needs change over time. For these reasons, it’s important for businesses to focus on how organic search is evolving as a channel to continue growing sales and attracting new customer visits.
Move away from the mere question, “What are we going to do with the latest algorithm update?” or “What keywords are we ranking for today or not?” — that’s a short-sighted view of how search works.
It is more productive to solve the question: “First: What does my customer want? And how do we make sure Google knows we offer that?”
When SEO is a product, it benefits from the product framework, which helps identify important work and implement it on the website. Then teams can measure it, learn from it, and improve it over time.
How SEO product management fits into a business
In large organizations, SEO is typically managed by a manager or a team of technical SEOs, content SEOs, and marketing analysts. SEO is typically not located in the product vertical.
But no matter where SEO resides in the organization, there will always be a need to deal with complexity and ambiguity, take a structured approach, and deliver results.
SEO often suffers from a lack of resources (particularly in the technical field) to make and publish improvements.
One part of the product process that most SEO professionals don’t understand is the timeframe in which to get the job done. Most large technology companies (Apple, IBM, Microsoft) use agile methodologies to deliver their work. Recently, more and more companies are adopting this approach as a way of working and iterating on strategic initiatives.
This cannot be stressed enough. In an agile methodical approach, engineering teams work on sprints, and there are a limited number of sprints each year. This is especially true if you’re an ecommerce brand that operates with a “code freeze” period, typically between November and January, during which no updates are made to the codebase.
Because there are only a finite number of sprints, the planning process means working backwards from the “pencil down” timeframe to prioritize roadmap items.
This also means that if you bring in new or ad hoc work, it will replace an existing initiative. These are compromises that the SEO product manager handles and communicates to leadership.
In early 2022, I spoke at an industry conference about the interaction points SEO product managers have with development teams during the agile process that SEO managers are not used to.
Similar to a “before, during, and after” strategy, there are specific ways an SEO product manager supports cross-functional teams on the journey to collaborative SEO work.
The product is where the resources are
It should be SEO as a source of acquisition fitted to contribute to the bottom line.
In fact, product managers have access to and coordinate these resources. Technical resources are typically assigned to product managers by industry or discipline.
If organizations operated that treated SEO as a product itself, then there would be:
- A product owner.
- An SEO product roadmap.
- An allocation of resources dedicated to SEO initiatives.
Any compromises would be made against the planned roadmap of SEO work unlike other product roadmaps and teams.
It’s the difference between having the authority to organize work along your own roadmap, and having to ask another team if you can have some of their resources to do your work (which is perceived as such). .
SEO as a product increases organic traffic and sales
When SEO is a product itself, it empowers teams to do what’s best for the business by building and growing a scalable channel of customer acquisition and revenue.
This is a result of continuous technical improvements and the revision of information content across the entire spectrum of human needs – from information to purchase.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily those of Search Engine Land. The authors of our employees are listed here.