Over the last few weeks I have been immersed in travelling and speaking to corporate clients on search (mostly) and social media (a little). And it has been a disconcerting experience.
Corporations are not yet quite run by people. Sure people make the decisions but each one of those is accountable to someone else and this degree of accountability requires a process-driven decision making system to be in place. It means that every decision needs to be backed by a report, every report needs a name (as someone’s head potentially is always on a platter) and every name needs a source (as posterior covering is a normal human response).
It makes for a very interesting picture. Because no one goes to work in a company so they can become an SEO, the company relies for the acquisition of such expertise on outsourcing. Usually that means an Agency because Agencies are great at speaking the same language as their corporate clients. I usually have to sit through a lot of presentations on the integration of “paid, owned and earned digital assets” in the marketing plan when we are really talking about the corporate website and its Facebook page and Twitter account (that last one is optional).
Agencies themselves are stuffed by a mix of personnel and usually have a management structure that reflects their corporate clients. An “account manager” may know as much about SEO as your friend’s teenage sister, but he does speak corporatese and is good at running a team of experts who can deliver on the targets agreed for the client. Because here there is also accountability and reports and names there are also heads on platters.
I mention all this in case anyone sitting out there thinks life on corporation street is easy. It’s not.
Time Lags and Communication Bridges
The system is a little stiff jointed but in a world where change happens slowly it works really well. Agencies deliver on said targets. Their clients have understood the objectives and difficulties. The reports explain everything in beautifully stilted language. The cheques get written, the contracts are renewed and everyone is happy.
Unfortunately the world we are in, is no longer one where change happens slowly. Google’s decision to hide 100% of reported keywords in Google Analytics has pulled the rag out from under the feet of marketers, webmasters and SEOs alike.
Without knowing which keywords bring visitors to a client’s website the keyword-driven ecosystem collapses. No reports. No correlation between keywords, SERPs ranking and bonuses. No edicts to produce “so many thousands of words of content” with a specific keyword in mind (yes, we had content been written around a keyword).
In other words now, suddenly there is a communication vacuum where all the trappings that allowed an Agency to ‘talk’ to a client, have gone. The time lags that a process-driven, chain-of-command environment institutionalizes and the lack of communication that a report-centric culture creates make it difficult for Agencies and Clients to communicate meaningfully at a time when they both need it the most.
This is actually tragic. When the system was in place, however imperfectly, it worked. Agencies and their clients, however impersonal, are still staffed by people, and people have hopes, dreams, aspirations, lives. When we consider that the Panda update destroyed websites and businesses and livelihoods (as well as cleaned out the SERPs from spam) we can begin to guess the chaos that is about to ensue here.
Agencies, of course, will see it first but because they have not always talked openly to their clients they now face an uphill battle in communicating the change in words the client can understand and then putting in place a strategy the client can greenlight. My hope is that the change (really a programming change on the web) will force real change in the ways Agencies and corporate clients relate to each other. How they communicate. How quickly they act and react. And this, in order to work, will require even deeper changes, in their mutual structures.
You cannot deal with what you can’t understand. Nor can you hope to win the proverbial “gunfight” by bringing a “knife” to it. In order to successfully deal with a fluid market, customers that constantly shift with social network trends and find ways to personalize marketing in a cost-effective way you need to be able to plug into the cognitive surplus of a business, irrespective of size.
It is only then that a business can hope to match in agility its target audience, respond to the needs of its market quickly and begin to really connect with its target audience, all of which, incidentally, also happen to be the premise of the new SEO that needs to now take place.
The situation is also full of opportunity for those marketers and SEOs who “get it” who can put in place the necessary educational process for their clients and transform, in short, the traditional service provider/client relationship from a push-pull affair revolving around spreadsheets and reports to a total partnership where both sides are committed to the same goals and where the SEO Agency acts like a fully integrated member of the corporate team.
Radical, right? Until we see that happen, I expect we shall see quite some pain in future corporate marketing reports.