Does Your Board of Directors Get SEO?

November 14, 2012
By Rhea Drysdale in SEO

Board of DirectorsRecently, I joined my first Board of Directors at Vanderheyden, a New York family services organization, and I was faced with the massive question of–what’s my role?! I knew that the organization needed help with social media and their web presence, but while pouring over meeting minutes on compliance, new client intake, real estate, budgets and more, I realized that the Board of Directors had a much larger responsibility–the care and well-being of the entire organization.

With the responsibility of a Board of Directors buzzing in my head, it’s no wonder that when a potential client recently reached out to Outspoken Media, something in their needs stood out. The client wanted a health check performed for their site, but not a standard SEO audit. They wanted a comprehensive link evaluation at the end of the year that would report on the overall health of the site’s link portfolio and approach. Link assessments (or audits) aren’t necessarily new, especially after a year of Penguin attacks, but this company has been diligent about having a check-up done annually for almost eight years! I’d wager that many of us don’t go to our doctors with that level of regularity, much less give the same professional opinion to our search marketing.

What was most impressive about this company was that the link evaluation was assigned by their Board of Directors!

Speaking on behalf of the entire Internet, we use “awesome” far too liberally in conversation, but I was genuinely awe-inspired by this decision from the client’s Board. It demonstrates a couple of things:

1) Responsibilities of Boards of Directors Have Grown

Board of Directors responsibilities

Does your company or do your clients have a Board of Directors or Board of Advisors? Does your Board have a system of accountability for your SEO efforts or do they even understand the web enough to comment? If they don’t and you have an online presence (which I assume you do since you’re reading Outspoken Media), they should be working to add a Board member with the skills needed to hold everyone more accountable to the health of such a vital marketing channel.

According to BoardSource, the Board of Directors has ten basic responsibilities (in their case speaking primarily for non-profit boards, but we can extend the example to corporate boards as well):

  1. Determine the Organization’s Mission and Purpose
  2. Select the Executive
  3. Support the Executive and Review His or Her Performance
  4. Ensure Effective Organizational Planning
  5. Ensure Adequate Resources
  6. Manage Resources Effectively
  7. Determine and Monitor the Organization’s Products, Services and Programs
  8. Enhance the Organization’s Public Image
  9. Serve as a Court of Appeal
  10. Assess Its Own Performance

Finding the right Board member who can be held accountable to these responsibilities and the specific needs of your organization or business is essential for responsible growth. Once the Board is in place, it’s your responsibility (as the business or organization) to educate them and give them the information they need to make informed decisions. Without your input, they cannot do an effective job. Once the Board has an understanding of the business model and threats to it, they can set up a system of checks and balances like the link evaluation. Unfortunately, this is a rare event.

At Pubcon 2012 I asked around to see how many SEOs had encountered this and no one had ever heard of it. A few of you were actually nervous about the prospect (I wonder why…). Other SEOs told me stories of Boards who were intimately aware of and involved with SEO, sometimes quite productively and profitably, but at other times with personal agendas and their favorite, quotable SEO personalities to parrot in the hopes of tripping up a well-intentioned in-house SEO. Regardless of each Board’s familiarity with SEO, the concept of an outside link evaluation wasn’t a fourth quarter budget requirement.

If your business relies on organic search performance for a significant portion of its livelihood and your Board of Directors cannot explain what search engine optimization or link building is, much less evaluate its performance, I suggest you find your Board in breach of their directorial duty. Or, to reiterate, educate them and add a Board member to the mix with the expertise needed to hold everyone accountable. Which brings me to my second observation about the Board requested link evaluation.

2) SEOs are Being Held Accountable

Board of Directors accountability

Please note, I did not say “agency or consultants,” but ALL SEOs. Whether you’re an in-house SEO, the VP of Digital Marketing, or client-facing, the fourth quarter link evaluation holds us accountable to our methods and approach, which in turn holds our bosses accountable for setting realistic expectations.

Search marketers know that unreasonable expectations are often be set by the higher ups in an organization when it comes to organic search. The actual results may not be unreasonable, but getting them done safely (e.g. through low-risk methods), within a given timeframe, and with all of the resources and buy-in you need to get the job done, can be next to impossible. This is when we see the decision to go high-risk get made. There’s pressure coming down from the boss to meet their goals, so we cut corners to hit an overly aggressive goal that should have been set with more care and internal education.

In other words–put pressure on an SEO and you don’t get a diamond, you get a big Google bitch slap because someone outsourced link development to the wrong company (or the right company, because they understood the risks, but will never stand by them when it’s time to file that reconsideration request and publicly out their link builder). The link evaluation holds the Board, President, VPs, in-house marketers and contractors accountable. Now, the responsibility lies with the Board of Directors to do something with this data to help prevent “yes sir” problems.

3) The SEO Industry is Maturing

Board of Directors maturing

My final observation from the link evaluation is that the SEO industry is maturing along with the modern Board. This was the common theme from MozCon and SMX East 2012–the SEO industry is becoming more established as a marketing solution. We can stop feeling like the confusing red-headed stepchild of the marketing world and put on our big girl pants. We aren’t magicians and car mechanics, we’re marketers, just like every other integrated marketing channel and we have metrics and goals to meet. We have tools that allow us to report on our progress. We have resources that help us educate our teams and decision makers. There are no more excuses for pretending like we’re the Wild West of the Internet. We’re grown, accept it and let’s up our game with more polished work and systems of accountability.

This is a post written from my heart after being truly impressed by our potential (soon current) client’s business model and the responsibility the Board of Directors feels for the success of the site’s performance. This is real and innovative stuff and more Board of Directors should be taking note. If your business relies on SEO for sales, do not accept a Board member who refuses to expand their knowledge of this area.

Is your Board of Directors doing enough? Not sure? Send them this post!

Think your Board is the bee’s knees? Tell me why in the comments below. I would love to find more positive examples of amazing Boards actively involved in SEO and online marketing.

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