Give the power back to SEOs: The path to the C-Suite

September 10, 2019 - 10  min reading time - by Rebecca Berbel
Home > SEO Thoughts > The SEO path to the C-Suite

François Goube, SEO geek and CEO and Co-Founder of Oncrawl, believes that SEOs are the best hiring investments your company can make. In fact, in your organization today, your SEOs are the best-placed to take over in C-Suite positions and as strategic consultants. Why, when the field of SEO is rife with so-called, self-styled experts, does this position make perfect sense?

The answer is in the abilities that make good SEOs effective. Let’s look at a few of them.

This article is the first of three discussing why we need to give the power back to SEOs, and how the strengths of a great SEO are central qualities for company success.

Read the next articles:
Give the power back to SEOs: Managing a broad and diverse team
Give the power back to SEOs: Get your hands on the necessary tools and data

We’d like to thank two contributors whose willingness to share their experience has made this article possible:

Vincent Hamonic, previously head of SEO at CDiscount
Vincent is a self-described Digital Marketing expert with a strong entrepreneurial and results-oriented mindset. With over eight years of experience in fast-paced environments from successful startups to big leading software and e-commerce companies, he has climbed the ranks from Junior Marketing Manager to Head of SEO of the largest e-commerce platform in France. His digital marketing experience and certifications span everything from SEO and web analytics to paid search and from team product management to business unit P&L responsibility.

Toni Paignant, COO and Co-Founder, Star of Services
With Toni’s strong entrepreneurial spirit, he created the StarOfService platform in his apartment. Today, the platform is present in over 80 countries. Toni is in charge of international development and StarOfService user relations, ensuring excellent client services both to professional and to individual users. Toni has a Masters in entrepreneurship from the French Business School, l’École du commerce. He discovered SEO in 2012 when launching the project and is entirely self-taught. The realization that SEO would be key for StarOfService came rapidly: at the time, without SEO, launching an online service platform was like creating a restaurant in the middle of a field. He brings a strong business perspective coupled with hands-on SEO experience.

Broad marketing understanding

To succeed as SEOs, an understanding of what makes a business tick is essential. The simplistic example is keyword research: the choice of keywords to target depends on a thorough understanding of the core business vocabulary as well as a working knowledge of the company’s business model.

The type of search intents and associated keywords targeted by a local walk-in business, a large e-commerce marketplace, and an e-learning site are necessarily going to be very different:

Local walk-in businessLarge e-commerce marketplaceE-learning
Keyword typesMid-volume niche keywordsHigh-volume generic keywordsLong-tail
Intent signifiersNear meBuy / Cheap / DealsHow / Why

Furthermore, SEOs must understand marketing segments and strategies in order to target them. This might include decrypting whether ranking and conversion problems stem from a lack of indexing (technical problems), a lack of impressions (content or optimization problems), or lack of interest (probably mis-match between search users and keywords).

SEO is a profession that forces you to develop your curiosity. And paradoxically, in the digital world, curiosity is far from an unwanted weakness. We crawl competitors, analyze their semantic strategies, their page load times, their partnerships, their advertising strategies… In short, we break down their strategies from A to Z and the data we collect is often key not only for SEO departments, but also for the whole company.

Sharing this data to help with and to quantify strategic decision-making is an excellent way [for an SEO] to become a driving force.

–Vincent Hamonic

How it applies to management: Understanding the market in which the company operates is the first step in identifying opportunities and increasing the ROI of projects.

How it applies to C-level: Directing a company without a solid grasp of the market is a quick way out of business. Great market knowledge lets companies become fore-runners in their niche and allows products to evolve with maturing markets.

Coordinating actions between business units

Rarely can an SEO work alone. Often SEO tasks and implementations have a transversal impact on multiple business units.

Website graphical redesigns are key projects because you need to be able to collaborate intelligently with product and integration teams in order to build pages that combine the best of the two worlds of UX and SEO.

–Vincent Hamonic

Some examples of project overlap and coordination between SEO and other business units include the following:

  • Market research: persona development, competitor research…
  • Marketing: campaign and event promotion, lead generation, marketing funnel…
  • Sales: lead nurturing, sales funnel, conversion optimization…
  • IT: website optimization, server health, technical tracking, webdesign…
  • Product development/Manufacturing: product and offer definition, consumer research…
  • Human Resources: team management and composition…

A key moment in my career growth is that of leading all of our collaborators to realize that SEO should be part of a whole, that it can’t just be a department on its own, but rather should be an encouragement for product and marketing departments to want to serve an ever-increasing number of visitors, to provide them with the best information possible. SEO should in fact be the consequence of a shared priority: user experience. And this experience should require an important SEO investment; freeing up budget for SEO can still be rather complicated because when things are going well we have a tendency to quickly forget the impact that SEO has.

–Toni Paignant

How it applies to management: Like upper-management, SEO needs to understand and coordinate actions between multiple business units. A good manager, at any level, needs to understand how their team’s deliverables provide value to other business units and to the company as a whole. A manager’s broader vision allows them to suggest–and to be able to implement–strategic and transversal projects.

How it applies to C-level: One of the roles of C-level positions is to provide business-unit expertise at a company level. Understanding how one unit works with others, the role played by each unit, and how to coordinate across unit borders are necessary abilities.


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Communication and management

SEO is a diverse field. Without the ability to communicate and to manage a team, it’s nearly impossible to move from theoretical SEO analysis to SEO actions.

In order to implement an SEO roadmap, the objectives and the expected ROI need to be articulated so that they are clearly understandable to decision-makers who choose where to allocate resources.

The different teams who will collaborate on the project–often marketers and developers–need to be on the same page, and to move forward at the same rhythms.

Project management skills are essential to making sure that deliveries respect the project timing and resources, and that each part of the project is meets specifications.

Key qualities an SEO should have principally include:

  • Adaptability, because in SEO the people we need to interface with are multiple: executive management, IT teams, web analytics teams, Data teams, UX and product teams, purchasing… They all play key roles, whether direct or indirect, in the success of an SEO project. For each of these entities, an SEO needs to be able to involve decision-makers by adapting talking points to interest and convince them.
  • Communication skills, because often the main criticism made of SEO is the lack of transparency or comprehensibility of the actions undertaken. As our job is technical, it is important not only to educate those we work with as much as possible (for example, by sharing qualitative and quantitative examples of successful SEO), but also to demonstrate interest in other professions in order to understand their challenges and to collect feedback, both positive and negative.
  • Clear speaking to simplify ideas, because our main collaborators are not SEO experts and our jargon can quickly become hard to digest. This point dovetails with the previous two. To best adapt and communicate with those we work with, we first have to be able to make ourselves understood.

–Vincent Hamonic

If working with an SEO team, lead SEOs also need people management abilities. Often, SEO teams bring together collaborators with diverse backgrounds, profiles, and skillsets. SEOs who successfully manage a diverse team have arguably little more to learn in team management.

I’ve always considered that delving into whatever I didn’t understand in order to discover it for myself to be of enormous importance. Until we’ve learned to build the first sand castle by ourselves, we can’t delegate the task, and if we want to learn to delegate correctly, then it’s worth it to try building a good dozen or so before moving on.

–Toni Paignant

How it applies to management: Team management and communication skills are essential to creating a smooth-running and productive team.

How it applies to C-level: The further up the ladder the manager, the more general management is involved in a daily routine, and the more communication skills become central to success. Good communication can federate teams to company goals.

Understanding, developing, and furthering business goals

A good SEO should be able to monitor SEO performance and connect it to revenue. They must understand the impact SEO can have on the company, and have the ability to spot and predict strategic opportunities in order to manage SEO independently.

SEO is a field that takes a time, good execution, and errors in order to really be able to understand the challenges and risks.

–Toni Paignant

It’s a small step to apply this type of skill to business goals.

Company strengths and weaknesses are visible through SEO analysis, whether SERP CTRs, competitor analysis, or market analysis. A good SEO will understand them and actively work to reinforce strengths and protect against weaknesses.

This type of understanding also allows SEOs to propose search-oriented projects that further the company’s objectives and solidify the company’s market share. Whether its to further company visibility, recruit leads, or limit churn, good SEOs have an idea of how to use the tools at their disposal work towards business aims.

SEOs need a constant desire to learn and grow. Our profession is always evolving, the number of tools has exploded, teams are specializing, and what we did five years ago in SEO in two days can now be done in just a few minutes. If we don’t make the effort to stay up to date, we quickly grow outdated, or less efficient than our competition. In fact, keeping up to date on digital subjects in general (UX, web analytics, PPC, the basics of data science and machine learning…) is also a great way to build credibility in in-house debates and to be able to propose initiatives in situations where a transversal and informed opinion is necessary.

–Vincent Hamonic

How it applies to management: Initiatives that further business goals are what make any team valuable to a company. A solid understanding of the company’s goals allow a manager to better evaluate their team’s performance and to vet and prioritize projects.

How it applies to C-level: Another of the principal roles of any C-level executive is to use business-unit deliverables to advance business goals, to suggest initiatives, and to balance the business unit’s need for resources with its ability to contribute to the company’s goals.

How your company profits

An ambitious SEO is a great hire. Quick to understand complex systems, able to analyze a market and apply this knowledge to projects, SEOs need skills that will later serve them well as managers or leaders. A successful SEO is an even better asset to a company: to succeed, SEOs need to prove their ability to see the big picture, communicate and coordinate between individuals, teams, and business units, and even manage teams. Great SEO is ROI-centered, which means that the ability to understand and creatively work to further business objectives is part of the job.

All of these elements put an SEO in the right place to scale the ladder from entry-level work to executive posts.

Rebecca Berbel See all their articles
Rebecca is the Product Marketing Manager at Oncrawl. Fascinated by NLP and machine models of language in particular, and by systems and how they work in general, Rebecca is never at a loss for technical SEO subjects to get excited about. She believes in evangelizing tech and using data to understand website performance on search engines. She regularly writes articles for the Oncrawl blog.
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