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Best of Agile for SEO Management

Posted by Igalst

We all recognize that SEO has become more challenging than ever before. In this post, I will cover how you and your SEO team can use Agile principles to become more effective while simplifying some of the day-to-day challenges associated with your jobs. 

Among these challenges:

  1. Keeping track of the frequent SEO changes
  2. Adjusting for each change and update
  3. Management (or the client) keeps asking for better results, but doesn’t really understand what SEOs do
  4. SEO’s perspective often conflicts with the priorities of other departments
  5. The competition gets more and more advanced

Crying baby

The Big Switch to Agile Management

Agile refers to a group of methodologies that propose alternatives to traditional styles of project management. Two popular methodologies are  Kanban and Scrum, and from both we only take what works best for us.

These methodologies were originally created for software developers to help them adapt to market changes and improve efficiency, but were later embraced by a broader range of teams. For SEO in particular, Agile can be especially valuable during times like this, when the environment is competitive and volatile.

One of the greatest things about Agile is it helps my team see the bigger picture, and at the same time focus on the step-by-step progress (workflow visualization).

Another benefit: Agile taught us that ignoring anything less than what’s critical is totally fine. This is a serious change of perspective in days when we are overwhelmed with tons of information and changes. (Focus on what matters right now.)

Four additional takeaways from Agile’s basic principles:

  1. Better collaboration between team members and teams within the organization
  2. Tracking frequent changes for shorter response times
  3. Using small releases to enable constant progress, and adjusting as needed during the process
  4. Empowering team member decision-making

How It Works 

Contrary to what some Agile training companies will tell you, you can pick and choose which parts of Agile to implement. Teams and organizations should tailor Agile to their specific needs.

Here are the things we implemented in the last two years that helped us overcome our biggest SEO challenges. You can give them all a try, or simply choose what fits best for you.

Work in Progress (WIP) Limit

The WIP is the array of tasks that are currently in progress. It’s your main focus on the things you need to get done.

The WIP limit is the reasonable ceiling for the number of tasks you can handle at any one time and still ensure constant progress.

Our WIP limit helps us keep enough time for all task types, including the small and repetitive tasks that we so often have in SEO (and which are so easily put off), and helps us focus every day on what really matters.

Focus wip limit

Team Task Board

Besides  Atlassian’s products, which we use to digitize the process, there’s nothing as effective as having an actual board in front of us to visualize the team’s workflow:

1.  Backlog: Our next tasks

2.  In progress: Current tasks

  • Projects
  • Small tasks (less than 3 working hours)
  • Ongoing tasks (repetitive tasks)

3.  Review: Done and waiting for an internal review

4.  Done: Completed on our end

  • Assigned to another department
  • Pipeline: Queued up in the company’s pipeline (backlog)
  • Track: Project is live – remains on the board as a reminder to track its results

Investing.com seo board

To guarantee a smooth workflow, we need to make sure that the backlog is continually updated with the next big things.

The board allows me to be on top of everything the team is working on, but also change priorities when needed, in a matter of seconds.

Prioritizing Tasks

When talking about prioritization, I first of all think about the 80/20 Rule (the Pareto principle).

Here, the rule means that 80% of the benefit comes from 20% of the resources (and it doesn’t have to be an exact 80/20 split). Think of the number of pages on your site which generate most of your pageviews and sessions; the number of keywords that bring most of your organic traffic; the referrals that build your  business; and even the links that generate most of your SEO value. From every perspective, you can’t deny that most of the value your work creates comes from a small percentage of the tasks you do.

With that in mind, it becomes clear that prioritizing means zeroing in on your 20%. If you understand that, you’re already halfway to better prioritization.

For SEO, specifically, there are three questions I ask about each potential task. Once they’re answered, you’ll find it’s easy to decide how to prioritize each task.

  1. Once done, what is our benefit?
  2. What resources will it take to get it done (in terms of working hours, staffers, other departments, etc.)?
  3. What is the potential damage if we ignore it for now? 

With all the recent changes, there are cases in which our work might be damaged when we simply ignore an individual task. One example would be the Penguin update. Even those of us who weren’t impacted have spent more resources than ever before analyzing the existing link profile. At any other time, it would be a task we could easily postpone.

top priority

By being aware of the team’s capacity (WIP Limit), visualizing everything we work on (Task Board) and considering the benefits vs. the potential damage when prioritizing, we make sure nothing small but important falls between the cracks and that we constantly consider our next actions each time there’s an industry change or update.

Stand-Up Meetings

Our 10-15 minute stand-up meeting takes place every single morning in front of the Tasks Board. As a team manager, I have two of these each day: 1) my SEO team’s meeting, and 2) the company-wide team managers’ meeting.

Team meeting:

Besides quick morning updates, each team member comes with answers to the following three questions:

  • What did you complete yesterday?
  • What are you working on today?
  • Is there anything blocking you from doing your job?

Because we often repeatedly confront similar tasks in SEO, this meeting is a great opportunity for knowledge-sharing between team members. Almost daily we experience the following scenario:

  • Team member A talks about a task which involves a third-party tool
  • Team member B is familiar with the tool from his previous workplace, and offers to help Team member A

This simple routine saves us time, energy and money.

Team managers’ meeting:

Similar to the team stand-up meeting, the managers’ meeting is where we walk through the various tasks associated with each department. Mainly, however, this meeting provides an opportunity to update all other teams on any recent changes.

The Fast Lane

What if an urgent problem or a sudden opportunity for something positive comes up? To bypass the regular workflow, we have a fast lane for the entire company and for the team individually.

A recent example for us using the fast lane was when  the “International targeting” feature  was released in Google Webmaster Tools in July.

This feature, which highlights hreflang errors, helped us learn of a few repetitive errors between two sites. Once we defined the task, we moved it immediately to development via the company’s fast lane.

Using the fast lane means all relevant departments join forces to complete the task. If you’re managing SEO in 2014, you’d better make sure that such a lane is always open to meet your department’s urgent needs.

agile fast lane


MMFs: Small but Constant Releases

Think of a large project you have to do. Instead of plugging away at the entire project, which could take days, weeks or even months until all the work is completed, try breaking it up into chunks.

Once the first chunk is finished, quickly review it, come up with conclusions for the next round and, if the first chunk is ready, deliver it.

In the world of Agile, these chunks are called MMFs (Minimal Marketable Features). When a few are strung together, they form the entire feature or product you’re developing. The MMF is the smallest part of the entire product that, in and of itself, could be considered good enough to go live.

Besides the benefit of constant delivery, working in this way allows SEOs to make adjustments on the fly. 

Two quick examples:

  1. Structured data implementation: This task could easily be broken into MMFs since we don’t have to implement structured data across the entire site simultaneously. Start with a single section of the site, and implement the relevant markup tags first. Because rich snippets don’t usually appear overnight, breaking this task into MMFs is even more efficient. You will complete the task faster and learn more quickly what works and what doesn’t.
  2. Outreach: If we’re contacting 100 websites looking for any kind of collaboration, we could contact them all at once. However, a better option would be to break that list into a few parts. In this way, we can gauge the effectiveness of our query after the first few queries are sent out, then make adjustments during the second round of queries.

Roundtable Meetings

When a project is near completion, we hold a team roundtable meeting to let everyone else read the specs and share their thoughts. This simple interaction allows me to utilize the minds and skills of everyone on my team for every project we release.

The same type of meeting is held on a company level, with the main goal being to go through all of the product’s specs before it goes to development. We want to air ideas along with possible improvements or problems from the relevant people involved.

53ff96534dead4.22043091.jpg

As SEOs, we want to be part of the product’s initial specifications. However, since we won’t always be there, we want to make sure that the company holds such meetings to confirm that the specs are optimized as much as possible for our needs.

Also, as SEOs’ needs are not always clear to others, this meeting can provide us with an opportunity to explain and justify why we need something done a certain way. Being prepared with proven data and examples is very helpful when trying to convince other departments, management or clients to adapt to our vision and direction.

Ongoing Tasks

A significant part of our day-to-day is spent on “ongoing tasks.” The fact that these don’t change very often doesn’t make them any less important. Since these tasks are very time consuming, I recommend carving out special blocks of time for them. Here’s how we handle one of them:

Rankings Tracking

If you are tracking hundreds or thousands of keywords, you need to find the software that will give you the best overview in the shortest possible time. You can’t afford to check them one by one, nor miss big ranking changes.

site rankings

At Investing.com, we run 21 localized editions, each with its own keywords list. Analyzing over 20 sites in detail is not a matter of an hour or two. The work is divided by importance and shared between team members. The stand-up meeting is the opportunity to update everyone on any significant changes.

And if there’s an algorithm update? The first thing we do is check our rankings system, and immediately we know if we’ve been impacted.

Very often, something happens to a single section only, so we must list our keywords according to our sections. We run a list for each. Two examples are news-related keywords and currency names. When there’s a change in the rankings of a single section, this helps us look for the cause in that specific area of the site only.

Agile and SEO Are About Adaptability

Being Agile, above all else, means being able to quickly adapt. Agile isn’t just a method; it’s a way of thinking about and enabling work.

Since our company implemented Agile methodology, we’ve seen a distinct improvement in the way departments work together and the way people work with each other within the SEO team. We respond faster and deliver better results.

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