PostHeaderIcon Local SEO & Beyond: Ranking Your Local Business in 2017



Posted by Casey_Meraz

In 2016, I predicted that ranking in the 3-pack was hard and it would continually get more competitive. I maintain that prediction for 2017, but I want to make one thing clear. If you haven’t done so, I believe local businesses should start to look outside of a local-SEO-3-Pack-ONLY focused strategy.

While local SEO still presents a tremendous opportunity to grow your business, I’m going to look at some supplementary organic strategies you can take into your local marketing campaign, as well.

In this post I’m going to address:

  • How local search has changed since last year
  • Why & how your overall focus may need to change in 2017
  • Actionable advice on how to rank better to get more local traffic & more business

In local search success, one thing is clear

The days of getting in the 3-pack and having a one-trick pony strategy are over. Every business wants to get the free traffic from Google’s local results, but the chances are getting harder everyday. Not only are you fighting against all of your competitors trying to get the same rankings, but now you’re also fighting against even more ads.

If you thought it was hard to get top placement today in the local pack, just consider that you’re also fighting against 4+ ads before customers even have the possibility of seeing your business.

Today’s SERPs are ad-rich with 4 paid ads at the top, and now it’s not uncommon to find paid listings prioritized in local results. Just take a look at this example that Gyi Tsakalakis shared with me, showing one ad in the local pack on mobile ranking above the 3-pack results. Keep in mind, there are four other ads above this.

If you were on desktop and you clicked on one of the 3-pack results, you’re taken to the local finder. In the desktop search example below, once you make it to the local finder you’ll see two paid local results above the other businesses.

Notice how only the companies participating in paid ads have stars. Do you think that gives them an advantage? I do.


Don’t worry though, I’m not jaded by ads

After all of that gloomy ad SERP talk, you’re probably getting a little depressed. Don’t. With every change there comes new opportunity, and we’ve seen many of our clients excel in search by focusing on multiple strategies that work for their business.

Focusing on the local pack should still be a strong priority for you, even if you don’t have a pay-to-play budget for ads. Getting listed in the local finder can still result in easy wins — especially if you have the most reviews, as Google has very handy sorting options.

If you have the highest rating score, you can easily get clicks when users decide to sort the results they see by the business rating. Below is an example of how users can easily sort by ratings.

But what else can you do to compete effectively in your local market?


Consider altering your local strategy

Most businesses I speak with seem to have tunnel vision. They think it’s more important to rank in the local pack and, in some cases, even prioritize this over the real goal: more customers.

Every day, I talk to new businesses and marketers that seem to have a single area of focus. While it’s not necessarily a bad thing to do one thing really well, the ones that are most successful are managing a variety of campaigns tied to their business goals.

Instead of taking a single approach of focusing on just free local clicks, expand your horizon a bit and ask yourself this question: Where are my customers looking and how can I get in front of them?

Sometimes taking a step back and looking at things from the 30,000-ft view is beneficial.


You can start by asking yourself these questions by examining the SERPs:

1. What websites, OTHER THAN MY OWN, have the most visibility for the topics and keywords I’m interested in?

You can bet people are clicking on results other than your own website underneath the local results. Are they websites you can show up on? How do you increase that visibility?

I think STAT has a great tracking tool for this. You simply set up the keywords you want to track and their Share of Voice feature shows who’s ranking where and what percentage of visibility they have in your specific market.

In the example below, you can see the current leaders in a space I’m tracking. Notice how Findlaw & Yelp show up there. With a little further research I can find out if they have number 1–2 rankings (which they do) and determine whether I should put in place a strategy to rank there. This is called barnacle SEO.

2. Are my customers using voice search?

Maybe it’s just me, but I find it strange to talk to my computer. That being said, I have no reservations about talking to my phone — even when I’m in places I shouldn’t. Stone Temple recently published a great study on voice command search, which you can check out here.

Some of the cool takeaways from that study were where people search from. It seems people are more likely to search from the privacy of their own home, but most mobile devices out there today have voice search integrated. I wonder how many people are doing this from their cars?
This goes to show that local queries are not just about the 3-pack. While many people may ask their device “What’s the nearest pizza place,” other’s may ask a variety of questions like:

Where is the highest-rated pizza place nearby?
Who makes the best pizza in Denver?
What’s the closest pizza place near me?

Don’t ignore voice search when thinking about your localized organic strategy. Voice is mobile and voice can sure be local. What localized searches would someone be interested in when looking for my business? What questions might they be asking that would drive them to my local business?

3. Is my website optimized for “near me” searches?

“Near me” searches have been on the rise over the past five years and I don’t expect that to stop. Sometimes customers are just looking for something close by. Google Trends data shows how this has changed in the past five years:
Are you optimizing for a “near me” strategy for your business? Recently the guys over at Local SEO Guide did a study of “near me” local SEO ranking factors. Optimizing for “near me” searches is important and it falls right in line with some of the tactical advice we have for increasing your Google My Business rankings as well. More on that later.

4. Should my business stay away from ads?

Let’s start by looking at a some facts. Google makes money off of their paid ads. According to an article from Adweek, “During the second quarter of 2016, Alphabet’s revenue hit $21.5 billion, a 21% year-over-year increase. Of that revenue, $19.1 billion came from Google’s advertising business, up from $16 billion a year ago.”

This roughly translates to: “Ads aren’t going anywhere and Google is going to do whatever they can to put them in your face.” If you didn’t see the Home Service ad test with all ads that Mike Blumenthal pointed out, you can check it out below. Google is trying to find more creative ways to monetize local search.
Incase you haven’t heard it before, having both organic and paid listings ranking highly increases your overall click-through rate.

Although the last study I found was from Google in 2012, we’ve found that our clients have the most success when they rank strong organically, locally, and have paid placements. All of these things tie together. If potential customers are already searching for your business, you’ll see great results by being involved in all of these areas.

While I’m not a fan of only taking a pay-to-play approach, you need to at least start considering it and testing it for your niche to see if it works for you. Combine it with your overall local and organic strategy.

5. Are we ignoring the featured snippets?

Searches with local intent can still trigger featured snippets. One example that I saw recently and really liked was the snowboard size chart example, which you can see below. In this example, someone who is interested in snowboards gets an answer box that showcases a company. If someone is doing this type of research, there’s a likelihood that they may wish to purchase a snowboard soon.
Depending on your niche, there are plenty of opportunities to increase your local visibility by not ignoring featured snippets and creating content to rank there. Check out this Whiteboard Friday to learn more about how you can get featured snippets.

Now that we’ve looked at some ways you can expand your strategies, let’s look at some tactical steps you can take to move the needle.


Here’s how you can gain more visibility

Now that you have an open mind, let’s take a look at the actionable things you can do to improve your overall visibility and rankings in locally centric campaigns. As much as I like to think local SEO is rocket science, it really isn’t. You really need to focus your attention on the things that are going to move the needle.

I’m also going to assume you’ve already done the basics, like optimize your listing by filling out the profile 100%.

Later last year, Local SEO Guide and Placescout did a great study that looked at 100+ variables from 30,000 businesses to determine what factors might have the most overall impact in local 3-pack rankings. If you have some spare time I recommend checking it out. It verified that the signals we put the most effort into seem to have the greatest overall effect.

I’m only going to dive into a few of those factors, but here are the things I would do to focus on a results-first strategy:

Start with a solid website/foundation

What good are rankings without conversions? The answer is they aren’t any good. If you’re always keeping your business goals in mind, start with the basics. If your website isn’t loading fast, you’re losing conversions and you may experience a reduced crawl budget.

My #1 recommendation that affects all aspects of SEO and conversions is to start with a solid website. Ignoring this usually creates bigger problems later down the road and can negatively impact your overall rankings.

Your website should be SEO-friendly and load in the 90th percentile on Google’s Page Speed Insights. You can also see how fast your website loads for users using tools like GTMetrix. Google seems to reduce the visibility of slower websites, so if you’re ignoring the foundation you’re going to have issues. Here are 6 tips you can use for a faster WordPress website.

Crawl errors for bots can also wreak havoc on your website. You should always strive to maintain a healthy site. Check up on your website using Google’s Search Console and use Moz Pro to monitor your clients’ campaigns by actively tracking the sites’ health, crawl issues, and domain health over time. Having higher scores and less errors should be your focus.

Continue with a strong review generation strategy

I’m sure many of you took a deep breath when earlier this month Google changed the review threshold to only 1 review. That’s right. In case you didn’t hear, Google is now giving all businesses a review score based on any number of reviews you have, as you can see in the example below:
I know a lot of my colleagues were a big fan of this, but I have mixed feelings since Google isn’t taking any serious measures to reduce review spam or penalize manipulative businesses at this point.

Don’t ignore the other benefits of reviews, as well. Earlier I mentioned that users can sort by review stars; having more reviews will increase your overall CTR. Plus, after talking to many local businesses, we’ve gotten a lot of feedback that consumers are actively using these scores more than ever.

So, how do you get more reviews?

Luckily, Google’s current Review and Photo Policies do not prohibit the direct solicitation of reviews at this point (unlike Yelp).

Start by soliciting past customers on your list
If you’re not already collecting customer information on your website or in-store, you’re behind the times and you need to start doing so immediately.

I work mainly with attorneys. Working in that space, there are regulations we have to follow, and typically the number of clients is substantially less than a pizza joint. In pickles like this, where the volume is low, we can take a manual approach where we identify the happiest clients and reach out to them using this process. This particular process also creates happy employees. :)

  1. List creation: We start by screening the happiest clients. We then sort these by who has a Gmail account for priority’s sake.
  2. Outreach by phone: I don’t know why digital marketers are afraid of the phone, but we’ve had a lot of success calling our prior clients. We have the main point-of-contact from the business who’s worked with them before call and ask how the service they received was. The caller informs them that they have a favor to ask and that their overall job performance is partially based off of client feedback. They indicate they’re going to send a follow-up email if it’s OK with the customer.
  3. Send a follow-up email: We then use a Google review link generator, which creates an exact URL that opens the review box for the person if they’re logged into their Gmail account.
  4. Follow-up email: Sometimes emails get lost. We follow up a few times to make sure the client leaves the review…
  5. You have a new review!

The method above works great for low-volume businesses. If you’re a higher-volume business or have a lot of contacts, I recommend using a more automated service to prepare for future and ongoing reviews, as it’ll make the process a heck of a lot easier. Typically we use Get Five Stars or Infusionsoft integrations to complete this for our clients.

If you run a good business that people like, you can see results like this. This is a local business which had 7 reviews in 2015. Look where they are now with a little automation asking happy customers to leave a review:

Don’t ignore & don’t be afraid of links

One thing Google succeeded at is scaring away people from getting manipulative links. In many areas, that went too far and resulted in people not going after links at all, diminishing their value as a ranking factor, and telling the world that links are dead.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you need good links to your website. If you want to rank in competitive niches or in certain geographic areas, the anchor text can make a big difference. Multiple studies have shown the effectiveness of links to this very day, and their importance cannot be overlooked.

This table outlines which link tactics work best for each strategy:

Strategy Type Link Tactic
Local SEO (3-Pack) Links to local GMB-connected landing page will help 3-pack rankings. City, state, and keyword-included anchor text is beneficial
Featured Snippets Links to pages where you want to get a featured snippet will help boost the authority of that page.
Paid Ads Links will not help your paid ads.
“Near Me” Searches Links with city, state, or area anchor text will help you in near me searches.
Voice Search Links to pages that are FAQ or consist of long-tail keyword content will help them rank better organically.
Barnacle SEO Links to websites you don’t own can help them rank better. Focus on high-authority profiles or business listings.

There are hundreds of ways to build links for your firm. You need to avoid paying for links and spammy tactics because they’re just going to hurt you. Focus on strong and sustainable strategies — if you want to do it right, there aren’t any shortcuts.

Since there are so many great link building resources out there, I’ve linked to a few of my favorite where you can get tactical advice and start building links below.

For specific tactical link building strategies, check out these resources:

If you participate in outreach or broken link building, check out this new post from Directive Consulting — “How We Increased Our Email Response Rate from ~8% to 34%” — to increase the effectiveness of your outreach.

Get relevant & high-authority citations

While the importance of citations has taken a dive in recent years as a major ranking factor, they still carry quite a bit of importance.

Do you remember the example from earlier in this post, where we saw Findlaw and Yelp having strong visibility in the market? These websites get traffic, and if a potential customer is looking for you somewhere where you’re not, that’s one touchpoint lost. You’ll still need to address quality over quantity. The days of looking for 1,000 citations are over and have been for many years. If you have 1,000 citations, you probably have a lot of spam links to your website. We don’t need those. But what we do need is highly relevant directories to either our city or niche.

This post I wrote over 4 years ago is still pretty relevant on how you can find these citations and build them with consistency. Remember that high-authority citations can also be unstructured (not a typical business directory). They can also be very high-quality links if the site is authoritative and has fewer business listings. There are millions of listings on Yelp, but maybe less than one hundred on some other powerful, very niche-specific websites.

Citation and link idea: What awards was your business eligible or nominated for?

One way to get these is to consider awards where you can get an authoritative citation and link to your website. Take a look at the example below of a legal website. This site is a peanut compared to a directory like Yelp. Sure, it doesn’t carry near as much authority, but the link equity is more evenly distributed.


Lastly, stay on point

2017 is sure to be a volatile year for local search, but it’s important to stay on point. Spread your wings, open your mind, and diversify with strategies that are going to get your business more customers.

Now it’s time to tell me what you think! Is something I didn’t mention working better for you? Where are you focusing your efforts in local search?

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PostHeaderIcon Comment Marketing: How to Earn Benefits from Community Participation – Whiteboard Friday



Posted by randfish

It’s been a few years since we’ve covered the topic of comment marketing, but that doesn’t mean it’s out of date. There are clever, intentional ways to market yourself and your brand in the comments sections of sites, and there’s less competition now than ever before. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand details what you can do to get noticed in the comments and the benefits you’ll reap from high-quality contributions.

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about comment marketing. We talked about this actually five or six years ago, but it is time for a refresher because there are a lot of things that have happened in the world of online marketing, so this deserves a new take.

Comment marketing has not lost any of its power and influence. In fact, because fewer people are doing it today than were five or six years ago, especially in the digital marketing world, it’s actually become increasingly influential. There’s a limited number of blogs and communities in most sectors and spaces that have audiences that engage in the comments, but where they do, you find incredible levels of participation, of amplification, of opportunities for press and for links and for social following. I’ll show you how that works, and then I’ll talk about some tactics in terms of how to create great comments and a strategy to build around it.

How do comments help me/my site?

So, first off, why do comments help so much, and how do they help? Well, it turns out that if you leave great comments on other folks’ sites, they may lead to visits to your website through your profile, through links that you leave, through people clicking on your profile and then following that link, which can lead to links in future posts by the authors of the site where you commented or in future content pieces created by people who read that site.

If they see that your comment is particularly insightful, it brings up a great example, shows off a resource that is sorely lacking, especially when you are either leaving links or commenting about things, if you do so in a very respectful, diplomatic way. For example, one of the best strategies, best tactics I’ve seen for leaving a comment with a link in it is to say, “Hey, I want to make sure that this blog accepts links in the comments, but I figured I should point to X. Editor, feel free to remove if links are not appropriate.” So that way you’re saying, “Hey, I recognize that dropping a link in a comment could be a little sketchy.”

Or you could say something like, “We’ve actually been doing this on our site. If you go to our website, you can check out the link via my profile.” So you’re not even leaving it in there. You’re saying go check it out from there, then you can see this other thing that I want to show off in relation to the content here. But those can lead to great links to your site in the future.

Commenting can also lead to indirect links through exposure and exposure itself, meaning things like you leave consistent quality comments, people start to recognize you. You sort of see that profile picture again and you go, “I know that brand from somewhere or I know that person from somewhere. I have some positive association with them adding value.” That can lead to a better chance of engagement with you, your personal brand, or your corporate brand in the future, which can mean a better chance of future conversion.

It can also lead to social following growth. So you have lots of great comments. People will check out your social profile from your profile in those comments, and that can often lead to follower growth. You can, of course, juice this a little bit by choosing rather than linking to your personal site if you so choose, you could link directly to the social account that you are trying to promote or grow followership with.

So if you say, “Hey, I’m trying to grow my Facebook page. I’m going to make my Facebook page my profile link in here.” That works just fine. That can grow your Facebook audience. That may be how you’re best reaching your audience. Or it could be you’re doing it on your website or through Twitter or Instagram or another way. But all of these things basically follow the same format. People see those comments. If they’re engaging and they draw them in, it can lead to very good results.

What makes a comment great?

Basically, every single one of these start with you must leave consistent, high-quality, great comments. Greatness in a comment means a few things.

I. It’s gotta be on-topic

Meaning that while you may have lots of very interesting things to share, if you go off topic, you will, even if you provide great value, tick off the moderators of the community. You will often turn off a lot of folks who are reading those comments. It’s just not what people are there for. So you’ve got to keep it on-topic.

II. Respectful to the author and other commenters.

I say respectful because what I don’t mean is you can’t disagree. In fact, I think it is great to say, “Hey, I really love this post. I think you made some great points, but point number three and four that you made here or this one and that one, I disagree with and here’s why. This is my experience or I have this data or I conducted this survey or I want to show you this information, go check it out over here.” That is just fine. As long as you are respectful and kind, I think you’re in a great position to disagree and to add value. Disagreement actually does add a lot of value.

III. Provides unique value

Speaking of value, we are trying to provide unique value here. We want to provide unique value through our comments. When I say unique value, what I mean is you can’t just say things that were already in the post itself, things that have already been mentioned in other comments, or things that are sort of common knowledge, anyone could find them out or they’re instantly recognizable, they’re sort of already known.

We want insight or tactics, help, context, examples, data, whatever it is that is not found in the original piece or through common knowledge. That’s what makes a comment truly stand out. That’s what makes people vote up a comment, click on the profile, go check this person out. They seem really smart and intelligent and helpful.

IV. Well-written

There are a few other items. We want to be well-written — so grammar, spelling, language issues.

V. Well-formatted

So you should use spacing and paragraphs, bullet points if they’re available in the markup effectively to try and convey your point so that it doesn’t just look like a bunch of jammed together words and sentences. If you have a very long run-on paragraph in a comment, it can turn people off from even starting to read that.

VI. Transparent

Finally — this is important — transparent. So you should not try and pull the wool over people’s eyes in a comment. We want to not hide our intent or our associations. Even if you are doing comment marketing specifically as a commenting strategy to try and attract people, you can be totally up front about that.
You can say, “Hey, full disclosure, I work for company X, and I wrote this piece, but I think it’s relevant and helpful enough that I want to bring it up here. So, with permission, hopefully I’m linking to it. Editor, feel free to remove this link if it’s not appropriate. Here’s why I’m linking to it and here’s what the value is that it provides.” Now you’ve been transparent about your intentions and motivations, your associations, what you’re doing. You will get a lot more both forgiveness and leeway to leave comments that are valuable if you do that.

Building a comment marketing strategy

Final thing, if you’ve decided, based on the couple things we’ve talked about here, that comment marketing is something you want to try and engage in 2017, or for the future, I would urge you to build a true strategy around it, not just tactically say, “Well, maybe a couple of times I’ll leave a few comments.”

That’s fine too, but you can get the most benefit from this strategy if you truly invest in it by following a process like this:

A. Determine the goals you want to get out.

So maybe that’s build exposure to get links. Maybe that’s to grow a social audience. Maybe it’s to try and get influencers to engage with you so that they become brand proponents for you in the future.

B. Create measurements

You want to build some measurement around that. Comment marketing is tough to measure, very, very tough to measure because you can’t see how many people saw your comment. You only see the results of it. But you can look at traffic and visits that are referred to your site from the site on which you left the comments. You can look at growth in your social following. You could look at new links from sites in which you engage with in comment marketing, those kinds of things.

C. Identify list of sites/communities for engagement

Then you should identify a list of the sites or communities that you want to engage with. Those sites and communities, it is best if you don’t say, “Hey, I’m going to try and leave one comment this year on each of 200 communities.” Not valuable. Pick the top 10. Choose to leave 15 to 20 comments on each of them. You want to build up a reputation in these communities. You want that consistency so that people who are in those comments and the authors of them, the influencers who write them, consistently see you in there and build a positive association with you.

D. Research

Then you want to do some research. I’m urging you not to comment the first few times you read through it. Go through the backlog, look through their archives. Read and see what other people have commented on, see what other people have enjoyed and appreciated, see what comments do well and get noticed, see what the community is like.

E. Create and alert system when new content is published

Then create some sort of an alert system. This could be subscribing to updates via email or using RSS or if you follow them on Twitter and you get pinged every time they launch a new post, whatever it is, because early comments tend to do best. Right when a post is published, if you can comment in the first, let’s say, 30 minutes to 3 hours, that’s the best opportunity you’re going to have to be seen by the most people reading that post.

F. Use social to help amplify/spread your comments

Finally, I would urge you to use social media, especially Twitter because that’s where most publishers are, to amplify and spread your comments, meaning you go leave a comment and it’s really high-quality, then tweet, “Hey, I just left a comment on @randfish’s post here about blah, blah, blah.” Now I’m probably going to see that via Twitter, even if I don’t see it via my comment alert that I get through email, and I’m going to know, hey, this person is not only promoting their comment, they’re also promoting my post. That’s great. Now that builds further engagement with the people you’re trying to reach.

All right, everyone. Hope you give this comment marketing strategy a spin. If you have other tips, things you’ve seen be successful, feel free to leave a great comment in the comments down below, and we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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PostHeaderIcon How to Delegate SEO Work Effectively



Posted by zeehj

Whether you’re the only SEO at your company, work within a larger team, or even manage others, you still have to stay on top of your projects. Project management skills aren’t and shouldn’t be exclusive to someone (or some tool) with the title “project manager.” I believe that having good project manager skills is essential to getting work done at all, let alone delivering high-quality work in a timely and efficient way.

In defense of management

Freakonomics Radio released this podcast episode in October called In Praise of Maintenance. The TL;DR (or TL;DL, rather) is that our society rewards innovators, but rarely (if ever) celebrates the maintainers: the people who get sh*t done, and do it reliably, often without anyone’s noticing. This podcast episode confirmed what I’d been feeling for a long time: We don’t award enough praise to the good project managers out there who keep engagements moving forward. And that’s largely because it’s not a sexy job: it’s not exciting to report to stakeholders that necessary services that have been reliable for so long are, as always, continuing to be reliable.

It’s only when things aren’t running smoothly does it seem project managers get recognition. A lack of a rewards system means that we’re not teaching PMs, Consultants, Account Managers, and more that their excellent organizational skills are their most valuable asset. Instead, the message being communicated is that innovation is the only praise-worthy result, which oftentimes may not be essential to getting your work done. The irony here is that innovation is the by-product of an excellent project management framework. The situational awareness of knowing how to delegate work to your colleagues and a repertoire of effective organizational habits is vital if you ever want to free up your attention to allow for the headspace and concentration ingenuity requires.

Sound familiar? Lately I’ve been focused on the idea of a cluttered headspace, where it feels like everything on your to-do list is floating ephemerally around in your head, and you can’t seem to pin down what needs to be done. Of course, this isn’t specific to just professional life (or consulting work): it can happen with personal tasks, which can present their own set of organizational challenges. Regardless of your professional role, crunch time is exactly when you need to put on your project manager hat and get yourself organized. Read on to find out the tools and tricks I use to stay on top of my work, and how I delegate work when needed without losing a personal touch on projects.

Manage projects with tools that work for you

What do you do to make that process easier? One Slack conversation that seems to always come up is which project management tools do we use (and which is best). I take the annoying middle-ground stance of “whatever tool you use is best” and I stand by it (don’t worry, I’ll get to the actual list in a minute): a tool is only useful if it’s actually used.

So how do you get started? It’s always important to have preferred methods for project tracking, note keeping, and reminders. Depending on your role and learning style, you may find that some tools work better than others for you. For instance, while I have a few tools I work with to stay on top of client work, I also have a clear plastic desk cover that I can jot down notes and reminders on. Here’s a breakdown of the tools I use to manage projects, and the needs they meet.

  • Inbox by Gmail. Yes, it’s different from classic Gmail. The two greatest aspects of Inbox, in my opinion, is the ability to snooze emails until a specific day and time, and save reminders for yourself (e.g. “Check in on Ty’s progress for the page speed audit,” or “Watch the video in this link after work”).

    Why are these my favorite Inbox features? Both functions serve similar purposes: they tell you what you need to know, when you need to know it. The ability to snooze emails and save reminders for yourself is invaluable when we’re talking about headspace: this way, you can use your email as your to-do list for any given day. If you know you don’t have to respond to someone until X date, there’s no reason their previous email should sit in your Inbox taking up space. As a result, I use Inbox as my personal assistant to remind me when I need to jump back to a deliverable or respond to a client. It’s possible to reach Inbox zero on a given day, even if you have an email awaiting your response. Just snooze it and attend to it when you really need to.

  • Google Drive. Sure, not a sexy or new tool, but it’s my home for everything. Not only does GDrive cover all the file types that I need (Documents, Sheets, and Presentations), it also allows for easy, real-time collaboration on files with your colleagues and clients. If you like to nudge people to do things, too, you can assign contacts work to do from your GDocs (just highlight text, click the comment icon to the right, and insert the @ symbol with their name). If you’re crafting a presentation with a colleague, for instance, you can assign slides with questions for them. I recommend tagging them with your question and including a due date for when you need their answer.
  • Tools my colleagues love:
    • Trello. It’s not my personal favorite, but a lot of my teammates love using Trello as their to-do lists, or even for tracking web dev or SEO projects. If you prefer text over visuals, you can also try Basecamp (which I tend to prefer).
    • Asana. Another great project management tool — I tend to use it on a project basis rather than a to-do list. If you’re a developer, you may prefer JIRA.

Of course, it’s possible to manage and delegate work without these, but I’m of the mind that pen, paper, and email can only get you so far, especially if you want your delegation process to be somewhat automated (think tagging colleagues in comments within documents, or assigning projects to them within standard project management tools like Asana).

How to delegate effectively

Tools can only get you so far: any good delegation process starts with a conversation (no more than five or 10 minutes) about the work you need and a great brief. The conversation establishes whether your colleague actually has the bandwidth to take your work on, and the brief goes into greater detail of what you actually need done. The brief format I follow works for a large number of different deliverables — I’ve used this same layout to delegate page speed, technical and backlink audits, and content briefs to colleagues. Below are the fields I always include, and the type of information always provided:

Subject: [BRIEF] Work I Need Done

Deadline: The precise date and time you need it, with enough time for you to review the work before delivering it to your stakeholders or your client. If it’s something like a page speed audit, I would allow up to a full week to review it and ensure that it’s in the best format and all the information is correct. Of course, it also depends on how familiar the delegate is with projects like these — if they’ve done a number of audits for you in the past, they may know your style and you may not need as much time to edit their final work.

Output/Deliverable: The format in which you need this work delivered to you. Maybe it’s a Google Doc or an Excel Spreadsheet. This brief format can work for any output you need, including more creative pieces (do you need a video edited to :30 seconds in a .mov format? A photo edited to certain specs and saved as a PNG or IDD?).

Expected hours: This may be the most challenging element of the entire brief. How long do you anticipate this work to take, start to finish? Keep in mind the experience level of the person to whom you’re delegating. Is this their first SEO technical audit, or their 30th? You will almost definitely need to check in with your delegate a few times (more on that later), so how long do you anticipate these meetings to take? Just like the deadline timing estimate, use your best judgment based on work you’ve done with this person in the past, and the type of work you’re assigning.

Relevant materials: This is where you can provide additional articles or tools that should help your colleague do the work you’ve assigned to them. Some good examples are 101 articles (like ones on the Moz blog!), or a tool you know you always use in projects like the one you’re delegating (think SEMRush, new photo editing software, or Google’s Keyword Planner).

Check in with your delegate along the way

Once you’ve delivered your brief, the next step is to make sure you check in with your delegate along the way. Even the most experienced person can benefit from added context, so whether it’s an in-person meeting or a five-minute call, touching base shortly after delivering a brief is necessary to ensure you’re on the same page. Beyond kicking off a project, it’s important to have check-ins along the way to stay on track.

At Distilled, we like to follow a check-in model at the following completion points:

  • 1% (kickoff conversation);
  • 5% (validation of process);
  • 30% (ensure you’re on the right track before you invest too much time into the project);
  • and 90% (final editing and proofing).

Not only is this good to keep everyone on the right track, it’s even more valuable both to the person delegating and the delegate to know how much work should be completed at which points, and how much detail is required as you give feedback.

In many ways, great project management and delegation skills are really future-proofing skills. They allow you to be on top of your work regardless of what work (or life) throws at you. You can be the best SEO in the world, but if you can’t manage your projects effectively, you’ll either fail or not see the greatest impact you otherwise could achieve. It’s time to ditch praising the model of a lone innovator who somehow “does it all,” and instead truly celebrate the maintainers and managers who ensure things remain operational and steady. Often, our biggest problems aren’t best solved with a complex solution, but rather a clear mind and supportive team.

A large part of turning projects around comes down to improving the project management process, and being organized allows you to juggle multiple clients and acknowledge when you’re at capacity. Without a solid foundation of project management skills, there is no groundwork for successful innovations and client projects. The next time you’re looking to bolster your skill set, do an audit of how you manage your own work, and identify all of the things that prevent you from delivering the best work on time.

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