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Selling SEO to senior stakeholders

Sam Hurley from NovosSam Hurley in SEO

11th June, 2024

This is a story all about how I .. sold SEO to the senior team when I was at

Similar practices have now been adopted and built upon at NOVOS.

Business case

The first step is the obvious one: You need to put together a business case. To do so, you’ll need to forecast the growth you can expect from SEO. I’m sure there are a ton of posts out there about how to do a forecast for SEO; if not, let me know, and I can write one.

I wanted this post to focus on something else that worked for me when I was in-house.

Struggling with buy in?

So, if you are an eCommerce or SEO lead internally and are struggling to get buy-in, try the following approach: We set up NOVOS after my experience working at, and I still say to this day that all of my sales skills were developed in my in-house role and not my two previous roles at other agencies. In-house, I was constantly selling SEO to seniors and the other departments.

Make SEO sell itself

The general approach is to make SEO easy to understand and get an advocate in every department to police and sell SEO for you during their internal meetings. The more people talk about SEO in the business, the more buy-in and awareness it will naturally get. Don’t brush it under the rug and avoid talking about it; it’s a channel that needs the involvement of all departments, especially for eCommerce brands.

The first step is to consider why someone would NOT want to invest in SEO. I’d say these are:

  • No budget
  • Can’t see growth potential
  • Short term focus
  • Don’t understand it

I have no budget

I can’t help you with the first point. The education approach below can potentially help free up budget and resources, but isn’t my intention.

I can’t see the potential for growth

Growth potential can come from the forecast. You can also pivot this approach to focus on loss aversion. If SEO is making up anywhere between 10% and 20% of your channel mix, imagine losing that overnight. It’s completely plausible; it just takes one bad dev ticket to cause a decline. Invest in SEO to, at a minimum, prevent this from happening. 30% of the job is preventing shit-breaking; the rest is growth.

The business is too short term focused

For the third point, COVID was a good example of the number of eCommerce businesses that went bust due to short-term thinking. If your only growth strategy is to buy more ad space, when these ads get switched off or become too expensive, you soon realise you don’t actually have a business.

SEO is tied into your domain. Think of it as investing in the brand. Even when the ads get switched off, you still have your rankings, so as long as demand remains, you’ll keep your performance (at least in the short term until things start to decline due to lack of upkeep).

They don’t understand SEO

This is the final point I want to focus on, and it helped me massively when I was in-house.

You can bang your head against the wall as much as you like, saying SEO can bring in X amount of income, but if people don’t understand it, they can’t back you, and they can’t explain what SEO is to their boss and their boss’ boss. People need to understand what they are investing in, how the channel works and how they can help.

How I got buy in

I’ll explain below the simplification that helped me to get buy-in. To show the extent of how much it worked, I would get Slack messages from people in other departments saying, “I was just in a meeting, and <insert C-level> name said I need to talk to you about SEO for my project”. I was the only person on the SEO team, and I couldn’t be in all the meetings, but if others were shouting about SEO, I didn’t have to.

It got to the point where the CEO pulled me into a room and just said a simple ‘Qué Pasa?’ I didn’t know what he was talking about, so I just said ‘money’ – all we used to talk about was how much money SEO would make. What unfolded was one of the most awkward ‘meetings’ in my life, where we ended up staring at each other with the occasional shrug. After the meeting, I realised he’d mixed me up with another Sam who had just resigned. At first, I was flattered that he cared I was leaving and wanted to talk about it to me; this didn’t last very long as I realised he didn’t know the difference between me and the other five Sam’s at the company. Anyway, back to the point.

I guess the whole point of the above was that when I was at the stage of banging my head against the wall trying to get buy-in, the lead developer said to me, “You need a big sponsor, my friend; otherwise, no one will listen to you.” So I did. I tried to get as many of the C-level interested in SEO as possible.

Simple Education

So whenever I had a meeting with someone senior (above my boss’ level), I’d usually get around 3-4 slides to convey SEO as part of a much wider marketing update. I aimed to get at least 50% of those slides to be education-based and highlight how easily other departments in the business can break SEO, e.g., buyers, developers, content, etc.

So, I had to simplify SEO as much as possible. The easiest way I did this was through this image:



I’d expand it out slightly to show backlinks going into the homepage. Outline there are 2 visitors to the website: a customer and Google. A customer sees maybe 2-3 pages on their visit. Google see’s thousands.

The explanation would go something like:

  • We need the backlinks to boost the value of the domain.
  • This value is then passed through the internal links on the website, as the image shows: the more links, the more dilution.
  • The more concentrated the higher likelihood of external value being passed directly to the ranking commercial page.
  • My job is to ensure this value flows more to the commercial pages.
  • I also need to ensure the term “Page 1” is the most relevant term for the products on “Page 1.”
  • If we build out the site with “Page1a” and “Page1b,” I need to ensure we have enough link value to support them; otherwise, it’ll cause more dilution and impact rankings.
  • If I duplicated the entire SEO work and content to, the SEO traffic would be 0 instead of <insert-high-number>; therefore, the value of the backlinks tied to the domain is the fuel that drives my work on the website.
  • This image also helps to visualise the value of deeper SEO-led backlinks. You can bypass the homepage and go straight to the commercial page or a blog that can internally link directly to the commercial page.

After sharing this with them, I’ll always remember one of the senior managers acknowledging, “That makes sense now”, after sharing this with them. He was one of the senior managers who gave 0 shits usually.

Explaining the strategy as simple as possible

The next slide would be focused on the market, tapping into the senior team’s competitiveness and egos.

I’d usually use a keyword graph like this from SEMrush.



When it comes to simplifying our approach, we could either move to the right and increase the quantity of keywords we rank for (more pages, more blogs) or increase the rankings of existing keywords (primarily through backlinks). Which route you take is the strategy, which I’m not going into in this post. But showing them the market in a simple quadrant and your approach is invaluable.

You can explain that without backlinks, you’ll only be leveraging existing domain value, which will cause dilution.

Limited backlinks means you’ll move to the right but not upwards so in the visual above MADE would move over towards furniture123 but without links they can’t get up to furniture-village.

There’s obviously a limit to how much you can go directly upwards without expanding your keyword pool ie you can’t rank number 1 for everything, hence the benefit of blogs.

You can also explain that without an SEO strategy behind the blog you will rank for more keywords but they won’t be commercially valuable and you’ll be diluting the commercial pages so again you’ll just go to the right and slowly drop down rather than up.

Consistency & motivation

I would also explain SEO in this manner to other departments. This consistent message helps everyone, not just seniors, understand our objectives. It’s also important to outline how each person’s job can positively or negatively impact our SEO efforts. To emphasise this, I would share some horror stories too. You can either motivate people to help you through fear or opportunity; with developers, it’s usually fear; with marketers, it’s more opportunity.

Don’t over complicate it

We all know SEOs are rockstars, you don’t need to show people how clever you are everyday, no one gives a shit. SEOs overcomplicate things, often intentionally if not intentionally they lack the ability to simplify (in my experience).

Yes, it’s not ‘perfect in the world of SEO,’ but in this instance, you aren’t talking to an SEO; you are talking to a normal marketer or even just a business person and your goal is to get buy in. In the example above, i got buy in, i got resource and their SEO non brand grew over £20m in 2 years across all markets, once you have a case study it can snowball. This will be a topic of another blog, how do you decide what to prioritise.

As mentioned at the start, all of the sales tactics I’ve developed in my career started in my in-house role. I was selling a consistent, simplified message of what SEO is and why this brand should care; so many eCommerce brands think the same, so investing can be such a big competitive advantage in 12-18 months. Once you are ahead, it takes a colossal effort for competitors to catch up.

Sam Hurley from Novos
Article by Sam Hurley
Sam is the Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer of NOVOS. With nearly a decade-long experience in organic search, Sam has helped many eCom brands grow. His area of expertise includes SEO strategy, Magento, international SEO, and headless CMS with Javascript.

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