Although some aspects of SEO haven't changed much in the last decade—relevant content, page titles and descriptions, keyword research, the importance of page loading speed—the influence of social media and inbound marketing are causing seismic shifts in search optimization. Especially at the enterprise SEO level.

Having the right in-house team or external partner is now a fraction of the ROI equation—i.e., ranking that actually has an impact on revenue.

Maybe that's why so many businesses still invest the bulk of their marketing budget in paid media instead of organic search—an expensive mistake, considering 75% of click-throughs come from organic results.

Organic SEO provide cumulative benefits that just keep improving with every investment of time or budget; moreover, it is an owned outcome. Paid search results are like renting space in a mall: As soon as you stop paying rent, your entire presence disappears.

Paid search is a short-term outcome with few lingering benefits that companies settle for, when instead it should be used to simply bridge the visibility gap while they integrate lasting organic solutions, or used to accomplish short-term marketing goals.

So what do C-suite executives need to know? (Hint: it has more to do with enterprisewide collaboration than actual SEO skills like programming or copywriting.)

I spoke to Chris Corak, senior strategist for digital agency Sitewire, to gain a little insight, since his agency specializes in aligning corporate marketing goals with inbound marketing strategies and tactics.

1. Rethink what you know about SEO

SEO has changed in the last few years and continues to morph. Whatever you think you know? It's out of date, maybe even irrelevant.

Just about every CEO, CMO, and CIO now understands the value of SEO and the critical role it plays in lead generation and traffic. However, few realize just how difficult it is in today's digital environment to actually gain—and sustain—visibility.

If management doesn't understand modern SEO and the investment of enterprise-wide teams and process changes required for success, ranking well is well nigh impossible. There are no quick fixes or silver bullets; all must be prepared to roll up their shirt sleeves and dedicate copious amounts of sweat equity to EARN good rankings.

It isn't about just bringing in a search agency, or hiring more developers; teams across the entire company must be involved. Depending on size of the organization, this can range from a few people from different departments to literally dozens (even hundreds) of people responsible for moving parts around the corporate glob that will require integration. Marketing, IT, Sales, community managers, content writers, Customer Service—every department must be involved from the ground up, and SEO can't be an afterthought.

"In the end, all departments must buy off on the process and understand what it takes to have a great website that, in turn, earns organic search visibility. Departments must work together to complete the objectives and have search best-practices baked into their internal processes," Corak told me.

2. Realize SEO is a continual, long-term tactic, not a project

Fresh from Search Marketing Expo West in San Jose, Corak said one of the most common themes discussed was the need for all in-house teams to be on board, with a clear understanding of a website's goals and how achieving these goals apply to their specific department.

True, a long-term, enterprisewide shift in processes and thinking is necessary, but leadership must also be prepared to commit massive resources and department-specific best-practices to the SEO effort.

Without fully orchestrating internal/external resources with cross-departmental communication—and appointing a central ringleader to align departmental goals with the central organization's goal—there is no way to end up with an effective enterprise SEO strategy.

Corak's advice: "Ensure your SEO consultant or agency offers education across your internal departments as part of their services. If all parties don't understand what it takes to achieve these goals, there will be disconnects and roadblocks from every direction—including management."

Even in smaller organizations, this alignment is critical:

  • Social media community managers should understand SEO best-practices relevant to their efforts while fitting their goals into the larger organizational goals.
  • Public relations and content marketing should be on the same page, and on top of THEIR industry best-practices for SEO. Don't ask for it—expect it, require it.
  • Does the CEO blog? Get him/her up to speed on SEO tactics for blogging, and make someone accountable for monitoring.
  • Who has ownership of website edits? Make sure they have the training not only to understand the SEO goals and tactics but also not to sabotage existing rankings when website changes are made.

3. Focus on humans, not spiders

Effective search revolves around giving people what they want online, not just giving the search engines what they want. Since social influence, conversations, sharing, and content all play a part in SEO success—people matter more than ever. If they respect you online as an authority, and your content gives them valuable information about what they care about the most, your rankings will vastly improve.

Write fantastic content that resonates with your target audience and attracts readers. Your rankings will naturally gain a boost because of the resulting social sharing, comments, and conversations that good content generates. Ditto for social: make it fantastic and on-target, then watch your rankings naturally improve. It is important to focus equally on quality and tactics to gain lasting SEO results.

One last piece of insight from Corak: "While there is great value in ensuring your site conforms to technical SEO best-practices, visibility isn't only gained by tweaking knobs and changing some titles. It's about having a great site with great content that adequately differentiates your products/services from your competitors. Earning visibility in today's climate is hard work."

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Carrie Morgan is a digital public relations consultant in Phoenix, AZ, and a regular contributor for Social Media Today and Convince & Convert. Reach her at Rock the Status Quo.

Twitter: @morgancarrie