SEO in Focus

An Agile Approach to Getting Recommendations Implemented in Enterprise Organizations

  • January 22, 2021
  • Steven van Vessum

Why our agile approach had such a big impact? We went from a team that were afraid of change to a team that welcomed and expected change.

Hi Jack! Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Sure! My name is Jack and I've been working in the SEO industry for many years in London across a mix of agency and in-house roles.

I come from an eCommerce, development and analytics background. Which has given me a broad set of skills to draw upon when it comes to challenging problems.

I work for BT (opens in a new tab) leading the SEO team. We've been lucky enough to be shortlisted for three industry awards last year. It's not something we've focused on but it's great to get recognition from our peers in the industry.

I'm currently exploring how I can share my knowledge and experience with a wider audience and have a few podcasts (like the 20 Minute Marketing one (opens in a new tab)) and webinars lined up. It's something I'm going to carry across into this year so I’m open to more opportunities as they arise.

Can you describe what your role at BT, EE & Plusnet entails?

With over 30 million customers, and more than 600 stores on the high street, BT is the largest provider of Consumer mobile and fixed broadband communications services in the UK. It’s home to three brilliant household brands – BT, EE and Plusnet.

The SEO team sits within BT Consumer Digital, as part of a wider Content Design and SEO function. I lead a team of dedicated subject matter experts focused on driving organic performance across all three brands supported by our agency partners.

I’ve structured the team in such a way that individuals have ownership of the SEO performance for key parts of the business. The team covers a huge array of templates and journey types.

My main responsibility is to ensure that the team is set up for success and that they have everything needed to drive organic growth. I’ve grown the team by 50% in the last year, and we’ll be adding more roles in 2021.

I also act as an "SEO consultant", providing guidance on SEO good practice to product squads as well as leading on our overall SEO strategy, working with the Head of Content Design to ensure alignment with our high level approach to content.

What was 2020 like for you?

From a performance perspective our numbers have been consistently strong throughout 2020. It's not unusual for our year on year growth to be in double or triple digit territory. The business has responded by growing the SEO team and has signed off on a longer term growth plan which is quite exciting.

We have been quite lucky in that we haven’t needed to make big adjustments for working from home. Almost all our collaboration and ways of working are digital focused.

We've made an effort to utilise video more and speak to each other every morning. From an operational perspective, we’ve demonstrated tremendous resilience. BT’s response to Coronavirus - for example, free EE data for NHS workers and a push for Complete Wifi to serve the needs of people who suddenly had to create home offices - meant we had to quickly change our plans and priorities. The team have proved themselves to be flexible and positive in the face of these quick pivots.

One of our biggest challenges in 2020 was ensuring our store portfolio in Google My Business (GMB) is correct and aligned with the various changes introduced via Coronavirus restrictions. The team has done a fantastic job in taking advantage of new GMB attributes and automating the update process.

There's also been some huge migrations, product launches and SEO initiatives.

What’s your secret to getting your SEO recommendations implemented in such a large organization?

One of the most exciting things about BT is the scale but it's also one of the biggest challenges. It's not unusual for parts of the business to be using different technology stacks and have strategies that drive different outcomes for customers. The SEO needs of BT TV or BT Sport are different to Plusnet for example.

BT Consumer Digital also has one of the largest private sector content design teams in the UK (90 at the last count). Teams are structured around journeys and have a multidisciplinary focus. As a result, I'm constantly looking at ways to scale our activity so that we can deliver more value with less effort.

For example, we’re rolling out training to content designers and editors so they can better self-serve and improve the quality of their content from an SEO point of view.

I have also created an operational framework that aligns our bespoke SEO efforts with the areas where they are most needed. This also allowed us to support the wider business to take more ownership of SEO.

Some traditional methods of delivering SEO recommendations don’t work for BT, which is looking at more user-centred ways of working. Our long term plans can become invalidated by changes in business goals or our understanding of what customers need and expect when getting - and remaining - connected.

I recognised that if we wanted to really drive organic performance at scale we needed to change our approach. So I started researching ways in which we could become more efficient and increase the speed in which we deliver our SEO recommendations. This led to adopting agile ways of working and running some early experiments. We have been building and iterating our ways of working ever since.

What made you decide to take an agile approach to SEO, and how did you learn to do it successfully?

I was most impressed with the way in which the agile approach allows us to handle change.

In complex enterprise organisations like BT change can make or break projects. Being able to respond better to change seemed like something that was worth exploring. I started by reading some articles and books and booked myself onto a few courses to get some certifications.

Classroom based learning was useful but actually going ahead and trying some agile ways of working first hand proved to be much more important.

I started small, making a few minor changes a month which helped everyone to become more collaborative and shift the mindset in the right direction.

Later on, we were able to make some more radical changes with the support of some agile coaches. Like SEO, it's not a process that ever stops.

Why has your agile approach had such a big impact?

We went from a team that were afraid of change to a team that welcomed and expected change. This, coupled with the focus on prioritisation and delivering smaller increments of work over a more consistent period, made it much easier to liaise with other teams. Our backlog of work shifted from spreadsheets to interactive real time boards that anyone in the business can see.

As our transparency increased so did our level of buy-in and engagement from stakeholders.

How often do you release content updates, code updates and what do these release processes look like?

It’s not unusual to see code and content updates released daily. Teams have a great deal of autonomy when it comes to releases. We make sure that from an operational viewpoint we are adaptable enough to respond. The release process depends on the scale of the change. This ranges from quite a simple process to something much more detailed depending on the number of teams and systems involved.

If you could give our readers one tip about becoming more successful in Enterprise SEO, what would it be?

Embrace the challenges and opportunities of scaling!

SEO has a rather unique ability to operate horizontally across an organisation and can be a fantastic driver of reducing working in silos. In other words, instead of being daunted by the scale and breadth of a problem focus on scaling incremental solutions across parts of the business so that your outcomes have a greater impact.

What does this mean for an SEO team in an enterprise organisation? Being able to identify best practice and deploy best practice quickly and consistently will allow you to spend more time working on SEO problems that matter!

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Steven is ContentKing's VP of Community. This means he's involved in everything community and content marketing related. Right where he wants to be. He gets a huge kick out of letting websites rank and loves to talk SEO, content marketing and growth.