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Business acumen in SEO: four ways to adapt and do more meaningful work

Updated: Aug 18, 2023

Business acumen is a person’s ability to understand various business scenarios and cope with them effectively. People with strong business acumen skills can better understand business issues, adapt and remain flexible during times of change, comprehend business operations and provide quality insight as to how to achieve goals and ensure business success.Business Acumen Skills: Definition and Examples, Indeed Career Guide

As one advance in their SEO career, you realise that soft skills become more critical. Talking to stakeholders, finding solutions to roadblocks, proposing solutions when things change, getting creative with fewer resources, pitching complex ideas in a simple way. The list goes on.

With time, business acumen also becomes an important skill. In this article, I’ll give you a few scenarios where this knowledge is applicable and how it might help you to do more meaningful work, in less time.

Scenario 1: Who should own this project?

In my first week as SEO Product Manager at Indeed, a colleague from UX wanted to have a call. I didn’t know her, but we were on the same product and she proposed several ideas, including one on how to classify/tag pages using Indeed’s internal taxonomy. After two months in the company and a week in the PM new role, I had just learned about the taxonomy from her.

It took me a few days to put the puzzle together: she had an idea that also existed in the SEO roadmap prior to my arrival, and these were competing ideas in a way. It didn’t make sense to make both of them, because they led to similar places. The SEO idea was quicker to execute, the UX idea was much broader – also more complex, and much more time-consuming, however, it was applicable to different opportunities across a few departments.

Spoiler alert: UX executed the initiative, SEO didn’t.

I actually talked about this very same example on the Rank Ranger podcast last year:

Answering the below questions in my head helped me understand that SEO wasn’t the best equipped to lead this initiative, despite my excitement to see this idea becoming a reality.

  1. Does this need to be done for SEO reasons first?

  2. Is there another team that has more knowledge on this?

  3. Ultimately, who would do this better? 

UX had a broader view of this opportunity and while SEO would benefit from it, there were more reasons to do this. There was no conflict with ownership. We used the outcome of the UX work in two other initiatives, but only spent resources on the element required for the integration, avoiding duplicate work.

Scenario 2: Sometimes later is better

Usually a few days before sprint planning (which happens every two weeks), I have selected which tickets I want to be done on the next sprint. It wasn’t always this way. Once I tried to squeeze in a page speed improvement ticket last minute. It seems we’ve got the dev time, why not?

Then the lead engineer said: “If we’re taking page speed tickets, let’s pick all of them at once”. I heard him and didn’t push for the ticket. Why?

While there were opportunities to improve page speed, there were many other things we should be doing first. Just because there’s space on the sprint, it’s not a reason to start a new initiative – we already had plenty, and all of them were more important.

I didn’t bring that up again for months because we already had several other large projects happening and starting a new one would take our focus away. Due to other projects, months later, page speed has improved substantially – and that old ticket is still sitting there. 

Scenario 3: Tailor your language to the target audience 

Back in my agency days, when I became an account manager, I quickly realised that some clients did not care a bit about “SEO things”. Rankings, visibility, featured snippets, page speed. They could find it interesting but it was not the highlight of any meeting. These are fun for SEOs and make us proud, but for clients, we need to talk their language.

It’s not that different when working in-house. Your peers care about “SEO things”, but a product manager, director, CMO are really interested in the baseline impact. They might not have a clue why links should exist on the raw HTML and they don’t really have to – That’s why they hired you. An engineer cares about how the links load, a VP wants to know how many conversions, leads or sales we earned from doing this. 

As Paige Ford says on Opinionated SEO Opinions podcast, tailoring your language will allow you to pitch, get buy-in, build trust and report on results in a much better way. 

When I report on SEO, I don’t ever say things like “our rankings” or “our indexing”. Sometimes I don’t even mention page speed or core web vitals. VPs don’t care at all. So just really making sure you’re using the language and tailoring your message to the right audience.Paige Ford, SEO Lead at Netflix

Scenario 4: Look for project partners in other teams

Work gets done because people are paid to get it done – but also because people get along with you. This is not a case of pretending to be nice, but genuinely caring about your peers. In this relationship, colleagues that work together can easily create a win-win scenario.

Here’s a recent example: at Indeed we use an internal SQL-like tool where you can query a lot of different information from several databases, including SEO ones – internal links, hreflang, page publishing date – and connect to other sources, like traffic, popular jobs, etc. There are many databases and things get very complex to query. Once you master this tool, there’s a world of things that can be done, from how content is displayed on a page, to in-depth reporting and all sorts of insights for every team and product.

I’ve a colleague that uses tool sparsely and doesn’t enjoy it as much as me. I could feel through Slack how much this person didn’t want to spend hours figuring how to update a large list of queries and I offered to solve it. With my current knowledge, this would take minutes for me. Not my job, but I offered to do it without being asked. Why? Every initiative I proposed to partner with this person and team, they took on board and executed smoothly. We work well together and if I have a chance to take a burden out of their hands, without giving myself one, that’s a win-win. I do it with a smile on my face and knowing this is building a genuine connection. 

I’ve had similar conversations with some of our engineers. When it’s time for sprint planning, I always try to have all tickets ready to be picked up. They don’t need to look too much at the SEO backlog, because I’ve already filtered what is a priority. These tickets must have all criteria ready, estimation done, being triaged ahead of time and realistic to their capacity to take on SEO work. 

In return, most SEO requests are picked up and I feel comfortable enough to talk about every question and get the non-technical answer I need.


Do you have any other examples of business acumen in SEO? Share with me on LinkedIn and Twitter!

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