How to connect with IT folk even without buying them beer

As a marketing professional, have you ever wondered why your search engine optimization (SEO) project isn’t taking off?

Perhaps you’re failing to relay to IT what you actually want to happen.

And you aren’t alone.

Today millions of marketing dollars continue to be wasted due to a lack of proper communication between marketing and IT teams, according to SEO experts.

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It’s true that IT professionals are now coached to learn the language of business, but marketing folk need to meet them half way and “learn to speak geek.”

That’s the sage advice of Keith Boswell, senior digital marketing strategist at healthcare services provider Kaiser Permanente.

But playing together goes beyond spouting a few tech terms, and buying the IT team beer, said Boswell,  at the recently concluded Search Engine Strategies 2009 conference in Toronto.

Boswell was one of the presenters at the session: How to Speak Geek: Working Collaboratively With Your IT Department to Get Things Done.  

A definite no-no is attempting to pepper your conversation with technical terms, he said.

“Once when I did this, I noticed my IT counterpart’s eyes glazing over because he apparently couldn’t understand what I was trying to say.”

Of course, it helps to have some smarts when dealing with bunglers and prima donnas on your IT security staff.

But marketing folk should not view IT in an adversarial light, SEO experts say. Instead they recommend working collaboratively with IT, rather than at cross purposes.

Take the time to bone up on projects you undertake with IT. “They will be so glad you jumped in first on an issue,” Boswell said.

Above all, he recommends cultivating personal relationships within the tech team.

But this doesn’t mean a marketing manager should relinquish control, said another presenter, Shari Thurow, founder and SEO director, Omni Marketing Interactive.

Marketing should still be in charge of SEO, she said, “but IT should take ownership of making the SEO project possible.”

Omni Marketing is an Elgin, Ill.-based  Web design studio that also focuses on SEO.

Ask specific questions

Boswell urges SEO managers to ask IT professionals the right questions, and not be afraid to admit that they don’t understand something.

“IT people are typically metrics oriented and so you need to be specific.”  

So rather than ask “when will it be done?” rephrase that to: “When will the bug get fixed” or “When can we expect roll out of the beta test for this project?”

Word definitions are typical stumbling blocks in IT-SEO meetings, according to Thurow: “When a marketing person says ‘title’ they mean the title of an article or page headings. But to a developer title refers the Webpage title or the HTML meta-tag titles.”

Boswell also recommends that IT managers and SEO marketing managers meet regularly to discuss “project sizing” and determine budget and resource allocation and timelines.

SEO managers should keep IT in the loop about their projects.

IT engineers love challenges, Boswell said. So it helps to keep them involved, give them challenging projects, and seek out their advice.

“And after a project, give credit where credit is due. Mention IT’s positive contributions in reports or announcements.”  

Laura Coltrin, SEO manager for MySpace.com agrees.

“IT people are not just code monkeys. You need develop good working relationships and know them by name.”

For starters, she said, you can talk to them about why SEO is important for the company and about your department’s goals.

“Know the IT lingo. Get up with terms such as HTML, Flash, CSS and AJAX.”  

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