You have a client emailing every half an hour asking if that analysis you promised is ready. Your boss is demanding your end-of-year self-appraisal, and you still haven’t started your clients’ monthly reports.
Life as a search marketer – freelance, agency, or client-side – is full of deadlines.
So, how can you better structure our approach to our work to help us meet these ever-looming deadlines?
Why search professionals have so many deadlines
Let’s start by examining why search marketing professionals have deadline-filled workdays that often cause pressure.
Working in an agency
When working in an agency, marketers usually have multiple clients. With those multiple clients will come multiple deadlines, seemingly as important as the next.
When you have to send out each client’s end-of-month report by the first week of the following month, who do you prioritize? What happens to the SEO or PPC work you need to finish in that first week while creating these reports?
Working in a brand is no different. There are still multiple stakeholders all vying for your time.
Now, instead of working with external clients, you’re working with teams within the same company. These internal teams have their own deadlines, and they rely on your input to meet those deadlines.
If engineering, marketing and product all need your feedback by the end of the day, how do you meet all those deadlines?
Working as a freelancer
Many people become self-employed in the hopes that it will free up their time to focus on work that they love. In reality, it tends to bring the same pressures of employed life, with multiple agency stakeholders.
Add to that the additional administration of book-keeping, company reporting and meeting legislative requirements. In this scenario, a missed deadline can have serious financial or legal repercussions.
Search marketing can be reactive
A sudden drop in a client’s performance and an agency SEO will be pressured to drop everything to find out what’s happening. Existing deadlines are stretched as the push to keep an unhappy client increases.
A shake-up in the Google SERPs, or a change in user behavior can cause even the most seasoned professional to push deadlines to find out what’s going on.
Lack of workflows
Some marketing-adjacent disciplines, like engineering, have clear workflows and protected time. Unfortunately, search marketing is almost the complete opposite.
A developer might log on for work to be met with a clear list of tasks for the day, the nuances already spec’d out, and a reasonable deadline for when it should be completed (in theory, anyway!).
Rarely is that the case for a search marketer. There will be an ever-growing list of to-dos, but it is rarely a list that is documented company-wide and set in stone by a project manager. As such, it is subject to interruptions and conflicting priorities.
One problem with having multiple stakeholders is that whoever shouts the loudest tends to win in terms of upcoming deadlines.
If two important clients request work to be finished before the end of the week and only let you know this midway through the week, that poses a problem.
You may have intended to get Client A’s work done by the end of the week and Client B’s the week after. Now, what?
If it is decided that Client B’s work needs to take priority, then work on Client A’s account stops. Client B’s work is unlikely to get finished in time, however, as it really did need that whole week to do.
These changes in priorities can hurt the whole month’s work.
I’m a huge advocate of the adage, “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.” In reality, I’ve never had the guts to say it to an actual stakeholder.
It’s common in search marketing. Frequent collaboration with other teams will mean that there will sometimes be an expectation that you need to rush to meet their suddenly changed deadline.
Requires support from other teams
Search marketers can also be pressured to meet deadlines because of project collaboration. Often, our ability to complete work is reliant on other teams.
For example, an SEO who needs to complete a content pruning task by the end of the quarter may find they are subject to bottlenecks in engineering, content creation and product teams.
Why is meeting deadlines so important?
Being a reliable team member is important for your progression in a company or your ability to keep a client engaged. Also, it makes you more likely to see other teams meeting their deadlines for you.
Beyond the obvious collaboration aspects, meeting deadlines will reduce your stress. No one enjoys feeling like they are letting others down.
Dig deeper: How to say ‘no’ as a digital marketer
Get the daily newsletter search marketers rely on.
How to make sure you don’t miss deadlines
Ensuring you don’t miss deadlines involves effective time management, organization and planning.
Here are some strategies to help you stay on top of your deadlines.
Set realistic deadlines
A key to ensuring you can meet deadlines is setting realistic ones. You need to get good at estimating how long a task will take. It is always best to add some contingency in case another team slows down the process or something else becomes a priority.
Whenever you agree to a deadline, consider and aim more toward the worst-case scenario than the best-case scenario.
If you are not in control of your deadlines, it is always worth stating the likelihood that you will be able to meet the deadline set for you. This way, you are still letting colleagues and clients know that you will try your best to meet the date, but it may not be possible.
Inform others of your deadlines
Keeping people informed is the easiest way to get support for meeting deadlines.
Suppose your immediate team and stakeholders know you are working toward something that has a fixed end date. Hopefully, they will be more amenable to self-prioritizing the upcoming work they want you to do.
Your teammates may also be able to lend a hand if they know that an important deadline is approaching.
Track upcoming deadlines
Everyone works differently in keeping track of their deadlines. Some like a Kanban board, while others prefer sticky notes. Whatever your method is, it would be good to find something that suits you. Consider a method that helps you see both final deadlines and important milestones.
You may consider making this tracking system publicly accessible to your team so they can see what you are working on and your priorities. A place where the whole team can collaborate on their deadlines will help team leads identify resourcing issues and where assistance can be beneficial.
Prioritize based on effort and reward
When faced with competing deadlines, it is sometimes necessary to simplify the situation by identifying which is genuinely more urgent.
If one activity will have a bigger impact upon completion than the other, that may have to take priority. Equally, if missing a deadline is going to be catastrophic, then deprioritizing other tasks may be required.
Ensure others are committed to those deadlines
Search professionals aren’t often operating independently. To make a deadline that involves many teams or individuals, they all have to know what that deadline is.
If the engineering team simply cannot action your meta tag changes by the end of the month, no matter how far in advance you have communicated them, your end-of-the-month deadline will be missed.
When setting deadlines, make sure they work for everyone involved.
Do your discovery first
Make sure you understand a task’s full scope before committing to a deadline. This might mean doing some discovery first.
For example, it will be better to take a day to look into all the moving parts of website migration and how they may need to be tackled than agreeing to a deadline in a month that you will not be able to meet.
Communicate needs for additional resource
If a deadline is set in stone but simply isn’t achievable on your own, look at how you may be able to gain additional resources.
For example, if you are a freelancer, can you subcontract to another in your network? If you are working in-house, can you hire a freelancer for a short period of time to assist with a project?
There’s a saying I follow, known as the “Iron Triangle,” which goes like this:
- “You can have it done quickly, cheaply or well – choose two of those.”
If a stakeholder wants a task done quickly, it may mean spending on hiring a contractor to assist you.
Remove distractions where possible
To help you achieve your deadlines, try to remove distractions where possible.
Give yourself permission to pause notifications on the instant messenger or ask for meeting notes instead of attending the call briefly. This is all subject to how feasible this is with your company or client.
If you can “clear the deck” from other less important work, it can help you operate faster. Look at the concept of “Deep Work” for more guidance.
Speak to people in your business who do it well
Finally, speak to your colleagues who are good at achieving deadlines. This might well be people like project managers trained in setting and achieving deadlines.
They will understand the nuances you face with your particular company and what can help or hinder you from achieving deadlines. Some great planning software may be available to your colleagues that you have not used, for example.
What to do when a deadline is approaching
When you are approaching a deadline, there are several actions you can take to help you.
Identify if you will make the deadline
Be realistic about whether you will make the deadline unaided or need support from a colleague or another team.
Think critically about whether the deadline is achievable in the wake of changing priorities and unforeseen circumstances like sickness absence.
Communicate if you won’t
If you don’t think it is possible to meet your deadline, you must communicate this to stakeholders. The sooner you can identify that a deadline will be missed, the sooner support or another deadline can be arranged.
Communication is often the greatest help when dealing with a potential missed deadline, as it can raise issues with a process or lack of resources that will affect that deadline.
Equip others to support you
If you feel that you cannot meet the deadline on your own, look to who can support you in meeting that goal.
Are there search marketing colleagues with more capacity and can take over some of your workload? Is there someone with more experience in what you are working on who can provide tips on streamlining the process?
Try not to struggle alone if you are facing an unachievable deadline.
Reschedule with a realistic deadline
If it still looks like that deadline will be missed, arrange another, more realistic deadline.
Inform stakeholders of a time in the future, with some built-in contingency, that you can meet. This is likely to be preferred to updating them each day that you are still not quite ready.
Conquering deadline pressures in search marketing
Not everyone plans and works in the same way. A method of meeting deadlines that is good for your colleague may not work for you.
In some ways, prioritizing and scheduling is a skill developed over time as you become more autonomous in your work and better able to predict bottlenecks.
If you are likely to miss a deadline, then the first point of action is to ask for help. Beyond that, communicating the situation to the stakeholders can ensure that a solution is found.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.