How to Wrestle a HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion)

Sooner or later, an SEO program is going to come under the scrutiny of a high-level executive.

HiPPOEven though few executives are unreasonable people, it can still be intimidating to fall under their watchful eyes.  If you’re in-house, you’re suddenly dealing with your boss’ boss, or your boss’ boss’ boss.  If you’re agency side, you’ve got a new decision maker coming on board.  One thing’s for sure – they’re going to have new input.  You’re about to grapple with the HiPPO: the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion.

When a HiPPO appears on the scene, you’re walking a fine line.  It’s tempting to give in to an exec’s every demand, since they are the ones with the power, but you don’t want to defer to a HiPPO at the expense of your SEO program’s success.  You can avoid being trampled by a HiPPO if you watch out for these things:

Their baleful glare. An executive may be pretty busy, but she also has an incredible eye for detail.  Execs are quick to pick out anomalies and discrepancies in data and they’re going to want answers.  If you’re going head to head with a HiPPO, scrutinize the data you’re presenting with your own baleful glare, and be ready to answer any and all questions she might have; “I don’t know” isn’t going to cut it.  Above all, be aware of her hot buttons: what gets her excited? Makes her angry? Look at your data and try to anticipate what she’ll be thinking and what will capture her interest or ire – then be ready to talk about it or avoid it altogether.

Their awesome bulk. It’s hard to say no to execs – they’re not used to hearing it – but that doesn’t mean they’re always right.  When a HiPPO has an idea for the website that can be damaging for SEO, don’t throw your weight around – the highest paid person’s opinion weighs more than yours.  Instead, work to educate people in every department (IT, marketing, sales, etc) on the value of SEO, so you’ve got SEO ambassadors throughout the organization to back you up.  Use industry data and case studies to further prove your point.  That said, execs don’t get where they are by making bad decisions, so thoughtfully consider the suggestions a HiPPO makes.  You could benefit from his years of experience and make things even better.

Their speed and agility. The fact that it can take a long time for an SEO program to see results is one of the biggest hurdles an SEO has to overcome.  This is why it’s so important to have a clear timeline and stick to it week to week.  That way, everyone knows ahead of time what’s going to happen and when.  If you can, take time to educate the executive team about the SEO process before you even sign an agreement with them.  When a HiPPO wants the SEO program to run at speeds of up to 30 mph, you have a documented process to refer back to to let her know you’re on track.

hippo powerful jawsTheir powerful jaws.  A HiPPO has the power to fire you.  That’s hard to forget.  But you have a responsibility to your client or employer to make that website the best it can be.  To get the website what it needs without getting fired, pick your battles carefully.  Pushing back on everything is going to make it harder to get what you need when you really need it.  When you do need to push back, be respectful, but confident.  You don’t want execs thinking that you’re a.) obnoxious or b.) incompetent.  Above all, make sure you’re communicating your successes early and often, so no one’s asking “why are we paying you, anyway?”  Remember that the surest way to get fired is not to deliver results on the website.

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