Lazy vs effective execution

The lazy mindset is fast but creates more work than it drives impact. The effective mindset takes aim before action.

A famous Bill Gates goes like this:

I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.

While the concept makes sense in theory, lazy people will find effective ways to do things, lazy thinking leads to lazy execution.

The problem with lazy execution is that it slows everything down. “Ideas are cheap, execution is everything” goes another quote that I find much more applicable in modern knowledge work.

SEOs have a special role because they’re mostly giving recommendations to others: engineers, designers, product managers, … You name it! Recommendations can be lazy or effective. The difference has an impact on performance for both, companies and SEOs themselves.

Lazy execution

Lazy execution is fast. Lazy SEOs get a goal like driving more organic traffic or solving a problem like “fix these 404s.” They interpret the task and switch into action mode. They spend a bit of time checking the site they’re working on and start writing a GitHub/Jira ticket. They pull some data from Google Search Console or maybe use a 3rd party tool to create a standard analysis. They compile all this data, attach it to the ticket, and assign it to a developer.

The developer gets the ticket, is confused, and comments that they don’t understand what the SEOs are asking for. In the meantime, lazy SEOs have created five more tickets and assigned them to other developers. After some back and forth, lazy SEOs now have to schedule several meetings with different developers to explain what the ask is. Lazy SEOs then realize that the developers need more information and direction, so they search for fixes on Google searches and then post links to the results as comments on the tickets.

At the end of the week, lazy SEOs feel accomplished because they created lots of tickets. They also feel annoyed that the developers haven’t prioritized those tickets in the queue and ask themselves “why are developers never prioritizing SEO tickets? They must think SEO is not important!”

Lazy SEOs get stuck in their career and build resentment toward collaborators.

Effective execution

Effective SEOs shoot fewer but larger shots. They get a goal and the first thing they do is scrutinize how it ladders up to other business goals and whether it drives the business forward. They think about what number to measure for success, how much they can influence the number and what a realistic target is for this month/quarter/year. Before committing to the goal, they do a high-level check on how they’d break the goal apart and how they could achieve it. Then, they share early thoughts with their manager, what they need to get it done and set realistic time horizons. Effective SEOs seek alignment with all stakeholders about the problem, how they plan to solve it, and what they need from everyone. They regularly report back to their manager and escalate problems.

Before taking action, they define a list of assumptions and hypotheses, prioritize them by impact, and build a plan to quickly validate them. This leads them to identify high-impact recommendations, which they validate with a few small experiments. Effective SEOs then prepare a briefing of their plan, results of early validation, and business context that they share with all stakeholders.

After getting buy-in to move forward, they carefully craft GitHub/Jira tickets with lots of context, direction, and further resources so engineers can educate themselves. Effective SEOs are present at every step of the implementation. They guide developers and designers and QA before changes go live.

Effective SEOs make jumps in their SEO career because they drive impact, align, and up-level the whole organization. They value feedback and input from collaborators and develop expertise in fields adjacent to SEO.

The effective mindset

Effective and lazy SEOs have three key differences.

First, effective SEOs save everyone - including themselves - time. They invest the necessary time into aiming by aligning with business priorities, expectations, and stakeholders. They focus on the problem and bring others into the project to work on the solution. Their tickets provide enough context for executives to take a look and get all the context they need while giving direction to engineers/designers/ PMs.

Second, Effective SEOs don’t confuse impact with business. Doing a lot and having a lot on your plate is not the same as driving results. Effective SEOs don’t get caught up in small tasks that don’t make a difference. The only case in which they ship small changes is to validate larger ones. Their work scales.

Third, Effective SEOs are really good at all the “soft” stuff that is so important for the “hard” stuff. I’m writing about knowing SEO tactics versus getting SEO done. Lazy SEOs are just after the latest SEO trick. Effective SEOs get the basics right and develop a testing program that surfaces new levers.