A Plea To Corporate America: Get IT Out Of The SEO Business

They’ll thank you for it.

A lot of people think I’m an Information Technology hater. I’ve often said that IT can be a huge impediment to SEO efforts. I constantly lobby to move websites off company networks. I strongly feel that Internet marketing is marketing first and technology second. But the truth is, I’m a huge fan of IT. I worked in IT at two companies for a total of five years, so I know whereof I speak.

IT’s responsibilities are support, security, continuity and compliance. Notice how ‘more website traffic’ and ‘increased sales’ are nowhere in that little list. But walk into any company of 500 or more employees and chances are, the information technology folks are saddled with the website. They don’t want it. No one else wants them to have it. But they’re stuck with it as one more thing on a ridiculously long list of ‘to-dos’. SEO suffers, and is often put out of its misery, as a result.

How it happened

How did we get into this mess? Here’s the scenario that unfolded in most corporations:

Around 1997, the CEO looked around and realized their competitors were building these website thingies. Hmm… he thought. I’d better get one too. The web’s a nerd thing, so I’ll go talk to the nerds. He headed to the IT Department. But he’d never actually been there before, so he doesn’t know who’s in charge. He collared the first person he found and said “I need a website.”

The IT Department, used to being ignored (except when stuff breaks), was stunned into submission. They built a website using Netscape and threw that sucker out there.

And so it began. From then on, if someone needed to add to, modify or rebuild the web site, they went to IT. Any attempt to change that created a swirling toilet bowl of don’t-rock-the-boat.

Why it’s bad

This is a bad thing, for everyone from the SEO to the marketing department to the IT manager.

First, if the head of IT is sane, he or she does not want control over the public web server. Web servers are a pain in the arse. They’re vulnerable, cranky, open source (if Apache), poorly-supported little pits of despair (if Microsoft).

Second, while websites aren’t naturally annoying, their owners are. Especially when we’re trying to run an SEO campaign. We want things like daily updates, title tag changes, performance improvements, 301 redirects and XML site maps. We need content management systems that don’t vomit 582 lines of junk code per paragraph. It’s a drain on an already overtasked department.

Third, IT knows about as much about SEO as a typical SEO knows about VPNs: just enough to utterly screw up the works.

Fourth, as I said above, the tactical goals of the corporate website have zero relation to the goals of the IT department.

When IT controls the website, all Internet marketing suffers, and no part of it suffers more than SEO.

The site fails its single biggest goal: attracting the right audience, because it’s hidden from the single biggest source of traffic: Organic search.

How to fix it

The fix is easy:

  1. Take the website away from IT.
  2. Take the website offsite. If IT doesn’t control the site, don’t make them responsible for its security, either. Move the site to a third-party hosting company. A good third-party hosting company.
  3. Make the website the responsibility of Marketing. What? Marketing doesn’t understand the Internet? Then fire them and get some real marketers, already. It’s 2010. They need to get a clue.
  4. Assign Marketing an initial task: figure out the SEO opportunity gap. How much more could the website accomplish in sales, leads or other growth if you captured just 1/3 of the available search traffic?

I know what you’re going to say: This sounds expensive. We’ll have to build a new site. Our fulfillment system won’t integrate.


Expensive? Not as expensive as your SEO failures. Unless you’re already top 3 in the organic search results for the best traffic-generating terms in your industry, you stand to realize huge traffic gains through SEO. By ‘huge’, I mean ’2-10x’.

Building a new site? So what?! Worst-case, your site is such a monstrosity that you can’t move it, and you have to build a whole new one. The most complex website, an online store handling hundreds of thousands of transactions per day, might cost you one quarter’s crappy, SEO-less earnings.

Integration? In 15 years, I’ve never seen a fulfillment or other system that couldn’t integrate.

Low risk, high rewards

Organic SEO is critical to your online success. If you’re reading this site, you know that. If your site is controlled by the IT Department, you’re losing the SEO battle every day, and you’re limiting your IT Department’s effectiveness.

Help everyone: make the website an external marketing tool instead of an internal IT function. Get IT out of the SEO business. There’s little risk, and the rewards are huge.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO


About The Author: is Chief Marketing Curmudgeon and President at Portent, Inc, a firm he started in 1995. Portent is a full-service internet marketing company whose services include SEO, SEM and strategic consulting.

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  • http://www.alancharlesworth.eu AlanCh

    I totally agree with your sentiments, but beg to differ on one point.

    In my experience, back in that ’96 – 2000 period, IT grabbed at the web with both hands and wouldn’t let go. In some cases, they still won’t.

    I forget how many times I went to companies to discuss ‘e-commerce’ [everything was e-commerce then, e-marketing and sub-disciplines weren't on the radar] and found myself across the table from IT folk. Who then argued to the CEO/MD that the web design company I represented was not needed as they could handle it in-house.

    Most of my consultancy work now comes from advising organisations on what is wrong with their ‘IT’-designed website. For that is a further problem. In computer schools they teach html etc etc and so ‘techies’ who do not have the first idea about marketing end up developing web sites. Not the case? Take a look at some ‘web design’ and ‘SEO’ job vacancies. Computing qualifications frequently over-ride marketing qualifications.

    As my arguments in favour of your [our] opinion usually start: do you invite the phone engineers in to discuss call-centre strategy or the TV repair folk for their opinions on a new ad campaign?

    IT have a vital role to play, Some of the stuff they can make computers do is amazing. But keep them away from the management of websites – that is a marker’s job.

    Rant over.

  • http://www.alancharlesworth.eu AlanCh

    That final sentence should, of course, read ‘ … marketers job’.

    Sorry, I’m a university lecturer – it’s marking season, the brain gets addled.

  • neuro

    Up to a point Ian IT’s responsibilities are what the business say they are and I could make just the same argument that pure Marketing people have zero idea about how to build a website that’s fit for purporse.

    I have seen far to many sites that I am sure looked great on safari on that $15k 8 Core Macpro running everything locally – that fail abysmally in the real world.

    There is a reason why a lot of SEO jobs have stiff tech requirements its to fix the disasters the MD’s nephew who built the site committed. A lot of larger corporates are now making SEO a separate team that sits away from IT and Marketing and can act too bring both sides together.

    Ok I may be an atypical SEO but I do know what a VPN is  its probably easier to take an experienced professional programmer and teach them marketing than the other way around.

  • http://www.bidorbuy.co.za MagicDude4Eva

    This article might be valid for corporate/CMS based web-sites which do not rely on transactional ecommerce. Look at any large e-commerce site and you will realise that IT and SEO are co-dependant and can work very well.

    In any mature business, IT will provide SEO capabilities in websites which can be easily managed by SEO staff.

  • seowebnews

    I think that a good developer with interest in SEO could be the perfect mix to aim.
    It’s really exciting to work as IT developer in the SEO team (I’m an IT engineer and I think is only a plus to be a SEO Engineer).
    I think that in the future the market will find for this type of professional figure.


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