The debate on the need for SEO standards continues, with no clear industry-wide consensus. Without a doubt, however, your company should have SEO standards and guidelines that convey your company’s stance on SEO—namely, clearly spelling out acceptable practices and perhaps even more importantly, definitely drawing boundaries that cannot be breached regardless of whether they may increase traffic to your site.
There are many reasons for taking the time to create standards. Primarily, a standards guide acts as a resource that others in the company can reference. This is especially important in very large companies where SEO tactics are actually implemented by product managers and engineers that don’t have a full-time SEO on their staff and don’t have time to track down best practices on their own.
Another reason for establishing your company’s stance on SEO is that there are a lot of people (engineers, marketers, and even some CEOs) who, for various reasons, honestly believe they know all about SEO—which the in-house SEO knows is isn’t the case. Having SEO standards and guidelines allows you to say, “That’s interesting, but the ABC Company’s stance on SEO is as follows…” and you can forward a link the SEO standards documentation.
The third reason for establishing SEO standards is for when you grow the team. All SEOs know that we all have our own stance on what works, what doesn’t, and little tricks that give a boost. The worst thing for your SEO program is for you to bring in a new SEO who jumps on projects and starts giving advice very different than the approach you have been taking. By having your standards documented, your new hire can get up to speed quickly on your approach to SEO before they start spouting their approach and leaving other key players in the organization confused and feeling you don’t have a clue what you’re doing.
Without standards, your SEO team may look like it doesn’t have its act together—something that will not get you far with other groups, particularly powerful fiefdoms like IT.
Here are a few tips for establishing your company SEO standards:
Don’t be verbose—less is more. While I am advocating you establish standards and guidelines, this doesn’t mean to go out and write an encyclopedia. Write a quick and easy-to-read set of standards that people can get into, find their issue, get the guideline, and get back to work. Think of it more like a glossary with short definitions. If it becomes very useful and spawns many questions, then you know it’s OK to add more detail.
Point out that you don’t live-and-die by these standards and guidelines. Qualify your standards with a notation that working with an SEO may result in a slight variation of these guidelines, depending on the situation, and only the SEO team can make this call.
Note that it’s an evolving document, and update it frequently! Every time you realize someone in the company has a misconception about SEO, see how you can add a new standard that clarifies your company’s stance.
Promote your standards. Get them on the intranet and tell your developers and copywriters it’s available. You can take it even further by creating an intranet site for SEO — this is especially useful for large companies.
It’s OK for a few of the standards to say “contact SEO team” for advice. Don’t be afraid within a guideline to identify when to just reach out to the SEO team or manager. If you have a situation where there are so many if-then’s in the guideline that it becomes overwhelming to the reader, just say, “if you are facing this situation, contact the SEO team for guidance.”
If you’re struggling for time, start out small and expand your SEO standards and guidelines as situations arise. Before you know it you will have a very thorough reference document for your company.
Jessica Bowman is a free agent SEO strategist available for in-house SEO training, SEO audits and identifying your SEO opportunities. Jessica is an international speaker, industry columnist and kicks butt at the board game Connect Four. The In-house column appears weekly at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.