Hello, Goodbye: 5 Lessons Learned 5 Weeks Into A New In House SEO Position

When I told my editor Elisabeth that I wanted my next in-house column to cover my experience changing companies – from Avvo to Urbanspoon –  she smiled – “you know this has been done before in this column, right?” And she’s right.

Even in a nascent industry like SEO, fluid job markets mean that some experienced SEOs have made the company switch three, maybe four times.

Handling the transitional politics of a new role with aplomb is a part of the in-house SEO skillset.

When I started with Avvo 5 years ago, it was just a concept and we had the luxury of incorporating SEO deeply into the product (thanks to some expert guidance from Alex Bennert). This process, in turn, distributed SEO knowledge and created personal buy-in across the entire small company.

I now find myself in an entirely new situation at Urbanspoon – the new guy coming into an established organization with an amazingly successful product.

Here’s what I’ve picked up over the first 5 weeks…

1.  Find The Purist(s)

About 2 weeks in to my new job, I got an all-company email marked urgent with the subject line:  “Very Ugly Ads All Over Urbanspoon.”  Every small company I’ve been with has a small cadre of purists – they tend to have been with the company for a long time and have taken an informal brand police role.

They are wary of black hat SEO, abhor spam, are suspicious of marketers and rail about conflicts with the user experience. They will challenge your assumptions and act as a limiter to on how aggressive you should be.

Every good small company has a core of purists at heart; these people offer the balance to the business side of the house that can potentially undercut your long term viability by pushing the limits of “value creation” in return for a faster dollar.

For those of you in large organizations, I can only offer hope that the bureaucracy hasn’t beaten the purists from your company. And if you are in a small company and can’t find the purist, I’d do a thorough backlink check.

2.  Consensus On Data Sources

There is a very real potential for data overload when stepping in to a new organization. This threat increases with a) the size of the organization and b) the extent to which that organization is developer focused (the more developer-centric = the more smart empowered people who have created ad hoc reporting queries in the past.)

At Urbanspoon, I’ve ID’d 11 different reporting systems so far, each with varying degrees of overlap and internal adoption. As the new guy, your job is to ID the numbers that are important and build consensus around which reporting system most people use for each specific metric.

Remember, a man with two watches never knows exactly what time it is, and the man forcing everyone else to look at his new watch is soon pretty alone.

3.  Process Your Own Reporting

Actually do the math. Check the math. Get dirty with the math. Make love to the math. At least at first. Nothing is more important then really understanding the nuances of existing reporting systems and there is no way to do that without getting dirty with your own data.

If you are fortunate to have a bevy of pivot table wielding analysts whose entire function is to feed you with data, make them explain everything to you (or tell them to take a month off.)

Your goals here are threefold:  1) make sure you have good data 2) avoid looking like an idiot internally because you don’t understand what the data is really telling you and 3) avoid asking for custom reports that already exist.

4.  Benchmarks

Who does your company watch in order to stay up with the way different firms are responding to changes in the technological landscape? The vast majority of companies benchmark heavily against competitors and ignore the rest of the online world. Big mistake.

I’d suggest introducing your company to a group of 3-6 non-competitors who seem to really nail the online world. Study them, learn from them and if necessary,incorporate some non-competitive tactics into your own arsenal.

TIP: Don’t include your previous company in the mix, there is nothing more irritating than the new employee who precedes every thought with, “when I was at  . . . .”

A non-competitive benchmark set is a great way to expand the established thinking of an existing group.

5.  Monitor Twitter

This is not an SEO issue and it is blindingly obvious but it has been so helpful I can’t help but share here.

There is no better place than Twitter to feel the pulse of how your company and is perceived in the marketplace than Twitter (not to mention your competitors and their social media marketing panache.) If you’re not getting anything on Twitter, you might want to check the company’s pulse.

Switching in-house jobs offers a very unique opportunity to get that wide experience that consultants have and the deep experience of an in-house marketer.

For some more reading on how to be successful in your new in-house position consider the following:

Tony Adam wrote in 2009, Starting a New In House Search Marketing Job followed by Cameron Olthuis this February:  Making the Jump to In-House SEO.  I’d also reconsider your new company if the article from Aaron Bradley, Yes I Belong in this Meeting – The Broad Scope of In-House SEO hits a little too close to home.

Any new position is fraught with political peril, and combing that with the SEO-is-important fight sounds like a nightmare to me. And finally, for a dose of humility about the limitations of being an In-House, I’d also strongly recommend reading Adam Audette’s outstanding post Weighing In House vs. Agency SEO for Enterprese Search Strategies.

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

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | In House Search Marketing


About The Author: is the founder of Atticus Marketing - a search agency dedicated exclusively to the legal profession. Prior to Atticus, Conrad ran marketing for Urbanspoon and the legal directory Avvo, which rose from concept to market leader under his watch.

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  • http://www.phil-duncan.com Phil Duncan

    Hi Conrad,

    These observations are relevant to many more fields that just SEO, and they really resonated with me as an analyst. Point 4 is hilarous, I’m afraid I’m guilty of exactly that, I will have to sort myself out!

  • Winooski

    I love the idea of Point 4: Getting benchmarks from companies in completely different industries doing successful online marketing. However, it would seem to be an exceptionally hard sell, and I can imagine top management saying something like, “Why should we care about ecommerce metrics that come from a type of business that isn’t like ours?”

    I wonder how you would answer that.

  • Conrad Saam

    Phil and Winooski – thanks for your comments, I think I may resurrect an article on non-competitive benchmarking for the next post . . . .



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