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How To Structure An In-House SEO Team
Why are businesses so persistent about handling search in-house? There are many good reasons for centralizing both natural and paid search in a large organization. We’ll be talking about natural search in this article. Web site optimization for natural search visibility, commonly referred to as SEO, touches every aspect of your site and organization, with people involved at every level. Therefore, the coordination required makes it easier to handle in-house.
A fast-moving target like natural search exists in a dynamically changing environment and can challenge even those who have been managing search for more than a decade. Here are some tips that can enable your in-house teams to achieve better performance.
Need for diverse resources
In my own experience dealing with large Web sites (100,000+ SKUs and 70+ servers), the best way to go about natural search is to acquire ongoing expert training for your internal search team. Hire an expert who specializes in natural search training to coach your in-house natural search team so you and your team can continue ramping up for quick wins.
It is critical to infuse external influences to enlighten, educate, and influence the team, opening their eyes to entirely new strategies, and not just the well-known current SEO tactics.
Make sure your expert is willing to hook you up with all of his or her network of consultants. Every project I have worked on required external influences and expertise beyond my own capabilities. No single expert can answer all of your questions and fulfill all of your needs in a space as broad and deep as natural search—it will be a collaborative and community effort.
Every industry requires training to keep up-to-date on the latest tools, techniques, strategies, and tactics. In the search realm, if you’re not engaged with learning something new at least once or twice a month from specialists willing to come in-house to share their expertise, it will be very difficult to maintain momentum. Every in-house search manager I’ve met admits to the need for ongoing training. An expert can get you started, and once your team is trained, you can use a small retainer for ongoing advice and consulting. The money will be well spent as you get to know and work with a network of people who have refined natural search over years of testing.
First things first; everything should point to your business goals. These goals should encompass more than just marketing objectives, since natural search can be leveraged to influence many different aspects of your business. Tracking, measuring, and reporting on the progress of key performance indicators (KPIs) is paramount for benchmarking and driving growth. One crucial step in defining success is segregating brand and non-brand keyword traffic. While both types of traffic are driven by natural search, they are influenced by entirely different marketing strategies and serve different purposes.
Once business goals and KPIs are established, you should move forward with a Needs Assessment Report (NAR) for both paid and natural search. This will identify strengths and weaknesses and help you make critical path decisions for building a team within your company. I could write a whole series of articles on the NAR itself. It represents your anchor point for all future needs, training objectives, priorities, action plans, and accountability.
Team setup or reconfiguration
Look for quick learners who are detail oriented and have a high tolerance for day-to-day change. People with an affinity for solving complex puzzles, multitasking, and experimenting with different solutions also make good candidates.
Assign one person to be in charge of natural search. This person must be knowledgeable of your overall site architecture, have a good handle on total business goals, and understand the infrastructure of various departments within your organization. Preferably, this will be someone who would make a good firefighter—cool, calm, collected, and an excellent communicator. From this position, a reliable team can be built using existing resources from NOC (network operations center), development, copywriting, marketing, graphic design and brand managers, public relations firms, and/or other third-party agencies.
IT vs. Marketing
One of the reasons turf battles exist between IT and marketing is that IT personnel must deal with the regular accoutrement of existing and historical hacks; therefore, taking ownership of the site as “their baby.” They don’t want marketing telling them to do more stuff. Marketing, on the other hand, does its best to get the upper hand on changes, updates, offers, and messaging.
The role of in-house coach
When natural search gets in the middle, requiring technical and editorial changes—look out. IT wants a complete explanation of why a change is necessary, and marketing wants to know what’s in it for them.
The in-house expert and coach you hire will smooth things over by helping the in-house natural search manager prepare detailed answers for both sides prior to making any recommendations. Often, this process revolves around the NAR (Needs Assessment Report) and a natural search diagnostic audit. Executive buy-in is also key in stemming departmental turf wars. A clear directive coming from the top, making natural search an organizational priority, is often required to get everyone on the same page.
Stay tuned for the next article, where we’ll cover the NAR basics, providing access to an example SEO wiki. Meanwhile, for another great look in-house SEO, see Laying the Foundation for In-House SEO Success in Large Organizations, by Melanie Mitchell, vice president of SEO/SEM at AOL.
Paul J. Bruemmer has provided search engine marketing expertise and in-house consulting services to prominent American businesses since 1995. As Director of Search Marketing at Red Door Interactive, he is responsible for the strategic implementation of search engine marketing activities within Red Door’s Internet Presence Management (IPM) services.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.