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No Colleague Left Behind: In-House SEO Education
The most important asset for an in-house SEO is the collective talent of the people that plan, produce and maintain a company’s website. The better informed these individuals are about search engine optimization strategies and tactics, the better your chance of search engine success. Company-wide SEO education is, in fact, one of the key benefits of an in-house SEO program that you can (and should) be leveraging for competitive advantage.
Logistical problems with execution notwithstanding, it is easy enough to delegate specific SEO-related tasks to the appropriate individuals in your organization. However, if you never get beyond the “what” of SEO to the “why” your colleagues (through no fault of their own), they will never become proactive partners in your optimization efforts. The better they understand, and can observe the benefits of their efforts, the better the chance that they will incorporate SEO considerations into their daily routines and website planning.
SEO 101: communicating the basics
SEO is all about using the <meta> keywords tag successfully, right? Augmented, of course, by some clever white-one-white footer text and a few links you’ve put in blog comments. Such misconceptions are extremely common among those previously unexposed to SEO; and you will even find a surprising number of front-line web workers that have never even heard of the acronym. Accordingly, your first educational efforts should be basic ones.
When you first take the reins of an in-house SEO program, put together a brief presentation on the fundamentals of SEO, using examples from your website and industry space. Keep it simple and non-technical, focusing chiefly on the importance of site architecture, content and links in search engine rankings. Work with management to ensure that anybody involved in the website is exposed to your talk. If your company has an employee orientation program, make sure you have the opportunity to present to new employees.
The recipients of your wisdom may or may not retain the principles you outline in your introductory presentation, but conveying these principles is actually a secondary goal. Your primary objective at this stage is to impress upon your colleagues that SEO is a process in which they play a role. I always include a slide (even as a one-man show) entitled “meet your SEO team,” followed by a list of representative employees (or job titles), with an accompanying one-liner on how each activity impacts search marketing efforts.
Specialist SEO education
Different teams have different roles to play in your SEO efforts, and once you have given everyone in the company some baseline information, you need to follow up with information tailored to specific groups. Again, actual seminars or training classes are an obviously efficient way of educating a number of people in the same or similar roles. The groups with whom you should engage may include, but are not limited to:
- IT. Things such as server environment, hosting and domain management all obviously impact SEO. Providing technologists with information on how the back end impacts ranking will not only avoid unpleasant errors, but get the IT team thinking of SEO-friendly solutions to development and migration tasks. Bring extra-caffeinated cola.
- Programmers and coders. Once you walk these folks through the ins and outs of canonicalization, you’ll find fewer 302s you need changed to 301s, and find fewer parameters appended to URLs – to name just two code-related issues of importance to SEO. Bring donuts.
- Designers. Just providing the factual observation that SEO and design requirements are not mutually exclusive will get you off to a great start here. Letting your designers know how the search engines index and assign relevancy to pages will inevitably result in better designs for SEO. Bring chocolate.
- Writers. Whether or not you walk them through twenty semantically-related ranking factors, or spend an entire hour talking about blog post titles, you’ll always benefit from broadening writers’ SEO knowledge. Training sessions aside, this is also one of the groups with whom you will also want to communicate most closely with on an ongoing basis, and even train in the use of your keyword tools. Bring bourbon.
- Marketing. More than you probably realize, your cousins in marketing are a potentially important source of backlinks. But they’ll never know the importance of relevant, direct links with helpful anchor text unless you tell them. Bring flowers.
Depending on the size of your shop, some of these roles might either be combined or further segmented, and you should adjust your strategy accordingly. In any case, your educational efforts do not end with the conclusion of your last class; equally, if not more important is sharing new knowledge on an ongoing basis with your colleagues.
In-house information sharing
As search engine features and ranking factors change continually, you must provide information on these changes to your collaborators as you encounter them. Dropping by somebody’s desk and chatting is encouraged, but there are more efficient ways of imparting lessons from the search world, particularly in larger organizations.
- Internal blog. An excellent way of sharing search marketing information is through an internal blog. It does not have the formatting limitations of email, or its shelf life. It also serves as a permanent repository for the links you are passing along, and if you have the bandwidth, you can also build out SEO reference resources like keyword lists.
- Email. While not as sexy as an internal SEO blog, email is still the most effective communication weapon in your arsenal. Even if you have a blog, you will want to broadcast the URLs of articles as you post them, as it is unlikely your whole audience will subscribe to the blog’s feed.
- Cross-departmental meetings. If your company hosts these, be there. While you may not be engaging with front-line web workers here, it is still a way of passing on knowledge to the correct teams.
Tying lessons to results
In order to truly gain allies in your search marketing efforts, it is important that you highlight positive results observed as a result of your colleagues’ work. On the one hand this is (of course) positive reinforcement, but it also helps teach them (and you) how theoretical SEO knowledge translates into real-life results.
Liberally and shamelessly employ a well-known email marketing technique in conveying results, namely the use of a “PS” in an email that contains a nugget of important information. “PS – As a result of these improvements we’ve seen a 120% increase in search traffic to this page, and an additional $40K in revenue generated from them.” Even the most jaded skimmer of email will take notice.
SEO is still regarded as a mysterious and opaque practice by most people, even those in closely-related web disciplines. The better educated your coworkers, the less intimidated they will feel participating in SEO work, and, of course, the better their work will be from an SEO perspective.
While companies often outsource their SEO strategy and specialist tasks, they will rarely invest in dedicated, let along ongoing, SEO education for their employees. The training and insights you provide to you colleagues will not only result in better support for your search marketing efforts, but can give your company a competitive advantage in the search realm.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.