No, Junior, You Can’t Be Our SEO Team Leader (Yet)

Let’s face it: sometimes politics plays a huge role in the success—or failure—of your search marketing efforts. For example, sometimes the information technology group is an obstacle and doesn’t want to play nice in the sandbox. To get them on-board and ready to play with the team requires tact and professionalism not mastered by many junior level employees. Nonetheless, the junior level employee may want to become your in-house SEO leader—and will likely become an obstacle to success if they don’t get their way. What do you do when you face this challenge?

At Search Engine Strategies San Jose someone approached me to talk about an interesting challenge. For this article, we’ll call her Sue. Our conversation started off as a the typical scenario, but ends with an interesting twist:

  • SEO at Sue’s company was based in the marketing department, which found an SEO firm to outsource their search marketing program.
  • Before marketing knew it, IT “stole” ownership of the SEO agency contract and relationship, leaving marketing isolated from the SEO strategy.
  • Sue was seriously thinking about bringing search marketing in-house, to regain ownership of the SEO strategy and its execution.
  • Sue had someone internally that seemed to “get” SEO and this employee’s plate could be cleared for the time it takes to both learn and take on SEO tactics.
  • From a company standpoint, bringing SEO in-house made perfect sense because of the way IT was leaving marketing out of the project. Plus, Sue had someone in-house with the aptitude to do great SEO.

A fairly straightforward situation that many companies find themselves facing. However, Sue realized she had an additional challenge, and went on to describe her unique twist:

  • Sue realized her potential in-house SEO lacked a vital skill for success: the internal clout/respect to navigate through the politics to get any of the SEO changes implemented.
  • Sue knew in-house was the way to go for her company, but she struggled with how to implement SEO in-house when her potential SEO lacked the experience and political skills to succeed.

It turns out that the potential in-house SEO was a junior level employee, very capable of taking on SEO action items; however, the junior employee hadn’t focused on professionalism and gaining influence from her peers and higher-ups at the company. While I have no proof, I suspect this is often the reason that some in-house efforts are less successful.

This isn’t as uncommon as you might think. Most in-house SEOs that I know of fell into their position because they were bright and could be spared from other projects to go and do the research on what it takes to get to the top of search engines. In fact, this is exactly how I fell into SEO.

At this point I told Sue that she is facing more of a management and mentoring issue, rather than an SEO issue. Together we brainstormed a few options. These options apply to anyone in-house facing this same challenge:

  1. Hire someone else to take on SEO, because it makes sense for the company to bring it in-house. Perhaps in time the junior level employee could move into this role.
  2. Have someone else become external face and point-of-contact for departments, leaving the junior employee to manage everything within your department only. Then, you can mentor the employee and watch whether other team members come to respect them and whether their influence changes over time.
  3. Mentor the employee as they take on the SEO leadership role, with constant feedback and interaction. Meanwhile, until the employee develops the respect and influence, use an agency that the employee manages and includes in meetings with other departments. Over time, wean the agency out of the picture as your in-house SEO gains respect.

If you choose option #3, be sure to choose your agency wisely. You want to ensure that your agency point of contact who is interfacing with IT is going to help your employee gain internal respect, so that others within the company recognize that your in-house SEO is spot-on when it comes to SEO tactics, and that your in-house SEO is a great resource. In fact, I once needed this for a project I was outsourcing several years ago—it was extremely powerful when the agency became my ally. Respect and influence came almost immediately.

Jessica Bowman is the Director of SEO for and an independent consultant and author of the SEM / SEO In-house Blog. The In House column appears periodically at Search Engine Land.

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 a free agent SEO strategist available for SEO site audits, SEO training and helping in-house SEO programs become a well-oiled machine that cranks out profits. The In House column appears weekly at Search Engine Land.

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  • Neuro

    A high level Sponsor is a good idea

    reminds me of one my first high profile web projects in BT.

    It was a RAD DSDM project and to solve the problem of entrenched obstruction we made sure the project had a high level sponsor (Bruce Bond) to kick ass if required – we discussed if for some rason he became unviable Ian (the chairman) would be the project sponsor.

    At one point certain people where pushing not to use HTML but some BT bespoke version of HTML (this was scotched after some high level shouting by some very senior RnD types)

  • sportsguy

    Excellent article Jessica – and very true, as well.

    We have exactly the Sponsor approach where I work, and it makes it much easier to move projects through.

    You build the business case for the time/resources it’ll take, and if things look good, it moves forward.

    Build a poor business case, things stall. Build a good one, things move.

    Building that internal SEO resource takes more than just an aptitude to learn about search – it takes someone who’s savvy and willing to change plans in mid step to fit the immediate environment they face.


  • Ken Savage

    Great timing on this article for me Jessica. Thx.

    I totally agree that getting respect and upper management onboard is totally the key.


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