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Reflecting On What I Have Learned As An InHouse SEM, Time To Move On
Back in 2001 when I started my professional career in online marketing, SEO was still pretty new. Paid search had literally just materialized in the form of goto.com (anyone remember penny bids?!). Everything was still soft and new.
Negotiating ad buys was as simple as cutting the seller’s price in half. Paid search could be left on cruise control with an Amex plugged into the account for weeks on end. Flash ads were brand new and ad networks were just starting to take off. Social media was limited to discussion forums and blogs had only just begun to gain exposure.
Yet, for all of that newness, if you were a web-based business back then, each of these areas was top of mind and mission-critical to your success. Sure, learning SEO meant working live with your sites. It meant asking questions in a forum, editing your code and watching for results.
Even today, this same formula holds true for a lot of SEOs. In many ways, ten years on, we’re not really farther ahead in our jobs in terms of the mechanics of what we do. Tools abound today to make tracking data easier, for sure. Back then we had…well, I had Webtrends and AWStats. That was the extent of the “seo tools” available then.
When viewed from 50,000 feet as an SEO, not a lot seems to have changed around the “what we do”. Sure there are new technologies, but technical SEO is still technical SEO. Keyword research is still keyword research.
What has changed is the business and political landscapes. As more businesses began to understand the value of the results our work could bring, there began an increase in interest in our field. Job opportunities flourished and the entire industry of “seo training” came to be.
Out of the increase investment around training, or maybe because of it, came higher expectations from business owners and executives. The critical take away then, and this remains true today, is you have to set expectations realistically.
Time and again, I hear from folks still struggling to hit unrealistic goals because a VP wants it to be so. As for the Execs, well, they need to realize the work done in search marketing often borders on the fundamental, which usually means big, expensive changes to publishing platforms.
Executives and business owners need to remember that cycling through SEO analysts because each fails to deliver on unrealistic goals is hugely expensive, counterproductive and usually leads to missed opportunities. Most businesses end up realizing there are things they simply don’t know.
The result of making decisions when you don’t have all the information is that more work needs to be done later. When your SEO analyst, Manager or even Director tells you a new CMS is needed, realize they are trying to do the best for the company. Yes, it’s expensive and time consuming to make the change. But had you known the actual cost of that cheaper system years ago was a loss of search traffic today, you’d have likely made a different decision then.
SEO-focused staff needs to understand that in every business there is a need to balance resources against work. SEO is not the only group at the table looking for money and people, so understanding the focus of the company, the larger picture and each groups goals can go a long way to helping your SEO program understand the realistic limits they will face.
If that means scaling back work, so be it. But fighting for more all the time and building plans based on “more people and more money” that never materialize, is simply a waste of time.
There continues to be debate as to where in a typical organization an SEO team should sit. It seemed clear to me a decade ago that Marketing was the logical location. SEO is a marketing function, so the team sits in the Marketing organization.
Fast forward to today and experience has taught me a glaring truth. It doesn’t matter where SEO sits. What matters is how much support they have form other organizational owners.
Does HR understand hiring for SEO work is different from traditional marketing and has different skill sets? Does the IT team support the ongoing work the SEO team will need them to execute on? Is the Editorial layer in sync with why keyword research is so fundamentally important?
The real take-away on this point is influence. If positioning your SEO team inside Marketing gets you the most influence, then do it. If more influence exists when SEO lives inside the IT or Development groups then put them there.
That influence to get changes made matters more than any org chart. If we’re all in place to build a successful business, then position your teams to maximize the influence they can wield over projects that matter.
After 10+ years of performing SEO in small and large environments, I’ve seen first-hand examples of everything mentioned above. Looking back on every major issue I can recall, I clearly see none were really big. Too many times, small things we thought were big distracted from getting work done.
Don’t get caught in this trap – stay focused. Stay focused on the goal, not the work. The goal is what matters. The work fills in the blanks along the way.
In July, it will be 4 years since I wrote my first article for SEL, focused on networking for inhouse folks, and why it matters so much. That article was about networking and why it was important for inhouse SEMs. Networking still matters a great deal today, and to that end, I’m going to wrap this article by letting readers know that this will be my last article as an inhouse SEM.
In fact, your networking just improved a notch. Sad as it is for me to leave behind a decade+ of inhouse SEM work, I’m moving to a new role with Bing on January 24th.
I’ll be managing the Webmaster & Developer outreach for Bing moving forward, which means all of you just got a friend inside Bing! It’s been an amazing ten years growing my career and I owe a lot of thanks to a lot of people along the way.
The folks here at SEL have been great even before there was an SEL. Simply amazing folks who I’m pleased to say I know. To everyone else, I’ll simply say thanks. Don’t be surprised if, at the next conference party, a drink suddenly comes your way on me.
See you from the other side gang. Keep up the great work!
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.