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 (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.

Moving On…

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 Janaury 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!

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 an in-house SEM with Microsoft, is a former Board of Directors member with SEMPO, can be found at his blog where he speaks about online marketing and monetizing websites and is the author of two books: How To Make Money With Your Blog & Turn Clicks Into Customers.

Connect with the author via: Email


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • Auto ProMetrix

    Great post! Although a little “late” to the game (2004), a lot of what you described is very familiar to me. Remember web analytics by Urchin? -Those were the days.

  • traiann

    Duane, finally Bing gets it’s Matt Cutts :) What took it so long, I don’t know, but I hope you’ll be communicating with webmasters and improve tools for them. If there’s an email I could reach in the future ideas/questions?

  • Jordan Kerr

    I’ve been an inhouse SEM for 8 years now so your article makes a lot of sense to me. I guess I’m saying “I hear you”.

    Good luck in the new role.

  • Mandy Ison

    Your article is absolutely spot on. I have worked in-house at a few different companies, and without corporate sponsorship or buy-in from above, no amount of PowerPoint presentations, trainings, or proactive-ness will convince the business that SEO needs to be resourced and prioritized like any other online driver of revenue. In previous positions, I have beat my head against the wall trying to convince corporate leaders that SEO is not “voodoo” or “just someone’s opinion” (actual words). Fortunately, where I work now is the opposite. Good luck on your endeavors. I’ll never go back to agency life, but I think working for a search engine would be fun!

  • Duane Forrester

    Excellent to hear this information resonates with folks out there. :)

    …and thanks for the warm wishes gang. Very much appreciated. Pretty excited to start my new role on Monday. :)

  • Todd Malicoat

    >The critical take away then, and this remains true today, is you have to set expectations realistically.

    AMEN. :)

    Congrats on the new role – sounds very cool. Can’t wait to see what great new bing tools you help develop.

  • Duane Forrester

    Thanks Todd. :) learned more today about what I’ll be covering and it IS cool stuff. :) can’t wait to dig in and get moving on things, too.

    …and I intend to set expectations realistically with everyone, too… :)


Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide