As many of you know, I recently joined BillShrink as Director of Search Marketing, which will essentially be my 4th time leading In House SEO efforts, as either my full time role or part of my role at an organization. We start-up folks wear many hats! That said, every single time I’ve had a new In House SEO position of some sort, I’ve had to do something different to get things moving in the right direction. There are a few things though that pretty much remain constant, but at the end of the day, you need to find out what works in your specific situation.
Understanding the organization
From its structure, to the people and process, it is extremely important to understand the organization that you are working for. This is always my first step, and I liken it to a General in a war or an athlete playing sports. You need to observe, understand and adjust to your opponents actions and reactions. You’re going to need to adjust your game based on the situation at hand.
Now, you might not want to consider your new workplace to be a war zone (although, trust me, there are situations where I had thought I was in a war) you still need to understand the organization and how things work on a day to day, week to week, and month to month basis.
Some organizations, like a startup, are extremely fast moving and you are going to be getting stuff done weekly. On the other hand, if you are at organizations that are large/enterprise level, there are going to be times where things are going to take, weeks, if not months.
Also, you are going to find there are times where everything is just rolling and things are great; but, at other times, you might lose resources, a developer might quit, etcetera. So you’ll need to understand how the company is structured, where resources go when times are tough, and have a contingency plan for when things aren’t going exactly as planned.
Personality types & influencers
Dealing with different personality types can make or break how things get done within an organization. You don’t want to run around telling people what to do, why they are idiots or what they should be doing differently until you actually figure out the delivery, because that can make all the difference.
To figure out personality types, start asking yourself questions about how they work and interact. Are they Social? Anti-Social? Enjoy lunches? Need a little influence? Need to be told? Think through these questions and start answering them as you interact with people. You’ll start to see that not only have you learned how people work, but on top of that, you’ll notice people starting to warm up to you more and people actually doing what you need without much work.
Remember, it’s not just the people, it’s the structure of the organization that you are in that is also extremely important. Who reports to who? Are you in marketing? Product? Engineering? Who do you report to? While this may seem unimportant, it is extremely crucial, because this allows you to find out who the influencers are in the organization. Once you’ve figure that out, you’ll know who to go to when you really need to push something through.
For example, let’s say that you need to ensure that all content on the page is visible to bots, you’re going to want to make sure that whoever influences decisions on an engineering basis can build “Progressive Enhancement” into their processes for development. Buddying up to a VP or Director (depending on your “title”) can also help you. It’s all about the relationships that you make with these influencers in an organization that can create “mini SEO Evangelists” dispersed throughout the company.
Now, this is an important step – it is also extremely important to not get into “analysis paralysis” mode with this step. It’s crucial to figure this out right away, get a move on building the relationships and start making a difference and showing results with in your SEO efforts. So, go get ‘em! Start setting up coffee dates, do drive by’s at peoples desks, and so forth. But, get this done ASAP so you can start working on what you need to get done.
Start making friends
It is pretty natural for me to try to be friendly, sincere, get along and even help everyone where I can. That’s my personality, it’s pretty much built into my DNA. It is one of the most important traits of being an In House SEO, because, you’re going to have to make friends with everyone.
SEO is such a holistic process that making friends in all areas of expertise within an organization can really help you get things done. Think about it. Think of all the different teams you are going to interact with while you are at the company. There is technology, content/editorial, business development, product development, marketing communications, product marketing, PR, ad sales (believe it or not)…and the list goes on and on. Each and every one of these individuals will be crucial to you in one way, shape or form while you are attempting to develop, implement and deliver on SEO strategies.
Make friends by being social, take people out to lunch, go to coffee for a meeting instead of a conference room, and the most important, take people out for drinks. I’ve never met an engineering team that I’ve worked with that turned down an invite to free drinks or happy hour. A little tip that I always give people is to keep a couple teams fridges stocked with beer. Yes, I’m encouraging drinking at the workplace (no, I am not encouraging it during business hours…) But, I can’t tell you how many times I get teams to agree to working on projects after I’ve cracked a beer or two open with them at the office.
Another way to “make friends” is to make people look good and feed their ego. Let’s face it, people have egos and people want to move up in their roles at big companies. Even if you work with people in a limited capacity, remember to include them and thank them when reporting the status of the program, or, when you are presenting the strategy or update to executives. Make sure you point out and thank the people that you worked with!
If your organization has large organizational meetings or weekly team meetings, make sure to talk up and thank the people that are getting stuff done for you, it will make them look good (which they want) and others will want to step up so they can get some recognition. Once you get someone some credit for something they worked on and they get some positive feedback because of it, they are going to come back to you looking for more. You’ve just become their SEO Pusherman.
Now, you’ve made some friends, you’re getting people on your side, start putting them to work!
Quick wins right off the bat
Getting a quick win under your belt will earn you some credibility in an organization. It gives you an opportunity to have a story to talk about right away. And, it gives you the ability to prove that what you are doing is important.
Once you’ve done that, people will start to listen to you more. At a big company, it is fairly simple sometimes, because there are typically a lot of issues that need to be worked out. So fix a title tag or two, find out if a part of a site is being blocked from robots, maybe somebody forgot to remove some “noindex” tags from a page, or find a trend that will likely drive a ton of traffic and get that to editorial ASAP. Either way, get one of those under your belt, so you can take that up stream and show people that you are valuable and important.
Another reason I really like quick wins is if you show some results, show that it will make a splash, or an impact of some sort, will get peoples attention. Guess what that means? Those people that you are taking effort to become friends with, will start buddying up to you, because they will want in on that attention and love from management or executives.
Build and develop a strategy
Now, although you want to get some quick wins under your belt, you need to simultaneously start thinking about how you’re going to approach things more holistically and methodically. The worst thing that you can do is start throwing SEO changes at the walls and hoping they stick. It’s not going to work for a larger organization.
What you want to do is take some time understanding the verticals, audience and target market. Do your basic keyword research, competitive intelligence and look for areas of opportunity that you can build strategies out of. Start putting this together into a report, presentation or whatever form your organization usually responds the best to. I’ve found that putting something together that is similar to Product Requirements put together by the Product Management groups will be the most effective for providing the details necessary that a Product Manager needs to float it up the ranks.
At Yahoo!, we had an SRD, SEO Research (or Requirements) Document, that details out keyword research, competitive data, development requirements and/or templates, link development and/or viral marketing strategies.
This document should holistically detail out your entire SEO Analysis for a given Market, Event, Vertical, etc. If you are/were an SEO consultant at some point, think of it as an SEO Audit that you would deliver to a client. Make sure that whoever you hand the document off to can understand the requirements and turn it around fairly quickly. At the very least, they should be able to take parts of the document and fill it into their overall Product or Marketing Strategy.
Create baselines & goals
I have to admit, I’m the type of person that likes to get in, kick ass, and take names. I’m all about being effective, and getting the quick wins in place while building out an overall strategy. That said, one of the biggest things that I’ve learned in my new role is how to effectively create a baseline for search traffic and setup goals around the original baseline set. Now, I’ll be talking about this more in my next post, so I won’t go into much detail here.
Essentially, you are going to want to create a “baseline” of your search traffic and give yourself an opportunity to show how effective and/or ineffective certain strategies are. I think this is more important in helping you determine what is working, what isn’t, and highlighting your effectiveness. At the end of the day, you need something to measure your performance against, for better or worse.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.