Survival Tips For Becoming An In-House SEO

As my friends know, in January, I became an in-house SEO. Now that I have a few weeks under my belt, I thought I’d discuss some of the differences between agency SEO and in-house SEO, the type of traits it takes to succeed in-house, and some of the traps you can land in.

Agency vs. In-house

Let’s start with some of the differences between agency SEO and in-house SEO.

In-house Has No Hamster Wheel

In an agency, it’s inevitable. While waiting for clients to implement your recommendations, you hit roadblocks and dead ends.

Is this the perfect workout for some SEO agency employees? Image Credit: PBoyd04

Except, you have a minimum number of billable hours and a table declaring how many recommendations you must produce. You cannot start a new project without a client meeting. The next meeting is scheduled in two weeks, when you must present your recommendations from today. Frustrated, you look for any suggestion you can give, whether it will actually help or not.

As an in-house SEO, I can investigate and negotiate roadblocks or I can find something else to work on, something that will create value.

No Billable Hours

Saints be praised; no more billable hours. I don’t care what tool or stopwatch you use, tracking billable hours is an impossible farce created by sick, sadistic minds. It always comes down to imperfect memories and estimates.

In-house SEOs do not have to track billable hours

Image credit: Zak Greant

In-House Has More Distractions

At the agency, the CEO and I were the go-to people for all things search and social. And, because he was the CEO, I got most of the questions. That meant I worked on every client whether I was on the team or not.

Imagine my surprise. As an in-house SEO, I get more questions from colleagues and interruptions. It makes sense. At the agency, everyone from the receptionist to the CEO lives and breathes search and social. They know the 80%. They need help with the difficult 20%.

In-house, I have to educate and evangelize from the ground up. People here know organic search and social are important, but they are just learning how to implement it. Unlike PPC landing pages, which are largely isolated, every brochure page, case study, blog post… every indexed page affects SEO.

In-house, You Can Walk Down The Hall & Face-to-Face

When you hit roadblocks with agency clients, you’re at their mercy. Whether it’s a communications slowdown, a technical hurdle, or defensive posturing, you have to wait for the client to implement or give you the go-ahead.

In-house, I can simply leave my desk and visit my co-workers. I don’t always get the answers I want. However, I can learn exactly where each problem lies and work with people who understand and share my goals.

SEO Communications

Whether you work as an SEO at an agency or inside a business with more than a few employees, there are many things you must be able to communicate, including the following:

Communicate Clearly Without Jargon

When you spend your days with co-workers inside agency walls or with colleagues at conferences, it’s easy to communicate using terms the uninitiated will not understand. A wise professor told me the true meaning of knowledge is the ability to teach. Know your plain language definitions and practice using them. Let colleagues know you want them to ask for an explanation when you say something they do not understand.

Be Disciplined & Concise

Similarly, you cannot monopolize everyone’s time by droning on and on. If you cannot be clear, persuasive, and brief at the same time, you will never succeed as an in-house SEO.


Image Credit: Grotuk

Stay Resolute, Politically Perceptive & Judicious

On day one, my CEO told me our IT director’s prime directive, don’t let the app crash. Smartsheet’s reliability is as important as its features. Because our website and application are on the same domain, certain things require heavy testing or are simply off limits. At the agency, this would have been the end of the discussion. In-house, I can respect these challenges and I get to work with the IT director and application developers to overcome them.

Select High Value Activities, Then Stay Organized & On Track

When I arrived at Smartsheet, I saw many different things I could work on. Throughout my first month, I seemed to explore or pursue a different opportunity every day. During my second month, I began to settle down and isolate things that I can accomplish and will lead to the greatest returns.

Whether your SEO department is just you or a team, you can only accomplish so many projects within so much time. Make the most of what you have.

Knowledge You Can Share

As an in-house SEO, you will enjoy sharing your knowledge. Keep in mind, there are some things worth sharing right away.

The SEO Arms Race

It isn’t enough to optimize your content and earn links or authority. SEO is an arms race. You have to catch-up with the leading keyword competitors and pass them at the same time they accelerate their own content and authority building. It’s not enough to be as good. You must become better, faster and stronger.

The search engines are in an arms race of their own, with Spammers. While the search engines get better at overcoming Spam, the Spammers keep finding new ways to manipulate the search engines. This is an arms race no legitimate business should engage in. Do you want to be the SEO who burns your employer’s domain?

Site Optimization Vs. Page Optimization

Make sure your marketing department understands site optimization concepts like internal link architecture, domain authority, and supporting content.

In a competitive space, you’re not going to publish one page about red widgets and leap into Google’s top ten. It can take several supporting documents, many with their own link and citation attraction qualities. Especially if your company is used to paid search, they may not realize this.

Not Every Page Is An SEO Landing Page

Does everyone understand that while you can optimize any page for either short- or long-tail keywords, not every page is going to rank or drive traffic? It is usually better to keyword optimize your top-level and high-value content, then skip the rest and move on to publishing new content that will earn links and authority.

For the sake of clarity, you will still need to clear-up any technical SEO errors and optimize your internal linking. Also, just because you’re not optimizing a page does not mean you won’t edit it (for example, to add an anchor text link to a real SEO target page).

At some point, after you develop a track record of SEO wins, start revisiting your lower-value pages and check if you can optimize them for long-tail keywords. This is a great task for interns or new staff members who need to build-up their familiarity with your website.

Different Types Of Content Have Different SEO Strength

This is a favorite of mine. Different Web assets or documents serve different purposes and have their own unique SEO strength.

For example, a case study may be ideal to launch a press release campaign around while it is unlikely to go viral on Twitter or earn many links. Live blogging from a popular conference can earn lots of mentions and links, but may not convert many sign-ups or sales. Prepare your company to create many types of content for many different purposes.

This is where I insert the flywheel analogy. The more popular your brand, blog, and social media assets are, the more likely they are to help SEO in different ways. You have to earn that reputation. On a popular blog, a post might go viral, while on a lesser known blog, the exact same post will just sit there. Get your flywheel spinning.

Playing Within Your Competitive Footprint

Be sure your co-workers understand what keywords your company can rank for now and which ones are within reach. There is a reason so few SEO professionals are trying to rank for the keyword SEO, we know it’s a waste of time. Create short-term, long-term, and big, hairy audacious goals. Be assertive and aggressive, but do not create unreasonable expectations.

Here is one of my tips. When I do keyword research, I select based upon the phrase match numbers, but I always report the exact match numbers.

Optimization Vs. Over Optimization

Warn your coworkers about over optimization. There are two good reasons for this. First, you don’t want to incur an over-optimization penalty from the search engines.

Another reason is to give you some breathing room. Everywhere you go, there will be that person, the one who says things like, “You did this over there, so why haven’t you done it over here?” As Bones McCoy might say, “For God sakes Jim, you’re a human being, not a machine.”

Even if you keep checklists (you should), you will not optimize every page exactly the same. SEO is a craft, part science and part art. The more you do it, the better you get, and the more intuitive it becomes. Sometimes, it’s just nice to be able to say in a calm, reassured voice, “I didn’t want to over optimize the page, but I can reconsider that.”

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: operates Schmitz Marketing, an Internet Marketing consultancy helping brands succeed at Inbound Marketing, Social Media and SEO. You can read more from Tom at Hitchhiker's Guide to Traffic.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


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  • Chris Cornwell

    I have begun to address SEO in a serious way with my current employer and I really enjoyed the article. Thanks!

  • Alex Garrido

    lol. I agree, sometimes jargon should be avoided but some clients love it! :D
    If you over simplify stuff for them, they might think that you are not “pro enough”

  • rozellaquine27lr

    my roomate’s mother-in-law makes $86 an hour on the computer. She has been unemployed for nine months but last month her paycheck was $21901 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more on  Ask25.c­om

  • Terry Reeves

    Spammer! Get a life.

  • Navneet Singh

    Discipline is most important survival tip above all

  • Kiera

    Great article Tom, as an in-house SEO-er I really enjoy being the ‘fountain of knowledge’ for all of the web team in terms of SEO and PPC. Before I joined (about 1 year ago now) SEO was not a big part of their development process. I really enjoy being able to impart my knowledge onto the programmers to ensure our web projects are meeting a good standard of SEO at launch. I think you could even expand on this article further to address the point about communicating SEO to the rest of the company when you yourself are the in-house SEO expert! Thanks.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    I think one of the greatest things an in-house SEO has on their side is they can address every question/issue/source of confusion immediately. If a co-worker has a question they just pop over, spend five minutes talking and move on. Sometimes, when you work with a client, they try to “figure it out” on their own, which actually makes things more confusing.

  • Brenda Thompson

    just before I looked at the check saying $5483, I be certain …that…my sister woz like actualie making money parttime at there labtop.. there moms best frend has done this for only about eleven months and resently repaid the loans on there house and got a brand new Honda. this is where I went, jump15.comCHECK IT OUT

  • ZombieMommy

    Great article. I am def gonna use the line, “I didn’t want to over optimize the page, but I can reconsider that.”

  • Dan

    I found SEO communications and billable hours to be one of the biggest challenges in house. Of course there is always something to work on but when you need to focus on billable projects it can get frustrating dealing with imperfect memories and estimates. Nice post, thanks for sharing.

  • WebEmergence

    Thanks for sharing this article. Valid points to consider for SEO.

  • Stephen Foreman

    I have done SEO for a number of sites over the past 6 years and SEO from the inside out is always in my opinion better than from the outside in. If you start talking about things like keywords for Adwords then internally there may be specific words that aren’t related to the product/website you are working on that look attractive from an external point of view. This means that a lot of visitors might be coming through, but for the wrong reason. You can’t beat doing SEO and being directly involved with the company – although sometimes an external perspective can be interesting.


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