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.
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 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.
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.
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.