Developing a Training Plan for In-House SEO

Can you imagine being told you are responsible for a job function, but are not given any training whatsoever on how to perform that job function properly? Unfortunately, it is not an uncommon lament that is heard in the SEO community.

Most companies know they need to do search engine optimization (SEO), thus they task one of their employees with doing it. Unfortunately many of the employees do not how to execute properly, and end up frustrated. It is a lose-lose situation.

Without providing the proper tools and training, a company will struggle to be successful at SEO. Besides that, they could end up moving backward by inadvertently doing SEO wrong. It is critical that the methodologies used at the outset are effective and timely, and adhere to ethical SEO best practices (often referred to as “white hat”).

At AOL, due to our size, it made sense for our company to bring SEO in-house. For any company considering the same route of taking SEO in-house, remember that education is key. Educating and training the key employees responsible for Web page development, content or design is critical to your success.

Define the Goals

Before you get started with your training course, you should lay out a plan defining your goals, the intended audience and the documentation objectives. One size does not fit all in SEO training, and it is critical that you tailor it to speak to the target audiences as these different groups play different roles in the process.

What do you want people to walk away with? You must not only decide on the goals, but focus on logical processes and reasonable commitments to get there. For example, if you were to develop an SEO overview course, or "SEO 101," the primary goal could be to provide a broad overview of SEO topics to the learners. One of the primary focuses of the SEO 101 course would be to teach SEO standards and best practices that are required of all pages.

Define Your Intended Audience

There are different steps in SEO and not all SEO is necessarily done by one group. Some constituents to remember include UI design, programmers, publishing, development/technical, marketing, and editorial staff, to name a few. The key is to understand who you will be speaking to and how you should reach them. If you don't have a clear understanding of your audience, you won't know what messages will resonate with that audience. So before you get too far into course development, you need to clearly spell out who will be listening to you, and make sure they will care about what you have to say. To do that, you need to frame your message in a way that directly relates to them.

Define Documentation Objectives

After you have defined your intended audience, think about how you are going to impart the training course's message to that target audience. People need to take something away from their training class and the documentation should help reinforce the information reviewed in that class.

Going back to the SEO 101 course example, we could define an objective that the SEO 101 training manual is intended to be an in class reference manual to lead course attendees through various topics and projects relating to the company's SEO goals. Outside of class, it is expected that this manual will serve as a desktop reference to assist them in their day-to-day design/publishing/development duties.

Develop Course Outline

The course outline should adequately capture the scope of the documentation effort by describing the content of a particular course through the statement of objectives, descriptions of teaching aids, definition of evaluation criteria, and indication of desired outcome.

Once you have the outline, you can decide whether it makes sense to develop in-house SEO training or outsource the SEO training to a company that can cover your goals and objectives. Paul Bruemmer, director of search marketing at Red Door Interactive, wrote an interesting article recently on SEO training, "Training: Heart & Soul of In-House SEO/SEM." Bruemmer rightly states, “it is smart for mid-to-large company SEO/SEM in-house teams and managers to seek the most current, reliable information when it comes to improving natural search results on a daily basis.”

As quickly as the search industry moves and changes, the need for SEO training is ongoing whether you develop in-house or outsource. You should decide up front what makes the most sense for your company considering the size of the group that would need ongoing training and the amount of training needed.

Melanie Mitchell is the Vice President of SEO/SEM at AOL. Melanie has over eight years of experience in web site promotion and over six years experience in search marketing for major sites across several industries including travel, local, entertainment, ecommerce, news and sports. She has managed SEO and PPC campaigns both in-house and from the agency side.

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