Bringing SEO in-house can be a smart move, when the in-house SEO (an individual or a team) is placed in a position for success. Therefore, once you have made the decision to invest in an in-house SEO, you have another very important decision to make: where does SEO reside within the organization?
As you face this question, it's important to be honest about your company's culture, as well as any political dynamics that could hinder making important changes. Ask yourself where the SEO will have the most success getting the changes made which will have the most effect on boosting your rankings. The two changes that face the most challenges from other parts of the organization include:
- Getting technical/back-end fixes so that your Web site is search engine friendly.
- Optimizing page copy so that it contains enough keyword repetition to be relevant in the eyes of search engines.
No question, the first of the two is most vital. No matter what appears on the page, it will neither be seen, nor rank well, if you cannot overcome the technical hurdles of making your site search engine friendly. The second is more flexible, as there are strategies to get around un-optimized copy. But it is a critical factor of success to give an in-house SEO the ability to make back-end changes on your Web site.
Placing Your SEO for Success
Now that we know the tasks involved include the ability to make back-end changes, the next question to ask is, "Where can this position reside and have the most success directing IT to make these changes needed for SEO?"
One of the more successful strategies I've seen a large company implement was to place an SEO on a product management team within IT. The team consisted of product managers that were neither pure IT, nor pure marketing, making the product managers an intermediary between the two. Because the SEO resided within IT, SEO technical changes were implemented, and the product managers had the business savvy to influence the marketing department. Over time, IT and SEO developed a successful synergy. Unfortunately, this unusual setup is not an option for most organizations; therefore you need to think about the culture and political dynamics within your organization.
If your marketing department has a strong relationship with IT, and your SEO could successfully direct IT from there, that's ideal. The SEO will be close to the people who write for the site – a bonus for driving a new style of writing that considers both humans and search engines. If you go this route, remember to involve your IT contacts in the interview and selection process, since they'll be working with your new SEO.
However, if the marketing and IT departments are like oil and water, don't despair – there can be harmony. If you choose to place your SEO within the IT department, you will be most successful if you focus on relationship-building between the groups once the SEO comes on board. Experienced SEOs want to work with both marketing and IT, so marketers can have the opportunity to build a strong relationship with the SEO, even if they don't have it with IT as a whole. More importantly, marketers will have an SEO advocate in the trenches rooting for SEO and looking out for the SEO strategy.
Sealing the Deal for Success
Wherever your in-house SEO lands, make relationship-building a top priority. Doing this before your SEO is in place can be helpful in setting the stage for collaboration.
As a first step, reach out to your IT department, the CTO in particular, to help determine where the SEO will reside within the organization. The reason for this is that your SEO will suggest many site enhancements and fixes, some of which will require architecture changes, potential performance hits, or increased development time and costs. You need IT's buy-in and support for the new role, the person in this role, and the changes your new SEO will propose.
When you interview a potential SEO, set expectations and choose wisely. Many SEOs are not accustomed to the in-house challenges and obstacles they're about to face. Life in an agency is different than being an in-house SEO. Be sure your candidate understands the IT manager's perspective. From the IT perspective, the SEO isn't a programmer and not aware of your site's intricacies nor the limitations of your network configuration.
Building relationships with the IT team will allow the SEO to ask questions and get better explanations from IT for why things can't be done. Once the relationship is established, there are avenues for informal candid brainstorming sessions before anything unrealistic is proposed to the larger group. Look for these soft skills when making your selection.
Lastly, make IT a vital stakeholder in SEO success. Strange and happy things can happen when an IT manager suddenly has a stake in search engine rankings and, more importantly, the increased revenue they bring. Share credit with the IT manager and staff when announcing successes to business sponsors, and you may just be surprised at how much attention SEO will start to receive.