One of the first questions companies noodle through when hiring an SEO practitioner is where SEO should reside. This is nowhere truer than in organizations that are hiring an SEO for the first time.
A couple of things determine these decisions as to where SEOs reside: One is budget for head count and the other and the most important factor: Ownership of site (who is responsible for the corporate website).
A Couple Definitions
Before we go into listing all the areas within a company where an in-house SEO should reside, let’s get some definitions out of the way.
- Temporary Embeds: If you're in a matrix organization structure, then a temporary SEO embed makes perfect sense. Under this kind of temporary embeds, it is not uncommon for SEO’s to report to two separate bosses. A temporary SEO embed is different as the sole purpose is work closely with product or developers to get SEO changes in quicker. This kind of structure environment is different and can help in getting things done at a much faster rate. This could work great since it is very project oriented and you can expect your SEO initiatives to move at a much faster pace.
- Permanent team member: This means SEO was hired by a certain department and they report to a single boss. In this role they work with different departments in their organization.
As mentioned earlier there are many polarizing opinions as to where the best place in the organization for an in-house SEO to reside. Let's consider the most likely options and some of the things to watch out for.
1. IT Infrastructure
It can seem confusing at first as to why SEO should be part of a company’s IT infrastructure group. The rationale behind this is since they have ownership of site from an infrastructure point of view then it would serve best if SEO is part of this group.
Also, as this group is about technology and ensuring the site is working well it seems like a logical place for SEO’s to be, correct? Not necessarily. Often the first mistake is letting infrastructure group decide the fate of marketing your site.
If you place SEO in this group then the marketing aspect of SEO will be lost and you may have employee turnover on your hands. Plus, SEO will be fighting battles with marketing and other groups to get SEO changes pushed through whereas it should be the other way around where SEO is fighting battles with the infrastructure group.
2. Design & Development Team
Depending on the size of your company, many tend to have a separate Design & Development team. Now, it also depends on the influence of this team as to whether they have “ownership” of the site or solely operate as an “agency” within the company.
If the site ownership falls under their purview then chances are SEO could be part of this group. Placing SEO in this group seems to be natural since SEO is all about making changes to the site.
3. Corporate Communications
A few SEO’s report to this group and it's honestly always puzzling as to why. Many companies still view website as a communications platform hence the corporate communications team end up with website responsibility. The inclusion of SEO here is flawed in so many ways in my opinion as they would be cut off from the main functions like marketing, development, and other teams.
4. Product Team
Many believe that SEO should be part of product team. The reason being, and valid to an extent, is things can get done faster. Yes, things can get done faster and this works from a temporary embed point of view. It can't be a long term solution.
If you’re an SEO agency then it makes perfect sense to embed yourself on-site with the product team. This way you can be pals with the product wizards and get your agenda as part of their agenda.
But a long-term in-house SEO in a product team? Well, it may help to look at business holistically (think marketing) and there may be higher employee turnover.
In my study I found that over 65 percent of SEO’s report to or are part of a marketing department. This makes complete sense as at end of the day SEO is part of Search Engine Marketing. SEO is a critical component of driving business growth mainly through customer acquisition and as a result marketing is the place for SEO’s.
When you look at all your customer acquisition channels you will quickly realize the benefit of SEO working together with other acquisition channels such as email and social media. This is more important today where a prospect goes through numerous touchpoints and no prospect is channel agnostic.
You might have a customer who originally heard about your product or services through a Tweet or Facebook share and then ends up doing a search on Google. This makes it important for SEO’s to be part of the marketing team as this way campaigns are planned and launched keeping all customer touchpoints in mind.
Also, as an in-house SEO you learn many new skills by just being a part of marketing team than say if you were placed in a product group.
When thinking of where should in-house SEO reside in your company you want to give special consideration to two factors: Will this help move SEO our projects faster? And will it help your company to launch campaigns holistically by including SEO?