There’s a dirty little secret about SEO (define). Most people have absolutely no idea what we do.
Being a relatively new service, search engine optimization both confuses and amazes the average client. Clients know they need it for their Web sites, but they may not understand how SEO works. That’s why search education is a major focus of our client engagements, especially since many positions in our field didn’t exist 10 years ago.
Today we’ll examine one such position: the SEO engineer. Though the title may be a bit redundant (hence the abbreviation), the engineer serves as the life-blood of any successful SEO team. Let’s take a moment to demystify the role of one of the most cunning players in the field.
But What Do They Do?
As the most senior technical person on the SEO staff, an engineer is responsible for working with the client’s technical and marketing teams. The engineer makes sure our recommendations are not only on strategy, but also being implemented correctly.
The role of an agency SEO engineer typically revolves around three distinct areas. While the engineers at Avenue A | Razorfish each have different specializations and levels of expertise, the majority of an engineer’s time is spent on client services, education, and new business.
Client Services or Walking in Both Worlds
On any given day, an SEO engineer can be found drafting recommendations, reviewing SEO campaigns, and outlining strategies. The job requires a careful mix of technical know-how and social savvy, especially when working with Web developers, copywriters and clients.
An engineer’s heavy technical lifting occurs when working closely with the client’s IT department or Web development agency. An SEO engineer must contend with a variety of content management systems and analytics packages, along with whatever quirks a client’s system may have. The SEO engineer must make recommendations and also ensure said recommendations are understood and suitably implemented. Many times this requires being on call or on site to guide client teams through complex changes or initial SEO recommendations.
The SEO engineer also works in tandem with account managers on the client front. This is where those social skills come into play. No matter the scope of the project, the engineer remains actively involved in a client’s day-to-day activities and developments. He must also stay on the lookout for new optimization opportunities.
Education or Translating SEO into English
Education is also a huge part of the SEO engineer’s responsibilities. An engineer’s skill set must always stay current, especially in an environment where one small tweak of an algorithm could change the entire industry. The engineer must keep on top of trends, adapt to shifts in the industry, and develop new search techniques. Moreover, the engineer must serve as an educator to the SEO analysts providing tactical support.
An inventive mind and skilled tongue are both important parts of being a search engineer. Pouring through research in order to develop and test new search tactics is only half the battle. An experienced SEO engineer must also present their findings to the team and client — and do so in English.
When not researching new strategies, an engineer must train the fresh crop of SEO analysts. An engineer must communicate the basics of SEO practice to the analysts to ensure that that develop a strong foundation in search. It’s a way of both training strong analytic minds and coaching the development of future engineers. And it’s more than theory. The SEO engineer also illustrates how strategy can work practically in client campaigns.
New Business Eye on the Future
As a key contributor to the overall client strategy, it’s no surprise to find the engineer involved in the development of prospects. The engineer not only plays the role of educator for the client, but also co-strategist to the business development team when pitching an SEO campaign. When working closely with the business development team, an engineer’s duties may include scoping Web sites, proposing SEO strategies and devising courses of action for new clients.
Education comes into play for both business development and potential clients. While the business development department is extremely knowledgeable of various SEO offerings, each Web site requires actionist own personal approach. The SEO engineer educates both parties on benefits and possible hurdles that may arise in any given engagement.
Not a Job for One-Trick Ponies
It takes a certain kind of person to thrive as an engineer. The job goes far beyond what takes place online. One must understand the strange dynamics of both search engines and people. A balanced personality — one that thinks in algorithmic strategy but resides in reality — is sorely in demand. If you never step away from your computer, you may never understand what people are searching for.
In regards to both clients and the SEO department, what we’re really searching for is someone to spell it all out for us — to explain the freshest parts of search-space, the part we’re only beginning to understand.
So I guess the secret is out. SEO teams need guidance too, and the SEO Engineer keeps us all informed and on-track.