Bringing SEO In-House: The Pros and Cons

A company may reach a point where it makes sense to bring SEO in-house. And they may not. There are many factors to consider, from company size and budgets to corporate culture and marketing goals. And let’s not forget buy-in. Without support from the executive suite and across departments, someone charged with staffing up an SEO team, setting goals and achieving results has an uphill battle.

Who should be hired, and who should they report to? What should they be called, and what should they be paid? I could go on asking questions all day. But I think everyone would rather I give answers, or, better yet, pass along answers from those who know firsthand. Here are the panelists from the Bringing SEO In-House: The Pros and Cons session:

Jessica Bowman, SEO Strategist and in-house SEO Expert,

Matthew J. Brown, Director of Search Strategy, New York Times Company
Joe Laratro, SEO Professor, University of San Francisco/Bisk
Prashant Puri, Head of Global SEO,
William (Bill) Scully, Chairperson, SEMPO In-house Comm. & Director E-Marketing, Siemens Water Technologies Corp.

Education seemed to be the common theme of the panel. It’s absolutely critical to keep staff and stakeholders up to speed. Joe ticked off huge list of how to keep staff educated and current in the industry, including:

• Bruce Clay
• Univ. of San Francisco
• Market Motive
• Full Sail University
• The DMA
• Consultants
• Continuing Education, like online seminars and conferences

There is also a wealth of great information available via Search-related blogs.

The first priority is to align the department’s goals with Marketing. But a good SEO program extends to many departments in an organization. And those people will also need to be well informed, to further the company’s SEO. Matthew suggested only training people on what they need to know. So the editorial department (since he works at the New York Times) should be trained on how to avoid keyword mistakes. IT folks should be taught how to recognize repeat mistakes and avoid making them again; site-wide mistakes, such as missing alt tags, can add up.

Communication is often simply education by another name. And communication is critical in establishing and growing an SEO-friendly environment within an organization. It’s important to not only tell people in other departments what they need to do, but to explain to them why. Some advised even giving too much information. This approach should probably depend on the department and even the individual you’re dealing with. Inundating people with information can turn them off. Share tools, such as:

• Xenu
• Google Insights

Promote department interaction through happy hours and brown bag lunch session. Communication must be ongoing. The goal is to make them a partner in SEO, to grow trust and credibility. But if things go wrong, roadblocks should be communicated up the ladder

It’s critical to communicate with upper management in terms they can understand. Stick to the high-level view and connect it revenue and spending. But let them know what you’re doing. You need their buy-in, though, like other departments, they don’t need to understand every nuance of SEO.

It may seem obvious, but it’s important to communicate with your department and yourself. Hold weekly staff meetings and one-on-ones. Keep a journal where you log site tests and results. Review the results and update conclusions as necessary. You’ll be happy you did, weeks or months from now, when you need to remember.

Logging your efforts is but one of many necessary methods of tracking. It’s important to monitor the analytics for spikes and changes and analyze the web logs and reports. It’s necessary to conduct site audits that include:

• Checking nofollows
• Checking that custom 404 pages are working
• Checking that redirects are 301 and go to right pages
• Checking for expired content
• Updating sitemaps
• Maintaining user interfaces

Hiring the right people and retaining them is a major concern for companies establishing or growing an SEO department. Ideally, a team should include people who fit the corporate culture and possess the following skills:

• Project manager
• Content writer
• Link builder (Reporting, Analytics, Adwords, etc)
• PPC manager (Excel, Analytics, Adwords, Yahoo Desktop, etc.)

Once you have the right people, make them feel appreciated. That comes with education and communication as outlined above. But it also includes financial compensation. Valuable employees generally know their worth, and they won’t hesitate to test the market if they find better opportunities.

This guest post was written by Norm Elrod, who is a Digital Media Consultant and freelance writer who contributes to Search Engine Watch, SmartBlog on Social Media and AOL. He blogs about his experiences in the job market at Jobless and Less, which has been featured in The New York Times and on NY1. His marketing and editorial experience includes positions with Acronym Media, The NPD Group and Sony Music Entertainment. Norm holds a BA from Franklin & Marshall College and an MBA from Fordham University. He lives with his wife and two cats in Queens.

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