Performance Management for SEO Teams

One benefit of a larger company is that the human resources departments are usually quite advanced in their skill sets and able to drive consistent performance over multiple internal divisions. To be clear, small companies that have strict management can also drive outstanding efficiencies.

Each year, Rosetta employees go through a rigorous and valuable process of establishing goals for annual performance reviews, as well as setting project-specific expectations and reviewing quarterly. Over the last couple of years, I’ve learned a fair amount about how this can help SEO efficiencies and how to get the most out of specialists in each area of a typical SEO group.

Rosetta’s search and media project managers established a system last year to ensure consistency in goal-setting for all individuals who work on the SEO team in four primary classifications: strategists, technical engineers, content specialists, and link building experts. They set up a “template” of suggested goals and expectations, in order for reviewers to customize to each team.

These are being used in the project-specific performance process. These methodologies of tracking performance work very well together to ensure the best results both internally and for our clients.

The SEO Strategist: Lead and Get Out of the Way

I’ve worked in numerous different team structures. At Razorfish, we used static teams back in 2007, as described in “An Inside View of an SEO Agency.” Rosetta leverages SEO strategists with a solid foundational understanding of all things SEO and can effectively lead strategy in each area. As director, one of my responsibilities is to fill a “chief strategist” role, and I have to really count on these team leaders to drive client success.

Thus, for a strategist, the bar is set a little higher. Typical client delivery and expertise goals and expectations should be covered, but special focus should be given to leadership and team growth and training.

This allows strategists to operate efficiently while growing the team and enabling them to evolve to the next level. They have to learn to lead, but also to give autonomy and respect to other subordinate team members within the project structure.

Technical Engineers: Be “Multilingual”

Technical specialists are a crucial part of any SEO team. I emphasize team here because based on recent conversations elsewhere within our still sometimes narrow-minded community, 80 percent of a small sample of people feel that SEOs need some coding abilities. Technical engineers and strategists need to have an understanding of coding in order to provide solid advice, but a team allows for a single point person primarily charged with providing SEO technical consultation.

The goals and expectations for a technical strategist should be to “think multilingual,” communicating both business and IT goals and challenges. This is especially important when dealing with large corporate clients. These specialists must be able to communicate extremely effectively with other IT people, but also have the ability to explain business requirements to marketing people and executives.

SEO teams that include someone with such a skill set will be inherently more valuable. Again, it’s fair to say that small companies can provide this ability as well, but often it is the principal of the company and maybe one trusted strategist or engineer. In order to scale, multiple individuals must be leveraged in this role.

Content Specialists: Diplomacy Required

We’re fortunate to have very talented writers on our team from a variety of copywriting backgrounds. One of the key goals and expectations that tie them together is learning how to write optimized copy that also leads to conversions. As an ever-evolving agency, we see the value of synergies between paid and organic search campaigns, so it’s important to instill this understanding within content specialists and expect them to communicate this effectively with their client counterparts.

One of the primary areas of focus for performance growth for search content specialists is also client communication. Two types of friction typically occur when baking SEO into a site design.

Other than technical arguments, convincing organizational content owners to buy in to SEO copy can be challenging. Training content team members in diplomacy, and especially how it should be customized and adapted to each client personality, is paramount to success.

Link Experts: Run Free, but Reach Milestones

Link development is arguably the most time-consuming work in the SEO space, in the “value per hour” category. Ongoing SEO plans that include link building should budget for enough hours to allow the team to discover, solicit, and otherwise increase the number of authoritative links pointed to the domain’s pages. Link experts should have these skills in all areas from evaluating current inbound links for improvement possibilities all the way to complex link bait strategizing.

Link experts should be allowed to act to some degree like wild horses, in order to “run free” and not be restricted in their thinking about where and how to find valuable links. However, specific goals should still be set when it comes to expected output in terms of “how many per hour” kind of metrics. Setting a high bar will help increase efficiencies, and ultimately drive better performance and improved and organic rankings.

In conclusion, performance management is extremely important to ongoing success in SEO. Both in-house teams and agencies can benefit from structuring clear and fair expectations for each job role. Any organizations that are considering outsourcing, especially at the premium cost of enterprise-level SEO projects and ongoing work these days, should pause to ask what kind of performance management system is in place, and ensure that expectations are consistent with delivering continuously improved ROI and performance over the life of any project.

Frank Watson Fires Back

Interesting post, Chris. I’ve always been a supporter of hiring people who have the skill set needed to succeed in various niche areas of search. Good journalistic skills help with content writing, clever use of title tags and descriptions, and even landing page content.

Multiple languages is an asset that now is more important than previously.

I also believe in looking outside the box. Good sales people, those with solid math abilities, and artists can all be taught the optimization process — but creativity cannot.

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