Over the last decade, SEO has morphed into a complex field encroaching on UX, content marketing, and even web development. At the same time, a wide range of organizations are now running full force on to the web; yet they often fail to consider the possibility of bringing an SEO specialist in-house.
Based on conversations with colleagues, it really comes down to the fact that organizations lack commitment from the C-suite and/or proper resources to find the right candidate.
One then must beg the question: Is it worth bringing someone in?
I decided to reach out to several SEO leaders in the industry to get their points of view, while closely examining my past experience.
I have had the privilege over the last decade to primarily work as an in-house SEO manager for several e-commerce organizations. Even early on in my career, I recognized the value of SEO to the entire organization — from a merchant researching products to onboard, to a content team researching valuable topics to address, I was always there to provide strategic insight on potential growth.
But what else can an in-house SEO really do?
Political landscape negotiator
Every organization will have teams that focus on different goals, perspectives and responsibilities. As SEOs, it is our job to achieve true collaboration. We can drive all the traffic you want, but that’s not very valuable if the customer doesn’t convert!
Whether it’s a company picnic or a department outing, we need to focus on establishing personal company-wide rapport.
I wanted to figure out how to improve customer experience on a page template without having to go through a code change. I noticed a prominent section that our team does not have access to and decided to reach out to all my key contacts companywide to find out who manages it. After a couple of discussions, I quickly learned that the process for updating this content area was manual, but possible.
I soon realized the additional untapped potential that we could now leverage to influence customer behavior. At the same time, I can now work with that team to streamline the process — all thanks to the fact that I regularly focus my time on looking for areas of improvement and cross-company communication.
User experience has quickly taken off as a huge factor for SEO, and I find the field fascinating. I began meeting with our talented UX team regularly to better understand how they develop wireframes that dictate usability. This led to having the opportunity to visit several customers to observe their browsing behavior, and I even got to try my hand at wire-framing.
These efforts have yielded a shift in which the UX and SEO teams work hand-in-hand to develop a truly optimized experience.
Initiating change from within
Many organizations migrating to the web often overlook what a monumental change it is for the entire company. Existing companywide processes — even those that have nothing to do with the web — often need to be overhauled to encompass the new digital strategy.
An organization needs to bring in a seasoned SEO who not only understands the current search landscape but also understands how search will impact their overall industry five or more years from now. This is how they can help their company stay ahead instead of just playing catch-up — innovation is key!
Modern SEOs are no longer just keyword optimizers — we are ingrained into content strategy, UX and web development, as well as social.
A decisive content strategy that infuses best SEO/customer-centric practices is instrumental for every organization. When I first joined my current company, I quickly discovered many parts of the organization were developing and launching content sporadically, but there didn’t seem to be a consistent direction or measurement strategy in place.
I met with every part of the organization to better understand what their intended outcome was. I then created an easy-to-follow SEO/customer-centric one-page funnel content strategy that could be utilized companywide (including negotiated costs for each type and potential outcomes) and followed up with everyone to get feedback and make revisions. The outcome was a clear content strategy that anyone at the company can utilize to effectively drive whatever goal they are trying to accomplish.
Doing something of this magnitude without being internal would be very challenging, if not impossible.
Reputation management is a very touchy subject, as well as a really important one for an organization — yet many don’t prioritize it.
Even before joining the organization, I did some searching across varied review sites and noticed there seemed to be a reputation situation brewing. I decided to go through every comment and look for patterns or issues that could be quickly addressed and put together a document of my findings. I then spent some time discussing the situation with leadership, customer service and the sales team. We had to not only make a change in the level of service we were providing, but also make sure our customers knew there was a way to leave feedback on these third-party review sites.
We are aggressively forging a path toward progress in improving our online reputation, and I am excited to see what we can do as an organization to ensure that the few less positive experiences our customers may have had do not harm the company as a whole.
Agency’s best friend
Having a seasoned in-house SEO is key for any organization — especially if they plan to onboard an SEO agency. An in-house SEO is able to strategically prep an agency on developing realistic KPIs that align with company objectives. They can also help deal with technical limitations, expedite onboarding and assist with any execution.
The alternative often unfolds, with an agency spending months in the discovery stage, followed by execution. Next thing you know, it’s time to renew the contract, yet the organization hasn’t even assessed whether the KPIs have ever been met.
Did your organization hire an agency without clear objectives and a measurement plan? You are not alone. I have heard dozens of similar accounts. Agencies often make a big laundry list of SEO recommendations and fixes. Yet very few clients think to ask, “What do we anticipate the end result to be?” or “How do we prioritize these tasks?”
Besides the fact that search engines are experimenting every single day with new features, and most businesses are trying to move quickly, an organization needs to make sure that an in-house individual is able to understand the entire landscape and effectively guide the agency to success. Additionally, without a dedicated in-house SEO person, the learning curve on how an organization functions and what is feasible is often very steep — to a point where an agency can be quickly set up to fail.
Are you convinced?
The perfect combination for any organization that is taking digital seriously is to have an in-house SEO coupled with a strategic agency. It’s also really important that the SEO lead documents strategy for easy onboarding. Your in-house SEO should always be learning new tech, should be able to pivot quickly in the face of new developments and should be versatile across the entire digital landscape.
Think about this: Gartner predicts that by 2020, “30 percent of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen.” Will your company be ready? Leading SEOs are on the front line testing, researching and forecasting the next phase of search. Make sure your organization is not left behind!
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.