OneDegree: When should an organization start considering moving their SEO in-house?
LL: Each and every situation is different. It does seem though that in-house SEO has been the trend the last few years. This is possibly due to a number of factors, not excluding independent black hat SEOs finding it harder to make the kind of money they did a few years back, companies becoming more privy to what SEO is, how targeted it is, and what it can do, and organic search marketing taking on a more integrated role in companies’ overall marketing strategies rather than being seen as some magical weird science that should be kept far away from traditional marketing campaigns.
Overall there are multiple factors to take into consideration if you’re thinking about bringing SEO in-house, primarily revolving around what you’re selling, how many moving parts your company and your website have, what your ROI on a full time SEO employee or team would be, and even the size of the company or the project(s). I’m a firm believer in In-House SEO for large corporations with online businesses, mostly for the fact that in-house SEOs spend 40 hours a week in the trenches with the teams building trust and getting to intimately know the people, the company system & process abilities and limitations, the product, the product space, the competitive space, and even potential industry innovations on the horizon that can be tapped into.
It takes a focused, dedicated, sociable, and persistent person to weave themselves into the moving parts of the company and constantly follow up and keep all players (engineering, designers, product managers, marketers, etc) working together towards a common goal of getting visibility in Search results. At a large corporation with an abundance of people and moving parts it is harder to get that engrained if you don’t have an in-house SEO person or team in there every day building those relationships.
I’ve covered this topic in much more detail, including potential advantages and disadvantages for small and large companies in Part 1 of The Ultimate Guide to In-House SEO: When to Hire In-House vs. Contracted SEO, and of course if anyone has any questions or needs some help with the idea feel free to get in touch with me.
OD: In your experience, is there a particular area of an organization or type of role that is a good one to start to take on (or train up for) SEO tasks?
LL: I usually see three primary types of SEOs: those with a web development background, those with a marketing background, and those with a social/community background (or more often a social focus more than a “background” per se). The best of all worlds is to have a team with a good understanding of all three areas. You’ll need the web dev expertise to tackle the code & technical side of SEO – the meat of what search engines spiders are eating on a daily basis. You’ll need the marketing expertise in order to take SEO beyond the code and work it into Search Marketing, balancing organic SEO efforts with paid, and with other marketing channels including offline. You’ll want the social media edge to break beyond just visibility in Search, involving your product in relevant communities, which in turn can help the SEO efforts (along with brand affinity, customer service, and product insights).
Now, if you could only hire ONE person, I’m not going to lie to you, it is very hard to find someone with an actionable, working understanding of all three of those areas. You might want to consult with someone like Jessica Bowman to determine which strengths your company needs to benefit from the most before you hire.
If you hire someone with a good understand of marketing & social media but no hands-on background in web dev, you could shoot yourself in the foot with a great marketing and community plan but a product that search engines can’t crawl well.
If you hire someone with the web dev background, but no marketing experience, you might have a well-developed website that search engines can crawl and even rank well, but miss out on strategic opportunities to target specific markets, enhance marketing campaigns with Search, balance PPC & SEO effectively, etc.
So it may depend on what your needs really are, and of course it’s ok if you start with an SEO with strength in one certain area and hire more later to cover other areas, or hire a contractor to take care of where your SEO needs help.
Because SEO works cross-functionally, covering marketing, engineering, business development, design, etc, it could live in different places in the org. Most SEOs I’ve talked to roll up into Marketing, then Engineering, then Product. I’ve rolled up into all three and found advantages in each area. Wherever it sits in the org, it is *very* important that the execs there are “believers” in SEO, meaning they’ll support your needs in that part of the org as well as helping you to get buy-in and accountability in other parts of the org where you’ll need. More on potential org structures in Part 2 of The Ultimate Guide to In-House SEO: What Does the In-House Org Structure Look Like?