Baking SEO Into The Company Workflow & Culture

There is a big difference between working on your own sites, and working on sites that belong to others.

When you work on your own sites, you can execute changes quickly, and you don't need to convince anyone else of the merits of your actions. However, within an organization, SEO requires significant buy-in on a number of levels. Failure to get that buy in can severely compromise the effectiveness of the SEO, which might - rather unfairly - see the SEO out of a job.

In this article, we'll take a look at the problems the SEO who is either in-house, or working on a clients site, faces, and a few ideas on how to deal with them.

Embedding SEO Into The Culture

In-house SEO is just as much about politics as it is about execution.

There will be various stakeholders, many of whom man not be be familiar with SEO. There will be people who will be openly hostile to someone else insisting they change the way they work.

No matter what, you're going to ruffle a few feathers.

The first step to achieving good SEO outcomes within an organizational structure is to get management buy-in.

Given that management have probably already hired you, this should be a relatively straightforward step. Management will want to see facts, figures and strategies that support the business case. Prepare presentations that demonstrate your proposed strategy, how it supports the business case, how long it will take to achieve, and what your measure of success will be.

Once these factors are agreed to, you'll have the backup you'll need to undertake the hard part.

Convincing The Minions

Various people need to buy into SEO in order for it to work.

Some companies locate their web team within IT, whilst others place them within marketing. Sometimes, the two business units share ownership of the strategy. The important thing to determine is who has the control, especially over aspects such as site structure, content production, and overall strategy.

Think of internal employees as customers. Also check out my article Overcoming Common SEO Objections.

Look to establish rapport with, and train, the various people who occupy these important roles.

1. The Manager

You must have buy-in from the person with the most control over the business unit responsible for web strategy. They will be able to provide the support and backup you'll need.

Managers tend to respond well to anything that helps them achieve departmental goals. These goals have probably been set by upper management.

Look for areas synergy exists. For example, marketing managers often have traffic goals, and similar visitor metric milestones. Show them how SEO will help meet those objectives.

This is why it is important to frame SEO in business terms, as opposed to just a technical process. Without management buy in, and aligned business goals, you're unlikely to get support for the technical changes you need to do.

2. The Designer

The designers are responsible for the look and feel of the site. They will probably also be responsible for site architecture. Architecture and design are two areas where you are likely to experience a lot of push-back.

There is good reason for this.

What is good for SEO might not be good for users or brand aesthetics. This area that needs to be carefully balanced. If the designers think the SEO is compromising the look, feel and operation of the site, then you're not going to get very far, no matter how good your intentions are.

If your designers are familiar with usability, and good designers will be, you're in luck. There are a lot of usability integration points that work for users, designers and SEOs. For example, breadcrumb navigation can be great for usability and SEO, as they allow for the propagation of keywords, and provide internal link structure. Be on the lookout for other areas that require little change and provide natural synergies.

Once you've built up trust, you may be able to get bigger concessions.

3. Writers & Content Producers

The writers provide the words. The content producers may provide video, pictures, and other media. You'll probably be dealing mostly with the writers.

Writers, especially if they have been writing professionally for a long time, can often be very set in their ways. Writers schooled in journalistic and copy writing techniques use methods that predate internet search engines, and often the internet itself.

Old habits die hard.

Once again, a way to get around this is to align their goals with yours. Show writers how much potential traffic there is out there and how keyword research can be used to suggest article topics and title ideas. Show them that by following a few SEO principles, they can get more readers reading their stuff.

Writers often have communications objectives i.e. to achieve wider reach and exposure, so there might be some obvious, natural synergies to be had.

Check out this tactic, used by Rudy De La Garza Jr at BankRate Inc to help convince writers to adopt SEO practices:

At Bankrate, Mr. De La Garza showed editorial employees that, for some articles, deciding on about 10 main keywords before writing could help increase their number of page views. Writers were already vying for bragging rights to the most popular articles. He told them: "You know what, guys? If we apply a few SEO tactics here, I can help you win the weekly battle," he says

4. The Developer

The developers are responsible for the technical aspects of the website. Developers need to be aware of the need for site response speed - they probably are already - and ensuring the site is crawlable. This job has been made somewhat easier, of late, given the introduction of Google Site Maps.

There might be various coding practices that can be changed in order to enhance SEO. For example, try replacing JavaScript behaviors, particularly for menus, with CSS techniques. Are there other coding aspects that could be enhanced? It might provide an opportunity for the developer to train in new technologies.

I've yet to meet a developer who didn't want to learn new ways of coding. It all adds to their CV.

Political Concerns

In any change process, there are a lot of political battles to fight. SEO is no exception.

This is where training and evangelism comes in. The more people who understand what you do, and how and why you're doing it, the easier your job will be. There is no one way of achieving this, other than to communicate as often as possible.

Using external metrics can help. Suggest that other companies are doing this, and what you're telling them is industry best practice. Create a sense of jeopardy that if they don't do it, they'll be left behind. Show people how having knowledge of SEO adds to their skill set, and thus increases their value to the employer.

Outside consultants can be very useful here. Short-term contractors usually aren't part of the political machinations of fighting for position and internal power plays, and can often be more successful at implementing change. Because their tenure is limited, they don't tend to be seen as a threat to career paths.

Ongoing SEO Best Practices

Once you've got people onside, you need to start building procedures into the work-flow itself. Amend and rewrite guidelines to make SEO part of the day to day process.

For example, when writing articles, writers should search for existing published articles, and include them in a related articles section. Have the designers build a "Related Articles" section into the template, so it becomes a natural part of the article creation process. Developers should use technologies that allow for crawling. Designers should use SEO friendly formats and templates, where possible.

In this video, Marshall Simmonds discusses, amongst other topics, how to create an in-house search team from scratch:

The best SEO is when people aren't aware they are doing SEO.

The SEO has simply become part of the furniture.

Have your Say

Have you worked as an in-house SEO? Or worked on SEO within a large organization? What challenges were you faced with? How did you overcome them?

We'd love to hear your stories in the comments.

Published: November 25, 2008 by A Reader in seo tips


November 25, 2008 - 5:33pm

Hi Peter,

I'm an in-house SEO and I have to deal with these battles daily, sometimes it can be hard keeping up the fight everyday. The ways I've got around are by showing I can undertake some duties such as design and small programming parts so SEO updates and design issues aren't so troublesome for me any more.

The managers have a keen eye for SEO hence why they brought me on board, however not every change do they envisions SEO with it so have to keep my ears open at all times.

yet another ben
November 25, 2008 - 11:05am

Another corker.

There's been some really awesome content going up here later Peter / Aaron...really value adding stuff! Just wanted to say thanks.

November 25, 2008 - 12:52pm

Perfect timing on this article! I just started a new job as an in-house SEO for a major international corporation. I've been practicing SEO on my own sites and a few small clients for the last 10 years and even though it's been only a few days I've been on the job I'm recognizing everything you said in the article.

One thing about our team, is that we stress sharing our knowledge amongst ourselves, they have already told me that teaching the team about SEO is going to be a big part of my job. I'm definitely going to implement some of what you have written here into our workflow.

November 25, 2008 - 2:39pm

I'm an in-house, and it is very frustrating and limiting at times (thank God for side work!). I have battles with my legal department, because what is best for the engines/users/SEO is not always aligned with the safest route for the lawyers. I also have regular issues with timing - many SEO tactics (like blogging) require immediate, almost constant activity in a variety of sites, but approval from stakeholders before anything goes to the web makes this impossible...that aspect is probably my biggest albatross right now. That all said, there are some good perks as well - like bigger budgets to play with, more people to work with, and simply that I get regular paychecks to do what I love without worrying about too much. I have been on my own and an in-house, and I like them both for different reasons...but it is comforting to think that if an in-house gig goes up in smoke, so what.

November 25, 2008 - 3:19pm

This article is the best ! Right in time ! (The video does not work for me though)

Jeff Preston
November 25, 2008 - 4:52pm

Peter, excellent post. As martypants said the legal department is another team to add to the list. I would also add the systems engineering crew who maintain the servers and keep the the site up. This is a different crew from the developers. You will need systems engineering help to do 301s. And as you said, they have different goals and see risk differently than the marketing team.

Anyway great post!

November 26, 2008 - 12:46pm

Thank's Aaron I think I asked for something like this in the Google question submission form. Spot on.

November 26, 2008 - 7:46pm

Great article, thanks. I wished I had this information before. I had a job as an in-house SEO until recently, I went through hell with this job getting everybody to do their job, it was impossible, though I had another experience to add to my CV. You guys are writing amazing stuff lately like the other articles related to SEO projects, etc. Keep up the good work.

It would be good to get an article about approaching the various coding practices that can be changed in order to enhance SEO.

(The video is not working)

November 27, 2008 - 11:47am

What a timely post, Peter.

Just recently I've lost a job, because:
- I didn't explain everything to my employer from the start
- I didn't get a buy in for the *strategy* from the start

Another thing what I should've done and what I'd add to the post about working successfully inhouse, is to inform your bosses and, possibly, others, about your results in a form of what's been done, where it can be found and the results. It should also be helpful to share intermediary results.

This way, they'll actually know what you are doing and how it helps the company.

Also, I'd be wary of starting working on new sites inhouse without a huge budget. Not showing results faster, than promised, may be lethal for your job. This is something Jim Boykin used to warn about (he used to not start on sites younger than 2 years).

November 28, 2008 - 6:03pm

This article is incredibly refreshing because it illustrates the biggest problems I've had since launching a career (accidentally) in internet marketing in the last year or two.

I started my career interning at a company whose entire business lived and died by SEO; this is where I learned about internet marketing. After that I started acquiring clients and moved on to new positions. Until my current job, all my other jobs/clients were completely unfamiliar with SEO and I was the only person there handling all aspects of internet marketing (for better and for worse), making them utterly horrible experiences.

I had all the accountability and responsibility. This is good for those of us who are naturals at what we do, or work hard to achieve a high level of skill. But when it comes to SEO, the "wins" are few and far between in the eyes of people who don't understand, and the "failures" happen nearly every day in their opinion (because almost nothing happens on day-to-day basis in SEO). This misunderstanding is magnified when the people who don't understand sign your paycheck.

I've had experiences ranging from the 'wannabe SEO employer' who was constantly fighting me and trying to spam out his website, to the ignorant, obnoxious pricks who were on the verge of firing me every day.

Some good news for those of you who are experiencing similar environments: I am now a Marketing Manager at an awesome company with a boss who understands just enough SEO to stay out of my way, and I'm having a blast and (almost) getting paid what I deserve :).

December 3, 2008 - 3:44am

Thanks chaps.

Inhouse SEO can be a tough road. It's hard to get the level of buy in required, and at a number of different levels.

When interviewing for such a job, I'd recommending grilling the interviewer as to how serious management are about the SEO strategy. Have they got one? If it looks like they can't provide solid back up at the top level, then it's going to be very hard for you to get it at any other level.

Good point about legal, too. Yet another minefield, as legal often want to sign off all copy.

December 3, 2008 - 5:33am

These observations are very true for agencies, which is what I am most familiar with.

With regards to the content writers- the hardest time I've had is with implementing SEO into a press release strategy. Given the time-sensitive nature - and typically already painful process - of writing/editing/approving press releases, many companies are unwilling to add another step. Even ensuring quick turnaround time and giving examples of well (and easily!) optimized releases makes some marketing teams wary.

I like the comment about the furniture. Totally agree.

December 4, 2008 - 4:13pm

Aaron, the video is not working, is it just me?

December 4, 2008 - 4:18pm

That video is just an image that links to the video.

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