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