In-house SEO is a different beast than agency SEO.
With in-house SEO, you’re typically in charge of one website, rather than 50 websites at once.
Your focus shifts toward a long-term, holistic approach to website SEO rather than the mechanical approach that exists in most agencies.
You will also deal with fewer cross team shifts and implementations (think project managers vs. design managers vs. development vs. SEO). In addition, you’re (usually) given carte blanche when it comes to making strategic decisions within the company.
The most up-to-date agencies have updated processes that take into account the latest and greatest algorithm shifts from Google.
However, doing SEO in-house means you may need to hire more individual contributors for more aggressive strategies due to not having the mobility of large teams in place.
This is why a solid, multi-disciplined approach toward fulfilling key functional structures on an in-house SEO team is extremely important,
Your in-house SEO structure can make or break the success of the strategic implementations for your website.
Here are the seven most important points you should consider when developing a successful in-house SEO structure.
1. Budgeting & Assessing Fiscal Impact
Talking about budget is an extremely important consideration.
Without the right budget, you can’t build the right team.
And the right team requires the right amount of money (budget) to function correctly.
You wouldn’t build a house without first assessing all of its costs right?
Just like that house, any successful SEO plan has a solid foundation that it must be built from if it is going to bring in the results that you seek.
There is almost never a right or wrong way to assess budget, so long as it is a top consideration of your SEO plan.
But, the absolute wrong way to assess budget is throwing your money away unnecessarily and hoping the results will stick.
Just like that house, if you throw your money into a foundation that sucks, the SEO plan will suck as well. The only difference is that that house is not going to result in significant detriments to the company’s overall bottom line.
2. The Size of Your Company
The size of your company and the politics at play within an organizational hierarchy are serious considerations as well.
Company size can have a significant impact on the outcome of your SEO plan.
Say you have a large company where all of the different divisions are managed by individual managers. Each manager is in charge of their specific division’s portion of the website, which forms itself into a cohesive whole.
Implementing a large-scale SEO plan of attack is possible, but difficulties arise when SEO campaigns are not scaled properly and they do not result in the results that are expected of the campaign.
If you have a smaller company, you can likely get away with implementing an SEO strategic vision without the involvement of management and politics at play in an organizational hierarchy.
Smaller companies with smaller teams and larger budgets are more nimble than their behemoth counterparts, and they can keep up with SEO updates and changes as needed more effectively.
3. The Strengths & Weaknesses of Leaders Involved in Current Positions
You must also consider the strengths and weaknesses of leaders involved in current positions on the SEO team.
For example, the SEO Specialist may be a great IC (individual contributor) but not necessarily a great PW (people wrangler).
The Web Developer may be a great PW (people wrangler) but not a highly performing IC (individual contributor).
These strengths and weaknesses are important assessments to make if you are to make changes to your SEO team in certain areas.
You wouldn’t take someone who has barely any experience in SEO at all, and make them into an SEO manager would you?
The same could be said for taking a programmer who only has one year of experience, and making them into a software development manager.
Sure, they may have significant experience in writing code, but their experience with many of the skills required for success up the various rungs of the corporate ladder could be severely lacking.
If you’re a larger company, you don’t want to find this out after they have been put in charge of a larger project and the project fails.
4. How Each Team Member Contributes to the Overall SEO Plan
The SEO manager typically sets the entire vision for the team, its strategy, overall direction, and end results they want to achieve.
This role is more of a “people wrangler” role, in that most skills involved in SEO management revolve around hiring and leading people on the team to achieve positive end results and ROI.
The SEO Specialist is typically an individual contributor role.
They take ownership of SEO projects like:
- On-page optimization of content.
- Off-site optimization of links (where applicable).
- Some optimization of social media strategy (where applicable).
Depending on the size of the company, the SEO specialist could wear as many as seven different hats in the pursuit of achieving increased SEO performance.
The Link Builder is an individual contributor role, meaning that they are responsible for acquiring (building) all the links back to a particular website.
They create ideas that are usually executed by content writers for pieces of link-generating copy, usually known as “link bait.” These ideas can usually make or break the results of an SEO campaign.
The Content Writer is another individual contributor role. They typically follow the SEO manager’s rules and recommendations for writing content, in line with the SEO manager’s vision and strategy for achieving higher rankings.
Social Media Manager
The Social Media Manager is more of an individual contributor role, rather than a people wrangler role. They are a manager in charge of strategy, yes, but they typically set the style and tone of voice for social media posts.
They also set and execute social media strategy for the company, often taking charge of the overall online presence of that company’s brand.
5. Establishing Your Metrics Per Industry, Per Site
Every site has a particular set of metrics that make it what it is.
Content metrics, SEO metrics, and other channel-specific metrics can make or break your digital marketing strategy.
It is important to have a strong arm of analytics reporting on your team who can sufficiently explain why your site is performing the way it is.
If you don’t, you run the risk of misinterpreting the data, or worse – you fall prey to others who misinterpret your data. Don’t fall victim to those who may have different goals than yours.
Once you’ve established your metrics, it is a good idea to perform a thorough analysis and create a report based on these findings, which can then be delivered to management. This report can be the lifeblood of any SEO team, so it is important that it is accurate and sound.
This metric reporting can be a major boon for your SEO strategy.
Metrics and efforts will be different for every site.
You may have a new site that needs to be developed from the ground up.
You may have a site that needs five different blogs and micro sites that have to be developed.
You may have yet another site that has a 100-site blog network that all need to be re-developed from the ground up.
When developing your in-house SEO structure, it is important to consider these efforts as they relate to the overall context of your SEO plan.
If you want to make sure that your structure includes the opportunity to develop in-house SEO programs, it may be necessary to hire an in-house developer strictly for this purpose.
Or, you may need to hire two full-time developers: one who can take care of random development projects around the company and someone to take care of all other development projects related to the website.
Making sure to take a careful, deliberate approach to assess these metrics will help you figure out how to develop your in-house SEO structure for success.
6. Assess How Each Process Will Be Performed, by Whom, & What Tools Will be Needed
Building any successful in-house SEO team will require that certain processes be taken ownership of by certain team members.
All SEO processes will be taken ownership by SEO.
All web development processes will be taken ownership by web developers, and so on.
Getting the gears turning on processes is only part of the whole picture.
Reporting is also a consideration that must be thought of and implemented if the results of everyone else are going to be tallied and quantified.
If you’re a smaller company, certain people may not be needed, as most tasks can be outsourced.
The advantages of a smaller company with smaller teams are that they can be more nimble, and quick to change and adapt to the rapidly changing demands of SEO.
If you’re a larger company, ownership politics and managerial implications may enter the picture, and this can make processes and changes to processes more difficult and challenging to maneuver.
For SEO pros, tools and processes for keyword research, content optimization, optimization of off-site elements, and executing the overall strategy will need to be decided on and at play.
For example: if you’re more into the white hat side of things and into local SEO, White Spark, Bright Local, and other tools for obtaining reviews and claiming local profiles will need to be considered.
For link builders, tools and processes for internal linking, outbound linking, and any other type of linking will need to be established as well.
Tools that help you assess things – such as internal architecture like Screaming Frog, how your links look to Google like Majestic or Ahrefs, and Cemper’s Link Detox for link profile audits – are all essential parts of different processes that make results happen.
7. How to Compete Against Larger Firms When Your Firm is Small, & Budget is Limited
There are always ways to compete against larger firms when you have a smaller firm, as well as a limited budget.
For example, if you can’t compete on content, you can compete in content value. Make your content more valuable than your SERP competitors.
Think about how you can use automated processes to do the heavy lifting that hiring 2-3 people usually does.
While brute force building thousands of links is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, the processes behind organizing things like disavow lists are not.
For example, there’s no rule against using Excel macros to build disavow lists as thousands of new links are negatively SEO’d to your site.
One of the best ways to compete against larger firms when you are a small firm is by using something called scaling.
Scaling is the process of achieving stellar results without necessarily putting in 1:1 effort.
Say you want to add content to your site but you have to manage a 100,000-page website, adding 50 pages of content per day. There is no way that you can realistically do that on your own.
Through a process called scaling, you can set up a team of writers and editors via outsourcing through sites like Upwork or Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.
An SEO Manager’s Work is Never Done – and Neither Is Achieving Better Rankings
As an in-house hiring manager, your job is to be the people wrangler – to set up the in-house SEO structure in such a way that your strategy will benefit significantly from these efforts.
By looking deeper into on-going processes, scaling, performance KPIs, and thorough planning with your team, it is possible to create a winning strategy where your team does their best every day.
Don’t despair if your strategy isn’t immediately successful.
Remember, even with an award-winning team, SEO implementations can take six to eight months or more to bear fruit. And this is especially true in larger markets with more saturated competition.