IndustryLaying the Foundation for In-House SEO Success in Large Organizations: Part I

Laying the Foundation for In-House SEO Success in Large Organizations: Part I

Having an in-house SEO team can be beneficial, and is especially important for large organizations with large and complex sites. But you need to lay a strong foundation in order to be successful.

I have read numerous articles, like many of you out there, arguing against having an in-house search engine optimization (SEO) team. Truth is, I don’t necessarily agree with the arguments.

Especially when you are talking about a large(r) scale company that has thousands, millions, or tens of millions of pages – many of which are auto-generated or aggregated from other sources – and you not only have to influence executives, but also influence all of the other areas of the company such as content programming, product, publishing, engineering, design, biz dev, legal, yada, yada… That is a tough job whether you are on the inside or not.

Think it can’t be done in-house? I challenge you to think again.

In-House SEO – Large Cross-Functional Effort

Following my first article that provided the overview of how to handle search marketing in large organizations, I will next explore in more detail how to lay the foundation for in-house SEO success.

Laying the foundation for in-house SEO success includes building and organizing a large cross-functional team, optimizing assets/creating accountability, prioritizing efforts, defining tactics, tracking consistent metrics and increasing SEO consistency across the organization.

Whether you have 50 employees or 50,000 employees, getting many people from many different teams to march in the same line towards a common goal is not easy. But I assure you that it can be done.

For mid-sized to large companies, there are just too many people – and in some cases located all over the world – that are touching/changing/publishing/removing/designing pages every day to try to isolate the tasks that make up SEO to one group. Given the fact that most everyone in the company plays a role in SEO, you will need to help everyone understand what their role is in order to be successful.

Building a Solid SEO Program – Forces Unite!

Once you have executive support for the company-wide SEO effort, establish a core team. This is a small group ( maybe 10 people) that should include:

  • a couple SEO subject matter experts (SMEs): provide SEO knowledge base;
  • a systems architect: helps connect the dots;
  • a technical developer lead: helps translate business requirements to the engineers;
  • a couple of people from design/content programming/product groups: help you navigate the waters as to how to best work with these teams overall;
  • a program manager: keeps the overall project plan together; and
  • a couple project managers: to track the individual tasks and roll up into one über-plan.

The core team should be responsible for defining issues that affect all or most content channels/product pages across the company (like URL structure, site hierarchy, or page structure). This team then lays out the plan of action to fix these large-scale problems, including defining the tactics to fix the problems/optimize the assets, that is scalable across the company.

Creating Accountability and Setting Targets

The individual content programming teams/product teams will then need to define how they incorporate SEO strategy and tactics into their individual content channel/product roadmaps. This goes beyond the overall large-scale problems, (e.g. URL structure, site hierarchy…) that are defined by the core team, and now becomes specific to the particular content channel or product.

For this step, the core team should be responsible for developing company-wide SEO training (to help people across the company understand how he or she affects SEO in their current role whether they are in content programming, engineering, design, biz dev, etc.) and ensure the proper reporting/tracking are in place to help these teams be successful.

To hold these teams not only responsible, but accountable for SEO success, you need to set yearly targets. Most companies will want to track the increase in search referrals for that key metric. I know there may be a few companies out there that only care about conversions, but most – even those that have a conversion metric – are looking for the traffic. In an ideal world, an increase in search referral traffic equals an increase in conversions. If that’s not true in your case, you need to go back and look at the terms you are targeting as well as the quality of your content (more on that here).

Why search referrals then? Search (organic or paid) is responsible for getting people to the front door. Engagement (time on site, PVs, etc) is up to the quality of the content or product, which is beyond what search marketing can control. Ranking changes can also tie back to the increase in search referrals because if you don’t have high quality rankings or a lot of rankings, your referral traffic will not significantly increase. NOTE: this doesn’t mean you should not track other metrics beyond search referrals to better understand traffic quality, but more on that later…

These search referral targets should be tied to the executives on down throughout each team since we all play a role in SEO. The referral target numbers could even be tied into each team’s yearly performance review or yearly bonus (hitting company targets) to help further drive accountability.

I know that SEO can be daunting for many in the beginning and setting these targets for the company that (possibly) affect bonuses may not make you the “most popular kid on the block”. However, it makes it easier to get your job done if you can create tangible accountability to be tied to those teams that are going to ultimately control whether you succeed or not.

Tomorrow in Part 2, I’ll discuss some ways to help those various teams reach these targets; share some ways to track progress and create an “SEO Report Card;” and offer some tips for enhancing communication between the groups.

Melanie Mitchell is the vice president of SEO/SEM at AOL. Melanie has over eight years of experience in Web site promotion and over six years experience in search marketing for major sites across several industries including travel, local, entertainment, ecommerce, news and sports. She has managed SEO and PPC campaigns both in-house and from the agency side.

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