An Inside View of the Agency

So my last article was a bit of a breeze, being able to introduce this column, but I have a feeling readers will now want some more “meat.” I hope to be able to fulfill this desire by taking a close look at my place of work in Philadelphia. In order to best acquaint everyone with what amazing talent and hard work outsouring SEM to an agency can get you these days, it’s probably best to start small and work my way up into the overall dynamics of our global agency. So this week I am going to talk about the “Philly Office,” especially the team that I belong to: SEO and Feeds Management.

Why the SEO and Feeds Management Team?

So SEO and Feeds Management…what do they have in common? Beyond the obvious use of keywords as the main currency, the biggest thing these two search marketing niches share is the ability to benefit from enhanced technology.

Some would argue that over-dependency on technology is a bad thing for SEO, feeling that manual research and analysis is paramount to success. I would have to agree that to some extent, nothing beats the human brain. But the brain, when aided by tools that collect and organize relevant data, becomes even more powerful. Thus, certain leaders in the field have made their name by helping the rest of the community with tools. Aaron Wall has a great set of free tools at SEOBook, Jim Boykin’s WeBuildPages tools, also free, are outstanding when they work; and even lesser known lower priced paid toolsets like Instant Position’s offer tremendous value to small and medium sized business that perform their own SEO.

But big SEO projects call for a big SEO tool, however, and our SEO team has such a tool, which is developed in an Agile environment, called SEOsource. I have used lots of tools out there in the course of my SEO career, and SEOsource tool suite really handles it all, from keyword research to link analysis, as well as acting as a reporting and recommendation output source. Of course, since we are limited by API, we still need to outsource rank-checking in some cases. Additionally, each team member still has their quiver of favorites.

The product development team is very proud of SEOsource. So proud that, I was offered a princely sum of two Dim Sum lunches if I could get a picture of someone from Google wearing the shirt. Voila!…Har Gow and Shu Mai coming up! (Thanks Vanessa!)

Most would agree that any desire to effectively manage feeds to shopping engines, other aggregators such as GoogleBase, along with numerous Search Submit Professional accounts in Yahoo! (yes–the infamous “paid inclusion”) would have to be predicated upon the available technology. Again, the product development team comes in very handy here, with a second tool known as SEOdirect. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of famous people wearing an SEOdirect t-shirt, in fact — I do not even know if they have a cool logo like source.

So, the reason the SEO and Feeds management teams are grouped together is because we are both supported by the product development team. This team also works on other custom technologies such as the SiLK Crawler they designed to solve another client problem.

SEO Teams at Our Agency

So the people that benefit most from SEOsource are the account teams, and subsequently the clients. Each team is made up of at least four members consisting of the following roles. Note that the term “SEM” is used within the titles, but in these cases, the specialists are specifically dedicated to SEO, not Paid Search. We’ll talk about the Paid Search teams another day.

  • Senior SEM Account Manager – Directly responsible for the SEO account. These men and women are very knowledgeable when it comes to SEO techniques. More importantly, they know how to work with large companies, which can be as difficult of task as getting noticed by search engines is for smaller businesses and sites, as Rand Fishkin said when speaking of Brand Level Experience. Some account teams have both a “senior” and a “regular” account manager.
  • Assistant SEM Account Manager (AAM)– Each account team has at least one Assistant Account manager, and they generally manage at least one of the accounts under the team’s roster. These teams and the AAM’s are often specialized in certain verticals, but due to sometimes competitive issues, each team is able to work in any vertical area. The AAM’s do a lot of the reporting work and generally prepare and present deliverables in person.
  • (Senior) SEM Engineer – Each team also has an Engineer, sometimes “Senior” and sometimes not, but usually the most skilled members of the team when it comes to SEO recommendations. They are highly trained in on-site issues especially in dealing with large, complex, and often dynamic sites. They can reconfigure content management systems to be SEO-friendly and scalable. They can recommend detailed URL rewrite structures. The list goes on. These are the team members that the Account Managers most often stake their reputation on, when it comes to communicating suggestions and reasoning to clients.
  • (Senior) Analyst SEM – Analysts work directly with the Engineers to provide a lot of the research support, as well as to create recommendation documents for clients. These team members are also very skilled, and often specialize in advanced keyword research techniques, Title and META recommendations, and link analysis and promotion.
  • Associate Analyst SEM – Some would classify the AA’s as the “grunts.” Having been in the Marines, I can say this would be a compliment to many of the Devil Dogs that I knew in Infantry. These are very talented junior ranking specialists that focus on supporting the analysts and the Engineers. They most often perform keyword research and other baseline and ongoing reporting duties.

The Feeds Management Teams

I will not go into much detail about our feeds management teams, primarily due to the fact that I am not aware of any other such teams in any major or even mid-sized agency or SEM in the states. This is not to brag, but only to say that AA|RF is very progressive when it comes to staffing around the specific niche that is feeds management. Also, some of the information would be repetitive from above. The teams are made up of Account managers as well, supported by junior level account team members, and most importantly, the SEOdirect technology and product development teams.

The Softball Team

The softball team, which lost kind of badly this evening, is made up of members of the SEO/Feeds teams as well as Paid Search, User Experience, Copywriting, Site Creative and Design, and all the rest of the Agency teams “on the other side” of the office. This team is a great way to have all of the key players within our office interact with others.

Field of Dreams

In future issues, I will explore how each of the teams work together towards a common goal, which is another thing that I feel AA|RF is very fortunate to have, in terms of mindset. I will also begin to explain how our Philadelphia team actually works with each of our Global offices. I won’t speak only to our inner workings, as promised in the first issue. In fact, next week I will probably shift briefly towards the client, and talk about one of the biggest challenges we face as a large agency: getting clients to implement SEO recommendations.

In the meantime, hop on over to the Search Engine Watch Forums and discuss thoughts, ideas, or question spurred by today’s column at the thread titled Just One Agency Point of View. I want to thank my fellow SEW Forum Moderator “Discovery” for suggesting a detailed breakdown of our teams, without giving “too much away”.

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