SES San Francisco 2011: Bringing SEO In-House

In this session, we’re going to be learning about the pros and cons of bringing SEO in house. The welcome speaker, Crispin Sheridan, just said he had one of the better sandwiches for lunch that SES has offered, and he was glad it wasn’t the recycled hot dogs [ouch – hee].

SES SFSimon Heseltine is from AOL and he is up first. [Two people in a row with accents; that makes me happy.] He has both agency and in-house experience, but he says you don’t have the skin in the game with agencies as you do with in-house. [Insightful perspective.]

Building an SEO team (what you need):

  • Marketing
  • Technology
  • Analytics
  • Reporting
  • Consensus building (SEO is everywhere in the organization)
  • Leadership (prove why SEO is important in the organization)

Now what? Where does the team belong?

  • Marketing?
  • Tech?
  • Design?
  • C level?
  • Elsewhere?
  • There’s nothing that says definitively where it should be.

Reporting structure:

  • Embedded – Placing teams within product areas
  • External/internal team – Internal agency wherever needed
  • Matrixed – Similar to embedded but SEOs are part of a larger SEO team

What’s the role?

  • Dedicated practitioners
  • Mixed role (SEO + PPC; SEO + Social, etc.): He said they would identify people within the organization that had a skill, say copywriting, but had a knack for SEO, they would be trained to be a part of the SEO team.

What’s the role of the team?

  • Training: Make sure the organization understands it at all stages.
  • Vendor managers: Back fill resource and knowledge gaps.
  • Trouble-shooting SEO team: Within the organization.

Remote or on-location?

Working with remote teams is easier than ever. There is a case for face time, but you can still work remotely.

Working with management:

There’s two type: Those who don’t get SEO and those who do. Don’t get SEO: Haven’t seen results or don’t understand it (he says just a year ago, someone still said “I know SEO, that’s white text on a white background”). Some people think it’s easy to do – “Oh yeah, just go SEO that now.”

He just showed Bruce Clay’s Search Engine Relationship Chart from eight years ago – and it looks so different than it does today.


  • Management buy-in is key
  • Structure team to make it work best for the organization. But, he says make it so it goes across the silos.
  • Change is inevitable

Next up is Allison Fabella of Atlanta Journal Constitution. She is going to talk about six tips on managing in-house SEO without a staff. She says according to SEMPO, 40 percent of in-house SEOs operate without a staff.

1. Be the guru: Be the go-to person. She emails out articles in house. Maybe put something in the company newsletter. SEO office hours – announce publicly via email for people to come in and ask questions. Brag about your colleagues when it’s a win for your organization.

2. Train: Make everyone get an SEO primer throughout the organization. Be happy to answer all questions any time. Do tailored training as well for the different types of roles throughout. Training must be mandatory. If it’s voluntary, no one will go. They give credits in her organization for training. No brown bags because it feels squeezed in.

3. Workflow: Absolutely critical to have documentation of the work cycle. It saves time and money; it becomes more real because it’s in writing. Work with product managers and developers.

4. Find your champions: Look for the people who are into the topic; they send articles; they ask questions. They are your advocates. They can be your allies and eyes and ears. Reward them; you can make them co-trainers; give them kudos and CC their boss.

5. Tools: Customizable, monitor features, tied into analytics and reporting, make your job easier not harder.

6. Outsourcing: Hybrid method – go to an agency and have a relationship that offloads workload at times. One-person shops are good for this because of contract obligations.

Bottom line: Everyone in your office is your SEO deputy. They may not report to you, but they can still “work” for you.

Next up is Jessica Bowman from

Who does SEO have to work with?

  • Product manager
  • Project manager
  • Business analyst
  • Lead developer
  • The copywriter
  • Designer
  • Your boss
  • The developers behind the curtain
  • Data analyst

These are a lot of people and a lot of agendas to manage. She is telling the story of Lewis Pugh ( – he told Jessica she needed to have a radical, tactical shift with a problem she was having. This is the same lesson in-house SEOs need to do. Take SEO to the next level in your organization.


  • Learn agendas to win people over (read her downloadable report on this called “SEO Politics”)
  • In-house SEO life cycle (she also has a report on this. Think about it as a marriage (marriage has its ups and downs). When the honeymoon phase is over, people’s perceptions change on SEO within the organization. This reality stage can last two to four years or longer. You need to get to “synergy” phase.

To do this, leverage the honeymoon phase:

What are the standards and guidelines and how do you fit SEO into it? Make SEO part of everyone else’s every day business activities.

Integrate SEO into the development life cycle. Develop it into the beginning of a project, not in the middle. This is a radical shift for many.

Make SEO part of everyone’s job. This is a complete culture shift. You are changing some of the corporate DNA. One person can’t do it alone.

Once SEO is integrated into the organization, this is just Hurdle 1. Then, SEOs create their own havoc. They aren’t contributing efficiently to the project deliverables. They aren’t documenting requirements and documentation.

Once the process is sorted out, the biggest complaint is that the SEO team is not getting things done on time. SEOs need to become ruthless in time management. It can’t hold the project team up or they will go on without you.

Walk the halls. SEOs sit at their desk a lot. See what’s going on in the development room or elsewhere. Find out what they need and how you can help that.

Get metrics-driven, go into analytics. Compare KPIs and critical drivers for SEO with others in the organization. Make it an apples to apples case.

You don’t want it to be chaotic, you want it to be a team effort.

Jessica Lee is the founder and chief creative for bizbuzzcontent Inc., a marketing boutique that focuses on digital content strategy and professional writing services for businesses.

See Jessica's author page for links to connect on social media.

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