Timeless Tips for Making In-House SEO Work

Estimated reading time:
5 minutes

In-house SEMs

Top takeaways:
• In-house SEO implementation and success takes a company, not just a person or even a team.
• SEMs need to become multitalented to ensure in-house project success. This includes not only having serious business skills, but also cross-departmental skills and people skills.
• As much as SEO evangelists need to educate the decision-makers, the people up top need to take responsibility for their part, too. This includes active continuing education and company-wide support for the initiative.

Today, I was chatting with an analyst here at BCI about what makes a successful in-house/agency partnership, and the delicate balance between both parties to ensure that SEO implementation is a success. Some critical elements are:

  • The right people across the client organization actively participating in the SEM project. This requires the agency team helping the client identify who needs to be a part of the process even when the client doesn’t see if for themselves.
  • An educator on the client side, who is an evangelist for the process. One who knows how to teach, sell, and present the right information to get buy in from the top down.
  • Educators on the agency side who find every opportunity throughout the project to teach everything from big-picture strategy all the way down to the most minute tactics.

Oh, that’s all?

To the untrained eye, it all looks so simple. But, many search marketing teams are dealing with large, complicated organizations with even more complicated business goals and perhaps multiples teams on both the client and agency side. It quickly becomes apparent that it is a long, arduous path that leads to SEO success across an organization.

We’ve written a lot over the years on how to make in-house SEO work. We’ve also been fortunate enough to interview and cover conference sessions of some of the industry’s most insightful speakers on the topic.

And because implementing SEM in an organization is such a timeless topic, some tactics just never go out of style. In the spirit of making in-house SEO work, I’ve rounded up some of the best info we have on our blog for your reading pleasure.

In-House SEO Operations: How to Get Things Done

In this liveblog session from SMX West 2011,  Robin Aguilar (formerly of AOL at the time of the presentation), Jeremiah Andrick of Logitech, Jessica Bowman of SEOinHouse.com and Jason Nazar of Docstoc.com talk about ways they’ve implemented in-house SEO success. Here’s some takeaways from that post.

Robin Aguilar says:

  • Your idea + data = success. What does your site need? And what are your competitors doing? Do a gap analysis.
  • Set up teams for success: Provide them with tools, walk them through the process. Choose vendors as needed and have constant communication with them.
  • Keep the SEO desire burning year-round throughout the organization – go to training, hold meetings, attend conferences, etc.

Jeremiah Andrick says:

  • Map out your political terrain. Audit the team, get others on your side. Identify stakeholders and personalities.
  • Sell your vision to anyone who will listen. If you work remotely, spend time with the people you need on your side when it makes sense.
  • Read the book “Making Things Happen.”

Jessica Bowman says:

  • Establish processes, create structure and provide documentation — make it a routine.
  • Make it easy for everyone to participate. Find out how things flow in the organization and integrate SEO with existing processes.

Jason Nazar says:

  • The SEO team is a culture, not a job description. It’s not an SEO person or an SEO team. It’s every single person in the process who is responsible for its success.

Large Scale E-Commerce SEO with Jonathon Colman of REI

In this super insightful interview with Jonathon Colman of REI, he gives readers some practical tips on tackling huge search marketing objectives across an equally huge organization. Some of his takeaways include:

  • As an in-house search marketer looking for buy-in, learn how to become a story teller versus just focusing on best practices and rankings. Describe how search marketing actually affects the business as a whole.
  • To be able to communicate needs to the company’s leadership, required skills for the in-house search marketer include fluency in data analysis, business case development, communication, planning and forecasting.
  • If you want change or need something implemented, be able to communicate the very technical concepts in a way that shows their value to varying audiences within the organization who can help you.
  • Never stop developing skills, and include the skill sets of other departments so that your SEO work and your relationships with your colleagues are improved.

Bringing SEO In House

In this SES San Francisco session last year, Simon Heseltine of AOL, Allison Fabella of Atlanta Journal Constitution and Jessica Bowman of SEOinHouse.com share their successes with bringing SEO into an organization. Let’s look at the highlights.

Simon Heseltine says:

  • The SEO team doesn’t have to be definitively placed into a subset of any one department. You can embed teams into product areas and have an internal agency wherever needed. Structure it in a way that’s best for the organization, but make sure it spans silos.
  • Identify those existing employees with skills that can be beneficial to the team (say, copywriting) and train them in search marketing (to SEO copywriting, for example).

Allison Fabella says:

  1. Be the guru: If you’re the evangelist for the company, become the go-to person on the topic, encourage questions and happily answer them at any time (make “SEO office hours” for curious employees).
  2. Train: Everyone throughout the organization must get a primer on how SEM works customized to their role and it must be mandatory or no one will come.
  3. Document the work flow: It becomes real when it’s in writing.
  4. Find your champions within the organization: Reward your advocates and keep your allies close.
  5. Outsource: Use an agency to offload work when needed.

Jessica Bowman says:

  • There are a lot of agendas organization-wide, and SEO has a place within each and every one. Learn agendas to win people over.
  • Know the in-house SEO life cycle. Leverage the honeymoon phase to implement what you need to succeed long term.
  • SEOs need to be ruthless in time management because if they hold a project up for any reason, it will go on without them.

Why SEO Confuses and Threatens Some Execs

The decision-makers of an organization have just as much responsibility in trying to understand how search marketing achieves business goals as the marketers who are vying for their buy in. So, what are some of the things executives of a company can do to make the in-house SEM process productive? In this post by yours truly, I offer up some advice for the people at the top.

  • Trust the expert. Internet marketing supports business goals, it doesn’t work against them. Know when it’s time to trust the skills of your team and your partnership agency to help you reach your goals. Be open to new marketing ideas that are different from what’s worked in the past.
  • Take the time to understand how search marketing works. This actually puts the power back in the hands of the executive. Education allows you to make informed decisions and be an active part of the strategy development. Knowing why you are saying “yes” or “no” is key.
  • Provide organization-wide support. As the person at the top, it’s your responsibility to ensure SEO is supported top-down throughout the organization. This means allotting for resources and support wherever needed once you’re committed to the initiative.

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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7 Replies to “Timeless Tips for Making In-House SEO Work”

I agree with this:

“The SEO team is a culture, not a job description. It’s not an SEO person or an SEO team. It’s every single person in the process who is responsible for its success.”

which a lot of people still don’t understand.

Hey Ahmed! Thanks for the comment and totally agree. You have an awesome opportunity right now, you must be very excited. Establishing first-time in-house SEO programs can be very rewarding. I was part of an initiative like that once and loved it.

Take care,


Great article! I moved into an in-house role a little over a month ago for a company who had no previous SEO and previously working in an agency environment, this was quite a change. The advice by Jessica Bowman – “Establish processes, create structure” – is truly priceless. If you’re the first member of an in-house SEO team, my advice is you spend as much time as needed to lay down a strong foundation, structure and strategy – this will save you lots of trouble in the long run and ensure a smooth, successful campaign.

An in house SEO can’t operate in a silo or only within the marketing department. Good SEO incorporates all aspects of the business into the campaign. Input from different departments helps different target audience members find what they are looking for within the company.

Totally agree, Nick. Thanks for your comment.

Thanks for your comment, Maciej, and I totally agree. Which makes bringing SEO into a large organization a culture shift that can take many years to develop.

I like Jason’s answer best. SEO is a mindset not a checklist. A business is either SEO friendly or they are not. Often times for a larger organization to get SEO right many people have to be on the same page and recognize a common goal.


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