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Creating SEO Success with In-House Marketers and Agencies

by Susan Esparza, April 19, 2011

According the recently released SEMPO State of Search Marketing report, search marketing is a rare growing sector in an otherwise depressed economy. Search marketing grew 14 percent in 2010 and is expected to grow another 16 percent in 2011. Investment in search marketing is strong because the ROI is strong and measureable and because businesses are growing more comfortable with online marketing on every level.

As an SEO agency for more than a decade, Bruce Clay, Inc. has had clients of every size from every industry. In that time, we've noticed a significant change in the needs of most clients. When we began as a one man consulting operation in 1996, most clients had no idea what it meant to change your site so you could rank in search engines. Over time, SEO became an accepted term but companies still needed outside help to achieve their ranking goals. Next week in SMX Toronto, Bruce Clay will present on Enterprise level SEO and discuss how the rising sophistication level of many businesses is putting the actual SEO work more and more on in-house teams with agencies available for expert-level consulting.

A strong in-house team is often the agency or consultant's most valuable resource. When you're ready to make that investment, how do you go about it? What steps should a business take to build an SEO team that will be effective in reaching company goals beyond search engine optimization and how does an in-house team best take advantage of an agency partner?

In-House Hiring

The first thing to establish is if your business can support an in-house SEO team at all. In order to have an in-house SEO, you need to determine if you have the budget, space and work for a full time employee.

Budget means more than the usual salary and insurance. To have an in-house staff, you must be ready to commit to education, research time, and resources. However, you don't need to have your focus only on SEO. An in-house employee can wear as many hats as she has time in the day. Don't need 40 hours of work this week on SEO? That's okay, she can also write up some PPC ads, run your analytics program, write press releases, help out with customer support, and develop your social media campaign. Be warned though, that asking an employee to wear that many hats is going to require a very special individual with a lot of flexibility. In most cases that means you will need to build in plenty of time for education.

It's a rare hire that comes in with 100 percent knowledge of every nook and cranny of SEO. Your best case is picking up an SEO consultant who wants to go in-house; most of the time, hiring an SEO means hiring someone with knowledge of the Internet that you can train to be an SEO. Before you hire, make sure you budget the money for SEO training courses.

There is no degree for Internet marketing so if you can't hire someone with experience, consider looking at people with business, marketing, journalism, public relations, communication or technology degrees. If that seems like it's all over the map, that's because SEO is a field that requires a wide-range of abilities. The key quality that an SEO should have is the ability to problem-solve. Without that, your SEO strategy is likely to derail the first time it hits a bump.

Agency Role

Once you've built an in-house team, having an agency consulting becomes more a question of how you can get the most out of their expertise to support internal goals. What is an agency's role when implementation is an in-house job?

Emerging SEO strategies - Keeping up with Internet marketing is a full-time job. Search marketing changes every week and that means constantly doing research and testing to keep up. Agencies and consultants absorb this cost as a matter of staying in business and are able to support the cost of staying on the cutting edge of the industry.

Cutting Edge Tools - It is to an agency's benefit to always be using the most effective tools for the job. Leverage that knowledge by inquiring which tools they use and integrating them into your process as well.

Comprehensive SEO Knowledge - In addition to new information and tools, an agency represents years and sometimes decades of cumulative knowledge of the SEO industry. Techniques that are hailed as new and innovative may simply be a retread of previous tactics and having a long history in the industry creates the ability to make reliable projections about the future.

Feedback and Perspective - The downside of working in-house is that there is a temptation toward tunnel vision. In-house SEOs focus, and rightly so, on one site, one industry, one goal. Use your consultant to maintain a wider view.

The Bottom Line

Having a great hire and an awesome consulting team aren't the only thing needed to make in-house SEO succeed. You need commitment, education, buy-in and reasonable expectations.

Giving up Control and Trusting the Expert

Getting commitment company-wise and especially buy-in from the C-level is critical to success with in-house SEO. Consultants often have an easier time getting things done because their outsider status lends them expert level credibility. In order to make in-house just as effective, they need to have the same trust and respect level that you would give an agency.

Education is key to this process. As training in search marketing is absorbed by every level of the company, especially when explained in a way that is directly relevant to their goals, the job of the SEO becomes easier and more effective. Without support from the top, SEO is doomed to fail.

Being Receptive to the Process

Search engine optimization touches nearly every part of an organization from marketing to IT to branding and beyond. In order to succeed, all those various parts need to be willing to work with the SEO team to implement and enhance the current website. SEOs need to know about new marketing initiatives, branding goals, even site technology upgrades. While something may make perfect sense to the marketing manager, it may not be the best SEO solution. This doesn't mean it must be scrapped, merely that discussion needs to happen before it is implemented so that as many goals as possible can be met.

Reasonable Expectations

One of the more difficult lessons for executives to learn about SEO is patience regarding timelines and results. The good news is that building an in-house team is probably an indication that someone somewhere already believes in the power of SEO and is willing to make the investment.

For permission to reprint or reuse any materials, please contact us. To learn more about our authors, please visit the Bruce Clay Authors page. Copyright © 2011 Bruce Clay, Inc.