I’ve had the good fortune of working both client side and in agencies over the past 10+ years.
I was the in-house SEO expert for Dubai based Gulf News and Property Finder and they were both incredibly rewarding experiences, exposing me to new industries and challenges.
Before that I was the Director of Search at Sekari (also in Dubai) and a founding staff member of Dejan SEO in Brisbane.
I managed over 100 accounts for small to medium sized clients across every industry. Tree removalists, cake decorating instructors, trophy shops, car yards, scrapbooking supplies. The experience has been vast, varied and interesting.
But the perspective I’ve gained from being in-house SEO has been perhaps the most intriguing and most valuable.
I was on a different side of the project for a change and I learnt how to be more empathetic when working with others on the same team.
When you’re agency side, it’s always an ‘us vs them’ sort of mentality (from both sides!) and you’re always in a fight for survival and it’s not always seen as the partnership it should be.
I’ve learned that people generally have no clue about SEO and therefore place little value on it. And because a lot of our work as SEO folks is often behind the scenes or under the hood, it really does go unnoticed.
This goes for both sides.
I’ve battled for software budgets and buy-in on major design changes just to satisfy SEO compliance.
I’ve worked long hours to put together reports that make sense to literally everyone in the company.
I’ve even had to justify investing in SEO despite attributable results!
All because our work is hidden.
Of course we need to change how we work so that people don’t take SEO for granted and although that sounds self serving, the point still stands.
So, of you’re a new in-house SEO or aspiring to go in-house and embrace client side SEO life, here’s some advice from someone who’s been there and done that:
- Document everything.
- Assume everyone is clueless about SEO.
- Be vocal, but polite.
As SEO folks know, we’re always tinkering with something somewhere on the site.
Whether it’s a small meta data tweak or throwing in some extra internal links or even fixing up some keyword issues.
These things need to be noted down.
And because there will always be people who don’t understand our work, it’s important to document what we do at every point so that when we’re being asked what we do all day, we have documented proof.
It’s not paranoia. It’s legitimate advice because we’re doing so many things at once, it can be hard to keep track of everything we’re doing.
Note down performance (good or bad) even if just for your own reference. You probably already do this with annotations in GA but you can keep your own records separately.
This is essentially a very big reminder to KYAC, at all times!
Assume everyone is clueless about SEO.
Unless you’re working under someone who is a dedicated SEO specialist, assume no one else has any idea about anything related to SEO.
Start by dumbing down what SEO is, what it aims to achieve and how it gets done.
Don’t go in there ranting about algorithm updates and rankings and linkbuilding.
Eyes will glaze over and you’ll bore people to death.
Keep it very simple and tailor your message to the people you’re speaking with at every point.
People will appreciate the brevity and for giving them a message that’s easy to understand.
This doesn’t mean they’re stupid and they won’t (or shouldn’t) feel patronised. It’s all about ensuring everyone understands exactly what’s going on.
For example, I would insist on adding more content to a results page on a classifieds portal, despite being told no, mostly because it ‘goes against design principles’.
I then had to find examples of existing sites that successfully employed this tactic, along with advice from Google as well as my own rationale explaining the concept of “if you don’t have these keywords on a page, it’s very hard for this page to be found in Google because Google won’t consider it relevant for what people are looking for”.
Again, I’m not being condescending! I’m merely showcasing the lengths you have to go in order to get SEO recommendations done.
FWIW, the obstacle about design was perfectly valid. So this made me work with the UI team on a way to incorporate what I wanted in a way that was harmonious with the design of the site. The end results speak for themselves, really.
A lot of SEO folks tend to be reclusive because we’re almost always working alone.
But being quiet isn’t how things get done and it’s certainly no way to educate others on SEO.
When you’re vocal, people will hear and listen. You’ll be associated with SEO far more quickly.
You have to speak up the moment there’s anything related to SEO.
A lot of the time people will simply make decisions without thinking about SEO because YOU haven’t made them think about SEO.
We know SEO touches every part of a website, even the humble About Us/Contact Us pages. So get in early and get your voice heard. Make sure everyone is aware of the importance of considering SEO at all times.
To this end, I would highly recommend that you review current SEO practices and start working on an SEO handbook for your company.
I did this at Property Finder, Gulf News and Etihad Airways.
It’s worth its weight in gold many times over because it removes all doubt about how SEO works in the context of the organisation and its online presence.
This SEO guide is helpful for everyone – new hires can quickly come up to speed and existing team members can get a quick refresher.
I know at Property Finder, a lot of tasks kept bouncing around between devs (temporary issue) and there was a lot of confusion about SEO implementations which caused plenty of problems.
But when the SEO handbook was made and circulated, it saved everyone time and stopped the confusion dead in its tracks.
I’ll publish more information about the SEO handbook in a future post but think of it as a guide for everyone in your company, from IT to marketing to sales. You’ll have some technical bits for the devs and plenty of creative stuff for the marketing and sales teams.
The end result is a single source of truth when it comes to SEO for your organisation.
Now that’s one way to be remembered!
Tell me about your in-house SEO aspirations or experiences. I want to hear war stories from the trenches!
BONUS: I found this article on AuthorityLabs.com about ‘How to educate your boss about SEO‘ by Ashley Ward. It’s an excellent read which is in a similar vein but far more eloquently structured. Check it out.