Many organizations are making the transition from using an agency for search marketing to bringing it in-house and along with this transition comes many challenges. To find out how organizations cope with the transition, we posed the following question to some of the top in-house SEO analysts:
What is the biggest challenge in accomplishing a transformation to In-house SEO?
Our panel consisted of individuals who have been successful in leading their in-house teams at organizations such as Business.com, ResortQuest, Yahoo!, Time Inc., and Classmates.com. Here are their thoughts on the challenges with bringing SEO in-house:
John Ellis, ResortQuest: “Because of the lack of knowledge at the executive-level, a vast majority of an in-house team’s job consist of educating the company. There is often a struggle not only at the high level, but also at the IT level. However, lessons learned from these hurdles make a stronger well-rounded Search Engine expert. Thus, these growing pains make him/her more marketable when the time comes.”
Rudy DeDominicis, Time Inc.: “I think the biggest challenge is finding that perfect balance of SEO expert and affinity for your business. You need to truly know about the business you are performing SEO for to offer the best advice. You need to truly live in that world and become that business. Finding that individual to bring both business experience and proper enterprise SEO experience will be the toughest challenge.”
Chris Smith, NetConcepts: “The biggest challenge in attaining in-house management and development of SEO is in terms of politics. Not only must an organization have search channel managers, but those managers must also have support and prioritization of their projects at the executive level, along with the cooperation of the IT department to make it happen. As a best-practice, an organization should also build-in some sort of process management to insure that their in-house team will not become too incestuous or myopic. In-house projects should have some amount of auditing, either from outside agency experts, or from a peer review of practices and plans if a company has multiple internal experts. As a further indication of the political support for the search marketing program, there needs to be some amount of budget set aside for it. Not only could tools be purchased to assist with the program, but agency consulting could be available to be brought in for special projects, and the internal staff need! to be able to attend a couple of search marketing conferences every year in order to keep their education up-to-date.”
Jenn Mathews Somogyi, formerly with Classmates.com: “The first challenge as an in house person is brought in is lobbying the buy in from others within the corporation itself. Executives tend to believe in SEO and see what it has to offer, but don’t always understand it. Those in Management and lower level positions tend to be more skeptical and therefore can be a bit more difficult in gaining the support needed to get initiatives moving. The key role of an in house SEO is to get the support needed from others within the company which will help in getting work completed for SEO (whether it be a change in URL structure, change in content to include key terms, etc).”
Aidan Beanland, Yahoo: “I would suggest communication is one of the biggest challenges. Effecting change in a large company requires diplomacy, clear processes, patience and strong communication skills. The in-house SEO manager must be able to clearly illustrate success that’s closely aligned to the true business goals – it’s all very well ranking highly for a specific keyword phrase, is it meeting the right targets? You need to show how your efforts and advice have made a difference. Use whatever reporting tools you have available to track performance over time, and if possible, translate this into financial terms.”
Jessica Bowman, Business.com:”The biggest challenge with bringing SEO in-house varies by company. The other in-house experts in this series have mentioned the biggest challenges, but to give a different perspective, I’ll talk about challenge that I see many in-house teams face – obtaining and maintaining advanced SEO knowledge. Many in-house teams are formed from existing employees that dabble in SEO and/or get training from a consultant. If the in-house SEO is lucky, they will attend one or two conferences a year. This will get you through the basics, but not the advanced challenges related to search engine optimization. To get around this, I encourage in-house SEOs to have outside council. Corporate attorneys have an outside council to assist with questions, accountants have auditors and SEOs need an SEO consultant that they can reach to with questions, concerns, unique situations and the “what happened” emergencies that pop up every now and again.”
The bottom line
The insight that we received from these experts tells us that one of the most glaring challenges with transitioning to in-house SEO is education. Education consists of communicating the benefits of SEO to the rest of the organization (esp. upper level management) as well as showing the potential ROI by using SEO. Secondly, education consists of properly training team members who will form the in-house SEO team and as Jessica Bowman pointed out, it’s wise for them to tap into outside council. Hopefully the thoughts and suggestions of our experts will make your company’s transition go a little smoother or at least get you thinking of the challenges that lay ahead.
For the full transcripts of my interviews with these SEO experts, please see this post on my blog.