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6 Things I Learned About Building An In-House SEO Team

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6 Things I Learned About Building An In-House SEO Team

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The first six years of my SEO career were spent in the same in-house SEO team. During that time, the team underwent many changes, evolving and adapting in an endless pursuit of the most effective way of operating.

At first, we were a small, junior team working largely in a silo.

But by 2020, we were a team of seven, including senior and specialist roles. We were fully integrated into the digital department via processes and ways of working.

From my first days in SEO through to my time as part of the leadership team, I was part of all of the ups and downs and learned a lot about what is needed to prove the value of investing in SEO – and making that investment pay off.

Here are the most important lessons I learned.

1. Nothing Happens Without Buy-In

If you take one thing from this article, make sure it’s this: It doesn’t matter how good you are, or how desperately you need more hands on deck.

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You will not get the opportunity to grow your team or increase your budget without buy-in from the people who can give you those things.

For this, you need credibility.

This comes over time, from good subject knowledge, insights, judgment, and the ability to demonstrate these qualities consistently.

But there are things you can do to put yourself in a strong position to accelerate building this reputation.

2. Structure Is Your Friend

First of all, you need structure in three key areas:

  • Reliable data and a consistent approach to reporting.
  • A comprehensive, prioritized strategy based on full site audits, outlining what you’ll be working on, and, vitally, what you can’t tackle yet (due to dependencies, budget, or resource).
  • A regular cadence of communicating your progress.

A bonus of creating this structure around your SEO program is that it has the potential to protect you from unexpected changes in your organization.

For example, if there are changes in the leadership of your department with new managers looking to assert their own approach, a solid footing and a clear plan often mean a stronger rationale is needed for any upheaval.

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And it could even create an opportunity for your team to grow in influence and accelerate its evolution.

3. You’ve Got To ‘Move The Needle’

The next thing you need is a track record.

This can feel unattainable if you’re overwhelmed and understaffed.

Attempting to make progress in all areas, spreading yourself too thin, and ultimately failing to make a real impact anywhere will not prove you need more resources to anyone but yourself.

Instead, communicate to your managers about the projects you will be prioritizing, and explicitly call out the areas you won’t be working on due to capacity limitations.

With a more focused scope, you can then demonstrate the impact you can make with an appropriate workload and allow them to infer the return they could get from investing in the SEO team.

This step allows more projects to be worked on simultaneously.

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4. Build A Compelling Business Case

You must also be able to capitalize on this foundation, asking for what you need and persuading people to give it to you.

SEO is, by nature, expansive and ever-growing. It can be difficult to know whether you’re genuinely under-resourced, or just overwhelmed by the endless possibilities and threads to pull at.

By estimating the potential return on investment of the projects that added capacity would unlock, you’ll be able to confirm that you genuinely need more people and make a strong case for expanding your team.

Of course, as with many aspects of SEO, ROI can be complicated and difficult to calculate. Results can’t be guaranteed in the same way as they can for other digital marketing channels.

In addition, many of the initiatives we need to work on aren’t necessarily about incremental growth, but rather following best practices and protecting performance long-term.

Two main tactics helped us to put some numbers to the projects we knew were important, and to prove the need to increase capacity.

Present Projected ROI As A Range

In the best-case scenario, what impact could this activity have?

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What if it has a more modest result than expected?

The reality will likely be somewhere in between, but communicating a range of outcomes allows you to be transparent and truthful without overpromising or underselling the potential results.

For example, one approach would be:

  • Define the list of keywords your project will affect.
  • For each term, project the potential clicks by multiplying the monthly search volume and estimated click-through rate at different positions (eg. three positions higher; five positions higher).
  • Subtract any current traffic driven by these terms from these projected totals to calculate an upper and lower estimate of traffic uplift.
  • Optionally, apply conversion rates and average spend figures to calculate revenue uplift.

Calculate The Cost Of Doing Nothing Or The Opposite Of ROI

If a project’s aim is to protect SEO performance from future algorithm updates or to stay ahead of your competitors, use the same approach outlined above, but based on loss of position.

Being able to quantify the benefit of increasing your capacity not only helps communicate the value of the work your team does (and could do) but also helps to build your authority and credibility.

Incidentally, it is also very valuable when jostling for prioritization with e.g. your organization’s development team!

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Hire The Right People

So you’ve got approval to increase your headcount. Now what?

Depending on the salary you can offer, you’ll need to be realistic about the level of experience you can expect from applicants.

With this, your business case, and strategy in mind, start to put together a job description with the types of responsibilities the role will involve.

When hiring for more junior positions, consider whether specific SEO experience is really vital.

It’s possible to learn SEO on the job, but the qualities that set someone up to develop into a great SEO practitioner – curiosity, a love of learning and problem-solving, resilience, diplomacy – can be much harder to teach.

For roles requiring more experience, you still need to ensure you’re looking for the softer skills above, but you should also set tasks that require candidates to demonstrate the requisite skills and subject knowledge for the responsibilities they’ll be taking on.

It’s vital to ensure that the interviewers are qualified to make that assessment – bring in experts from outside of your organization if necessary.

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Attempting to gauge the extent of a candidate’s expertise when it exceeds that of the interviewers is next to impossible, and one bad hire can create really sticky situations that are very difficult to resolve.

It can be deceptively difficult to find candidates who balance existing experience and knowledge with a receptiveness to further learning and the humility required to truly collaborate – in the words of Dan Patmore, Senior Group SEO Manager at Sainsbury’s Group,

“Some SEOs want to be right. I want people who want to learn.”

Above all, keep the importance of internal buy-in at the forefront of your mind when bringing anyone new into your team.

Is this someone who can add to the credibility and authority of your team within the business, instill confidence in your leadership team, and foster cross-functional collaboration?

Or is there a risk that they could damage your team’s reputation and relationships?

Leading A Growing Team

There are hundreds of books dedicated to how to manage teams.

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But for me, the ultimate aim of developing a team is for it to become more than the sum of its parts.

The way the individuals in the team work together should elevate everyone above and beyond the skills and abilities they each bring on their own.

Shared Values

The approach required to achieve this is consistent with the approach to hiring, outlined above: prioritizing values above all else, approaching SEO as an ongoing learning experience, and emphasizing the importance of honesty and collaboration.

In order to create this environment, you need to practice mentorship over micromanagement, focusing on developing and guiding your colleagues through their careers, and running a fulfilled and effective team in which individuals feel valued.

This is especially important in SEO teams, as many of the qualities that make somebody well-suited to this discipline can also make them resistant to more overbearing leadership.

Lifelong learners tend to like to question assumptions and arrive at their own conclusions and problem-solvers like to improve processes rather than be forced to do things how they’ve always been done.

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And those with inherent curiosity like to be allowed to investigate tangents and uncover new insights.

Stifling these instincts in favor of having more control over your team will not only make them miserable, but you’ll also lose out on their ideas and perspectives (and miss opportunities).

Alignment

So how do you make sure everyone is pulling in the right direction?

Like everything else, this comes down to buy-in, except this time, you need to gain buy-in from the SEO team itself. In practice, this means you should:

  • Be transparent in sharing your strategy with your team, the same way you would share it with more senior stakeholders.
  • As individuals in the team grow in experience and bring their own valuable perspectives and areas of expertise, involve them in the creation of the strategy.
  • Make sure everyone knows where the focus is, what the aims are and why. Agree on expectations for outcomes and milestones, including deadlines. This structure is essential for keeping things on track while allowing creativity.
  • Maintain a backlog of projects to be scoped and prioritized later. This allows your team to bring new ideas to you and be heard, without derailing current priorities.

Ultimately, my north star for building and leading a team always comes down to trust. I want to hire people whom I can trust and I want to earn theirs in return.

I want to encourage my team to trust each other, and I want everyone to feel like they are trusted.

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If you can pull this off, you end up with a team that works collaboratively towards shared goals, challenges themselves to be their best, develops their own strengths and specialties, learns from each other, and generates ideas and innovations that will evolve your SEO program for the future.

More resources:


Featured image: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock



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B2B PPC Experts Give Their Take On Google Search On Announcements

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B2B PPC Experts Give Their Take On Google Search On Announcements

Google hosted its 3rd annual Search On event on September 28th.

The event announced numerous Search updates revolving around these key areas:

  • Visualization
  • Personalization
  • Sustainability

After the event, Google’s Ad Liason, Ginny Marvin, hosted a roundtable of PPC experts specifically in the B2B industry to give their thoughts on the announcements, as well as how they may affect B2B. I was able to participate in the roundtable and gained valuable feedback from the industry.

The roundtable of experts comprised of Brad Geddes, Melissa Mackey, Michelle Morgan, Greg Finn, Steph Bin, Michael Henderson, Andrea Cruz Lopez, and myself (Brooke Osmundson).

The Struggle With Images

Some of the updates in Search include browsable search results, larger image assets, and business messages for conversational search.

Brad Geddes, Co-Founder of Adalysis, mentioned “Desktop was never mentioned once.” Others echoed the same sentiment, that many of their B2B clients rely on desktop searches and traffic. With images showing mainly on mobile devices, their B2B clients won’t benefit as much.

Another great point came up about the context of images. While images are great for a user experience, the question reiterated by multiple roundtable members:

  • How is a B2B product or B2B service supposed to portray what they do in an image?

Images in search are certainly valuable for verticals such as apparel, automotive, and general eCommerce businesses. But for B2B, they may be left at a disadvantage.

More Uses Cases, Please

Ginny asked the group what they’d like to change or add to an event like Search On.

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The overall consensus: both Search On and Google Marketing Live (GML) have become more consumer-focused.

Greg Finn said that the Search On event was about what he expected, but Google Marketing Live feels too broad now and that Google isn’t speaking to advertisers anymore.

Marvin acknowledged and then revealed that Google received feedback that after this year’s GML, the vision felt like it was geared towards a high-level investor.

The group gave a few potential solutions to help fill the current gap of what was announced, and then later how advertisers can take action.

  • 30-minute follow-up session on how these relate to advertisers
  • Focus less on verticals
  • Provide more use cases

Michelle Morgan and Melissa Mackey said that “even just screenshots of a B2B SaaS example” would help them immensely. Providing tangible action items on how to bring this information to clients is key.

Google Product Managers Weigh In

The second half of the roundtable included input from multiple Google Search Product Managers. I started off with a more broad question to Google:

  • It seems that Google is becoming a one-stop shop for a user to gather information and make purchases. How should advertisers prepare for this? Will we expect to see lower traffic, higher CPCs to compete for that coveted space?

Cecilia Wong, Global Product Lead of Search Formats, Google, mentioned that while they can’t comment directly on the overall direction, they do focus on Search. Their recommendation:

  • Manage assets and images and optimize for best user experience
  • For B2B, align your images as a sneak peek of what users can expect on the landing page

However, image assets have tight restrictions on what’s allowed. I followed up by asking if they would be loosening asset restrictions for B2B to use creativity in its image assets.

Google could not comment directly but acknowledged that looser restrictions on image content is a need for B2B advertisers.

Is Value-Based Bidding Worth The Hassle?

The topic of value-based bidding came up after Carlo Buchmann, Product Manager of Smart Bidding, said that they want advertisers to embrace and move towards value-based bidding. While the feedback seemed grim, it opened up for candid conversation.

Melissa Mackey said that while she’s talked to her clients about values-based bidding, none of her clients want to pull the trigger. For B2B, it’s difficult to assess the value on different conversion points.

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Further, she stated that clients become fixated on their pipeline information and can end up making it too complicated. To sum up, they’re struggling to translate the value number input to what a sale is actually worth.

Geddes mentioned that some of his more sophisticated clients have moved back to manual bidding because Google doesn’t take all the values and signals to pass back and forth.

Finn closed the conversation with his experience. He emphasized that Google has not brought forth anything about best practices for value-based bidding. By having only one value, it seems like CPA bidding. And when a client has multiple value inputs, Google tends to optimize towards the lower-value conversions – ultimately affecting lead quality.

The Google Search Product Managers closed by providing additional resources to dig into overall best practices to leverage search in the world of automation.

Closing Thoughts

Google made it clear that the future of search is visual. For B2B companies, it may require extra creativity to succeed and compete with the visualization updates.

However, the PPC roundtable experts weighed in that if Google wants advertisers to adopt these features, they need to support advertisers more – especially B2B marketers. With limited time and resources, advertisers big and small are trying to do more with less.

Marketers are relying on Google to make these Search updates relevant to not only the user but the advertisers. Having clearer guides, use cases, and conversations is a great step to bringing back the Google and advertiser collaboration.

A special thank you to Ginny Marvin of Google for making space to hear B2B advertiser feedback, as well as all the PPC experts for weighing in.

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Featured image: Shutterstock/T-K-M

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