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Are you a consultant looking to break into the world of in-house SEO? Or are you new to enterprise SEO and looking for some tips to make a difference? I want to walk you through some of the issues and situations I have seen arise previously, and ideas to get past these issues and other ones that could come up as well. While I’m not going to give a lot of specific Seo tips to help your site rank better, what I’ve learned is that in the corporate world the successful in-house SEO knows how to get things done by working with other people in different departments to make the entire site better. From copywriting to IT, it is the relationships that you form and the things you can do behind the scenes that can make the difference between doing a average job and doing a great one.
There are a lot of skills you have learned as a SEO consultant. You have learned to sell yourself, and the value of SEO. You have learned how to educate your clients (and your family and friends) on the do’s and don’t of title tags and link building. You have talked a graphic artist or web designer out of that flash-based website they wanted to build. And you have become an expert by reading, listening, and performing SEO on possibly hundreds of websites. The great news is, all of that experience, everything you have done to this point, can be and will be used when you are working on enterprise sites. In fact you can’t do the job without it.
Because you will hear it over and over in the corporate world – SEO is “free.” They are willing to pay you, but then when you approach them with a budget including SEO tools that run in the thousands of $$ per month, money for Press Release sites, Directories (what do you mean Yahoo directory is $300 a year? I thought Yahoo was free), sending your entire team to Vegas for a tradeshow… there is definitely some selling involved here. And here is the rub – once you present your management team with your SEO budget for the year, the first question invariably is going to be, “If we approve this budget, how much of a gain in natural search revenue will we see”? Which is why you will want to become good at..
One of the first things you will be asked when you start in corporate, is “What do you need”? Some companies are more giving than others – one company presented me with an AMEX business card in my name on my first day – but almost none of them will have your SEO tools, software, and needs planned out for you. That’s why it’s best to go into your first day with a list of everything you use and will need. This includes all of your SEO software tools, conference(s) you would like to attend, and anything else you can think of. Need Dreamweaver? Screaming Frog? SEOMoz Pro? Put it all on your list. In fact, I would even write down all of your Firefox and Chrome extensions so you don’t have to search for them all over again.
You can put everything you want out there, but it is most likely going to be shot down. The best idea in my experience is to come up with several budget numbers – and of course they will want to know how much revenue they will get for each budget. Which means you will need to use your experience as a …
I know one of the things that shocked me was that within a week, they wanted a forecast of all SEO revenue for the first year. And I was going to be held to it. That’s a lot for your first week when you have never forecast revenue at any level before. It seems like it would be easier to look into a crystal ball… You obviously need to start with an SEO Audit, which I won’t go into here – and look at historical revenue numbers, trends, and current rankings. How much change can you get done in a year? How many of those changes will move a large number of keywords in the rankings? Can you raise conversion rates through better descriptions and titles? Tying multiple forecasts to multiple budget numbers can mitigate some of your risk. But remember, if it’s a big brand and there are a lot of things that can be fixed, you can expect to see a decent % increase for every change you make.
One thing you have to realize right away is that unlike consulting, you can’t do it all yourself. It may not be as easy as pulling up the HTML in Dreamweaver and changing a Title Tag on the fly. There are often approvals that need to take place as well. There are other people in the organization that you need to get on your team. Want to make a change to the home page? At first, you may have to get 3-4 people to sign off on it. Hopefully, as everyone starts to trust you, it will be easier.. But at the beginning you have to tread carefully or someone is going to feel unimportant. On the opposite side, if design wants to make a change to the graphics on a page, you as the SEO should be involved, to talk about image names, alt text, copy on the page vs in images, etc. You need to start as soon as possible inserting yourself into all of the discussions in the early stages.
Business Leaders are often the person in charge of the overall strategy for a site. They may be called ecommerce managers, project managers, or something else, but you can identify them because they typically have goals tied to revenue growth, so working with them is a natural fit. Once they realize how much you can help them, they can often be your biggest ally.
Panda! We all know how important unique content is. When you have a site with 100,000 plus pages, duplicate and shallow content can be a huge problem, incurring the wrath of the Panda. But, the odds are that you aren’t going to be creating all of that content yourself.
There may be a person who is in charge of all of the content on your site. There may be an entire team of people. You may have a team of copywriters or just one. But odds are, if you are dealing with an enterprise level site, it’s someone’s job to make sure the copy on the site is fresh, factually correct, and error free. And this person probably won’t just want you writing and adding copy all over without their consent.However, you can make this work to your advantage. Writing all of your own SEO copy is time consuming, and probably not scalable over the long term. This is where your job as an SEO teacher comes in. Create a SEO best practices document for your copywriters, so they know how many words is optimal, and teach them about keyword variation. They will be happy to not only help make the site more revenue, and help defeat the big bad Panda, but to be able to claim Seo copywriting on their resume (or linkedin profile!) Work with them to add SEO requirements to their style guide. And make sure to be able to get commitments from the department on timetables for deliverables and keeping the content on the site fresh!
The scary IT department, the downfall of many an inhouse SEO. They are the final gatekeepers to getting many of your SEO projects finished. As an SEO, you have to get changes made to the website(s) on a regular basis. This often means you will have to rely on IT to get your jobs prioritized and done quickly. I have found that finding things you have in common is one of the best ways to strike a friendship with the IT dept. Maybe you both love craft beer or are Cubs fans, but find something that you can bond over.Also have a strong technical knowledge will go a long way. If you can make their job easier, they will be more likely to fit your jobs in, because your specs are very detailed and don’t require interpretation, and if you want copy inserted on a page, give it to them with the HTML tags already embedded. In one company, the IT dept trusted me so much that they turned over the rewrite rules to me, which I had to write in RegEx.Remember, when extra research is needed, make sure that you do it yourself and don’t rely on the IT dept to do it for you. They remember who makes their day run smoother.
Of course, you couldn’t do this job if you haven’t been working in the SEO field for a while. You are the expert in SEO, and everything you have learned through your consulting comes into play on enterprise sites as well..
Reporting tools are different. Where before you probably only used Google Analytics for your reports, you not might have to learn how to use Omniture (Adobe Site Catalyst). If you used AuthorityLabs for ranking reports, now the company may have Conductor Searchlight, SEO Clarity, or BrightEdge installed. Throw yourself into learning these tools, because even though they are a lot more advanced (and complicated) than what you have used before, the insight they can give is that much greater.
Exceed Expectations. If your boss is looking for year over year revenue growth, give him that on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis. Where before you wanted to WOW your clients so you could get repeat business and referrals, now you need to treat your boss as your client… especially when he is the person in charge of your bonuses and pay raises. It’s not for everyone. But either is working from home alone on a different website every week. Working in-house lets you feel part of a team, all working together for a common goal, and often on a site that all your friends and family have heard of. The challenges are very different, but rewarding in their own right. Although you may feel like a fish out of water at first, in the end it can be a great move. Plus, it’s fun being the big fish on occasion.
Matthew FlessnerSenior Manager of SEOFanatics,
Inc.I manage the Natural Search Optimization efforts for anumber of internationally known sports apparelsites, including NFL Shop, NBAStore, FansEdge.com, Majestic Athletic, NBC Sports, andnumerous NCAA, NFL and NBA team stores.