This week’s in-house spotlight is on Tanya Vaughan, the Global in-house SEO with Hewlett-Packard. HP has a few in-house SEOs within various divisions, one is a full-time SEO, but most do SEO as portion of their role, and Tanya is HP’s central SEO hub. Tanya is the dream find for an in-house position; she had been working with HP for several years and knew about SEO, but more importantly was passionate about its integral role in the company’s web presence. Having already been with the company, she was ahead of the game when it came to what I call “the human side of SEO” – she already knew how to navigate through the personalities and corporate politics to get things done at HP. Tanya started dabbling in SEO as a content manager for HP.com, knowing that she wanted her content to be found. She’s a self-taught SEO that successfully works with all the HP divisions across the globe.
Tanya’s advice on working with many divisions: She does an SEO Catch-up Call every 4-6 weeks, where HP in-house SEOs discuss what they’re doing and things they’ve learned along the way. This is a call with the core people doing SEO within the various business units of HP.
The biggest take-away: If your company has a corporate style guide, get an SEO section added. To put it into perspective, HP’s style guide contains 20+ pages of information specific to SEO, that’s a lot of guidance and means SEO has a priority within company standards and guidelines.
On to the Q&A….
Jessica: When starting as HP’s SEO, you were already working at HP, and SEO was something you did when writing content for HP.com. How did you first learn SEO and once you landed the full-time SEO position, what did you do to bring yourself up to speed quickly?
Tanya: I was a web marketing content manager for Printing and Imaging products in our SMB segment. Since I was already doing paid search to drive traffic to the pages for which I was developing content, I decided I needed to also focus on natural search given how paid and natural complement each other. To learn SEO, I read books, articles, and blogs, attended conferences and took any opportunity I could to start up a conversation with the more seasoned SEO professionals. As I started the new role with HP, I engaged, not one but, two vendors to get the program up and running. I now have just one vendor but having two to collaborate with about topics helped me make more well-rounded decisions about HP’s SEO strategy.
Jessica: We always talk about the challenges of getting SEO changes implemented, and to do that you need to focus on building relationships. You have a unique challenge: You do everything virtually, working with teams across the globe. What do you do to build and nurture the relationships needed to successfully get SEO changes implemented?
Tanya: Part of my success has been due to the team I sit on and my manager and her span of influence. She manages the HP.com Customer Experience and Design Team which owns the site’s experience as well as the web design standards. My manager has been extremely supportive and helps me make contacts with resources as I need them so leveraging her relationships as well as the relationships of the people on her team has been a big driver of the success we’ve had to date. And since I’ve been at HP for almost 7 years, I have a lot of relationships of my own that have enabled me to get some traction.
Jessica: One of the things you have done is set up an internal website for people throughout the company to get SEO answers, access tools and much more. Can you expand on what it is available and who uses it? If an in-house search marketer wants to create their own SEO Intranet website, what should it entail?
Tanya: I have four key areas within the site that anyone inside the HP Firewall can access: Strategy, Training, Research and Resources. The strategy section outlines how HP envisions SEO and how we approach it ethically and always with the customer in mind. I also post a monthly dashboard to show how we’re doing in natural search and where we still have opportunities. The training section includes access to an on-demand recorded version of our SEO training – developed specifically for HP – as well as alternatives to acquire live training. We’ll provide the training to any team in any region at their convenience and we also set up regular quarterly training sessions that we make available to anyone at HP via web conference. In the research section I post research we’ve purchased or acquired that I think would be of value for SEO. Most of the people doing SEO aren’t doing it full time so they aren’t typically acquiring search research or getting emails targeted at the topic. It’s a way for them to quickly access some of the content I’ve reviewed and felt was of value. Finally, the resources section has links to free tools I use or recommend. There are so many out there that people can choose from but this way I can group them together by what value they offer and even provide some sort of summary as to what the tool does so it’s easy for the user to select which they want to use in which instances. I also post the quick reference tools we’ve developed in house for users to download.
Jessica: You do a lot of training for anyone and everyone who wants to learn SEO – all done virtually. How is that done and what are a few lessons learned that you could recommend for someone who needs to do SEO training remotely for multiple divisions in their company.
Tanya: Training remotely is challenging because it’s more difficult to get the audience to engage and not multitask. However, SEO seems to be a pretty interesting topic to most as we get a lot of questions and comments throughout. We also use survey questions to try and reinforce the main points covered in previous sections and I think that review provides a lot of value even if the learner wasn’t engaged at the time we covered that particular topic.
Jessica: To help people who have gone through training, you’ve created quick reference sheets that other in-house SEOs could also create. What topics do they cover and who do they target?
Tanya: Topics of the quick reference guides are broken out to cover keyword research and selection, content optimization (on page) and link building. The first two are step by step check boxes to help walk people through an SEO exercise the first few times. Link building is more a list of ideas and suggestions and guidance on how to approach it in a manner consistent with HP’s values.
Jessica: Being an in-house SEO you have to walk through many political minefields, one of which is SEO vs. PPC, who aren’t always on the same team. After talking to countless in-house search marketers, one common challenge is that the SEO may be perceived as saying that SEO is better than PPC – when we all know that a solid search strategy contains both. What advice do you have for in-house SEOs to avoid people getting the perception that you are saying SEO is better than PPC?
Tanya: That’s a tough one and I wish I had some no-fail advice. I’ve definitely been misinterpreted as having said SEO was better even though I’ve never believed that. The challenge is selling SEO because it takes a lot of coordination and buy-in from a lot of people just to optimize one page, let alone a whole site. So when you’re trying to get someone excited about the potential of SEO you usually end up comparing it to something related that people already understand, and that’s typically PPC. Unfortunately, any time you come out with a mention of the Google Triangle or how many clicks happen in the organic versus natural space or potentially higher conversion rates from natural, it comes across as SEO is better. And, when you’re focused on one versus the other you’re always going to be seen as biased. I am a firm believer that the two complement each other just like all other marketing activities are meant to be complements so my advice is simply to reiterate that as much as possible.
Jessica: I always tell in-house search marketers that you need outside council, just like a corporate attorney has outside council to discuss issues and an accountant has an auditor that ensures everything is accurate. HP is a company that has an in-house SEO, and still engages an SEO firm for both outside council and to do SEO work. What do you use the SEO firm for and how do you decide which tasks go to the SEO firm vs. doing yourself.
Tanya: I rely on my SEO firm to answer or find the answer to any questions I can’t. They also have some more technical resources that can consult on code development to our developers when they’re trying to make certain sites more search engine friendly. They also get on calls with me to IT when I need a little more backing. I also rely on them for bandwidth. They’re my extended team so a lot of what I need done gets done by them because I know I can tell them what I need and they’ll deliver. There are some things I prefer to do myself. One is to consult with other teams that are just getting up to speed on SEO. Then once they get excited and ready to do some serious SEO projects, I hook them up with our SEO vendor. But if they’re only going to optimize a page or two and have a really short turn-around, I walk them through some of the basics and provide guidance or specific recommendations myself. I also do some of the ad-hoc reporting myself (regular reporting I leave to the agency) and I manage the intranet SEO Program site and all communications regarding SEO (not to mention the standard company stuff you get to participate in as an employee!)
Jessica: You are basically an in-house agency, a resource that the various HP business units can request services from. What have you done that has been extremely successful getting other business units to reach out to you for SEO training and input in projects?
Tanya: Communication. I try to get as much visibility around the program as possible. First, I’ve launched an HP SEO blog where I talk about SEO challenges and successes at HP. I take every opportunity I can to get into internal company newsletters with provide relevant stats and successes we’ve seen with SEO to get them interested enough to call or email me. I’ve submitted the program for a marketing program award which the program is a finalist among 450 entries (we’ll find out next week if it wins). I’ve also crashed many staff and manager meetings to present the benefits of SEO. And some of it comes naturally as others learn about SEO and want to find out more they go searching our intranet and find our optimized SEO Program site and resources. I just got a call today from a colleague in Honk Kong who had heard about the program and wants to leverage the training for a project he is working on so the word is getting out there!
Jessica Bowman is the Director of SEO for Business.com and an independent consultant. Most known for being an in-house search marketer, Jessica relishes in the human side of SEO – the art of getting things done within an organization, a challenge for most search marketers.