This week’s in-house spotlight is on Tim Dineen, Online Marketing Manager for Indeed.com. Tim started in SEO owning a web development agency that he sold and then joined Indeed. Tim and I met at SES NYC and he had a few interesting challenges in-house. Like me, Tim joined a vertical search engine where everyone knows about search marketing – an interesting twist for the in-house search marketer. Working in-house at a search engine is “indeed” different.
Biggest Take-away: For me the biggest take-away is “food for thought” before an agency-based SEO turns down an in-house SEO position. Many consultants wouldn’t dream of going in-house, the idea of working on one site seems limiting. Tim actually felt contrary, citing that when you’re in an agency you can only study an industry for so long before the project begins and ends; whereas in-house, you can really get in tune with the industry and focus on long-term goals.
On to the Interview…
Jessica: Like you, I joined a vertical search engine, and found something interesting – everyone knows about search marketing! In a company where many people know SEO, it’s quite different than in-house at other companies. Can you talk about how SEO works when you work for a company where many people know about SEO?
Tim: Most importantly, it’s great to be surrounded by many people who truly understand the Internet, viral web growth and the importance of search engines. I’m thrilled to now work with a great group where everyone understands search – each from a different perspective.
It’s pretty unique to work alongside people who understand not only the benefits of search marketing as well as some who quite literally understand how a search engine works and, in fact, work daily in building one.
I’m able to learn so much from them about how search engines function and take part in conversations about algorithm changes. Having the ability to discuss how search functions at such a high level with our own team is the greatest change to me from moving here after being involved in consulting.
Indeed offers both our own proprietary organic search engine and our own PPC job advertising system to advertisers, so I’m exposed to organic and paid techniques from a variety of angles here from our engineers and advertisers’ campaigns on Indeed in addition to my own efforts at continual education.
Jessica: I’m hearing about more companies that have no single person that has the SEO Role, rather many people within the organization that handles the various SEO duties/tactics. You are the SEO face at conferences, with the title Online Marketing Manager, and no single person at Indeed has the full SEO responsibilities. How does that work at Indeed? Before a company decides to take this approach, what are the requirements for this model to be a success?
Tim: Well, Indeed.com may be different than most In-House situations since we are a search engine (for jobs). So when others within our organization take an interest in search engine optimization they are often doing so from the perspective of truly understanding how organic and PPC ranking mechanisms work.
I would imagine this is different than most situations where search marketing is one part of a large marketing or advertising effort, but everyone here takes an active interest in positioning ourselves as (and we believe we are) the ultimate destination for job search on the web. With so many talented people to talk to here, I’m happy when others want to share in SEO discussions and tasks.
Jessica: You owned an agency for several years, sold it and then joined Indeed. What would you recommend someone consider before deciding to go from agency-owner to in-house search marketer?
Tim: I worked for ten years as an Internet consultant mostly to small businesses. The difference between the agency/owner experience and working as an in-house SEM is most obviously that I no longer need to worry about wearing ten hats including sales, customer service, accounting, answering the phones, postal/bank runs, etc.
But the biggest change to my primary role is that I used to attempt to achieve small incremental improvements on behalf of clients given mostly miniscule budgets while now I am afforded the time to concentrate on the goals of one organization my entire week.
I truly believe that to be able to do SEO or SEM at a really effective level the ability to concentrate on understanding one vertical is crucial. In consulting, you can only focus on learning about one client’s industry for so long before you need to start gaining results. Working In-house allows you to focus on a singular goal day-to-day and month-to-month constantly growing your own understanding of internal and external factors and continually increase your effectiveness.
Jessica: When we first met, you talked about an interesting challenge – you were new to the company, based in Connecticut and your developers are located in Texas. As if SEO isn’t a challenge anyway, combining geography and you being new to the company has many hurdles to overcome. What were the challenges you faced and what key tactics helped you overcome them?
Tim: When I first joined the company in January I was concerned that I’d be attempting to prompt experienced individuals into tasks that I felt strongly about before having not had the chance to earn their trust. So I found that some of the physical distance between our groups was actually good and useful to that end.
Since frequent in-person meetings aren’t possible, I’m still learning how to best communicate briefly via email, IM or phone rather than assembling a group meeting as I had typically done when previously managing an agency.
What I’ve found to be more important is learning the type of communication each individual prefers rather than being concerned about proximity.
It’s important to note that our team may be unique as they truly understand and value search marketing whereas in a more traditional corporation it may be harder to work remotely with individuals when training may be needed or to cultivate relationships in order to rally support for an agenda. Frequent in-person meetings could help in those situations, but here it’s much more important to be able to formulate an opinion and express it well regardless of the method is used to communicate.
Jessica: When I asked how long it took for you to head to Texas to meet the developers, you said four months. I would have expected a month or two earlier would have been optimal, but you thought it four months the perfect amount of time to wait. What was the value in waiting and what did you do in the meantime?
Tim: I believe that the distance between our engineers and myself helped in that I was able to earn a few “wins” before meeting them for the first time. It’s hard to jump into a deep conversation about algorithms or ranking factors when you initially meet someone.
So I feel that the time before when I first physically met many of our team members allowed for some mutual respect to be built up gradually via the effects from my efforts and hopefully from having shared intelligent opinions in a thoughtful way in the meantime.
And, being completely new to In-house work, I’m ultimately thankful that I was able to learn about our team members and their areas of expertise without being put in front of them to pitch an agenda on Day One.
Jessica: You have a technical background in database and application development. Having this knowledge can be a blessing and a curse… when I was a new SEO, a project manager asked if I wanted to code! You have found the right balance so that you gain the respect of engineers – what is the secret?
Tim: In search marketing management I feel it is extremely important to be well versed in the challenges that both an engineer and a marketer each might face. I’ve always found having experience and education at a wide range of technical and creative work to be extremely helpful in order to help me communicate properly with engineers without sounding artificial about topics.
I’d actually built some search functionality for clients in the past and part of our agency was a hosting business where I was the primary manager of our server environment, so while my level of programming skills aren’t at all comparable to the level of expertise of our team here, I at least feel comfortable speaking with them about database queries, host configuration, and technical ranking factors from a perspective of someone with some experience in the trenches.
At the same time I can also appreciate the daily challenges and necessary skill/aptitude that is required of our staff, so my respect for their work and abilities is increased as a result of having faced similar tasks in the past, albeit on a much smaller scale.
Jessica: You commented that you actually wish you went in-house sooner. Why is that?
Tim: For a long time, I worked in tackling whatever web-related problem any variety of client could throw my way from web application development to site usability or strategic business growth through increased web visibility. I enjoyed that each client was unique, required different strategies to achieve their goals, and no one day was ever the same as the previous. So, I was afraid of the potential boredom I perceived would occur by working for just one organization.
However, I’ve found that the benefit of working for one organization far outweighs the challenge of trying to work for several clients at a time. This is an industry where there is never enough time to do everything that you’d like to do and even if you feel you’ve done well on a project the rules could all change tomorrow.
I now truly am thankful for the ability to focus on one goal day after day and I’m afforded the ability to continually learn and grow unlike in the role of consulting where too often I felt I was working on the basics of SEO or PPC but just switching which client was getting such attention.
I would add that being involved in consulting was a great proving ground and learning experience. I don’t think I’d be able to perform as well in my current situation without having gone through that. I highly recommend that new people coming into this industry join an agency for the experience and education it provides before attempting to move In-house where expectations will be higher.
Jessica Bowman is the Director of SEO for Business.com and an independent consultant. Her background includes managing nine websites, in four languages across North America and Europe, in the competitive travel industry.