Having spent six years as a manager on an in-house SEO team, I recently started working for an enterprise SEO software company, working with in-house teams in a B2B capacity.
One of the biggest realizations I have had so far in my new role is that – regardless of the industry, the location, or size of the company – most in-house teams are experiencing exactly the same types of challenges.
With that revelation, here are four of the most universal problems, along with the approaches that my team successfully used to overcome them.
4 Challenges of Being in an In-House SEO Team
As an in-house SEO, it can often feel like there is so much to do, it’s impossible to know where to start.
You may have ideas about which big projects would really make a difference, but spend so much of your time firefighting or responding to other teams’ priorities that you never get the chance to develop your own strategy, let alone actually execute it.
In addition, there is also often a lot of red tape and limitations within your business.
How do you handle managing your projects when some of the most impactful things that could be done aren’t possible, for reasons outside of your control?
The only way you’ll ever be able to cut through the noise and justify working on your own initiatives is by creating a strategy that you can cite when ad hoc requests arise.
You were hired to improve your company’s site(s) SEO performance and to really deliver on this, there comes a point where you have to prioritize what you know will make the biggest impact on your KPIs.
If you haven’t set a strategy yet, start here:
- Take the time to write down everything that could be done to benefit the SEO of your website, whether or not it is something that can currently be achieved
- Give each a rating of how much impact it would have on SEO performance – this can be based on incrementality or performance protection. (i.e., there is a likelihood that doing nothing would lead to a drop in SEO performance.)
- Categorize each item as “Possible,” “Has Dependencies,” or “Not Currently Possible.”
- Build a strategy plan based on the highest impact “Possible” projects (including those with dependencies that will become “Possible”).
- This strategy should then be presented to senior stakeholders and shared with your team, if you have one. You’ll need their buy-in to get the best results.
- When you present this document, it should include a slide or page covering the things you’re not going to do: impossible projects and those with dependencies that didn’t make it into the strategy due to feasibility.
You don’t have to spend ages on this, but you should always be transparent about what you have not decided to focus on.
Because if there are major opportunities or risks in these areas, senior buy-in is the best chance you have of unlocking those things further down the line.
This piece is the easiest to disregard, but will be most impactful when setting your priorities:
- Make the impact of the prioritized projects clear, and be explicit that all other tasks that come up will be assessed for impact against the existing strategy, and prioritized accordingly.
By being transparent and methodical, you lay the groundwork that enables you to enlist support from senior management when their involvement is needed, and to push back on the everyday tasks that take up your time and keep you away from your priorities.
In many cases, an in-house SEO team is small.
It may be one person, or even one person responsible for multiple channels – SEO and PPC, for example.
In these cases, the feeling that there is not enough time in the day can be overwhelming, and – frankly – accurate.
When you have a tiny team, it is neither effective nor scalable to assume all work independently and have a sustained, measurable impact on SEO performance.
Your role in this scenario becomes about making SEO part of everyone’s responsibilities.
Think of it this way:
Everyone who makes changes to your website is impacting SEO, for better or for worse.
Your job, as the in-house expert, is to make sure they impact SEO “for better.”
As Simon Dale from The Organic Agency used to put it when we worked together: “Your goal is to make everyone a little bit SEO.”
To do this, you’ll need to take one team at a time and show the mutual benefit of including SEO in their workflows; the team responsible for editorial content on your site is a great place to start.
You shouldn’t have to dig too far to find shared KPIs (e.g., traffic, revenue growth).
From here all you need to do to get people on board is to show how SEO can improve these metrics and their own performance.
Next, you’ll need to provide your colleagues with education and training, and access to SEO data for research and measurement.
This is where using enterprise SEO tools can make all the difference.
Choose a tool with a user-friendly interface, unlimited user accounts, and enough support built-in that you don’t have to be the first port of call for every question.
Once one team is successfully building SEO into their work, you can target another, or spend some time working on your other priority projects.
For many in-house SEO professionals, the amount that can be achieved feels severely limited by the amount of investment and budget available to them.
This can limit access to paid tools, agencies, and consultants, and make real impact feel like an uphill battle.
Approaching this challenge is a multi-pronged endeavor.
You need to make the most of what you’ve got, while also looking at how you can work toward gaining additional investment in the future.
To start with, you need to be ruthless with where you’re spending your budget.
Examine where all your spend is going.
If you can’t draw a clear line from the spend to the performance impact, question whether the investment adds value.
Align your spend with your strategy – invest in what is needed to achieve your highest priority projects so that your strategic thinking, ambition, and resources are all working together.
You should also make sure you’re making the most of the free tools that are available.
Are you getting all the value you can from Google Search Console and your on-site analytics?
Have you looked into all the third-party tools online that have free versions?
If you know that you may have the opportunity to push for more budget, be prepared to build business cases.
To make the most of this opportunity, you may need to reassess what you consider a business case.
ROI is often thought of as purely incremental, financial benefit.
However, this is not always the measurable outcome of vital investment.
Often, the case for investment needs to be built upon the potential cost of not investing.
Here’s a good example:
Google announces an upcoming change in ranking factors. You know that your site, in its current state, will be disadvantaged and there is no guaranteed incremental benefit in fixing the issue. But it is necessary to do it in order to protect current performance.
You may also be able to unlock more budget by demonstrating that the benefit of an investment would reach beyond just the SEO team, such as procuring an enterprise SEO tool that will be used extensively by content writers.
The better senior managers understand SEO and are bought-into your strategy, the more support you will have from them.
This is vital to unlocking budget and co-ordinating teams across functions.
It is your job, as your company’s in-house SEO expert, to make it easy to understand and compelling.
SEO is a long game. Results often don’t come quickly enough to make an impact while people are still interested.
There are also a lot of gray areas. It can be difficult to give straight answers to direct questions. And, unfortunately, straight answers are often the main language that execs speak.
The complexity and mystery of SEO are often the reason we love it, but the more senior a person is, the less likely it is that they’ll feel the same.
It’s also important that we don’t make excuses for ourselves by hiding behind these characteristics of our craft – we need to have a rock-solid grasp of the industry and our own sites’ performance.
Maybe you can’t answer an exec’s question with 100% certainty, but you need to be knowledgeable and brave enough to be able to say, “There’s no easy answer to that, but with all the information I have, my gut feeling is…” or even, “That’s a really great question, and I’m going to go and look at some things and get back to you.”
Be transparent, and set clear expectations.
If the results of a project aren’t going to be immediate, estimate when the impact might be observable, and commit to sending updates.
Your main opportunity to win over senior management is likely to be via regular reporting on SEO performance.
Performance reporting is storytelling.
Take your data, distill it down to the main takeaways you want to deliver, and present it in a way that makes the story very clear.
As Sainsbury’s Argos’ Dan Patmore says, “If you’re an in-house SEO you can’t be purist – you have to take what you know about SEO and make it commercial.”
Summary: The Most Important Tools for Any In-House SEO
While working as an in-house SEO can feel challenging and limiting at the same time, there are some real benefits to being integral in a digital team when it comes to getting things done and making a difference.
Outside of your SEO expertise, you’ll also need the following skills to maximize your potential impact:
- While you may not have capabilities to make all the changes you need to make right now, nobody is better placed than you to make these things a reality in the future. SEO is about making friends.
Empowerment & Evangelisation
- Everyone who touches your website is impacting SEO, one way or another. By being in amongst everyone, you can understand their roles and help to work out where improved SEO can benefit their work and yours, and get elements of SEO integrated into their workflows.
- SEO can be intimidating, ambiguous, and slow-moving. Keeping people informed, invested, and intrigued is one of the most important skills you can develop.
- Effective storytelling requires confidence in both understanding and communicating data.
- Storytelling increases credibility and trust and helps with everything from demonstrating success, to pitching for greater budget, to getting other teams to consider SEO in their workflows.
- Top 5 Challenges of Enterprise SEO
- How to Build an SEO Business Case That Your Boss Can’t Say No To
- Enterprise SEO Guide: Strategies, Tools, & More
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