While it’s obviously not true that a company is only as good as its search engine optimization, it is true to say that even if he/she is quite knowledgeable, a gung-ho SEO person can do a lot more harm than good without a well-thought-out plan to start with .
Initially it’s more than likely that you’re going to have to do some evangelizing within your company, at least in the beginning. So while you’re working on that as well as getting a feel for your company and what it does, there are a list of things that you should not touch until you’re positive of the outcome.
Of course you know everything I’m about to mention, but in our zeal to get everything just perfect, we sometimes forget what we know in the heat of the moment. So this is a reminder for newly-hired in-house SEOs.
Don’t Make it into an SEO Package
Don’t look upon your in-house SEO obligations as an SEO package or anything remotely like consultant-offered SEO services. When a consultant provides an SEO package for a client it’s not the same thing at all as being responsible for the optimization of a site indefinitely. A consultant will always keep the long-term welfare of a client’s site in mind when creating an SEO package, it’s true, but the structure of in-house SEO is different.
For starters, you have plenty of time on your hands, as opposed to the often too-short time frame an SEO consultant usually has within which to make an impact. If there’s nothing to show for the investment within a month-or-two, a consultant may find themselves out of a contract. But as an in-house SEO you should plan for your results to show gradually as this is what will work best with Google and Yahoo in the long run. You will need to draw up a one yearplan to show anyone who asks how your work is progressing what they can expect to see. You may need to tweak your plan as the year unfolds, but you and others will be able to measure your progress in terms of incoming links added, increased traffic, and most importantly, an increase in response rates (or click-thrus, signups, or whatever is required). In the end, the bottom line is what counts.
An SEO consultant may make use of some quite expensive tools to show results within a short time frame, and that’s not going to work well on a limited budget. You’d be a lot better off working slowly but surely to build links, and make changes, checking your progress with a selection of free and low-cost SEO tools.
Things to leave alone for the time being:
If you have some serious shakeup work to do, like a complete or partial website redesign to solve usability problems, don’t make the huge mistake of going in all guns blazing. First, take the time to build your case, and remember to say some nice things about what the website has going for it already. Admittedly that’s hard if it’s all in Flash and the search engines can’t see a thing, but do your best because it will make your task easier if you’re not seen as being completely destructive. Don’t forget to use some credible page design diagnostics tools to strengthen your argument.
Renaming pages and swapping parts of a website around without a great deal of thought is usually a mistake. Sure, it could have been done better if you’d been hired earlier, but if the website is ten years old and you mess with URLs you’re going to wreak havoc on listings and create a whole load of knock-on issues.
It’s bad enough as a newcomer, that you will be seen as ‘that jerk who wants to come in here and change everything.’ If you then have to admit a few months down the road that you made mistakes it will irreparably damage your credibility.
So tread carefully. As if you were treading on eggshells in fact!
Until you’re certain that changes will have to be made, you can make permanent or temporary redirects, but generally it’s far better to do nothing until you have a plan. Naturally, making sure there’s only one version of the home page URL is something you should do anyway: decide whether it’s to be http://yourdomain.com or http://www.yourdomain.com and then make redirects to your chosen version from all the other possible variables that people come up with. There’s a great discussion of the pros and cons of using www here.
Another issue you may have to tackle immediately is any reputation management issues you discover. it’s never wise to hold back with reputation management: the sooner you can push down any bad search results for queries about your company the better. Work on that should start immediately.
If additional Web pages are to be added you’ll need to make a snap decision about whether to use absolute or relative URLs, and then make sure that the same rules have been used throughout the website: consistency is essential and more important than which choice you make here.
Another problem related to adding pages is adding content before you’ve had a chance to train any in-house copywriters how to liberally–but not too liberally–sprinkle keywords throughout the text. The trend now is towards content that seems entirely natural, but that is nevertheless built around a carefully-chosen set of keywords.
There is one thing you should never take for granted: tracking and analytics. You need to gather as much information as you can on the use and usability of the sites you’re responsible for, so you might want to take a look at what’s been used up to this point. Unfortunately, all too often it’s nothing.
Good analytics needn’t cost a fortune (we all know about budgets). In fact many professionals use the free ones. Google Webmaster Central and Google Analytics are a great place to start.
Patricia Skinner is an SEO consultant, social media coach & reputation management expert. She is also community leader at the nascent SEO Self Regulation Community. She can be reached any time through her SEO website. Why not follow her on Twitter & her LinkedIn profile.