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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The Art Of Growing An In-House Search Marketing Team

You’ve been tasked with building an in-house search marketing team, and now you’re wondering where to start. It’s a daunting task, to be sure. Do you start by rousting the programmers to get the content management system (CMS) into shape? Do you grab a credit card and start up a paid search campaign? Do you start bugging the editorial team to get them to use certain words or phrases, in effect, telling them what to write?

The short answer is…yes.

Locating dedicated talent and building a knowledge base

Your brain is what people want. They want the knowledge you possess about search marketing. But how are you with other key success areas? Like negotiating tricky situations with co-workers when you need them to do something for you? Can you speak WebDev/Programmer-ese? Do you see things in terms of the broader picture, not just the SERPs? How are your sales skills?

To grow a team successfully internally, you’ll need to tap into not just SEO knowledge, but paid search as well. You’ll also need to think in terms of other needed team member skills, and how to access people on other teams to get your work done for you. SEO is the long-term item, but a well run paid search campaign can make your group appear as heroes in a matter of days. You’ll need to figure out if there is any budget for paid search campaigns, and if so, who’s controlling it. Both groups can easily share keyword research, so at the very least, you can form a bond along and work together to find more efficiencies.

Thus, one of the single most critical items on your list should be targeting exactly who to reach out to. No sense asking a web developer to tweak a template for you if their direct report sets their schedules and work priorities. Also no sense asking an editor to manage changes to a template, as it’s likely not within their control. Since a big part of SEO compliance is education, be ready to explain things over and over. Craft your replies carefully and remember who you’re speaking to. Be specific with items that fit their world only.

Changing a culture

When you need to integrate the thinking that supports a successful search marketing effort into a company, it’s a bit like trying to start a new religion. On your own you’ll likely gather some supporters along the way, but you’d be much more successful if you could get a celebrity on board. Land that one big name and the flood gates of acceptance often burst open, allowing you access to the key people you’ll need to really get things moving.

By making the pitch to the right people in your organization, you stand to gain acceptance that will open doors in many other areas where you’ll need support. It’s a cinch you and/or your staff won’t likely be tweaking templates and monkeying with CMS systems, but having access to those who do is the cornerstone for successfully implementing the on-page aspects of SEO (for example). By having key executives in your company aware of two critical points, you can open the doors you need opened and affect the changes you need to see to obtain success:

1 – The value this will bring
2 – The resources this will consume

Speak in terms those in power at your company will understand—know your audience. Are you pitching the “over 100,000 foot” crowd? Keep it simple:

Explain the return on investment you expect in a manner they can digest. “We invest X dollars and X man-hours to get Y return.” You’d better make sure to get your ducks in a row before this pitch though, as getting that high level view accurate will require a lot of digging around to ensure you’ve accounted for all the details.

If/when people balk at investing without a proof of concept or rock-solid ROI, look for ways to meet them partway. No one is out to kill the venture; rather, they just want to limit liabilities. Have some ideas in your pocket to parade around if you don’t get the full banana during your pitch.

Try the proof of concept angle

If you are lucky, your company will see the value in your pitch and support you immediately. In many cases, though, someone will want assurances before investing. You know you need the support in order to see results that will prove the concept. They want the proof before giving you access to the resources—who gives first?

You could choose one item, such as starting with search-friendly URLs. Explain the methodology, explain the needed resources, and explain the expected results. Obviously, the results would be better if this change happened as part of the larger plan, but sometimes you need to prove the concepts before you’ll be greenlit to really dig deep into things that affect so much.

On a recent project I heard about, just changing the URL structure to incorporate keywords netted the site a 4% increase in inbound traffic from the engines. On a site with millions of pages ranked in the indexes, that small percentage added up to lots of extra, incremental traffic. Look around for case studies that showcase things such as this to back up your pitch. Everyone loves a graph that points north.

It’s important at this point that you have two views in your mind:

1 – How what you’re proposing helps the company
2 – How to get done what you need done

By choosing to move one portion of the project forward—such as search-friendly URLs—you get a bigger benefit than just prettier URLs in the end. As folks throughout the company interact with your team and begin to understand how your suggestions fit in and benefit the bottom line, they’ll accept you more readily. By selecting a platform-based item to drill down into, you’ll also find yourself much closer to getting all your platform needs met. In many instances, once you’re in there working on the platform changes with the dedicated team, you’ll likely find the platform folks open to incorporating other things you need done to gain efficiencies. If the hood is open, you might as well check the oil and the washer fluid.

Changing the culture at your company will probably be the single biggest challenge you’ll face in your career. You’ll need to find the passion in many different individuals and ignite it to make any headway. It’s not easy, but when you manage it, the results will be worth it and your own sense of accomplishment at bringing so much value to your company will be immeasurable. It’ll be an uphill battle for a long time, but don’t give up—you are truly fighting the good fight. (Sure, that’s all fluffy, but in reality, by bringing the results, you stand to gain as well.)

Manage expectations or they will manage you

It is critical that you set expectations and manage them at all levels. Better to be honest with everyone as to the amount of work that may be involved, and the timelines, too. By managing this up front, folks will see that this is not a magic bullet—they will begin to understand that it takes time to get things aligned to see results. Best to under promise and over deliver here, so setting your goals carefully—being very realistic and conservative—will pay dividends later.

Everyone involved also needs to hear a clear and consistent message, so sit your team down—even if it’s just you—and make sure the game plan is clear and the message constant. Always remember that you are dealing, for the most part, with folks who have less exposure to this end of the marketing world than you do. Take the time to craft a clear message that will help to explain and educate, then apply that consistent message at every opportunity. By aligning your message with company goals and showing how you can support reaching those goals, your support will grow quickly.

By ensuring everyone understands not only the process, but the expected results and time lines, you set everyone up for success. In the end, it boils down to executing the specific tasks on time to get to the end goal.

Summary: A bullet-point roadmap

  • Define the workload. Everything that needs to be done for you to reach the best possible spot in terms of SEO.
  • Define the returns. Include not just dollars in here, but other benefits as well that will lead to increased internal collaboration, knowledge sharing, etc.
  • Plan your work. Create a detailed roadmap of all items you’ll need to accomplish to reach your end goal of SEO compliance.
  • Pitch the management. Match the pitch to the level you are speaking to—know your audience.
  • Work your plan. Even if it’s just a small portion of it that gets approved. Proof of concept here will result in further support.
  • Track results. Be diligent, set baselines, and track results for everything you do.
  • Report frequently. Keep this on people’s radar by frequently reporting results, successes, and areas that need further work.

It is a big undertaking, but building your team is a step-by-step process like many other things. In the end, though, do not be surprised if your team is made up of people scattered across many departments. Your goal should always to be towards helping the company and being efficient while doing it. In many cases, re-tasking current resources is a better route than trying to hire new staff.

Duane Forrester is an in-house SEM with Microsoft, sits on the Board of Directors with SEMPO, can be found at his blog where he speaks about online marketing and monetizing websites and is the author of How To Make Money With Your Blog. The In House column appears on Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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