How in-house SEOs get things done: SMX East 2011

How in-house SEOs get things done: SMX East 2011

In-House SEO Operations: How Things Get Done

Event: SMX East 2011

Session description: In-house SEOs from Demand Media, intuit, Bloomberg and AOL talk the integral workings of in-house SEO from idea to launch, and how to keep the nitty-gritty details from getting lost along the way.


  • Laura Callow, Senior Search Marketing Manager, intuit
  • Simon Heseltine, Director, AOL Inc.
  • Erika Mamber, Vice President, Organic Traffic & SEO, Demand Media
  • Ulli Muenker, Search Marketing Manager, Bloomberg
  • Moderator: Jessica Bowman, Founder, SEOinhouse.com
  • Q&A Moderator: Mark Munroe, Senior Director, SEO, Everyday Health

Things in quote marks are direct quotes. Other statements are paraphrased. (Things in parentheses are my thoughts.) For more from this session and others at SMX East, search the #smx hashtag on Twitter.

The skinny

The pre-session music for SMX is really great. A vast majority of the audience for this panel is made up of in-house SEOs, naturally. And so many lovely accents from the panelists!

What they said

First up is Erika, who talks about building SEO into your company’s DNA. Her SEO career has been exclusively in-house, and she says Demand Media considers “SEO one of the fundamental building blocks of everything we do.”

The tactics she advocates are “not one-and-done maneuvers”—to be successful, they have to become part of your daily routine. “The best way to nurture SEO understanding is through regular daily interactions.”

“When the questions you’re asked get harder and harder, you know it’s working.”

  • Build SEO buzz. “This is what keeps SEO top of mind in your organization.”
  • Share SEO news like new tactics, monthly reports, impacts from search engine changes or test results. “Only what’s truly relevant to your organization.” Use this to push your agenda, like site speed or Panda impact.
  • Make them care. “Make it relevant to their priorities. If you can’t make individuals care about SEO, you’re not going to get the company to care.”
  • Make it actionable. Tailor your message to the department you’re working with.
  • Repeat. “Building buzz is a daily job.”
  • Be present. If engineering is the group you work with most or need to influence, go sit there.Don’t let your org chart dictate.
  • Consider decentralizing your SEO team. At Demand Media, the company moved SEOs into the groups they worked with, which “had an immediate impact on our culture.”

Next up is Ulli, who works with BusinessWeek and Bloomberg. Her focus is on the day-to-day of an SEO. “How do you get things done? This is the challenge I think many of you face.”

Issues you might face:

  • SEO coming in too late in the process.
  • SEO working within lots of different teams.
  • Colleagues who challenge your knowledge.
  • Limited resources.

Some solutions to get more buy-in from your company:

  • Forecast the impact of SEO.
  • Mention a competitor who has done what you want to do.
  • Estimate what your project would generate in search traffic. Then translate that into revenue.
  • Try to annualize the impact of what you do (this is more effective than month over month).
  • Get SEO involved early on and build time for SEO into the project. “This is always the best case. In reality it doesn’t happen that often.” If you can’t do this, at least check with the project managers to see what’s coming up.”
  • Put things in writing as much as you can.”Then it’s their problem.”
  • Make friends. “When you’re an SEO, you’re on this island and no one is working for your cause.”
    Solution? Make friends in tech, product development, marketing and other relevant departments.”Bring them cake.” (I approve of this tactic.)
  • Focus on “multipliers” in the company who can notify you of changes that affect you and can help spread your message.
  • Think small. She doesn’t do company-wide training, opting for smaller sessions of 10-12 in a department instead. People are afraid of asking stupid questions in larger groups.
  • Recognize and praise.

Next up is Laura with intuit. She’s focusing on SEO as it relates to management expectations.

“Contrary to popular belief, SEOs are human.” Sometimes it feels like nobody knows what the hell SEOs do, but “they need to understand what you can deliver to help them achieve their objectives.”

Management wants to assign metrics, whether you like it or not. And there is a divide between what SEOs can do and the expectations of what they can do. How to bridge the gap?

  • Search objectives should support higher company objectives.
  • Regular reporting and ongoing education.
  • The five E’s: Educate, elaborate, excite, empower, evangelize.
  • Showcase your wins. Be sure to tell them what you used, how it worked what you needed.
  • Estimate what you might have achieved with X more: 1 more person, or $10,00 more dollars.
  • Align with PR, social, TV, radio.
  • Share regular high-level data.

Finally we have Simon with AOL, who uses a hand-raising exercise to point out that none of the in-houses in the crowd have all the resources they need. His talk is about bringing in vendors.

Why vendors? You may not have the right knowledge, the right staff makeup or the right tools.

  • Find vendors by talking to industry peers, going to conferences.
  • Make sure they understand scope of project.
  • Ask specific questions.
  • Find out their standard operating procedure.
  • Ask for references.
  • Identify points of contact on both sides.
  • Have frequent checkpoints.

(One those those great in-house SEO tools vendors is, ahem, Raven Tools.)

Audience participation

What if you work remotely or are spread out across the country? How do you educate/evangelize when you can’t be with your team?

Erika: Travel, if possible. Face to face is best. If not, try video conferencing.

Laura: She works remotely and has learned it’s important to coach people on how to have effective meetings while some participants are remotely on phone. Make sure everyone is logged into IM at all times. Keep an e-mail trail.

How do you respond to being called out on under-performing SEO campaigns?

Laura: It’s a learning experience. Not everything is going to work all the time. As long as you report back what the learnings are and how to apply them moving forward, that should be enough. “We’re not miracle workers, we’re just SEOs.”

Where do you find good SEO copywriters?

Laura: It needs to be about content, not copywriting. Integrate with social media, see what people are talking about. The best people to get content created are PR.

Erika: “Don’t hire SEO copywriters. Just hire really good writers.”

Courtney Seiter

Listener, storyteller and petter of all animals. Content crafting at Buffer; sharing stuff about social media, workplace culture, diversity and music.

Listener, storyteller and petter of all animals. Content crafting at Buffer; sharing stuff about social media, workplace culture, diversity and music.