Being an in-house SEO comes with quite a different task list than being an SEO for an agency. Instead of monthly client reports, in-house SEO’s deliver reports to stakeholders, have several different in-person meetings with multiple different departments, and focus on ranking for a single brand.
With the differences come their own set of challenges, like reporting, revenue attribution, and coming up with new strategies to try. We went straight to the experts and asked how they handle some of the most common challenges in-house SEOs face in our monthly AuthorityLabs webinar.
In case you missed it, you can watch panelists Keith Goode, Jackie Chu, and Topher Kohan as they share what it’s like being an SEO for brands like IBM, Dropbox, and The Weather Company.
To hear from even more in-house SEOs, see what advice Grant Simmons, Holly Miller Anderson, and Carolyn Shelby share below.
How do you handle SEO reporting?
The metrics that execs care about are straight traffic numbers, broken out by channel, with a WoW and YoY comparison, and those are monitored daily and delivered weekly. We often provide a list of the top performing content pieces, but that’s more for the sake of curiosity than for guidance (ex: just because someone clocked another player with a helmet this week and that story went crazy doesn’t mean we can *keep* writing about that same incident and continue getting that same level of traffic.
For news organizations, or companies whose queries nearly always result in results dominated by news and video carousels, it’s less important to worry about keyword rankings than it is to make sure your content is indexing quickly and is surfacing in those carousels and special results, because that’s where the vast majority of the clicks are going.
Most of our reports are department-specific, but we collaborate across teams to build dashboards necessary for the business leadership to understand where we are against business KPI, with risks, challenges and opportunities voiced in weekly leadership meetings. It’s often easier to communicate those high-level details, such as traffic and conversions, without contributing to the potential “analysis paralysis” of a large business’ data.
At the department level, we’re pulling reports daily to understand traffic trends across channels and partners so we can identify broad shifts we can then dive into using the relevant tools and data sources. As a nationwide business that looks at traffic and leads, we’ve also trying to understand the connection between location, user behavior and conversion rates, so most of our reports cover those aspects of site & app performance, while our technical SEO folk are looking at Google Search Console API and log files for assessment at scale.
Holly Miller Anderson
Over the years I’ve found the most effective type of reports are simple, synthesized and sent directly to each lead or business stakeholder on a monthly or bi-weekly basis. Even if they don’t have time to review the dashboard that day, it’s in their inbox for reference and it makes looking back at monthly trends easy because that reporting repository is already established.
How do you attribute revenue to your SEO efforts and how much marketing budget should go towards SEO for an in-house brand?
Since our model is ad sales, it’s easy. More traffic = more money.
With any business and SEO, the right answer is “it depends” (don’t shoot the messenger!) Paid search generally gets the lion’s share of budget, primarily because there’s an easy cause and effect to paid search performance that is measurable, consistent and, frankly, comfortable. Organic traffic is most often the best performing channel and should be looked at as (generally) the most important to invest in.
The investment in SEO though isn’t just about paying for content or -dare I say it – links, it’s also about infrastructure for speed, site development to support topics and content marketing / promotion to help drive visibility and authority. Those costs might be shared under development, marketing or PR budgets erroneously deflating actual SEO investment. If you’re truly taking all that investment into account (as brands should), calculating the ROI on organic traffic is exactly the same as any other channel, and in-house folks should be comparing that ROI, balancing timelines and figuring out level of effort to invest in the right places for short, mid and long term objectives.
Holly Miller Anderson
At the enterprise level, evaluating the ROI of SEO is a collaborative effort. In my current role, part of the process of evaluating SEO features involves bringing together finance, business and development leads; everyone works works together to evaluate the expected annualized sales, orders and organic sessions.
Since you’re optimizing for one single brand, how do you come up with new, unique keywords?
News and sports are always generating new topics, we don’t need to look far 🙂
We’re kind of unique at homes.com for a number of reasons. We know – for example – that most of the search volume is around location-based property-modified queries i.e. homes for sale in [location], we also know locations have varieties of categories i.e. neighborhoods, cities, states etc, and that user search behavior is fairly consistent, using terms like ‘near’ to points of interest such as schools, work or geographic features (beach, mountains etc.)
Given that, our keyword target set is massive but easily (and programmatically) scalable, so it’s not difficult to build a keyword corpus that’s manageable. Also leveraging GSC query and our paid search query data can expand that corpus with *actual* search queries. So in our space ‘unique’ is really about identifying trends and then looking at how to scale optimization aligned with those trends, not as much ‘inventing’ new query types or topics.
Holly Miller Anderson
This is not currently part of my role as a Product Manager. However, in previous roles, when I was searching for new keyword opportunities I referenced a number of sources for inspiration like internal site search and used SEO tools that showed related searches and questions people are typing into Google.
What is the most difficult part of being an in-house SEO?
I think the biggest challenge is being accepted as the SME in the organization. Too often I find that recommendations made in-house SEOs are discounted and picked apart, but the exact same recommendations coming from an outside consultant are taken as gospel.
Being able to articulate the logic behind your recommendations, and defend your positions when challenged go a long way toward overcoming those types of issues,
I’ve spoken to literally hundreds of in-house SEO folks and we all face very similar challenges of priorities and limited resources, no matter how great your development team may be. Given that SEO traffic is often the best performing, when things are great, it’s difficult to justify the prioritization budgets and resources to improve in small increments, and when traffic is down SEO initiatives are often the bottlenecks to getting anything else in the company done.
The answer is to act like every other stakeholder in the company looking to maintain or increase the investment in their projects, come prepared to demonstrate value, preferred outcomes and necessary resources to get the job done, leveraging recognized business KPI so that apples-to-apples comparisons are possible. No-one – for example – cares if you can drive 1,000 more clicks to the site, but everyone will sit up when you demonstrate those 1,000 clicks will have a 10% conversion rate, generating $40,000 in new incremental revenue! It’s often the case in-house folks expect the CFO to speak geek, when everyone else in the company (including them) are interested in the long-term value of the company.
So my advice is: learn the business, talk like the business, and report on metrics aligned with the business’ success.
Holly Miller Anderson
It’s not something people like talking about but, within any large, established organization there are going to be politics. Being a good listener, being curious, and being someone who understands how to synthesize different business systems is key. I don’t know if I’ll overcome this kind of challenge but what I know for sure is that being able to surround yourself at work with the kind of people that care about your professional development and help make you better every day is something I’m lucky enough to experience at my current company.
The best advice I can offer to other in-house SEO’s facing similar challenges is to take any and every opportunity to educate anyone who will listen to you about SEO. Educating cross functional teams about SEO best practices, early success indicators, and managing expectations takes a village. Go build your team!
Carolyn Shelby has been involved in developing and marketing Internet technologies since 1994 when she was the co-founder and managing partner of an Internet Service Provider near Purdue University.
As Manager of Search Engine Optimization (“SEO”) at ESPN, Carolyn is responsible for planning and implementing technical SEO and organic audience-generation strategies across ESPN’s properties both domestic and international.
Grant Simmons leads the Performance Marketing team at Homes.com, helping drive brand awareness, traffic, and leads to one of the nation’s top real estate sites.
Grant has over 25 years of agency & brand experience serving industry-leading organizations such as; Paramount Studios, Red Bull, M&M/Mars, Disney, Napster, Warner Bros., UPS, Move.com, YPO, GE, Amgen & Fox Sports.
Holly Miller Anderson
Holly Miller Anderson has over a decade of experience in digital marketing. While she’s been fortunate to have been exposed to many types of online performance channels, SEO is by far her favorite. In previous in-house SEO roles, Holly worked at a search agency, an enterprise SaaS platform, and as a consultant. She’s currently an SEO Product Manager at an established online retailer.