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Think your company can master search marketing and conduct your SEO/SEM campaigns in-house? If so, you're in the majority.

According to a 2005 survey by Jupiter Media and WebSourced, 54% of companies handle their PPC management and SEO internally. This statistic is supported by a 2004 SEMPO study, stating that 52% of advertisers said they would manage 100% of their 2005 spending on both paid inclusion and organic SEO in-house.

But is it really time for your company to jump on the in-house bandwagon? Managing a successful paid and organic SEO campaign takes a dedicated staff, a savvy SEO plan and the time to make it happen. If your company is sitting on the in-house versus outsourcing fence, here are some tips to help you decide.

Your company should consider bringing (or keeping) your search marketing in-house if...

1. You have experienced online marketers and copywriters on staff who can conduct keyphrase research, write stellar copy and manage your existing PPC campaign

Strong content is important for promoting a company's unique benefits—and it's also crucial for search engine positioning. Spider-friendly copy and compelling page titles and descriptions boost organic page positioning—plus, they help "get the click" from the search results page.

In addition, the marketing department typically conducts both seasonal and long-term keyphrase research. Although keyphrase research can easily be accomplished with some established industry tools such as WordTracker, understanding the value of each search term is more complex.

Some words can easily be integrated into a writing and PPC strategy. Other words (like misspellings) should never (or very rarely) appear on a page or in an ad. Furthermore, according to a 2004 comScore study, generic terms, such as "camera," may gain higher PPC click-throughs than more specific searches. Knowing how to choose and strategize for a per-page and PPC-keyphrase strategy is essential to keyword planning.

Depending on a site's size, in-house marketers and copywriters may be creating 10-50 pages of content each month. This could be writing new content, promoting products or services, or providing information (such as FAQ pages). Another option for your copywriters may be to revise existing content, transforming it into a "SEO-friendly" format.

Consider your marketing department's capabilities and review its writing focus. If your copywriters have historically written for print (such as catalogs or display ads), they will require new training in Web-writing techniques. After they have mastered the Web-writing fundamentals (which shouldn't be difficult for good writers), they're ready to be trained in SEO writing. If your staff has mastered online writing techniques, they will merely require specific training in organic SEO writing techniques and PPC ad creation.

It's important to note that SEO writing does have a learning curve. It's best to have writers fully trained before they are expected to create copy. Without a solid foundation, both conversion and positioning opportunities can be compromised.

Moreover, PPC campaign strategy and bid management are more complex than writing a few generic ads and setting a bid price. Well-written ads will gain clicks over competing ads. Additionally, they can also (in the case of Google AdWords), gain better positioning without an increase in click price.

A dedicated PPC marketer who understands how to leverage contextual ads, dayparting techniques and strategy planning can maximize campaign ROI, keeping the campaign on track with existing business objectives.

Questions to ask your marketing department:

  • How many team members have Web writing experience? Have they written Web pages, PPC ads or both?

  • If your team is Web-writing savvy, how many pages are they producing per week now?

  • How has your company researched keyphrases in the past? What team member would maintain a seasonal and/or long-term keyphrase list and disseminate that information throughout the department?

  • What team members have PPC bid management experience? Are they also familiar with PPC strategy, such as dayparting and ad testing?

  • Who would be the main point of content for marketing-related SEO questions and deliverables?

2. You have a dedicated IT team that can make any necessary technical modifications and upload new content quickly

Technical teams are the unsung heroes of any successful SEO campaign. Although marketing painstakingly creates compelling copy and develops PPC ads, it's the technical department that adds tracking codes, uploads content and title changes, develops new spider-friendly site architecture and troubleshoots any spidering issues.

In short, it's a demanding job for a full-time crew. And, like the marketing team, that crew needs to be well versed in SEO techniques.

Some companies choose to initially rely on an outsourced IT team. However, this typically does not work as a long-term strategy. Larger-scale SEO initiatives require a fast turnaround time and specific SEO knowledge (for instance, updating an XML feed takes time—plus the skills to build a feed in the first place).

Depending on the size of your site, your company may require one IT guru for your search engine initiatives—or a dedicated team working on different campaign components. Whatever the mix, a department that's well versed in the latest SEO skills is a crucial component of a successful campaign.

It's important to note that some technical teams are misinformed about SEO best practices. In an effort to gain higher positions, they may promote invisible text, mirror domains and overzealous linking strategies. Most times, the IT professionals are not trying to "cheat" the engines; rather, they honestly believe that these techniques work. In this case, information about organic optimization best practices is necessary to differentiate between ethical and spammy search engine techniques.

Questions to ask your technical department:

  • What is the IT current SEO experience level? If you're in doubt, consider working short-term with an SEO consultant who can evaluate experience levels and make suggestions.

  • Who would be the main point of contact for technical-related SEO issues?

  • How many people could be on the IT SEO team? How would duties be divided among team members?

3. You have an SEO director who can be a liaison between marketing and technical, create success metrics and strategize for short and long-term SEO

As much as it's important to have dedicated staff focused on SEO tasks, employing an SEO director guarantees that one person coordinates an integrated SEO and SEM strategy. An SEO director versed in both technical and marketing skills skillfully links departments, ensuring that the company's SEO vision is being followed. In addition, the SEO director pinpoints companywide training needs, helping team members stay up to date with the latest search opportunities.

This multitasking maven is typically the one point of contact for everything SEO. He or she would create a company's SEO road map to success, evaluate metric milestones for SEO/SEM projects and develop strategies for any seasonal sales or new products or services. The SEO champion would also strategize SEO initiatives around other parts of a company's integrated marketing mix (such as print, radio, television and other online media.)

Which team member understands marketing objectives as well as technical SEO components and could successfully communicate and share information between the two departments? Remember, that person doesn't have to be an expert in both fields—but should have a firm grasp of the fundamentals and be able to "talk the talk" with both teams.

Often, a person with a more "marketing" focus is chosen for this position. Often, this is because the director is tasked with more "marketing" duties, such as creating a long-term and seasonal SEO marketing plan, integrating search with the marketing mix and measuring campaign ROI. It is important that this person, to be successful, have SEO knowledge; a marketing professional just "learning the SEO ropes" may not recognize all possible SEO opportunities.

Ways to work with your SEO director:

  • Is there an existing team member with a solid foundation in IT and marketing SEO? If not, this is one position where it may be advantageous to hire an expert who can coordinate efforts between departments.

  • Does your company use a Web analytics program? If not, work with your new SEO director to find a package that meets your company's needs. Reliable analytics will help measure results and success, providing the necessary data for enhancing your SEO strategy, as well as integrating this data with other marketing efforts.

  • What other forms of online and offline marketing does your company implement? Consider frequent meetings between your SEO director and the directors of other marketing initiatives. That way, all departments can share data as well as strategize and integrate short and long-term marketing plans.

4. Your marketing and technical teams actually have time to implement your company's SEO plan

Search marketing is not an "other duties as assigned" gig. Sadly, good campaigns go bad when companies force their teams to take on more work then they can realistically handle.

Sometimes, companies are cross-eyed about cross-training, figuring that one person (such as the IT director) can handle marketing and technical duties. Other times, the teams are maxed out with other demands, without time to master the SEO basics (much less implement them). The result is that SEO efforts are pushed to the back burner. And the site suffers sub-par positions—or sky-high PPC costs without a streamlined spend.

Take a realistic look at your teams and their existing responsibilities. Remember, content written fast isn't necessarily written well. If you see the quality drop with the new demands, you may need to hire another writer. And every minute that the technical department can't upload new changes means lost money and a reduced opportunity. When in doubt, hire out your SEO—or bring on new staff.

Ways to determine whether your company has time for in-house SEO:

  • Consider each team's existing workload, and ask team members what their current availability is for SEO tasks. It's common for people to say, "I don't have time for this," so determine whether there are lower-level tasks that can be shuffled to other employees.

  • Think about how many pages will need to be written or revised for SEO purposes (the SEO director will suggest a weekly/monthly strategy for this). Creating a large volume of content will take time for marketing to write and for IT to upload—and, in the case of seasonal content, it will need to be written and uploaded by a firm deadline for maximum marketability.

  • Ensure that the person managing the PPC campaign has adequate time to implement changes and collaborate with IT (which may need to include tracking codes for any new landing pages.)

  • Remember, you can't have an in-house SEO department if your teams don't have time to do the work (and do it well.) If you are facing staffing gaps and any implementation timeline would be prohibitive, consider hiring new staff.

5. Your company can provide ongoing training for both your marketing and your technical teams

One SEM/SEO constant is that the search engines are never static. Algorithms change, new search marketing opportunities hit the marketplace and more robust technology is developed. Search marketing training guarantees that your IT and marketing staff master the latest search engine machinations and can leverage that knowledge.

Consider ways that the marketing and IT departments can participate in customized SEO training. Group training helps both departments "get on the same page" and helps them understand the other's role in the site's search engine success. If you aren't sure how to focus the training sessions, a site evaluation from an SEO company (especially one that offers SEO training) can help. An evaluation will indicate any existing site challenges and pinpoint necessary training areas.

Some companies send a new-to-SEO team member to a conference. This SEO newbie is typically tasked with learning everything about search marketing and training the team upon his or her return. Although this is a very inexpensive way to train someone (usually, it's the price of the conference plus travel,) it's also inefficient if the team member has little or no SEO knowledge. Conference presentations are not customized to your company's needs, and frequently the information can be contradictory. As a result, it is hard for someone without a solid SEO foundation to assimilate the new knowledge and intelligently present it to marketing and technical teams.

After any initial team training, consider ongoing training that guarantees that your teams will be up to date with the latest techniques and tools. Although ongoing education does provide an extra layer of complexity and expense, your company would be assured that every task performed is completed according to best practices—and all new SEO/SEM opportunities are leveraged.

Ways to plan for SEO training:

  • Determine what team members should be trained (preferably all of them) and consider available training resources. It's best to ensure that the first training block is customized to your company's needs. After an initial SEO training session, general ongoing training sessions (like conferences) are typically sufficient.

  • Remember that search marketing has a learning curve. Although it may be possible for more experienced team members to be trained in a few hours, it's best to allocate enough time (around 10 hours—or a one-day in-house session,) so team members can grasp SEO concepts and implement strategy.

  • Ask your training company whether it provides an initial site evaluation prior to training. This evaluation will help pinpoint any SEO "trouble spots" and help pinpoint preferred training areas for both marketing and technical. That is, if the marketing team is new to SEO copywriting, its members can be specifically trained in SEO copywriting techniques that may apply to a site's current templates and copywriting style guides.

  • Review with your SEO director other long-term training strategies and consider having a "train the trainer" program in place. This way, a core group of team members (usually the team leaders) can attend conferences and webinars, bringing that information back to the teams.

Conclusion

Creating a search-savvy in-house search marketing team gives you the power of managing your search initiatives in-house. Start by evaluating each team's skill set and time commitments, determining how much time and training will be needed for an in-house SEO campaign.

Once an evaluation takes place, training will help the marketing and technical teams master best practice SEO/SEM techniques and understand the important role each department plays in your search marketing campaign.

Soon, your company will see targeted clicks flying and ROI increasing—and your SEO initiative will realize stellar search engine success.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Heather Lloyd-Martin

Heather Lloyd-Martin is director of search strategies for KeywordRanking.com and is author of the book Successful Search Engine Copywriting.