Agencies and organizations take a variety of different approaches to “placing” an SEO team. Some smaller companies simply align optimization as part of a PR or marketing department, while big companies may break SEO into its own department. Or, your organization may farm out SEO by using an agency or contractor.
Some marketing agencies keep SEO in “interactive,” “digital” or “multi-media” silos. In the beginning days of SEO, optimization was all about outrunning algorithms and “tricking” search engines into giving your site better rankings. Today, SEO teams are much more aligned with branding. The goal is to show your brand and value to search engines so that they can better match you with appropriate users. As a result, SEO now fits in better with content specialties, but should still touch the technical side of your organization.
Ways companies structure their SEO team
SEO as its own department
Since search engine optimization is such a unique and far-reaching discipline, some orgs treat SEO as its own department. These organizations typically rely heavily on their SEO teams to product deliverables, such as video or product descriptions, and so SEO may double as a kind of content team that dabbles in the tech side of marketing.
The benefit to this type of structure is that SEO processes aren’t determined by the priorities of another department. If your graphics team wants to organize the site in one fashion, while the developers have a totally different idea, SEO can be a great neutral third-party. Another benefit? Members of the team can be broken down into more specific functions: technical SEO, partnership building, written content, et cetera.
SEO as part of the creative department
We know, we know, you already have copywriters. But, placing SEOs with your creative department doesn’t mean you need to shackle them to write 500-word product descriptions for eight hours per day. Copywriting is clearly a huge part of the SEO process, but roping in SEO on design elements of your site, and even on the content of offline messaging, can be hugely beneficial. Housing SEO with the creative department can improve collaboration across all of the content that you’re putting into the universe!
SEO housed with Development
Search engine optimizers should work with development to spot technical issues affecting optimization, and to keep abreast with changes to the site’s structure. People responsible for SEO are sometimes responsible for internal tech recommendations, especially in tech industries.
Placing an SEO team with the development department can help SEO build a better understanding of the Content Management System, and may allow content marketers to play around with testing emails or landing pages. You’re also making SEO part of the ongoing maintenance process when you group it with dev.
SEO as a function of Public Relations
Get honest: if you’re using your optimization team for copywriting, you’ve probably thrown a few news releases their way, too. Having SEO under public relations or another strategy group can drive branding across all of your channels, by making sure that customers have the same (positive!) experience each time they touch your company’s website, off-site properties, and offline materials. PR also tends to house customer research, which can be a good fit for SEO.
There are often questions about the efficacy of public relations because many organizations have issues tying their public relations efforts back to marketing KPIs. Aligning your PR team with SEO can help bring organizational KPIs and reporting together.
SEO grouped with Digital Marketing or Paid Advertising
Let’s get real: paid advertising isn’t going anywhere, and is likely growing for most organizations. Since content marketers survive on data, and paid search provides a huge amount of information about the performance of specific keywords, content types, and channels, it makes a lot of sense for SEO to fit in with paid search.
Continuous coordination between PPC and SEO can build an understanding of where both groups’ efforts should be enhanced to maximize conversions. Putting SEO with the rest of digital marketing helps decrease instances of the wheel being reinvented. If an on-site video is performing extremely well, you may want to incorporate elements of that video into your paid YouTube advertising.
Placing SEOs within individual product teams
Some organizations divide their SEO team, placing one or two experts with various product teams, possibly while using an SEO management team as a central hub. This works especially well for large websites, where diverse teams work on the placement of different products onto one or multiple sites. SEOs that live with their product teams tend to have both specific product knowledge and the ability to implement SEO fixes quickly (since they’re not focused on thousands of pages).
If your organization has an SEO team like this, it is important to ensure that each product team aligns its SEO strategies, or at least shared best practices. Again, we’re all about data sharing — don’t keep your best SEO ideas compartmentalized with a single product.
An alternative idea to the traditional SEO team
Did you know SEOs can sit with several teams? You can have an SEO presence across all of the areas we just mentioned and still have a cohesive strategy.
By weaving your search and content strategy across your product, sales, PR, advertising, email, and social media marketing functions – you’ll not only get the best possible audience engagement – you’ll ensure that every single aspect of your organization is aligned with what your audience REALLY WANTS.
This is one area that DemandSphere helps organizations in most frequently – determining the best fit for products and services across an organization based on organic audience behavior. Then creating a content and site strategy to match.
Is there harm in SEO not having a permanent home in the company?
Ideally, if SEO serves as its own area that’s integrated heavily into development, marketing, content production, customer experience, and PR. It’s a problem when SEO is isolated — especially when other departments don’t understand the value and nuances of SEO. For example, if your org has a dedicated PR team that isn’t in tune with the SEO team, they may not realize how much SEO relates to public relations. After all, the first interactions customers have with your brand may well be through search channels!
SEO doesn’t have to be a problem area — if your fellow departments treat SEO as a pain to be paid minimum attention, all of your efforts suffer. Today, the upper management of even the most dated agencies and in-house teams should have some understanding of what SEO is, if not necessarily how it works. If your executives aren’t buying into the value of SEO, a little re-education can go a long way. Check out our post on increasing executive buy-in for content marketing.
What about outside SEO agencies? Does hiring outside of your company create an issue with team cohesion?
Since you don’t want SEO to be its own island, what does that mean for outsourcing SEO work? The answer depends on your company’s culture. In organizations where teams tend to work together and share data collaboratively, an in-house team may be able to pull content marketing and back-end development together elegantly. But, an agency may make sense for smaller teams, ones without much interaction between departments related to SEO, or teams that just don’t have the experience or resources to apply the necessary work to make optimization a priority.
The important question is: where are you going to get value? Does your own team have the time and ability to keep up with what’s going on in the world of content marketing, or would it make more sense to have an agency apply fresh eyes to your SEO tactics?
As we discussed in our post on building the best type of team for your organization’s needs, agencies offer several advantages:
- Agency professionals tend to be very in-tune with what’s going on in the channels in which they operate.
- Because agencies work with multiple clients, they have experience with digital best practices, lots of tools and platforms, and up-to-date marketing methodology.
- Agencies are stacked with the variety of their employees’ perspectives. They’ll also present you with options, since they can bring in multiple agents and fresh ideas from across the spectrum of specialists.
- Agencies are less likely to pick “favorite departments” than in-house SEOs. It’s important to keep your SEO processes unbiased.
However, if your organization operates in a field where few subject matter experts exist, or where day-to-day communication is vital, in-house might better suit your organization.
- In-house teams are more accountable to in-house management.
- Your employees likely know your product best, so you’ll need less editing of content — in-house employees should already be experts.
- Employees tend to stay on an in-house team longer than contractors, so continuity across projects is easier.
- Cross-team communication is easier when your company owns the entire team (and its affiliate departments).
Buying third-party services to manage SEO doesn’t mean that SEO will have to operate in a vacuum, but it does mean that you’ll need to pull in appropriate points of contact for your contractors — both from the marketing and technical sides of your operations.
Where do you want marketing data to live?
With the advent of content marketing and social media, day-to-day analytics and marketing data became the business of people who don’t have a position closely tied to business statistics. Analytics for your own website, as well as the data from social media and paid advertising, should definitely be integrated into your entire marketing ecosystem!
In some organizations, SEOs and content marketers become the default keepers of this type of KPI-heavy performance data. Obviously, your team should be using analytics to keep tabs on the performance of your marketing efforts. However, there are likely a ton of uses for this data that have little to do with launching your next campaign. Should others in your organization be looking at the performance of individual web pages or social media posts? Maybe a particularly successful email will inform your sales specialists of a demographic that isn’t being successfully sold to. Maybe data from your landing pages could be useful in determining next season’s merchandising.
Running a successful content marketing program doesn’t only mean increasing pageviews or fans, or even increasing ROI. A huge piece of your content program should be based in the future: how will you collect data that will improve your company’s performance across departments? Keeping SEO siloed away in a single department may be detrimental to overall growth for your organization. Wherever you keep your SEO specialists, that’s where your site’s analytics will live.
Remember that search is all about answering questions — and content should be, too
Search engine optimization is no longer about chasing every single search ranking — it’s about matching users with information they need. That means that a focus on answering customer questions and creating a brand story are more important than ever before. It’s no secret that Google is becoming a question-answering machine: the Answers box is just part of a larger overall pivot toward featured snippets that provide answers to users as quickly as possible.
SEO should be housed wherever the team can focus on getting questions answered for customers — whether that means keeping an eye on site structures, focusing on PR, collaborating with paid search or (and this is the most likely option) a little of all of the above.