Many companies lack the resources to have a massive and dedicated SEO team. Startups, sole proprietorships and small operations are usually forced to improvise. Typically this means that anywhere between one and five people, many of whom don’t have much SEO experience, are tasked with trying to elevate their website’s page ranking.
In some of the more extreme cases, a lone individual will have to manage the entire business as well as the company’s online presence and SEO content. Because search engine optimization can be such a daunting task for small teams, we sat down with some experts and asked for their advice. GinzaMetrics COO Erin Robbins O’Brien sat down and spoke with Fuel Interactive Internet Marketing Strategist Gina Vasselli, Secret Sushi Founder Adam Helweh and GinzaMetrics CEO Ray Grieselhuber.
The group shared their thoughts on the difficulties experienced by many small teams managing SEO and their advice for improving content while saving time.

Common SEO questions 

Helweh noted that there are two common questions that people have about SEO–the technical aspects and how to integrate it into content. He stated that the barriers have begun to break down between technical details and content, making it easier for small teams to produce SEO-friendly material.
Vasselli added to this, saying that managing expectations is essential. Not everyone is aware of what SEO can and cannot do.
“When you’re split between, in our case 40 clients and there’s five of us at most, that’s a lot of time that you’re supposed to be spending on your clients, and it takes a lot of hours in the day up to try and manage everything,” said Vasselli.
“I have one client who says that as far as he’s concerned SEO is black magic,” added Helweh. He then asked Vasselli if she thought that managing a client’s understanding of SEO and its abilities was important for managing expectations.
She agreed and said that it is important for SEO teams to keep their clients informed. It’s also more crucial than ever due to the constant changes in algorithms and how content gets found. She explained, “The way SEO is done is changing, and you can’t just let people continue to think that it’s this sort of voodoo thing that’s happening behind the scenes.”

Staying relevant

Inspired by Vasselli’s answer, O’Brien asked the group about how they stay on top of the constant changes. With search engines often making daily updates it is important for SEO teams to stay relevant.
Grieselhuber answered first, explaining that his ability to stay relevant relies on three factors.

  1. Conducting research on all the changes that are taking place.
  2. Monitoring trends and running data. “…We can see things that are going to turn into long term trends, in some cases, long before the end client would end up seeing it, so we can use that as a way to provide some insights back to them,” he said.
  3. Listening to client feedback. Communicating with the client is highly important and allows him to focus his research to meet their needs.

Helweh chimed in and mentioned that he had usually found updates to initially affect only a small minority of users.
Grieselhuber agreed, but stated that most of the sites affected are smaller transaction-based companies. He said that while updates did not have the same impact on everyone, these businesses were almost unanimously devastated. He said, “In the scheme of things it was a minority of sites, but it was also a very vocal and well represented portion of sites in terms of online businesses.”

The evolving role of content

O’Brien asked the participants to share their advice on how small teams should adjust and handle the changing roles of SEO.
Helweh explained that he considers teamwork to be essential for quality SEO content. “It’s about making sure that the different folks from different departments, or the different roles, are working together because to me it’s a little bit UX,” he said.

What’s the user experience like? Google with these updates has done, in my opinion, a really good service to their end user because they’re leaning people now in the direction of saying ‘stop trying to appease the robot, start trying to appease the human.’ And so it’s about user experience; design; the tech side of the design, so the actual implementation of the code, the semantic code, and all that, and then ultimately the content and marketing. There’s so many people that play an important role into it, if the technical person who’s implementing the semantic code and making sure its all optimized doesn’t work with the group that’s actually working on the content and understand the overall business goals and marketing strategy then they don’t have anything to optimize.

Helweh went on to explain that it is important for users to feel like the website and content are natural and not something that is forced upon them.
Vasselli agreed, but added that she felt it was important for teams and client to work together in order to produce content. She explained that content needs to be congruent with a company’s brand message so that users can get an honest idea as to what the business is about. “You can’t just be going after keywords if they really don’t match up with what the brand is actually about. It doesn’t work in the long run,” she said.
Grieselhuber responded, “If you look at the history of internet marketing creating high quality content is probably always going to be, and always has been, the number one bottleneck because it takes a lot of effort. Creating unique content is obviously what makes the internet as valuable as it is, but doing that well, especially if you’re a small business, is especially hard to do.”
Helweh said that writing material that appeals to the user is a challenge for many people; however, the difficulty level is diminishing. With the rising popularity of social media, it has become easier for companies to receive feedback on their content.

Producing content consistently

O’Brien mentioned another challenge for content creation–time constrictions. “Amidst working on other things, meetings, other aspects of the business that when there’s already a fraction of your time that’s dedicated to SEO that you really do have to prioritize the creation of content,” she explained.
“Oftentimes, in a five person or less team or sub 10 person team, it somehow gets deprioritized.” She noted that people who create great content do so well because there are very few places that produce quality material for them to compete against.
Helweh stated that there is a difference between SEO-targeted content and general content. He explained that it is important for teams to make a distinction between the two types of content so that they can have their material properly indeed in a search engine.
Vasselli offered a slightly different view. She felt that small teams needed to conserve their time and resources by integrating some SEO elements into their general content, allowing them to post multipurpose material.

Biggest shift in algorithms

After listening to Vasselli’s response, Grieselhuber said, “One of the biggest shifts that’s happened in the algorithms has been away from grading an individual page on its own merit towards looking at the overall quality.”
“As you increase that overall domain authority your aggregate rankings are going to improve for all of your content,” he said. “You can actually focus more time on creating that high quality content and not necessarily worry about creating these leaf pages that are over optimized.”
Vasselli explained that Fuel has seen a similar occurrence for some time. She said that domains will often rank for a keyword even when the page does not.
Helweh noted that SEO has two tiers. One is domain level and the other is page level. In the past less focus was placed on domain level SEO. The recent changes in algorithms have begun to shift more focus towards the domain level SEO as well as other attributes such as author rankings.

SEO essentials for small teams

O’Brien ended the group’s discussion on small team SEO management by asking each member to describe what they considered to be an essential items for the team to do.
“I think the user experience, like looking at it from a user experience perspective, is important. I think that if you look at your pages,” Helweh continued, “and say ‘what is the expectation, the mindset of the person who clicks this link, what do they expect to see on the other side. And is the language there, is the right information there.’” He felt that providing the user with content that met their expectations was essential to managing quality SEO content.
Vasselli agreed with his advice and added, “Just blog any questions that you get asked more than three times. Blog about it, write about it, get it out there because that’s something that people are looking for.”
“Even if it just saves you time, because then instead of answering the same question 50 times you can just send people a link. I think it helps you out and it helps you out from an SEO perspective,” she explained.
Grieselhuber explained what he considered to be essential for successful SEO. “Wherever you are, take whatever you’re doing right now and start small.” SEO can be overwhelming, and it is important to begin with manageable tasks.
“Figure out way to start working that into your daily workflow. And then, as you get better at doing that on a regular basis, then figure out the next thing, what the next high priority item is and start doing that too.”
Do you have tips on how you manage SEO in your small team? Leave them below in the comments.
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