As more and more organizations recognize the value of search marketing, many are choosing to bring their search engine marketing in-house. The primary goal may be to realize cost saving opportunities and improve their return on investment (ROI). However, a strong secondary goal is usually one of control: the need to implement and manage the function using people with a deep understanding of the organization, its industry, and its culture. Additionally, there is the benefit of having a passionate internal representative championing the cause and transferring knowledge to other departments. Now that search engine optimization (SEO) owns a larger part of the marketing budget, it makes plain sense to have someone on board who really understands it. There are many moving parts in a search campaign requiring alignment of multiple departments and it is important that the search specialist is familiar with the internal workings and politics of the different departments. Marketing, IT, product development, finance, sales etc.
As search marketing becomes more established as an industry, the pool of job seekers with some knowledge of the field increases accordingly. Therefore, organizations no longer have to rely on a handful of SEOs who know the special ‘tricks’ to get a site ranked. They can hire knowledgeable staff and pay for additional training to get them up to speed to do a job for them. That’s the theory, anyway.
This development fails to take into account the vital role of experience in shaping a search marketing campaign. SEO changes at a dramatic rate. What works today is not necessarily going to work tomorrow. Having the knowledge of what happened yesterday and what changed yesterday is an immeasurable advantage. This type of knowledge is not usually conveyed in training courses or conferences. It comes only as a result of experience. So, how do you ensure your search marketing staff acquires this experience? One answer is to hire a consultant specializing in strategy, and implementation to come into your organization to help with the set up of the department, and the training of your SEO staff.
Setting Up an In-House SEO Department
If you are bringing SEO in-house after using an agency, a consultant can be an invaluable asset. As well as helping with the actual campaign implementation and staff training, consultants can guide you in identifying and obtaining the resources you will need to get your department up and running. These resources can include the processes and procedures, workflow management, manpower planning, and systems implementation.
SEO consultants can also provide guidance in handling search in relation to company politics. How will the department fit into the organization? What budget will be allocated to search marketing? Who will take executive responsibility for the department? How will the department interact with the IT function? Who will audit the department? And perhaps most importantly – how will you communicate with and help educate other functions of the organization?
Occasionally a consultant will be brought on to help with setting up the team itself. This can include consulting on job descriptions, optimizing job ads, interviewing the applicants, and helping to select the employee(s). When a search marketing team is already in place – technical, copywriters, project managers, account reps etc., a consultant may be used to participate in employee evaluations and reviews.
The Campaign Implementation
The majority of outside consultants are brought in to aid with the building of the search marketing plan. Such plans usually take the form of:
- Determining the campaign goals – both on a micro and macro level,
- Setting up processes,
- Determining who will be responsible for processes, and,
- Setting up a structure to track, monitor and report on the campaigns.
It can also be beneficial to have the consultant regularly audit the campaign results with a view to improving them. They can help identify opportunities that are being missed and problems with the current setup. They can help define strategies that work and can offer advice on strategies that may be out of line with search engine guidelines. They are also usually aware of all the tools and analytic packages out there and can guide the organization towards the one that will work best for their special needs.
Experienced consultants can provide SEO training within the department. Additionally, they may be available to participate in cross functional training, so that staff in other areas will understand the role of search marketing, enabling them to contribute to the overall success of the campaign. A qualified consultant will draw on their expertise to tailor the training to the needs of the individual company. During the process, they may undertake a skills audit to assess which proficiencies are in place and which are missing. Once this is determined, a customized training plan can be constructed and implemented.
One of the biggest challenges of bringing SEO in-house is the need for advanced SEO knowledge. Even after training is complete, it is prudent to have access to an experienced consultant who can advise on tricky situations as needed. Having access to the latest knowledge or access to experience can be invaluable. Ongoing education for your in house team is essential and can be guided or provided directly by an experienced consultant.
An SEO consultant can also be used to manage special one-off projects. This is a very cost effective strategy as you only utilize them when a need arises. It is also useful to have access to them so that you can brainstorm with them. The advantage is that they are not too close to the project and they tend to look at it from a big picture point of view. They are also less likely to be influenced by internal politics which may interfere with doing the right thing for the project. And they are ideal if speed and immediate results are a priority. Easy access to immediate advice and consultation is advisable. If they do not have the immediate knowledge, they will usually have the resources to obtain that knowledge quickly.
An experienced consultant is a useful resource for an in house search engine marketing department. They can be on hand to help with a multitude of challenges that a department faces on a day to day basis. They can also be available when a special project comes along or a challenging situation develops.