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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

In-House Big SEO: Organize, Analyze, Educate, Execute, Track

Search engine optimization has been slowly working it's way from the back alley bad boys optimizing for pills and porn - to members of the corporate boardrooms of major companies optimizing for pageviews, subscriptions and ecommerce. Legitimate SEO has been recognized as an important contributor to the bottom line of major web properties. As SEO has gained respectability, it has been introduced to CEO's, CMO's and importantly - CFO's.

Now that large companies are spending literally millions of dollars a year on paid search marketing campaigns, they are coming around to understand the value of using SEO to make sites search friendly in order to bring increased search rankings and produce (essentially) free search referral traffic in addition to that paid traffic. While both PPC and SEO remain important parts of the search marketing mix, both bring differing results to the intangibles of branding and visibility as well as the more measurable ecommerce sales, subscriptions and pageviews.

The earliest session of day one of Search Engine Strategies New York was dedicated to In-House Big SEO, when session moderator Jeffrey K. Rohrs of Optiem, opened the panel by introducing Bill Hunt of Global Strategies, Inc. consultancy (acquired in March by Ogilvy Digital).

Hunt suggested "integration into the organization ... of internal protocols & best practices guidelines" and "integration of processes into the web development workflow." Sounds like that comes right out of a policy manual - and in fact it does - one that Hunt recommends all corporate SEO's create and make available via their own in-house wiki or SEO knowledge base, housed on the corporate intranet.

In order to get management buy-in to increasing engineering resources and budgets for the IT department, he recommended what he called "missed opportunity matrix" charts, graphs and forecasts of potential web traffic as it converts to the hard data of sales to show management what they are leaving on the table. Since traffic and conversion data is readily accessible, it should be mined and organized to show potentially increasing numbers of visitors converting to buyers or higher ad sales.

Hunt suggests that corporate SEO's "measure everything and show the results." Then use the resulting increases in traffic and sales to "sell the success" to the web development team, PR, Marketing, and advertising departments.

Hunt was followed by Marshall Simmonds of Define Search Strategies and the New York Times Company. Simmonds is responsible for the optimization of an estimated 11-15 million documents online from the Times, and other Primedia properties to TV Guide online.

Simmonds pointed out the obvious barriers of what he called "corporate ego" and resistance to change and then asked the audience, "Is anyone here at war with their IT deparment?" He suggested that it isn't necessary to fight with in-house developers and offered five key elements of corporate SEO success: "Organize, Analyze, Educate, Execute, Track." Those five bullet points could be easily find a cozy home within any corporate structure, but here they are intended to get a job done where many are resistant to SEO.

Simmonds emphasized the importance of in-house SEO training sessions to educate staff on the value and intricacies of increased search rankings. He claims he averages a training a month and believes it is a central part of an SEO's job to offer these educational sessions to more than just the engineering team, but also to the stakeholders on the technical staff, design teams, PR office and editorial producers who all manage touchpoints for elements of the company related to search.

Simmonds finished with a rather unusual angle, suggesting that "Metrics save jobs." He suggests that there will be inevitable seasonality to search and the resulting traffic will fluctuate, based on audience demographics, holidays and the school year and their individual leveling off and decreases in web traffic. Pointing out to management that those variations, peaks and valleys in the traffic graphs are expected and follow historical trends can prevent the blame being laid at the feet of anyone responsible for ongoing success of a web property. (Sounds a bit like an auto-biographical experience not fully explained.)

Two remaining members of the panel echoed the points made by Hunt and Simmonds. They had little additional prepared to say and allowed much of their time to be dedicated to the Q&A session.Tanya Vaughan HP, Global Strategist suggested that the role of an SEO is to "influence & evangelize through consulting & education." Brendan Hart Director of Customer Acquisition for National Geographic Digital Group recommends that we "demystify SEO through analytics and the top ten KPI's."

And with that, I took my own corporate acronyms and attended a previously scheduled meeting, missing the Q&A session in favor of executing on those Simmonds bullet points -

  • Organize
  • Analyze
  • Educate
  • Execute
  • Track
with a key department in our New York parent corporate office.
Mike Valentine is an SEO Specialist offering occassional commentary on Search Engine Developments through his Reality SEO Blog and developed WebSite101 Small Business Ecommerce Tutorial in 1999 to help educate the little guy to the intricacies of online business.

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