The In-House SEO Leader

written by Janet L Bartoli | CORPORATE SEO, SEO Career

February 2, 2019

The In House SEO Post 2020

What does your in-house SEO program look like? Have you developed a formal plan for yourself and your organization?   

There are loads of “free SEO courses” and loads of paid SEO courses that teach all kinds of SEO, primarily geared to the SEO tactician or freelancer. In other words, these are mostly, all how to, or what’s important to Google’s algorithm.

But there are literally no resources of any kind out there that helps the in-house SEO leader develop a formal SEO systemZilch. Zero. Zippo.

So, I’ve noticed the missing ingredient in the in-house SEO space is an expert voice. One that can share the ins and outs of what it takes to successfully run and operate an in-house SEO program.In essence, doing this effectively, strategically and optimally.

SEO Requires an Effective, and Well Planned Strategy      #SEO

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There are many situational and operational considerations that don’t seem to be discussed outside of search marketing conferences.

I’ve been part of many of these kind of discussions as global SEO internal lead, and for a large management consulting firm. I've worked directly with enterprise CMOs, and many other senior level marketing executives.

Your Senior Leadership Teams Need Your Help

So, here we are in 2019 and still I’ve not found many leaders at all that really dig into the importance operating your in-house SEO program. I know it's something that many organizations need because I’ve developed these programs.

The reason is simple, most senior leadership teams don’t know how to begin to operate an SEO program for a company of any size.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a large automotive site, or small size international manufacturer of less than 100 employees, looking to grow its brand globally. If you're an in-house SEO you aren't likely to find much training at all to help you.

These CMOs or Sr VPs of marketing all have one thing in common. They do not know how to hire and direct the in-house SEO to lead and manage any size SEO program.

I'm not generalizing at all when I say this.

Over the years, I’ve heard from many digital marketing leaders, SEO managers, and Directors of SEO, across all kinds of verticals.

You’ll find this in any industry. For example, finance, telecommunications, travel, etc. all of them had limited understanding of what and how to make their SEO efforts more productive, and efficient.

These organizations also lack consistent reporting necessary to inform them of what to expect and how to plan their fiscal year.

This article is for you the SEO Director, SEO Manager and SEO teams in-house no matter what your industry or size of your team or company. It’s also for your CMO, and SVP of Digital Marketing too.

Let me ask you. Do you know what your CMO should be reviewing each month? Not what they ask you to provide them, but what do they actually need?

Does your development team know that the keywords meta tag went out with the fax machine?

How about what schema markup is and why it's important?

How do you help your company think about SEO when developing new products or new marketing initiatives?

Without a formal SEO framework, methodology, or center of excellence that includes best practices, you’ll likely run up against some very big headwinds and challenges you never thought you’d encounter.

Worse yet, if you don’t operate your program efficiently or successfully, and likely find yourself struggling to justify true value of SEO and your position.

SEO when done correctly can be the largest source of sales for your company, far outweighing other digital marketing platforms. Yes, especially paid search.

What is an SEO Framework?

I call it a framework, but call it whatever you like, a framework, playbook, plan, or process. 

Developing a formal organizational framework is essential to any in-house SEO structure.

Should you know about the latest Google algorithm update is and how it may or may not impact your traffic?


Should you provide that insight to your organization.

Yes and no. 

I realize there are many really good SEOs who are deep in the weeds on every tactic in the book, but there are many more who struggle to show their value and the value SEO brings to the organization.

This is a major reason why SEO is relegated to forgotten child and left without true representation as to the significance to what they truly bring to the organization.

What you decide to share or not share with your senior leadership team, might mean the difference between you maintaining your position in the organization, or getting additional funding for 2020 and beyond.

I can’t count the number of meetings I’ve witnessed where the SEO Manager shares his results in a monthly executive meeting showing keyword rankings. “Hey check this out, we now rank 45 keywords on the first page of Google!”

The VP of Digital Marketing remarks, “Nice, how many of those are actually converting to a sale?” How many of those are actually visits to a product page?”

This is why developing a methodical framework and governance model is essential to anyone who oversees SEO for their organization.

The framework allows you to plot your SEO course over time. It also helps you educate your senior leadership team to understand what results can be seen when, and sets a level of expectation throughout the year for them. 

You know you can’t achieve massive success within 30 days - they don't.

Organic search takes lots of time, and focus in a few areas - technically, site-side and off site.

Having that framework in place, helps illustrate all that to your boss over time. It helps them understand that all these things can’t be done all at once and they can’t be completed over night no matter what SEO expertise we have. 

Why You Need an In-House SEO System

You might be someone who learned SEO on your own. Maybe you picked up a few tips along the way, reading a few SEO blog posts and boom - you know SEO!

As someone who does enterprise SEO, you most likely have to prove what your day to day, quarter over quarter and end of year goals are, right up through to your CMO (Chief Marketing Officer).

Hence, the #1 challenge with search marketing in the above stat.

If you ever found yourself in front of a senior leadership team during a QBR (quarterly business review) then you’ve likely found yourself frustrated over what your senior leaders think you should be sharing, over what you think should be shared with them.

The vast majority of all CMO, SVP level digital marketing executives should have a fairly good understanding as to what to expect from you.

What they aren’t interested in is a laundry list of tactics you’ve worked on over the last three months. This tells the business nothing, except that you filled your days combing Google search console and developing new title tags.

It’s your job to educate through successful, strategic and thoughtful search engine optimization. You should have coordinated your efforts with all other digital marketing channels in your organization. This helps you all have a concise marketing message.

For instance, if you had a well-developed in-house SEO system in place, you’d have a plan of action detailing where you are now, and where you expect to be throughout the year.

This can come in the form of a PowerPoint slide that illustrates what the current state of the site is now, and where you plan on going to. It helps to show step by step how you plan on achieving the results you promised, and what you need in place in order to obtain those results.  

Are You Working with A Digital Search Agency Partner?

Are you working with an external digital search agency? If you are you should expect them to develop an executive monthly performance presentation. This monthly report should show your leadership team exactly how you've been successful and what the plan is to continue to achieve those results.

That's something you should share with your leadership team monthly, quarterly and at the end of the year.

This is a critical, but most often overlooked step in helping your boss see proof of all your hard work over time.

If you work with an external search agency, it's your job to manage that team. It's far too easy to sit back and let them guide the strategy and approach. The better way is for you to control the strategy and the process you're building for your organization.

That agency needs to make sure you are as prepared as possible every month to display the success of the program. You should be working directly with the lead, who should be the most strategic player on the team. Their job is to make you look like the SEO Rockstar.

If the lead of your search agency doesn’t have this level of insight or a plan they’ve developed for their clients, ask for it.

No, Demand It!

Do This To Get Promoted

One of my earliest memories occurred very early on in my career working as SEO specialist for a digital search agency, I found myself so deep in the tactical weeds.

I had no idea how to think bigger than the tactics I worked on day to day, or why I should.

I assumed this was SEO. You just write a solid title tag, tweak up some on-page content, find a few internal links and boom!

That’s it right?


It’s certainly where you need to start - but as my Director once told me, “You need to be thinking strategically.”

So, I had to think strategically. Of course, sure but, I had no idea what that really meant.

What’s the difference between a SEO Specialist and a Director of SEO?

Thinking strategically and being organized with a solid framework to share with your senior leadership team.

This is the key to getting promoted. 

There's a bit more to this of course, but this is the path that leads to promotional opportunities. As well as most of what I mentioned in the previous section.

All too often I see and know too many SEOs who overlook the strategy part of their job. They wonder why they’re still at the same level making less than their counterparts with the same years of experience.

Same ‘ol, same ‘ol is likely the culprit - no plan to grow your career. No idea how to advance and grow as an SEO leader.

Part of the difficulty in managing an in-house SEO program is always having a solid plan of action each year. The first year you need to baseline it all.

What’s the current state of the site you manage? What are the business objectives and goals? Where is all the digital traffic coming from? Where does the majority of your traffic convert and on what product pages? Make sure to have a competitive analysis done, and learn everything about your traffic, including branded, direct and referral.

And the reason you may overlook the need for a formal system is because no one ever requested this. As an SEO specialist, the primary focus is to pump out tactical activities one after another. How do you transition to SEO strategic lead for your organization?

Get your program organized into these three core areas: Strategy, Reporting, and activities that support your strategy.

Develop your SEO strategy early on in the year. Ideally, develop this in December prior to the next year start. Next, provide the right level of reporting to support the performance goals you’ve established.

For example, if you are responsible for tracking sales leads through a CRM or sales platform like Salesforce, make sure you track those Salesforce leads.

Sounds simplistic, but this kind of thing is often overlooked. Learn digital analytics. Google has an Analytics Academy, there's a great place to start!

Is the platform connected to your analytics platform?

Make sure whatever it is you track, gets counted and tracked back to organic search. If not, you’ll be left without answers when your CMO asks you why all the organic traffic coming in isn’t converted.

Then, think through all the necessary activities you’ll need to plan out in order to support that strategy. Prioritize your efforts, because you’ll find yourself running around doing too many things at once and accomplishing none of them.

Think about the resources you already have available to you. If you are using an enterprise SEO platform (like Conductor Searchlight) to manage your program, ask them to assist you in organizing all your activities based on most impactful to least.

They can even help setup a dashboard and reporting to help you organize all your work over the course of the year.  

How Can I Possibly Develop an SEO Plan?

As you probably realized by now, walking in the door as the SEO manager, responsible for organic traffic and leads is no easy task. The first few months can be really overwhelming with all you need to do.

The level of excitement you bring to the business is enormous. The expectation is also great.

The best way to avoid the overwhelm and level set the expectations is to have an SEO plan in place early.

Get organized.

The best way to get that plan established is to start meeting all the internal stakeholders. Talking to some of the internal stakeholders is a critical first step in getting yourself known as the SEO Expert.

Learn to work across other business units.

Find out as much as you can in learning what this business must have to succeed. Do ask your boss what success for this SEO program should look like. You have to get as much insight into the expectations as you can early on.

Build rapport with the leaders in IT and product marketing. Find out how new ideas get off the ground and get developed in your organization. Those are likely the places you need to be, and you stress the importance of your presence as early as you can in these conversations.

By communicating this early on, will help you in the long run - they need to learn how to think about SEO and how it fits within the DNA of the business.

Teach them. Help them understand, without being overly egotistical or talking over their heads with SEO speak.

So, by now you should start seeing how your building up your foundational framework.

Treat this as if it were your own business. Take note of what needs work in your process and tweak it.

Developing a cycle within an Agile structure should help you determine where you start, what you focus on from quarter to quarter and sharing your progress and success with the leadership team.

If you aren't familiar with Agile and how it benefits your marketing - here's a good article on Agile Content Development that helps articulate the process.

Get them used to seeing you own this area. I’d venture to say your senior leadership team has no clue what Rankbrain is, or why IT needs to consult with you when it comes to page rendering and page loads.

You are a significant contributor within your company’s digital marketing hub.

Be the In-House SEO Leader

You are a significant contributor within your company’s digital marketing hub.

Treat this position with seriousness, professionalism and genuine transparency and honesty, and you will go very far in your career and in your role.

I’ve built many large enterprise SEO center of excellence blueprints, teams and processes with which many have adopted and made their own.

If you think you’d be interested in learning more about how to build your SEO framework in your company, or if you work as a freelancer, and need a solid methodology to get higher priced clients - I'm developing a new program specifically to help you.

Just enter your name and email here and let me know if this might be of interest to you.

I’ll help you navigate your way to becoming empowered to lead your SEO program and developing your SEO Digital Center of Excellence.

Become a leader in your team and get set up for promotion and long-term career success.

I've got a few extra resources for you in case this wasn't enough for you.

I wrote an article over on LinkedIn about building a governance framework. Here's the link to that article.

If you haven’t yet read my previous articles – check them out. In order to become an effective and successful SEO refer back to this article where I outline the 9 most effective skills, traits and resources to help you become the most successful and well planned SEO.

More Coming Soon!