I have worked on hundreds of websites at this point. In each case, the strategy for the SEO department is a little different. I have seen 15 SEOs in-house (yep, it was a really big website), I have seen agencies that handle 50 medium-sized websites for a client, I have seen consulting models, non-consulting models, developers working on SEO, social media people who also do SEO, PPC who also do SEO, CTOs leading the SEO charge, CEOs doing SEO, ahh! So what is the best way to structure a SEO program for a large website? That is the question. In this post, I am going to give you my two cents.
Keep it Lean and Mean
Too many people in the SEO kitchen are an issue. I promise, you really don’t need a room full. Why? Well, there are a lot of different ways to do SEO and way too many opinions. And the funny thing is, multiple ways can be right! Let me give you an example. Say you want to get a URL out of Google. You can use a robots.txt file, meta noindex, rel canonical the URL to another, 301 redirect to another URL, Google URL removal tool, X-Robots-Tag: noindex, you can 404 the page, etc. There are a lot of different ways to solve the problem, all with their own merits. Some are better than others for certain situations, but if your only tool is a hammer, that’s what you’re going to use, right?
So what I am trying to say is, with more people engaged, especially if they are inexperienced, the harder it becomes to get things done. That is why it is best to keep it lean and mean and the less people causing issues the better.
Let One Person Set the Strategy
Whether it is your agency, your #1 consultant or your internal person, let one person have the final say. If you allow everyone to discuss and argue their point, you are going to run into issues. You can end up debating a little thing for way too long and end get nowhere in the end. Make it clear that one person is allowed to have the final word.
Have an Agency on Some Level
You can hire SEO people all day, but if you don’t have any agency helping you out, that is an issue. Agencies have a lot of advantages over in-house. I am not saying in-house SEOs are not important. They are critical! But an agency provides an inherent advantage simply due to their access to so much data. When you are in-house, you don’t have 50 other clients you can pull experience from.
Have a SEO Project Manager
There needs to be a strategist and a project manager. The only role of the PM is push things through and make sure the project keeps moving. Whoever the project manager is, they need to be interfacing with the development team on a continual basis. And they need to have the ability to get things implemented. That PM needs to have technical knowledge, or at least be able to understand and relay technical concepts. In my opinion, this PM shouldn’t have any other jobs outside of SEO. The issue is, if you have a PM in large organization that is managing projects for development, design, CRO, etc, and they are also managing SEO, the SEO stuff tends to fall by the wayside.
A Technical Lead
There needs to be one person who is charge of technical implementation of SEO items. This of course would be your developer. This developer is in charge of all SEO work and makes sure the rest of the development team understands SEO concepts. That developer also has to answer when search items are not implemented. This developer will gain knowledge overtime and by doing so, start to inherently implement new projects, and review other developer’s work with an SEO focus.
Everyone I have discussed with thus far can either be internal or external. But this point is really important, with a big website and big company with an office; you need at least one person internally who has some serious stake in the SEO game, someone who has to answer to the CMO or CEO about SEO performance. That physical person in the office will have to answer for the SEO success every day. Best case scenario, this person is the project manager. But of course the more the merrier.
Use a Project Management System
Whether you use BaseCamp, Google Docs and Google Drive, or any other system, it is important to have a project management system in place to ensure everyone stays on track. There needs to be one central area where anyone, anywhere can login and see exactly what is being worked on.
Review Monthly Reports Together
It is important the entire team review the monthly reports together. The reports should cover keyword rankings, month over month traffic, year over year traffic and should be looked at in a realistic context. What SEO work was pushed through? What gains should be expected from that? Is that reflected in the report?
Weekly Meeting and Make Sure Everyone is Respectful
It is important to have weekly calls or email updates at a designated time. In addition, like in any good work environment, everyone should be respectful of others and be working toward a common goal. This will help get the strategy pushed through and constantly be working toward new projects.
Reference Google Documentation for Everything, No One Goes Rogue
In SEO departments, a lot of times people try to go rogue. People get off track, communication breaks down, no one knows what the other person is working on, weekly meetings get missed, etc. This can happen because the internal team is being pulled in other directions, there are issue with the business or just SEO loses priority. Generally, during this time people are still doing things, but they often are not doing the right things. In this instance, one person might go rogue and start working on SEO alone. This can be really dangerous, especially if it is not the person who is the most knowledgeable. I have seen this often. At one point I saw an executive who was working on the SEO team block their most important directory with robots.txt because he thought it would help. It didn’t.
Never Make Too Many Changes at Once
A very smart man came up with the rule that on big websites, never make more than one major SEO change a time. Mind you, ‘major.’ I always keep this rule in mind now. For example, if you change URLs, add a directive in the code and update your content, all at the same time; which change did what to your search rankings? Hard to tell, right? That is why it is best to do a few changes and wait.
Summing It Up
If you have a really big website (lots of traffic, business, etc.) you know how important search engine optimization is already. I hope these tips help you create a seamless process and aid in results.
Enterprise SEO: The Yin and Yang of Optimizing Big Websites. Jeff Gold