The One-Man Band: 5 Tips on How to Manage In-House SEO without a Staff

Fact: Over 40 percent of in-house SEOs do not have a staff*. That means if you’re an in-house SEO reading this post, there’s a fairly good chance that you, like me, are navigating the tumultuous waters of Search solo. Impossible? Obviously not. Challenging? Absolutely — especially if you’re managing a large site or suite of sites. And that means you need a plan. Here’s mine:

  1. Establish Yourself As the Resident SEO Guru
  2. According to Wikipedia, a guru is “one who is regarded as having great knowledge, wisdom, and authority in a certain area, and who uses it to guide others.” The key here is using one’s knowledge to guide others. A good in-house SEO will use their Search knowledge to advance their craft. A great one will share that knowledge with their colleagues to build the culture of Search within their organization. Here are a few ways to do it:

    a) Send weekly Search (or Social)-related article links to all company members. Include a quick line or so highlighting points, which could relate to your organization. Also be on the lookout for opportunities to send articles that may have special value to certain individuals, such as your project managers, your VP of Sales, or even your CEO. Pretty soon you’ll notice that your colleagues are sending you Search-related articles. Bingo! You got ‘em. Thank them for the link, give them full credit for their actions, and copy their boss. They’ll be glad they made the effort to reach out to you and Search will remain on their radar.

    b) Hold regularly scheduled SEO “office hours” for people to come by and ask questions. Even if only a few swing by your desk, when folks see an email stating that you’re holding office hours, in their minds they will regard you as a go-to person around the workplace.

    c) Brag. Not about yourself, though. Brag about how proud you are of the effort that your “team” (a k a your office) put forth to pull off a success. Your Search victory is your company’s victory. Let them own it. Name names. Give details. Copy everyone. It’s the old paradox of the more you give, the more you get back.

  3. Train, train, and train some more. No exceptions.
  4. If you are located within three floors of my desk, at some point you’re probably going

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    to be subjected to one of my Search and/or social media training classes. Marketing, sales, design, development, management, etc. No one escapes training. Why not? Because it’s mandatory. Although we SEOs might understand the value of Search in an organization, your colleagues might not. Which means that they may (and probably will) opt out of attending voluntary training and you’ve lost out on getting the whole company on-board with your SEO efforts. Work it out with the top brass to ensure 100 percent attendance to your training classes.

    In my organization, nearly everyone gets an SEO 101 primer course. But we don’t stop there. Certain groups also get their own course tailored to their discipline (design, development, content, project management, etc.) — also mandatory.

    Some SEOs advocate for the brown bag lunch training format. Personally, I’m not a fan of the brown bag. To me, it makes Search feel too supplemental. Something you squeeze in during lunch in between all those other important meetings. SEO is just as vital as development, design, or any other department in your company. And as such, it deserves a seat at the grown-up table.

  5. Emphasize the Place of Search in the Workflow Process
  6. Ensuring that SEO is built right into your company’s workflow process will make your job infinitely

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    easier and will probably even save your organization a couple of shekels along the way. One of the most frustrating situations for any SEO is learning of a project well into the development phase (or later). It leaves you with the choice of either letting it go out the door without proper SEO attention or pulling the emergency cord on the project and backing up to squeeze in SEO where you can. Both are unpleasant and costly solutions.

    Here’s where having written documentation of where Search lives in your development cycle is critical. It saves you and your company time and frustration, since you don’t have to figure out which meetings you should get yourself invited to. And it ensures a much more satisfactory product in the end. The best way to make certain that the process is heeded is to emphasize during training (see point #2) — especially with your project managers and developers.

  7. Identify and Deputize Your Champions
  8. Even the most talented SEO can’t do it alone. No matter the size or culture of your work environment, every office has its SEO champions. These

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    people usually aren’t difficult to identify. They’re the ones who come to you with on or off-topic Search questions, send you articles, take advantage of your SEO office hours, etc. Sometimes they have the same glint in their eye that you do when they talk about Search. Your job is to identify those folks and foster their interest.

    As your biggest advocates, your champions can be your eyes and ears for things when you’re not around and can help evangelize on Search’s behalf. Be sure to make them feel special. When possible, seek opportunities to elevate their status. It might not necessarily be in the form of a title, but there are other ways to reward them, such as copying them on emails, asking them to be your co-trainer in a class or two, or informing their supervisors of their contributions (cc’ing them, of course). The more you help them, the more the favor will be returned.

  9. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. Outsource It
  10. There might be times when your company is experiencing a workload swell and you just need a hand with some quickie keyword research or content creation. Here’s where a freelancer can save the day and be an easy, short-term solution to your problem. Larger agencies might be too pricey or want longer-term commitments, but there are plenty of one-man (or woman!) shops, who’d be willing to take on a short-term gig without breaking the bank. Of course, just like any freelancer, be sure to know who you’re hiring. Get references and ask your Search peers. There might be some up-front effort in finding and vetting a freelancer, but once you’ve established that relationship with them, having someone at the ready in a pinch can be hugely beneficial.

The bottom line is that managing in-house SEO without a staff is challenging and it’s easy to get into a place of feeling sorry for yourself that you don’t have team. Would

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I like to have a staff as I manage six huge websites on my own? You bet. But in these economic times — especially in the newspaper industry — that’s probably not going to happen.

So it comes down to making lemonade out of lemons. I don’t have any HR hassles, I can be agile in a constantly shifting environment, and quite frankly, I like being unique in my organization. By establishing myself as the guru, training constantly, deputizing my champions, etc, I have created a situation in which I may not have anyone that reports to me, but in certain ways, I have 250 reporters, editors, and producers who work for me to produce the best SEO possible.

* SEMPO 2010 Salary Survey


Allison Fabella is SEO and social media manager at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Read Allison Fabella’s full PubCon speaker biography here.