A question about SEO (search engine optimization) on Quora stimulated me to write something I have had in my head for a while.
Clients often ask this question. Search is essential and it’s complicated. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just bring in a hired gun?
But search engine marketing is a strategy and like advertising, brand messaging, lead management, and everything else, it must be a considered part of your broader marketing strategy, serving the needs of your business. It’s not something you can just toss to a contractor. Worse, tackling SEO as a narrow tactic is a sure way to get bamboozled or possibly, penalized by Google. Sadly, the majority (seriously) of people who claim to be “SEOs” are either charlatans or incompetents. If someone tells you they will get you on page one of Google for x% of your 50 keywords, run.
So, what do you do? The best answer is a mix of in-house expertise with some agency help.
Step one is to understand search. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of dicey SEO knowledge out there, so be cautious about what you believe. I advise executives to read “The Truth About SEO” by Rebecca Lieb. It’s a few years old but largely about strategy that doesn’t vary that much and provides a broad understanding of search. For those tasked with executing the search strategy, read Lieb’s book and Moz.com’s Beginner’s Guides.
Step two: Hire or designate your search marketing staff. Large companies that live and die on the success of search will need more staff and they will need to be pretty senior. One idea is to hire a senior-level marketing consultant like me to build a strategy that mid-level people can execute.
Why do you need someone inside? For a couple of reasons. First, no agency will understand your business as well as you do. And even if you have a great agency, you need someone inside to manage the relationship and make sure the agency is giving you its full attention. Finally — and this is really important — an insider has access to the rest of the company. Every search marketing program requires help from many people in the company, from product managers to executives, to IT and web staff. Outsiders can’t command resources or evangelize the cause.
Step three: Consider hiring and managing an SEO contractor or agency.
All that said, there are great SEOs and SEO agencies and they have expertise and stay current in a way most in-house marketing staffs cannot. But when you hire an agency, they must be managed and you must have in-house staff who understands search.