Two Years Before the Mast: Tales of In-House SEO




By Ian Parker

Though I have been intermittently online since 1996, I’ve been semi-computer-literate since the days of Planetfall and Mousepaint. I have been doing SEO for almost 2 years. I can trace the start of my career to SES New York in 2005. I do in-house SEO for a growing company, #1 for our most competitive keyword, and the advice I offer here originates from our own experiences, mistakes, successes and failures. I’m offering this advice so that other companies might not make the same mistakes. Without further ado:

1. If your website is built in php, do not pay $100+/month for a blog platform you cannot customize. Use WordPress. If you don’t know how to work with it, ask the guys that built your site.

2. Understand that business blogging is a two way street and the idea is to collect user-generated content. Your blog is a conduit relaying information between you and your readers, not a platform for pompous pronouncements. Enable comments, but also have a backup plan for solid reputation management. If you’re not comfortable hearing from your customers and making their comments public, reconsider blogging.

3. If you’re planning on outsourcing menial SEO tasks to an offshore company, in India or elsewhere, make sure that their company website actually exists somewhere in Google’s index.

4. Teach your PR team about how the internet works, especially submitting content to a self-policing community. This will come in handy when you begin writing Wikipedia articles. If your PR guys keep submitting vague articles to Wikipedia which read like “Company X is committed to becoming the proven leader in generating actionable solutions for goal-oriented, enterprise-level providers…”, expect a great deal of resistance when you finally send them a real article.

5. Understand coding languages. If you don’t know how to code, at least be able to recognize it in the wild. If you can’t tell the difference between JavaScript and PHP, look for regular expressions. These are common to all languages and you can sometimes figure out what a script doeswithout knowing code. Having an in-house coder is a tremendous help. If you are determined to do this yourself, learn C/C++. It may be challenging but it is probably the best first language to learn because many other languages share the same elements, and you will gain a valuable understanding of programming logic.

6. Invest in strong CSS development and design. Valid xhtml/css allows for greater freedom in placing your content within the page source, takes up less room on the server, often improves page load time, scares savvy competitors, looks like a real business website, sets a solid foundation for future development… the list goes on and on.

7. Understand basic netiquette. This can mean the difference between a successful viral marketing campaign with strong ROAS and a zillion deleted forum spams with negative ROAS.

8. Track everything. Use a log file analyzer as well as on-page codes. Consider that using cookies for conversion tracking may affect your site’s usability. Also understand that Clicktracks is incredibly resource intensive if you have large log files. You will need to upgrade your computer just to be able to run the client app. You may need to have a Clicktracks server box running locally. Even then you will need to invest considerable time in learning how to integrate this program into the life of your business. Dealing with the quirks of this software requires patience. That having been said I don’t think there’s anything else which provides the same level of reporting and ROI tracking as does Clicktracks. If you need a fast solution, I recommend 123LogAnalyzer.

Your tracking should not be limited to just one program – it’s a matter of selecting the right tool for the job. If you use a good PPC bid management software you can often get integrated on-page tracking tools. The importance of web analytics cannot be understated. This component forms the sensorium of an online business, allowing you to make decisions informed by real data.

9. PageRank is not really a useful metric. There are other factors at work here and PageRank is definitely not equivalent to Google rank. With a bit of investigation one can find other ways to determine the value of a link. Since everyone else is using PageRank as an indicator of a link’s value, you can deal shrewdly in this inflated currency.

10. Set goals. Long-term goals allow your in-house SEO staff to see exactly where you want to go. Try not to deviate from these goals too much. Understand that a lot of strong SEO initiatives are focused on results in the long-term. If you’re concerned about accountability (and you should be), setting short-term goals can help keep your team on target. It sounds basic, but the way a company handles shifting priorities often determines its overall effectiveness in its own particular space. It can mean the difference between being outmaneuvered by a competitor and outmaneuvering him yourself.

11. Understand that SEO is a continuous process, not a “fix-it-once” task.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that we inhabit a parallel universe where search engine ranking algorithms will never change. Even so there will still be a constant need for SEO practitioners/internet marketers as businesses grow. Entry-level SEO projects creep and metastasize into major initiatives. Lucrative opportunities get over-saturated, necessitating a change in strategy. New opportunities spring up overnight. Growing companies will hire in-house link moguls, SEO content writers, social media optimizers, bloggers, etc… promoting from within. Even if every in-house SEO graduates into lucrative self-employment, back at the old firm there’s still plenty of opportunities for the next generation of in-house SEOs, in turn creating demand for SEO consultants and trainers.

12. Go to SES conferences. Identify the speakers that aren’t overly self-promotional, the ones that seem passionate. Read their blogs evey day.

[The above article is a submission for Marketing Pilgrim’s Search Engine Marketing Scholarship Contest. Each Monday in October, entries will be published and the most popular article of the week will qualify for the $5,000 grand prize. If you’d like to submit an entry, please view the contest entry-requirements and guidelines.]