A SPECIAL PREVIEW TO SMX SAN JOSE
Featuring Jessica Bowman of SEOinHouse
Big companies generally have more sizable websites, larger and more complex SEO challenges, and then, of course, some colossal headaches.
Implementing enterprise-level network SEO standards is no easy feat.
Jessica wrote the line above in a recent article. I asked her to explain.
"When you come to an enterprise level organization, what you would do for a small business has to be adjusted to account for a very large website. You need to define standards, so everybody knows how to implement at their company."
"Every company's approach to SEO is going to be different, based on their industry, their technology limitations and the perspective of the in-house SEO team. Also, you'll have lots of different silos, so you have to figure out who are all the different people that can touch the website and what standards do they need to know about. If you miss anything, you miss out on opportunities. It's a bit of a puzzle to figure all this out. The more distributed the work load is across different departments, the bigger challenge it becomes to enforce standards."
Who gets to play in the SEO sandbox?
This gets messy. Bowman told me the typical enterprise has a slew of folks who get their paws on SEO in one way or another.
- Project managers
- Product managers
- Business analysts
- Someone who writes the website's requirements
- User experience professionals including architects and designers
- Content writers and strategists
- Merchandisers (a common role for e-commerce models)
- Public relations practioners
- Social media professionals
- QA testers
You get the picture. If you're an in-house SEO, you're part of the picture.
Clearly, it's less than clear as to what defines the SEO department relative to, say, an HR or finance department. You'd be wrong to assume SEO is simply a function of the marketing department.
In-house SEO sounds political.
I had to ask: it sounds like this cornucopia of constituents would make for a good deal of politics. Jessica?
"Yes, exactly. You have to have what I call SEO soft skills. Most SEOs have SEO hard skills, but the soft skills are vital or there is absolutely no way you can get all of these different departments to rally around the same set of guidelines and standards. You really have to build rapport and get buy-in from all of these people who may do things completely differently."
Jessica told me she gets brought in to help work these things out for large enterprises. Her success, she says, may have little to do with her SEO skills. She calls on her interpersonal skills and project management know-how to steer the ship.
It sounds like a potential shipwreck.
At this point in the conversation, I thought we were headed for a shipwreck. I was wrong. Collisions are rare, but that doesn't mean there are no problems in the wheelhouse.
"They usually don't collide. They usually miss each other. It's very common where you hear rumblings of a project you think is going to start in a month or two and it turns out the project team has been working for the past 4-6 weeks. There have been multiple meetings for defining requirements and the SEO team has not been invited to join the conversation. That's the mess that can happen. For whatever reason, no one thought the SEO needed to show up yet
According to Jessica...
- People think SEO is a "code thing" and don't realize it has to be addressed upfront in the process
- Enterprises lack for a structure for effective SEO practices
- SEO training takes place, but implementation tactics are misunderstood or interpreted differently
The answer? Effective in-house SEO training programs must be conducted by skilled trainers. Jessica pointed out a talented SEO manager isn't necessarily an accomplished trainer.
The SEO busy body.
I asked Jessica to comment on another quote from one of her articles, which read. "A good in-house SEO can unfortunately get a reputation for sticking her nose in everyone's business." Her response:
"As we talked about, SEO involves so many departments and a lot of times these departments are doing things that are not good for search. What happens? The SEO comes in and tells them their baby is ugly. Very quickly they get a reputation for sticking their nose in other people's business, because it was unrequested and not what they wanted to hear. So that goes back to having the people skills, right? A lot of SEOs don't have strong people skills. They need to go in and basically get involved in more departments across the company. I don't know of one department that spans across as many different departments, except maybe legal."
As an outsider coming in, Bowman often finds herself doing damage control. She said the objective is change the perception of SEO and the SEO team, so the enterprise can make the gains they need.
"Again, it's a process and it requires awareness and education," she said.
The secret session at Search Marketing Expo.
This year, SMX, the world's leading search engine marketing conference, makes it way to 11 cities around the world. First up is San Jose, where for three days, March 11-13, a series of keynotes and sessions will be offered. On day three, Jessica will be a speaker and moderator for two panel discussions.
The following day, "deep dive" workshops are offered including the "In-House SEO Exchange," put on by Bowman's company. The workshop's billed as "a closed-door event for in-house SEOs only."
It takes more than a ticket to get in. You have to sign a pact swearing to protect the secrets that will be shared. I'm not kidding, right Jessica?
"It's a closed door environment. That's exactly right. The participants know what they are saying isn't going to get out there. We had one person pull out a presentation he had given to management about what happened when the company got hit with Panda and Penguin. He actually threw it on the overhead and we all talked about it...
...You would never have that perspective unless you actually went to an event like this. You can talk to other people with boots on the ground who don't feel at risk talking about what's going on."
Jessica was candid during our interview, but I'm pretty sure she didn't share any trade secrets. That may not be the case next week.
"The Exchange gives you an opportunity to talk to 5-10 different companies that have already solved your problem. You are actually able to bring your questions to the event and get answers. It's also about building a Rolodex. I know people who have stayed in touch for years after meeting at this event. You may come as strangers, but you leave as friends."
"Sometimes we go out to dinner the night before as a group to get to know each other, so we are not totally strangers when we walk in the next day. We are then totally able to dive in knowing each other and open the kimono and really talk about what's going on."
What's on the agenda?
During the Exchange workshop, top SEO professionals from Cisco, Adobe and Survey Monkey will take the podium, present strategies and answer questions-any questions. Jessica said the format essentially amounts to an all-day consulting session.
"Anybody can ask anything. What is it you are reporting to management? What do you do when management says this? How is your team structured? Why did you come up with that decision? How are you handling link building?"
"These are case studies that agencies would be salivating to share publically, but they are not allowed. The level of candor we experience is rare and the agenda is based entirely on what the attendees want to talk about."