Prospective customers simply are not finding your product or service by using their smartphones to search. Worse, your competitors seem to have a crack SEO team at work. They’ve cornered the search engine market using keywords that strike at the heart of your business model. This is intolerable, of course, because you’re the best at what you do! Countless potential customers are being led horribly astray.
Deep breath. Awareness of a problem has taken hold. This is the necessary first step.
You’ve already taken the steps of committing to the process of improving your online performance through learning more about SEO, digital PR, geotagging, the primary types of keywords, website analytics, and more. However, as you began digging into the details, it became clear that no one person can possibly accomplish everything needed to improve — and retain — higher rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs). You ultimately arrive at the realization that you need to hire more staff.
With that realization, you’ve taken the necessary second step — one that is frequently the most challenging. Very likely, the investment required to construct a search engine optimization (SEO) team from scratch seems daunting.
Don’t Allow Panic to Make Your Situation Worse
However, you should never undertake building your team in a hurry. Instead, objectively assess your efforts to date. Realistically evaluate the skills you already have on board with existing team members. Commit to starting small and building consistently over time. SEO team success requires that you play the long game.
SMB owners might decide to combine some of the roles listed below. They might hold off hiring in one area to beef up in another. You’ll want to set up something suited to your unique needs. There is no “one size fits all” approach that applies to every niche. Feel free to adapt these broad categories to arrive at a customized solution for your SEO team. Plan to review progress and identify deficits at least once per quarter.
Setting Your SEO Team Up for Success
1. SEO Team Lead
As with any company-wide initiative, the buck ultimately has to stop with someone. Given the constantly shifting terrain of the SEO realm, it’s all too easy for team members to get so far down into their respective rabbit holes that they lose sight of the bigger picture. Perhaps nowhere is the frequency of this common issue easier to get out of hand than during an SEO overhaul.
Whether you call this person the “Chief SEO Executive” or “SEO Top Banana” will be a function of the nature of your business and the overall vibe of your company culture. How you title this position is far less critical than it is that it signals authority. Everyone on your team signs off on the notion that whatever this individual says….goes. Every decision this person makes is final, for better or worse. Full stop.
Ideal characteristics for this role would include a high degree of flexibility, calm demeanor (i.e., not easily agitated), strong communication skills, and the ability to play the long game consistently. This person has a well-defined game plan that includes a unified approach, frequent praise for milestones achieved, and benchmarks that can adapt to changing market conditions.
Ideally, this person also has a strong background in PR and serves as a liaison between the SEO team and PR personnel. As the PR people are working to create positive brand awareness, those efforts are likely to uncover opportunities for back-linking, referral traffic, and building up the authority of your company’s website assets
2. Digital Content Lead
This person is responsible for planning, creating, and regularly updating the Content Creation and Publication calendar. One of the most frequent mistakes that SEO team leadership makes is seriously underestimating just how much legwork is involved in this singular task. After all, the end result is a calendar display that provides a consistent view for all team members. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like much of an end product.
In this case, appearances can be deceiving. The content lead is responsible for interacting with every member of the SEO team, coordinating the production and editing of 100% original content, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of every team member, and (not least) keeping a grip on approved vacation schedules. This person is also well versed in big-picture company objectives and the keywords required to obtain them.
Whoever occupies this position should (ideally) be a direct report to team leadership. These first two positions are frequently combined into one, but in most cases, that is not an ideal structure. If you must start out this way, look to split the two responsibilities at your earliest opportunity.
3. On-Page SEO Specialist
Among marketing specialists, the on-page SEO specialist can perhaps be considered your company’s online content introvert. Of course, they are always looking outward for research and trends to help optimize internal content creation efforts, too. However, the primary focus is creating, tweaking, and constantly fine-tuning company-curated websites, social media channels, videos, and all other publicly available digital media under the direct control of your SEO team.
There is certainly no shortage of sample job descriptions for this position available online. However, key attributes to keep in mind are the ability to work well with content creators to optimize copy, revise landing pages, caption photos, edit videos, conduct research, and bring their insights to bear on pre-existing, current, and future content creation. At times, this person might recommend that precious pieces of digital content be revised beyond recognition…or deleted altogether. As you might well guess, having some diplomacy skills will prove helpful.
4. Off-Page SEO Analyst/Technician
This function is quite similar to that of the on-page SEO team specialist, but the primary focus is consistently outward. This person relies on data-driven reporting — website analytics, sales figures, impartial niche rankings, and so forth. They use these as tools for connecting with external entities that might reasonably have an incentive for creating inbound links. The off-page specialist is particularly interested in boosting the overall credibility of the company. The key concepts for this person are overall content relevance, perceived trustworthiness, and domain authority.
If relationship building, outreach, and link building (see below), can be meaningfully compared to sales, this position can perhaps be analogous to customer service. There is likely to be a great deal of crossover between the on-page and off-page duties, but there are shades of difference in approach, which (again) is why it’s often best to split these responsibilities between staff. Your on-page people are responsible for “baking the world’s greatest cake.” Off-page expertise requires an ability to answer the question, “Why aren’t more people buying?”
5. Relationship Management, Outreach, and Link Building
On the surface, this position sounds a lot like sales, but it’s slightly more than just that. Yes, this position approaches external entities to gauge interest in collaboration, but it does not stop there. Given the fluid nature of online content — what works well one day might quite literally tank the next — this person’s responsibilities don’t end once someone cuts a check. Instead, this person maintains an abiding enthusiasm for the success of clients. They conduct regular research to share with clients to help them stay on top of SERPs and continuously enhance their reputation.
What Win-Win Relationship Building ‘Looks Like’
There’s a terrific scene toward the end of the 1996 film Jerry McGuire. The title character authentically celebrates a significant victory for one of his sports clients. Across the field, another client who signed with a competing firm wonders why his agent never shows that level of enthusiasm. Separating quick sales from abiding interest marks the dividing line between sales and ongoing support. Staff in this position work for your company, yes. However, they are constantly on the prowl for opportunities that might benefit the external entities with whom they interact.
This position requires a deep understanding of the need to bring win-win propositions to the table week after week. The relationship management employee must maintain a keen awareness of what the on-page and off-page specialists do. They must understand how it can be leveraged to their client’s advantage. They must be able to speak to both highly knowledgeable SEO customers and those who need it boiled down to the most superficial level. This person must be able to explain how inbound links are most likely to come about, what can be done to boost online reputation, and more.
At the level of the SMB, relationship building might translate into better working relationships with suppliers, other businesses, customers, nonprofits, and local, state, and federal governments. In short, this person seeks to position your company such that other entities want to be associated with it, both online and in real life.
6. Technical SEO Team Support
Depending on the size of your business, you may start out with your web hosting and maintenance services being outsourced. Most SMBs do begin their online adventures precisely like that, and many choose to keep it that way. This might be perfectly acceptable in your situation and you, therefore, see no need to hire any professional “web nerds.”
Fair enough, but keep in mind that whenever you outsource anything, you enter into a queue. The level of priority you represent to that company will be in direct proportion to how sizable your account is as compared to others. Suppose that service provider has clients whose monthly recurring revenue (MRR) dwarfs that of your company. It’s not hard to guess who is going to get faster turnaround times on service requests. This sort of prioritization is to be expected, so patience may be needed.
Having a technical person or team just down the hall from your office can make all the difference in the world when it comes to the need to update the website core, scan for plugin conflicts and promulgate desired mark-up practices for both on-page and off-page SEO teams.
These people need to not only be highly conversant in what works best for SEO now, but they are also forward-looking. Suppose you’ve ever had a hosting provider send you an urgent email. They urgently inform you that you must update your site structure immediately. In that case, you know full well the value of getting advance notice. Forward-thinking does not throw your entire company into panic mode.
Play the Long Game with Your SEO Team Members
As mentioned at the beginning, there is no hard-and-fast rule for how to construct an SEO team that will meaningfully contribute to your company’s success. You can probably expect at least a certain amount of trial and error as you move forward. Copying what works for one company in your niche usually doesn’t work, either. Your unique selling proposition should be different from your competitors, so your strategy should differentiate, not blur, distinctions.
Of course, the sky’s the limit when it comes to conquering the digital realm and owning the industry you occupy through the use of custom SEO. What you probably do not want to do is hire a bunch of people only to turn around and let many or most of them go six months later. The impact of such a move will be devastating to the morale of the team members who remain.
If the staffing budget represents an initial stumbling block, better to combine a few of the roles listed above into one as a solid starting point. Just maintain ongoing awareness that it’s easy to overwhelm you digital PR team. Many times burnout can creep up on even your most energetic team members without their realizing it. Be ready to add staff as need dictates, before your people begin to lose their energy and excitement.