Building an SEO team can be overwhelming.
But I’ve got you covered.
In this post, I’ll go over the key members of an SEO team, what they do, and how they can work together most effectively.
What We’ll Cover:
- Why a small team is best
- The benefits of using agency
- The benefits of having someone internal
- Key positions:
- SEO team tips for success
I’m no stranger to websites.
In fact, I’ve worked on hundreds, and in each case, the strategy for the SEO department is a little different. As is the SEO team structure.
I’ve seen 15 SEOs in-house (yep, it was a really big website), and I’ve seen agencies that handle 50 medium-sized websites for a client.
I’ve seen consulting models, non-consulting models, developers working on SEO, people who also do SEO, PPC who also do SEO, CTOs leading the SEO charge, CEOs doing SEO, ahh!
So what is the best way to structure an SEO program for a website? I’ll give you my two cents.
When Building an SEO Team, Keep it Lean and Mean
When it comes to SEO team structure, too many people in the kitchen is an issue.
I promise, you really don’t need a room full.
Why? Well, there are a lot of different ways to do SEO and way too many opinions. And the funny thing is, multiple ways can be right!
Say, for example, you want to get a URL out of Google. You can use a robots.txt file, meta noindex, rel canonical the URL to another, 301 redirect to another URL, Google URL removal tool, X-Robots-Tag: noindex, you can 404 the page, etc.
There are a lot of different ways to solve the problem, all with their own merits. Some are better than others for certain situations, but if your only tool is a hammer, that’s what you’re going to use, right?
So what I’m saying is this: the more people engaged – especially if they are inexperienced – the harder it becomes to get things done.
That’s why it’s best to keep it simple and to follow the precedent of SEO agency team structure. The fewer people causing issues, the better.
Have an Agency Involved
You can hire SEO people all day, but if you don’t have any agency helping you out, that’s an issue.
Agencies have a lot of advantages over in-house.
I’m not saying in-house SEOs are not important – in fact, they’re critical to large websites.
But an agency provides an inherent advantage simply due to their access to so much data. When you are in-house, you don’t have 50 other clients you can pull experience from.
…But Also Have Someone Internal
Yes, an agency provides some critical oversight. It can also give you some insight into SEO agency team structure.
But with a big website and big company, you need at least one person internally who has some serious stake in the SEO game.
That someone will answer to the CMO or CEO about SEO performance.
Best case scenario, this person is the project manager (which we’ll cover monetarily).
But of course, the more the merrier.
Building the Best SEO Team: Key Positions
Though you want to keep your team small, you want enough people to address each major component of your strategy.
Which means that ultimately, how you build a team will come down to the size of your project.
A smaller website could get away with just one or two people running the show – as long as their strengths suited the overall goals of the project.
But given the complicated and ever-changing nature of SEO, large and enterprise level websites need a solid SEO team to keep things running smoothly.
And with larger websites especially, you’ll benefit from finding the best agency fit for your business.
If you go the agency route, make sure you’re asking the right questions to determine if they’re the best fit for your business.
Here are a few key positions to look out for if you want to set up the best SEO team.
When it comes to SEO team roles, your SEO Director is kind of your manager’s manager.
This is the person who manages the entire team. They’re concerned primarily with the bigger picture strategy, rather than the day-to-day details.
As the overarching team lead, your director is in charge of making sure everyone on the team is aware of and taking care of their responsibilities.
They should provide direct oversight on the project and direct support to each team member.
On an agency level, a Director may not be actively involved in all projects. Rather, they tend to oversee and work with bigger tier clients.
SEO Team: Digital Strategist
Right below the Director is the Digital Strategist.
While slightly more hands-on, the strategist’s job is primarily concerned with – you guessed it – the overall project strategy.
They guide the project, and though everyone should have room to discuss their ideas, this is ultimately person that gets the final say.
When it comes to SEO, it’s easy to end up debating a little thing for way too long. Make it clear that one person is allowed to have the final word (ie. your digital strategist).
Your strategist also communicates directly with the project manager regarding any issues or questions. So if a problem arises, the strategist is the first line of defense.
On a more day-to-day level, the Lead Strategist will often perform detailed research into the project, the industry, and the competition to set clear benchmarks.
And, given the ever-evolving nature of SEO, a Strategist needs to be up-to-date with all new technologies and changes, and able to determine if – and how – those innovations will impact a specific project.
The main role of the project manager is to make sure the project keeps moving.
Think of them as your team quarterback. They run the plays and make sure each job is in the right hands.
And when they run into trouble, they consult with the coach.
Technically speaking, the Project Manager makes sure all deliverables are assigned and completed within a given schedule.
So they’ll work with the Lead Strategist to form a clear strategy, and then break that strategy down into actionable tasks. Once those tasks are created, they’ll assign them to the appropriate team member.
The project manager needs to be interfacing with the development team on a continual basis. And they need to have the ability to get things implemented.
That PM needs to have technical knowledge, or at least be able to understand and relay technical concepts.
And, though the project manager should be aware of all aspects of the project (CRO, content, etc.), their primary job is SEO.
That means working with the strategist to put together and execute a solid plan, managing team members, delegating tasks, and putting together 3-month plans.
This is generally the direct point of contact for clients. They lead team calls and provide support to the client when needed.
SEO Team: Project Coordinator
Your project coordinator helps the Project Manager with daily tasks.
These are hands-on members of the team who provide direct support to the PM. Specific tasks include everything from putting together agendas and weekly reports to assigning content, writing outlines, and helping with general reporting.
A good point to keep in mind here: even if you’re working with an in-house team, it’s incredibly important to keep updated reports (and if you havent’ yet, check out Google Data Studio).
SEO is a seriously complex field.
And there’s an entirely different side to that the untrained eye rarely notices – technical SEO.
Technical SEO takes place behind the scenes but plays a major role in the overall success of a strategy.
One element out of place – I’m talking duplicate content, canonical issues, faulty redirects, etc. – and your rankings could take a serious hit.
That’s why it’s important to have a dedicated technical lead in charge. When it comes to SEO team roles, you’ll find that this person’s responsibilities are totally different than the PM or Strategist.
This is the person in charge of technical implementation and maintenance. They know their robots.txt from their rel canonical and can diagnose any sudden drops in traffic due to technical error.
Tech-savvy SEO team members also know how to manipulate code on your website without causing it to crash. That’s for two reasons:
- They know what they’re doing
- They run tests in an isolated environment before rolling anything out to production
If you make a change to the code on your site, you could literally bring the whole site down if you do something wrong. Obviously, that’s not going to be good for business.
Website developers, on the other hand, know how to avoid that pitfall.
Additionally, technical professionals are familiar with the software languages involved in website development. These include:
If your website is running in a state-of-the-art cloud environment, such as Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services, you’ll also need to find a tech professional who’s familiar with the platform. The learning curve is typically steep for cloud technology, though, so it’s best to find someone who already has experience with the exact environment that you’re using.
In many cases, you might need a whole team of developers instead of just a single developer.
Yes, that’s going to cost you some money. But it’s the cost of doing business online these days. Prepare to open your wallet.
SEO Team: Head of Content/Content Marketing
Simply put: you can’t have effective SEO without great content.
It’s an essential part of the process, and a job that important requires its own position in the team lineup.
The primary job of your Content Manager is to evaluate any existing content and establish a solid content plan.
That includes working with the PM to establish and target the best keywords for your business, and keeping tabs on what kinds of content performs best and tweaking as needed.
And sometimes, “content” extends to more than just writing – it can be the creation of infographics, videos, etc.
On a smaller site, your content manager may also be the one producing the content.
But on larger sites, they’ll want to scale content efforts by hiring an additional editor and, depending on the size of the site and content demands, a number of dedicated writers.
Digital PR and Social Media Managers
Another major part of your strategy: social media.
And again, with larger sites, this requires its own team.
The role they play will depend on the makeup of your SEO team. In some cases, they’ll have an active role in the content created, and work closely with content managers and PMs.
Large sites will likely want to include a separate role for Digital PR. This person will reach out to the press and others in your industry to develop relationships.
In that case, another position dedicated solely to social media management would be beneficial.
On the other hand, a smaller site could likely roll those responsibilities into one – and in some cases, combine with content management.
SEO Team: Conversion Rate Optimizer (CRO)
This role isn’t critical to your strategy, but if you have resources can be extremely beneficial.
The CRO is responsible for improving the conversion rate optimization of a site – essentially, making sure that a high of enough percentage of visitors to a site end of converting.
A lot of this work is done through split testing, and starts by understanding why people visit your site and what they expect out of it.
Some of these tests could be as small as testing the color or text of a CTA button, or as big as tweaking the entire layout of a landing page.
Beyond that, a CRO needs to clearly understand your website funnels and how it moves people from the awareness to buyer stage – and which stages need to be improved upon.
In smaller teams, the PM or strategist will often take this role on.
SEO Team Tips For Success
1. Dedicate the Proper Resources to Your Team
A lot goes into SEO – and I’m not just talking about the team itself.
Before building your team, you need to make sure you’ve set a budget that leaves room for additional resources.
Because at the end of the day, a good team needs tools. These will aid in everything from keyword and competitor research to social media and project management.
So make sure you’ve done your researched and consulted with someone familiar with the field to help determine what you
2. Use a Project Management System
In SEO, things get complicated – fast.
The easiest way to keep everyone on track and up to date is by using a central project management system.
With these, anyone on your team has an easy way to see exactly what’s being worked on, what’s completed, and any new issues that may have arisen.
Remember: collaboration is key. Make sure your team has an easy way to do so.
Personally, I’m a big fan of BaseCamp, though there are plenty of systems out there that will get the job done.
3. SEO Team: Review Monthly Reports Together and Hold Weekly Meetings
Along the same lines of collaboration and communication, your team should make it a habit to review monthly reports together.
The reports should cover keyword rankings, month over month traffic, year over year traffic and should be looked at in a realistic context.
What SEO work was pushed through? What gains should be expected from that? Is that reflected in the report?
4. Play to Your Team’s Strengths
Not everyone’s a people person.
Not every SEO is great with the technical side.
And not everyone is cut out to keep tabs on a team.
So don’t make them. Instead, form a team that plays to each member’s strength.
Basically, be smart when your assembling your team. Don’t put someone in a Project Manager role whose strengths may be better suited to a technical lead.
5. SEO Team: Don’t Go Rogue
In SEO, going rogue isn’t a good thing.
See, sometimes people get off track. Communication breaks down, no one knows what the other person is working on, weekly meetings get missed, etc.
This can happen for a number of reasons. Maybe the internal team is being pulled in other directions. Maybe there are issues with the business in general. Or maybe SEO just loses priority.
In these types of scenarios, one person might go rogue and start working on SEO alone.
This can be dangerous, especially if it is not the person who is the most knowledgeable.
I’ve seen this often. At one point I saw an executive who was working on the SEO team block their most important directory with robots.txt because he thought it would help. It didn’t.
That doesn’t mean your team can’t offer ideas. But implementing them? Shouldn’t happen without approval from the PM or Strategist. Make sure everyone is crystal clear on their roles and what’s expected of them – and what isn’t.
And remember, proper documentation is an absolute must. Even the smallest changes and tweaks should be kept track of properly (and put into your project management system).
6. Never Make Too Many Changes At Once
When it comes to websites, never make more than one major SEO change a time.
For example, if you try to change URLs, add a directive in the code and update your content all at once, how will you ever know which change did what to your search rankings?
Hard to tell, right?
That’s why it’s best to do a limited number of chances, monitor results, and go from there.
Wrapping Up Your SEO Team
If you have a website of any size, you know how important search engine optimization is already.
I hope these tips help you create a seamless process – and build the best SEO team in town.