A question I frequently get asked by my clients is: “Where should SEO sit within my organization structure?” This question has come within a wide range of contexts, anywhere between those hiring an SEO onto their team for the very first time and those considering re-placement of a large SEO team within the larger organization during a reorg process.
The Most Common Options
Consider for a moment, that SEO as a discipline actually tends to fall between two major initiatives that are present for most companies: Marketing and Website Development. As anyone who’s chatted SEO with me in the past probably knows, I like to divide SEO initiatives between three major pillars: Technical SEO, Content SEO, and Offsite SEO. Technical SEO will generally be dealing with any layer of technical interaction between the search engine and your website. Content SEO will involve what type of content you are producing on-site, and how you intend to leverage that content in a search-engine facing context. Lastly, Offsite SEO involves how you manage the relationships between your site and other sites on the web, and how this impacts your SEO efforts (in almost every context for modern SEO, this generally boils down to backlinks.)
Given that Technical SEO issues often revolve around developmental aspects of the website, and that the type of content we are producing for our audience is generally mandated by the Marketing team, it makes sense that your SEOs will likely have to interact heavily with both the Marketing and Website Development teams within your company.
“Well, it depends…”
If housing SEO within an existing organizational structure is a must, I would suggest approaching the org process with your company’s goals and realities in mind. Let’s use two real-life examples for how we might approach this from a “tailor fit” perspective:
Example 1: The Large Ecom Catalogue
Let’s say you’re a major retailer with a huge ecommerce taxonomy at play, built on a custom platform that was designed by your in-house development team. Large product taxonomies and catalogues can create huge technical concerns from a search engine perspective – in my experience without careful safe-guarding, these taxonomies can spiral out of control from a page count perspective, leading to the indexing of millions of unnecessary or near duplicate that can cause site-wide quality issues down the road.
In this specific case, it may make more sense to house your SEOs within the development (or design) teams of the organization, as a close working relationship with developers can ensure that every small change that could potentially have a major impact on search engine rankings is vetted and approved by your SEO first. This style of setup should also result in a strong rapport forming between your SEO and developers, encouraging fast and agile fixes for when large problems inevitably occur.
Example 2: The B2B SaaS
Now on the flipside of the scenario above, let’s assume you are excited to onboard your first SEO team within your smaller volume, higher cost SaaS product targeting stakeholders at large brands. There’s a strong chance your strategy here is going to be heavy on the content side, with important pages being very information heavy and involving hundreds (if not thousands) of words of content for each page.
In this scenario your SEO will likely be spending a tremendous amount of time with your copywriters and legal compliance team – working to get the maximum amount of organic traffic and visibility from the content your marketing team is producing. In this case, it makes a lot of sense to house SEO within the marketing side of operations.
The Real Answer
But in reality, SEO integration needs to go beyond these broad two disciplines. Think about conversion rate optimization (CRO) and the effect that Website Design could potentially have on your organic search efforts. Consider the more off-site divisions of your marketing team, such as paid advertising or PR. Strong coordination between your SEO and PPC teams is key to ensure you’re getting the most out of your paid campaigns (i.e. not wasting spend on areas which SEO could easily reach audiences for free), and ensuring your PR outreach is maximizing your ability to gain precious link equity for your efforts.
To truly make the most of your SEO efforts, consider an “SEO Group” (you may sometimes see this referred to as a “Center of Excellence”) style setup. This is where the SEO team would function independently but through the utilization of monthly or quarterly “group meetings” would ensure that SEO is a consideration of every major website decision. This “SEO Group” would be led by your in-house SEOs, and ideally would involve participation from every other major team involved in your organization’s website, ranging from development, to design, to copyrighting and even legal compliance teams.
This isn’t a meeting revolving around your SEO “approving every decision”, but rather should be focused on sharing their knowledge with the other teams on how SEO works and how their individual actions can impact the organic presence of the site within search engines.
A great example of this would be a specific meeting focused around the discussion of a website redesign as a single page application (SPA); A great “SEO Group” meeting here would involve the SEO explaining how Google crawls, renders and indexes pages within the context of an SPA. Then an open discussion can be had with the development and design counterparts within the meeting on how they can meet the minimum standards for this type of setup and ensure that search engine performance would not be negatively impacted because of these changes.
It may make more sense to think of SEO as a “lens” through which all audience-facing digital aspects of a brand should be viewed. In the current state of search engine algorithms, where positive results are rewarded for those who design with their audiences in mind, there is no task that your SEO team could execute that is not essentially a “re-framing” of efforts of your other existing teams. It is the SEO’s job to take their work and “repackage” it in a way that will perform optimally in search engines.
Keyword research and optimization is simply a “re-framing” of the content your marketing teams are producing to ensure we are targeting the language that the majority of those utilizing search engines are speaking.
When viewed in this context, perhaps it is easier to understand why it makes less sense for SEO to be “beholden” to another larger structure within your organization, and more sense for your SEO team to be the “finishing touches” on all of your public facing digital presence before it goes to the search engines and their enormous user bases.