SMX In-House Day: Getting SEO into All the Right Places of the Development Life-Cycle

I had the privilege of being on one of Jessica Bowman’s panels at SMX West this last week along with Marshall Simmonds. The session covered common issues faced by in-house SEO’s, as well as tactics for integration of SEO across the entire web development process. This is a brief consolidated overview of what was discussed.


The issues of ensuring that SEO is involved from the concept stage, or at the least IA stage was repeatedly emphasized. One of Marshall’s anecdotes to this point relates to the recent Hudson plane crash. The article title and header went out within minutes of the disaster; unfortunately the title and header said ‘Plan Ditches in Hudson’ (I may have that a little mixed up, but you get the point), and no-one was searching for ‘plane ditches’. However a competitor utilized the prime search phrase ‘plane crash’, and scooped the NYT. Marshall’s team was on it as soon as they realized (which was to all accounts and purposes pretty much immediately it went live), but despite their best efforts, the fact that they were not involved from the beginning meant that the time lag in the exceptionally fast-paced industry of online news was just too great.


Two salient points following on directly from this were (1) to ensure you own the templates and (2) to ensure that you are on the global email list.


There was some discussion about the amount of time being on the global-email list would inevitably require in terms of monitoring and follow-up. The consensus appeared to be that evangelizing related supportive cross-disciplines to encourage SEO inclusion would be optimal. However, it was noted that getting a full team of inter-related cross disciplines who work indirectly to become SEO evangelists can take quite some time. If it is possible to find a happy medium between being the SEO baby-sitter, and waiting to be spoon-fed information on new initiatives, then that would be a good place to start.


Apart from owning templates and CSS from a process point of view, it was also proposed that whether you baby-sit or strive to gain enough credence and respect via effective benchmarking and reporting on success metrics; if you don’t have upper management support, things are going to be tricky.


And it’s not only upper-management you need to convince. Sometimes, you really need to train or educate information architects, experience designers, copy writers, web developers, QA as well as project and account managers on what you can achieve, what support you need, and how you need to be able to work with every team as a cohesive whole to achieve the best result from a usability, marketing and SEO perspective.


If you can educate each discipline on your wish-list and how they fit into achieving the best in terms of SERP exposure and organic click-throughs, and how their input actually affects bottom line based on clearly pre-defined KPI, you can not only share this information with them, but involve them in discussing lost opportunities, competitor inroads, new initiatives and more. The more FACE time you get with each team, the more they will trust your ability and your judgment – especially if you back up your discussion with data; your argument with analytics; your talk with telling-points.


The 4Es were mentioned regarding gaining cross-discipline support and ensuring SEO inclusion:

  1. Educate – training, lunch-and learns, whatever works best
  2. Excite – show them what you do, they may not be aware of what it is, tell them a primary goal and explain how you want to achieve it, and why and how you need their support to do so
  3. Empower – provide them with clear KPI and benchmark data followed by result based data on the same set of KPI
  4. Evangelize – inform them, thank them, support them and request their input or new initiatives


It was also mentioned that SEO needs to be involved not only from the concept or IA stage, but through every stage of the process. Reactive SEO implementation results in a re-do of many elements of the initial web task; design may be affected, copy will be affected, web dev time will be required, as will QA and release time. It may even require a rethink of the navigation and additional pages, thus IA time; your analytics team may be required to create new SEO based dashboards for stake and share-holder reporting purposes… and so on.


Conversely, proactive SEO ensure that SEO is part of the initial budgeted charter in terms of resourcing and cost factors. Being proactive means less time being reactive; which in turn means more time for strategic development and discovery, tactical refinement, personnel development and training, and less frustration all around. Jessica had some great points on this, and her experience speaks to early involvement as a prerequisite for the most effective implementation of SEO resources and experience.


Apart from SEO being involved in the actual web development process, the concept of being a friendly FACE (Facilitate communication, Apply insights and learning, Create processes and Establish relationships) was touched on from the perspective of ensuring that SEO is integrated in all marketing discussions and initiatives. This involvement ensures that new tag lines used in banner ads, PPC, social marketing as well as print, radio and TV are incorporated into landing pages, and that landing pages are optimized prior to release to ensure a holistic presentation of the marketing message across the marketing mix.


It was also noted that SEO is a piece of the overall pie, and may in some cases have to curb its enthusiasm due to brand or legal constraints especially where the bigger brands are concerned; but not without push-back where warranted.


In closing, it was a true pleasure to be on this panel. I knew I was holding the short straw being on a panel with two true icons of in-house SEO. I can only thank both Jessica and Marshall for their support and generosity, especially Jessica’s as I ran over time. Nonetheless, being the commensurate professional she is, she still wowed the audience with her presentation despite my stealing some of her time, and ensured more than enough Q&A time at the end for session attendees.


If you ever get a chance to listen to either Jessica or Marshall speak at a conference, I strongly recommend you attend. Their individual and collective experience is formidable, yet they are two extremely approachable professionals. It was an honor to speak with them, and my privilege to meet them both.

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