The New Face of In-House Search

Mar 19, 2008 - 7:02 pm 2 by

As Search Engine Marketing (SEM) grows in popularity, many companies are attempting to handle the SEM function in-house despite the inherent complexity and challenges. Join us for a spirited discussion and get a chance to meet some of these intrepid do-it yourselfers behind the in-house movement as we debate the pros and cons of developing and training a dedicated in-house team. Laying the foundation for in-house SEO success, long-term cost savings, gaining project support at the executive level, leveraging innate knowledge and creating accountability are just some of the topics to be discussed.


• Ron Belanger, Vice President of Agency Development, Yahoo! Search Marketing


• Bill Hunt, CEO, Global Strategies International • Olivier Lemaignen, Group Manager, Global Search Marketing, Intuit • Marshall D. Simmonds, Chief Search Strategist, New York Times / • Bill Macaitis, VP of Online Marketing & SEO/SEM, Fox Interactive Media • Brendan Hart, Vice President - Marketing & Business Intelligence, National Geographic Digital Media

We are going to be spending the next hour talking about the rising tide of folks bringing, or thinking about bringing search in-house, and the fundamental issues involved. We have a great panel joining us, everyone is bringing a unique twist to this. It’s really good stuff.

The first panelist is Bill Hunt from Global Strategies International.

So Global Strategies doesn’t sound like an agency but we are. We help companies migrate search internally, we do it for a lot of big brands.

The SEMPO/Did-It in-house search marketer study is great, interesting data. According to the data,

26.4% have a manager title, while 10% have a director title. 51.7% have a team size of 1-10 and 46.5% have a team size of 0. 33.1% have 0-3 years experience.

How should you approach outsource vs. in-source vs. hybrid?

Many use the hybrid, the agencies for some things.

The hard questions you should ask:

- What are the objectives, what are we trying to achieve? - Can we achieve them given the resources we have? - What is the level of management support? - Can we measure a program to show the benefit? - What is our bench strength? - Can our program scale? (for those with multiple brands, multiple countries) - What is the total cost for each approach? - Am I willing to endure the pain and suffering necessary to succeed? Is the organization willing to put forth the activities necessary?

How supportive is my management: they want it done but are not willing to pay. How to bring this forward, what needs to change? This is hard for companies to acknowledge, what needs to change in order for the company to be successful.

You need to have written stats and a business plan in order to get management support. Search engines have things like this to help convince companies.

Can we measure performance: I flag this as “outsource” because analytics software is used for this. In many cases, 8 out of 10 applications are not configured correctly. If you can do it yourself great, but track it.

How scalable can we be? This is a “hybrid” - it makes sense for most companies to integrate SEO in house, optimizing press releases, etc. It’s amazing the economies of scale if you think about it. It cannot be matched. That’s why some companies with one or two people blow away the big companies.

What is bench strength? This is flagged as “hybrid” - say you do everything in the company in marketing and you are frazzled, if you were out sick everything will come to a halt. Use that as a way to get more people. Show you can’t always do everything and what you could do if you had more labor available.

Next up is Olivier Lemaignen from Intuit.

A year and a half ago at Intuit we did not have an in-house SEO team. Just a couple of guys who ran search part time. SEO was a mythical thing they weren’t sure if it was going to work. So I will take you through the journey we have gone through. We are definitely hybrid, in house, but for paid-search we use agencies for bid management.

First thing to do when take in house is hire a team. And you need to get budget approval with executive support. You need to then define the scope of the team, what skills you need on that team, to help you hire the right team. If you hire someone with the wrong skills you will waste a lot getting them up to speed.

Then you engage with internal clients. In order to do that you need to define and measure the success metrics to improve the profitability of the program. With a central team, you need to then develop clear service levels – what are you going to do and for who. You need tools and processes that are scalable. If they are not scalable they will not work because you won’t get good results. You realize from this that not all businesses are created equal. Define service level agreements.

What’s absolutely critical if you want your program to endure is to evangelize and educate.

The Keys to Success:

-Budget autonomy -Executive support -Team structure and coverage – having the right team organized the right way is key -Tools and metrics -Evangelization and education -Results

Building the in-house team:

• Understand your business dimensions – business type, site, product. • If you think about success metrics, a service vs. web apps are going to be very different. • Combine the SEO expertise. • PPC Specialization. Holistic thinking is key. Note that PPC is a piece of the puzzle.

Be able to do all the stuff in house that an agency can do, and have the tools and support to scale what you are trying to manage.

Scope: 6 main objectives:

1. Develop consistent and repeatable processes. 2. Implementing scalable tools and reporting. 3. Enduring coverage for the right businesses. 4. Coordinating with agencies, web engineers, teams, analytics teams, copywriters (if your efforts are not coordinated with the folks who touch the site every day – it won’t work). 5. Defining and deploying best practices and standards. If you won’t share with the organization, who will? 6. Evangelizing and educating SEM across business units, web teams, and engineers.

Get the team to wrap their minds about how they are going to accomplish, not just what they are going to accomplish.

Next up is Marshall Simmonds from the New York Times.

I think the processes are pretty straight forward. The NY Times oversees a lot of different properties, like Boston Globe,, etc. So it gives us a unique experience because a lot of what we do is in-house. But the best-practices are going to stay the same. But how you do it?

• Organize • Analyze • Educate • Execute • Track your results

This is always the same, but the differences are where they are in the lifecycle. So how those 5 elements react to where the vertical is, is definitely influenced by how we address certain people. We have a lot of turnover, and millions of documents that we deal with. Communication is imperative across the verticals.

Organize the teams. Not only should the SEO person have a strong understanding, but also good communication. Find one point person in the department. Have an engaged team of marketing, technology, research, editorial, sales.

Analyze, break down into buckets. Where can we monetize something immediately? Depends were you are in the cycle. Educate based on where you are in the lifecycle. Where can the smallest change have the biggest result?

Education: no matter who it is, it has to be done. We currently train thousands on SEO. It needs to be ingrained in the root level. Educating from the bottom is imperative, but you need to approach each department differently, like IT and editorial.

The execution portion is fairly clear. You need to communicate because if you are not following up on a monthly basis on what’s working and what’s not, you are not measuring your successes carefully. Metrics allows you to communicate the success. Give feedback to the workers and to upper management.

Mistakes we’ve had for you to learn from:

-Don’t wall off content. Don’t have hundreds of versions of a registration page. -Don’t under communicate success. You need to let people know. It can be a great motivation device. -Not checking in. IT will screw something up. Constantly check in. Weigh it at every level. -Meta keywords tags. Don’t forget. -Talk to those who are implementing the changes. Make a lot of checklists. -Managing expectations. It is a long-term process. Not for the quick blast of traffic, that’s what buying ads and clicks are for. -Lack of editorial oversight. Make sure headlines and title tags are looked at or the content won’t go live. Things should be automated where they can be.

Next is Bill Macaitis who does SEO for My Space and Rotten Tomatoes (Fox Interactive Media - FIM).

I head up the online department. We work with about 20+ FIM sites out there. We look at social media, email, but we focus on search. We do utilize some 3rd party technology, some web analytics and bid management – but all our SEO and SEM people and researchers are in-house. We are at a staff of 22.

We are ROI driven. You gotta position your department as a revenue department. If every piece of messaging you put out there is generated by revenue, it’s very helpful. You will get more successful this way.

Some questions to think about:

How do we expand? Do we organize pal by content vertical, or specialization?

Here’s how we did it. We split it up into the paid side (SEM), SEO, and within each one we split it by vertical, we have a research and reporting team who handle all keyword research and new studies, and then we have a small tool-building team.

My section: training your in-house team. It will take time and money, it’s an investment. We use about 10-15% of our compensation towards conferences, travel, etc. I let my team go to 3 conferences a year and they can choose. You want to empower them. We give our people a few weeks of training, let them shadow others. You need time for them to develop. Our field changes a lot so the education is ongoing. Spend an hour or two a day to educate yourselves. Give them the tools to do their jobs, and if you invest time in your group they will develop loyalty.

Here are some ways to train your staff:

- Sessions - Industry sites - Podcasts - Conferences - Course, certifications. SEMPO has a great course, Bruce Clay has one, the search engines have them. - Magazines - 3rd party research, Marketing Sherpa, Hitwise.

Last is Brendan Hart of National Geographic.

For national geographic, it’s a changing landscape on a daily basis. I deal with marketing intelligence, from blogs, to widgets, to media. My team is responsible for building the online promotion for our new movies.

Our industry has evolved pretty significantly over the past years. Each page now is important, not just the home page, and every day is a challenge. Thinking about an evolving landscape, what is it that we need to do?

Search Strategy:

- Build content with consumer demand to create category ownership - Follow best practice - Optimize strategy based on changing trends - Rich media feeds - Include a search marketing component to all content - Engage SE consultants to review whorl flow am best practice analysis

It is important for us to find our inner search voice. Look at the current situation. Who is going to do what? Who is going to own this? What skill sets do we have? Let’s define our goals.

Then you have a decision process. You must make it work cross-functionally because everyone has a different skill set and will bring something different to the table. When we think about the team, what are the core actions to building the team? How do we build consensus among people who will actually have to implement actions?

De-mystify the process. It puts a human face on it that makes it interesting to work on. Then we think about, well how do we train people to keep them interested? So we came up with a search program.

We defined a mission which inspires people. By creating a program we developed innovation. In terms of creating a team, I think scalability is key to any in-house program. You also need to think about success, are we aligned to where the industry is going. Assign tactical responsibility based on function. Prioritize implementations based on business objectives. Continually revise. Optimize the process to drive great results.

To get there, we bring in an expert point of view. So we can maintain these programs in house, but we are constantly seeking ways to innovate.

We are focusing on growth. We set our benchmarks of analysis, then operationalize which allows everyone to contribute, and success is a great KPI, so don’t shy away from that.

This session is provided by Sheara Wilensky of Promedia Corp.


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