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Where Does SEO Live? Tips for Structuring a Successful Enterprise SEO Team

29th August 2019Paul GrossiPaul Grossi

We’ll start with the bad news. Google ignores about 50% of enterprise website content. This shocking statistic means that most enterprise websites are operating at just half of their digital capacity.

This is happening for a few reasons, namely:

  • Enterprise websites, such as many e-commerce sites, are huge. Without a tight grip on your site structure, things can quickly spiral out of control.
  • The web is getting bigger every day, and Google doesn’t have time to crawl and render it all constantly.
  • Google is moving sites over to the mobile-first index, resulting in major implications for enterprise websites.
  • The modern web has advanced beyond HTML. Today, most enterprise websites are interactive and use new technology like JavaScript, which can present challenges for Google.

Thankfully, there’s good news. The enterprise organizations that take a proactive approach to solving this problem have a huge opportunity to increase their organic traffic and revenue. This can be accomplished by prioritizing SEO and integrating it into their workflows.

The big question then is “how?” What does it look like for an enterprise organization to integrate SEO into their organizational structure, and how can they measure its success?

Where does SEO live organizationally?

The first big question enterprise organizations need to answer is, “where do I put my SEO team so that it can achieve maximum results?”

The interdisciplinarity of SEO has historically made that a tough question to answer.

SEO: marketing or technology?

If you were to look at most SEO teams ten years ago, they almost always operated within marketing teams. Today, more organizations are realizing that SEO is a blend of both creative marketing and technical development. Although SEO is its own discipline, it’s one that has ramifications for many other disciplines:

  • Web developers need to follow SEO best practices to avoid issues that could prevent search engines from finding and understanding the website content as intended.
  • UX and design teams need to follow SEO best practices to avoid eliminating or changing content that is driving organic website traffic.
  • Content and editorial teams need to write with search engines in mind so that people can easily find that content through a Google search.

Because SEO touches so many other digital disciplines, and seems to span both marketing and technology, many enterprise organizations have been stumped as to where to house SEO.

seo product or seo marketing

Integrating SEO with product teams

Many forward-thinking organizations have been trending toward integrating SEO with product teams (where the product is the website).

This team is tasked with the organization’s website as a whole, and comprises specialists ranging from developers and analysts to designers and SEO specialists. This is an encouraging move, since many SEO recommendations require support from product and engineering to implement.

By working together on the same team, enterprise SEOs can influence and be influenced by the rest of the website team.

SEO’s place in the organization will determine the team’s focus

Where an organization chooses to place SEO on the org chart will have drastic implications for what they prioritize and what they can accomplish.

  • SEOs that live with marketing tend to focus more on content optimization and have a more difficult time getting SEO fixes prioritized.
  • SEOs that live with product/engineering tend to have an easier time getting large-scale, big-impact SEO fixes deployed.

When it comes to the largest sites on the web, such as the case with many e-commerce, publisher, travel (ex: OTA), and classified websites, you need SEOs embedded in each phase of the organic search process: crawling, rendering, indexing, ranking, and revenue.

When organizations with large websites only focus on on-page recommendations such as keywords, title tags, and content, they’re missing enormous opportunity. For example, why fix the content on a page that Google isn’t even crawling? Large organizations with large websites need to focus on their full search funnel or be left behind.

Considerations when incorporating SEO into your product team

There are three main considerations enterprise organizations should make when organizing SEO into their product teams:

1. Website complexity

More so than size, the complexity of the websites within an organization’s portfolio should determine your team’s resources and organizational structure.

Things like JavaScript, prerendering, having separate mobile URLs, and internationalization (just to name a few) can add layers of complexity that warrant additional SEO resources to monitor and optimize.

2. Release cadence

How often is your website changing? Is it updated weekly? Daily? Hourly? The more frequently you update your website, the more you should consider dedicating resources (both in terms of headcount and technology) to monitor your technical health.

3. Tech stack

Do you have multiple CMSs that control different parts of your website? This is often common with e-commerce websites, for example, where the blog is run off a popular blogging platform like WordPress because the e-commerce platform doesn’t come with blogging capabilities.

What you end up with is multiple page templates and multiple CMS systems that you have to manage with different limitations and restrictions. In a perfect world, you'd have an SEO manager or team focused on the e-commerce side and another focused on the other CMS system, such as a blogging platform.

Centralizing vs. compartmentalizing your SEO team

There are two main schools of thought when it comes to structuring SEO teams: centralizing them and compartmentalizing or siloing them.

What does a centralized SEO team look like?

A centralized approach to enterprise SEO is when there’s a single SEO strategy across multiple brands and teams. SEO is centralized, and drives the direction of the entire team.

centralized seo

What does a compartmentalized SEO team look like?

A compartmentalized or “siloed” SEO team, on the other hand, occurs when each brand within an organization has its own dedicated teams and implements its own SEO strategies. When this happens, those individual SEO strategies don’t always align with an overarching strategy. For example, this could look like siloing your SEO teams by brand, product category, or vertical.

Common pitfalls of siloing your SEO teams

When an enterprise has multiple SEO teams operating independently, there are some potential pitfalls, including:

  • Internal competition for developer resources
  • Multiple teams all testing things independently and, in many cases, a lack of knowledge-sharing with the results of those tests and theories throughout the organization.
  • Redundancies in overhead created by overlapping roles on different teams

Every organization needs to weigh their own options, and evaluate their unique setup before arriving at a decision on how to organize their SEO team, but in our experience, centralizing SEO and integrating them into web product teams tends to work best for enterprise organizations.

Should enterprise SEOs be specialists or generalists?

SEO is incredibly multifaceted.

Every component of the website should be optimized for search, from code to content. Additionally, there are multiple phases of the search process:

  • Crawl
  • Render
  • Index
  • Rank
  • Revenue

This leaves SEOs with a lot of possibilities in terms of specialization. Do you find SEOs who can do it all and have them share these responsibilities? Or do you find SEOs who specialize in one or two of these areas and let them have complete control over those tasks?

Like most things, there are pros and cons to both. Employing SEO specialists allows for individuals to own certain aspects of the strategy and execution. While this allows them to be deeply proficient in their area, it can create an imbalance in the workload between different specialists within the SEO team, depending on what issues the site is experiencing.

With generalists, on the other hand, you do have a more even distribution of work, but this setup does not allow for individual team members to own certain parts of the execution. It’s difficult in today’s SEO climate for an individual to be 100% proficient across all these areas.

In our experience, it’s preferable for enterprises to employ a strategy with specialists, given the vastly different skill sets required for different aspects of SEO.

Separating content and technical SEO

When it comes to areas of specialization within SEO, two main ones stand out: content and technical.

  • Content-focused SEO teams tend to be focused on producing new content, improving existing content, and using those content optimizations to grow organic rankings and traffic. These SEO teams typically fall under marketing.
  • Technical SEO teams tend to be focused on improving aspects of how the site is crawled, rendered, and indexed. These SEO teams typically fall under product.

It can be helpful to give each of these specializations their own team, separating responsibilities and KPIs for each, which can be helpful for three main reasons:

  • The skill set for each discipline is quite different, and it’s challenging to find SEOs who are proficient in both.
  • Utilizing specialization allows for greater flexibility in recruiting and staffing.
  • Specialization creates efficiencies as a by-product of deeper expertise.

Having two divisions of your SEO team reporting into different organizations within the company might sound inefficient, but we’ve actually seen it create more efficiencies because the content side of SEO does align more with marketing and the technical side does align more with product.

What does the SEO team itself look like?

The SEO team is now established within the tech organization, but how is the SEO team broken down?

  • SEO Leader: Defines strategy and overall role of SEO within the org.
  • Technical SEO: The technical subject matter expert.
  • Business SEO: The generalist that bridges the business with the tech org.

enterprise seo team

Some common roles within this type of enterprise SEO team structure can include:

  • VP of SEO: Every SEO within your enterprise’s team rolls up to this individual.
  • Technical SEO Analyst: Individuals focused exclusively on tactical improvements such as crawlability.
  • Project Manager: Individuals focused on planning, organizing, and accountability.
  • Content Marketer/Strategist: Individuals focused on planning and generating content for strategic keywords.
  • Analyst: Individuals dedicated to analyzing SEO data, reporting on the results, and pulling out insights.
  • Data Scientist: Individuals who work with large quantities of search data to find trends that inform plans for the entire SEO team.
  • SEO Engineers: SEO teams that have a dedicated resource on the product/engineering team are by far the most successful from our experience.

This type of setup, although it might seem complicated at first, creates a clear reporting structure and responsibilities for increased effectiveness.

Do enterprises still need SEO agencies if they have an in-house SEO team?

Even the most successful in-house SEO teams still utilize agencies & consultants to help execute and validate their strategies.

  • Strategy Validation
  • Testing / Experimentation
  • Content Creation
  • Reporting & Monitoring

Large enterprise organizations should assess their resources and see where they still have gaps that an agency could help fill.

The future of enterprise SEO

The web is changing, and enterprises with large websites are feeling it the hardest. These organizations need a unique methodology if they not only want to keep pace, but thrive in the modern web.

To learn more about this enterprise SEO methodology, check out our series on this topic:

Or drop us a line and let us know what SEO issues your enterprise organization is facing!

This post was originally delivered as an e-commerce focused session at Bay Area Search’s August SEO Meetup at Macy’s. Visit their website to see future events!