There are different stages for a company that’s investing in SEO Strategy, but whatever the moment, they think about working with a team, either internally or externally. Obviously, it isn’t always necessary to build an internal team. In this article we’ll look at when it’s indispensable to have an internal team or when to work with an agency, and how you can build your team from big to small sites, local to international SEO Strategies.
What is an SEO Team and How it’s Built
An SEO Team is a group of people, that work internally or externally, that will be responsible for the SEO results of one or more sites, and one or more companies. Usually the teams are allocated to the Marketing department (some companies have an SEO department) or in the SEO/Digital Marketing Agency.
SEO Teams can be built with a lot of different configurations. Here, we’ll explain what has and hasn’t worked at Conversion Agency, the Leading SEO Agency in Brazil. In our more than 11 years experience building SEO teams, we’ve tried both Department and Squad Structures.
First thing to say is that choosing between them is more a question of company culture than anything else. In traditional companies, departments will work better — with a lot of limitations that are intrinsic to old school management; in innovative companies, Squads are necessary and generate much more fluid processes and exponential results.
The areas of SEO
Before understanding Department and Squads structure, we have to understand the areas of SEO and how they will be managed. Basically, we work with:
- On-Page SEO
- Off-Page SEO
- Content Creation
- Technical SEO
- SEO Strategy
As you can see, SEO has 6 main areas, which can be subdivided into a lot of different functions. These areas can run inside or outside of the team. For example, it’s very usual that the SEO Strategy runs inside the team, but often people work with freelance copywriters. But, of course, you can (and sometimes should) have a writer in your team! There isn’t an absolute rule for SEO teams, so you can define which works better internally or externally for each area.
We recommend defining which areas will be internal or external based on the maturity in regard to working with SEO. If you’re starting or a very small company, you usually will work with an agency. After you get your first results and start scaling up, the costs of using an agency will increase as well as their scope. And now it’s time to have your first employee, as you already know how to manage SEO. Then this employee will have some team members, and then you’ll add an SEO manager. It’s important to note that I’m telling the story of growth of the SEO team, but it’s also about the growth of the company’s digital results.
In my experience, most companies that try to do SEO completely internally fail. Very well structured SEO management and direction can make this possible, but it’s necessary to have a c-level role deeply involved in Strategic SEO.
In most agencies, there are different SEO teams just like advertising agencies in the past used to have creative, account management, planning or media departments. The most common SEO departments are: On-Page, Link Building, Technical SEO and Content. This can work for a while, but there’ll be problems of integration, so Squads (multidisciplinary teams) are imperative.
In more traditional companies, there are SEO departaments usually responding to a marketing/growth or manager/director. It works well, but in my experience working with an SEO Agency is more effective, because it’s common that SEO departments in companies get bogged down by a lot of company problems, not SEO problems. Additionally, SEO changes everyday, so it’s important that an internal team works with an Agency which has an overview of a lot of clients, and best practices, and algorithm evolution as well.
Squads are multidisciplinary teams, working with different skills and are, in general, self sufficient. In contrast to different departments, the SEO Squads are able to work internally with On-Page, Off-Page, Technical SEO and Content, so every action is integrated and result focused.
In theory it’s beautiful, but there are some limitations. It’s hard to develop so many different competencies in the same leader. The usual solution is work with tribes and guilds, where a Senior teaches a Junior and together they develop themselves. It’s very common in the development world, but in SEO we generally work with smaller budgets. I always recommend internal Squads to have external resources, or contracting high level Senior personnel.
External or internal content
I particularly like to work with copywriters in the long term and always the same. Content is too important to allow a lot of failures, which are more common when you work with different freelancers. The solution is to work with an internal copywriter, but you should have more than one, to cover yourself in the case of turn-over.
If you’re starting with SEO I recommend working with a content agency and let them manage these problems. Then, as the amount of content increases, I would contract a Junior analyst to understand the workflow and then manage external freelancers, in a long term partnership.
In content marketing strategies, I always prefer signed articles, as it generates more credibility. Working with freelancers is a good solution, because you will have different people signing the content and they will bring their credibility to your content.
If you’re a newbie in the SEO world, you will work with an agency. If your company is experienced with SEO, at least a part of On-Page should be run internally. Why? Because there are a lot of manual tasks and things to do. Even working with an agency it’s possible to build a partnership with your internal team, where the agency works on Strategy and your team works both on Strategy and Tactical.
Technical SEO is critical. Generally, the big challenge isn’t about technical knowledge but about implementation. Great SEO projects fail not because of bad strategies, but for lack of or weak implementation. So, on medium and big sites, especially when they use proprietary CMS, it’s very helpful for an SEO specialist to act as an evangelist in the company, with IT and management teams.
So, my recommendation for those cases is to have an internal SEO Specialist with good communication skills (which is not very common). It’s far more necessary than deep technical skills, especially if you’re partnering with an agency. If you’re looking for state of the art, you should work with a dedicated Technical SEO team.
Off-Page SEO generally works better outside of your Squad. Why? Because it’s a very complex discipline that nowadays integrates Digital PR and Business Intelligence teams. Modern Link Building is very similar to Public Relations, because you need to get mentions and backlinks from great websites.
As you know, there are a lot of Digital PR agencies with dozens of employees, because it’s an enormous challenge just to get mentioned in news outlets — and getting backlinks is even harder. So most SEO Teams, even when they’re internal, work with external Link Building Agencies.
In very mature SEO projects, a part or all Off-Page SEO can be internalized, but keep in mind that it’s harder than internalizing On-Page or Technical SEO. Another important thing is International Link Building. In all my experience I’ve only seen companies working with agencies, as it’s necessary to have local relationships and cultural knowledge.
There’s no right or wrong about how to build an SEO Team: you can go internally or externally, it depends mostly on your maturity in regard to SEO. The more mature your company in regard to SEO, the more it will be internal. As maturity grows, you’ll be adding people for your team. When you’re reaching maturity, you should work with a hybrid model (internal+external). Once you’ve attained maturity, it’s possible to work with an internal team. In my extensive experience, Off-Page SEO should be external.
How do you build SEO teams? Share your experience in the comments.