Working with Enterprise SEO projects is compared to smaller company sites is as different as marketing to BtoC vs. BtoB customers. This interview with Dan Perry, the SEO Director for Turner Broadcasting covers his SEO dream job, in-house SEO career advice and skills, enterprise SEO, the future of outsourcing to agencies, being persuasive inside organizations and of course, Golf!
We met while you were with Cars.com and now you’re with Turner Broadcasting. (Congrats) How did you get into the SEO world and what is it that keeps you there?
I started building very basic websites in 1998, but didn’t get into SEO until the summer of 2000. I built a site for a local golf course and a few months later, typed “Michigan golf” into a search engine. The site I built was on the first page! The light bulb went off immediately, and I’ve been promoting sites online ever since. The satisfaction of success is what keeps me in the industry. I’ve done enough SEO on sites of all sizes to know that it clearly works. Watching it work and seeing the baseline numbers for a site consistently increase over time is extremely satisfying.
What do you like best about your current position and company?
I’ll answer that with an example of a semi-typical day for me: Have an early conference call with London to discuss international SEO for Cartoon Network, have a meeting with PGA.com to discuss ongoing SEO Initiatives, meet with Topher Kohan (SEO Coordinator at CNN) to discuss strategy, have a call with NBA.com and TNT.tv to discuss the playoffs, and end the day by providing some Editorial SEO training to the team at Adult Swim. To have the opportunity to move the SEO needle on properties like these is truly a blessing. From an in-house SEO perspective, this job is as good as it gets.
You’ve spent a lot of time working on the client side with SEO. What advice do you have for individuals that would like to break into that kind of career path?
Doing in-house SEO in a large company is much different than doing it for yourself, or at a small company. I haven’t “done” SEO in years. My job is training others how to do it, and having them keep SEO top-of-mind. It requires an even temperament, the ability to explain why SEO should be prioritized to developers, executives, and everyone in-between, and a love of PowerPoint and Excel.
What skills should a corporate marketer develop in order to be capable of handling in-house SEO duties?
The ability to sell SEO internally. You may have to convince a developer to change the way they’ve always done things. You may have to convince an executive that SEO is a good business decision, and be able to back it up with numbers. I don’t believe that SEO starts at the top and works its way down, or vice versa. It has to happen at both ends (and in the middle) and then you need to keep it top-of-mind throughout the organization. To sum it up, a strong ability to sell internally, a logical approach, and an understanding of the SEO potential and the ability to put that potential into realistic forecasts.
Do you look for specific backgrounds, experience or skills when you hire in-house SEOs?
First of all, there has to be a base SEO skill-set; this cannot be overstated. There needs to be a level of SEO confidence that one can only gain with years of trial and error, dealing with algorithm changes, etc. Also, the ability to take a complex SEO element and describe it in a simple and easy-to-understand way is an under-rated skill. Finally, a diplomatic personality is key.
With enterprise SEO, you don’t get to roll up your sleeves and jump in with a program in most cases. What do you see as some of the more common challenges with achieving end-goal results from search engine optimization in a large or complex organization?
Prioritization. You and I both know that SEO is valuable, and can produce impressive results. My job is to convince an executive that SEO should be prioritized above the dozens of other possible projects. I need to pull together an SEO plan, forecast potential gains in traffic, and explain why this should be prioritized over other projects. The funny thing is that once that happens and you get approval, THEN the real work starts.
I’ve seen you present many times on in-house SEO panels, which btw, have been priceless for SEO agencies that work for large companies. Will companies still need to outsource SEO in the next 2-3 years?
I think so. There’s a lot of value an agency can add, even when there’s an internal team. For example, agency folks can see how an algorithm change affects many different companies and industries. Over time, the lessons learned from this broad collection of sites are invaluable.
What role do you see outside agencies playing?
Depends on the level of need within a given organization and the size/bandwidth of the internal employees.
Where are SEO agencies usually the most helpful?
Every property’s needs are different, so it needs to be property-specific and driven by the unique goals and needs of each. It can vary from assisting with major initiatives like a redesign to keyword research to spillover work.
What’s your best tip for getting other departments in an organization on “your side” when it comes to content creation, approval and promotion for advancing search marketing goals? Any examples?
Showing the opportunity lost in terms of traffic and revenue. For example, if one of our sites is on the second page of Google for a set of keyterms, and I can provide data that shows the potential gains they should receive (traffic gains, and revenue gains) by getting on page one, it makes the selling process much easier.
What are some of the common “low hanging fruit” SEO suggestions you see the most often with large site SEO? The classic of course, is updating one robots.txt file to stop blocking all bots.
The SEO maximization of publishing templates is a great place to start. Relatively small changes at the template level can have a big impact. Secondly, finding inbound links that produce 404 errors and converting them to 301 redirects.
Please share some of the SEO and Social Media tools that you like most:
Working with such big brands, a lot of the tools aren’t as important as they used to be. Because of that, I spend more times in our analytics package then I ever have before.
How do you stay current with SEO and all the marketing, technology and communication channels that come with it? What are your favorite conferences, blogs, newsletters, organizations, books or networks that you rely on?
I’m a big fan of David Meerman Scott’s book on the New Rules. He took a relatively complex subject and boiled it down into easy-to-understand language. My favorite book of all-time is Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. One of the few books that made me look at a website in a completely different way. When I attend conferences, I usually choose the sessions I’ll attend by speaker name rather than session description. Finally, the Planet Ocean SEO newsletter is one of the most consistent, well-written newsletters I’ve ever seen.
Since you’re a huge golf fan, do you have any interesting golf metaphors for SEO?
Love them both; here’s my top 10 list of similarities between golf and SEO:
- Accept that you don’t know everything.
- Learn by doing.
- Measure often and pay attention to the numbers.
- Be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
- Learn from your mistakes.
- Stick with it, even during the bad times.
- Seek out good advice.
- Luck is just that.
- Use the right tools.
- Be patient and think long term.
Spotlight on Search is an interview series that shines a light on search marketing professionals to learn more about the nature of their work, differences in SEO amongst categories of web sites and of course, SEO tips, tactics and useful tools. We do not take PR firm pitch suggestions or or solicitations for these interviews. They are by request from TopRank Online Marketing Blog editorial staff only.