Lee Odden

SES NY Session: New Face of In-House Search

New Face of In-House Search

The New Face o In-House Search included Ron Belanger as the moderator and Bill Hunt from Global Strategies International, Olivier Lemaignen from Intuit, Marshall D. Simmonds from New York Times, Bill Macaitis from Fox Interactive Media and Brendan Hart from National Geographic Digital Media.

First up is Bill Hunt to talk about what perspective companies should take when considering bringing search marketing in-house.

What are the best options?

  • Outsource – Give everything to the agency
  • InSource – Do everything in house. Few companies are actually doing this
  • Hybrid – A mix

The hard questions start with: What are the objectives? Can we meet the objectives with this new approach? What level of management support do we have? Can we measure a program to show benefit? What is our bench strength? Can the program scale? Many in-house programs fail to scale.

What is the total cost for each approach? Will the company commit and follow through?

Other questions:

– How supportive is management? Talks about a missed opportunity matrix. Very effective tool for convincing management for budget.

– Can we measure our performance? Do you have the right web analytics tools in place>?

– How scalable can we be? It makes sense to make SEO part of work flow. Figure out all the people that contribute content and train them. The economies of scale cannot be beat.

– What is our bench strength? Show that you can’t do it on your own as well as the missed opportunity. What could you do with more skills and more people.

Next up is Olivier Lemaignen from Intuit who talked about the pros and cons of taking things in-house.

1 1/2 years ago Intuit had a few internal people working on paid search. SEO was a mythical thing and they were uncertain of it’s value. In a 1 1/2 year time frame, SEO is all inhouse and PPC is in part outsourced because of their bid management expertise.

First thing is to hire a team. That means you need to get budget approval, which means executive support. The scope of the team’s responsibilities need to be defined. Skills need to be defined as well and that allows you to hire the right team. Next steps are to engage with internal clients and define the right success metrics in order to track results.

In-House SEM Organization Chart - Intuit
Intuit In-House SEM Team Structure

Working with internal clients means setting up different service levels.

Keys to Success:

  • Budget autonomy. If you don’t you won’t be able to execute all the initiatives that you need.
  • Executive support.
  • Team structure and coverage. Having the right team organized the right way according to business unit needs is critical.
  • Tolls and metrics – Branding, traffic, leads and revenue

Combine deep company and business unit expertise with deep SEO expertise.

SEO specializations: linking, new technology, tracking/reporting, searcher experience

PPC specializations: keyword development, ad copy testing, landing page testing, agency management (at least in the case of Intuit)

Holistic thinking is key. Consideration of other company marketing.

Building the in-house team starts with foundational capabilities, business unit knowledge, thought leadership. Identify a matrix of new hires with SEO expertise to mesh with long term employees that have deep company and business unit knowledge.

Scope of the in house team. Six objectives:

  • Developing consistent and repeatable processes
  • Scalable tools and reporting
  • Ensuring coverage for the right businesses
  • Coordinating with agencies, web engineering, teams, analytics, copywriters
  • Best practices and standards
  • Evangelizing and educating SEM across business units, web teams and geographies

Budget autonomy, Exec support, Team structure coverage, Tools and metrics, Evangelization/education, Results

Three things the in-house team needs to be known for:

  • Thought leadership
  • Excellence
  • Business leadership

Next up is Marshall Simmonds, Chief Search Strategist from the New York Times. Also his own agency called Define.

Organization and structure are important as well as where issues happen during the development cycle.

What can big brands do today?
Organize – Identify a point person, on site SEO manager. Strong communitator and well-schooled SEO.
Engaged team of marketing, etch, research, editorial and even sales.

Analyze – broke down prioritization buckets. Where is the low hanging fruit? Where can small changes have maximum results?

Educate – Ensure the front lines producers and editors plus back end people are all on the same page when it comes to SEO. It’s not one size fits all. It’s different for each department.

Execute strategy and measure results on an ongoing basis – Metrics saves jobs! Need to tallying up the wins and losses each month. Established baselines so that executives and Wall Street would understand them.

Give feedback to the people doing the actual work as well as feedback to the executives sponsoring the SEM program.

What not to do:

  • No login. Don’t wall off content.
  • Not communicating both suesses and areas of opportunity
  • Not checking in with IT. They WILL screw something up, be sure to provide oversight. Must speak to ad sales so they understand the effect of what they’re selling on site SEO
  • Just take the meta keywords tag out of the CMS
  • Must communicate, educate the people actually performing the work. Each department gets a different checklist. It’s even built into the content management system.
  • It’s important to manage expectations properly. What timeframs and growth rates actually are. With SEO, results won’t start for several months.
  • A lack of editorial oversight can cause issues. You can automate things like meta description, but title tag should not be automated.

Next up is Bill Macaitis, SVP Online Marketing for FOx Interactive Media. myspace, fox.com, gamespy, etc.

Audience poll: Who wants a bigger staff? Everyone
What % of company site traffic is search? About 30%.

Centralized department and provides search marketing to all FIM sites. They use some 3rd party technology – web analytics. All manpower is in-house and they are ROI driven. Bill emphasizes that internal SEM teams must be revenue generating focused in their communications. Show upper management that when SEM asks for budget, it’s an investment with a return, not just a cost.

In-House SEM Organization Chart - Fox
Internal SEM team structure for Fox Interactive

Budget is 10-15% of compensation for ongoing training. Budget covers conferences, certifications, travel, subscriptions and research. The average conference/certification cost is $1600. 3-4 events per year.

New hires spend 3-4 weeks with a dedicated mentor. 1-2 hours a day for ongoing education. Make sure you let them know what they’re accountable for and give them the tools they need to be successful. Leads to results and loyalty.

Training and Learning Mediums: Shows a huge list of blogs, sites, conferences, certification courses, associations, magazines, 3rd party research.

Last up is Brendan Hart VP Marketing Business Intelligence for National Geographic Digital Media.

The changing media landscape – for national geographic.


Add content with consumer demand and follow search engine best practices. Optimize strategy based on industry trends. Include a search marketing component to all content. Engage SEO consultants to review work flow and best practices analysis. On site optimization plus directory/link building and some PPC.

Finding your inner search voice.

A matrix of discussion to decision for refining goals and tactics. Evaluate situation, define goals, assess current tactics. Then refine tactics, build the team and get an outside point of view.

Building a Winning Team. Core actions:

– Designate a search evangelist. Get consensus from all levels of the organization. Build consensus amongst those responsible for implementation and building cross-functional support. Execute ongoing training. Build a search program and defining accountability and goals, a search team and define practices for success.

[Many of the audience members indicated running multiple content management systems.]

Bring in an Expert Point of View. Periodically review the search program.

Benchmark and analysis are the first steps to optimization. Operationalizing search allows everyone to contribute.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Hey Lee- I thought this was a fantastic post. I currently work for a small SEO company and there are many benefits that come with hiring people in-house versus outsourcing. It seems like there is more structure as well as a more ideal environment for fostering better communication among staff members-which is an integral part of the success of any business.


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