The top skills and attributes of an effective in-house SEO Manager
To be a truly effective digital marketer in today it’s become more important than ever to develop a good range of skills and experience across a variety of different disciples. The ability to work with different teams and specialists enables marketers to collaborate effectively, empathize with colleagues and spot new opportunities.
Over the last five to six years I’ve been using the T-shaped marketer approach to guide my professional development, a concept Rand Fishkin outlined in detail back in 2013. As Rand himself explains:
“T-Shaped basically refers to having a light level of knowledge in a broad array of skills, and deep knowledge/ability in a single one (or a few)"
The key takeaway for marketers is that breadth breeds respect and overlapping knowledge yields creativity. There are great benefits for digital marketers who, whilst specializing in a single area or discipline (e.g. SEO, UX, analytics, media planning), develop a lighter level of knowledge across a broad spectrum of inter-related skills.
Simon Swan discussed the T-shaped marketer approach for Smart Insights and outlined the following five reasons to consider life as a T-shaped marketer:
- 1. Develop organizational integration
- 2. Know your audience
- 3. Integrate technical and general marketing skills
- 4. Expand digital knowledge
- 5. Think and act like a start-up
What makes a great in-house SEO Manager?
SEO is an area of digital that has experienced considerable change over the last few years. From the introduction of major Google algorithm updates and the rise of machine learning to the de-prioritizing of keywords and the impact of mobile, SEO managers now require a dexterity and open-mindedness that many other disciplines do now.
The T-shaped marketer approach, therefore, feels like a useful framework for the modern SEO manager to follow, whether just starting out in the role or a veteran of 10+ years. Today’s SEO managers must leverage a wide range of skills to ensure they drive rankings and quality organic traffic to the websites must through relevance, quality content and earned links.
Smart Insights provides some very helpful guidance on the roles and responsibilities for various digital marketing jobs but within this post, we’re going to look more specifically at the skills SEO managers must develop in order to master their profession.
1. A strategic perspective
The ability to develop a strategic perspective and align SEO plans to the goals and objectives of the business is essential. A strategic perspective enables you to define an approach and create a long-term vision for how you see organic search adding value over time and without this it will become difficult to sell SEO into the business.
Some simple tips to consider as a starting point include
- Get to know the business - what are the organization’s primary goals and objectives? What are the priority product/ services? What are the opportunities and threats that are keeping the leadership team awake at night?
- Identify trends - take time to review the digital landscape and pick out the trends that are likely to have the biggest impact on the business. How do these tie into SEO? If not, can SEO support other functions and disciplines?
- Develop a ‘vision’ - consider the role SEO will play a role in the short, medium and long-term and socialize this with other teams and managers to get feedback and buy-in
2. A clear understanding of best practice tactics
SEO managers should have a solid and up-to-date appreciation of the most effective organic search tactics. With search engines becoming ever more sophisticated, it’s not possible to simply ‘chase the algorithm’ and rely on tried and trusted tactics from the past to achieve success. On the contrary, it’s likely that old-school tactics from ten or even five years ago will get you in trouble!
Below are a few very helpful infographics that outline some of the best tactics for on-page, off-page, and technical SEO:
3. Content marketing
‘Content is king’ may be a well-worn industry cliche but content excellence has never been so important. Whilst content marketing is a tactic that could be covered in the section above, I’ve focused on this specifically for its importance in SEO today.
As highlighted in my post on content marketing trends, there are clear benefits to integrating SEO and content marketing, including:
- Keyword research
- Campaign planning
- Developing quality content
- Content distribution
The overarching benefit of taking a more content-oriented approach is that it moves SEO away from being niche and technical to a discipline that can add value right across the marketing mix, particularly in respect to long-term campaign planning and content distribution.
4. Analysis and insight
Whilst some companies may have separate analytics teams, the ability to analyze data and highlight actionable insights will give SEO specialists a huge advantage. Effectiveness analysis and insight is a key component in driving the business forward and is another factor that will give SEO professionals both credibility and a strategic edge within the organization.
There are two areas where SEO managers can add value:
- A clear view of core KPIs and success metrics: An understanding of what core KPIs to use, against which you can measure how you’re performing vs. the strategy and filter insight back into the operational SEO process.
- What is the competition doing? How do you compare? Effectively benchmark performance vs. competitors, providing you with an understanding of gaps, opportunities and areas for improvement.
5. Brand Management
Great SEO is not about building content and optimizing websites in isolation. As discussed earlier regarding strategic perspective, it’s important to see the bigger picture and this involves developing a strong appreciation and understanding of the brand and how this aligns with business objectives. Insight into these areas will help inform content development and feed into the overarching SEO roadmap.
Whilst SEO managers do not necessarily need to become branding experts, they should be confident in articulating what a brand is and how this influences their work.
Simon Sinek, author of ‘Start with Why’, uses his now famous ‘Golden Circle’ concept to question why brands exist and link what they do and how they do it:
6. People management and team building
Many SEO managers work alone, perhaps as the only subject matter expert in a company or as an independent consultant. However many others will either have a team or have aspirations to manage others one day.
People management is difficult skill to master but one that all great SEO managers must possess. As teams become bigger, the manager must develop the ability to juggle resources, motivate the team and ensure that the strategy is being executed.
This often involves taking a step back and allowing others to execute more of the hands-on, day-to-day tasks. This transition can be difficult, especially if you’ve been used to doing the doing yourself for so long. But it’s essential to make this change otherwise it could have a negative effect on team dynamics.
The Harvard Business Review suggests the following key components to people management:
- Expectation setting
7. Stakeholder management
As well as managing one’s own team, influencing others across the business is also a key competency to master. It’s not possible to manage SEO in isolation; instead, SEO should be considered from an integrated perspective and therefore managing the concerns and interests of multiple stakeholders.
As with people management, stakeholder management is a learned but very important skill, involving a blend of understanding, astute analysis and empathy. Some of the key stakeholders I would suggest an SEO manager should keep in mind include:
- Senior management
The diagram below provides a helpful framework to understand where various stakeholders lie on a Power/Interest matrix?
A stakeholder’s position on within the matrix indicates the relative power and interest in your work and the actions you may need to take with them.
Summary for recruiting your SEO Manager
Managing SEO today requires more than being an adept technician and practitioner. The modern SEO manager must possess a wide array of skills and competencies to enable them to effectively manage strategy and set a vision whilst at the same time execute up-to-date tactics that cover on-page, off-page and technical elements of SEO.
The modern SEO Manager must also be an astute manager of people and multiple stakeholders and understand the role of the brand for the business.
A ‘T-shaped’ skill provides a sound template for how effective SEO managers can approach their career development. Managers should continue to develop their skills within the discipline of SEO but also develop broader skills in other technical areas (such as analytics, PPC and web development) and softer skills (people management, communication).