This is the second installment of our series on in-house SEO in which we dig into the operational challenges and opportunities that managing search engine optimization in-house presents.
As a consultant who specializes in in-house SEO, I’m often asked how large the SEO team should be. Most people think it has to do with revenue numbers. While that comes into the equation, it’s not a leading indicator of what size SEO team a company needs.
Let’s explore some of the factors I consider when making recommendations for SEO team size. They’re typically surprising to most SEO teams! The reason is I look at the operations, not just the revenue. Revenue can help justify (or limit) the team size, but it’s not an indicator of the SEO hours needed in a week.
Factor #1: Complexity of the website
If your site is simple, you typically need a smaller SEO team. The reason is that your SEOs are likely chasing fewer fires.
More complex websites have a higher risk of introducing SEO problems with even small changes. Most SEO teams spend a good chunk of their week chasing projects, putting out fires, and trying to minimize SEO problems rather than increasing SEO revenue.
All this means, if you’re doing SEO for a site without a lot of complex functionality, it’s one factor that would make me consider a smaller SEO team.
Factor #2: Number of developers, number of agile development teams, and frequency of launches
Hands down, this is one of the leading factors for determining SEO team size at a larger corporation. Some companies I have worked with have 150+ developers working on the search engine-facing aspects of the site. In these situations, you need more than one technical SEO person to guide each of these releases to ensure they will be SEO friendly.
Factor #3: Number of product managers
Product managers are one of the most influential roles on a website, and they are constantly spinning up projects. SEO teams need to be tied at the hip of product managers and have an intimate understanding of what product managers are proposing to change on the site.
If you have one or only a handful of product managers, you need fewer SEO hours allocated to work with them. But, if you have 12 product managers, then interaction with product managers will take a lot of SEO time.
Factor #4: Number of merchandisers who create pages/content
Merchandisers in each company take on different roles, and at many companies, they have the authority to create new pages, write new content, and change links within the site and navigation.
If you have a couple of merchandisers it’s easier to stay on top of what they’re doing, but if you have 8 merchandisers it’s going to take a lot more SEO resources to guide them on keywords for their new pages, the type of content needed to rank, and ensuring they’re not making changes to existing pages that will hurt SEO.
Factor #5: Number of UX designers
The number of UX designers focusing on search engine facing pages greatly influences the number of new page designs that are being cranked through the development machine. I typically find the more designers, the more SEO requirements you’ll need to define for development.
Factor #6: Number of writers and their writing experience
Once writers understand how to optimize content for SEO (and have bought into it, or incentivized to do it) they can really start impacting the website from a content perspective.
Unfortunately, most companies don’t have a lot of writers for the website, and creating this content falls on the shoulders of roles that are not experienced writers. For these non-professional writers, it’s often more of a challenge for them to account for all the business needs, conversion needs and SEO needs in content and still make it sound elegant and on-brand. This means the SEO team will spend more time reviewing content, and the SEO team may have to write all the title tags and meta descriptions.
Factor #7: How much analysis and reporting is needed
Some companies are so metrics heavy that SEO teams can easily have one person dedicated to cranking out reports and estimates for revenue lift/drop based on proposed changes.
For perspective, I spent a week with a client on-site and watched her spend an unexpected three solid days preparing metrics for a company quarterly business review and two days analyzing a proposed A/B test that, if launched, would shrink the site navigation by 30%. This doesn’t even account for regular reporting that executives and other teams wanted to see. At this company, there are a lot of SEO hours spent on analysis and reporting.
Another client knew their product managers need a significant amount of SEO data broken down by category of their e-commerce site as regular monthly SEO reporting. They realized it would take two to four SEO data analysts to support the reporting requests. Of course, they were making almost a billion dollars in SEO revenue a year so they could justify the expense of such a team.
Factor #8: SEO knowledge of each role listed above
The last factor I wanted to talk about is where each role is in terms of SEO knowledge. Do they know a lot or practically nothing?
I’ve seen many non-SEO teams with enthusiasm to work on SEO (Factor #8), but they knew so little that their enthusiasm couldn’t compensate for expertise enough to make SEO time investments efficient.
If your non-SEO teams don’t have enough SEO knowledge (nor enough enthusiasm for SEO), the solution is effective SEO training and toolkits, because:
- If your non-SEO teams know little-to-nothing about SEO, and you’re not able to get them trained on the 20% of SEO that makes 80% of the impact for their roles, then your SEO man-hours for each of the previous factors will increase. It’s going to take more time to communicate SEO requirements, chase projects, manage rework, etc.
- If your non-SEO teams have a solid grasp of the 20% of SEO that makes 80% of the impact for their roles, then the SEO team will spend less time chasing projects and putting out fires. It should also mean, in many instances, that teams will come up with SEO friendly suggestions for the SEO team to review. Lastly, it means SEO conversations are shorter and more effective, which in turn means you spend less time spent accomplishing more, have fewer misunderstandings (thus, less rework), etc.
Next Steps: Determine the SEO team size your company needs
- Estimate the man-hours needed for each factor above, and use that to start figuring out what the size of your team needs to be in order to pull off great SEO.
- Break the SEO man-hours defined in the previous step into the following — these are radically different skillsets.
- Strategic/Non-technical SEO (content, keywords, etc.)
- Link Building
- Technical SEO
- Total all the man-hours by function, and divide each function by 30 (with the assumption they could perform 30 hours per week of actual SEO work). You may be able to combine a few of the functions listed above. For example, a non-technical/strategic SEO could do reporting. But breaking this up really shows you how much of each SEO skillset you need month-to-month.
- Add in any management hours needed for this team.
- Determine the number of people needed to pull off the SEO hours needed and determine the salaries/budget for each.
- Compare the total cost of everyone on the SEO team (current + new people you just identified) with SEO revenue to see if it makes business sense to even pitch your team size. If you can use SEO profit numbers (or estimated profit based on a percentage of revenue), then this will give you even more insights.
- For many, the SEO team size you just identified is too big. Your next step is to plan a management conversation:
- Show management why what you’ve estimated is actually needed.
- Point out that this isn’t realistic based on current SEO revenue.
- Discuss that this means you need each non-SEO role to master their 20% of SEO that makes 80% of the impact for their roles so that you can effectively manage/lead SEO company-wide with reasonable SEO headcount.
- Show the headcount you would need if each team actually knew when to pull the SEO team in for projects if there wasn’t rework, etc. (Redo your numbers for this scenario.)
- Lastly, talk about the budget ask being: An SEO team of X people *AND* $Y for solid SEO training for each role touching the website, company-wide.
Now you’re set to have a really good understanding of what size of SEO team you should have for your company. And more importantly, how to discuss growing the SEO team with executives.