The early days of SEM were like the Wild West. Anything and everything strategy-wise was on the table and the innovators were more often than not one-man shops that did it all. By necessity, the emphasis for most SEOs was on utility and efficiency.
As SEO eventually became just one facet in the glittering gem of digital marketing, the tools became more complex, the skill sets more diverse and the one-man shops were largely overcome by agencies that offered holistic strategies wrapped up in a pretty bow. These days, a single SEO with the skills to run a competitive strategy that includes content marketing, paid search, social media, programming, and of course keyword research, is a rare thing indeed. The SEM game has become the realm of specialists and these specialists comprise teams of SEO professionals that are part of a larger whole, be it an agency or in-house team. But one of the things that makes SEO so appealing as a career is that it’s never strayed too far from its Wild-West-like roots. Fortunes can be won and lost at breakneck speeds, and we’re all looking constantly looking over our collective shoulders for Sheriff Google and his posse to make an appearance. I mean, we still use terms like “black hat” and “white hat” every day! These days, though, the “outlaws” aren’t individuals; they’re organisations and agencies constantly looking for the new best practice or strategy to get results for their clients. So I started thinking about how I would put together my ideal team of outlaw digital marketers. What roles are needed? What ideal skills would each person have? Keep in mind that this is truly a dream team—free of monetary constraints! If I had an unlimited budget, here’s how I would put together my SEO Dream Team:
To me an ideal project manager sets the expectations for the team and manages that timeline while also being the liaison to the client. A good project manager knows his team well and builds an acceptable timeline that anticipates as many potential hiccups as possible. A great project manager, on the other hand, knows that he can’t anticipate every single eventuality and has the ability to pivot and re-assess a situation on the fly and can not only smooth over any issues with the client, as a result of a delay, but also keep the team on task after a setback.
Without an SEO specialist to build a strong foundation for your campaign, your efforts will be doomed from the start. Solid keyword research has always been the linchpin in any SEM strategy. Everything you do as a team builds out from this hub like spokes on a wagon wheel. If there’s a flaw here, it will show up further down the line. To me, a great SEO has to be like a session musician. Backing musicians excel at building on what’s already there, but have the ability to turn that into something entirely original. Through competitive analysis with a tool like SEMrush, an SEO can see what strategies work for your competition, and possibly just as important, which strategies don’t. Knowing where your competitors have overreached can often save you a lot of time and money by helping you avoid making mistakes that have already been made. I want my SEO to be able to rip through a list of my competitors and immediately see opportunities for our team to capitalize upon and then combine that with the keywords we absolutely need to get traction on.
I cheated a little with this one. Editorial can encompass a few different roles. content marketing, writing and editing all fall under this umbrella. Depending on the volume of content you’re putting out, this could be one person or it could be a team of dozens. A good SEO team has an overall editorial direction for each project. Ideally an editor will put together a style guide for each client so that the team knows important things like voice, tone and legal restrictions for content. Writers have to take often esoteric subjects and make engaging content from them. They have to be equal parts researchers and chameleons, able to speak to experts from many different industries as peers. Working in SEO can expose your content team to a myriad different industries, each with its own rules and expectations. Without a strong editorial hand to guide the content, you might wind up writing something that could put the client’s business at risk. The editor is the client’s eyes. A good content marketer will take the content created by the team and find different ways to repurpose it as whitepapers, ebooks, video, you name it. Good content is good content. A competent content marketer will find ways to get it in front of more people.
Is your client still using iFrames? Would their site embarrass someone on Geocities? Are they using a CMS that they hacked together from two other CMSs that didn’t work either? I once had a salesman sell an SEO contract to a client located in China. When we got to the CMS, the menus were entirely in Chinese. He just assumed we could figure out what each field meant because he believed all CMSs worked the same way. We eventually got them onto an entirely new, home-brewed CMS. Salesmen like that are why you need a hotshot programmer on the team. A good programmer has an understanding of both UX and site-flow and can make all the spiffy new content your writers have created easier to find for both people and site crawlers. They also need to understand things like redirects, canonical tags and how they affect SEO. We’ve all worked with that one guy who puts together a rudimentary UI and declares it finished because it “works” even though it conforms to a logic that only he really understands. That’s why UX design is so important. Yes, it makes sense to YOU, but will it be intuitive to our most basic user?
Forbes has already declared this the sexiest job title of 2015, so I don’t need to sell it much. But I think we all know of a person or two who might demand to have a data scientist on their team without really understanding why. The depth and breadth of what someone who is well steeped in data science can add to an SEO team is staggering. It can also be daunting. Without the correct defined parameters, you can wind up swimming in seas of data with no actionable takeaways. A good data scientist can take the data you have and help you figure exactly where your opportunities and liabilities are. There’s a lot of information in digital marketing analytics. Separating the wheat from the chaff is only part of the equation.
PR and Community
PR isn’t just about building relationships with journalists and big name bloggers. Those relationships function as high-value link-building. A good community person has a virtual Rolodex full of contacts in many different industries that they can call to mind at will. Community builds engagement, but you still need to get your content in front of thought leaders convert them into brand evangelists. So, that’s my list. I’m sure you would do it differently. Who belongs on your SEO Dream Team? I would love to hear your take in the comments!
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