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The Marketing Department or the Tech Team – Where does SEO Fit?

Working in search engine optimization [1] at The Search Agency [2] for several years now, I’ve interacted with many different types of people on the client side. However, the majority of the time, the person who I’m providing SEO recommendations to is a member of the Marketing department because SEO has typically been categorized as a marketing tactic. It’s sold as a way to increase website visibility within the search engines which will ultimately help increase traffic and sales. As a result, it’s lumped in with other marketing activities and expenses.

But is this the right department to place search engine optimization activities? I often feel like our efforts are comparable to those of freelance web dev. shops and graphic designers. We’re all hired on to build/enhance a website. But are freelance graphic designers expected to show ROI on the designs they create? In most cases no. So is it fair to attempt to tie ROI back to SEO expenses? Maybe.

It is true that some SEO tactics cross over into the marketing realm and have associated costs and activities that could be considered marketing (i.e. promotional outreach). I just feel that the entirety of an SEO partnership shouldn’t be classified as a marketing tactic.

So what’s the answer???

In my opinion, I feel SEO activities and expenses should be split across both teams. Here’s how I see it:

The Ideal SEO Split

SEO Architecture – Tech Team Activity/Expense

The majority of SEO website architecture recommendations are intended to improve the structure of a website. Whether it’s improving page load time, resolving duplicate content issues due to content replication or even making sure all pages have unique title and Meta tags, the website architectural recommendations are based on data Google and the other search engines have stated is important and necessary for their crawlers to properly identify and index your site. So in other words, these recommendations aren’t specifically tied to increasing the number of sweaters a company will sell online. They’re intended to improve the crawlability and indexability of the entire site. So this should be seen as a web dev. expense.

From an agency perspective, this means that an SEO team should be brought in to audit and provide recommendations for the website to make sure it’s up to search engine code. It’s just like getting permits when adding a deck onto your house. It’s an added cost but it’s a necessary expense to ensure the build is up to code. Will a Marketing department head know that such a check is necessary and understand the recommendations? Probably not. A tech team member would better understand the recommendations.

From an internal team perspective, this means that whoever is building your website should know how search engines crawl and index websites and build it with these fundamentals in mind. Does it make sense for this person to live in the Marketing department? Probably not. Ideally this person is a core member of the tech team and works with the site on a daily basis.

Content Optimization – Tech Team AND Marketing Department Split Activity/Expense

Although optimizing the existing content and creating new content for a website helps the overall integrity of the website, the specific tone and subject matter of each page is typically owned by the Marketing department. So although an SEO specialist may recommend adding in some additional content or slight keyword usage, a Marketing department member will ultimately have the final say whether content changes are up to corporate snuff.

However, if I was to split content optimization further, I’d say on-page content optimization should be viewed as part of the general site audit (i.e. checking the content to see if it is also up to code) and new content creation should be part of a larger marketing push that involves SEO tactics. New content development should directly align with the larger marketing strategies of the website and support the goals set by the company.

So in the end, optimizing existing content should be considered a web dev. expense (to ensure existing content integrity) and the creation of new content a marketing expense (to help achieve existing marketing goals).

From an agency perspective, this means that an SEO team should be brought in to audit the existing content and provide recommendations for the website to make sure it is also up to search engine code. This involves researching appropriate keywords for existing pages and analyzing the existing content against the top ranking sites for the most appropriate terms. Again this is less of a marketing tactic and more of a necessary check to ensure the content is up to code. Of course since the content needs to be reviewed by a Marketing department member to ensure the optimization doesn’t disrupt marketing messaging this activity needs to be supervised by the Marketing department.

In regards to creating new content, these activities should be managed and approved by a Marketing department head to ensure any new content added to a website for SEO purposes is created to support specific products/services that the client wants to heavily promote. As a result, these efforts and associated expenses should live directly within the Marketing department.

From an internal team perspective, this means whoever is writing your website content should know how search engines analyze content and write it with these fundamentals in mind. Does it make sense for this person to live in the Marketing department? Absolutely. Although some content efforts are intended to ensure existing corporate website copy is up to search engine snuff, ideally this person is a core member of Marketing department and knows how to interweave proper keyword alignment and optimization within existing marketing messages and when creating new content.

Promotional Outreach – Marketing Department Expense

As far as promotional activity specific to SEO, this is where we get deeper into SEO as a marketing strategy and expense. In fact, current SEO promotional tactics are more like your standard outreach marketing with an SEO twist. So of course these activities should be managed under a Marketing department head. A Tech team member may have no idea whether reaching out to mommy blogs is a good way to increase exposure for the company’s products/services. This is something the Marketing department owns and should have insight that will help guide SEO outreach activities.

From an agency perspective, this means that an SEO team should be brought in to work with the Marketing department to help improve website notoriety online by identifying other websites to partner with. These websites should align with the specific marketing goals of the company and have a common voice to help support the larger marketing and branding of the company.

From an internal team perspective, this means whoever is running the promotional activity for the company/website should know how to leverage SEO to build exposure that will help increase the authority of the website. The line between traditional online marketing and SEO marketing is blurred to the point where SEO is more of an enhancement rather than the primary object. However, building a larger strategy that includes SEO research from the beginning can definitely help ensure that all online promotional activities have SEO value.

About David Waterman

David Waterman of The Search Agency+ works in SEO, Content Development and Online Marketing, at The Search Agency - 11150 W. Olympic Blvd., Suite 600 Los Angeles, CA 90064 as a Director of SEO/Search Marketing - Website: http://www.thesearchagency.com [9]

David Waterman+ [8] manages all SEO efforts for an assortment of clients. He has over 8 years of Search Engine Optimization experience with a specific emphasis on content optimization and website taxonomy/organization. He sets strategy for a wide array of top-tier clients in various industries and has experience managing international search marketing teams and servicing international clients. In his spare time he enjoys going to garage sales and swap meets in search of vintage and collectible items.

http://twitter.com/SEOWaterman [10]

http://www.facebook.com/seo.waterman [11]