Operational SEO: Insights into running an SEO department [Presentation]

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This post was originally published on White.net

Operational SEO is a huge topic with so many areas to talk about. When Linkdex asked me to speak at their ThinkTank on the subject, it took me a while to identify the key area that I wanted to discuss, but I finally narrowed it down to the people who deliver the projects, the team! Without the very best people it doesn’t matter what tools you have or what brand you are working for, they are limitless.

In the presentation that I gave on the 8th May, I talked about how to ensure that you are keeping on top of the talent that is available to keep ahead of the digital merry go-round that we sit within. I also discuss how we changed our structure three times in the space of time that I have been at White.net to ensure that it was the best for us. I went into how we deal with tools, processes & templates internally and one of the biggest things for me, communication. I finish by talking about the need to constantly push on and ensuring that not only the product evolves, but the team continues to develop through training, conference attendance and constant up-skill.

All of the things I talk about, I have strong feelings on. If you attended the session then I hope you enjoyed it. If you didn’t then take a look at the slides below, and let me know your thoughts on what is required to deliver market leading SEO in the comments below or over on twitter @danielbianchini.

To deliver market-leading SEO, you need three key ingredients:

Brand: – You need to be working with or for the right brand. I don’t necessarily mean the biggest brand, but a brand that understands what is required to deliver market-leading SEO, including the ability to react quickly to the ever-changing the landscape.

Tools: – Alongside the right brand, the second ingredient is using the right tools. There are a huge number of tools in our industry, with the majority doing very similar things. What is key is that you chose the right tools for what you are trying to achieve.>

Team: – Most importantly, you need the right team. This, in my opinion, is the main ingredient to delivering market-leading SEO, and what my presentation at the Operational SEO Think Tank focused on.

I feel that there are five points that are important to any team to ensure they continue to deliver the very best SEO product. They are:

  • Recruitment – Building the right team
  • Structure
  • Tools, Processes & Templates
  • Internal Communication
  • Team Development

Talent spotting

The digital merry go-round is one that I think happens faster than in any other industry. The average stay in a digital position is two years, with people moving on to either progress their career or to enhance their pay packet. This means that you need to be constantly aware of what talent is available in the local area, as well as those a bit further afield.

Utilising tools such as LinkedIn and twitter is a great way of finding those who are of interest to you. They may not be the right people for now, but you can monitor their progress in private twitter lists, and start to make soft contact by retweeting or replying to their posts. Going to meet-ups is another really good way of seeing what talent is available, and putting a face to a name is always the first stage of recruitment.

As well as using online tools, look to the local education establishments. We have two very good universities in Oxford, as well as a highly-rated college that we have established ties with. Building relationships like this allows you to help develop the next generation of digital marketers, whilst ensuring that you can identify the cream of the talent. To help partner with the education authorities, provide your assistance by guest lecturing, sponsoring modules and/or providing internships.


However, having the right team is only one part of the process; how the team is structured is another a key element. Since being at White, we have gone through 3 different structures. The first was more of a flat hierarchy, with each member having their own clients. The issue with this was that everyone was working in a silo, not many were brainstorming ideas, and not collaborating meant that the projects could get very stale very quickly.

We moved away from a flat structure because we were moving to a more content-led approach, and felt that a more departmentalised approach would be a better way of working. This meant that we had teams of specialists in content, outreach and technical that were used by a number of consultants running the projects. We quickly identified that there was an issue with this model, with the specialists being isolated in terms of feedback on the work, what results were being gained, and a general feeling of not being involved, so we failed it and fast!

From here we moved to a team approach, combining specialists and consultants together in teams that were dedicated to specific clients. This provided the required feedback flow that was missing from the department structure, but also allowed the client to have more than one contact point to discuss the deliverables with.

There is no ‘correct’ structure for an SEO team. Just make sure that you choose the one that works for you!


Process, Templates & Tools, Oh My!

Processes are not a requirement, but are something that I feel can really help with the delivering of certain projects within an SEO campaign. We use processes internally, but as a guide rather than a must-follow. We also encourage all members of the team to challenge the processes that have been put together, in order to further enhance them and thus make the projects better.

It is a similar thing with our toolset. We want to be using the best tools for the job to make us more efficient, and help us to make intelligent decisions based on data and analysis when required. That is why we use a baseline toolset to maintain quality levels, but also encourage teams to test all tools that are available. If they feel that they are better than a current tool, or that they complement others, then we are happy to add them.

Use tools, process & templates as guides, but allow your staff to challenge & develop them to enhance projects.



Communication, regardless of whether it is to the client or just internal, is a huge factor in delivering market-leading SEO. The biggest issue with internal communication is that the majority of it happens over email or IM, both of which are personal to the individual. Communicating this way can mean conversations get lost, other members of the team aren’t privy to certain information, and difficulty retrieving those conversation threads when the individual is on holiday or has left the business. For this reason, and to assist with planning work, we use project management tools that allow communication both internally and externally.

As well as project management tools, regular team meetings are encouraged to discuss and debate a range of topics including internal work, processes, and industry news. This type of open forum provides a great arena for teams to share knowledge across the agency. These can be as regular as you like, but they need to be a minimum of once a month to make them work effectively.

Team Development

Ensuring that the team is constantly developing and evolving to be ahead of the curve requires an investment from the business. If you want the best, then you need to allow them to become the best by providing them with the opportunity to learn. This can be done in a number of ways, and some of the ones that we have integrated include:

  • 80:20 week – Each week the team have a day’s worth of time for them to up-skill themselves through internal and/or external training.
  • Conference / Meet-up Attendance – Allow your teams to attend as many UK conferences as possible. This can be in the form of one team member who then passes their learnings on to the rest of the team, or full office attendance.
  • Allow side projects – Testing is key to understand what works and what doesn’t, where the boundaries can be pushed and where there are clear lines in the sand. Allowing teams to work on side projects within their time allocation, means that any testing and learning is done on churn and burn sites rather than clients.

Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to. cc @richardbranson”

For me these are five key areas that are essential to delivering market-leading SEO, but by no means are they the only areas. I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts on what you think is required to deliver market-leading SEO, so get in touch through twitter @danielbianchini or leave a comment below!

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