The amount of content out there for deciding between building an internal team or an external team is incredible. There are pluses and minuses to both sides, but one of the struggles with building an in-house SEO team is: Where do you begin?
Building a team which needs one certain kind of expertise can be difficult, especially if you do not have that expertise. I have seen both sides of this type of agency and an in-house SEO team being built, and I feel as though it shouldn’t be hard to build an internal SEO team.
This inspired me to put together this guide to show you how I would build an SEO team if I were on the client side and didn’t want to use an agency. You can always have a combination of the two, but I will only discuss building a 100% in-house team.
Here are the steps I would take to develop a rock star SEO team capable of world Google domination.
Step 1: Develop the Budget
First, you want to develop the budget for your SEO team. A good SEO professional in a top-30 city should be commanding anywhere from $40,000 to $80,000, depending on their experience. If you want someone with more experience, like a VP, you will be looking at the $100,000+ range.
Therefore, if you want super-scrappy SEO work, you can pretty much calculate one salary at the mid-level range. You also want to throw in some SEO tools and money spent on education, so you can expect a 10%-of-salary cost on SEO tools. Then, let’s not forget the contractors to help them with content writing and other tasks.
These calculations are calculated yearly:
Super Scrappy SEO Team (1 Specialist):
$45,000 for salary + $4,500 for tools + $8,000 for contractors
Scrappy SEO Team (1 SEO Manager):
$60,000 for salary + $6,000 for tools & training + $20,000 for contractors
Small Enterprise SEO Team (1 manager and 2 specialists):
$150,000 for salary ($60,000 (SEO manager) and 2X $45,000 (SEO Specialists)) + $15,000 in tools & training
Enterprise SEO Team (1 VP/Director, 1 Manager, 2 Specialists, 2 Copywriters/Outreach Specialists):
$340,000 for salary ($100,000 for VP and everyone else is $45,000, other than the manager at $60,000)+ $34,000 for tools & training
The enterprise team is more for SEO agencies targeting larger enterprise businesses, and the smaller enterprise team targets smaller enterprise businesses or larger enterprise companies with not a lot of buy-in when it comes to SEO.
Now, the scrappy team(s) might not be a one-person show. They usually have a Director of Marketing or VP of Marketing who also assists with strategy and other initiatives.
If you are just starting out building a team, I would recommend one of the scrappy level of team builds, (although this depends on your risk appetite and needs.)
Remember that for every SEO hire, you will need to have to have tools and training to make them successful. The SEO hire will also need contractors for various initiatives such as writing content, link building, and more. Having them have support and not “do everything” themselves is paramount. Do not skip on this cost! Otherwise, you will be disappointed with the results.
Step 2: Develop the Goals
Once we have our budget identified and the kind of SEO team we want to build, next we need to develop the goals of what we want to accomplish. I wrote this great article that discussed various ways to look at ROI, and I will recap it here to help us develop our goals.
We want to identify what we will need to make our SEO team successful. A good measure I would do is calculate out the cost of the program.
Let’s use the “Scrappy SEO Team” for an example, and the total cost is $86,000 per year. Therefore, roughly $7,200 a month. If my margins are 25%, I need to be seeing roughly $29,000 a month in increased sales to justify the expense.
However, we all know it will not happen overnight, and SEO compounds.
After two to five years, you will see much higher ROIs and if you need to, set a goal for one year to get to that mark of a positive ROI level. But, again, this can depend on your industry, your situation, and more. (This was a general example goal and way of looking at it.)
Your goal can include other factors such as keyword rankings, search traffic, or just getting the work done. Either way, have some very high-level goals for your team to sink their teeth in—and get their buy-in before you hire them!
Step 3: Hire the Leader
Once we have our budget and the goals outlined, we need to hire the leader of the program.
With each of the programs I outlined above to build the team, you don't hire them all at once. You hire the VP/Director or the SEO Manager, or the SEO Specialist in the Super Scrappy plan.
This is the most important part, as this is your most critical piece of your team. You want to get someone with natural leadership skills who can pretty much direct the program and make it successful. You want to get their buy-in and approval of your vision. It is also good to make them incentivized to be successful in their position and make the program successful.
Have the Leader Consult
Once you have your rock star leader hired and ready to go, this is where you take a back seat building the SEO team. Let your rock star come in and develop the SEO program to get you to where you need to be. Get them what they need to be successful, as far as resources such as tools, content writers, SEO training, and more.
If you want to build out the enterprise teams, then consult your leader on when to hire the others and what training materials will be provided, make sure your leader has time to train them and more.
Basically, you want your SEO team leader to direct the program and help you make decisions on when to bring in more people to your team to grow it. Here are some common in-house employees I have seen:
Outreach Specialist/Link Building: These are pretty much the same, as they try to promote content and acquire links. These are usually positions filled in the more advanced SEO companies and used by a lot of agencies.
SEO Specialist: These SEO Specialists are in charge of the more technical SEO work such as writing meta information, and performing other various SEO tasks needed to be successful.
SEO Manager: SEO managers are generally managing the other components of the program and doing some work themselves. Generally, they manage the SEO team members, agencies, contractors, and do the majority of the SEO strategy.
Copywriter: They are a very critical piece of the team and provide the writing to produce great quality content. I have seen some work as designers, as well, and put in some design elements, which makes the content even better.
When making an in-house team, these are usually the components you need to have a successful SEO program. How you make it up is usually dependent on what you need, your SEO program philosophies, and your SEO team leader strategy.
Keep Them Accountable
Now that we have the team built out with good goals, we need to keep them accountable to perform. It is good to consult the SEO team leaders with this and make monthly measurements to measure progress. Keep them accountable, but do not berate them if goals are not being met.
SEO is very difficult, and a lot of times very volatile. We can see large increases after months of no increases.
Always Push for More
SEO teams might hate me for saying this, but always make sure your team is striving for more and trying to be the best team for you. Do not let complacency set in, and always strive to be a better SEO team.
Now that you've completed the guide, you should have a typical (and common) SEO team structure in place. Do you have different roles required for your SEO teams? I would love to hear your team structures! Let's discuss below.