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Does an in-house SEO have a fool for a client?

As a long-time in-house SEO, you’d probably expect that I did not consider myself a fool at the time I was doing that. But I have recently gotten that question from a lawyer who wonders if he should do his own SEO, which reminds me of the old joke that a lawyers who represents himself has a fool for a client. But is it a bad idea to do your SEO in-house? I think it depends on how you go about it. If you think you’ll pick up everything you don’t know without any help, you’re probably looking at a rough ride


When I ran the search marketing at IBM, I think I was a bit unusual in a few ways. First, I had a deep knowledge of search technology going back 15 years at the time, so a lot of the concepts were easy to me. Also, I had an education in marketing, including direct marketing, so I understood the business side, too. In addition, I had worked at IBM for over 20 years at that time, so I intimately understood the products and services as well as the potential clients, being an IT person myself. Looking back on it, I was an ideal candidate for the job.

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But I didn’t do it all by myself. I not only attended conferences and read up on everything I could find, I also hired a search consultancy to tutor me in everything that I did not know. That is how I met Bil Hunt and how we ended up writing a book together.

So, you might also be an ideal candidate for your own in-house SEO, but it would probably help you to take advantage of whatever help you can afford. And it’s worth asking if SEO is even your biggest problem at the moment.

So when that lawyer told me he was a newbie at Web sites who had a lousy experience with an SEO consultant, and then asked if it was a “pipe dream” for him to do his own SEO, this is part of what I told him:

I don’t think that doing your own SEO is a pipe dream if you have enough technical skills to maintain your Web site. If you don’t, then your goal needs to be to get someone who does. But you need to ask yourself whether you are ready for SEO. I’d focus first on the Web site itself and later on the SEO. It’s not the advice that I would give to everyone, but there are so many skills that you are trying to pick up at once that I think you need to set priorities. I think that the two places to start are analytics and site building. Pick a site builder and create your site, enabling it with the analytics to see what people are actually doing. Start to tweak your site to improve the number of people converting and track that it is really happening. At that point, it makes sense to focus on SEO, so that you attract more people to come to your site. I know that you are in a hurry, but that is the order I would prescribe. If you are in a big hurry, you are probably better off trying again to hire someone to do things for you while you bone up on your new skills. It all depends on how expensive it is to get the work done vs. the opportunity cost of taking six months or more to have everything done by doing it yourself.

Before becoming your own SEO client, you need to ask yourself whether you are the ideal candidate to do it yourself, and if you are, how you’ll get the help you need (because no one knows it all). If you are trying to pick up many skills at once, you need to prioritize which ones are most important, but also ask yourself whether this is really worth the time you’ll put into it, instead of doing a better job of getting an expert to do it.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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