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How an In-House IT Team Became a Lucrative “Internal SEO Agency”

If you worked for an SEO agency and got leads on literally thousands of websites, spanning across hundreds of brands, markets, target audiences, and countries, you’d surely be very excited—and probably overwhelmed with the sheer size of the task that lay ahead of you.

That’s exactly the daunting task my (in-house) Enterprise Capabilities and Services team ended up with.

Let me explain. I work for a large multi-national corporation, with products that span multiple diverse customer segments. We are also in a highly regulated industry where each country has particular rules around how products can be promoted. As part of its services, my company maintains literally tens of thousands of websites across the globe for products, promotional campaigns, awareness efforts, corporate information, and more.

My team’s primary focus is delivering Enterprise Search capabilities on both the Internet and Intranet to the sites we support. Interestingly, this ushered us into the SEO space not from a marketing angle, but from a technical one.

We weren’t optimizing for other search engines; we were actually engineering our own. Even so, every time we were engaged to set up the Search feature on an Internet site, we’d hear the same request from our internal clients: “Oh, and can you help us with SEO too?”

We weren’t optimizing for other search engines; we were actually engineering our own.

We would answer with a tentative “yes” and to the best of our ability offer some manual auditing as well as best practices around how to create search-friendly templates. However, we lacked the tools to rival what an SEO agency could bring to the table and were far too busy with other work to regularly conduct manual SEO audits.

Even so, looking at the vast ocean of company websites that lacked any sort of rigor around SEO, our team saw a clear opportunity for the company and decided to take a serious look at basically becoming an “Internal SEO Agency.”

We envisioned offering Enterprise SEO services within our company to any interested sites: either because they had no formal SEO at all, or because they wanted to supplement and audit what they were already getting from an outside agency.

While we knew we could never offer the same level of attention as an agency, we felt that we could provide a valuable service for a very low cost as compared to what full service agencies charged—prices that were simply too high for a smaller brand site or an international site running on a shoestring budget.

Building an Internal SEO Agency Infrastructure with SEO Technology

We took a technology first approach, evaluating a number of potential Enterprise SEO options. Ultimately, we decided that Conductor Searchlight was the right fit for our needs. The platform offered an excellent user interface capable of handling a large number of sites along with solid International SEO coverage.

For us, the availability of the Conductor account managers to provide proactive ongoing support and help us figure out ways to get the most out of the tool with our unique use case was what really sealed the deal.

For our team, pursuing Enterprise SEO was basically an experiment that was on top of our “day jobs” and having that level of involvement and support from Conductor seemed essential to a successful outcome.

For our team, pursuing Enterprise SEO was basically an experiment that was on top of our “day jobs.”

Without strong support from our SEO vendor, even getting off the ground would have been very difficult if not impossible. And a platform like Searchlight would do the auditing for us even at a scale as potentially large as our vast Enterprise, allowing us to focus on driving internal clients from information to action, rather than spending our limited time just gathering data.

Growing our Internal SEO Agency Services

Armed with the technology in hand, we pursued many possible internal clients from different brand teams, market segments, and countries. We had to promote our new service, raise awareness across the Enterprise, and make sure that potential clients around the company knew our service existed.

Across the board, it was clear that many internal clients we reached saw the same value proposition we did, and would eagerly use an Enterprise SEO service if it was available to them. And so began our team’s “double-duty” of being both an Enterprise Search and Enterprise SEO capability. As we’ve discovered, despite both of these things including the word “Search,” they don’t have much else in common.

If our team was dedicated full-time to SEO, we could act more like a full service agency. For now, just by the nature of SEO being secondary to our focus on Enterprise Search, we try to get the most bang for the buck with reports that highlight quick wins, opportunities for significant improvement, and elements that the site owners can easily change.

 We try to get the most bang for the buck with reports that highlight quick wins, opportunities for significant improvement, and elements that the site owners can easily change.

We utilize Searchlight to provide highly focused reports to help our clients understand how they can optimize their websites.  Considering the low investment in time and effort we are able to invest, the value we get back out of Conductor is immense.

Our Internal SEO Agency Process

Frankly, doing Enterprise SEO for a company with an incredibly complex Internet environment is very difficult. Doing this coming from IT makes it even more of a challenge—site owners don’t want to change their content because IT told them to.

Accordingly, we typically start our focus on more technical elements (meta tags, alt tags, H1 tags, etc.) related to HTML structure before we move on to content-based optimizations.

In some ways, it is a matter of building credibility in ourselves and the tool based on technical elements, and then using that credibility to convince the clients to consider content-based suggestions that can often create more significant shifts in SEO performance and traffic.

Start Your Own Internal Agency

To the perspective of anyone else considering taking on a similar challenge of becoming an “Internal Agency,” I’d offer the following pieces of advice:

  • Understand the SEO Landscape – Reach out to others in your company and find out what sort of SEO efforts might already be in place. Find out if there truly gaps to be filled—and if so, how wide are those gaps? For us, the gaps were significant, as was the opportunity.
  • Find the Right Technology – You need software that will do the heavy lifting for you so that you can focus on delivering value, not just churning through data. You also need to make sure that technology covers all the relevant use cases—how many sites, how many keywords, how many locations, etc. Once you understand the SEO landscape, you’ll be able to see what software does the trick.
  • Learn What Gets People’s Attention – When you have marketing teams stretched thin with many competing interests, you need to get their attention with the right piece of information. Just giving them a list of recommendations for their site without context doesn’t cut it. They need to buy in that these changes are important to their business. For us, we often discovered it was comparisons with competitors that turned heads, and I plan to explore this particular topic in more depth in a future blog post.
  • Find an Invested Customer and Create a Success Story – In a big company, sometimes you need to stand out from the crowd. Getting just one really invested “client” who is willing to dive deep into SEO on their site will help you create a success story that will in turn help sell your internal service to others. Especially in our case, where Enterprise SEO is being pushed from IT via grassroots efforts, having clear evidence of success and value lends you credibility that makes people pay attention.

While there are very few companies who have similarly complex environments, what we’ve learned in our experience is that with the right buy-in and commitment, Enterprise SEO on this scale can be a value-added service even with minimal investment of time and effort.

Enterprise SEO on this scale can be a value-added service even with minimal investment of time and effort.

For a small website related to a niche brand or an international site, it may never prove cost effective or worthwhile to engage with a full service SEO agency. For just a tiny fraction of the cost, they can get very helpful information from our Enterprise SEO service. Other major brand sites have discovered serious issues in their sites that were never flagged by their full service agencies.

Today, every large company is trying to do more with less, and we believe that Enterprise SEO has been exactly that for us—a great potential payoff even with only a moderate investment of time and energy on our part.