A modern SEO team is nothing like it used to be.
It’s extremely rare to find a single SEO capable of doing everything necessary to fully optimize a business for search.
And even if you do have all those skills, it’s better to have multiple people who specialize in different areas (if you have the budget).
You can form a team in-house or hire an agency—either option can work.
However, you’ll obviously have much more control over an in-house team.
In this post, I’ll go over all the components of an effective SEO team so that you know whether you have all the areas covered.
Keep in mind, there’s no perfect structure for an SEO team. One person could cover one or several of these components.
Ideally, you’ll have at least a few people who can cover each area if needed in case of emergencies.
Finally, if you are planning to hire an agency, it’s worth researching their team to find out whether they have specialists who cover these areas.
Component #1: Let’s start at the top – SEO manager/director
The head of the team manages everyone else.
The SEO manager or director is more concerned with the “big picture” strategy rather than the tactics each team member uses to accomplish their work.
The SEO manager’s job typically involves pitching and working with clients.
This involves working out payment agreements, keeping clients updated and happy, and creating proposals for new SEO projects.
While you can hire a sales rep to bring in new clients, most of them won’t have enough SEO knowledge to capture big clients.
The sales process should also naturally be an opportunity to determine the client’s strengths and needs and then to devise an effective SEO strategy.
In addition, it’s crucial that you deliver on the promises you make to win the sale, so whoever is pitching a project should also be involved in its execution.
The other part of the job is managing employees.
A director needs to make sure that employees (that we’ll be talking about later on) know what their responsibilities are within a project.
And just like any other manager, the SEO manager must be able to motivate his or her employees.
Although I said that one person can often play multiple roles, being an SEO manager for even small-to-medium-sized businesses is a full job in itself.
Component #2: The content creator(s)
I’ve said it before: “Content marketing is the new SEO”.
In short, content is more important than ever when it comes to growing organic search traffic.
Sure, there’s always some technical work that can be done on a client’s existing site, but eventually your traffic will plateau unless you’re producing stellar content.
Therefore, you need at least one content creator.
Some very successful businesses have only one or two content creators (like Groove or Buffer), while others have several (like HubSpot or Crazy Egg). If you’ve already got content producers on your team, don’t worry about their number.
In this case, I’m referring to writers as “content creators” since the vast majority of content is written. Of course, if your content creators can also create videos or infographics, that’s a bonus.
Many “SEO writers” were hired for $5-10 per article. Not surprisingly, these writers create low quality content that rarely ranks outside of extremely low competition niches.
Modern SEO writers are much more professional, and you should expect to pay them accordingly. While it varies, you’re probably looking at a minimum of $100 per post, often much more.
And while that seems like a big cost, you’ll save a lot on acquiring backlinks since getting links to great content is infinitely easier.
Finally, many content creators also have great copywriting skills. It’s common for content creators to also be involved in email marketing and conversion rate optimization (more on those later) in small SEO teams.
Component #3: Designers
If you recognize the need for great content, you’ll need a designer to create custom images for just about all your content.
It’s unlikely you’ll find someone with both great design skills and strong writing skills, so you’ll need at least two different people for these two roles.
The manager must ensure that the content creators and designers are on the same track. Otherwise, you’ll end up with writing being done before the images are ready and vice-versa.
Since designing is such a specialized skill, it’s typically best to hire someone to work just on designing. If you don’t have enough demand for a designer to justify that, you can hire a freelancer to work with on an on-going basis.
Component #4: PR and link builders
I’ve chosen to combine public relations (PR) outreach and link building here even though there are some distinctions between the two. But for the majority of modern SEO, they are the same.
Both consist mostly of reaching out to other people in your industry and related industries, looking to develop relationships that will be mutually beneficial.
PR is a much broader term that encompasses modern link building. However, the relationships could be used for other opportunities beyond acquiring a simple link (like a joint venture).
Most SEOs who specialize in link building should also be expanding their skillsets to include more PR skills.
Relationships grow exponentially: A key concept with this kind of approach to link building is the network effect.
The network effect means that with each new person joining the network, the network becomes exceedingly more valuable to all the members of the network.
Putting this in terms of link building and PR: As your network grows, those relationships become much more valuable together than they are alone.
When you have more strong relationships, you can start to offer things like joint ventures. In addition, you may be able to help out one of your contacts by connecting them with another contact.
The reason why I tell you all this is that it’s best to hire one specific person (or a small team for a large organization) to do all your outreach.
If you hire a whole team, you can build a big network, but it will essentially be a bunch of small networks, which doesn’t leverage the exponential power of the network effect.
Instead, if one person (or a few) has a large network at their disposal, your link building options will be far greater.
Component #5: Technical experts
The latest generation of SEOs focuses mostly on content, which is a good thing.
However, it’s not a good thing if the technical side of SEO is ignored.
The technical side forms the foundation of all the other parts of SEO, and without it, your team will struggle to produce results.
That’s why you need a technical SEO expert, often called an SEO analyst.
They’re the ones who understand site architecture and can quickly analyze a site to spot any gaping SEO flaws.
Among other things, they handle things such as:
- load time optimization
- keyword optimization in content (if needed)
- split testing
- internal linking optimization
- implementing rich snippets and “rel” tags
While SEO analysts often have a good range of programming/development skills, they may still work with developers.
For small WordPress sites, analysts can make most of the changes themselves. For a complex, large custom site, you’ll likely need a dedicated developer.
Component #6: Developers
Modern SEO involves great user experience just as much as it involves great content.
In order to make that user experience great, you need a developer who can modify your website.
Again, this might be an area where you hire either a freelancer or a full time developer. There are very few SEOs who also have top notch developing skills.
Finally, a developer also gives you the ability to create different forms of content for your target audience, e.g., tools.
For example, the Quick Sprout tool has attracted thousands of links and generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue, which wouldn’t have been possible without a great developer.
Component #7: Account manager
Sometimes, the SEO manager gets overwhelmed.
If that happens often, a new set of responsibilities should be assigned to a member of your SEO team—an account manager.
They’ll handle most of the basic client communication post-sale.
Most importantly, they’ll be generating reports of the work and the results.
If you have your own in-house SEO team (you’re the only client), these reports are still important.
These should be used by the manager to stay on top of all his team members as well as by the team members themselves to understand what results their work is producing.
This alone takes a lot of time off the manager’s plate.
In addition, an account manager’s responsibilities (if it’s a full role) can also include customer support. They’ll be the first line of contact in case of any issues or questions.
Most of the time, they’ll be able to answer those questions, and only when they can’t will they pass off the concerns to the SEO director.
Component #8: Email and social media marketers
Email marketing usually gives businesses the best return on investment (ROI).
Social media is another channel that’s very effective for certain types of niches.
I put these two together because they often overlap, but they can also be done by separate members of your team.
It’s hard to define the roles of an email marketer and a social media marketer. These roles will look very different depending on the SEO team you have.
Both of them need to have some input into your content marketing strategy because that content will be promoted and used in other ways in emails and on social media.
In some cases, it’s possible to have the SEO director take on this role and then assign creating the actual emails and social media posts to copywriters/content creators.
This is another area where you’ll need regular reports to document your progress.
Component #9: Conversion rate optimizers
Last but not least is the conversion rate optimizer (CRO), which is an optional role for an SEO team but a good one to include if possible.
CROs spend their time conducting split tests to optimize processes as much as possible.
This can be crucial if you’re selling your SEO work to clients or upper management.
Because they don’t care much about your actual rankings—they care about the results of those rankings: revenue, profit, and, to a lesser extent, traffic.
Say a page is getting 100 search visitors a day, which converts to 10 email sign-ups and one sale down your conversion funnel.
Let’s call that a 1% conversion rate.
With split testing in a typical situation, you can double or even triple that rate after running several tests.
If you raised your conversion rate on that single page to 3%, you’d triple your profit.
It’s much easier to increase your conversion rate this way than trying to triple your SEO traffic. Better yet, do both.
A CRO isn’t always part of the SEO team. That role is often assigned to a general marketing team member.
That’s because while you’ll want to do some split testing with things like email outreach tactics, most split testing will be done to find ways to improve the process of converting your visitors into customers.
A CRO will need access to all parts of the business, including channels such as email, social media, your blog, your analytics, and your website (to implement split tests).
With tools available these days, a CRO doesn’t have to be a developer or even work with your developer for the most part.
We’ve looked at 9 different key areas and responsibilities of an SEO team.
They could be covered by 9 people, 2 people, or 20 people—there’s no perfect team size.
The only important thing is to make sure that all these areas are covered. And by covered, I mean you need to have someone who specializes in them, i.e., an expert.
If you’re hiring an agency, you need to find out how they operate by either asking them directly or researching their team based on the information they provide on their website.
As a fun sort of survey, here is a question for you: how many of these components do you cover yourself? Additionally, how big is your current SEO team (or agency’s team)?
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