SEO is a full-company effort, as we established at the beginning. Whether you choose to hire an agency or have staff internally who can be tasked with leading the SEO charge, every company that wants to succeed with SEO has to dedicate significant resources (people and budget) over a period of time to really see huge results.
As such, I have seen that it can be very hard for venture backed businesses to ever justify an investment in SEO because they are simply under so much pressure to perform and that is quite simply not how SEO works. There are a few VCs who value SEO highly, but those are very much the exception to the rule.
How to staff an SEO investment
When you’re ready to invest in SEO, you’re probably wondering who all needs to be involved within the company. We’ll talk in the next chapter about whether you should hire inhouse or an agency, but right now let’s talk about what parts of your company need to be involved in SEO efforts.
The finance and analytics teams have to be involved in SEO because they control the budget and can also help the whole company understand how SEO efforts are impacting the bottom line. It’s all well and good to say that traffic is going up, but it is much more impactful to tell others in the company that the SEO efforts they are working on “drove XX,XXX new visitors which resulted in $X,XXX new MRR this month alone.”
That is what gets people excited. If you’re not measuring the business impact of SEO as well as traffic, then you’re not doing everything you can to be successful.
Product is one of the two main bottlenecks that can sink an SEO campaign, with the other being engineering. Product teams want to build new software features, which who can blame them? Getting a product team to prioritize work on the front end is never easy in the best of times, and when you have a long features and bugs backlog it can be near impossible.
Because the logged-in application for most SaaS companies has very little to do with SEO and your marketing site is probably WordPress or similar, I often counsel SaaS companies to have either a dedicated front end or full stack engineer to work on front end things like a new blog or new page templates or even things like meta tag fixes. If you don’t have the budget for a full time engineer to work on this, then use a service like CodeMentorX to find a freelance developer that you can work with to make these changes.
Engineering is the single most likely place within a SaaS company for SEO initiatives to die. Without a strong engineering leader who sees the value of SEO within your company, SEO will not happen at your company. Point blank.
Engineers hold the keys at a software company. They determine the tech stack used and what gets built and when. If they do not want to prioritize something, then they will not and it will not get done.
This is an area where your company culture really matters. Many SaaS companies I’ve seen have an engineering-driven culture, but if you want to really succeed with customer acquisition then the playing field needs to be leveled between the different teams internally.
The marketing team (specifically thinking about content and brand marketing) often contains writers such as content writers and strategists. If you’re a smaller SaaS company then you might not have dedicated strategists and writers, but if you’re at the scale of a company like Buffer or Zapier (in the 10s of millions ARR) then you do have a dedicated team.
The marketing team can support SEO initiatives by creating copy and new resources that help customers and target keywords that your potential customers are searching for. The marketing team should begin by understanding keyword research and how to do content marketing properly.
The growth team
If you are at the scale of $5m+ a year in revenue, then I recommend that you consider having a growth team. At minimum, this would be a growth expert who understands SEO as well as other parts of the funnel to drive growth, a writer, and at least one engineer and one designer that they have dedicated time from each week.
This growth team is essentially another product team. They are responsible for driving growth across the organization, from top level traffic and audience through scaleable means through to conversion. They will work across marketing channels and be able to implement new technologies that are needed.
Because they are essentially a product team, they work very closely with the engineering team and have to understand the technical tradeoffs that are made. This has, in many instances, been the way to move around engineers thinking that marketers are stupid and allows growth to happen because things get done.
If you can’t afford a full growth team, then at least have someone spearheading growth efforts and give them dedicated design, engineering, and copywriting time. Or, give them a budget to work with to find contractors for some of these roles.
If you want growth to happen at your company, you need someone tasked with it specifically.
How execs can best support SEO efforts at a SaaS company
I have never seen a business succeed with SEO where the executive was not a huge champion of it. This is because SEO needs support across the organization from business (for budget) to product (for prioritization) to engineering (for actually building the things) and finally marketing (especially for needed copy).
Executives can best support SEO efforts at their company in a few ways.
First, demand that SEO be data driven. Have the SEO show you hard data and case studies from others in the industry for the changes they want to make. Do this for the first few months and require great reporting. If you do this, then you can trust that you have implemented a culture of justifying recommendations and requiring that they map back to the business’s goals of users and revenue.
Second, give your SEO/agency support to get things done. Because SEO requires something from so many different parts of the company, a breakdown in support from one team can sink the entire undertaking. I have too many times seen an engineering team tank SEO efforts simply because they wanted to build something else. You as the executive are the one who can break this down and keep things moving when you need to.
Third, you as the executive are the best spokesperson at the company for championing SEO. I’ve worked at larger companies where the CEO would literally praise the SEO team in front of thousands of their peers. Talk about SEO mattering and guess what? This company dominates SEO in their space.
Resources that everyone on the team should read
There are a few SEO resources that everyone at your company should read to get a basic understanding of SEO and to be able to speak intelligently about it.
This guide, which is now about a decade old and being rewritten as of February 2018, is still the go-to resource for learning the basics of SEO that you can then go deeper. It’s available in PDF format, and I recommend that you print off copies and read it cover to cover.
Backlinko is an SEO training company, but their blog is a wealth of knowledge. Brian Dean (our interview with him here) is living proof that high quality beats quantity every time. It is a true wealth of SEO knowledge, including things like his link building resource.
Another awesome resource that has been around for years, this is a great cheat sheet for all developers to print out and reference often. This can become a source of truth internally for questions like “What does a canonical tag do?” or “Should I use a 301 or 302 redirect in this instance?”
Another resource from Backlinko that should be read by everyone on your team who is responsible for increasing traffic. This guide gets to the bottom of how to do keyword research to identify the high value keywords that you should build specific pages for and then build links to rank.