SEO Team Structure: How To Build Out an SEO Team

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SEO as a discipline under the wider digital acquisition industry covers a variety of practices. As we briefly touched on our guide on how to budget for SEO, there are a number of different areas of SEO that you will need to have covered, depending on your business needs. 

While having a sole SEO resource in the form of one person may work for some small businesses with small websites, a common mistake for some companies is to assume that one person can take on all aspects of SEO. Not only does this not work in terms of unrealistic output expectations placed on one (or two) people, it’s also simply a fact that different SEO professionals have different skill sets and specialisms under the wider SEO umbrella that you will need to consider.

SEO teams across businesses vary in size. A medium to large national business may have a team of five to ten professionals and a department head, while global enterprise businesses may have teams of up to 20 or so across each of their core markets. 

Let’s take a look at how to structure an SEO team and what this looks like across different business types. We’ll also cover other important aspects of running an in-house SEO department such as training, scaling your team and measuring performance.

What do SEO teams look like across different business sizes?

Assuming you’re a small to medium size business and are cognizant of the importance of SEO, having identified key SEO areas to drive growth, then your in-house SEO team structure may consist of several specialists covering the core areas. If for example you’ve budgeted for a total headcount of five, the structure may look something like this:

  • Head of SEO
    • SEO Consultant
    • Technical SEO Specialist
    • Content SEO Specialist
    • Digital PR Specialist (link building)
  • SEO Manager/Head of SEO/Director of SEO

This person sits at the forefront of the SEO programme and is responsible for taking ownership of the SEO strategy for your business. They will manage individual SEO specialists and will communicate progress and have a set of KPIs to adhere to in order to drive growth.

  • Individual specialists: content, technical, digital PR

Underneath the Head of SEO, you will then have individual specialists that cover the core areas of SEO your business has identified for growth. This will of course vary depending on different business needs, though will often cover the core basics such as content, technical and activation or digital PR. Depending on your needs, you may also have specialists covering niche areas such as local SEO, international SEO or analytics reporting.

Now, let’s take this one step further in terms of scale, and look at how this might look at enterprise level for a global brand. Whether this is taking a traditional hierarchical structure or the more flexible pod structure, your in-house SEO team may look something like this:

Director of Organic Acquisition

  • Head of SEO
    • Technical SEO Manager
      • Technical SEO Executive
      • Technical SEO Executive
      • UX SEO Executive
      • SEO Developer Support
    • Content SEO Manager
      • Content SEO Executive
      • Content SEO Executive
    • Digital PR Manager
      • Digital PR Executive
      • Digital PR Executive
    • Data / Analytics Manager

If the brand in question operates in multiple markets or has a number of different products under its roof, say TV, computers, mobile phones and white goods in the case of a global electronics company, then it’s likely that this team structure will be replicated across this. There may be individual SEO Directors that sit across these individual markets or product lines that report back to an overarching Head of SEO, who in turn will report back to a CMO or VP of Marketing. 

These models are quite easily scalable if there is additional need for growth and additional resources, whether this follows traditional hierarchical structures (pictured above) or “flatter” structures whereby resources are shared across teams depending on the need.

What other specialisations might I need to consider?

You’re going to want to have the core disciplines of SEO covered, that being content and technical and everything these areas entail. There are of course various different role names and job types, with SEO Manager perhaps being called SEO Consultant or SEO Strategist, or SEO Executive being called SEO Analyst. 

When it comes to specialisms though, areas to consider might include conversion rate optimisation specialists, SEO content writers, mobile SEO specialists, SEO copy editors, SEO product managers, local SEO experts, China SEO experts, link builders or schema experts.

If you already know what the structure of your SEO team will need to cover (alongside the core areas), then great. However, let’s take a look at how to plan for this if you don’t. 

How do I know what specialisms to include in my SEO team?

Everything comes down to your KPIs and goals as a business in terms of organic growth. Hiring a team en masse without a clear strategy and path to heightened organic acquisition may end up costing your business later on, particularly if you’ve hired a fully fleshed out team that is rudderless in terms of focus. Ideally, you will need to know the answers to these questions:

  • What are my competitors doing in terms of keyword ranking and how much effort are they putting in on certain areas?
  • What are the gaps in terms of content that we have identified and what do we need to realistically achieve our aims?
  • How does our website perform from a technical SEO basis and is this proving a hindrance towards growth?
  • Where do most of our conversions come from across our website, and what do we need to achieve to diversify and improve this?
  • Do we have a robust acquisition model that we can rely on for assigning budget on an SEO team? Does this take into account existing costs per acquisition and how this relates to any potential resource investment and subsequent return?

How do I ensure that my SEO team isn’t siloed within the business?

Whether you’re involved in an enterprise business, an SME or a start-up, a common stifler for enhanced productivity and growth is the lack of cross-department collaboration. This can typically happen when disciplines are viewed in silos with their own teams, workflows and goals. Alluding back to our SEO team structure visualisation earlier in the article, regardless of whether this team structure is flat or not, there is a likelihood that the department may operate in its own silo. The same can be said for various other disciplines whether this across marketing, sales, product or elsewhere across the business.

SEO, like many other acquisition channels, touches various other elements of daily business workflows. For example, technical SEO fixes will likely need to involve a developer team. Content strategies gleaned from keyword / topic research data should also be shared with social media teams and perhaps customer service teams, with some likely valuable insights shared across teams to improve overall strategy and communication. There will also likely be a number of shared pain points across the business that teams can collaborate on.

To alleviate this, ensure your SEO and other marketing and product departments are meeting regularly to discuss their work and current objectives. A common format for this is regular standups, where status updates on work are shared via a project management tool such as Jira, Teamwork or Trello. 

Outside of this, consider the use of dedicated communication channels that allows for further cross communication and collaboration. While it may be inevitable that teams will have their own communication channels, messaging tools such as Slack or Microsoft Teams allow the potential to create dedicated channels for ongoing communication that bridges departments. Ensure that your teams think in terms of projects and goals that lift them out of just focusing on areas solely related to their disciplines. 

Not only will this alleviate the risk of miscommunication or things going wrong if certain departments aren’t involved, it also ensures shared learning and room for team growth.

Levelling up your SEO and marketing teams with training and development

We hope that over the course of this guide to building SEO teams, it has become clear that SEO, and in particular certain specialisms of SEO, readily crossover with other business departments in their day-to-day activities. For example, technical SEO specialists will find themselves heavily involved with developers, and it’s likely that link building or digital PR specialists will sync up with CRM and social media teams. 

With this in mind, it’s worth holding regular forums where cross learning is encouraged. This could be in the form of the SEO team taking the social media teams or developer teams (for example) through an “SEO 101” seminar or giving them a tour of their tooling software and reporting dashboards. Conversely, a web developer could provide an overview of what goes into building out a certain web functionality on a page and how this impacts the code base.

If you’re in a position to, look to dedicate specific periods, perhaps on a Friday afternoon each month, to a deliberate training session. If arranging these are difficult logistically, then a workaround could be assigning teams a “training budget” whereby they select a course or training segment outside of their usual day to day and learn accordingly.

Furthermore, for SEO team members specifically, there are plenty of regular SEO and wider digital marketing conferences and meetups in plenty of locations worldwide. These can be great opportunities for team members to keep up to speed with the latest SEO trends and interface with areas of the discipline (and digital marketing in general) that they might not have achieved before. This can be a great enabler to ensure that your SEO teams are kept stimulated and continue professional development, which will only impact your business in a positive way.

How do I measure the success of my SEO team?

Every business will have their own set of KPIs that will be assigned to SEO activities and the role that SEO plays towards moving the needle in commercially centric goals like conversions, purchases and enhanced engagement in general. These will need to be ironed out and agreed on early on during the SEO strategy lifecycle.

Overall bottom of funnel KPIs will usually be assigned to the SEO department lead or Head of SEO, with other metrics such as keyword rankings or organic traffic improvement on certain areas of your site potentially being assigned to other team members.

Like any investment, commercial returns are of course what business owners care about, and this should be paramount when assessing the performance of your team overall.

Outside of this, there are some potential “softer” metrics that could be considered clear indicators of SEO team success. Here are a few to consider:

  • Delivery: Whether it’s content output or the successful implementation of technical SEO recommendations, consistent delivery on SEO-led ventures to improve organic acquisition is a good indicator of a team’s efficiency.
  • Productivity: There are plenty of ways you can measure productivity as a business owner, whether it’s through timesheets or a task ticketing system such as Jira. Are your team delivering the same high-quality output and are those levels of output increasing? This is a good sign of a well-oiled unit.
  • Satisfaction: It is difficult to assess team satisfaction through the means of formats such as surveys or questionnaires, as they often feel contrived. Instead, a good business owner or team leader will keep their ear firmly to the ground and be able to judge team satisfaction by staff comradery and the consistent delivery of high-quality work.
  • Growth: If you find that your SEO team leaders are coming to you asking for more budget to hire new team members due to resourcing needs, and there is a clear and tangible business case for this, then this is a good sign. It means there is more work becoming available and more potential room for growth across your business via the means of SEO. 

Building a successful SEO team involves several key steps and considerations. Firstly, you will need to define your goals as well as clear roles and responsibilities within the team. This will likely encompass technical SEO, content creation, link building, and analytics but as we’ve mentioned throughout, will differ from company to company.

As a business owner, make sure you are fostering a culture of collaboration and continuous learning, encouraging team members to stay updated with the ever-evolving SEO landscape. 

Implement robust communication channels and workflows to streamline processes and maximise efficiency. Prioritise ongoing training, experimentation, and adaptation to ensure your team retain a competitive edge and organic growth is continuous.

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