SEO can be engaging, creative, and analytical. Unless you’re doing off-site SEO. Unfortunately, as much as it is boring, it is equally as vital. In fact, off-site SEO might be thought of as holding up the foundation of the organic channel (and, possibly, marketing as a whole).
Rasa Sosnovskytė, Head of SEO at Oxylabs.io.
Off-site SEO stays static. Businesses don’t pivot every year to different industries, leaving the outreach specialist to keep plowing through fields of look alike websites and go through the motions when contacting their administrators.
Defining the problem
As experience dictates, no one does or wants to do off-site SEO forever. Often, those who will become future SEO experts will want to move on to on-page SEO work within a year or less. Others, less interested in the field might use the experience as a stepping stone to further their career.
Good hiring practices lead to people who are dedicated to their field. If they are implemented, teams develop around people who want to progress in SEO. Unfortunately, off-site SEO simply isn’t complex enough to hold one’s attention for too long.
And so, we arrive at a tension that has been inscribed into the process from its very genesis.
Everyone grows out of off-site SEO eventually which means either leaving the employee to his or her own devices or promoting them to on-site. Of course, promotion is a frequent path. However, that leaves an opening in off-site, necessitating the hiring of another person. And so the cycle keeps on trudging on indefinitely.
In the end, many SEO teams end up experiencing bloat over time. As the off-site SEO people keep moving up to on-site, overall business expansion cannot match the pace. Thus, responsibilities and expertise fields keep shrinking, leading to some nasty side effects.
Solving through tech
I’ve always been a big fan of automation in SEO. All SEO in general involves a lot of technical work, some of which is looking at, inputting, and moving data around. Other work involves staring at web pages and trying to decide (if not obvious beforehand) what their expertise might be and what a search engine might think of them.
Automating lead collection through public web scraping has likely been on the mind of many SEO experts. However, as many involved in SEO unfortunately know, getting developers, dedicated to other projects, to lend a helping hand on a long project might not be as easy. So it has to be done through internal resources.
Essentially, an automated application goes through an extensive list of URLs, collecting the publicly available content within, and scouring through the text for specific keywords and contact emails. If no keywords are discovered, the URL is considered unfit. If keywords are discovered and a contact email is present, it is saved to one particular segment of our database. If keywords are there but only a contact form is available, it is saved to a different segment.
Of course, scraping and parsing hundreds of different URLs is bound to lead to some errors, false positives, and false negatives. However, certain improvements can be implemented such as a more in-depth keyword list and getting the structure of the website through the sitemap.
Automation in off-site SEO, like in any other field, minimizes the manual work required, freeing up time for more creative and specialized tasks. Additionally, it means that the entire SEO effort is less reliant on important but boring and time-consuming work.
Additionally, tech can reduce the time needed for lower level on-site SEO tasks. For example, there are numerous solutions that automate competitor monitoring (e.g. ContentKing) that can be integrated into the daily tech stack.
Automating as many tasks as possible allows the team to focus on knowledge-based work. Members can develop their skills and expertise instead of spending time doing work that is essentially CTRL+C (or Command+C, if you’re into that) and CTRL+V.
Solving through management
Splitting teams into on-site and off-site SEO is as old as the field itself. Whether it’s due to off-site being a good stepping stone for newcomers or due to the fact that not many of us really want to do it, the philosophy behind it remains the same.
However, the divide itself is the root cause of the issue. Any field of study, business, or art sees the apprentice move on to become the master. As the adage goes, those soldiers who are not willing to be a general are not good soldiers.
In order to avoid the bloat of members I’ve seen in other SEO teams over the years, I have decided to reject the binary division. Instead, those originally hired for off-site SEO only partly cover the process and focus on on-site. Automation has been the key driver of the change as it increasingly allows members to devote less of their time to off-site work and specialize in something important (e.g. Python development) for our on-site goals.
Instead of attempting to keep moving people through the ranks and rehiring for off-site, now a few people have taken up certain duties permanently. However, they don’t do one thing exclusively. That way they can develop skills that don’t revolve around copying and pasting.
Finally, to lessen the burden to absolutely minimal amounts, a small amount of tasks are outsourced to freelancers. Going through hundreds of “Contact Us” forms can be extremely mind-numbing and boring.
Outsourcing menial work such as that allows the in-house team to allocate their time and resources to more complex tasks. Usually, we find and manage a freelancer or two from Upwork who are willing to go through the contact forms. We even make the work easier for them as they can scour our secondary database which has been created with our tool.
The original binary division of on-site and off-site SEO has to be rethought. With automation allowing us to simplify basic tasks, the division is less a necessity and more a tradition. An ineffective one at that.
Approaching SEO team management from the lens outlined above grants several benefits. First, teams stay lean year-round instead of experiencing bloat. Second, team members can gain numerous responsibilities and raise their expertise in specific on-site SEO areas. Third, managers and heads can more closely focus on particular needs of the team members instead of dividing attention between dozens. Finally, staying lean means saving company resources while retaining effectiveness.
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Rasa Sosnovskytė is Head of SEO at Oxylabs.io.