Project management for in-house SEO teams: 6 best practices

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Project management for in-house SEO teams: 6 best practices

In-house teams constantly juggle a never-ending pipeline of SEO projects, from competitor analysis and technical maintenance to launching new products and website migrations. Without effective project management, this constant influx of work can quickly become overwhelming.

This article explores the key elements of successful project management for in-house SEO teams, helping you navigate the constant project flow while supporting broader business goals and focusing strategically on improving organic search performance.

Where did all these projects come from?

Picture this: an SEO project dashboard for a multi-faceted company. At first glance, you will bet that the in-house team suffers from a split personality.

On the dashboard, you’ll see SEO-related tasks such as competitor analysis, topic research and technical maintenance. But mixed in with those are projects for decommissioning product X, launching product Y, and migrating sections from one website to another – a real Frankenstein dashboard.

But there’s a method to the madness: every change to a website can make or break its organic performance. There is a significant difference between removing dead weight and smart redirections and link management.

The main question is: how can in-house SEO teams transform this complex dashboard into a more strategic one?

1. Fill out the gaps about the ‘what’

SEO experts are sometimes viewed as introverts, hidden behind big Excel tables, strange tools and mumbling incomprehensible words about their “Google god.”

In reality, in-house SEOs are one of the most communicative teams. They must unearth and comprehend other teams’ plans, including their practical implications, scope and timeline.

Regular meetings

Don’t wait for invitations – be proactive.

Schedule regular meetings with other teams based on their planning pace. Use these sessions to share your projects, listen actively and ask questions.

Understanding other departments’ plans is essential for scoping your SEO work effectively.

Meeting notes

Documenting these meetings is essential to prevent any details from being overlooked.

After each meeting, promptly log all action items in a project management tool.

This enables you to follow up with others while the discussion is fresh in their minds.

Scope of work

Understanding the scope of work is essential for both external projects and SEO initiatives.

Create clear checklists and lists with sub-tasks where these are needed. The clear scope will also improve your time estimations and improve your understanding of how achievable these projects are in a certain time frame.

Having a good understanding of the “what” and all the planned projects is a good start for your project management, but to make it work, you need to know also the “why.”

Dig deeper: How to build an SEO-forward culture in enterprise organizations

2. Challenge the purpose

Every project on your dashboard should have a clear purpose. If you can’t explain the “why” behind a task to a 5-year-old, it’s back to the drawing board.

This clarity helps prioritize projects effectively, ensuring that your team’s efforts align with broader business goals.

Don’t be afraid to be the radical candor in the room, but back your behavior with data and a clear approach.

One of the ways is to use the SMART goals tactic and ask the person who has requested the project to fill in the parts:

  • Specific: Clearly articulate what needs to be accomplished one more time.
  • Measurable: Point out how success will be measured – what the core KPIs are.
  • Achievable: Evaluate if the project is realistic while considering limited resources like time and people.
  • Relevant: Double-check if the project matters now or for the short and long-term strategy of the company and how critical it is.
  • Time-bound: Share what is the desired due date and if this due date is fixed because of different circumstances.

You can also use the “5 Whys” method and try to unveil the root cause. People often suggest projects to fix the obvious problem instead of eliminating the root cause.

A real-world SEO example will be logging a project to clean 301 redirects. With good technical maintenance – 301 redirects should be cleaned right after a redirect is placed into your CMS.

So, the root cause is not that there are many 301 redirects. It is the fact that people are not following the process and are redirecting URLs without replacing the internal links.

Dig deeper: SEO product manager vs. SEO manager: What’s the difference?

3. Find the right priority

One of the most important things for every in-house team is having a clear prioritization matrix. You don’t need an infinite list of rules for each quadrant, but for the critical and highly important ones, this is a must.

The reason is that with a never-ending pipeline of projects, you should know how to explain to other teams why you think their project is not critical and why it will continue waiting on your backlog for better times.

To place each project into the right quadrant, you can start with the following questions:

  • Will the project have a global impact (i.e., for all regions or all websites)? For example, is the business releasing something valid for all markets or something good for one?
  • Are other teams dependable on your deliverables? For example, are they waiting for detailed topic research so that they can plan the local content calendar for the next six months?
  • Are there time limitations not under your company’s control? For example, a project manager from another team has promised that the due date of a project will be date X, versus your company ending its contract with a third-party system, and the business needs to migrate from it until date X?
  • What is the expected ROI of the project? And is the ROI expected short-term or long-term? Is it really measurable?
  • Has the project been delayed by other teams? Or has it been excitingly anticipated for a long time because its goal is to change the current situation?
  • Is the SEO team dependable on the deliverables of other teams? Are they on track or in delay?
  • Who is the main stakeholder of the project? Is this directly coming from the CEO or a C-level manager? This one is tricky. From one perspective, these people usually have more information about the bigger picture than you. But from others, they may also miss some context known by mid-level managers.

Answering these questions will help you understand how important each project is and the level of its urgency, as not all critical projects are urgent.

For pure SEO projects, you can use a double prioritization matrix approach and define both business and SEO priorities.

For example, fixing 404 might be critical from an SEO perspective, but is it really critical from a business perspective? It depends.

  • If it is a wrong link to a product page coming from the navigation, it is.
  • But if we are talking about 20 links from the blog, it may be with medium or low business priority.

The SEO priority level will help you better plan the limited time resources you have for pure SEO projects. But how can you keep all this madness organized?

Dig deeper: How to use SEO education for stakeholder management

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4. Power up with a tool

There are plenty of tools for project management – Asana, Trello, Monday, Jira, Google Sheets, Excel, to name a few.

It doesn’t matter which one you choose. They all have their pros and cons. What really matters are these five things.

What tools are using the other teams

Make a list of the tools the teams you are usually working with use – Fkend, Web Project Management, etc. Pick the tool that is used the most. It will be easier for big cross-team projects if you all work on the same platform.

This can provide better visibility to the stakeholders and a better overview of the whole project and its progress. Also, if other teams are already using this tool – it is also familiar to the rest of the business.

Can you log all the needed information?

I am a big fan of tools where you can use custom fields in projects.

For example, I currently work with Jira and have set some custom fields, including language, SEO area (e.g., is it an on-page improvement or topic research?) and SEO priority.

By doing so, I can quickly pull reports.

Can you create repetitive tasks?

A big part of the work done by SEO teams is repetitive. You need to check the website for new issues, to provide the business with a monthly report, etc. These repetitive tasks can easily take more than half of your time, so you must plan the rest of the projects accordingly.

But it is annoying if you need to log them every week and every month. Ideally, the tool you use for project management should do this for you, so all you need to do is set them up once. I have used this functionality in both Jira and Asana, saving me up to an hour every week.

Can you create different reports?

The tool of choice should give you the flexibility to slice and dice the information related to your projects. If you have a list of 20 projects, it is difficult to calculate the time estimates for all.

That is why I have created a simple dashboard with a graph showing the total estimated hours for each person on the team. By looking at it and his/her calendar, we can quickly spot if it is realistic to complete everything within the week or if we need to move something to the next one.

Another use-case is for our bi-weekly meetings with the product departments – we can easily extract just the projects supporting the business goals for this product.

Can colleagues submit a project for you?

Your project management tool should allow people from other departments to submit projects for the SEO team.

A simple Google or Survey Monkey form can also do the job. But it is easier if these are directly entered into your backlog.

Just don’t overcomplicate this, and don’t make people submit a form for things taking less than 30 minutes of your time.

In my current job, we have dedicated Slack channels for every region. We use them for updates from both teams and questions/answers. If the question is more complicated, we inform the stakeholders that we will log it as a project.

Thanks to the automation of Jira and Slack, creating a project from a channel chat is a matter of clicking a button. It directly posts the link to the task into the channel so that everyone can access it. Asana works the same way. The functionality is also available for email clients (at least for Gmail).

If the tool of choice covers all the above, go for it. Spend enough time in the initial settings, saving you time later.

The last missing piece for a complete project management process is to identify all the stakeholders of your projects.

5. Identify the stakeholders

Because of the various projects on which in-house SEO teams work, they need to deal with many different types of stakeholders, from colleagues from development departments to the VP of marketing.

This makes things even more challenging, as different people are interested in different aspects of the project and its related information. It is easy to miscommunicate your projects if you don’t tailor your messaging to the right audience.

Let’s say you’re working on a project to launch a new language version of the website. You can discuss with the dev teams which website the x-default hreflang tag should lead, but you should ask your business stakeholders which website they consider the main one for the business.

Both questions will lead to the same answer from an SEO perspective, but if you ask them to the wrong people, this will lead to at least one more one-hour meeting.

Identifying stakeholders is crucial because the person submitting the project might not always be the final decision-maker. This is especially helpful if you have a couple of projects with similar scope and impact and need someone to make the hard decision.

I always say that the organization chart of your company is one of your most valuable assets to make sure your project management will work.

Dig deeper: SEO stakeholder management: When your ‘no’ isn’t enough

6. Adopt agility

This one might not work for all teams, but I will highly recommend it. Agile methodologies enable teams to be more flexible and efficient in a dynamic environment.

I have tried planning for a month, a quarter, a week, etc. From my experience, what works best is a high-level year roadmap plus detailed weekly sprints. Planning for a week gives you flexibility while the roadmap keeps you on track with your North Star goals.

High-level roadmaps are also good visibility tools for the C-level. Make sure that these roadmaps are understandable for non-SEO people. Use tools like Miro or Notion and name your projects based on the “why” you are doing them. Make sure that you translate these Whys into business language.

For teams with more junior members, it is also important to have daily stand-ups or at least some time set specifically for questions and task reviews. This ensures that challenging tasks aren’t overlooked or delayed for long periods, resulting in subpar outcomes.

Supporting colleagues shouldn’t wait until the sprint ends; with the next sprint starting immediately, time will be tight for new projects.

Don’t plan 100% of your hours. For example, if you have 8 hours of meetings, don’t plan projects for the full 32 hours left in your work week. Plan a buffer of at least 4-5 hours.

Ad hoc requests, chat questions and reading your inbox take time. Having a buffer time gives you the luxury of estimates that are not 100% accurate or for changes in the scope.

If you are the SEO team leader, communicate to your team that having weekly sprints doesn’t mean that you are aiming only at ticking tasks off.

If something requires more time, prolonging it for a couple of sprints is OK. The main goal is that we produce meaningful work.

The art and science of SEO project management

Project management for in-house SEO teams is both an art and a science. It’s not about crossing tasks off a list but about guiding your company’s online presence with vision and strategy.

Remember to support all teams and their goals as you continue playing the cat-and-mouse game with Google. Only by following solid project management principles will you ensure that you won’t drown in the never-ending pile of projects and that you’ll even be able to score some victories.

Dig deeper: Enterprise SEO agency vs. in-house SEO team: What to consider

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