Don’t be an in-house SEO ninja

Be the guru, the surgeon, the rockstar, be the master, but never the ninja…. especially in house. We spoke to the inhouse experts on how to to really succeed client side, it is a different skill set to agency. The most effective SEOs aren’t always the best at SEO, they are often the best at getting things done. 

Have you ever met a surgeon who isn’t arrogant, with Trump level self confidence? They aren’t stealthy and invisible, when they leave the room they (hopefully) leave you with that feeling that they know what they are doing, a successful ninja leaves the room and you didn’t even know they were there.  Be the surgeon, don’t be the guy in that people forgot in the corner of the meeting room.

We asked Hannah, Tom, David, Omi and James for their views –

Hannah Thorpe from Verkeer has some presentations on GSD in big companies, which are worth looking at (slideshare link)  

Where she has these rules –

Define the Why, Show Relationships, Quantify Everything, Understand your Stakeholders, Prioritise your tasks, JFDI


“The key thing is to remember whilst SEO might be technical or seen as too complex from outsiders – the work you’re doing is not rocket science. Connect with people on a personal level and explain what it is you’re doing. Being transparent and helping people to understand what you do will not land you out of a job, instead it will help you to build a more collaborative environment to work in. People run from the things which scare and confuse them, so the best thing you can do is knock down those walls and make the SEO team accessible to all.”

Tom Bourlet –

“…One of the best thing you can do is create a presentation once a month, or every other week, detailing to other departments what you have achieved and, most importantly, why.”

When Tom joined his current company, nobody outside of the marketing team had ever heard of a link. He set about running a monthly presentation to the sales team, where he explained the changes to the site, the links earned and the end results.

  • Explaining the changes to the site helps the team to feel involved and understand what is going on behind the scenes.
  • Explaining the links you have earned the business or the work you have been focusing on helps to create a sense of appreciation for your work (trust me, salespeople almost always feel marketing is pointless until they really understand it)
  • When you explain how the work you have put in has increased traffic, has jumped sales or has resulted in mass branding, your life will become a lot easier, as people will respect your work and allow you to carry on without questions or outside pressure.

“.. With any link building campaign I work on, I demand 100% control over the story, despite how bizarre it may seem at the time. People will often question it in the lead up to launch, however two weeks later when you are displaying links from MTV, Metro and Cosmopolitan, all they can do is accept you were right

A guru will offer advice, a ninja will silently get the job done and a rockstar will make people’s heads turn. It is your job to become everything in one.

Remember, if you feel nervous at any point, the only thing standing between you and your dream is the bullshit story you keep feeding yourself…Sure I stole that quote from The Wolf Of Wall Street, but it has become my motto for life!…”  

David Iwanow – Schibsted

“I found the biggest success has been to simplify what you are trying to say, don’t over-complicate or engineer it.  I found that there is a lot of passion from people inhouse to learn from you, don’t be a jerk and take time to speak with various members of the team.  I find speaking with various members of the team across the business is that you can learn a lot about the business from them but also discover some of their day to day headaches and hurdles to hitting their targets that SEO can help.

“I’m also quick to dismiss any idea that SEO is a dark art that requires mystical powers.  The answer is great technical SEO is a lot of dev work but very little of what SEOs do is new just doing it right requires more forward planning and investment of resources.”

The key to success for SEOs inhouse is the following

  • Identification of a problem/issue
  • Planning & researching a solution
  • Measuring & tracking the right metrics
  • Implementing an agreed solution
  • Reviewing the solution
  • Ongoing refinement of solution


Omi Sido – Canon Europe

“…I’ve said it before and I will say it again – to be a successful in-house SEO the first thing you have to do is break down the silos to work across channels beyond just SEO.

You simply cannot be successful in SEO without PR, content creation and website development.

In all honesty whether, you are already working with other departments in your organisation or not your SEO strategy is probably already impacting many features of your business- the social media department, content department, web development department, PR department, marketing department, etc. So if other departments are involved in the execution of your SEO strategy at one point, you have to make sure that all items are communicated properly from all parties that are involved…”

James Scroggie Getting Personal

“The ninja did not always work alone… To succeed as an SEO in a client side role, one of the best tools in my arsenal is working collaboratively. Make friends with your project manager, lead developer, PR department, and content teams.

It is not our role as an SEO to tell a developer how to code a website, it is however critical to spell out the goal & the outcome and quantify why we want something to be done in a certain way, be it financially or in terms of potential traffic. A user story about the issue, and what the best solution will look like is key. With understanding of each departments goals, skillset and motivation, we can all work collaboratively to produce fully integrated marketing campaigns and technically excellent websites.”


Personally, I am confident about what I know (in SEO) and whilst I am not pretending to be the SEO Rockstar, (fortunately the tag “rock star” in the SEO world seems to be gone), I have done enough, experienced, managed and applied enough to walk like a surgeon.

But people like me are more like the ninjas, getting on with looking through the code, quietly ensuring things aren’t falling apart, silently emailing people with a technical list of things they have forgotten in the latest release, spotting potential bugs and issues overlooked and ignored.

It simply doesn’t work, you will get ignored, forgotten, people have too much going on, too many other priorities and sadly the loudest often wins.

Be a sniper, someone who meticulously plans and hits the right people, who has a long term strategy. Be a guru – the right person that everyone turns to when they want SEO help. Be a leader (not a manager), have passion for both your industry and your company and champion your team, your cause, be the rockstar that doesn’t forget the backing band.

Here are my top 5 recommendations –

  1.       Be confident
  2.       Be trustable (deliver what is required)
  3.       Be an advocate (explain why what you do is important)
  4.       Be prepared
  5.       Be commercial

If you don’t feel confident like you are the guru surgeon, maybe you can fake it –  because if you are the ‘ninja’ you are unlikely to get impact, you won’t get promoted and it is often a shame when the right people don’t get the professional boost because they simply aren’t noisy enough.

Actually, thinking about it – don’t be a surgeon, rockstar, guru – it is absolutely time to get rid of some of these “ludicrous phrases” as Dawn calls them.


One Thought to “Don’t be an in-house SEO ninja”

  1. Dan Taylor

    Awesome post Gerry.

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