The case for IT department SEO savvy

Earlier this week I gave a speech at event that took me outside ofthe usual IT industry crowd and closer to my peer group. I was part ofa so-called “master class” on search engine optimization and its impacton our editorial staff. It was kind of ironic because, while I’ve beena jack of many trades, I’m certainly not a master of this one. Then Irealized how many enterprise IT users are in the same boat.

In my presentation I went through the journey we’ve been on here atIT World Canada to educate our staff on the best practices for linkingto keywords, identifying the right anchor text, changing headlines sothat they’re more attractive to Google and so on. The questions fromthe audience were terrific: Do you now write for humans or for acomputer? How do you know if you’re doing this right? And how on Earthdo you find the time to do it at all?

These aren’t just issues for journalists or people who work at mediacompanies. Anyone who manages a Web site, whether it’s an onlineretailer, a marketing exec or a corporate blogger needs to get noticedonline. There are plenty of free tools, but not plenty of provenapproaches. The IT department likely helped set up the Web site, but itmay vary by company whether they are at all involved in helping stafflearn how to optimize their content for search.

I think there’s a tendency to divorce technology professionals fromanything that touches on content. Perhaps that’s because IT departmentsdon’t often get a gold star for communication, or because they aren’tseen as having the same vested interest in end customers or sitevisitors. Next week, I’ll be attending Search Engine Strategies Toronto, but I’m expecting to see more marketing types than IT observers.

This is especially weird because in most organizations, IT has to beinvolved at some point in the content stage, specifically theselection, development or deployment of the content management systemthat is eventually used by staff. If this is done right, IT is alsoinvolved in developing a close understanding of the content developmentand publication process, including deadlines, workflow and volume ofcontent to be published. To leave them out of the SEO discussion isjust weird, not to say inappropriate.

A content management project no longer ends with the CMS, however.As SEO becomes better understood and practiced by more organizations,IT will have to get up to speed on the policies on SEO, or at leastensuring there are some. One of the other speakers at the event thisweek, for example, said her staff enters metadata only on “important”stories. It’s a mandatory practice on all content for our staff. Thatcreates a big difference in how information is treated and managed inour organization. I am certain there are similar differences in manyother Web-based businesses or those with a strong Web component (whichis to say, pretty much all successful businesses).

Much like taking information that was once only in print and postingit online, we talked a lot about how many editorial people see all thisSEO stuff as a big chore. So might the people who used to spend thebulk of their time producing and mailing brochures, but who now have toupdate and apply SEO to microsites. If they don’t buy in, thetechnology investments won’t mean much. SEO is all about gettingGoogle’s attention. It needs to get more of IT managers’ attention.

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