Even though small websites can benefit from technical SEO, the fact that the vast majority of technical SEOs work on larger websites just shows how much more important the technical aspect of a website becomes the larger the websites are.
Do you use external agencies, freelancers or contractors for technical SEO?
The majority of technical SEOs (70%) said that they didn’t use any external resources such as agencies or freelancers to support their technical SEO efforts.
I love to see this - internal teams working with external freelancers. I'm interested to see how this evolves over time. But in general, I love to see the end of one vs. the other, and instead moving to a model of "Both! - right people, right tools, right time, for maximum scalability.
As someone who has worked in house before and has had sufficient experience, this does not surprise me at all. We were often approached by external agencies who assumed that the team didn't have the technical knowledge, expertise and experience, yet there are SO MANY skilled technical SEOs working in house.
It usually takes longer for a business to hire in-house SEOs, and when they do, the expectation is that the in-house SEO will handle 100% of technical SEO-related work, which is reflected here. Unfortunately, in many cases this decision is budget driven and not based on the needs of the in-house team. An agency helping out with technical SEO can work side by side with the in-house team, and serve as an extension of them to identify more technical issues that might be overlooked.
I expect to see a similar ratio to this. In my in-house experience, we tend to hire tech SEOs internally but work with external Digital PR agencies.
Website set-ups can be quite unique to each company - it's not easy (nor cheap) to get customised outside help so no wonder that 70% of SEOs prefer to handle the technical aspect in-house only.
Companies often see the choice between in-house (technical) SEO and agency support as an either/or situation. One aspect of this is budget of course, the other one is the willingness to build SEO as a function in-house and own it end to end, but another element is the challenge that is delivering efficient technical SEO support for agencies/consultants.
Technical SEO often requires strong alignment with product & engineering teams & a good grasp of the complexities of a company's tech stack, business model and roadmaps. I see a huge opportunity for agencies and consultants to adjust their offering so as to deliver services that are more embedded into existing engineering workflows and less cookie cutter.
Quite often, in-house SEOs do need external support on a project basis, but the difficulties of on-boarding consultants can be a challenge. More "product-led" or "engineering-led" approaches to technical SEO services could really be a win-win for companies in need of support.
When you use external agencies, freelancers or contractors, how much budget, on average, do you invest per month?
For those who answered yes, we asked how much budget they invested per month on external technical SEO support. The most popular answer with 37% was $1,000 - $5,000 per month. Somewhat reassuringly for agencies and freelancers, the least popular answer (7%) was the lowest range which was up to $1,000 per month.
It is great to see that the lowest end of the scale is the least prominent one. SEO does not mean it is free or doesn't need investment. It seems this view is changing, which implies that SEO is recognised as an important channel and gets the financial support it needs to be successful and deliver good results.
I may be biased but if you're spending £1k or less on an SEO retainer I guarantee you're getting white-label tool exports. You might be better off just buying the tool yourself!
Following on from this, are you expecting this budget to increase, decrease or stay the same next year?
Despite the troubles of the last 18 months, it’s encouraging to see that the majority (86%) of respondents said that they expected budgets to either stay the same or increase over the next 12 months.
Something I've been thinking about a lot as an SEO for the past 18 months is how certain verticals have been forced to precipitate their digitization (for lack of a better word!) because of covid and how big of an opportunity this could be for SEOs.
Think of small businesses, government agencies, e-learning, the entertainment industry even... if SEO as an industry was not perceived as just the "optimisation for search" part of our jobs, and if businesses saw that the skills SEOs have are truly holistic (think: understanding websites, understanding search, understanding audiences behaviours, understanding digital strategy & so on...) I believe a bigger share of the digitization(?) market could actually be owned by the SEO industry, but maybe this is short-sighted?
In the past 8 years I've worked on: local search for small businesses, international expansion involving so many moving parts, migrating large and very mature websites to brand new tech stacks, optimising for accessibility, ASO & so many other varied projects. The list of so long! Maybe we'll see bigger spending in SEO when our skill sets become associated with digitization/digital transformation in the new (post)pandemic world?
From what I have seen Digital Marketing and SEO did actually see more demand over the last 18 months.
I think SEO especially was a good channel to continue to use if budgets needed to be cut, as it is very cost-effective and produces long-lasting results. So unsurprisingly, there should be either the same or even more investment which is what a lot of companies seem to be going for.
56% here to "stay the same" feels quite high relative to the overall growth of the SEO field that happened/is happening since Covid.
I'm willing to bet there are industry-specific splits which help account for this.
In your organization, in which team does accountability for technical SEO sit?
In terms of where SEO sits within an organization, the majority of respondents (70%) said that accountability sits within the marketing function whilst the other sizable answers were Product (17%) and Engineering/Tech (12%).
I see a clear distinction between Technical SEO review/evaluation and getting the errors fixed. While the marketing team works on reviewing and putting together the recommendations/fixes, the product or the engineering tech does the implementation. Most of the typical agencies and in-house teams work this way, which makes the results pretty obvious! Having said that, the real struggle lies here as two different teams have to work in tandem to get things fixed/implemented.
While it structurally makes sense for SEOs to sit within the marketing department, the most common issue both in-house and agency side is shown to be getting technical SEO implemented. There seems to be a lack of understanding, or at least a lack of support, from senior leadership on the development resource required to push technical SEO changes through. This may be in part due to the difficulty in proving the value of some technical SEO work which can be essential for website maintenance but doesn't necessarily push acquisition.
Interesting that it is Marketing where the accountability for technical SEO sits.
Marketing may be the team that recognises there are errors on the site as they are looking at the bigger picture but the accountability should sit between the marketing, product and engineering/tech teams.
Building a site should not sit under engineering tech. They, along with product and marketing should ensure that a good and well optimised site is built.
Jo Juliana Turnbull
Currently I have the opportunity to work as an SEO for a company who truly believes in a "product-led" SEO approach. I am not implying here that this is the panacea for technical SEO to succeed but I have to say I am still surprised when I see technical SEO teams predominantly sitting under Marketing.
One thing that is discussed ad nauseam in the SEO industry is how challenging it is to get things done. I'm pretty sure I have made my life harder in-house when my work was not aligned with product and engineering.
SEO & marketing should absolutely work hand in hand, but I see more flexibility for a product-led/ engineering-led SEO team to collaborate seamlessly with Marketing than a Marketing-led SEO team to collaborate seamlessly with product or engineering. Adopting processes, rituals and workflows on the product & engineering side of a business can make things a lot smoother for technical SEO standards to take hold.
This is the first survey like this, correct? If this question was asked in a previous survey, I'd really love to know what percentages Product and Engineering/Tech were at last year relative to this year.
I'm also curious how differentiated Product is vs Engineering, and what an SEO's experience might be like on one vs the other, vs when product/eng acts like one team unit.
I'm not surprised to see that 70% of technical SEO sits under marketing - it's, unfortunately, still the reality we have to deal with. More SEO teams are now being developed as a function of Product or Tech which can help lead to getting better dev resources and better prioritisation of SEO projects. I'm hoping this split will be at least 50/50 next year.
The shift from Marketing and Engineering to Product is very interesting.
Product seems to be more and more the place for SEO.
I've mainly worked in a Marketing setting myself but find the Product setup very appealing. I'm curious to see how this evolves over time and would love to see more talks and case studies about the different setups and how they compare in practice.
I sit in the Tech team in my current role and it's a huge game-changer than sitting in Marketing.
Please order the following in order of which ones you spend the most time on. With the task requiring the most time at the top:
In-house technical SEOs said that on average, the task where they spend most of their time is the proactive improvement of known issues, with 40% putting this first on the list. Second on the list at 24% was examining the website to look for issues. Next up is the incremental improvement and testing of new opportunities which 18% ranked third on the list. In last place, with 17% ranking it fourth is the reactive handling of issues introduced by site updates.
Interesting to see incremental improvement so low down the list. In my experience, this is often due to in-house SEO's constantly fire-fighting and battling for priority over other channels/tasks. Very few in-house SEO's ever seem to have the resource they need to implement everything they want. I wonder what we can be doing as an industry to make this different? Perhaps as CMS' becomes more user-friendly more SEO's will be able to control their own implementation.
I would also add that this could suggest a lack of strategy and alignment with the business goals.
Generally, I feel testing of new opportunities is a bit underutilized which might come down to capacity restraints. There is no 'one SEO fits all' once the basics are in place and there are differences in the importance of different factors depending on your industry, type of business, type of website and so on. Hence why we should always be testing to gain insights and find the biggest opportunities for our individual setup.
How do you handle implementing technical SEO tasks that require developers?
Over three quarters of the respondents (76%) said that they used an in-house development team to handle technical SEO tasks. Only 7% of technical SEOs said that they fix issues themselves.
The percentage of in-house SEOs who implement changes themselves is surprisingly high, considering the complex procedures of releasing to production and the limited access that SEOs usually have. I would assume that this is only done for smaller scale implementations to mitigate risks
The 7% that do it themselves are either an SEO/dev hybrid kind of person or they work with incredible CMSes.
I normally find out what technical issues are being worked on (outside of SEO tasks). It is important to know what the priorities are in other teams and understands how you can work together to meet the same end goal (eg more traffic and sales).
I take this approach instead of "this is my task please fix it". Instead, it should be everyone's responsibility to drive more traffic and sales and conversions, but the way to get there is of course split into different teams.
Jo Juliana Turnbull
The delayed technical SEO implementations are delayed organic growth. Having them executed via an in-house tech team is the most common scenario be it in-house or agency. But, challenges that reside there as well in the form of non-alignment between the teams, not having clear ownership, etc. I always dream of having an SEO in the team who has the capability of fixing things on the website, so would love to see the last option go up the ladder, going forward.
Great to see that there are dev teams in-house to support. Even better if there is a dedicated developer (or team) assigned to SEO (or at least to the function SEO sits within).
The best way of getting SEO right is to get it done in the first place. Especially for technical SEO having a fast-running ticket pipeline can be a massive competitive advantage.
Haha and THIS is why they arent spending time on incremental growth and opportunities. I absolutely adore it when we are given direct CMS access and free rein to improve all that we can. It frees up dev time exponentially when they only get given more advanced fixes.
When delegating tasks for SEO to your development team, do they have time set aside for SEO tasks on a regular basis?
55% of in-house technical SEOs said that they had time set aside for SEO tasks which is encouraging to see, but overall, the split here was pretty even between the two options.
Honestly, this split makes me a little sad. Close to half of in-house SEOs still don't have regular development time which likely means they're consistently struggling to get their work prioritised.
Of course we can't know for sure why this is the case. It might be symptomatic of a more general development resource problem (i.e. all departments struggle to get development time); it might be a deliberate structural decision within these organisations (e.g.. all development tasks are prioritised based on a set of pre-agreed KPIs - so no departments get regular development time); or whether it's just that SEO-related development tasks just aren't viewed as high priority (versus requests from other departments) within these organisations.
Regardless of the situation, it seems to me that we still have a bunch of work to do in terms of building the business case to secure regular development resource.
Given how critical development work is to technical SEO implementation, it's surprising that only 55% of in-house development teams have time set aside for this type of work. Technical SEO work generally impacts most users who land on the website. An example can include fixing a broken link, or optimising the header navigation, which benefits all users and channels. To resolve this issue, it may be a case of attaching more monetary values to technical SEO work where possible to improve your chances of getting resource. Alternatively, or in conjunction, SEO activity can be more closely aligned with overall product and website strategy to get additional buy-in from other stakeholders.
This is incredibly promising. I would love to see more dedicated dev hours for SEO for everybody. I've seen it often when other channels are more accurately able to say what monetary uplift they will get from an individual change - they always get priority. No SEO should have to do projected uplifts for a title change haha
This is expected, I usually manage to include SEO tasks within existing tech tasks. For example, if the team will be doing improvements on a specific template then I include a few SEO tasks within that as opposed to an SEO ticket from scratch.
Approximately how much time do you have set aside for SEO tasks?
We then asked respondents to estimate how much time they set aside each month for technical SEO tasks. The most popular answer (48%) was over ten days per month.
I slightly disagree. Maybe in the initial phase of an SEO campaign, the technical SEO would consume a lot of time. Once you get the launch pad cleaned up and ready for the start, it can get into the monitoring phase which can be made easier with crawling tools.
In house SEO's?? And less than half of their time set aside for tech SEO. INTERESTING!
Which of the following teams do you typically work alongside when it comes to technical SEO? Tick all that apply.
Next, we wanted to understand to what extent technical SEOs crossed over with other areas of their organisation. The most popular answer was the Engineering/Tech team with 85% of respondents saying that they crossed over with them.
The great SEO and PAID search divide - we really must start approaching SEARCH as a whole - but this may be misleading data if they don't do PPC.
Customer support and sales teams can provide incredibly rich and useful data for SEO's - think about all the questions they get all the time!
I'd expect the Engineering team to rank very highly here indeed. One team that I find to be incredibly relevant as well is Data/BI, which seems to be missing here or potentially be reflected in 'Other'. In which case the percentage would be rather low.
SEO is one function that doesn’t fit in a box because the right SEO can’t happen in a silo. Effective SEO will rely on, impact, and collaborate with just about every division in the organization. But surprised to see collaboration with the Copy team in fourth place. It’s difficult to separate modern SEO from content. It’s an essential part of the process and a job that requires its position in the SEO team lineup. For these obvious reasons, copy resources are becoming an integral part of SEO teams in many organizations. Potentially this change could have made the copy team collaboration stands at fourth place.
Overall this looks like a pretty healthy balance to me, however I was surprised to note that only 24.3% of technical SEOs are typically working alongside paid search teams.
Whilst I recognise that in many organisations these disciplines are kept structurally separate, in my experience, working closely with paid search teams frequently yields fantastic results. For example, on-page SEO improvements can also positively impact paid search quality scores which, in turn, can improve ROI on paid search campaigns; and creating new pages to target specific keywords can open up new paid search opportunities. As teams, paid and organic really do work better together.
What's the longest timeframe you've had to wait to get a technical SEO change made for a website that you’ve worked on?
Whilst the top four answers were relatively evenly distributed, the most popular length of time that respondents waited for a technical SEO change to be made was over 12 months.
I don't find it surprising that 50% of respondents are reporting a delay of more than six months for implementation.
There are some instances when the SEO team is driving tech updates and optimsations that stretch Development teams and the wider business. For larger organisations the time between identifying the need, securing resources, acquiring new skills or tools, and getting sign off along the way can be extensive. For smaller teams, prioritising one task over another can be a challenge for those marketers wearing many hats.
It can be a challenge but getting buy-in from all teams can make a difference.
Ouch! No wonder people still think of SEO as the 'slow' channel. At least this is talking about the longest you've ever had to wait, rather than the usual.
I see this long timeline (12 months+) as a positive, which I know might be surprising. I guess it really depends on how we interpret the phrase "technical SEO change" obviously if we're talking about fixing a handful of links, 12 months sounds discouraging. If we're using "a change" as a more generic term for some area of improvement on a website (say, migrate a site section, change navigation with all the ramifications and follow up tasks it entails, roll out a content localisation project etc.) then 12 months might not be as bad as it looks.
One thing that Google has forced us to do in the last 3/4 years is to work on incremental improvements to deliver the best experience and do less reactive cosmetic fixes to chase rankings. This, in my opinion, should make the 12 months wait look not as alarming as it might look. Good SEO takes time.
This is in direct correlation with the priority that SEO gets within the business. It seems that in most cases the priority is low-medium. Constantly advocating for SEO, building relationships and leveraging SEO success across the business can reduce this wait time (and perhaps help with getting some dedicated dev resources).
The combined ~35% of 12+ and 24+ months really pains me to see. Especially the latter one. Luckily, based on the following responses in regards to the typical timeframe, these seem to be the exception.
What's the typical timeframe for a technical SEO change to be made on a website that you’ve worked on?
In terms of the typical timeframe for technical SEO changes to be made, the most popular answer was a month with 34%, closely followed by a week at 30%. Fortunately for most technical SEOs, waiting over 12 months was only the case for 1% of respondents.
Great to see most SEO's are waiting between 1 week and 1 month to see their work implemented. I'd be hopeful in assuming that this is for BAU rather than recovery work. I'd say as an agency we will often experience the same timeframes from our clients. But are we settling for 'okay' when it could be 'amazing'?
This time frame is reflective of a typical Tech SEO Implementation. And this is largely because we are often making small changes that build on each other to have a significant impact overall.
What is typically the main blocker in getting changes made to the site?
When it comes to reasons why technical SEO changes can’t get made, by far the most common answer was existing non-SEO development tasks with 66% of respondents citing this reason.
I think this is slightly on us, how can we make SEO requirements not feel like SEO tasks and instead tasks that will directly impact conversion and revenue.
I have never met a company with too many developers...
In this COVID SEO boom, we need to be thinking about investing in dev in equal measure to SEOs. Doing SEO without a dev team to back you up is like tying one arm behind your back.
Whilst the majority of respondents cited "existing non-SEO development tasks" as the main blocker; I can't help but feel that this is a symptom rather than the real problem.
Why are those non-SEO development tasks given higher priority? It's likely that those tasks/projects have stronger buy-in (and/or commitment) from internal stakeholders. Again, I can't help but feel like we have more work to do in terms of making stronger business cases to secure the levels of buy-in that other internal teams enjoy.
The biggest and harsh reality is most of the technical SEO recommendations are deep buried in JIRA/PWF and they remain as pending tickets. Among all the SEO recommendations, technical SEO recommendations get harder to get buy-ins from stakeholders. The hesitation of linking the technical SEO recommendations (though it is possible if not accurately) to ROI/Revenue is also the main blocker in getting the buy-ins. In the shift from page-centric to site-centric focuses by Google in recent years, technical SEO has become more and more important, yet it is still largely ignored.
What is your preferred method to present your technical SEO recommendations to your stakeholders?
In-house technical SEOs generally prefer using ticket systems such as JIRA or Asana to present their recommendations to stakeholders, with 43% of them saying this. The next popular answer was Google Slides/Powerpoint with 22%.
Another "persuasion" question - unless all stakeholders are in Engineering (unlikely - I'm sure some are, but not all!) - presenting recommendations in the form of Dev tickets is a big missed opportunity.
I just don't see this being impactful for business, brand, etc. stakeholders.
I do love a good ticket indeed :) From personal experience, I can agree that having a ticket system in place has improved collaboration, efficiency, clarity, visibility and transparency across stakeholders.
This is a really interesting answer I think. Are those SEOs who jump straight to ticket creation doing so because they don't need internal stakeholder sign off in order to get things done? And/or is internal stakeholder sign off baked into the ticket submission process? If so, sweet!
But if that's not the case, might this be holding us back?
In my experience, for bigger, more far-reaching projects I've had to present to multiple stakeholders to get sign off first. Only once that's done, can I create and submit tickets.
Obviously this is a much longer process, but the buy-in secured has benefits - once I'd got that buy-in the commitment to do the work was stronger.
It occurs to me that potentially, in some organisations, jumping straight to ticket creation might indicate (or be viewed as) having a lack of buy in and commitment from key stakeholders. If this is the case, it's possible that these requests might not be viewed as high priority, and as such, might get bumped in favour of more high profile requests.
Do you also schedule a call or meeting with stakeholders to discuss your technical SEO recommendations?
Keeping on the theme of presenting recommendations, we then asked in-house SEOs if they followed up written recommendations with a call. The majority of respondents (79%) said yes.
Communication is critical to stakeholder buy-in. Just because decision-makers may not be jargon savvy, doesn't mean that they can't recognise the business value of an optimisation. Further understanding this as SEOs allow us to prioritise our efforts.
How do you prioritise technical SEO tasks in terms of implementation?
When choosing which tasks to work on first, the most popular answer amongst in-house SEOs was using the expected impact on KPIs with 42%.
With Page Experience and Core Web Vitals growing fear in SEOs' souls, it is quite refreshing to see that most SEOs still mainly prioritise their tasks based on KPIs and return on investment.
I'm sad that only 9.6% said Users, though... I also get it. It's really hard to focus on users when the org as a whole only cares about its bottom line.
Would love to see us ALL get more user-focused in general - for the long term.
This is great to see. SEO that is driven by KPIs is measurable and demonstrable. Being able to show how Technical SEO helps the business to directly achieve its aims helps build trust in the process and secures future resources for tools and updates.
Typically, are your technical SEO recommendations deployed to a staging environment prior to live?
The vast majority of respondents (84%) said that they deploy technical SEO changes to a staging environment before pushing live.
When the changes are deployed to production, this is probably not due to bad practices. I've seen countless times how elements such as sitemaps or robots.txt can't be really tested in staging environments.
I can imagine this being far more likely in-house than agency-side.
I don't have benchmark data, but this feels like a huge improvement vs. what I've seen in previous years.
I'd love to dig in further and ask about SEO QA in future surveys - is it done, and who's doing it.
Do you carry out any form of A/B testing to understand the impact of technical SEO changes after they've been deployed?
Whilst a fairly even split, there was a slight majority (55%) in favour of technical SEOs who don’t test the impact of technical SEO changes after they've gone live.
SEO testing tools tend to be expensive and difficult to implement within the business. The combination of this and the fact that some technical SEO fixes are obvious (i.e. Unindexable URLs, broken links) many SEOs don't feel these are needed.
This to me makes a lot of sense. A/B tests are still a conceptual headache when applied to real-life SEO: in theory testing SEO makes a lot of sense, in practice it can quickly become discouraging. John Mueller recently reminded us that "From a Google search quality point of view, testing a small subset of a site is not enough to have Google say the site is higher quality. G tries to look at site quality overall" - I think this really brings home the importance of technical SEO that is rooted in a coherent and holistic business strategy and that makes "good business sense*.
If an SEO initiative requires extensive resources, a lot of time & potentially shifts priorities for a business, it should be strongly rooted in the overall business strategy. This should provide a good safety net for businesses that are not able to test SEO initiatives effectively. I'm not saying this is foolproof, but a holistic strategy where SEO doesn't exist in a vacuum will provide more checks along the way and make up for the inability to test extensively in my opinion.