Guest blogger Jeff Gold is a Sr. Search Strategist for a Fortune 500 travel site, and a co-founder of Reef Light Interactive, a Washington DC based web design and search agency.
I’ve been the in-house SEO for a Fortune 500 travel website for the past 6 years, and in that time I’ve gained valuable insights into how large organizations work, the benefits of doing enterprise-level SEO, and the challenges it presents. As with everything in life, there are both positive and negative aspects to optimizing enterprise level domains for search.
I wanted to share these insights so that it generates more discussion and sharing within the enterprise SEO community. While the SEO blogs of the world are fantastic, they are more geared towards webmasters that have the ability to implement a lot of these changes, i.e. they have buy-in from management, are one man shops, have total control over their sites, etc. They are great resources for cutting edge knowledge, but don’t address a lot of the topics related to doing SEO for large organizations, huge websites, and in a bureaucracy.
The Good News for Enterprise SEO: We are well funded
Let’s start with the good news. One of the biggest benefits is, to put it simply, money. In my experience, SEO is a well respected marketing channel within many large companies, driving an enormous amount of traffic, bookings and revenue. For this reason, many teams are given ample resources to pursue a variety of SEO tactics. Again this is true of my experience and may not hold true for everyone.
While SEO is the most democratic marketing channel – i.e. the site with the biggest budget doesn’t necessarily win – it certainly does give sites an advantage of testing — and testing is the key to SEO. It allows them to create high value content, optimize thousands of pages, develop useful, link-worthy functionality, and retain the best SEO minds to focus on a site.
Aaand, Domain Strength Helps, too
The other key benefit of doing SEO for an enterprise domain is…well…the domain itself. Large domains have hundreds of thousands of indexed pages. Their domain age makes them more trusted- several have been around since the mid nineties. They have millions of external links. Their intrinsic domain authority/trust is basically built-in, super charged SEO. They can launch a new page on the domain, and if it is well linked to within the site, it’ll be crawled, indexed, and ranking within hours. That’s a big if though…
But It’s Not All Fun and Games
Which brings us to the challenges of optimizing a large company’s site. I’m not going to throw anyone under the bus here, if that’s what you’re looking for. The biggest challenge is because they are large organizations. They have the inconsistent communication, bureaucratic decision making, and varied interests inherent in large organizations.
Department Wide Communication Ain’t Easy
Let’s start with communication. Large companies can have hundreds of people working in just their corporate “.com” departments. All of these people are working on projects that touch the site in one fashion or another. Whether it’s launching new content pages, redesigning templates, or building new functionality, SEO teams are not always in the loop 100%. This means they have to be diligent in staying on top of new projects, spreading the gospel of SEO and the need for a holistic content and keyword strategy when projects are being worked on, and going back and optimizing pages that have already launched but slipped through the cracks. The onus is on the SEO team to be their most vocal evangelists, and to ingrain SEO into the DNA of everyone that touches the site.
Spreading the SEO Bug
Along the same lines, it’s a challenge to spread passion. Not just acknowledgment of SEO. Not even buy-in of SEO. But passion. SEO is already on people’s radar, and those people already know the value of it, but it’s difficult getting people as interested and excited by the art of SEO as much as the SEO practitioner is.
For example, while the amount of traffic and revenue that SEO drives is much more than PPC in several companies, many more meetings about paid search take place in corporate offices, and many more people in non-technical roles know and feel passionate about the intricacies of PPC than SEO. When a senior executive knows about CPC’s, quality scores, and click-through rates, but not about technical obstacles, link building, and social signals, and SEO drives multiple times the revenue than PPC does…well, there’s a disconnect. Still, this is easy to explain, as it’s all tied to money. Money is at stake in PPC, so people naturally feel passionate about spending their money wisely. SEO, for all intents and purposes, is free traffic. So while it seems strange that the marketing channel that drives more traffic and money is discussed less, it makes sense. It’s the SEO team’s job to make everyone feel passionate about how that free traffic actually happens.
Another challenge is that of the competing interests of teams that work on the site. The nature of SEO allows practitioners to interact with a variety of teams, but can also make the SEO team public enemy #1 (okay that may be a bit dramatic). Still, no one wants to be told how to do their job, and when an SEO tells a designer not to use flash, a copywriter to change their headline, a coder how to name their URL’s, and an information architect how to craft internal links, they are doing just that. While each of these respective groups has their own justified motivations, i.e. use flash for interactive functionality, well crafted headlines for readability, parameter driven URL’s for technical ease, and useful internal links for usability, these goals are not always aligned with those of SEO. It’s the SEO’s role to align these varied interests in a diplomatic way.
The last challenge to mention is the goal a website itself. Most, if not all, of enterprise sites are for-profit websites of a big business. They sell travel. Or electronics. Or Apparel. Their sales funnel ends with a visitor making a booking or purchase. With this in mind, all decisions are justifiably made with the intention of driving a user to convert as soon as possible, and any deviations from the funnel are seen as distractions and lost revenue. Keep this in mind as we quickly review the kinds of content that naturally attract links and rise to the top of the SERP’s:
• Unique, Reference Worthy Research
• Informed Opinions
• News/Trend Analysis
• Expert Contributors
• Quality Discussion
• Blog posts
• Pages that are easily Tweeted/Liked/Shared /+1’d
• Pages that people want to Tweet/Like/Share/+1
I pulled this great list from a recent SEOmoz webinar about the Future of Link Building. Do any of these content types seem to be tied to the philosophy of “drive a user down the purchase funnel and never deviate them from that path”? In most big website’s philosophies, these content types are widely seen as “distractions”. So as an SEO, and a link builder, how do we change minds?
These are some of the challenges, but they are also huge opportunities. Enterprise level sites are uniquely positioned to make huge impacts with small changes, especially in search.
I’d love to hear from other Enterprise SEO’s out there. Do you experience similar challenges? And how do you overcome them?