10 Reasons Enterprise SEO Is Trouble, Plus 4 Ways To Make It Work

It sounds really attractive: 9-5 hours. You get to focus on a single product. You can win over a single IT department. The grass is way greener over there.

But the truth is, in the SEO world, the large enterprise is in trouble. I know about brand favoritism. And I know large enterprises have massive resources at their disposal.

All marketers have if only moments: after a particularly grueling client meeting or a day of fighting one fire after another, we think ‘If only I was an in-house SEO at a big, big company.’

The problem? They can never seem to use those resources. And except for a tiny slice of world-leading brands, most enterprises can’t lean on their overall market visibility.

My List Of Warning Signs

So, here’s my list of reasons enterprise SEO is in trouble. This list is an ongoing project for me, and it’s not just the usual Lurie cynicism—I’m hoping to figure out solutions. If you have input, post it in the comments:

  1. Data over-dependence. The 21st-century enterprise wants to be “100% data driven.” Problem is, you’re selling to human beings. So some chunk of your Internet marketing budget has to be spent on creative thinking. SEO is no exception.
  2. Lack of content agility. Big organizations can’t seem to support fast-changing, fast-adapting content strategies. Have you tried to get a blog post reviewed, approved and published in less than two weeks? I’ve seen exceptions, but in most organizations, two weeks is wildly optimistic. That doesn’t kill content strategy, but it sure wounds it.
  3. Slow development turnaround. I’ve already whined enough about development turnaround times. You get it.
  4. Fiefdoms. Teams end up silo’ed. The marketing department breaks up into separate content, e-commerce and social media teams. Their paths never cross again. At that point, a synchronized SEO plan requires Kissinger-esque diplomacy.
  5. Lack of patience. At the same time, C-level executives and vice presidents want to see fast results. They often want results faster than their small business counterparts. Pressure from the board and from bosses makes for more pressure and shorter honeymoons. So you’re hobbled by bureaucracy and have less time to get results.
  6. Organizational clarity. Top company priorities aren’t always clear. That makes it very difficult to place SEO within the hierarchy of goals. Which makes marketing meetings look like an Orwellian barnyard.
  7. Access to data. Sadly, I’ve seen big, Fortune 2000 organizations where the marketing team can’t get access to basic Web traffic data. I’ve seen many more where simple adjustments to goal-tracking take months. Combine that with data over-dependence and lack of patience, and you’ve got head-exploding contradictions.
  8. Risk aversion. Got a great, edgy content idea? Good luck getting it approved. Enterprise managers are justifiably shy about pushing the envelope when it comes to the brand.
  9. Team stability. Average tenure for a CMO is about seven months. Average tenure for an enterprise marketing team member? One year. That makes continuity difficult, and SEO is all about long-term planning.
  10. The confusion magnifier. You’ve finally gotten permission to start a serious site-speed improvement campaign. Just as you’re about to adjourn the meeting, someone pipes up with “I heard we can just buy some links! Why don’t we just do that.” The larger the group, the greater the chance for chaos.

I could make a board game out of all this. But you get the point: enterprise-size organizations have some big Internet marketing and SEO disadvantages. It’s an uphill battle.

The Good News

With all this, I still love working on enterprise gigs. Big organizations have more resources, access to more content, more pages and bigger brands. Small changes can have a huge impact. And, now and then, you get to do stuff that makes a brand dominant in the SERPs.

And small companies have their own issues: resource constraints, wildly changing expectations and lack of long-range planning make them a whole other kind of challenge.

So, I’d never say “ignore enterprise clients.” Au contraire.

My real point: enterprise SEO is subject to the same challenges every other enterprise initiative faces. If you get a shot at a big-time gig, grab it with both hands. But, learn how to blaze a trail for your whole organization.

What To Do To Fix It

A few quick tips, learned from hard trial-and-error:

  1. Above all, set reasonable expectations.
  2. Don’t scream and yell. You’ll rarely get a good response by throwing a tantrum. Always be diplomatic, and chip away at issues a bit at a time. Keep a punching bag in your office for stress relief.
  3. Build relationships before you need them. It’s hard to build a good relationship under duress. Get to know the development team. Schedule a monthly lunch with the creative group. Network. You might even enjoy yourself.
  4. Educate like crazy. Whatever you have to do, get folks to attend regular education sessions. Use video, or an internal blog, or in-person training. Bribe them with food.

Sorry, there aren’t any easy answers. But, enterprise SEO can be a blast, if you understand the special requirements of big organizations.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Enterprise SEO


About The Author: is Chief Marketing Curmudgeon and President at Portent, Inc, a firm he started in 1995. Portent is a full-service internet marketing company whose services include SEO, SEM and strategic consulting.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • Diane Kamer

    You have just described my life. And I am not even an SEO, just a lowly corporate e-commerce copywriter.

    But alas, I’m too old to venture out on a fresh, more creative path. At this point, I just want to retire and volunteer at the local animal shelter.

    Diane from Facebook (trying to keep a low profile)

  • http://adsense100kblueprint.com/ 100kBlueprint

    Some great insight there Ian. The biggest problem that I found when working for large corporations was that the ‘bigwigs’ making the decisions/holding up the project did not really have any knowledge of the actual tasks, pitfalls, timescales etc associated with SEO and it’s implementation. The bureaucracy was like a handbrake!

  • http://twitter.com/daniel_l_mills Daniel Mills

    Thanks for the article.

    A lot of these issues are classic symptoms of the “unagile” corporation that have barriers between departments and lack transparency up and down the foodchain.

    CMO’s however in my experience are not under funded as much as they lack the cross-over skill sets required to succeed on the dynamic web. This is a shame because the CMO role becomes more and more critical as we increasing enact our lives on the web.

  • http://twitter.com/AliciaDKing Alicia King

    Depending on where you’re in-house, there is also the risk of isolation. You’re a team of one, and have to build a group of peers to bounce ideas around with.

    As a sub-bullet of #1, you’ve also left off over-reporting. Seems like every initiative needs a report or analysis or projections in a big house.

    Luckily, my workplace is full of search and social evangelists, so sometimes our biggest challenge is reining in the enthusiasm….

  • http://twitter.com/portentint Ian Lurie

    A first world problem, definitely.

  • http://twitter.com/portentint Ian Lurie

    It almost always comes down to lack of leadership. There are plenty of skilled individuals, but they have to be pointed in the same direction, and it’s rare that I see that happen.

    CMOs can provide that leadership, IF they’re resolved to do it. And if they have the skill set.

  • http://www.dinomiteseo.com/ Dino Gomez

    Interesting article here Ian. Your arguments are a good reminder that bigger isn’t always better. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://twitter.com/chris2004x Chris

    “Build relationships before you need them.” <– Nice reflection! And, we all need to work on that one, in business/organizations and out.

  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com/ George Michie

    Great piece, as usual, Ian. The relationship building and education pieces are also two way streets. As much as we have to get folks working together toward a common goal, we also have to understand that SEO isn’t the only important initiative within an organization. We have to understand other priorities and resource constraints and instead of shouting (to your point), try to work with folks to get what you can.

  • smichaelgriffin

    Great advice but what vertical has an average CMO tenure of 7 months? Forbes recently estimated the average at 43 months, which (fortunately) is more than long enough for an SEO strategy to yield results. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jenniferrooney/2012/06/14/cmo-tenure-hits-43-month-mark/

  • http://www.facebook.com/local.advertising.online Harry Fassett

    Right Corporate paralysis from analysis as usual. Hey Diane, while
    you’re at it, check out my charity FB page named
    “snackhealthyfundraisingideas” when you get a chance since you are going
    into charity work it looks like. Please donate a share! thanks. HF

  • http://twitter.com/CalumCovell Calum Covell

    Is it just me, or would anyone else like to see the board game?!

  • Yougender

    Pretty Interesting post Ian. And since I recently made the shift from an agency to an in-house company, I completely agree with the problems that exist with large organizations. Slower turnaround makes you think and plan accordingly and take care of problems one at a time.

    I am hoping planning and prioritizing items will somehow ease the entire process. Also, making connections is very important. It not only helps you identify the pain points but these connections will help you when you are stuck somewhere.

    All and all its been wonderful and exciting so far, but the idea of having a punching bag just in case makes sense. :)

    Keep up the good work. Thanks for the post.

  • http://www.cobwebseo.com/ Ajay Jhunjhunwala

    Hello, thank you. Problems are many but solutions are easy and less in number.
    Problems areas are really difficult to manage. But you solutions may turn those in to solutions.

  • http://twitter.com/StrategaSEO Stratega SEO στρατηγ

    This is so True. Seems like “a year as SEO Manager” biography. Great Post.

  • http://twitter.com/milehighseollc Kurt Henninger

    Good insight there into enterprise SEO. I would argue that an SEO job in a large organization is inherently no different than any other job at the company per se. Lack of access to resources and long lead times to implementation are par for the course when you get into larger organizations.

    I’ve been on the business side of things at a Fortune 100 company and any forward progress in an organization is excruciatingly slow to say the least.

  • http://twitter.com/IgeAlex Alex I.G.E

    Think this is frustrating? Try a start-up SEO arm of long-standing enterprise!!

    In reality, this entirely depends on the size of your team and the market culture your firm is competing in. Personally, I have had no other experience in SEO, other than large in-house enterprise. However, I have done agency PR experience,, I know which side of the fence I’d rather be.

    In my view, big enterprises failing to succeed in SEO is best served by empowering SEO/Development employees with a budget and an offsite office, reporting back in. If you can take the corporate out of the culture then the culture will take care of the corporate. #BrentWouldBeSoProud

  • treepodia

    Great article. Slightly off-topic here, but check out the ways to boost your e-commerce SEO through video here: blog.treepodia.com

  • http://twitter.com/elena_expertseo elena

    It just highlights that life of a seo professional is just not easy


Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide