I’m a little dense. I admit it. Sometimes things just don’t sink in.

Me and the many voices in my head have attempted to define Enterprise SEO many times. Is it about big sites? Internal politics? Higher likelihood of failure? IT teams and branding guidelines?

Nope. Apparently, enterprise SEO is something we say when we’re clueless. Say I’m on a call with a big development team and I make ridiculous request like, ‘Can we link to the home page at www.domain.com?’ Suddenly, everyone starts throwing enterprise SEO around like poo at a monkey party.

I don’t understand it. Sob.

I do understand a few of the total whopper-BS-bombs lobbed around the subject, though. I’ve tried to explain where they come from, and how to stamp them out:

1.  We’ll Put Links In The Footer, For The Crawlers

…or small-print text 800 pixels below the fold, as spider food.

When you see something like this:

Or this:

What words pop into your mind?

Are any of them valuable or useful or well-written? No? Then it’s not going to work as an SEO tactic, no matter how big your site. Slapping links in the footer or throwing poorly-written drivel at the bottom of the page may briefly help. At some point, though, one algorithm update or another will come up and bite your site squarely on the buttocks. If Panda and Penguin didn’t teach you that, well, best of luck.

Why, oh why? Some design teams love this tactic because it lets them keep their pages purty above the fold. They think words are fatal to design.

Instead: Consider writing real, useful text that folks want to read. Try creating navigation that makes sense to visitors. The truth is, words and design equal great architecture. That’s why so many of the very best sites on the Web blend them so well.

2.  We Can Handle SEO After QA

Yes. Yes, you can. In fact, I welcome this approach: it gets me clients who are panicked and ready to do anything to fix their plunging rankings, which means I can sign them that much faster.

I’m kidding. Mostly.

SEO campaigns strengthen three properties of websites: Visibility. Significance. Authority.

All three depend on smart development from the very bottom of the technology stack. Visibility depends almost entirely on sound coding and canonicalization practices from day one. None can be stapled to the website on launch day.

Why, oh why? Managers ask the development team, “Do you know SEO?” The development team hears, “Do you know how to put meta tags on webpages?” and says “Yes.” Chaos ensues.

Instead: Think of SEO as a set of best practices that start with basic server configuration and end with ongoing content strategy. Everything in between matters.

3.  SEO Is At Odds With Our Brand

Absolutely not. The overall experience customers have on your site helps define your online brand. All smart SEO enhances that experience by making a site clearer, faster, easier to read, easier to use and yes, easier to find.

Why, oh why? To most marketing managers, Enterprise SEO means slapping text on pages (see Whopper 1) or changes you have to make after launch (see Whopper 2). Neither creates the greatest brand experience: You’re either duck-taping lousy writing to an existing design, or delaying other site work for SEO modifications.

Instead: Consider search engines one of the first potential brand touchpoints. Learn what customers care about online (speed, clarity, relevance, transparency). Build accordingly.

4.  We Can Put The Blog On A Subdomain. It’s Fine.

No, it is not. Subdomains siphon authority away from primary domains. And no quantity of uncertain quotes you find and take out of context will change that.

Search engines treat subdomains and subfolders differently. You might, if you’re really lucky, dodge this bullet. But it’s damned unlikely.

Want proof? Take one category of your site — preferably one that ranks well — and move it to a subdomain. Watch what happens. Your rankings will spiral the drain.

Or, take a safer approach. Look at how Google advised sites penalized under Panda to get back into the rankings. One of the top recommendations: move the ‘low quality’ content off the site, to a separate subdomain. Why? Because that moved that content off the main site. If a subdomain is off the main site, will links pointing at the subdomain help the primary domain, exactly as if those links were pointed at that primary domain?

Or, listen to folks like Rand Fishkin, who know a thing or two about this: “Subdomains sometimes inherit and pass link/trust/quality/ranking metrics between one another. Subfolders always inherit and pass link/trust/quality/ranking metrics across the same subdomain.”

Why, oh why? Most enterprise e-commerce systems come in black boxes. Adding blogs to these sites is next to impossible. So, a subdomain was the easy way to get the SEO team to shut up.

Instead: Pick a decent technology stack that’ll let you add a blog. Or learn to use reverse proxies. Or simply accept that in this one area, your site will be a bit behind.

5.  Our Application Server Handles Broken Links Just Fine

Note: I added this one. It’s hardly strategic, but man, it’s fun.

Someone at Microsoft has a violent allergy to standards of any kind. The best example ever is the way .net-based websites handle broken links. Instead of delivering a nice, normal ’404′ response code — that would tell a browser or search bot that the link’s busted — .net returns a ‘200’ or ‘302’ code, depending on just how deranged the developer was at the time.

But it’s not just them. Lots of Java-based servers do the same thing. I have no idea why. The results, though, are hilarious. Target.com, for example, dominates the rankings for its own error message:

High-five, guys!!!

Why, oh why? The truth is, any rational person would assume a Web server comes configured to handle 404 errors. But that assumes that a rational person designed the Web server. Mistake.

Instead: Assume nothing. This is the company that brought us the Zune, after all.

No One Likes The Answers

The truth is, everyone knows better. None of these gigantic SEO lies pass the common-sense sniff test. But the answers require change, rather than the status quo. They require a lot of activism within marketing and development departments, not diplomacy. And they require real effort by key resources, not farmed-out Fiverr campaigns.

Somewhere, you’ve got a competitor who accepts these answers, even if they don’t like them. You need to get to that place, too, or they’re going to eat your market share, and your business, for lunch.

I promise to be on better behavior for my next post.

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

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Enterprise SEO

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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.

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  • http://twitter.com/vicshoup vicshoup

    This is the first time I’ve heard someone describe subdomains as “siphoning” from the primary domain. We put our blogs at http://blogs.company-name.com/blog-title. Is this really hurting http://www.company-name.com? I just thought not to expect to leverage any keywords in the subdomain names like http://keyword.company-name.com

  • Michael Cottam

    Great job Ian! I run into all of these literally all the time.

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

    It’s not so much that it hurts you as it’s a lost opportunity. Links pointing at the subdomain won’t carry all their authority straight back to the primary domain.

  • http://twitter.com/michaelbratschi Michael Bratschi

    What are your thoughts then on Matt Cutts’ revelation on subdirectories and subdomains being “roughly equivalent”? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MswMYk05tk

  • Julian True Flynn

    Just to play devil’s advocate here, but wouldn’t creating stronger silo’s on your website (meaning using subdomains) possibly help Google ‘understand’ your website. I’m personally a fan of separating the shop to a subdomain and the blog to a subdomain. I think something like Google recommending that you separate your ‘low quality content’ to a subdomain proves my point.

    Once you link to the subdomain you’re vouching for it (notice how careful a network like Tumblr is with linking to profiles – they’re built off subdomains), and even if you SUPER worried about Google somehow not piecing it together there is microdata to help, or even using social media sites like Google+ to link to BOTH of them (subdomains and main domain).

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Sorry, Ian. You and Rand are completely wrong on the subdomain issue. It’s a shame this kind of misinformation is still being shared on major SEO Websites like Search Engine Land.

  • http://www.thedsmgroup.com/ Jason Diller

    Ian, this was a great post. Good examples too.

    I agree with the sub domain thing however… Subdomains are fine…so are folders…

    Look at blog.hubspot.com they’re doing fine.

  • http://jombay.com/ Adarsh

    @Michael_Martinez:disqus Would you care to expand on this? Very interested in hearing your take on it.

  • http://twitter.com/deansguide dean guadagni

    Ian,

    Loved the post and the “monkey poo party” visual had me cracking up through the entire read. Well done!

  • rich_falconer

    Hi Ian, good article but the subdomain point is really bad advice (IMO). If the blog is linked well to the site there should be no problem, if it’s not linked well you’re doing it wrong anyway.
    SEOs need to be able to judge the value in recommendations like these. To recommend changing the entire technology stack just to add a blog risks losing all credibility with the client.

  • http://twitter.com/victor_willemse victor willemse

    wow, this is really hard, who to believe, in the red corner Ian who sounds legit and with a knock out punch (ref to Rand Fishken) and in the blue corner the panel of reader, who I am sure are all dedicated SEO and marketing agents.. though one

  • Graeme Benge

    Managing a sub domain SEO client has meant I’ve tried to dig up best practices but have found very little and what exists is hardly conclusive. There’s a gap here for someone who can authoritatively expand on the subject.

  • Lyndon NA

    I agree 100% with Michael.

    Google have stated several times that there is little/no difference between SubDomains and Directories.
    The distinctions are;
    1) How they appear to be used (are they independant or integrated)
    2) How they may be displayed in the SERPs

    If G sees SubDomains that appear to be highly integrated, it will consider them as part of the whole. If it see’s them segregated, it will consider them as separate.
    The problem is, like 301 redirects, we don’t know if there is a minute “difference” or not – and if so, how much.

  • http://twitter.com/liz_madeley Elizabeth Madeley

    You know, I watched that Matt Cutts video you referred to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MswMYk05tk and all other arguments aside, he confirmed that using subdomains is still a way to get multiple results in the SERPs (albeit weaker), which is less likely to happen using subdirectories. This is something I’ve seen in action with clients. If you are happy to treat the subdomain as a separate site, at least initially, I don’t think there’s a problem.

  • http://twitter.com/liz_madeley Elizabeth Madeley

    * as if it were a new separate site, which needs to build up domain authority / PR

  • Rich Voller

    I have to agree with all the points made by Ian here. I have to admit I have seen conflicting results with respect to the sub domains, but from experience I prefer to keep everything on the parent domain where possible rather than use sub domains.

    I hate some “SEO’s” use footer links to get results. Its a pet hate of mine, although what is more annoying is that they currently work. Hopefully, soon Google will tweak the algorithm to more decisively devalue low quality footer links.

  • Sean Hakes

    Hi Ian,

    Great post but I am going to have to disagree with the sub-domain argument as well.. Local websites that target specific DMAs like Jobing.com use sub-domains to create local portals which I think is a fantastic use of sub-domains (i.e. denver.jobing.com). This creates a better user experience on the local level in that the user doesn’t get lost in another location or fed content they don’t care about from another DMA.

    M2C.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nganguem-Victor/100000686725637 Nganguem Victor

    j’aime ça

  • keaner

    agreed, completely wrong on subdomains, you know frank.website.com can be accessed at website.com/frank, throws your theory out the window

  • SEO Consult

    And that’s the problem, you can’t know how connected they are. You can internally link between them and hope that Google figures it out but they may not. So best practice is still to assume they will not be connected in Google’s mind’s eye, and go for a subfolder.

  • Julian True Flynn

    If there’s a difference it’s a very minuscule difference, which makes it not deserve a spot in this top 5 line up. The second the main website links to the subdomain it’s being vouched for. I don’t consider it a ‘lost opportunity’ if anything it’s gaining a lot more from better separating your site into silos.

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

    You definitely CAN use subdomains. I’m not saying you can’t. I’m just saying they dilute link oomph. That’s a technical term.

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

    Hi Elizabeth,

    Yup, we use subdomains for reputation management all the tie for this very reason.

    Ian

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

    Hi Julian,

    I disagree on that. Your site has to be pretty gigantic for this kind of siloing to be worth the trade-off.

    We’ve moved blogs onsite and seen immediate improvements in rankings.

    However, there are some good reasons to use a subdomain: For reputation management; because you DO have a gigantic site and need to break up materials into topic ‘buckets;’ or because it’s technically impossible to put a blog or other tools on the main domain.

    Ian

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

    MC says that in reference to crawling and site construction, not authority. Google is incredibly ambiguous about subdomains and link authority. That’s because they don’t think you should be intentionally manipulating the link graph, anyway.

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

    And that’s all I’m saying, really.

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

    If I’m wrong I’ll blog my wrong-ness in public. I’ll start a test asap.

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

    Hi Rich,

    Judgment is always good. I’m not asking folks to go around parroting what I say.

    All I’m saying is that subfolders will make better use of link authority than subdomains, because Google DOES treat subdomains slightly differently than subfolders. For example, they’ll rank a subdomain for a brand search at the same time as the main domain; they’ll break lousy content off the main domain for Panda purposes, too.

    All of that tells me there are times to use subdomains and times not to. If you’re going for authority, subdomains aren’t a good idea.

    Ian

  • http://twitter.com/dsottimano David Sottimano

    Can you define what a low quality internal link is ?

  • Julian True Flynn

    First of all, thank you for the responses to this Ian.

    We can agree to disagree then, I’ve worked both ways which also lead me my preference for sub-domains.

    So you agree it’s a better practice for bigger websites? Which makes your argument confusing, especially when you say to Rich Falconer; “If you’re going for authority, subdomains aren’t a good idea.” Now of course bigger doesn’t always mean more authoritative, and the definition for authoritative for everyone is different, but you can see where this is confusing and almost hypocritical right?

    Again, I just do not think subdomains deserves a spot in this top 5 especially when you’re noting possible benefits to it.

  • Julian True Flynn

    While I’m always the first person to say ‘you’re giving Google too much credit they’re not that smart’ I think it’s veeery easy for them to see on a technical level that the sites are one. Like I said below the second the main website links to the subdomain they’re connected.

    In fact, spamming subdomains used to be a classic blackhat technique, but the second you linked the homepage to the subdomains it wouldn’t work.

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

    I hear ya. To me it’s about leaving things up to Google. Subdomain = leaving it up to Google how much authority gets passed along. I don’t like leaving things up to Google.

    RE: Bigger web sites – there may be OTHER reasons to do it on a larger subdomain, and it’s always possible the gains may outweigh the risks to your authority.

    I’ve never seen it. But I can see it. I’m trying to meet you half way here. If that makes me hypocritical, my apologies.

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

    A bit more clarification: Subdomains mean you’re leaving it up to Google. It might be totally fine. Or Google might not pass full authority. I’m not a fan of leaving things up to Google.

  • http://twitter.com/BoostRankSEO Boost Rank

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks Ian!

  • http://twitter.com/seanhakes Sean ‘Denver SEO’ H.

    Good stuff. Thanks again Ian.

  • andrekibbe

    I think what he means are footer blocks stuffed with 40 long tails of the primary keyword in 6-point type, all pointed at the home page. It never ceases to amaze me that this still works—until the site gets a manual review.

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    For every example you think you can show of Google treating subdomains separately from folders I can show you examples of Google treating subdomains exactly like folders.

    There is no justification for this kind of naivete in a professional SEO article. That you think you can devise some “test” off the cuff to resolve the issue shows that you weren’t basing your statement on legitimate research to begin with.

    Anecdotes abound, and many of them are quite puzzling and interesting. Nonetheless, to make a statement as absurd as “subdomains siphon authority from domains” is totally uncalled-for.

    What definition of “authority” is Google bound by in these equations? Where did you get that defintion from? Don’t name any SEO Websites or SEO gurus as your source — they don’t know any more about this than a randomly chosen kindergarten student.

  • davidquaid

    Ian – I completely agree with you. Google may be able to treat a sub-domain as a folder but they also can treat it as a sub-domain and separate to the parent. Just because it “can” doesn’t mean its the same thing. Its not and your point is completely valid – don’t leave it to Google to decide.

    If you need a case in point – Blogger.com (and WordPress.com) is perfect. All of the sub-domains are treated completely separately of Blogger.XXx (where that could be .com or the .ccTLDs they’ve started aliasing)

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    “The truth is, words and design equal great architecture.”

    I think a lot of site owners get so focused on the design of a site (which is important, there is no denying that) they forget about functionality. If it looks good but doesn’t move visitors around in the right way then what good is that design? Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words but the right words are what convince people to stick around.

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

    Damn, I never thought of asking kindergarten students. Be right back…

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

    That would depend on Google to provide authoritative info. All we know right now for certain is that Google doesn’t have a hard-and-fast rule for handling link authority between subdomains, and if you use one, they get to decide. I just don’t like leaving that kind of stuff up to Google. I like ‘em and all, but…

  • Pat Grady

    i’ve seen Analytics (and other things, like mobile site redirectors) implemented incorrectly so often when subdomains are used, it makes me sick. SEO may not make a difference, but 100 other things do. one exception for me, image serving (to be cookieless, and faster) via images subdomain (in larger enterprises).

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Dodging the question about the definition of “authority” by focusing on my comparative reference doesn’t change the fact that you’re not making a sound, rational argument. SEOs dream up buzzwords and toss them around in metaphorical frenzies to describe what they see — that is fine, that is normal. But to PROVE something, to support an argument — you need to explain what the metaphors mean, on the basis of what facts the definitions are assigned, and how they are reliably useful.

    “authority” has been abused to death by the SEO community — it’s as meaningless a word today as it was 6-8 years ago. Until someone can show how a search engine algorithm uses the term, using that term to make a point about a search engine algorithm is about as helpful as asking a rock to sing and dance.

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

    I guess I dodged the question because you switched from lambasting me about my opinion on subdomains to calling me naive for using the term ‘authority.’ I got confused.

    On subdomains: Subdomains are not best practice for SEO. They’re not the end of the world, but they put you at very, very high risk of sacrificing authority/citation juice/link juice/pagerank/whatever you want to call it. That’s because Google chooses whether a subdomain passes authority directly to the primary domain. You’re giving up control. On an enterprise site, with a blog that may have a lot of links, the potential loss is huge. If you don’t have to, don’t to it.

    On ‘authority:’ I like it because we know that various forms of citation strengthen a site’s ability to rank. In purely academic terms, to me, citations build authority – if someone thinks you’re worth quoting, that implies authority (I know, it might just mean you’ve said something ridiculous, but even that’s a form of authority). But this is getting awfully semantic. I don’t have any strong feeling about using ‘authority’ versus ‘citation flow,’ for example, which is what Majestic uses.

  • http://vitamind3blog.com/ VitaminP

    If you’re going for e-commerce, avoid Volusion like the plague. You won’t be able to integrate a blog successfully, and for being the most popular, it’s about as counter-intuitive as can be. Looking for an alternative for a client that signed up with them years ago.

  • http://RxSEO.net/ Gregory Smith

    Keep an eye on Michaels site. I’m sure he will…

  • http://RxSEO.net/ Gregory Smith
  • http://RxSEO.net/ Gregory Smith
  • Doc Sheldon

    Nice piece, Ian. I think when it comes to subdomains, the fact is that Google isn’t consistent in the way they look at them. Maybe they’ve taught their algo to be somewhat subjective in determining whether the SD should be judged separately or not.
    While Google has said that moving low quality content to a subdomain can be a good idea, they’ve also said that it’s been abused, so they’re throttling it.
    Given the inconsistency in the way they deal with SDs, I agree that in most instances, I’d rather maintain control on my end.
    @Michael_Martinez:disqus SEOs didn’t dream up the buzzword “authority”, any more than they did “PageRank”, Michael. Both came out of Mountain View. The fact that you are frustrated at seeing it discussed so much doesn’t alter its validity, however one cares to define it.

  • http://steveplunkett.com @steveplunkett

    with the exception of #4 good information.. the assumptions about subdomains have been proved incorrect. =)

 

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