SMX West is approaching fast, and one of the sessions that caught my eye was the Enterprise SEO – Challenges & Solutions. The panel is loaded with speakers with deep experience in enterprise SEO. I decided to reach out to the panelists and get a preview of their presentations, so I asked each of them some questions in advance of the show.
Jordan Koene – Head of Global Content, Ebay
Eric Enge: Can you tells us how Ebay deals with the challenges of producing content on a large scale?
However, many of the pages on eBay are not directly controlled by the company, rather they are controlled by our community of sellers. This is often a challenge and requires education and support from eBay to our community of sellers.
One of the solutions we created are pages which aggregate our sellers items into what we call a product page, such as this one for the Nikon D90 123 MP Digital SLR Camera (Black Body Only).
If you scroll down the page a bit, you will see lots of great content such as this product description (only a portion is shown):
Or, these user reviews (only a subset are shown):
These types of pages benefit the sellers by creating a larger marketplace that can compete more effectively for keywords that can bring them potential buyers.
These product pages require accurate and unique content from various sources including manufacturers, third party sources, and eBay. eBay uses a community of writers to create descriptions and product details. Instead of using the manufacturer’s text eBay is getting unique text.
The challenge we have is building scalable content solutions for millions of these product pages, and thus often times we have blank pages without a lot of content, other than the products, such as this one for Callaway Odyssey Black Series Tour Designs 9 Putter Golf Club.
As you can see here, we do not yet have a product description or user reviews for the page:
This does not make it a bad page for a user looking for that type of club, but it does not necessarily compete well for search traffic as it would if we were able to provide more information.
We do go out and contract people to help us with the content. A big key is to show them examples of good descriptions.
We also seek to build partnerships with manufacturers to get better content, and we also look to leverage technology to aggregrate unique data on each product. We also try to detect bad pages and then we have to decide how we want to deal with them. Do we remove them from the index? Or is there a better solution? We are still working on the best solution to this problem.
Our challenge is to improve these pages with solutions that seem obvious but the ability to do so across millions of pages is very difficult and resource intensive. One of the ways of looking at content is to determine when, and if, a page should be live on the site and how damaging it is to the sites authority when many pages are poorly crafted.
Eric Enge: Can you provide some example of problems with Sitemaps?
Jordan Koene: Sitemaps are a complex issue for eBay and handling this for various page types makes it even more challenging. One example of this revolves around prioritization and frequency for different page types. Most pages on eBay change daily with new inventory or items being listed, our challenge is finding out how to prioritize these pages and send the most relavant list to Google. We also have issues with providing pages with inventory.
Because eBay is not a seller we must create pages which are a collection of the items listed on the marketplace. This is useful for users but it is critical that these pages always have items for sale otherwise the user experience is poor and the rankings will drop.
Multiply this across millions of pages and you will soon realize that we may have submitted millions of zero inventory pages in our sitemap. This is a big problem which needs significant attention. Fortunately, this was resolved by using a inventory threshold before submitting to Google.
Eric Enge: Can you outline some of your experiences with link building flops?
Jordan Koene: For the past year, eBay has used data to tell stories and gain recognition. It is funny that the ideas you believe will be most successful almost never are. We have had countless flops with infographics, top 10 lists, featured product stories but the most successful stories are generated with an audience and connected with a author.
Some of our biggest flops was creating stories around seasonal events i.e. Valentines Day. These events are sponsored with the idea of promoting our seasonal pages. However, no audience and no pickup made it difficult to generate any links or awareness.
Markus Renstrom – Head Of SEO For Yahoo
Eric Enge: Can you explain why Yahoo uses centralized ownership and standards for SEO?
Markus Renstrom: At a company like Yahoo!, with the scale in the number of countries it operates in, and the number of products available, ownership of key SEO components, especially domains and URLs, is essential to be able to scale and create a productive SEO organization.
Each time a product makes a re-design, or launches a new feature, the SEO team needs to be involved. With the number of projects going on at the same time worldwide, covering all projects for all products is challenging.
When the SEO team is included, every project starts with a negotiation on how everything from URLs to tags will be created based on the “too many cooks” principal. This is extremely time consuming and the results end up being depending on product and country, the format will be different for the same page type.
On the other hand, with a centralized ownership of the key SEO components, we have set-up a company standard per page type that has been acknowledged by the product and engineering teams as being the company standard, and from this point forward, any property in any country can launch a feature in theory without even consulting an SEO as they simply follow the standard. This allows for scale.
As an example, let’s take the meta tags.
Before, a property, let’s take Yahoo! Movies as an example, would decide to re-design worldwide. The SEO team would get an Excel sheet of all pages that are affected, that would get sent out to all regional SEO managers to localize, and it would get sent back.
The global SEO specifications get sent off to the engineering organization and a requirement is filed that ends up in a long list of requirements and gets implemented, many times after the product launched.
Total time of implementation; 4-6 weeks.
Now, instead with the centralized approach, the CMS uses a centralized library per page type that has been localized to all languages that are currently in use at Yahoo!, pulling parts of the page to create individual meta tags.
Whenever a new page is created, it automatically pulls the meta tag from the centralized library without having an SEO manager have to specify the tag. If necessary, an editor or SEO manager can update the tag, but we can assure any page published having a default set of tags that are SEO compliant.
Total time of implementation: 5 minutes.
This is why for Yahoo!, and for any big enterprises, in my opinion SEO cannot be implemented on large scale without having the SEO team have ownership of, and being responsibile for standardizing, key SEO aspects, especially domains, URLs and meta tags.
We have moved from trying to educate all the product teams on how to create an SEO compliant page, and leaving the implementation up to the product team, to owning the standard within the CMS and implementing on a large scale.
It has allowed us to have better coverage on a big scale, have properties launch with SEO friendly domains, URLs, tags etc., and have saved us resources for the regional SEO managers to focus on editorial, daily aspects of the business.
Warren Lee – SEO Manager, Adobe
Eric Enge: Can you provide some thoughts on the benefits of creating a culture of SEO in an organization?
Warren Lee: Enterprise SEO is generally considered a marketing function; its job within any business is to generate more awareness, purchases or leads, and revenue. Natural search is critical to the growth of any organization, but what makes enterprise SEO challenging is the scope and breadth of the SEO team influence needed which must extend beyond the confines of the marketing team.
The scope of evangelizing SEO in an enterprise organization means that your influence needs to extend beyond the marketing team to touch anyone who has any role that causes change on your website.
This can be very daunting for a small SEO team in a very large or highly matrixed organization because SEO touches QA, IT/development, social media, sales, mergers and acquisitions, management, business decisions, product and marketing and content development to name just a few key touch points. Getting every one of these groups to understand the basics of SEO is important for a successful enterprise SEO program.
During the SMX West panel, I’m looking forward to discuss this challenge, and to talk about strategies that work and ones that don’t work as well. Given, there are so many touch points with different teams; the SEO team needs to practically be omnipresent in all areas of the org, so realistically the only way to have a powerhouse SEO program is to get help from others. As a result, one of the most critical SEO strategies is SEO evangelism.
I have learned that leveraging data and sharing in wins is extremely helpful. Building relationships, SEO training, and institutionalizing SEO by integrating SEO into workflows and processes so that SEO is a part of every one job description is the best solution to rise to the challenge of enterprise SEO.
As far as strategies that don’t work; I’d just offer a warning that with SEO training, while it’s a very important strategy, be careful to avoid training yourself out of communication with critical partners.
Successful SEO cannot be achieved by the direct SEO team alone; it comes from team work with everyone who influences and touches the website.
Ian McAnerin – CEO, McAnerin International Inc.
Eric Enge: How can server/hosting choices affect SEO?
Ian McAnerin: The technical aspects of a site (hosting platform, server location, CMS) can have a very significant effect on SEO. In general, search engines are very good at dealing with different websites and are platform agnostic regarding rankings, but there are a few areas where these technical components can harm SEO efforts.
In the case of a hosting platform, your rankings can be affected by misconfigured DNS settings, redirects that default to 302 rather than the preferred 301, multiple error pages (common with IIS), poor security, and uptime issues.
Server location matters if you are using a gTLD such as .com or .net. In addition to geolocation problems, fast servers in the US may seem quite slow to people in Europe and Asia. You should try to locate your servers as close to your customers as possible.
Finally, a CMS can have a huge impact on your SEO efforts. Search friendly content management systems make SEO easy and simple enough that even novices can do basic SEO with little difficulty. Alternatively, there are many CMS’s out there that make it very difficult to do SEO with, even with experts working on the site fulltime. CMS choice can make or break a large site.
Eric Enge: How to you do SEO on a large scale site without cannibalization?
Ian McAnerin: The best way is through keyword-based planning. A simple method is a website plan using a spreadsheet outlining all the major pages in your site, matched to the keywords each page focuses on. This can very quickly highlight both areas of cannibalism as well as opportunities for additional content development to take advantage of underutilized keywords.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.