The other day in URLs café at Yahoo! headquarters in Sunnyvale, I had a great conversation with our head of SEO. He was telling me about significant recent success SEO has been enjoying at Yahoo!
At many large companies, SEO is an uphill battle, so any victory should be fully celebrated. I asked what happened that enabled him to be so wildly successful in this case, and he told me there were three things that caused an SEO tipping point:
- Executive Support
- SEO involvement early in the project
- SEO ownership of standards
As I’ve mentioned before, executive support is a prerequisite for SEO success in a big organization, so it’s great having leadership that is vocal about SEO.
As you may know, Yahoo! recently hired a new Chief Product Officer. He is a sharp, energetic leader who also happens to be a big fan of SEO – he mentions it at all-hands meetings, and even includes it as part of his monthly business reviews at CEO staff meetings. Since his arrival, many Yahoo! products are evolving with the imprint of his leadership.
One recent project involved a retooling of the building blocks of some of our media properties. The project, Yahoo! Publishing Platform, was meant to standardize publishing for our content-oriented properties such as news, sports, and finance, globally. News ended up being at the top of the list, and the product folks in News are huge fans of SEO.
Early & Often
While executive support is a necessary ingredient for SEO success, it’s not enough. I’ve written in the past about the approach to SEO that we try to take at Yahoo! Rather than auditing our Web properties once they’re built and trying to retool them for SEO purposes, we work to incorporate SEO into the products themselves throughout the design and implementation phases of development.
I’ve noted that we work this way out of necessity – once the sites are built and released, the teams that wrote the code generally disband and move on to other projects, reforming in different teams to build new products. So the audit-and-retool approach, while expensive and inefficient for most companies, doesn’t work at all for us.
As a result, products or sites we build are either released SEO-friendly or not, and they pretty much stay that way until they’re eventually replaced.
The real challenge, then, is getting SEOs in the right place at the right time and giving them the proper audience and support so they can do their jobs. When we follow that recipe, sometimes the simple things can make a big difference.
By working together in the early (and late) stages of development, SEO and Product were able to incorporate SEO requirements into the product development cycle. One of the smart moves here was prioritizing a small number of key SEO requirements that we knew would make a difference.
Own Your Standards
There were several long-standing and well-known issues with our news sites that we sought to address in this release. First off, we knew that our URLs were a big problem for search engines. Long and non-intuitive, these beasts had long ago been identified as one of the main culprits on our SEO most-wanted list.
Also, our tags weren’t standardized or automated with SEO in mind. Finally, the architecture of our legacy publishing system allowed for duplicate content, a well-documented SEO problem. The key to solving these SEO problems was to bake SEO-friendly standards and conventions into the product so that published content can’t be SEO un-friendly.
In SEO terms, the content platform is very inflexible. URLs are automatically generated from article titles with fixed ranges for keyword count in the URL. Subdirectory structure is strictly limited by design. Title and description tags are generated automatically. Editorial and SEO approval of content and tags is completely centralized.
From a product perspective, the initial features of the new sites are not major changes, but from an SEO point of view, they make an enormous difference. Now when articles are published, they generally appear with clean titles and URLs – globally. This was huge.
We’re talking triple-digit percentage increases in SEO traffic in some regions. Another great benefit of this standardization is that it eliminated a lot of the duplicate content out there. So we are now seeing large increases of SEO traffic on a significantly smaller number of pages. If you’re an SEO, that makes you smile.
Editorial, that’s what. We’re in the process of hiring an editorial search lead for our media properties. In addition to working with editors on SEO-friendly titles for articles, this person can further the SEO cause by building and standardizing internal and external linking strategies.
Looking forward, such a resource could leverage search data to drive content development strategies, and also might assist in developing more robust standards for de-duplicating content on a more global basis.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.