My message today is to tear down the walls: not the ones in your website but in your company, between and within divisions. Too many businesses, especially larger companies, divide website responsibilities throughout different parts of the organization chart.
Without strong central leadership, this can slow-down critical functions as each department fits their Web work into competing priorities, changes must go through multiple levels of approval, or one division has to wait for a different one.
In today’s online world, Internet Marketing cannot take a back seat. You have the ability to make contact, daily, with far more prospects, decision makes, users, influencers, and media personalities than any conference booth or brochure ever had. The power of Internet marketing offers unlimited opportunity to become a leader and create abundant brand recognition.
In this post, I will ask you to rethink your Internet marketing strategy and to use Search Engine Optimization to guide your efforts. I want you to break down the barriers that prevent you from achieving greatness.
To illustrate this, I am going to share stories about Company X. While Company X is fictitious, these stores are real. They come from different businesses, but all share a common thread: internal barriers that hurt Internet marketing and SEO, leaving the business without a strong, dynamic Web presence.
Company X is an enterprise corporation with different product divisions. Each product is responsible for its own marketing and sales. Here is how the website’s management breaks down.
Uninformed Web Hosting Administration
The IT department was created to install and manage the company’s internal network. When it came time to build a website, they were tasked with arranging the hosting because they were the tech people.
Unfortunately, no one there knows much about Web serving. They rent a server and support from a large hosting company. After the initial set-up, they sent the logins to the marketing department and product teams.
No one at Company X knows about server optimization, capacity, or technical SEO. The difference between a 301 permanent redirect and a 302 temporary redirect is totally foreign. While they did install a content management system, they have been unable to implement customizations like adding breadcrumb navigation or canonical tags.
How To Fix This
Office IT and Web IT skills do not transfer well. Move responsibility for Web hosting out of the IT department and into the marketing department. If all your IT department does is to pass along requests to the hosting company, removing IT from the chain simplifies communications.
If the person in charge of Web hosting is not a technical expert, as long as they receive training in technical SEO concepts they will be better positioned to work with the website developers who implement than will be an office network administrator.
If your website is also your product or service or your company does its own hosting, then you have a very different situation. The important bit is to have web hosting experts in charge of hosting, not office network administrators.
Slow Content Cycles
Except for a few legal pages, job listings, press releases, and assorted company pages, the product teams are responsible for all Web content.
Every page is either a navigational table of contents or a product description and sales page. Each sales team shares a small pool of copy writers. Every change or addition must be approved by the product team leader, Chief Product Officer, and marketing department. This slows things down quite a bit. Whether keyword optimizing a page, adding internal links, or adding new content, the process takes at least a month, often longer.
How To Fix This
Whether you depend on your website for branding, leads, or sales, slow content updates and additions will cost you real dollars. Keyword optimized content leads to search engine results listings and higher rankings. Added visibility draws new people into the marketing and sales funnel. Content creation should not get casually tacked onto people’s workload. It must be an assigned responsibility with regular time to do the work.
Centralize responsibility for website content to the marketing department and create the role of Web Czar. Give this person the ability to approve and implement changes so tasks like optimizing existing pages can be made quickly.
Place the Content Czar in charge of an interdepartmental team where each member is responsible and accountable for new content about their product or service (brochure pages, blog articles, press releases, job listings, etc.).
Your Web Czar should be the focal point for all online strategy, content, design, and technical matters.
Impossible Internal Linking
At Company X, no one knows how to manipulate the content management system beyond the basics. They can place links in the top navigation, in content, and in certain spots within the sidebar.
When asked to add a link to a sidebar the response was, “We can do it if we remove an existing link.” Good SEO requires being able to adjust your internal linking structure. Whether it is for SEO or visitor usability, you should not have to sacrifice one good thing to implement another.
How To Fix This
Use a dependable and widely respected content management system, one with SEO features built-in or easy installed SEO add-ons or plug-ins.
Avoid hand-coding a large business website or commissioning a custom CMS. Most usage issues have already been encountered and the major content management systems have found ways to deal with them. Relying on a custom CMS means constantly adding features and rewriting code just to keep up.
Ask yourself what will happen to your website if your developer gets hit by a bus? People move on and finding a WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal expert will be a lot easier than asking somebody to decipher your custom code.
Company X embraced the idea that blogging was a great way to add content and to earn off-site mentions and links. The recommendation was to create a central blog with sub-blogs (categories) for each product group.
Content suggestions includes thought leadership, tutorials, best practices, plus other topics designed to build a sustainable audience that included people who might use their products and people who might share Company X’s articles with their own blog readers and social media followers (people who create links).
What happened is each department chose to install separate blogs, each within their own product section. Writing became an as time permits chore. This resulted in infrequent and irregular postings.
Instead of leadership, most articles described how a product might benefit customers. In the end, Company X had several blogs with no readers and earning no links. Because each was a separate installation, upgrades to the software and plug-ins had to be maintained individually, quadrupling the technical workload.
How To Fix This
Create sales opportunities, not sales.
Centralize blogging within the marketing department. Put it under the direction of either the Web Czar or hire a Community Manager. Strategize a content calendar with topics, deadlines, and publication dates.
The key to successful blogging is consistency: frequent high quality charismatic content. Rather than creating or maintaining several blogs with intermittent content, combine them into one. That will make it much easier to post frequently.
SEO consultants know your goal is sales, but blogs make awful brochures. No one willingly goes to advertisements. Sales speak is an outbound strategy, not an inbound one. Blogs sit above the marketing and sales funnel, as part of your company or brand awareness strategy. Use it as a tool to build a community of people who come to your site repeatedly or subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed.
Create compelling content, the type that trusted experts who seek to pass knowledge on to others like to share. When you accomplish this, you tap the indirect benefits of blogging: repeat visitors, links and shares, high search engine rankings, and more people who are looking for what you sell finding your website.
There are lots of ways to leverage a great company blog. Articles make good reasons to post on social media sites like Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Smart companies use their blogs to build industry celebrities and get speaking gigs at top conferences and conventions.
From design to content to promotion, blogging is a complex topic and impossible to summarize in three paragraphs. Few companies use blogging well, which makes too many businesses think they cannot succeed here. The ones that do reap huge benefits.
Listless Social Media
The off-site SEO and social media recommendations for Company X called for setting-up accounts and posting to Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.
The marketing department has a @CompanyX Twitter account where they post company news and links to mentions about the company in online media and publications. It has less than 500 followers. A couple product groups created their own Twitter accounts. They post links to their blog articles and self-promotional messages. Each of these has less than 200 followers. Company X’s presences on other social media sites follow this pattern.
How To Fix This
Consolidate all the different social media accounts so there exists one on each service. Do not even think about multiple product accounts until the company accounts succeed. Place social media under the Marketing Department’s Web Czar or Community Manager.
Build a social media calendar based on Company X’s blog posts, public appearances, media mentions, product announcements, and other knowable milestones. Set-up monitoring so the Community Manager can respond to Company X mentions and reply to or repost messages about relevant topics. If appropriate, add social media monitoring and response to your customer service phone room.
Once your company gets the basics in place, move-on to more advanced social media. The big concept to remember is that people follow people, not companies. If you create an industry celebrity—a popular blogger and frequent conference speaker—this person will be a far more influential brand ambassador than your official company accounts.
The bottom line is this: If your social media efforts do not result in mentions and links, and your efforts do not result in referral visits to your website, either you are in build-up mode or your company is doing something wrong. A smart community manager who understands social media and audience building can be a smart investment
When Forums Detract
User generated content can be a boon to SEO and search traffic. It can also be a nightmare of thin content and spam. When Company X created its website, it installed a popular forum software package.
Unfortunately, the only monitoring came from a communications assistant who responded to requests for help by instructing each person to visit the customer support contact form. The rest of the forum went unmonitored and unregulated. By the time they hired SEO consulting it contained plenty of terrific user generated content, but was rife with fake accounts, automated replies, and spam links.
We tried to save the quality content and remove the spam. We provided a comprehensive set of instructions including MySQL update queries that would search for and delete spam.
Instead, Company X chose to delete their existing forum and outsource to an off-site provider. The new forum ended-up on a subdomain without any content migration. All the good messages were lost. Also, on the new forum, all links—including the ones from the subdomain to Company X’s main website—were nofollow. That means they did not pass any SEO benefits to the main site.
How To Fix This
Move management of the forum to the Web Czar or Community Manager. Review each permanent forum topic and make certain someone from the appropriate departments or product teams are tasked with reviewing them at least daily.
Strategize topics to elicit meaningful discussion. Respond to posts with real answers or suggestions. Don’t blindly refer people to a contact form. Instead, find someone who can answer the question and bring him or her to the forum. This is how you build meaningful content that can help future visitors and may appear in the search engine results.
Turn on spam and moderation tools. Prevention is always easier than clean-up.
Whenever you use a separate content management system for your forum, blog, or other specialized part of a website, make certain it follows best SEO practices. Include an SEO review at the outset or bring-in someone to review your existing set-up.
Forums can be excellent content generators, but they can become filled with low quality content too. If some topics are great and others not so hot, consider excluding low quality content topics from the search engines.
Analytics Without The Numbers
My last Company X example will seem simple to experienced SEO professionals, but not so obvious to many others.
Company X outsourced its support pages, filled with manuals and technical notes. This accounted for more than half of the webpages and documents indexed by the search engines. None of the pages on support.companyx.com had analytics tracking code. When asked to place it, Company X balked because the product teams were not responsible for this part of the website.
How to Fix This
Every page on your website must have analytics tracking code to capture an accurate picture of where traffic comes from, where people visit, and where they leave your site. Only with this complete data can you make accurate assessments about what works and what does not. Only with complete data can you make informed decisions. Every page includes subdomains.
Search engines do treat your main website and subdomains differently. That does not mean they lay brick walls between them. A page on a subdomain might be ranking for a high-traffic term.
Without analytics, it’s like having a $100 dollar bill at the bottom of your purse and not knowing it is there.
A Happy Ending
As interesting as it is to write about SEO horror stories, SEO success stories are a lot more fun.
Company X moved all website management and oversight to the marketing department. They hired a Web Czar, web developer, community manager, and two copy writers.
Their Web Czar is knowledgeable about Web marketing, design, usability, SEO, and social media. She has become an evangelist who works closely with each department to provide knowledge, coaching, and prompting.
The developer migrated the website to a content management system that offers great flexibility and is user friendly. He is also an analytics genius who quickly became a go-to resource to help the product teams understand their traffic and what visitors are doing. Right now, he is planning a site redesign and is speaking with potential designers.
The community manager centralized the blogging and social media. She has built a team of bloggers including the CEO, product team members and technical experts. She has also become a friendly voice in the forums and even keeps abreast of speaking opportunities at major conferences and conventions.
The copy writers are busy implementing SEO changes and writing new brochure content. They edit blog posts and help with social media updates and responses.
Things are looking up at Company X. Search engine referrals and keyword diversity is up. So are visits from social media and other websites. Right now, Company X is training its bloggers how to be good social media citizens. Soon they will begin posting on Twitter and answering questions on LinkedIn.
What’s Stopping You?
Now that you know about Company X, what are the pain points stopping your company or organization from succeeding on the Web? What changes will make your company Web positive?
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.