How To Get Past 9 Common Enterprise SEO Roadblocks

enterprise SEO roadblocksManaging an enterprise SEO program is like trying to get something pushed through the UN: lots of conflicting agendas, language barriers and procedural issues. You’ll get there eventually but you are in for a long, slow haul.

The good news is the main obstacles are fairly universal and there are ways to overcome them. To help you navigate the process, here are nine common enterprise SEO roadblocks and the solutions for each.

Let’s start with a couple fundamental, site-oriented roadblocks:

1.  CMS Deficiencies

Many companies are hamstrung by an outdated content management system (CMS) and off-the-shelf options are not always well suited to the challenges of optimizing large sites.

The solution is often to develop your own CMS. This is a good option but be careful, building a homegrown CMS has proven to be a graveyard of empires for many an enterprise. It is a lot harder than you think and in the end, it will take much more time and resources than expected.

Adding significant customizations to an existing product is not easy either but it tends to be a more realistic way forward. If possible go a step further and incorporate special tools and functions as referenced in Large-Scale Content Optimization Tactics For Enterprise Sites.

A reasonable interim solution is to use a hybrid approach. For instance, publishers that are locked into a legacy CMS will often utilize WordPress on specific site sections. WordPress VIP is a decent option at the enterprise level.

The catch is that a website on a collection of platforms is at risk of becoming more complicated instead of less so. But if your CMS is holding you back and a full-scale migration is not in the roadmap, a partial solution is better than none at all.

2.  Technical Issues

Every site has technical issues in one form or another and large sites tend to have larger problems. Poor indexation or over-indexation; duplicate content; problems with pagination and faceted navigation; inefficient crawl paths; a weak internal link structure that fails to support deeper site content, to name a few.

We don’t need to go through the fundamentals of technical SEO here (or design and template issues for that matter) but without solving these problems, you cannot make significant gains.

The primary solution is to identify the problems and recommend improvements through a comprehensive site audit, the trusted weapon of any good SEO. This is followed by ongoing monitoring (preferably with the aid of an enterprise SEO toolset) and periodic reassessments. Like it or not new issues will never stop cropping up.

But the best site audit in the world will do little more than gather dust if you cannot get past the bureaucratic hurdles that exist at nearly every large organization. Successful, sustainable enterprise SEO often comes down to effective change management.

So let’s focus on roadblocks that are more organizational in nature…

3.  Budget Allocation

Without budget, your SEO efforts are going nowhere. Whether it is all done in-house or outside help is brought in – it takes time, money and resources to make real progress.

As Brian Provost covered in The Ultimate Guide To Enterprise SEO, “free” search results are not actually free and enterprise SEO is not cheap. The technical, editorial and marketing components all require resources, not least of which is capable people to execute the recommendations.

Securing budget means getting executive buy-in, so you need to be able to make the case for SEO and to justify continued investment. Bill Hunt has advocated using a missed opportunity matrix for years. Ian Lurie also offers some good ideas in The Challenge Of Justifying Enterprise SEO.

4.  Poorly Defined Goals & Unrealistic Expectations

A major roadblock to securing ongoing support and resources is often poorly defined goals and unrealistic expectations.

Overall goals like increasing search referrals and conversions are only the beginning. You need to clearly define just what the company is trying to achieve, both at a high level and for specific site sections and content or product types.

Your analytics team plays a vital role here in helping to establish benchmarks and report on progress in a meaningful but easily digestible way.

Goal setting applies to execution too at the department level. Tech, content production and marketing should all have a series of well define goals to measure against.

Along with this comes the need to avoid unrealistic expectations. Executive teams have a tendency to set lofty goals as a way to rally the troops and spur on activity. But if there is zero chance of reaching the goals you will quickly lose hearts and minds.

Managing expectations also means teaching patience. Enterprise SEO is a long-term play with the benefits realized over months and years. Use quick wins and low-hanging fruit to demonstrate its value but make sure everyone understands that SEO is a never-ending process.

5.  The IT Department

The IT department gets a special shout-out since many a technical SEO initiative comes to a grinding halt here.

At the end of the day, the technical teams are going to do what they can to help the organization based on what they have been mandated to do. If SEO projects are not at or near the top of the queue, nothing significant is going to get done.

The solution here is both top-down and bottom up. If you’ve done a good job of making the case for SEO and winning budget the mandate and the resources will be there. Ideally, you’ll even have a certain number of tech team members dedicated full-time to SEO projects.

In reality, however, dedicated headcount is not easy to get and many other groups will be advocating for tech resources just as strongly, sometimes with projects that are more quantifiable. So you’ve got to prioritize your recommendations and do want you can to provide an estimate of impact.

Get as much as you can into the roadmaps and make sure you’re getting the right things pushed through. If you have multiple sites, identify solutions that can be applied across the network.

As referenced above use quick wins to demonstrate value, but find a way to push through some bigger asks too or you won’t get the long-term, sustainable gains that are needed.

For more suggestions, see Ian Laurie’s How To Get The IT Team On Your Side.

6.  Lack Of Consistency

It is one thing to effectively train staff members and give them the tools to succeed. It is quite another for them to consistently apply these things and incorporate them into their daily workflow.

Take content production for instance. It is not that editorial teams do not care about search engine visibility; in fact, they want their content to succeed. It is simply that they will never care about it as much your SEO team does. That’s just human nature and really who can blame them.

The solution is ongoing training combined with spot checking and feedback at regular intervals. Human oversight is always needed.

7.  Lack Of Coordination

The same goes for coordination of efforts between various departments. Every team needs to understand the SEO implications of their work.

Marketing and PR teams in particular need to be well integrated because so much of what they do has a positive impact on SEO, yet so often this impact is not fully realized.

A helpful approach is to appoint an SEO point person for every brand/department/team. This adds a deeper level of integration for the SEO team and creates more direct contact points for staff members with people that speak their language.

8.  Complacency

As Marshall Simmonds pointed out in Why So Many Companies Fail At Enterprise SEO, sites that have done reasonably well in search in the past tend to rest on their laurels over time.

This is a formula for eventual failure. Sooner or later, something will get missed or simply done less well. In addition, the engines are making more changes than ever so there are constantly new things to factor into your efforts.

Enterprise SEO requires diligence and ongoing oversight. Adding new blood to key teams from time to time will bring renewed focus and energy to the program. Conducting periodic outside reviews of your sites, teams and processes is a good way to evaluate and validate your efforts.

Ok, enough about internal processes. Here is one more roadblock that relates to both company and site:

9.  Weak Brand Or Domain

Strong brands and certainly strong domains tend to perform well in search. Leaving the debate on brand signals aside, there are a wide range of indirect benefits for known brands such as increased user trust, higher CTRs and greater engagement.

At the enterprise level, many organizations benefit from having well established brands on authoritative domains. But that is not always the case.

Big site does not automatically equal big brand or strong domain.

Companies have large marketing departments and audience development teams for reason. It takes a lot of time and effort to build a brand, as well as an audience or customer base, in any medium. Online, and specifically search, is no different.

So get your technical issues in check and ensure that you have well optimized templates and content. But make sure you are putting just as much effort in building up brand and domain strength.

Fortunately, you’ll already have many mechanisms in place for this. Just make sure that SEO is being factored into the planning and execution of all marketing and business development initiatives.

Photo from ell brown. Used under Creative Commons license.

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 VP SEO and Social Media for Define Media Group, the enterprise audience development and search marketing company. Adam blogs about news media SEO, PR and social media at

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  • James Norquay

    From my experience in working on Enterprise SEO jobs the biggest hold back are:
    1. Technical related – Web Dev teams who place SEO at the end of the list as you have said, I it annoying when the release cycle is months and months long. Even creating sub folders on big sites take time!
    2. Legal hold backs – Restrictions to the content that can be used due to legal areas on the website.
    3. Getting every one in the business to love SEO – it takes time to get every one involved in SEO projects, yet when you have senior management and even the CEO of a company with 1000 people aware of the benefit of SEO things move.

    Overall great article but =) Can relate 100%

  • ian hanson

    Content roadblocks are more common these days. I am all for fortnightly SEO refresher sessions for content producers

  • Bill Hunt

    Adam great article as usual.  

    For the IT department – look at what you are submitting to them.  Many large companies have moved to agile development and don’t have time to research your requirements.  It is amazing how many times SEO’s send a requirement and it is just “Add canonical tags” to all pages with parameters” 

    SEO’s need to take the time to write out the requirements with references and examples and any nuances for that company.  That is one of the first things I look at – what did the SEO’s submit and how clear and actionable is it.   Most of the time it is an excel file full of 1 line to do’s with no background.  Then the IT team must do the research themselves.  I just saw a case of then using an incorrect format for next buttons because they uses the syntax from a high ranking blob vs. a more reliable reference.  

    Also, if your using agile methods, make sure they add you to the QA for any story related to SEO.  The QA window is narrow you need to act fast or it may be months until you can fix a problem from bad integration.  

    Also, some sort of business justification.  If we do x then we can have y happen.  That is the value of the missed opportunity matrix.  By the way, if you use the same document with a timer to show days the request has been pending and missed opportunity that is another great motivator for the team.  

    Also attend some of their story development meetings to see what is on the road map.  Recently one company planned to deploy a 100% AJAX site and there was no one in the meeting that knew of the challenges to SEO that would create.  Fortunately one of the developers remembered a recent training and asked the SEO team who was able to integrate SEO into the process and they did not miss a beat on launch.  

  • Robert Clark

    Man, #4 is a hard one sometimes. My sales team always wants to over sell and it’s a constant battle to keep the expectations of our clients in check. Good post!

  • Adam Sherk

    Thanks for the positive feedback, I appreciate it.

    Bill – that’s a great point about agile development, and thanks for all the additional tips.

    James – that’s an interesting point about roadblocks from legal too, an important thing to consider in relevant cases.

    Ian – I agree, you have to regularly train and reinforce or you lose consistency quickly.

    Robert – you’re right it can be tough, but managing expectations is key.

  • Mary Kay Lofurno

    Good article.  I agree with all except your potential proposed solution to (1).  I think the point is NOT to have a homegrown CMS.  What if the guys/gals leaves that developed it?  How do you get cycles to maintain it?  Update it?  More often than not, there is customization that is needed, its kind of a given when you are taking about enterprise stuff.  There is a lot more that goes into this kind of decision, even building a “bridge/hybrid solution.”

    We have been crippled by our homegrown CMS.  The company went out and purchased one that is good for our needs [SEO/SEM/Analytics included] I am not saying its a panacea but it will go a long way to helping with things we are struggling with currently on the SEO/SEM/Analytics fronts.  There is wisdom of when to build and when to buy.   

  • Adam Sherk

    Thanks for your input Mary. We agree on the CMS solution actually. A homegrown CMS *can* be a good solution, if you can build one with strong SEO components and have it work as well as intended. I’ve worked with several companies that have done this successfully, but just as many that have had serious issues in trying to get it right. Thus the “graveyard of empires” analogy. So I agree that adding further customizations to an existing solution is often the best way forward.

    Regarding developer turnover, whether it is a homegrown project or customization of a third party solution projects like this require significant teams and time. So there are always going to be people coming and going over time, and there shouldn’t be a small number of individuals with all the knowledge. If a company doesn’t have the resources to put against this it is not something they should be looking into.


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