Managing 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Many companies are hamstrung by an outdated content management system (CMS) and off-the-shelf options are not always well suited to the challenges of optimizing large sites.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.
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.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.