Enterprise Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not rocket science. In fact, it is not even as faceted as many other sectors of SEO in which practitioners have to perform many more nuanced SEO tasks (and often by themselves).
Because Enterprise SEO is much more like Supply Chain Management than it is Marketing.
As an executive considering investing in an Enterprise SEO initiative, hopefully you can learn from this primer and my experiences over the last decade leading large institutions into SEO.
Setting The Stage
1. Find some religion.
I have seen dozens of large business deploy a ton of money into an Enterprise SEO initiative only to find out that Organic Search just was not as critical to their business as they would have hoped.
We are talking real time and money here, so it would not be imprudent to do an exhaustive feasibility study into how Organic Search actually drives your audience or customer acquisition economic models. Those “free” search results are not going to be free.
2. C-level executive buy-in is a must.
Not only will the executives drive the cultural shift, but Enterprise SEO is not cheap. At six- or even seven-figure costs, you are not sneaking this through Finance with your client lunches or carving it out of some slush fund budget.
3. In-house or external consultants?
Obviously, as consultants, we would love if everyone just hired us and thrust companies like ours upon their organizations, but we would also be the first to tell you that external consultants are not always the best route.
While an external consultant might be able to bring in category experience in addition to their subject matter expertise, there are plenty of instances where an existing in-house SEO manager with leadership skills and some perspective can accomplish quite a bit.
In a best case scenario, you can retain an external firm to validate the in-house guy and drive the strategic vision, while the in-house assets can capitalize on their ability to navigate the organization and processes.
4. Realize Enterprise SEO is going to take awhile.
It is not uncommon for Enterprise SEO efforts to take at least six months before anyone sees the needle move. We are trying to turn the freighter that is your large institution. Enterprises already have full calendars and things like Legal sign-off on projects can bring things to a virtual standstill.
5. “So, why does my whole organization need to be aligned for this ‘Google stuff’?”, you ask.
Search engines are truly the scoreboard of the Internet. Modern search engines are pulling data from nearly every corner and source on the Internet. That thing your Public Relations team was doing at the new store launch or that speech your CFO gave at his alma mater — there are Web signals associated with those activities.
The organizations that understand this big picture and how Web signals can be organized will be the ones that construct their Enterprise SEO programs to maximize the institutional yield. Those that think it is about adding more keywords to their template should probably stop reading here and update their resumes on LinkedIn.
6. Who owns enterprise SEO?
Ninety-nine out of one hundred times, Enterprise SEO will be placed into Marketing, Editorial, or IT depending on the nature of the business.
Unfortunately, in large companies, it usually ends up with either whoever has the budget or whoever can best articulate the business case. In a best case scenario, it would be both.
7. Do not hire or appoint the best SEO.
Sounds counterintuitive, right? There are some phenomenal SEOs out there who could not lead a team out of a wet paper bag.
Hire the best SEO person who can lead. This is not Grandma’s Flower Shop or your hobby blog. This person will have to quarterback responsibilities around a large business, articulate the vision, and engender respect from other Executives, MBAs and other subject matter professionals.
8. Your strategy is Dead-On-Arrival without technical resources.
If the Enterprise SEO strategy does not have its own technical resources deployed to it, there is a better chance than not that this is all wasted time and money. I get it…engineering resources are expensive and hard to find.
If you can make the business case for dominant search engine market share and all the ancillary benefits of a Web-educated business arising from an Enterprise SEO initiative, then you suck it up and find the resources to get it done.I have yet to run into an Enterprise SEO client that could not find the budget if Organic Search was truly a strategic channel (see #1).
The Best Factory Wins
9. Honing the processes.
Apple may or may not make the best phones, but I think we can all agree they make pretty good smartphones. Android may or may not be best platform for building phones, but I think we can all agree that Android is pretty darn good and it allows any manufacturer to sell smartphones. But, guess who is making the majority of money in smartphones? Apple.
The guys with the most expensive phones and the proprietary product spectrum are putting nearly all the money in the bank for the mobile phone sector. Why? Because of their supply chain and their manufacturing processes. At nearly every step in the process, they are extracting more margin than everyone else.
Enterprise SEO is the same game. By managing the yield of every Web-facing activity to account for its search engine net effect, the cumulative yield of your “chain” will outperform your competitors over time.
It is a slow process that aggregates winners slowly, but once you have some momentum you are creating a very defensible strategic advantage to generating audience or acquiring customers.
10. All those other “Web things”.
Google and other modern search engines look at a variety of data to corroborate their core Web signals (context and Web links). Social media is at the forefront of that list and all those Tweets and Shares absolutely mean something to your search results. But things like registrar data, signals taken out of email they can crawl, Web analytics, co-citations, etc…these all add up.
In the new store opening example earlier, think about how your Public Relations team could create more Web yield from press releases, social media broadcasts, local press coverage, video content and event images.
There is a treasure trove of opportunity to confirm authority to the engines…and if you are a Fortune 500 retail business, how many hundreds of stores do you have to go run this same playbook?
Take An Honest Inventory
11. You shouldn’t fear an audit.
The foundation for any Enterprise SEO plan is the also the most tangible byproduct of the initiative…the audit.
A comprehensive audit of not only the technology behind the production of content, but also the business processes that face the Web, will develop the playbook or waypoints for the entire effort. These are the early marching orders for everyone.
12. Low hanging fruit.
Coming out of the audit, it is highly likely some easy wins will be made evident. Capitalize on these opportunities immediately to generate more institutional buy-in and to create a tailwind.
After these, you are probably going to be left with some much more difficult discussions and business decisions, so it will be beneficial for everyone to have already seen some fruits of the process.
Focus On Training
13. Developing institutional knowledge.
Just like Apple dominates the smartphone market on profits due to its holistic production advantages, many would argue that it is due to the overall education and decision making abilities of the men and women of our Armed Forces that we have the best national defense in the history of mankind.
Each Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman is given an exhaustive education and training regimen on their specialty and then coached on how to make decisions autonomously but also aligned with the overall national defense policy.
This happens from mess halls all the way to the enemy’s front door. This is what you want to create in your business for an Enterprise SEO strategy to succeed. Each and every employee must understand how their tasks affect the crawlable Web so that those signals affect the bigger picture: the search engine rankings.
14. Training the trainers.
Whether you hire an external firm or develop an internal team, we have already addressed that the need for them to be leaders. You cannot teach a global entity with tens of thousand of employees one at a time. But you can train their trainers.
A successful Enterprise SEO campaign will find ways to inject the SEO knowledge into existing training programs and identify internal evangelists to broadly distribute the messages.
15. Train..and then train again.
Extracting the SEO benefit of an event or an employee’s work product needs to become muscle memory…or whatever the Web equivalent of muscle memory is. Training needs to be comprehensive, consistent, and continuous.
The employee churn rates at large companies require this, as do the continual algorithmic updates (heard of Google Panda?) and greater Web evolutions (just a few years ago, there was no Twitter or Facebook).
Enterprise Site Architecture
16. Getting in the game.
The biggest obstruction to large site performance is indexation of its content. If you have a million pages of content with most of your backlinks pointing to the home page, there is very little “juice” for your content (especially your older content) to power through the competition for a related search engine query.
Improvements to site structure, while conserving the link equity you have already earned, will improve the performance of each individual piece of content.
17. The XML pipeline.
The good news is that engines created a protocol for making them aware of all your content…the XML sitemap. While I will not bore you with the intricacies of proper XML sitemap construction for a large site, I cannot stress the importance of these sitemaps vigorously enough for a large site. This is your conduit to the engines.
The Content Creation Process
18. Big commerce, Little unique content.
If you are a large e-commerce site, not only do you have the aforementioned broader architecture concerns, you are probably using the exact same data feeds as your partners or affiliates. Don’t do that, even though unique content is expensive.
In many categories, the e-commerce site that solves the unique content creation problem at the most affordable cost wins. Treat content as you would any other part of your Cost of Goods Sold modeling.
19. Audience siberia.
The unfortunate by-product of most editorial content management systems is that each time a new piece of content is created, the last piece of content gets pushed one step further away from the home page, section page, or other node with a strong accumulation of “juice”.
Make sure you are consistently passing “juice” into older or evergreen content via internal links within the body of your content or related content modules to keep the entire corpus of content competitive.
20. Automation is your friend.
It has to be to some extent. You are not going to be able to manage hundreds of thousands of pages by hand and potentially across a dozen languages. Covario, Brightedge, and Conductor are some of the Enterprise SEO tools available to help do the heavy lifting.
Managing The Metrics
21. You can manage what you can measure.
Unlike our print or television brethren, we can manage with great acuity the results of our work through Web analytics and other online measurement tools.
22. Big data.
Large businesses generate large amounts of data. Whether it’s your site traffic analytics, paid search keyword reports, sales numbers, user generated reviews, or social mentions…there are probably hundreds of large data pools for you to pull into your Enterprise SEO initiative to make it more competitive. This is one area where being the big guy makes you more nimble.
23. Little data.
If you do not communicate your metrics in an easily digestible set of internal reports, the impact of what you are achieving will be squandered. You will lose mindshare to other initiatives. The reports for the various levels and business functions in the business will vary, but they must all remain simple enough to be actionable.
Leverage The Web Graphs
If you have read anything of mine over the last decade, it probably started with something like, “I’d sell my own mother for a link.” High quality links still move the needle on Organic Search more than anything else and do not let anyone suggest any differently.
In fact, that in and of itself is a pretty good litmus test to see if someone is competent enough to lead your SEO campaign. If they tell you they ranked their last client in a competitive category with great content, no linkbuilding, and a herd of unicorns, hit eject!
That said, and if you will recall the beginning of this article, you likely do not need a serious linkbuilder for an Enterprise SEO campaign. You are already the big dog.
For you, the most important link decisions will likely be how to distribute your already impressive site authority deep throughout your site’s architecture so the entire of corpus of content is competitive.
25. Social mentions.
While a Tweet, Facebook Like, Stumble or other social mention is not as powerful as a backlink in powering your content in search engines today, they are not irrelevant either. They are absolutely a corroborating signal to the link data and growing in reliability daily (particularly for breaking news and other “fresh” content). Large sites that can incorporate social mention generation at a high coefficient will further entrench themselves in Organic Search results.
In closing, there are very few tools available to you that can generate the marginal benefit of Enterprise SEO. While Enterprise SEO is eminently attainable, it is complex as it is a business process optimization more than it is a product. I tip my hat to all my Enterprise SEO brothers and sisters who do not get nearly enough credit for some of the most comprehensive Internet Marketing work out there.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.