In 2007, I had the unique opportunity of building an in-house SEO team for an enterprise-level e-commerce retailer. From an SEO perspective, the website had been the accouterment of hacks, built over a six-year period with absolutely no consideration for search engines.
The founder CEO was persuaded by a very bright 26-year-old VP to rebuild the site with search engines in mind. That VP had the marketing savvy to understand the power of natural search and hired me to build an in-house SEO team.
Over the next five years, we generated enormously high recurring revenues at a fraction of the cost of paid search, fueling company growth well beyond five years and extending beyond 2013.
Their SEO investment turned out to be the single, best ROI ever recorded in company history.
Development Of The SEO Team
In the process of developing the SEO team, we grew from 2 search analysts into a dedicated department supported by dual development teams of 80 personnel including developers, copywriters, link analysts, SEO analysts, PPC analysts and social media marketing analysts under two directors: myself and a VP.
We coordinated with several other departments including Reporting, Analytics, Website, Rich Media, International, Mobile, Branding and a few more. Our department had the best rate-of-return and highest growth rate year-over-year for five straight years.
As you might imagine, we made some mistakes along with the wins. We would go after the quick-wins first, always keeping search engine compliance top of mind, e.g., white-hat vs. gray-hat.
We never produced any workmanship using black-hat techniques and always remained in compliance with Google’s consistently changing Guidelines.
SEO Enterprise Analytics Tools
One of the benefits of working with such a company and having top-down support from the CEO was our ability to test everything, including SEO enterprise analytics tools. We tested all of the enterprise SEO tools on the market, new ones, old ones… we tried them all. In fact, we helped a few vendors develop their tools by contributing our needs and data to their product development road maps.
Back in 2007, there were only two enterprise-level SEO dashboards available. One of them had been in business for a while, and the other was just getting started. By 2010, we had tested the top four and several other related toolsets because no single tool at the time had all the capabilities and functionality we needed.
Keep in mind, our taxonomy had thousands of categories and roughly a million product SKUs. Inventory would swap over 5,000+ products overnight, and the margins on products varied considerably. For instance, when you consider seasonality, holidays, etc., you can begin to understand why SEO for the term “patio furniture” might not be you best or only plan of attack.
Using Good Data To Make Decisions
The timing and the type of data required to make good SEO decisions was critical path to sustaining year-over-year growth. E-commerce competition can be fierce, and you need good data to make critical decisions in a rapidly changing environment.
To help you make the kind of decisions important for your company’s growth, listed below are what I believe to be the top 10 Must-Have Features in your Enterprise SEO program and dashboard.
My Top 10 Tool Features For Successful Enterprise SEO
- SEO Audit Score – there is no room for beginner-level software; you need an SEO Audit score which measures the SEO health of a page AND the entire SEO program. This is critical path; you must ensure your platform and your vendor provide a legitimate and authentic SEO Audit Score.
- International Capability – support for International search engines including non-US market leaders such as Baidu, Rambler, Yandex, AUM and Naver are critical path for a successful SEO program at an enterprise level.
- Scalability – you must have transparency into the full SEO lifecycle such as planning, execution and tracking. This is where a lot of platforms fall short; centralized planning, execution and tracking are critical path.
- Client Referrals – talk to several of the vendor’s clients. UI demos may in fact appear to work well; however, they can also break down quickly in real-life practice. UI and custom dashboard capabilities must have a robust configuration screen. Avoid platforms with multiple-step process for setting up a dashboard. Look for a platform dashboard which can be far easier configured with drag and drop capabilities.
- Beyond Reporting – a reporting solution with some ability to audit pages and make recommendations is not adequate. Having several reports running ad-hoc such as page audits, rank checking, competitive comparisons and link analysis is a must. Additionally, focusing on weekly reporting will not suffice.
- Execution of SEO – the ability to help you execute on your SEO strategy includes Mobile, Local and Social. This is probably the single, most important feature you need. You must have a platform to help you execute on the complete SEO life cycle. Mobile, Local and Social have become huge working parts of the SEO life cycle.
- Vision and Opportunity Forecasting – be aligned with the future of the industry. Opportunity forecasting includes the feasibility of how easy or difficult will it be to actually go after your top terms. Tip: generalizing CTR % overstates opportunity, presenting a good concept, but impractical in reality.
- Keyword Discovery with landing page mapping – looking at competitive terms without the ability to monitor and track social input or to help you map keywords to the best targeted landing page will leave you hanging dry. The result is a very manual and time-consuming process. You must have keyword discovery with landing page mapping capabilities and be able to include social influence.
- Tracking Changes – it is extremely important to track and identify known (and unknown) page changes that were made which may negatively impact your SEO program. Tracking changes is another sweet-spot that will save you enormous amounts of time and allow you to catch things you would otherwise miss.
- Page Level Competitive Analysis – the ability to see at the page level, a side-by-side comparison of where your competitive pages are better optimized vs. your targeted landing page for a given keyword is super important and extremely valuable.
Enterprise SEO Platforms
The 10 Must Have’s listed above are derived from my personal experience over the last five years; however, there are two reports comparing enterprise SEO platforms you might also find helpful as you compare tools and platform features, along with my recommended Top 10 Must Haves to determine the best fit for your organization.
Digital Marketing Depot offers the Market Intelligence Report: Enterprise SEO Tools 2013: A Buyer’s Guide. The report offers latest trends, opportunities and challenges in this market, identifies 13 key players in SEO software tools, and covers how recent social media and marketing trends are affecting growth in this market.
The Forrester Wave™: SEO Platforms, Q4 2012 is also an unbiased comparison of enterprise SEO platforms. Forrester’s 21-criteria evaluation of SEO platforms evaluates the four largest providers of tools for organic search auditing, ranking support, measurement, and project management: BrightEdge, Conductor, Rio SEO, and SEOmoz. This report analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of each player, and plots where they stand in relation to each other and to marketers’ needs. You can acquire a copy of the Forrester report from one of the above vendors listed in the report.
I’ll leave you with one last tip… watch out for highly aggressive sales reps; they will immediately tip you off by slashing prices and over-compensating for their weaknesses in the quality and capabilities of their platform.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.