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When Critiquing Large Sites, Don’t Always Blame The SEO
One of the easiest things to do in SEO is to poke holes in someone else’s SEO strategy. I proudly admit to having done this on countless occasions when someone asks me to look at their site and give my “expert opinion.” It’s very easy to take a look at the code for a few seconds, spout off about 10 things that haven’t been done on the site, impress the potential client with my knowledge of alt tags, esoteric ranking methodologies or meta tag knowledge and then ride off in the sunset. The potential client looks at me like I am the SEO cowboy who promises to save the day if you just ask. I’ll come riding in with my white hat and algorithmic silver bullets and put you on top of the SERPs, banishing your enemies to Google hell.
The reality of the situation is much more complex. Working with large corporations brings its own set of challenges that can rarely be ascertained during a 10 minute code review or even an in-depth SEO audit. The simple problems uncovered in a quick site review are rarely the fault of an inept SEO (well, sometimes it happens) but are more likely attributed to a burgeoning organization with long to-do lists, underappreciated and overworked staff and a lack of understanding of the potential impact small changes can have on a large SEO program.
Here’s how it happens: the brand manager comes through door touting the latest and greatest search engine un-friendly content management system that creates all pages in wordless flash and complex URLs that can only be decoded by NASA that they saw at their booze filled conference in Vegas. The in-house SEO team tries to protest but this app is so “cool” the warnings are met with indifference. The IT department loves the system because the sales rep bought them doughnuts and promised them they wouldn’t have to do any work. And the VP is too worried about his constantly devaluing stock portfolio to worry about something as trivial as a content management system. We all know how this story ends. Usually with me getting a gig as an outside consultant.
From a natural search point of view, most large corporations get by on their brand. The companies usually have incredible off-the-page SEO assets that go to waste because of simple on-the-page faux-pas committed by overeager IT or marketing staffs in the so-called interest of the brand. And the small guys (including the SEO consultants that concentrate on small and medium sized businesses) salivate over the linkjuice and think “man, if I just had a third of that, think what I could do.”
The truth is, with the amount of link equity attributed to the average Fortune 500, there is a lot you can do with simple on-page fixes. The problem is, at companies that large, there is no such thing as a simple on-page fix. Back in the early years, it once took me almost two years to get a title tag change that was approved by everyone. Once the fix was made, the results were incredibly lucrative, but getting that change cost time, money and sweat that would never be necessary in a smaller organization.
So, when working with a large organization, it’s important to remember that what is on the surface isn’t always what is underneath. If you are responsible for search marketing in a large corporation, your responsibility is as much about managing internal expectations and resources as it is about writing title tags and optimized content. If you are an agency working with a large corporation, your job is about providing an outside voice that, sometimes, can be heard better than the voices inside the organization.
As search gains a seat at the “big kids” table of marketing, we are seeing many of these problems become less pronounced. IT and marketing are working together better. In many organizations, a specialized search team has been created that straddles both the IT and marketing departments. The time is coming when large organizations will become nimble enough to implement the necessary on-page changes that will skyrocket their search presences. Yes, that day is coming. And these policy changes are not only affecting search, but entire organizations. And in the coming months I’ll be discussing many of these changes. I hope you’ll come along with me for the ride.
Tony Wright, CEO and Founder of WrightIMC has spent his career helping businesses of all sizes be profitable on the Web. He serves as President of the Dallas/Ft. Worth Search Marketing Association. His blog is at www.shavingoccam.com. The Industrial Strength column appears weekly at Search Engine Land.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.