Why Enterprise SEO Shouldn’t Focus Solely On Keywords

I’ve got a joke for ya: What has 250,000 URLs, a content team of 15 people and three target keywords?

Your website.

But... we had a keyword list?!

I understand SEO’s keyword obsession. It’s hard to let go, and a nice, high ranking for a really juicy phrase tends to justify budget. But, as I’ve written before, there’s more to justifying enterprise SEO than keywords alone.

In fact, in enterprise SEO, I’d say keywords should be the last thing you look at. You can get your biggest, best wins with a a general focus on site visibility, content clarity and site performance. Here’s why:

Someone’s Already Picked Your Keywords

Most enterprises have been around a while. If you fit that description, you already have a brand. Your audience already uses certain non-branded phrases to find you. And there are hundreds or thousands more long-tail terms that they’re using.

But you’re not getting any traffic from those terms, because you don’t appear. See “You’ve got bigger problems” below.

You’ve Got Bigger Problems

Show me a website larger than 10,000 pages, and I’ll show you a site with:

  • Massive duplication
  • Thousands of un-crawled pages
  • Poor page load times
  • Improper response code configuration
  • Broken external and internal links
  • Utterly nondescript, probably duplicate title tags on at least 10% of all pages
  • Content slightly less compelling than Ishtar (the movie, not the deity)

So far this year, we’ve crawled and tested 10-15 sites I’d qualify as ‘enterprise’. Every one of them had the problems above. Address any three of them, and you build organic traffic.

sears 302 redirect. tsk.

If Sears wants to rank for dozens of 'automotive' phrases, they should fix this 302.

The bigger the site, the more easy wins you’ve got. Go after those first — each easy win boosts every page’s SEO-readiness just a bit. Multiply that by every page on your site = Big Wins.

Keyword Selection In A Large Organization = Herding Angry Cats

Have you ever tried to get 5+ product teams to agree on a keyword set?

If you want a preview:

  1. Get four grumpy, hungry alley cats.
  2. Hold them in opposite, equidistant corners of the room.
  3. Put a nice big chunk of tuna in the middle.
  4. Let go of the cats.

When you send out the fateful “We’re starting an SEO campaign. Please send keywords.” e-mail, it’s like that, only uglier.

Everyone wants their ‘share’ of the keyword ‘pie’. Product managers who have poo-poo’ed the idea of SEO for years suddenly buy you lunch. Sales teams start calling you complaining they lost a sale because the company isn’t #1 for ‘Failover hardware with bright green enclosures.’

As difficult as it may be to convince your VP that yes, shaving 1 second off site-wide page load times is worth it, getting everyone in a large organization to agree on a keyword set is even harder.

Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

Keywords Are Getting Harder To Track

With Google’s lovely not provided rollout, it got a whole lot harder to track keyword-specific traffic.

You can track:

  • Leads from organic search
  • Overall traffic from organic search
  • SEO’s contribution to the bottom line

And those metrics are what really matter.

It’s About Business Objectives, Not keywords

Most important: Enterprise SEO is not about a few fat head keywords. It’s about visibility and discoverability in the long tail. That’s the best path to a natural rise in the rankings for relevant ‘head’ terms, anyway.

Your efforts help a page on your site rank for ‘legacy COBOL integration’. But they do more than that: They help you optimize for ‘COBOL integration’ and ‘integration’ at the same time. You get the early long-tail gains while building for more competitive terms later on. Trying to optimize your homepage for ‘integration’ is like emptying the Pacific Ocean with a thimble. You won’t make much progress.

Enterprise SEO is all about business objectives. I know what you’re thinking: All SEO is about business objectives. True. But in enterprise SEO a focus on visibility, clarity and site performance achieves those objectives far more easily than chasing a keyword list.

So please, do your brand a favor: Stop worrying out keywords. Focus on business objectives, instead.

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 Chief Marketing Curmudgeon and President at Portent, Inc, a firm he started in 1995. Portent is a full-service internet marketing company whose services include SEO, SEM and strategic consulting.

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  • http://profile.yahoo.com/UVQZ77IWVMROCTEOC6BAIWSNDM A.

    I totally agree with the list under “you’ve got bigger problems” and what astounds me is that I am constantly asked to monetize what we’re losing by having those problems before they will be prioritized. How much does duplicate content really cost us in sales or leads – I can’t tell you what I don’t know, but I think it’s a stupid reason to avoid fixing something. 

  • http://twitter.com/AMSImaging AMS Imaging

    I like your views, and you are right. Most times we can be way too focused on just keywords, when there are more pieces to the puzzle. Enterprise SEO is a work in progress for most company’s and thats ok, just stay consistent and focused on your strategies and you will see improvements.

  • Vendita Auto

    The Keyword is the business objective. “SEO a focus on visibility, clarity and site performance achieves those objectives far more easily than chasing a keyword” I am good at my job Give me the keyword advantage (root domain URL) an authoritative website & I will & am the portent for the co-brand,  Ian stick to PPC.

  • http://twitter.com/cryptblade cryptblade

    you know what’s funny? this kind of stuff is lost on many SEOs. they have absolutely no clue. And the last SEOs on the planet that you can trust is an SEO from an agency – unless that SEO has been around for 8 years or so – basically SEO since 2004. See back in the old days, to do SEO, you still kinda had to know a thing or two about computers, websites, coding, etc. 

    these days, your account people talking SEO are dumb. the SEOs doing the work are dumb. and even fewer of them can break down analytics.

    sad sad sad.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Suman-Sarkar/100002848373273 Suman Sarkar

    iam oll tipe loking now iam happy iam night eavrey day open but iam or no ianjoy and iam iandian or anee cantree veary big man my sikin por and iam tadmark iam tipe now iandian sit por or iandian rexpat or anee cantree rexpat oll my freand iam daley net por hinde filem loking but no or anee pag  iam tipe no mind iam simpal tipe        suman 

  • http://twitter.com/RegDCP Reg Charie

     What a bunch of ‘bafflegab’.
    Long tail, short tail, it is ALL KEYWORDS. The internet is DRIVEN by words.

    >Your audience already uses certain non-branded phrases to find you.
    >>But you’re not getting any traffic from those terms, because you don’t appear.

    How can you say they find you for a term and then not find you?

    And if you are referring to your “And there are hundreds or thousands more long-tail terms that they’re using.”, there are actually millions of terms that you are not found for, because they do not apply.

    Part of the art of SEO is to pick and use the appropriate keywords and phrases.

    “It’s About Business Objectives, Not keywords” is not appropriate, it doesn’t even make sense. 
    The business objective is to make conversions based on keyword use.
    Again I say “The internet is DRIVEN by words.”

    Pure bafflegab.

  • http://www.evergreensearch.com Eric Siu

    Keywords are certainly a business objective but Ian’s point is if you focus only on keywords, it leads to tunnel vision.  Focusing on things like duplicate issues or site architecture scale well across a large site and can lead to some impressive returns.  It’s tough to make changes of that scale if you only focus on a small set of keywords.

  • http://www.gg2.net/ Garavi Gujarat

    amazing article for me, liked it and also liked all topics, specially
    Keywords Are Getting Harder To Track, because the % of not provided are growing more and more. thanks for share.

  • http://twitter.com/tedives Ted Ives

    Ian – I agree, in most large organizations there are *many* people creating content already.  if you can even slightly nudge their efforts by making architectural changes, or institute changes to their content creation process (such as getting them to incorporate a process for selecting titles, or composing a meta description when content is created), you can get some pretty substantial gains, even without doing a lot of intentional top-down keyword targeting.  For enterprises it’s often more of a matter of harnessing and channelling existing momentum, rather than generating momentum from scratch.

  • buchananadamm

    I love it when marketing people use simple command tools like curl. 

  • Joelle Kaufman

    Ian – words are often the mechanism of creating a relevant and compelling user experience.  So fighting over keywords is less important than ensuring the site is well structured for search users and always presents the freshest, most relevant and compelling content to the user.  I built upon your article on our blog. 



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