5 Whopping Lies That Keep SEO At Status Quo
I’m a little dense. I admit it. Sometimes things just don’t sink in.
Me and the many voices in my head have attempted to define Enterprise SEO many times. Is it about big sites? Internal politics? Higher likelihood of failure? IT teams and branding guidelines?
Nope. Apparently, enterprise SEO is something we say when we’re clueless. Say I’m on a call with a big development team and I make ridiculous request like, ‘Can we link to the home page at www.domain.com?’ Suddenly, everyone starts throwing enterprise SEO around like poo at a monkey party.
I don’t understand it. Sob.
I do understand a few of the total whopper-BS-bombs lobbed around the subject, though. I’ve tried to explain where they come from, and how to stamp them out:
1. We’ll Put Links In The Footer, For The Crawlers
…or small-print text 800 pixels below the fold, as spider food.
When you see something like this:
What words pop into your mind?
Are any of them valuable or useful or well-written? No? Then it’s not going to work as an SEO tactic, no matter how big your site. Slapping links in the footer or throwing poorly-written drivel at the bottom of the page may briefly help. At some point, though, one algorithm update or another will come up and bite your site squarely on the buttocks. If Panda and Penguin didn’t teach you that, well, best of luck.
Why, oh why? Some design teams love this tactic because it lets them keep their pages purty above the fold. They think words are fatal to design.
Instead: Consider writing real, useful text that folks want to read. Try creating navigation that makes sense to visitors. The truth is, words and design equal great architecture. That’s why so many of the very best sites on the Web blend them so well.
2. We Can Handle SEO After QA
Yes. Yes, you can. In fact, I welcome this approach: it gets me clients who are panicked and ready to do anything to fix their plunging rankings, which means I can sign them that much faster.
I’m kidding. Mostly.
SEO campaigns strengthen three properties of websites: Visibility. Significance. Authority.
All three depend on smart development from the very bottom of the technology stack. Visibility depends almost entirely on sound coding and canonicalization practices from day one. None can be stapled to the website on launch day.
Why, oh why? Managers ask the development team, “Do you know SEO?” The development team hears, “Do you know how to put meta tags on webpages?” and says “Yes.” Chaos ensues.
Instead: Think of SEO as a set of best practices that start with basic server configuration and end with ongoing content strategy. Everything in between matters.
3. SEO Is At Odds With Our Brand
Absolutely not. The overall experience customers have on your site helps define your online brand. All smart SEO enhances that experience by making a site clearer, faster, easier to read, easier to use and yes, easier to find.
Why, oh why? To most marketing managers, Enterprise SEO means slapping text on pages (see Whopper 1) or changes you have to make after launch (see Whopper 2). Neither creates the greatest brand experience: You’re either duck-taping lousy writing to an existing design, or delaying other site work for SEO modifications.
Instead: Consider search engines one of the first potential brand touchpoints. Learn what customers care about online (speed, clarity, relevance, transparency). Build accordingly.
4. We Can Put The Blog On A Subdomain. It’s Fine.
No, it is not. Subdomains siphon authority away from primary domains. And no quantity of uncertain quotes you find and take out of context will change that.
Search engines treat subdomains and subfolders differently. You might, if you’re really lucky, dodge this bullet. But it’s damned unlikely.
Want proof? Take one category of your site — preferably one that ranks well — and move it to a subdomain. Watch what happens. Your rankings will spiral the drain.
Or, take a safer approach. Look at how Google advised sites penalized under Panda to get back into the rankings. One of the top recommendations: move the ‘low quality’ content off the site, to a separate subdomain. Why? Because that moved that content off the main site. If a subdomain is off the main site, will links pointing at the subdomain help the primary domain, exactly as if those links were pointed at that primary domain?
Or, listen to folks like Rand Fishkin, who know a thing or two about this: “Subdomains sometimes inherit and pass link/trust/quality/ranking metrics between one another. Subfolders always inherit and pass link/trust/quality/ranking metrics across the same subdomain.”
Why, oh why? Most enterprise e-commerce systems come in black boxes. Adding blogs to these sites is next to impossible. So, a subdomain was the easy way to get the SEO team to shut up.
Instead: Pick a decent technology stack that’ll let you add a blog. Or learn to use reverse proxies. Or simply accept that in this one area, your site will be a bit behind.
5. Our Application Server Handles Broken Links Just Fine
Note: I added this one. It’s hardly strategic, but man, it’s fun.
Someone at Microsoft has a violent allergy to standards of any kind. The best example ever is the way .net-based websites handle broken links. Instead of delivering a nice, normal ‘404’ response code — that would tell a browser or search bot that the link’s busted — .net returns a ‘200’ or ‘302’ code, depending on just how deranged the developer was at the time.
But it’s not just them. Lots of Java-based servers do the same thing. I have no idea why. The results, though, are hilarious. Target.com, for example, dominates the rankings for its own error message:
Why, oh why? The truth is, any rational person would assume a Web server comes configured to handle 404 errors. But that assumes that a rational person designed the Web server. Mistake.
Instead: Assume nothing. This is the company that brought us the Zune, after all.
No One Likes The Answers
The truth is, everyone knows better. None of these gigantic SEO lies pass the common-sense sniff test. But the answers require change, rather than the status quo. They require a lot of activism within marketing and development departments, not diplomacy. And they require real effort by key resources, not farmed-out Fiverr campaigns.
Somewhere, you’ve got a competitor who accepts these answers, even if they don’t like them. You need to get to that place, too, or they’re going to eat your market share, and your business, for lunch.
I promise to be on better behavior for my next post.
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