One benefit of my job is the opportunity to work with businesses of all types and sizes. Each is unique due to the nature of the business, the competition, and relative footprint within its industry. I typically categorize companies into one of three groups to help me anticipate the challenges I'll face in working with them.
The Big Brand
Signing a big brand is every SEO (define) professional's goal. After all, how difficult can it be to get Nike.com to rank for the term "Nike"? Not that hard... usually. But that's where the simplicity ends. Big-brand SEO often involves some reputation management, which takes the SEM (define) firm's challenge from owning the first spot or two to influencing everything above the fold or even on the entire page.
One good thing about big brands is they are the originators and ultimate authority for virtually all information within their niche. Original marketing copy, technical specifications, pricing information, press releases, and new/updated model information nearly always surface here first. With that benefit comes the challenge of working with several departments to ensure all that information is presented to users and crawlers as quickly and efficiently as possible, so the site doesn't see its own information scooped by another, faster-acting site.
My ClickZ colleague Jason Burby wrote an excellent series on who should own Web analytics. It shows the potential harms and benefits of various departments in their quest to control and distribute metrics. In addition to analytics, big brands often tussle with ownership of other critical site elements, including look and feel, specific semantics and verbiage, and the vague notion of overall brand presentation. The bigger the organization, the more groups become involved, including marketing, advertising, editorial, IT, and finance. And don't forget legal.
Catalog and aggregator sites typically compile information that exists elsewhere, then repackage and distribute it. That's a pretty superficial definition, but there's no shame in a business model in which no significant goods or services are created. Amazon.com, Sears, and Circuit City are examples of sites (and businesses) that utilize products that already exist, yet each has a thunderous Web presence.
The challenge for this type of site is being creative enough to supplement manufacturer-supplied catalog copy with sufficient additional information to attract attention, repeat users, and links.
And if you just woke from a five-year nap, you'd probably be surprised to think that one challenge of a catalog/aggregator site is too much content. Increasingly, smart sites are seeing the potential problems in forcing too many pages into engine indices, such as a unique page for side-by-side, stainless-steel refrigerators, sorted by price -- and another page with the same model but sorted by interior volume.
Sometimes dealing only locally, but perhaps offering products or services on a national or even international level, small businesses often have a very tough time competing in natural search. Many times, the Web site was an afterthought -- a necessary evil. It was probably built from an industry-favorite template package or (even worse) by someone in-house who was recently asked to "get a feel for HTML."
While some nice sites with a personal flavor can come out of such situations, it's rare to come across such a client with enough technical savvy to know how to perform the sorts of site-wide modifications we typically recommend -- or to completely understand (and thus buy into) why we recommend them.
Another challenge of working with small businesses is educating the client about content and expectations. The early part of a campaign with a shoe store in Scottsdale, AZ, might revolve around trying to explain to the client why the critical keyword -- "shoes" -- is likely prohibitive due to effort involved, content required, and, most important, that eventual rankings for such broad terms would likely result in little to no bottom-line results.
Among these three types, which is the best client to have? The challenges and benefits listed above really don't factor into the decision. For me, the best type of client is the one who, regardless of business model, content type, and corporate head count, understands the unique SEO challenges for his business, knows change doesn't happen overnight, and trusts my recommendations are best for the site's long-term improvement.
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Erik Dafforn is the executive vice president of Intrapromote LLC, an SEO firm headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. Erik manages SEO campaigns for clients ranging from tiny to enormous and edits Intrapromote's blog, SEO Speedwagon. Prior to joining Intrapromote in 1999, Erik worked as a freelance writer and editor. He also worked in-house as a development editor for Macmillan and IDG Books. Erik has a Bachelor's degree in English from Wabash College. Follow Erik and Intrapromote on Twitter.
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