Enterprise SEO

I recently spoke at Incisive Media’s SES NY on the topic of enterprise SEO – search engine optimization for large businesses or organizations. First, I’d like to reiterate what Mark Jackson said in his recent SEO column on ClickZ: “Our industry is so dynamic that missing out on a year’s worth of conferences (if you’re not keeping up with your reading on a regular basis) can leave you in the dark ages.” So, stay current and attend SES at least once a year. That’s what I require my team to do.

So how is SEO different for large companies, large sites, and those businesses using multiple languages in different countries vs. smaller companies or sites? If this is what you struggle with each day, read on!

The key issues we face include: (count how many fit your situation)

  • Large sites/complex sites (over 500,000 or millions of pages)
  • Multiple countries/languages: 20, 50, or 100+
  • Long sales cycles, and often an offline purchase
  • Challenges of educating key stakeholders
  • Budgeting issues
  • Implementation hurdles:
    • CMS issues
    • Information-technology team challenges

When talking to key stakeholders, remind them why organic search is important. It’s where users click the most. In fact upwards, of 90 to 95 percent of clicks on a SERP (define) are on organic links not paid ones. This has been borne out in various online studies.

Start with your business goals. Here are mine:

  • Branding, leads, and sales (online and offline)
  • Search efficiency
  • Search synergy (between PPC and SEO)

Next, prioritize the key enterprise-type issues you face. For example, in my case:

  • Multiple languages (80+)
  • Duplicate content – e.g., various sites in English, Spanish, etc.
  • Complex content supply chains (people and teams upstream and downstream of your SEO team)
  • The need for SEO specific tools and skills

Finally, once you have prioritized your key issues, choose your primary enterprise SEO tactics:

1. Content: It’s always king, and especially so in SEO. It can help you version your material to avoid duplicate content issues but you need to know “how to write” for SEO.

2. Keyword clusters: We undertook a significant keyword cluster research project to help us prioritize the hundreds of keyword clusters we have. If you plot these on axles of volume and value, you’ll quickly see which ones stand out as offering the most opportunity.

3. Mapping content to your keywords: This will help you understand which content-specific priority keywords should point to. (It may well not be the case today.) So review your existing content that you consider key. This exercise will allow you to identify your “content gaps” where you have high value or priority keywords but no content that they naturally should map to today. Undertake a content development approach to address the gap.

4. Localization/translation: Suffice to say, you must have key and unique content in local language translated by local talent and reviewed by your local marketers to succeed in your key markets.

5. Links: Approach these as inbound global vs. local links. Be sure to use a social media tactic like “AddThis” to generate thousands of deep links in customers’ own language. It will add an important breadth and dimension to your SEO efforts.

6. Duplicate content: Canonical tagging is key here, especially if you are not yet able to take full advantage of your ccTLDs (define). This will tell the engines which duplicate page is the “master” page to flow all that SEO value toward.

7. Tools:

  • Insights: This is key. You may already have SEO specific tools or an agency helping in this area. If not, check out your Web analytics package and see where you need to supplement your ability to gain insight into the performance of your SEO work. Think of content as “working” and you need to know: Can it be found? Does it drive traffic and business outcomes (leads, revenue)? How can you track that to the degree that you can gain actionable insights to continually improve? Remember, that with large enterprise operations, a conversion may well be a committee decision occurring offline. Be sure to track all the outcomes and be able to measure what success in SEO means to you (e.g., mapped inbound phone numbers to organic traffic vs. campaigns, or unique identifiers on “call me,” or click-to-chat functions).
  • SEO recommendation engine: You can’t optimize millions of pages by hand. You must burn through as much as you can with an automated tool that will either give you page by page specific recommendations based on the keywords you’ve identified – or even may include workflow to track and execute implementation right into your publishing environment. Keep your “hand optimization” for your most critical pages; don’t leave them to any automated toolset.
  • Skills: Ensure you and your team attend regular conferences on SEO and talk to your colleagues in other companies – keep abreast of changes in the industry and current in your own education.

8. Training and education. Finally (and this is so important that I have recommended we focus on it at SES events worldwide), how do you devise and execute a training and education program for all those stakeholders you deal with every day so you don’t have to start each call or project with a one hour search 101? Don’t you hate when you’re ready to really do some great work in detail and someone says, “So, remind me, what’s the difference between this SEO stuff and that keyword bidding stuff?” You must identify all your key stakeholders – upstream and downstream and even “cluster” them into content, technical, and publishing groups and then custom design training programs for them. Get them to take the courses (some companies even require you to be “search certified”) and then when you have that kickoff call – they’ll be asking you: “Hey, which keywords will perform best for this page, product, or initiative and how do we get the pages to perform better? It will be refreshing!

So, to wrap up, here are three key takeaways:

  • Determine your specific enterprise level SEO challenges and business goals. (Remember to value your micro and macro conversions, even if some are offline.)
  • Identify the greatest areas of opportunity, i.e., “where to start?”
    • Keyword clustering
    • Content mapping
    • Tools for insights and recommendations
    • And maybe most importantly: training and education strategies
  • Test, measure, and remember to promote your successes! If you don’t show how SEO is contributing to your company’s bottom line – in hard and fast measures the rest of the business uses – who will?

You can follow Crispin on Twitter at @crispinsheridan

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