The term “Enterprise SEO” yields over 24 million results in Google. Yet there isn’t that much information about what it really is.
At the same time, many industry forum threads and private discussions revolve around this particular aspect of SEO.
That’s why we created this resource.
It covers all main aspects of Enterprise SEO. We discuss the ways to go about working within typical corporate structures; advantages and disadvantages of being a corporate SEO and challenges enterprise folk have to overcome in their daily work.
So, to begin at the beginning….
It’s quite hard to find a single definition of this form of search engine optimization.
Jim Yu for instance calls it “a platform of integrated tools and features, including monetary, productivity and relationship management solutions”.
In this video interview, Martin MacDonald however defines it as: “exactly the same as any other SEO. But, the two primary differences are, you’re dealing with that 800 pound gorilla which is, you know, a website that might have ten million or fifty million pages and therefore the problems that you have in a normal SEO are just magnified to a huge scale. […] The other challenge […] is dealing with, you know, a board of directors, multiple stakeholders on every part of the site and just kind of, the internal politics and diplomacy that you’d need to deal with in these large companies to actually get stuff done.”
Ian Lurie on the other hand suggests the following characteristics of an Enterprise SEO:
So, putting those definitions together Enterprise SEO seems to be:
A practice of optimizing a large website (or a number of them) while dealing with all typical hurdles of a corporate environment– red tape, diplomacy and internal politics at the same time.
Not surprisingly, a company’s website is the centre of your entire strategy. Following our definition, a typical enterprise website will be different from any other web property you might have been working on in the past:
First of all, typical enterprise sites are huge. It is not uncommon for them to have thousands, if not millions of pages. For example:
Even if you break these sites by sections (i.e. deals.ebay.com – the results still come back in thousands. Ebay Deals has 26700 pages while Tripadvisor Restaurants shows 2,230.000 pages indexed in Google).
Tom Schmitz points that authority is “another divider between enterprise and non-enterprise sites, at least for the sake of SEO.” And most enterprise sites are linked to extremely strong brands, fact.
That offers certain benefits from the SEO point of view.
First, enterprises often enjoy a high brand affinity. Everyone knows them and thus Google can view these sites more favorably. And given its recent brand bias, authority can surely help a site gain higher rankings.
Also, large websites acquire links much more easily than smaller ones. They are also more likely to gain higher PageRank to pass to pages buried deep within their structures.
There doesn’t seem to be any major difference between traditional and enterprise SEO. In our 2014 in-house SEO survey we discovered that the top 5 metrics SEOs working on large website reported on included:
One important aspect of reporting in an enterprise setting is that metrics are rarely left in vacuum. Everything you do and thus report on must be somehow connected to your company’s goals.
Creating engaging content is more important to SEO than ever before, I am sure you know this already.
But on the enterprise level this isn’t a piece of cake.
Content is a responsibility of many departments – corporate news, PR, social, sales, marketing, product management, technical writers and others. All of them influence, sign off or even create the content, often without involving you in the process.
Instead of creating content then, a lot of your efforts have to go towards educating other departments as to how they could utilize best SEO practices in their work.
John Shehata, the Executive Director of Search at ABC News estimates that 40-50% of his team's time goes into educating other departments on SEO best practices.
Enterprise sites acquire links much easily than other, smaller web properties. There is a number of reasons for that:
There is however certain common-sense rules that apply to enterprise link building as well:
Many enterprises focus largely on local audiences. This affects your work in two major ways:
And if you work in a company with 10, 50 or even more independent locations, you need a thought through and well-implemented strategy to be able to control all local properties, citations and local rankings.
In spite of a strong focus on local SEO, many enterprises need to reach global audiences too. This could be because they want to get to customers in locations they don’t have a physical presence. But also, they need to maintain their global brand awareness.
The trouble is, the firms web assets can actually work against each other (i.e. global property might start competing with a local one. Or there could be many duplicate content issues between the company’s various websites).
Part of your work on global strategies therefore is going to revolve around managing all of the firm’s assets to bring various visitors to appropriate locations while managing the global presence at the same time.
Enterprise sites often receive large numbers of visits through branded searches. As a result, they are often poorly optimized for other keywords.
But this can make sense. Customers associate them with certain products or services. And thus for many enterprises, there is no point in trying to rank for any other keywords.
Enterprise SEO often requires you to work on more than organic search.
Social media is one of channels you might have to pay attention to. In enterprise setting, this typically relates to:
Gaining competitive intelligence isn’t anything new. It is also neither illegal nor unethical. It’s something companies have been doing all along to gain market advantage, make better-informed decisions and simply, save time and money.
In enterprise SEO competitive analysis activities can be divided into 4 areas:
A lot of being an Enterprise SEO boils down to one thing – convincing executives to commit resources to organic traffic.
We discuss typical enterprise challenges later on but to give you a quick hint – getting a buy in is mentioned almost anonymously by enterprise SEOs.
Luckily there are ways to get your way:
The best way to decide if there is any point in investing in SEO is by projecting potential impact of increase in organic traffic on the organization.
Large organizations live and base their decisions on data. With a projected set of numbers you should have less trouble getting an executive buy in to your efforts.
Mitul Gandhi suggests a simple forecasting framework:
Many enterprise organizations have a plethora of departments, websites and locations making the reporting structure quite complex.
With data being one of the primary decision foundations for those organizations a solid reporting strategy will help you get from data to decision and action.
Here are some ways to do it:
Working as an enterprise SEO involves reporting to different roles within the organization. CMO or VP of Marketing, director of search and many others typically look for different information. One person might be looking more for revenue stats across your portfolio of sites whereas someone else might ask for rankings report and conversion data.
John Shehata from ABC News states that his team “create different presentations and tailor them to different types of audiences. Presentations to C-level are different from presentations to development or tech teams, which also differ from the editorial team.”
In spite of what you may wish to report on, or feel is an important metric to base your decisions on, in an enterprise organization, every bit of data must prove how your efforts relate to achieving the company’s objectives.
This however might prove problematic when you’re trying to find your ways within an organization.
In our survey conducted at the start of this year we discovered that 36% of Enterprise SEOs are not happy with KPIs they have to report on at work.
Another important aspect of working in Enterprise SEO is efficiency and ensuring that things get done.
When you work in a small team, or on a small website, you are responsible for implementing a lot of your own recommendations. Or the person who does sits right beside you.
In a large organization however, you have to work with many departments to get even a smallest change implemented. From sign off on the change to execution, there are typically a couple of people involved in the process.
Therefore, task management, liaising with other departments, setting up project and task ownership, deadlines, milestones and coming up with efficient ways to report on progress are major part of the process.
Your team is your biggest asset in Enterprise SEO. They are people whom you will be working the closest with, trying to position your sites and achieve your corporate targets.
In a large organization, these people could be scattered across the globe though. And thus, part of your work will be to ensure everyone’s on the same page, has a similar skill set and understands the company’s processes to ensure smooth execution of tasks.
In this video Dan Mooney from Wiley makes an interesting point about having a 100% on-demand and centralized training and internal SEO certification program that allows anyone from the C-Suite to newly hired employees and allows them to progress through the training in various aspects of their corporate structure and understand what SEO is and is not.
As Dan puts it: “so then when the management tells us to “do SEO”, they really understand what SEO really is.”
You also have to care about people whom John Shehata calls ‘ambassadors” – those working within other departments of your organization as “the first line of defense and make sure that SEO is top of mind”. Working with them, developing close relation with them but also, keeping their interest in SEO burning is a major aspect of working within enterprise structures.
After you completed the forecast, got the executive buy in, plan all the work and establish all channels of communication between other departments, it’s important that you establish ways to find out if you achieved the ROI you were set out to.
After all, your goal is not just to rank a site but to bring revenue and achieve ROI (Return on Investment).
This means, that your work is constantly measured against what the company has to invest in SEO strategies.
If you forecasted a specific revenue growth that should stem from an increase in rankings for most relevant keywords, did you actually realize the growth? If not, why? Was it because of your strategies or were there other problems that prevented you from reaching your goal? There could be hundreds of them and part of your job will be to establish them and plan how to rectify them for the next forecast term.
Everything we mentioned so far related to various aspects of working within large organizational structures. I hope it revealed a lot about what its involved in working as an enterprise SEO.
But it didn’t paint the whole picture.
Now it’s time to touch on how it’s like to be an SEO working on a really large site in-house.
Let’s start with the positives:
Google favors big brands. It’s not a secret that the search engine giant almost always casts a more favorable eye on big brands’ sites. And as Vlad Rascanu from Expedia Canada points out, it’s not only because of Google’s affinity towards brands but also due to content.
Google prefers content and as Rascanu points, they (Expedia) have millions of pages plus the ability to generate even more thanks to budget, time and expertise.
Access to knowledge. From additional training to internal talent, you have access to resources and budget to overcome any obstacles you might encounter.
Deep Specialization. In enterprise setting you get to specialize in only one thing. Unlike in small businesses, in which you often have to wear many hats, when you work on a large website, you get to focus your entire effort on one thing only – SEO. And as Patrick Garmoe, Ecommerce Manager for Travelex Insurance says: “The bigger the company the more you get to specialize. The trick is to find a position where you get to specialize to the degree you want to”.
Expertise. Another advantage is access to talent. But these are not just the few people on your team but also creatives, PR, marketers and many others who can contribute or even take over large aspects of your project.
Scalability. In small companies, marketing initiatives take longer to implement or even get pushed on a side due to time constraints, lack of budget or skills.
In enterprise setting however, with access to various talents and money it’s easy to scale your efforts. You could be implementing many strategies and campaigns at the same time.
Budget. I suppose this one goes without saying, enterprise SEOs have access to much greater budgets to deliver campaigns, create content and do whatever else is necessary to achieve their goals.
Traffic. This is often overlooked aspect of working on an enterprise level site. But as Garmoe admits, “you have the kind of traffic that makes it easier to test each aspect of your strategy.”
There is however the other flip of the coin too.
Slow or no innovation. Almost every enterprise SEO I spoke to admits how difficult it is to innovate within corporate structures.
Having to playing by the rules. When you have tons of money at your disposal, you need to account for every dollar spend. Moreover, you need to prove that it brought ROI for every dime you spend. And thus, you can’t take risks to solve problems.
Instead, as Rascanu points out, whenever there is a problem, corporations just throw more money at it.
Less agility. In larger corporations, and when big money is involved, every decision has to go through a number of people before it’s made. The process often takes weeks or even months, making availing of new opportunities or quickly changing direction more difficult or even impossible.
Red tape. There are a lot of permissions you need to gain to move any initiative forward. The whole process takes time and often, by the end of it, you’re absolutely sick of the idea anyway (yes, I am speaking from personal experience here). Even a small change to the website often has to be discussed and proved to be worthy before it is implemented. The same goes with new content types etc.
Garmoe, from Travelex Insurance explains: “security issues and clearances from the right people can take weeks or months, vs. if the person is sitting two desks down, or because of your size or nature of your company those rules don’t exist. Enterprise generally has a lot of hurdles that a small business doesn’t encounter, especially in regulated industries like insurance.”
Lack of creative freedom. Corporations have corporate brand guidelines that cover anything from logo usage to types of content you can create and tone of voice. Regardless of how great your idea might be then; if it doesn’t fit within those guidelines, it will not go any forward.
Boring admin tasks. Lastly, because you work with significant budgets, a lot of your time will have to go towards planning and budgeting instead of doing.
Lastly, there are certain hurdles you will have to go through in your work as well:
Website. Even though it’s the key element of your work, your website can provide quite many challenges. As Martin Macdonald puts it, in Enterprise SEO “you’re dealing with that 800 pound gorilla which is, you know, a website that might have ten million or fifty million pages and therefore the problems that you have in a normal SEO are just magnified to a huge scale.”
Educating Others. This is by far the most commonly referenced challenge.
Patrick Garmoe mentions:
“Educating coworkers in order for them to genuinely support your initiatives is a challenge fairly unique to online marketing, only because so many of the tactics are new to people not in online marketing. Luckily I work with a team that supports me, but it’s human nature to want to understand how an initiative works, and will contribute to the bottom line before supporting it.”
Dealing with Vendors. Not all of the enterprise work is done in-house. Many aspects of various projects can be outsourced to external teams and managing them can prove to be a real challenge. Garmoe puts it: “Often in order to capitalize on what they are doing, you’ve got to make sure it connects with what internal teams are doing. For example, if they advise on site changes, those recommendations only happen if you make sure either you or the development team implement those changes.”
Dealing with internal politics and red tape. We’ve already established how these two factors are a major disadvantage in your work. But they can become even bigger challenge if you’re trying to get the budget and the buy in for a particular initiative. As many enterprise SEOs point out, overcoming internal politics is 80% of the battle.
And there you have it, a guide to all aspects of working as an enterprise SEO. Surely, it might not be for everyone. Working on a large-scale site offers certain rewards and if you’re willing to overlook certain disadvantages, it might prove to be a fantastic and rewarding career.
For the end, here are related posts, interviews and other materials we found useful if you’re planning to go enterprise.