SEO in Large Organizations: Tactics for Successful Implementation
This article is a follow-up to a live webcast presentation for Search Marketing Now. You can view the recorded webcast and read about the strategy of managing expectations and defining success for SEO in large organizations for background on the tactics offered here.
In Part One of this two-part series on SEO for large businesses, we outlined 12 key areas where large organizations must focus their search engine marketing initiatives and four tactics which help accomplish these high-level strategies. In this Part Two article, you'll find specific tasks that can help accomplish the goal of each key area of SEO.
Key Area 1: Find an SEO Champion
Why It Works: Large businesses need an SEO champion responsible for garnering buy-in from the top to the bottom of the organization. The SEO champion can help guide SEO initiatives, maintain realistic expectations, and keep momentum moving forward.
How to Achieve It: To find the organization's SEO champion, you may first choose to look within the organization or you may choose to hire an individual to fulfill the role. Either way, an SEO champion most likely to drive a successful organization-wide search engine optimization campaign has a number of important qualities. An SEO champion should have an advanced understanding of SEO and several years of experience implementing SEO on a comparable site. And he or she should have good relationships throughout the organization and have the energy to see the project of evangelism over obstacles and throughout time.
An SEO champion's job is to create search marketing awareness throughout the organization, to educate the organization of the role, scope, and benefits of SEO, to generate organization-wide buy-in, to show the progress and wins of SEO for the organization and to recognize and reward those who are contributing to SEO success.
Key Area 2: Pain Precedes Action
Why It Works: It's often the case in large organizations that the fastest catalyst for change is a pain point clearly defined. Identifying when an organization's business goals aren't being met online and making the case for how SEO can bridge these gaps is a strong motivator for implementing SEO solutions.
How to Achieve It: Discovering and leveraging pain points is where the SEO champion's work really starts. He or she must keep an ear to the ground, collecting a list of issues expressed within the organization that stand to benefit from search engine optimization. On the same list, explain the ways that SEO can help the issue by improving crawlability or driving traffic, visibility and on-site engagement. When enough items are on the list, flesh out each point with data, industry research and case studies that back up your propositions of how SEO can help. Also include realistic goals that set benchmarks for improvement and demonstrate the positive effect of SEO.
With this polished presentation, it's time to set up some time to meet with company executives. Make the case that the time for SEO is now, or if SEO is already part of the organization, that it's time to up the ante. Every minute wasted is a minute closer to the point of no return. And today, SEO isn't about getting ahead, it's about keeping up. You're likely already behind the pack.
Key Area 3: Education
Why It Works: Education is a vital component of organization-wide communication and executive buy-in. It ensures everyone is speaking the same language and has realistic expectations and goals.
How to Achieve It: Through constant communication and continuous cooperation, a business is best positioned to achieve SEO objectives and best practices. Key managers, influencers and implementation staff should be educated in the capabilities and requirements of SEO. Furthermore, the implementation team should keep their understanding of search engine guidelines and SEO best practices up to date by attending conferences or SEO training courses at regular intervals or reading authoritative resources from search engine reps and industry thought leaders.
While it's vital that key staff members take an active role in keeping education up-to-date, it's also a good idea to inform appropriate departments of major changes to online strategy and marketing goals. Establish processes for keeping the whole organization abreast of successes and areas needing improvement – whether in the form of meetings or memos or informal messages from management.
Key Area 4: Prove the Benefits
Why It Works: With pain points defined and education established, an awareness of results and SEO wins can cement the role and practice of SEO within an organization. Visualizing success can maintain the momentum.
How to Achieve It: In order to measure the effect of an SEO campaign, Web analytics must be put in place to monitor stated objectives and applicable key performance indicators, or KPIs. Then, the SEO champion should hold quarterly meetings with top executives demonstrating the strengths, weaknesses, goals met and growth areas of the online business. Hold more frequent meetings with the Web, marketing and content development teams to go over the specific content and keywords driving conversions, the results of testing and user surveys, and any necessary adjustments to strategies or tactics.
When content creators, marketers and webmasters have strong communication channels and a complete understanding of how SEO benefits their own work, they become personally invested in successful SEO implementation. If face-to-face time can't be set aside for the team to review results, keep everyone up to date with reports of data analysis of key performance indicators and updated goals.
Key Area 5: Keyword Traffic Estimates
Why It Works: The main objectives of SEO focus on search engine visibility for profitable search terms. Similarly, reporting success depends on defined goals, including targeted keywords and objectives. Successful SEO depends on an evolving understanding of keyword traffic and trends.
How to Achieve It: There are several keyword traffic estimator tools available (see phase 2 of Five Steps to Effective SEO Keyword Research for a list of keyword activity tools, including Bruce Clay, Inc.'s Check Traffic tool in the SEOToolSet. Prioritize keywords based on traffic, relevancy, competitiveness, conversion potential and ROI. Then focus optimization efforts with priorities and pay off in mind.
Regularly refine the keyword list and priorities based on analytics data, looking for new keyword opportunities and pruning poor performers from the list. Don't overlook the power of long-tail keywords as searchers are increasingly entering four-word phrases and longer into the search box.
Key Area 6: Know Where You Are
Why It Works: The ability to visualize the path from point A to point B may shape the strategy and tactics used along the journey. Understanding the obstacles and short-comings of the current environment may also generate momentum forward and help set realistic expectations.
How to Achieve It: Before any SEO-related action is taken on the site, Web analytics must be implemented. This allows for the measurement of a starting benchmark from which the online business can grow. Use the most up-to-date and agreed-upon KPIs to determine the site's current standings.
As the SEO project develops, continue to measure and record benchmarks as part of the effort to show results, continue education and understand your current location. You can also evaluate who your competitors are in the top of search engine results pages for top-priority keywords. Where you are also includes who you are surrounded by, and competitive research can offer valuable insight and direction for future SEO techniques. Likewise, a customer survey can help a business identify strengths and weaknesses of the business. The more you know about your current site performance and position in the marketplace, the better picture you'll have of how to improve from there.
Key Area 7: It Takes as Long as it Takes
Why It Works: Setting realistic expectations is an important practice during an SEO project. At the same time, setting goals is the guiding force of SEO momentum. Not getting bogged down or discouraged by the timeline is sometimes necessary to reach high-priority goals.
How to Achieve It: At some point during a campaign, the SEO team will find itself playing the waiting game. There are often a number of factors that are out of the Web team's control, such as technology in use on the site, changes by the search engine and moves by the competition. Use all time productively by doing keyword research, compiling reports, monitoring analytics and measuring signs of progress or regression.
You'll also want to do periodic benchmarks of KPIs so you'll be aware of movements as they occur. Again, keeping decision makers and Web team members aware of progress helps energize efforts, facilitate communication and establish a culture of SEO integration throughout the organization.
Key Area 8: Get Expert Help – Enhance Your Team
Why It Works: Whether your organization has recently begun implementing SEO or long-ago embraced SEO but is currently facing new challenges, complementing SEO efforts with knowledge shared by experts can enhance and improve chances of success.
How to Achieve It: The tactics involved here follow common sense. One option is to hire a respected and experienced consultant. Be sure to see references and seek out reviews and testimonials from past clients. Alternately, you may choose to send the SEO team to highly-lauded search marketing conferences like Search Marketing Expo (SMX) and Search Engine Strategies (SES). These conferences afford the organization's SEO implementation staff to hear about the latest search guidelines and obstacles, what works and what should be avoided.
While gaining knowledge is a crucial step in the SEO process, there's no substitute for the time and resources needed to implement tactics and recommendations. If you decide to supplement your SEO efforts with advice from qualified experts, be committed to doing what's necessary to make those recommendations a reality.
Key Area 9: Be a Subject Matter Expert
Why It Works: If you are recognized as a subject matter expert by search engines, it's likely that users also recognize your expertise when exposed to your brand and content by the search engines, thus instigating a self-propelling cycle of links and recognition online.
How to Achieve It: The content of your website must reflect the brand, your offerings, your audience and your industry in a professionally appropriate and comprehensive way. Survey customers or the target audience to find out what content they're looking for about your product or service. Present the answers to any questions or any requested content on your site. It's also appropriate to research your competitors to be aware of the information they provide on shared topics or offerings, being sure to provide that level of content and then go a step beyond in quality or added value. This approach will ensure that the subject matter expertise of your on-site content matches the expectations by search engines.
Links also play an important role in achieving subject matter expertise recognition by search engines. Inbound links from subject-related domains and pages are seen by search engines as a sign of authority and relevance. More on gaining links is addressed in the next key area about the importance of links.
Key Area 10: Links Matter a Lot!
Why It Works: Links are considered a signal of subject matter expertise, trustworthiness and authority by search engines. Along with the benefit to search engine rankings, links also generate traffic to your site.
How to Achieve It: There are many techniques that can be applied to build links. From traditional e-mail link requests to event and organization sponsorships to business partnerships to content created as a link magnet, creativity and persistence are key to building links. The most valuable links in terms of rankings come from nofollowed links from subject-relevant pages with high PageRank value, though there is value in links that don't meet all the above criteria. This simply highlights the need to prioritize your link building efforts.
Read up on link building tactics from experts in this field, such as the columnists of Search Engine Land's Link Week and the speakers of the Real Life Link Building session at the 2010 SMX Advanced Seattle conference. You should also consider the effect of social media in building links and social mentions, however short lived, within a multi-faceted link marketing campaign.
Key Area 11: Announce Your Content
Why It Works: Online discussions in social environments – such as social networks, blogs and community watering holes – have the potential to increase visibility of your brand and content, create links and drive traffic.
How to Achieve It: The Web team will put a lot of time and content into developing optimized and engaging content. The next step is pushing that content and propelling it into communities through social sharing, media releases, and in the case of highly-invested link magnets, calling in favors from influencers. Use social media as your megaphone, but beware sounding too heavily marketing oriented as such content will be immediately rejected. You'll also need to be a truly engaged member of any social communities in order to receive the best leverage from social efforts. Become actively involved in others' campaigns and share content not related to your organization.
Key Area 12: Content is King – Still
Why It Works: The content on your website is a fundamental component of many of the above key areas. In many cases, your online efforts can only be as strong as your content. By devoting adequate resources to tone, subject matter and accessibility of content both on-site and off-site, you will have a strong foundation for SEO success.
How to Achieve It: When your team is developing content, be sure everyone is keeping in mind the two audiences that must be addressed: the human users and the search engines. Use a content discovery questionnaire (PDF) to identify and refine the brand, an understanding of target communities, and the competitive landscape. Review the four-part Content Boot Camp Series to understand how to create content that speaks to the right audience, sends the right message and stands out in the crowd.
It's also important that your site architecture supports content silos and strengthens content themes. The content and site structure should work together to complement one another, helping search engines to recognize important site topics and helping human users to navigate through the content.
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