Ryan Jones Blog – dotCULT.com Ryan Jones Blogs About Internet Culture, Marketing, SEO, & Social Media

October 19, 2010

Enterprise SEO is Different

Filed under: Main — Ryan Jones @ 4:10 pm

As I was reading through the comments on Lisa Barone’s latest blog post one thing kept jumping out at me: There’s big differences in SEO thought processes based on the size of the client.

The post itself was about whether SEOs should focus on ranking and traffic or on conversion – and the commenters on the post were strongly divided. What I noticed about the divide though is that many of those who have fortune 500 clients were on the traffic side of the debate while SEOs with smaller “mom and pop” style clients took the conversion side.

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And that doesn’t surprise me one bit.

I’ll get to my thoughts (if you haven’t already read them in the comments yet) but before I do I want to talk more about the divide.

While the basic components and strategy of SEO (good content, clean code, lots of links, etc) remain the same no matter the size of the client, much of the thought processes and focus points differ vastly when it comes to larger SEO clients.

Link building, for example, makes a much bigger difference for smaller sites than larger sites. In my work with Ford, link building rarely comes up at all. That’s not to say link building isn’t important, I just don’t have to worry about it as much. There’s enough fan base, interest, and news coverage already in place to ensure that good quality links keep coming in regardless of what we do. We still have to ensure that pages are discoverable and able to be linked to, but we don’t spend any time submitting the site to directories or emailing people asking for links. It’s one of the benefits of being a large site.

Content is another one of those areas. Look at the websites for the top brands in the world: Coke, Nike, McDonalds, etc and you’ll notice a shocking trend: There really isn’t any content. It’s all pretty images and flash.

At the corporate level, SEO isn’t as important as branding, image, recognition, etc. It doesn’t need to be. SEO is still important, but sometimes it has to take a back seat to other considerations – considerations that smaller sites don’t have to worry about.

Rishil says that small business SEO is about education – and he’s right. I’ve worked in small shops, startups, and fortune 100 environments. Small shops are all about education; not just about what SEO is but why it’s needed as well.

With several larger clients I’ve worked with, SEO isn’t so much about education as it is about balance. Most clients already know they need SEO, they want somebody to deliver the strategy, recommendations, insights, and analysis. On top of that, they want somebody to balance the creative requirements with making the site findable. If you’re planning to apply for freelance SEO jobs, SEO certification programs could help you step up your game and land more clients.

So what about Lisa’s post? Do you measure SEO with rankings, traffic, or revenue?

The answer is all of it.

According to this SEO agency named King Kong, SEO is measured by traffic AND ROI, no matter what level – it’s the focus and importance that differs.

When I did SEO at a smaller shop it was easy for me to change content on pages, add or remove links, or run tests to optimize content. It’s often the case where the small shop SEO can simply open up their FTP editor and make the changes themselves. I’ve worked in that type of environment before.

At an agency though, content changes are a little more complicated. While the recommendation may start with an SEO, the content goes through a copywriter, information architect, project manager, and legal review – all before it even shows up in comp or wireframe. Does it fit with the brand image? Can we legally say it? Is it confusing to customers? Does it fit in the allotted space? Does it use terms people are searching for? Brands have to answer all of these questions (and more.)

And that’s where the difference in metrics comes in. An enterprise SEO not only needs to recommend changes, but he’s got to sell them to the PM, IA, creative team, optimization team, and client – and the change has to make sense for all departments too, not just for SEO.

With many big brand clients it’s not always appropriate to measure the success of an SEO campaign by revenue or KPIs – not because they aren’t important (they are) but because there are too many teams involved in determining what happens once the visitor finds the site.

What does success look like in SEO? I generally start by measuring things like traffic from search engines, unique keywords, & visibility (not just rank.) From there, the next step is to look at revenue and KPIs. Then you can see the whole picture and make decisions. Low conversion could be due to several things: poorly targeted SEO, bad navigation, high pricing, confusing funnel or shopping cart, etc. Those things are outside the realm of a typical SEO, and it may be difficult for the SEO to influence change in those arenas.

The important takeaway though (as Danny Sullivan notes in one of his comments) is that even if the SEO isn’t doing the optimization or on page analysis – somebody has to.

I measure SEO by traffic and visibility, but I measure the overall website by conversion. I think we can all agree that conversion is the right metric for most websites to be measured on, the only difference seems to be whose job it is to take the site from traffic to conversion.


  1. Well said. The environment really can impact the prevailing metric, but realistically they all matter. I think big agency big clients would be the death of me though. 🙂

    Comment by Mandi Hudson — October 19, 2010 @ 4:21 pm

  2. Thanks Mandi. Having done SEO and SEM at all levels, I prefer SEO for large clients the best. Having teams in place to share some of the workload means I can focus more of my time on strategy, insights, and analysis – and at higher level client meetings. That’s where the fun stuff happens.

    Comment by Ryan — October 20, 2010 @ 10:08 am

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