Advancing The Optimization Needle For Large Websites

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Optimization for large sites that frequently create new content poses a unique set of challenges compared to the typical website, resulting in the need for a different approach to search engine optimization (SEO). Many basic components of a solid optimization strategy are no longer as useful when dealing with large sites. For example, performing keyword optimization on a page-by-page basis for thousands, or even millions, of pages is not a realistic approach. Instead, success must be sought by effectively managing expectations while making strategic and scalable adjustments. In addition, training content producers (such as editors and bloggers) can make an enormous impact toward increasing organic referral traffic. Enabling these individuals to optimize content on both a regular basis and at the inception of each piece will result in steady referral traffic (especially for the long tail) and much-deserved visibility for the editors themselves.

Managing Expectations

It is critical to ensure that expectations for SEO efforts and projected outcomes are clearly defined in advance. This is important not only for stakeholders, but for all individuals involved and responsible for executing optimization initiatives. Full support and cooperation from executive management on down is required for any significant progress to take place. Even given that understanding, SEO consultants or in-house specialists need to be aware that things may move slowly. It’s easy to scoff and think, “I’ve given them everything they need to know to fix this,” but the real challenge is not the work itself (although that can be at times quite challenging). The key is finding the optimal way to deliver the information and offer the support your client or in-house team needs to do their job better. This perspective applies to all involved in the process. Indeed, the hardest part of SEO can be getting the right people on board to make use of the barrage of changes typically required to see considerable movement.

Tips:

  • Set realistic goals. Have a conversation up-front about what types of goals are realistic and feasible. Whether it’s timelines, deliverables, or budget, everyone needs to understand what they’re working with.
  • Coordinate projects. Create a process so that stakeholders can bring you into the loop on upcoming projects. Coordinating SEO recommendations and research around future possibilities increases the likelihood that the information will be used because it’s immediately relevant.

Think “Scalability”

What’s going to give the organization the biggest bang for its buck? This is obviously not a new concept, but when dealing with a site with perhaps hundreds or thousands of pages and the potential for some very costly changes, prioritization is critical. Although different for every project, making the effort will pay off, in that the recommendations are more likely to be implemented. It is also a quick way to get results for additional support down the road for larger undertakings.

Tips:

  • Duplicate content. While the degree of complexity required to resolve duplicate content varies, it is one of the most rampant issues for large publishers. Despite this, it may be relatively easy to identify major issues that can be solved rather quickly. For example, address internal tracking parameters in URLs with a hash (#) symbol separator as opposed to the more-standard question mark. Search engines will stop at the hash symbol, not indexing multiple versions of an article in an online archive (for example, www.examplesite.com/resources.html#archive).
  • XML sitemaps. Address the errors highlighted in your Google Webmaster Central account. Although a short-term solution to fixing indexing errors, this can be a quick and easy way to increase the amount of content being indexed, especially in Google News.

The Power Of The Redesign

Large websites are constantly redesigning one section or another. Keeping the lines of communication open and coordinating with all those involved in the process is one of the most effective ways to ensure the implementation of recommendations. It’s much easier to do something correctly the first time than to go back and repair after the fact. This applies particularly to core page elements, such as title tag templates, URLs, architecture, etc.

Tips:

  • Communicate and facilitate. If you aren’t normally kept up to date on internal projects such as redesigns, ask to be kept apprised. Departmentalization may lead to miscommunication, or a complete lack of communication, neither of which is conducive to facilitating the process of connecting the SEO-related opportunity dots.

Editor Training

Empower content producers by providing SEO training related directly to their day-to-day roles. Editorial training is an effective and scalable strategy for increasing organic visibility, referral traffic, and monetization opportunities. Enabling content producers to implement optimization efforts on their own ensures that journalistic integrity is not jeopardized in the attempt to “appease the bots.” The most common challenge in this arena is convincing editors that the SEO agency or in house specialist is there to tell them what works with search engines, not to tell anyone how to write. If this is candidly addressed up front, chances are that the training will be received with an open mind and without as much cynicism.

Tips:

  • Training. Hire an SEO agency or have the organization’s in house specialist set up a training workshop with as many high-level execs and content producers as possible. This not only gets everyone on board, but also empowers bloggers and editors to create optimized content for maximum visibility.
  • Speak the language. If you recruit an outside agency for training, make an effort to integrate internal jargon into the presentation and training material. For example, if a sub-header is referred to as a “dek” among your content producers, incorporate that terminology into the training.
  • Keep it simple. The audience already has a full-time job, and optimizing content can be difficult and time-consuming. Point beginners to Google Trends to decide which synonym to use over another, and Google Insights to identify rising keyword trends (especially relevant for new technology and news).
  • Don’t call it a day after one training workshop. Consider setting up dedicated time to work one-on-one with content producers on articles or pages that have yet to be published. This time is not only appreciated, it’s effective. Furthermore, it sheds light on the production process as well as challenges that editors face when actually executing their own optimization efforts. This invaluable knowledge will almost certainly help to refine the next training workshop with more relevant examples and a deeper understanding of the editorial process.

Strategic Optimization

Let’s be honest — it doesn’t always make sense to optimize. Address this fact in advance and create a customized plan outlining when to optimize and when not to. Sometimes the content of an article just doesn’t lend itself to optimization. For example, a Top 10 Holiday Gift Guide consisting of a random smattering of potential gifts is not necessarily something a user would intentionally seek out through a Google search. Furthermore, the content is time-sensitive, so there may not be enough time between article launch and the time when it becomes outdated to achieve ideal rankings in standard search results. In such a case, it makes much more sense to optimize for social media, spending time crafting catchy headlines for link baiting and increased clickthrough rates. Take the time to ensure that the articles surface in places where readers happen to stumble upon the content.

Tips:

  • Encourage content producers to know when not to optimize. As a content producer, ask yourself, “What would I search on to find this content?” If you come up with nothing, then optimize for social media; if you can think of a handful of relevant keywords, optimize for search engine visibility.

Conclusion

It’s not always about what is delivered, but how it is delivered. With so many moving parts within larger websites, it’s easy to get stuck and lose faith in the opportunities of content optimization. However, a little communication and planning can go a long way. With clear-cut expectations, strategic project timing (whether that’s coordinating with a redesign or making sure that the scalable and most effective recommendations are implemented first), and effective training, publishers are much more likely to see their SEO investments pay off.

About the Author

Rachel Andersen works for the Portland-based SEM agency Anvil Media, Inc. She has expertise in all aspects of search engine marketing and specializes in SEO for large sites. Andersen has been responsible for the development and execution of SEO training summits with top IDG editors and bloggers as well as ongoing tracking and consulting for Computerworld, CIO, PC World, and InfoWorld.

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