Synopsis — Different-sized businesses face different challenges when marketing their products and services online. But one common goal is to use the best and the most innovative of search engine optimization tactics to ensure their website ranks as high as possible in search engine rankings. To do so, small, medium, and large businesses need to ensure they exploit the characteristics associated with their size and complexity to their best advantage.
Chris Boggs, in his article “Fitting SEO Into The Company Puzzle,” explores the options available to companies looking to make the most of their individual strengths and minimize their weaknesses online. Likening the struggle to differences between conventional warfare (similar to large corporations) and guerrilla warfare (similar to small companies), Boggs maintains that the common thread is the need to centralize the control process for SEO-related decisions as much as possible. He looks at three basic business size models:
1. The Small Business – does one size fit all?
2. Mid-sized and Growing – baking SEO into the process
3. Large Organizations – SEO still struggling for recognition?
With education and communication – as well as a definite power base – as essential constituent parts, making SEO part of the standard operating procedure of any sized business is not only possible, but essential for competition in today’s marketplace.
The complete article follows …
Fitting SEO Into The Company Puzzle
Henry Kissinger once said, “The conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla wins if he does not lose.” This scenario fits well into the world of SEO. Large corporations have considerable muscle in terms of their website’s strength and authority, akin to an army. By comparison, marketers with smaller sites using SEO tactics that range from safe to risky could be labeled guerillas. Large corporations have tremendous goals to reach in order to break even and make money online, so “not winning” is unacceptable. Smaller sites can occupy prime search positions for short bursts and sustain indefinitely, especially if their strategies allow for suicide missions that may result in being banned from search engines. The simple reason? SEO is a very dynamic specialization. People who are “nimble” and able to shift tactics and implement rapidly are much more likely to succeed, especially as search engines gain processing and indexing power.
The key for organizations of all sizes, in order to succeed at SEO, is to streamline approvals and implementations of recommendations by centralizing the control process as much as possible. In 2000, SEO was a fledgling marketing process, and early adopters flourished. One of the primary reasons for their success can be summed up in one word — control. Website owners typically had nearly full control or were tied directly to 1-2 additional individuals who controlled marketing expenses and decisions, even in large organizations. Today, however, enterprise-level SEO advocates and champions operate within structures that dictate multiple hurdles be cleared prior to full or even partial implementation. How then to handle internal SEO processes to regain some of that control to engage in guerrilla warfare?
The Small Business — Does One Size Fit All?
One of the best sites I have ever worked with was an Oriental rug dealer in Maryland. I worked with the site in 2004 and 2005, but my ongoing exuberance is due to the consistently great rankings this small shop still gets for very competitive terms, as well as long-tail conversion terms including rug brand and style names.
Control was — and probably still is — very simple here: The boss had final say in site design and typically approved all the SEO recommendations made. In addition, he had one person on his team trained to consider SEO whenever adding new content to the site. Add a custom back-end allowing for easy tagging and content enhancements, and voila! — ongoing rankings and tremendous organic traffic comparable to the levels reached by the “big boys” Rugsdirect.com and others.
One of the reasons this rug site does so well is precisely because they are a small company working with a small agency. The control process is down to 3-4 people total, when it comes to adding SEO or usability changes. A large company requiring the approval of at least 5-10 people internally to suggested changes may do better working with an equally large agency employing its own more intricate system of checks and balances.
One size does not fit all when it comes to SEO. Small business owners who like to control every aspect of their business may do better by giving creative license and final SEO approval to one of the people they have hired to support them. Anyone planning to grow their business through the Internet should be conspiring to add someone who is at least familiar with search engine marketing and SEO to their team, instead of relying solely on outside consultants to run the show. Having an internal specialist makes decision making that much easier when working with an SEO firm. Giving that specialist the right amount of control and influence within the marketing team is paramount to success.
Mid-Sized And Growing — Baking SEO Into The Process
If an organization is mid-sized and growing, it likely has more clearly defined departments, each of which has a leader and some level of control over the organization’s website. Experts on in-house SEO all agree that communication among these departments is the key to success in search marketing implementation. But how exactly do you get different departments to do what those involved in SEM want them to do? Experts have laid out the proper approach:
“Communicate to each department in the way that they will respond to. Different departments are motivated by different things.” and “Talk to department heads and find out what their goals are. Then communicate your search marketing work in a way that ties into reaching their goals.” (Mike Moran and Sean Smith speaking at SES 2006 in New York.)
Starting to operate like this when selling SEO internally is the right path to long-term collaboration and results. Actually creating an internal marketing plan or PR campaign can help in this effort as well. Even if you are not yet a huge organization, companies trying to get to that point should strongly consider something more formal when introducing SEO into the mix (Jessica Bowman, SES 2006 New York).
Another point that will always remain important is to “be sure to thank the staff that is helping you and give them thank-you tokens of appreciation” (Josh Green, SES 2006 New York). Organizations of all sizes should heed this advice. Since SEO is an ongoing process, you want to make sure that the people involved in implementing recommendations and helping approve content updates are at least civil to you — letting them know you appreciate their performance goes a long way toward achieving that. This may further open people’s minds to SEO and enhance their ability to understand why the changes are being recommended in the first place.
Even with a growing organization, control should still be limited as much as possible, and decisions should be made in a rapid enough manner to ensure that SEO recommendations do not get stale. Achieving this can be a big problem for large organizations.
Large Organizations — SEO Still Struggling For Recognition?
If anyone has skipped straight to this part, I recommend reading the above section about mid-sized businesses. Communication between departments becomes even more complex at the level of a large organization. A company may have only one domain, with different sections of the website acting as the face of the different lines of business or product categories. Control is difficult with such an organization, and trying to determine who is the final owner of content and approver of offsite SEO strategies is problematic.
Having worked with large organizations that have small SEO teams, as well as those with in-house teams of at least 10 people, I find that every team faces internal battles when trying to push for site optimization. Ideally, the internal lead is someone at the VP level (at a minimum), who is able to garner the acceptance of recommended tactics from the various content owners. A strong Director or Manager can also influence the situation. Each company will be different, but usually tenure has meaning for most people and can be a big factor in trust.
As Jessica Bowman suggested, a good internal PR effort can really go a long way to help gain acceptance and buy-in for SEO. Ongoing education is a recommended part of this PR effort. Each content owner — from copywriters to business line leads to legal and other regulatory approval personnel — should have ample opportunity to learn how and why SEO is being performed. Through education comes knowledge, the primary tool against fear. If the organization is using both an in-house team and an outside agency to handle SEO, both should be well-represented in the education sessions. Requiring only the agencies and consultants to go through the training will not lead to the right level of confidence in the internal team.
Control of website content is important to ensuring consistency in messaging and brand voice. SEO is not a process which is geared to put obstacles in the way of an efficient IT and marketing team’s performance. Rather, SEO should become part of the Standard Operating Procedure of any website development schedule. Education and communication — as well as ensuring that a certain amount of institutional power and influence exists within the internal SEO team — are the keys to success in keeping SEO on the radar at all times.