Eric Enge discussed these issues with Warren Lee, who manages SEO for Adobe’s web properties. The web software company gets 48 million visits a month to its own websites thanks to Lee’s efforts. In Lee’s opinion, knowing what the most common hurdles to SEO are before starting a project can help prevent problems before they occur. They can also help you plan a winning strategy.
The first of these four big challenges, as Lee sees it, is something he calls “cross functional alignment.” It stems from the fact that large organizations tend to separate their functional parts into silos: marketing, HR, production, IT, etc. The SEO team tends to get put in the same silo as either marketing or IT. In and of itself, this isn’t a bad thing. The real problem is that these separate silos, while existing within the same large firm, often don’t talk to each other – and SEO, by its very nature, affects many silos beyond its own.
“Given that website, technical, and product marketing decisions all influence SEO performance, teams have an inherent challenge with being strategic and cross functional,” Lee notes. But it’s not just a matter of communicating with these other areas; they must actively work with the SEO, and “most stakeholders do not willingly (assuming they know how) incorporate search best practices into their daily work,” according to Lee.
To get over this hurdle, Lee recommends that SEO teams examine what areas of the organization their work is most likely to affect (and be affected by), and “build relationships with critical partners” within the company. He notes that within a large organization, these may include teams engaged in paid search, site search, social media, digital analysis, IT, web operations, web security, the legal department, product management, product marketing, editing, quality assurance, mobile technology, and remarketing and site testing.
The next challenge Lee discusses is maintaining focus on the critical initiatives. “The solution to finding a balanced level of service is developing a team culture where project priorities are driven by data & results and supported by effective training, processes, and communication with stakeholders,” he explained. In short, figure out what data to collect, what numbers will tell you that your initiative has been successful, and what you need to do to get those numbers.
Make sure your team understands how to use your analytics tools and what you’re trying to achieve. Also make sure they’re motivated, and that they’re not losing sight of your goals. It’s easy in SEO to look too closely at the trees and miss seeing the forest. To help your team keep its focus where it belongs, Lee suggests “filtering projects based on the level of impact on the few essentials of SEO: site architecture, internal and external linking, and new or existing content.”
The third hurdle Lee discusses is getting buy-in. I don’t have to tell regular readers of SEO Chat that many companies see plain old SEO as relatively unimportant – and that seems to be especially true of large organizations. Lee notes that research by Rebecca Lieb at the Altimeter Group showed that “SEO is often a low priority and therefore doesn’t receive as many corporate resources as online video, social media, or mobile marketing initiatives.” So how do you get the buy-in you need to get the resources you need?
Lee recommends an essentially negative strategy, perhaps because executives are afraid of bad things happening on their watch. Such fear can provide excellent motivation. “Highlighting past failures or calling out future ones (if changes aren’t implemented) can be incredibly effective at getting buy-in. In particular, showing what competitors are doing that you’re not is a great catalyst,” Lee observes. When you achieve your SEO goals, be generous in sharing the credit for the achievement. “Never take credit for search wins alone, and be mindful to thank others for their support in the wins, and you will find that getting buy-in becomes significantly easier,” Lee explains.
The final hurdle in search engine optimization for large organizations that Lee discusses is balancing search team involvement. Once you get everyone on board with the idea that SEO affects many aspects of a large organization, and get the resources you need to carry out your vision, you need to tell all these people WHAT to do and HOW to do it. Many of them may never have heard of SEO before.
Lee suggests you hold training sessions to teach them what they need to know. Without such sessions, he notes, “the implications of not integrating SEO into business processes like content creation, information architecture, or social media linking won’t be fully understood.” He suggests that you customize the training sessions for specific teams, such as editorial, quality assurance, social media leads, and so forth.
Lee also mentions a number of topics you might cover at these sessions. These include: the importance of natural search engine traffic; the fact that SEO success can’t be achieved by the SEO team alone, but requires the help of everyone who deals with the company’s digital assets; and the importance of interacting with the SEO team before making any changes to the company’s website.
Hopefully, the next time you’re in the position of working on SEO for a large company, keeping these challenges in mind will help you to overcome some of the serious problems you might face. Good luck!