There's no question that big brands often rank very well in search, but you might be surprised at just how difficult it is to scale SEO for large sites and to get the right wheels in motion for big companies.
Challenges of Scale
Bill Hunt of Back Azimuth Consulting knows a lot about it. "Scale is the big point, so when we're talking about that, take somebody like Procter and Gamble - hundreds of thousands of products around the world, so whereas one site might have four brands, two brands, one brand - it might even be a mom and pop talking about a singular product...these large companies, everything is scale - multiple brands, multiple countries, multiple pages," explains Hunt. "It could be a single company - somebody like a TripAdvisor or a Travelocity with millions of pages about a singular topic...so that's really what we're talking about is scale that makes the big difference."
"Scale in itself is a challenge," says Hunt. "Interestingly enough, a lot of these big programs are just really starting to get ramped up, and they've struggled with 'how do we do this at scale?' and the first is indexing. At IBM, we had fifty five million pages, so how do we even make sure we have fifty five million pages indexed? So that has a variety of challenges, and so it's the same techniques you would use, you just have to think about holistically and scale."
"Things like metrics are a little bit different," he adds. "We often have to have a slightly different business case, because while in a smaller company, I can go to my web developer and say, 'hey, can you fix this?' At a big company, I might have to put in a request for an offshore person to do it or an IT request for people that are already over-challenged. So we often have to do a business requirements or business feasibility requests just to get some of the simplest things done, and that in itself is a huge challenge often."
Convincing the C-Level Execs
"I did this thing many years ago that I think a lot of people have picked up on, called a 'missed opportunity matrix' and you know, the bigger company, the bigger the ego," says Hunt. "So you'll get companies that say, 'hey, we're a fifty billion dollar company. We should be number one in Google.' And that's not necessarily true. So you have to humble them and remind them how you get there, and the quickest way I've found to do it is to take ten words that are like the poster-children or the essence of that company...I'll give you an example from IBM. We used 'database software' and IBM's probably one of the leading companies for database software. We had no rankings. Out of hundreds of thousands of searches a month there was only about sixty visits to the website....it's almost this 'holy shit' moment where it's like, 'That can't be. We're the essence of database software..."
You can probably come up with more than ten words you should rank for, but ten is probably enough to drive home the point.
"So even those ten words...creating that, you can see what is the opportunity, then looking at log files - what are we getting? And that's often the key catalyst to get people fired up to want to do this," says Hunt. "Then it sort of backslides a little bit when they start to understand the complexity - that we need money to do it, that we need to change our operations in many cases to do it, and then the other side of it is paid search. They're used to spending a lot of money on TV, but now you come in and they look at search as an easy way to do it, and they've never really allocated money."
Now that social media has emerged as an attractive marketing channel, it's probably even harder to convince execs of how much money is really needed.
"Because of search, we're often able to track it better so we can show an ROI, but that in itself runs into problems now, because you're now showing in many cases..erroneously, we'll over-show ROI from search and it really starts to make the other marketers cringe - that ours is so much more efficient, so it's a nice little political game you have to play," hunt says.
Speaking the Right Language
If you want to convince someone to do something, it helps if you can put it into terms that they understand. This is true in just about every situation.
"The language that the average SEO uses doesn't fly at the C level, or even at a VP level," warns Hunt. "They don't care about all the mechanics and sort of geeky stuff. They want to know, 'look, it's gotta be changed. What's the business value of changing it? What's the outcome? What's the expense?' So if you can add some sort of MBA speak to your standard SEO shtick, it helps a lot. You have to speak their language, and just trying to overwhelm them with your brilliance about algorithms and stuff like that doesn't work."
"I think when you do that, you put it into proper business objectives," he adds. "'Here's the opportunity. Here's the yield. Here's what it's gonna cost me, and here's why you should cannibalize somebody else's budget to give it to me.'...And another one I call the kumbaya moment, when you say, 'search fits everything.'"
"If somebody sees a TV commercial and loves our product, maybe they don't remember who we are, but they might go query for it," Hunt elaborates. "Do we show up? Are we in the consideration set? I think that that's where we need to take it now. We need to start being grown up ourselves and say, 'we can place nice with everyone.' We used to come in and say, 'we're the greatest thing since sliced bread.'...when you show the business value, it tends to go a very long way."