Hello everyone, and welcome to the recording and recap of Page One Power's Enterprise SEO Panel discusssion.
First, we would like to thank our excellent panel of experts for sharing their time and insight with us! Our panelists were:
- Erin Everhart, Seinor Manager, Media Strategy for The Home Depot
- John Doherty, Founder and CEO of Credo
- Marshall Simmonds, Founder of Define Media Group, Inc.
- and Nicholas Chimonas, Director of R&D at Page One Power
Our expert panel shared some incredible tips and advice, and we are greatful they were so generous with their time and expertise.
In this webinar, the panel discussed a wide variety of topics involving enterprise SEO and the unique challenges and hurdles. There was a wealth of information and insight shared during this webinar, so let's dive in.
The webinar ran roughly 60 minutes during which the panel discussed four separate questions, with the conversation often turning into a roundtable.
The first three questions were pre-determined to serve as starting points for the discussion, and the final question was submitted live via a member of the audience.
Note: This recap is a summary of the questions and answers discussed during the webinar. Everything cited in this recap is paraphrased, rather than direct quotes. If you want to hear what was specifically said, you can listen to the corresponding video which is queued for each question.
I suggest listening to the audio for any questions you're particularly interested in as the panelists discussed each question in great detail, and my summation will likely not capture all that was said.
- What is your background in SEO? How did you begin working with enterprise-level businesses?
- What are the key differences in SEO at the enterprise level?
- How do you plan projects at the enterprise level?
- Can you speak more on quantifying and qualifying the offline impact of SEO for enterprise?
Let's look at how the panelists answered each of these questions.
Question One: What is your background in SEO? How did you begin working with enterprise-level businesses?
The discussion for question one begins at 6:08.
The responses lasts until 27:43.
Nicholas: Marshall, I'd love for you to start this question off, as you have probably the most experience in SEO, 20 years beyond any of the rest of us here. If you could describe how Define Media Group came about, I would love for you to open up this question.
The Evolution of Enterprise SEO
Marshall: Publishing more or less woke up to SEO around 2004-2005, and the New York Times was really instrumental in starting that. Before then, I was working at About.com, but even before that I worked at a company called MMG in Bend, Oregon. And we actually helped launch—and this is going to date me—the Pentium and the Pentium Two processor.
The marketing group that we worked with were focusing on SEO across the top twelve search engines, back then. So there was even focus in enterprise (SEO) as long ago as 1997.
"So, enterprise has been around for a long time, it's just evolved." - Marshall Simmonds
I joined About.com, which was one of the premier content players. They had over 850 guides and 250,000 different topics that they covered. And they were instrumental in focusing on SEO in the very beginning, and this was 1999 when I joined them.
So, enterprise has been around for a long time, it's just evolved. Most notably, when the New York Times purchased About.com in 2005 they were one of the early publishers who really started taking it (SEO) seriously.
Serious in the sense that they started integrating it into the day-to-day workflows and content creation, and working with editorial teams and technical teams that were really focused on implementing and executing best practices, which before had just been an afterthought.
Nicholas: And that was in '97?
Marshall: That was '97 and then in 2005 About.com was purchased by the New York Times.
Nicholas: It's really interesting to me that you saw that evolution occurring in '97 where SEO is becoming a serious thing, where they actually want to integrate it into their day-to-day processes of their content development and how they technically design things.
Even today, that's still a struggle we have with our enterprise-level clients. It's a struggle getting through the layers of the organization and evangelizing SEO as something that is important and should be taken into consideration for the PR team, content team, and all these different moving parts.
Marshall: And that's job security right? Because of the evolution of it, but also because we're the evangelists and we have to be the voice of search and audience development.
That's never going to change because Google continues to move those goal posts, which makes our jobs as translators and evangelists harder and better, and continues to employ all of us because there are a lot of moving parts. And you throw enterprise into that and all the different moving parts and departments that are vying for resource and development time, and that's the dance.
Nicholas: Right. And thank you for that answer because that sets the stage very well for some of the nuances we'll discuss in later questions.
I'd like to move this question to Erin Everhart now and transition into your background with Home Depot, what you were doing before Home Depot, and what the transition was like moving into an in-house role and controlling that large of an organization's SEO strategy.
Falling into Enterprise SEO: Luck, Happenstance, and "Herding Cats"
Erin: I sort of fell into SEO. No one goes to college for SEO or dreams of being an SEO when they're a little girl.
I was determined to be the editor of Rolling Stone. I was a journalist and a writer, I did the whole traveling music journalist thing, and that's what I was determined to do.
I first learned about SEO in one of my Journalism classes at University of Florida. We talked about integrating keywords into headlines in order to get headlines to rank higher and for people to read them. And immediately that was so fascinating to me, so I became so much more interested in getting my articles published online than actually getting the clips in the newspaper or magazine.
"By pure luck and sheer coincidence I had interned at a web development company when I was in school." - Erin Everhart
I graduated and moved into book publishing, and quickly realized I did not want to be a book publisher or an editor. And to be totally honest, the journalism industry was going through some hard times when I was finishing school. There wasn't a lot of money to be had or a lot of work, so I had to really figure out what else I was going to do.
By pure luck and sheer coincidence I had interned at a web development company when I was in school. I reached out to my boss at the time and asked if he could write me a recommendation. He said "I'll do better than that and just hire you!"
I started in web development and design, and didn't know anything about it. I had to teach myself HTML and CSS, and how to become a webmaster of a site. And through that I started learning about SEO and do more SEO for our existing clients, and began selling it as a add-on service to our web dev clients.
Very quickly we realized that clients were going to pay for this "SEO thing"—shocking—and it really just kind of dovetailed into that.
"There's this whole myth that people think large companies don't have to link build and that's totally crap, it's completely false." - Erin Everhart
After four years or so, I'd built that marketing department at the agency where we were running SEO, content marketing, and a lot of lead-gen stuff as well for both the agency itself as well as a handful of different clients. Everything from Cox Media Group and Autotrader, to Microsoft, to small and medium-sized businesses. We worked in a recruiting aspect and a whole gamut of things from there.
From there I moved over to Home Depot, about two years ago. I started running their content marketing program at Home Depot, working specifically with our third-party influencers on what content we can create, where will that content get published, and how can we ultimately drive links back to Homedepot.com.
There's this whole myth that people think large companies don't have to link build and that's totally crap, it's completely false.
Yes we are very blessed to have a brand name and have people talk about Home Depot, but we still have to build links, understand what our customers are searching for, and how can we get our content published in those areas they're searching. And that was a big part of my job.
"SEO sucks in the way that you are responsible for the website, but you don't really own anything on the website." - Erin Everhart
I also ran the full SEO strategy from the on-site stuff and integrating with our creative team and working with out tech team for the site itself. And Marshall was talking about this a little bit, the key is integrating with all of the different teams.
SEO sucks in the way that you are responsible for the website, but you don't really own anything on the website. There are so many different people who can make changes to the site or make changes to anything, and your KPIs are going to be affected and you may not even know what they did. That was always a really tricky thing and it's still tricky.
A lot of SEO is herding cats, and a lot it is getting face-to-face and being in those meetings where they're making these big decisions about the business.
Now my role is thinking on a broad level about how SEO fits into the full marketing funnel, and how that interacts with all the other channels out there. And how I can frame my SEO strategy to better support what I'm doing on social and what my content looks like.
Nicholas: Yeah, and that's a lot of really good points you raised that I think we'll discuss in more depth later. But the idea that collaboration between the different departments for SEO is optional is false, it's an absolute requisite to SEO success.
Also, enterprise business doesn't equal every link just rolling in or every opportunity being capitalized on, there's still opportunities left on the table when you're not deliberate about that stuff.
Nicholas: Well thank you for that introduction Erin, I really appreciate you sharing your story with us. It's really interesting too, there's a lot of SEOs I've spoken to that started out with a journalistic endeavor or got a degree in writing/journalism, but that entire landscape has shifted with the rise of digital media and how much traditional journalism jobs have changed. And I think a lot of journalists found themselves in marketing, SEO, PR, and that kind of thing.
Erin: It's a great way to get cheap, good labor - if you're looking for content writers and editors—and as SEOs I know you are—hire journalism students, they're hungry for work, they want to write, they can write, and it's a really good opportunity to get those people on the ground for you.
Nicholas: And you can teach them SEO. This is a philosophy we have at Page One Power as well. If you can hire great creatives and great writers/journalists you can teach them how all this stuff fits into the digital web and the SEO picture. You can teach them a little bit about title tags, and that stuff can be learned probably easier than trying to teach someone to write well or understand the journalistic approach to outreach and that kind of thing.
So John, let's get your story of your background. We mentioned a little about how you started at Distilled, I believe was kind of the beginning of your professional SEO career. And then you moved into the in-house role, and ultimately into your marketplace that you've launched.
Evangelizing and Integrating SEO into Large Organizations
John: So actually, my story goes back a little bit before Distilled, and I didn't realize this until just now, but Erin's and my stories are actually fairly similar. I was trained as web developer in college, as a technical writer and a web developer. I worked for a company in the summer of 2007 as a webmaster intern, and I got a lot of experience there.
And then I ended up helping run a book publishing company when I was living abroad in Switzerland, working directly with the founder publishing English-language books. But I was living in French speaking Switzerland and had no budget to go to conferences and such, so I had to figure out how do I market this stuff?
So I found all my marketing, I found SEO, and I had been a blogger for years so I kept doing that, and then I moved back to the States in the summer of 2010.
"I basically helped run the SEO strategy for one of the largest hotel chains in the world, for about eighteen months." - John Doherty
I got a job in-house at a demand-generation agency that ran their own websites in the for-profit online education space. So my first full-time SEO job was building links in the for-profit online education space, and then starting their content marketing programs, and then I moved onto Distilled from there.
It was really at Distilled where I started getting a taste of enterprise SEO. I basically helped run the SEO strategy for one of the largest hotel chains in the world, for about eighteen months. I also worked with some big content publishers that had been adversely affected by Panda and those sorts of things, and I really found that sort of work interesting because there are so many different moving parts
As Erin said, it's both interesting and completely frustrating because there are so many moving parts. But a lot of the changes that you make, if you make them at scale and in aggregate they can actually have a huge effect. Because you have a really strong domain, you can test things really quickly, see what's working, and roll it out and keep going.
I really bill myself as a growth marketer now, because I want to work on the channels that are really moving the needle. And I want to test things quickly, get them implemented and test them quickly which plays really well to my background as a web developer.
So after being at Distilled for two and a half years, I moved in-house. I was hired by Zillow to run marketing on their brand Hot Pads which is their rentals focused marketplace, it's a start up that they acquired near the end of 2012 and I joined them in October of 2013 as their first marketer in a couple years.
Over the next few months turned around their SEO and from there built out a team. So basically I was doing a lot of what Erin is doing now at Home Depot where I had an SEO Manager, a PR manager, a Content Manager, an Email Marketing Manager, and a few guys full-time building links.
So really, integrating all the different channels.
"I think a lot of enterprise marketers—and enterprise SEOs specifically—are dealing with old-school leadership where they came from the pre-Internet days and don't really get the digital part of it." - John Doherty
At the same time, was also able to get a growth marketing product team put together. Basically we had four engineers dedicated to growth and specifically to SEO and email. And that taught me a lot—I learned a lot from the Zillow team who I worked very closely with—about how they are able to run a lot of tests for SEO.
It was also within Zillow that I learned the power of having the evangelism of SEO from the top. I think a lot of enterprise marketers—and enterprise SEOs specifically—are dealing with old-school leadership where they came from the pre-Internet days and don't really get the digital part of it.
We were very lucky at Zillow in that the founders and the current executive team all value SEO so highly. So SEOs in the Zillow group - their word is taken as bond and they're kind of treated as rock stars which is fantastic.
Nicholas: That's pretty unique for an enterprise business.
John: Absolutely. Their CEO Spencer Rascoff—he's a great guy, super-smart guy—was on NBC 6 months ago and they asked him what are three of his biggest regrets with building Zillow. And one of them was that they didn't start doing SEO earlier. The whole team just espouses SEO, and it's built huge businesses for them.
"There are big problems to unravel, but that's what we do as SEOs is we reverse-engineer problems to figure out what's going on and figure out why it might not be working." - John Doherty
It was really cool learning how they did SEO, replicating those successes, and now using them as I consult with my own clients, alongside building my own company.
I've worked across the gamut of companies, but it's really the enterprise that I find super interesting because of all its unique challenges, which Marshall and Erin covered really well.
There are big problems to unravel, but that's what we do as SEOs is we reverse-engineer problems to figure out what's going on and figure out why it might not be working. And then we put together some hypotheses and move towards that, and if you have the right teams in place--the right resources, the right engineers, and that sort of thing--you can really make some magic happen.
SEO Implementation Challenges
Nicholas: Right. Well thank you for that introduction John, and it's very clear you've experienced all the different gamut of all these different things. I think it's pretty standard and uniform that most people do not just begin working with enterprise businesses. Generally speaking they've gone through some kind of gauntlet of learning on smaller businesses and working their way up. Maybe some agency experience, and that's their first real exposure to all of the bureaucracy.
But then it's so typical that every enterprise-level experience is kind of the same. You always have the miscommunication between teams or like Erin said, it's like herding cats, pushing through bureaucracy to make a change happen.
Something that I thought was pretty interesting was Will Critchlow's post on Moz just last week. It was a survey he did of technical SEOs at enterprise-level companies, and he said 40% or more of the survey respondents said their highest priority technical change has been waiting to be implemented for over six months and they don't anticipate seeing it deployed for at least another six months. That's typical, that's the very typical enterprise-level organization.
So it's really interesting to hear you say that at Zillow they're that agile because SEO has successfully been evangelized through the organization.
John: Yeah, totally. Reading that post—and I also contributed to that from my experience working in-house—it was not a surprise to me, but it also just makes me wonder what are the real reasons why people are not able to get things done in-house. And how long do these people stick around in-house if your biggest things aren't getting implemented?
I completely get there are other priorities within the company and other teams working on things, and by no means does SEO control any of that. But it makes me really wonder how are in-house SEOs so inefficient and so ineffective at getting things done. Or does that go up higher through the organization and is it a systemic thing? I don't know, but there are so many different ways it can be - whether the SEO is within the marketing org, or the product org, or who they're having to beg resources or engineers from. It's an interesting challenge.
Obtaining Buy-in for SEO Projects
Erin: It may not just be the whole inefficency or prioritization. I can agree that it takes a long time to get anything done, and we have a whole backlog of items that we want to get done to the website from a tech standpoint.
Sometimes I think about this and I wonder, are people just not pitching it correctly?
If you're doing it at the enterprise-level, and you're going in there to pitch a project to work on, you have to be able to back it up with this is how much money it's going to make you over one, two, five and ten years. And those are hard forecasting numbers to go in there with.
I can't just walk into our tech team and say "I'm going to implement, and I want to do a whole URL re-write", they're going to say "Girl, you're crazy. We're not going to be able to implement that". But if I can show them this is going to make them ten million dollars in five years or however much money that may be--that is how you actually get things done.
"If you're working as an enterprise SEO you have to understand how to relate what you're going to do to not only website visits, but also online revenue and even in-store traffic." - Erin Everhart
So I don't want to totally blame it on the inefficiencies of the enterprise or the inefficiencies of the scale, and the priorities. Because I think some people aren't good at pitching the process of what they want to get done. They might say "Oh, I feel like this is going to make a difference", but feeling like it's going to make a difference isn't really going to make a difference.
I need hard numbers if I'm going to prioritize anything. If you're working as an enterprise SEO you have to understand how to relate what you're going to do to not only website visits, but also online revenue and even in-store traffic.
With Home Depot, our dot com business is a big key portion, but it's only a sliver of how much we do overall. We're an 88 billion dollar company and the vast majority of that is coming from our in-store sales. I have to think about how I translate dot com tactics into in-store visits, which is really hard to measure unless I can cookie everyone who walks into our store.
Nicholas: Right. And I've found this to be exactly true, and this is a perfect segue into our next question.
Question Two: What are the key differences in SEO at the enterprise level?
The discussion for question two starts at 27:49.
The discussion of question two ends at 45:29.
Nicholas: What are the key differences in SEO at the enterprise level? We've found this to be very true that one of the most important things we can do is understand who we're speaking to in the organization. So if it was you Erin, if you were our point of contact at Home Depot, then we need to understand who the stakeholders are and what their goals are.
Very specifically, what numbers are they looking at that they're going to judge SEO campaign success? Or define those and be very straightforward about it - these are exactly the metrics we are trying to impact, these are the specific goals, this how we can measure ROI. And actually quantifying everything, is really the only way to be effective at communicating with those who will judge the effects of SEO but aren't necessarily SEO experts. Especially, if we're not blessed enough to work in a Zillow organization where the higher-ups completely believe in and understand how SEO works, and they know all the caveats of it and all of that.
Catering to Various Motivators
Marshall: To kind of add onto that, I would say part of what we want to do is find out what motivates those people as well. Yeah I think it's important to find the KPIs, but it's also important to find out what motivates them.
So like Erin said before, for journalists their reputation motivates them and that's very similar to editorial teams, large editorial teams. When you put in front of them what could happen if they actually work through the SEO process - integrated into the work flow, do the time to do the research, understand their target market, understand their audience, understand how their audience is relating to the content, that's a really strong first step.
Upper management is motivated when the competition is outpacing them on a certain target market, or a story, or a product that they "should be" ranking for. There are different motivators for each department - tech is way different, product is way different.
"There are a lot of different motivators, so finding that motivation, catering to that, appealing to that process, and getting integrated is essential." - Marshall Simmonds
Product is just highly about communication to make sure you're staying in the loop of any new initiatives or releases. Tech is different where they like to see the latest and greatest, and sometimes they're too motivated to integrate new technologies. And the same with design, where they want to see how to present the data or content in the easiest, quickest, coolest, slickest way, and sometimes at the cost of what we're trying to do with search.
There are a lot of different motivators, so finding that motivation, catering to that, appealing to that process, and getting integrated is essential.
Nicholas: Right. And that integration aspect is one other thing that comes to mind. And we've alluded to this a little bit, that it's very important.
Marshall, I'm really curious about your perspective on this too since you mentioned this is something that has been at the forefront of your mind since 1997. Even then, you recognized the importance—or worked with companies that could recognize the importance—of integrating the different departments and moving parts.
That's obviously a key difference between an SMB where it's maybe less siloed and it's easy to get through the different layers of communication, versus the enterprise level where you have these different teams, and getting them to work together and understand these aspects, and evangelizing SEO is so important.
What in your experience have you found to be unique challenges and obstacles to accomplishing that goal? And what have you found to be effective at accomplishing it?
Ongoing Education is Key
Marshall: Large organizations inherently have a lot of turnover, and there are a lot of internal hurdles, obstacles, or just maneuvering. I've found that the undercurrent—the most important part of this—or the rudder if you will, is the training aspect and keeping everybody educated and keeping front of mind around search.
Even yesterday I was having a conversation as I'm still deeply embedded with the New York Times, and they continue to come to this epiphany and understanding that SEO touches everything. And that's great that they're continuing to think about it, but it really does.
We've always found that being highly communicative with certain managers or point people in those various departments has been pretty successful. Either helping them to achieve their particular KPIs or goals on a quarterly or yearly basis has been very successful, integrating with reporting to show either where we've come up short or where we're excelling to make everybody look good, or just basically using that as a carrot or a stick to get people interested.
"The goal posts are moving so often that it requires that interpretation and it requires us to be that evangelist." - Marshall Simmonds
We've done that quite a lot where we've shown the breakout of the different verticals within the New York Times. Where movies does exceedingly well maybe real estate isn't, and highlighting that in reporting and showing that across the company has be very effective as well.
But again, the underpinning in all this is training. The goal posts are moving so often that it requires that interpretation and it requires us to be that evangelist. Whenever something new comes out—whether it's amp or even the rich cards that were just announced at Goole I/O—that requires a point of view and where the opportunities are. And then that's your entry point into those various departments to make them aware of this and get it into the technical road map so you can get those new changes implemented if it makes sense.
Don't Blindly Follow Google
Nicholas: Or if your point of contact is in a position within the organization to affect change or communicate the necessity of this change to whoever can, that's all good.
Marshall: I think that's a really important point - the necessity of that change. Quite often—and for anyone who has seen me speak, I rant on this quite a bit—just because Google says to do something, it doesn't mean it's a good product or SEO strategy. What might work for some companies might not work for others.
For example, when Google announced that if you went secure you would see a ranking boost.
Nicholas: The first thing I thought of. How many people switched to HTTPS and lost traffic because they were 301 redirecting all of their URLs?
Marshall: And it's smart, it's the right reason, but Google has the wrong messaging around that.
That, and mobile friendly was another one where Google says to do this, and people run out and do it just because they say so. And part of being a seasoned audience development specialist or SEO is to look at it and take into consideration your network, your content, and whether or not that's a viable strategy.
"So you have to be very careful about weighing the cost-benefit analysis of trying to drum up support, writing tickets, and putting resources against it—which is money—and to have it not result in a quantitative raise of traffic or sales." - Marshall Simmonds
I don't know about you, but over the past twenty years we've done a lot of product rollouts because Google has asked or put something in front of us, and it's gone unsupported. If you're dealing with Google news, that happens all the time.
So you have to be very careful about weighing the cost-benefit analysis of trying to drum up support, writing tickets, and putting resources against it—which is money—and to have it not result in a quantitative raise of traffic or sales. That's part of what we need to do is look at this and really be able to measure if this is an important initiative, enough to put resources against it.
Nicholas: Absolutely. And that's actually one of my biggest qualms with technical SEO auditing in general, is the amount of checklists out there. Where the only audit is really just a list of checks and it's going through and saying pass/fail, and there's no critical thinking about the uniqueness of every site.
And especially at the enterprise level when you're dealing with very large sites, or very complex architecture where some blanket recommendations might not necessarily make sense. Or that the development time required far outweighs any potential benefit, and there's not really an ROI to these implementations and you're going to lose the trust of the development team and lose the buy-in.
Prioritize for Biggest Impact
Nicholas: I think being able to prioritize which technical changes are really the most important makes a lot of difference in how effective you're going to be. And this is something for John, I'd actually like to talk to you about and have you weigh-in on, and Erin too.
But John specifically, you had a conversation on Twitter about being tactical versus strategic. And does it really make sense to recommend these sweeping and tedious title tag/H1 tag changes? And where did that conversation stem from?
John: First of all, I think Marshall's point about "if it makes sense", was a bit understated and really needs to be emphasized. As you just said, you can lose the trust of your engineering team or of the people you're working alongside with to get things done if you prioritize things wrong.
This is really the importance of having someone senior to be getting that buy-in across the organization, and really having a full idea about what is needed and what are all the different projects that you can do.
So you can come alongside and partner with them. For example, if you're pushing to change all of your URLs but you know that is going to take a ton of time and you can't prove all of that, that shouldn't be the only change that you're trying to get done. You should have like ten, fifteen, twenty different projects that you'd like to get done that you can work on at different times as different teams are refactoring things, or rolling out new changes, or you can test it on a small scale with a new product, or something like that.
That's really one way you get things done on the enterprise level is partnering with these different teams and if you want to make URL changes across the site, build new URLs for this one new section of the site that someone else is already working on, and prove that it works. And then you can make the argument for rolling it out across the site.
But to your question about my Twitter conversation: when I'm working with enterprise-level sites and I see audits that other people have done—and there are huge structural issues with the site and crazy stuff going on—and I look at an audit and they look at four or five main pages and make super-tactical recommendations about how to change the title tag on that one page to maybe rank a little bit better.
And it drives me completely crazy. Because sure it's a little thing that you can do, if your CMS even allows it which a lot consultants don't even understand it might not.
"But let's pick our battles here, and since we have limited engineering time you need to prioritize what you think is going to have the biggest effect." - John Doherty
However, I am full-on in support of large-scale title tag changes, those can have a huge impact. Cleaning up URLs on a section of the site can have a huge impact on enterprise-level websites. But the super tactical, "Reorganize this title tag on this one page to do this", I'm like that's great, but A: they can't do it, and B: what about these five million pages we shouldn't even have in the index that are eating up three-quarters of our crawl budget. Let's solve that one, and there are going to be a bunch of changes in there and we're going to do title tag changes and URL changes and all that sort of stuff.
But let's pick our battles here, and since we have limited engineering time you need to prioritize what you think is going to have the biggest effect. Which is exactly why I love it when I work with clients that have a dedicated growth engineering team because they're charged with this.
As Marshall said, SEO is a moving target, and that's job security for us but it's also frustrating when engineers just want to roll it out and forget about it and move onto something else. You have to be going back and measuring, tweaking, and optimizing. The "O" in SEO is optimizing, optimization. And that's not necessarily new things, it can be going back and tweaking things and making changes and on an enterprise level if you do it on a large scale, it can have a huge effect. So that's what I was getting at there.
Remove Barriers, Provide Context, and Use Tests to Prove Value
Nicholas: Well I think you touched on an incredibly important point which is that developers and SEOs ought to be more integrated. And SEOs complain a lot about being caught in a backlog of the devs, but I think a truly talented technical SEO has a much more solid understanding of web development.
They understand the time implications of any given recommendation they're giving and how to prioritize effectively too. Like you said, here's a simple technical fix that's really going to affect crawl budget and resolve all these millions of unnecessary dynamically generated pages or whatever. Simple things, that are pretty quick for a dev team to implement that will actually be much more effective and important than going through and making tedious changes.
Erin: And even small things like knowing how to write your zero ticket, knowing how to write your story so you have all the requirements in there. So the dev team doesn't have to hassle you or come find you.
Make it as little work for them as possible so they say "Yup these are all the requirements, I know exactly what I want to do, and this is what will be defined as a success", and they can start working on it immediately. But if you put in incomplete information and you don't know how to present things in the format that they're looking for, they're either going to pass it up or it's going to take even more time for them to hunt you down and find you. And you're going to lose trust with that dev team, really, really quickly.
Knowing how to code, and knowing that backend stuff is equally important. But putting it in the context of how they need it and eliminating any running around, "herding cats" moment is where you're going to find success from a tech standpoint.
Same thing with the test and learn approach. You're never going to go in there and rewrite a hundred, or a thousand different URLs because it's just not scalable and it's going to be so much work. But if you go in there and say listen—and we did this with our redirects years ago—why don't we test redirecting these five pages and let's just see what happens.
"Everything has to be small tests, and then let's go from there." - Erin Everhart
Meanwhile, we knew what was going to happen, we knew we'd see a lift from that. But redirecting five URLs versus redirecting 150,000 URLs was a much easier process and they could chew on that better. And when they see the results form this very small test that gives you the leverage, and the legs to stand on to roll it out sitewide.
Everything has to be small tests, and then let's go from there. Because you'll always get into the argument that "Well, we've never done it that way before", or "That's not how we do it here at X company", you have to figure out how to tell them I get we've never done it this way before but this is why we need to do it this way now, because of this expected lift which will translate back to revenue.
Nicholas: Right, and this is a perfect segue into our final question.
Question Three: How do you plan projects at the enterprise level?
The discussion for question three begins at 45:32.
Discussion surrounding question three wraps up at 54:32.
Nicholas: How do you plan projects at the enterprise level? And this is a unique stage of the planning process. At least in my experience it's unique to working with enterprise companies where you get a lot more pushback on any given idea that you give. Like Marshall mentioned earlier, you need to quantify why this is a good idea, and what you believe the forecasted impact is going to be.
Planning Enterprise SEO Projects
But I think enterprise-level SEO really keeps SEOs a lot more honest. It makes us run tests to prove our point, and take much more scientific approach to SEO, which I think is wise to do for any site. With a smaller site it's easier to just jump the gun and do everything, but at the enterprise level this is part of the planning process - actually developing the idea, quantifying the impact, and running a test to prove it.
And a lot times you'll get pushback, and you have to prove it with previous case studies or previous data and examples, and then you can actually push the project forward because it has weight to it.
But what other unique differences are there to you, within planning projects at Home Depot?
Erin: I try to think about things in terms of the calories it's going to take to implement the project. So it is the lift, and it is what you're going to be able to get from there.
But I decompartmentalize things in terms of hey, this is a really big rock. This is going to be a five year project or a two year project where we have to rewrite our code base, or we have to get buy-in from 1,500 people or whatever it may be. It's a really big rock, so I have those as something I would love to do in the future, but know this is kind of where we need to go.
Conversely, if there are things that I can do in a day or I can do in fifteen minutes that's a really quick change, and that's still going to have an incremental lift, I want to be able to tackle all of those little things.
So it's a really big puzzle and kind of Tetris match, where I know I need to move these big rocks forward slowly, but I know I can make these small changes within a week or however long it takes and I can still get a return from there.
So it's not just five million projects or ten million projects, it's how many calories is this worth? Am I going to bother somebody else on another team for harping on this particular thing over and over again? Or are they going to understand where it's coming from?
One of the best examples I can think of happened recently was we created a Father's Day gift ideas page. We did that to target the Father's Day gift-giver who has no idea what they want to get their Dad, or their husband, or the man in their life for Father's Day. They have to get something, but they still don't know what's going on, and that's a lot of search terms when it comes to Father's Day gift ideas, specifically around June.
"So that's how I plan projects, I know that this exits, or I know I can get these resources from somewhere else and I know it will be a quick win; I want to be able to do that first, so I can at least check something off my to-do list." - Erin Everhart
When we were thinking about it we were saying okay, we know we already have all this content that we could put on this page. We know that it's not going to physically cost any dollars to create this page, the only thing we had to do was engage with our creative team to say: all of this content already lives in separate places (and pointed out where that was), we have merchandising buy-in based off these are the products they want to feature on that page. And we packaged it up for them and basically gave it to them on a platter, and asked can you create this page? And they said, "Wow this doesn't take much effort at all, we can totally stand that page up for you".
So that's how I plan projects, I know that this exits, or I know I can get these resources from somewhere else and I know it will be a quick win; I want to be able to do that first, so I can at least check something off my to-do list. Or if not you're going to have this whole long list of things that are sitting in your backlog for years, and you're not going to be able to make any movement on it. So that's kind of my philosophy when it comes to planning things.
Nicholas: Right. Prioritize by path of least resistance.
John: I think that's really an awesome way to do it, because that's both a tactical test and it's also very strategic in that you can get them to build out this template that then you can use it for other projects. And you're setting a precedent for moving this stuff forward over time, and you've already proven that it can work and you're coming back and reporting on it, and you can make that argument time and time again and continue to move the business forward.
Erin: You completely touched on the reporting aspect. Any project that you plan—John is totally right—don't just set it and forget, report back. Even if it wasn't as great as you expected, what did you learn from it? Share those numbers, that's a big problem that we have. People are never going to know how great SEO is, unless you talk about how great SEO is.
Enterprise SEO Reporting
John: I'd be interested to hear what Marshall thinks about reporting on the enterprise level that he works on. Because he works across so many huge publishers and teams and such, and how do they go about doing that?
Marshall: We look at reporting on a number of different levels. So we look at year-over-year first off just to show growth, that just shows that things are working. We look at a rolling three month to hopefully maneuver around any kind of seasonality that may be affecting negatively or positively, we want to be able to look at that from a 5,000 foot view. And then we look at month-to-month, but honestly we don't necessarily disclose month-to-month numbers because that fills up my inbox.
It's for us, to see a canary in the coal mine, to see if there are any anomalies, or any problems that may be occurring, or any early warning systems, that's what we use it for essentially. So we don't communicate month-to-month.
Some clients really do want that, and they want to get even deeper into week-to-week and some are rocking in a corner as they look at day-to-day because that's just insane, because there's so much variation from how do people interact with content on a daily basis.
We know that users are much more active on Mondays than they are on Saturdays. We know that the news cycle—even if it's something really active—people aren't necessarily reading on the weekends, and good on them for getting outside hopefully.
"When you're working in a large organization we have to be sure to really filter it out, very high signal, and be very directive." - Marshall Simmonds
But those are things that are important to know for a release schedule. And that's the kind of information that we harvest and we communicate. So if we're going to launch a new initiative we want to do it on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. If there's a big social push, it's those first three days because then interaction drops off precipitously.
So that's the message we convey, but from a reporting standpoint that's not interesting to us because it's just noise. When you're working in a large organization we have to be sure to really filter it out, very high signal, and be very directive. And that's what that rolling three month and that year-over-year will show us.
Nicholas: I really like that perspective a lot. And I think that's always an issue with any marketing campaign, when you hyper-focus on the micro, month-to-month, that absolutely fills up the inbox.
And knowing that SEO is a long-term game, and almost every strategy we're implementing is meant to be a strategic growth, not necessarily a tactical boost—right here, right now—it reflects that better in reporting.
Question Four: Can you speak more on quantifying and qualifying the offline impact of SEO for enterprise?
The discussion for the final question starts at 55:00
The discussion ends at 58:25.
Nicholas: Can you speak more on quantifying and qualifying the offline impact of SEO for enterprise? I think was directed toward Erin when she mentioned this is a struggle at Home Depot where a majority of the revenue is coming from store sales, less from organic traffic. So maybe you can lead us off on this.
Erin: So we have an internal metric that we use, to where we know for every one dollar spent online it equals about X in-store. So I use that ratio to determine how I can impact my store sales.
I can easily get online revenue based off click-through-rate and click-through-curves from the SERPs standpoint, and then I just forecast that out, times that by the multiplier we have for our in-store sales, and that's the best and easiest way that I go to figure out where that in-store stuff is.
Nicholas: Interesting, that's smart.
I've heard of a pretty interesting plug-in that is a UTM switcher plug-in, so it has a unique phone number based on which medium the visitor comes to the website from. And then you can track calls to the specific phone number and at least tie the phone number into whatever medium the visitor of the website came from. It just changes the phone number on whatever UTM parameter you're using.
John, Marshall, do you have any final thoughts you want to add before we conclude this webinar?
John: Most of my experience has been in the online only, internet software space, at the enterprise level. But when I was working with the large hotel chain, it was interesting how we worked with hotel owners, because it was a franchise, and that sort of thing.
That was really an interesting lesson to me, because we focusing on SEO and driving traffic that way, but working alongside the other teams and seeing how the different parts of it worked together. They were basically working towards that one sort of metric Erin was talking about where X amount spent online equals this amount in bookings, so I think that's definitely a unique challenge.
Future of Enterprise SEO
John: Future-looking, it will be really interesting to see with beacons, and everyone having a smart phone in their pocket, and all of that. And I'm personally excited to see how that all evolves.
Nicholas: Yeah, the internet of things. And I know Will Critchlow talks about that a lot in terms of how everything is probably going to shift fairly radically as everything becomes connected to the internet. And who's going to be optimized for voice search of the refrigerator.
Marshall: Voice search in general I think is a big one. We're getting asks about that quite a bit, and right now it seems to be thrown into the dark search bucket which is very difficult to track. So we're waiting for some clarity on that, and it's just going to take time.
And that's a wrap!
We had a fantastic webinar, and it wouldn't be possible without the insight and knowledge shared by our expert panel. Thank you to all that attended, and many thanks to our panelists: Erin, John, Marshall, and Nicholas! Hope you enjoyed the recap, and see you next time!