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Laying the Foundation for In-House SEO Success in Large Organizations: Part II

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In Part I of this article, I began debunking the arguments against having an in-house search engine optimization (SEO) team, especially in a large organization. I talked about elements of a core SEO team, as well as ways to establish in-house SEO as a cross-functional effort. I also discussed setting targets for both the core team and individual business units engaged in elements of SEO. Here in Part II, I'll offer some guidance for how to help those various teams reach those targets.

Identifying and Prioritizing Problems

With the targets set, now it is time for the teams to prioritize their work. When it comes to SEO, it ultimately it boils down to these two issues: indexing and ranking. Seems simple, right? Well, it's not – but there are ways to organize and strategically attack both.

Begin with identifying the areas that are a problem for indexing (if you want to have a chance to compete, you have to show up first), then identify the areas that are a problem for ranking and prioritize in order of impact based on resources as well as the amount of time it will take.

Indexing
Can you answer how many pages you have for each content area and/or product area?

If you can't answer that, you need to find out in order to see how much disparity there is between how many pages you have published and how many pages have been indexed by Google, Yahoo and MSN.

One way to determine how many pages *approximately* exist is to use an open source crawler, such as Nutch or Heritrix, to crawl your pages. Step two is to determine approximately how many pages are in Google, Yahoo and MSN (I recommend using site: as it restricts the returned hits to a specific Web site). Next, determine what the difference is between how many pages you can crawl (or how many you have determined to exist based on some other method) vs. how many are in each of the main indices to determine the percentage of pages indexed.

If there is a large discrepancy (more than 20 percent) between content that exists and the pages that have been indexed (knowing that "site:" does not provide the total number of pages in the index) then you should dive into the channel(s) or product(s) pages to uncover the problem(s) that could create issues for crawlers.

A couple of examples that could create issues/block crawlers are:

  • Using mandatory cookies
  • An improper redirect
  • Partner content that can't be crawled
  • A secure login that blocks the crawlers from reaching the content post-login
  • Orphaned pages (pages that do not have a link to them)

By having this "% of pages indexed" benchmark, it will at least help you begin to troubleshoot and figure out if these are pages that you even want to, or care to, have indexed. Then, if necessary, define the tactics to get more of your content in the index and work towards execution.

Ranking
Granted, no search engine is going to tell you exactly how their algorithm works, but you can get a pretty good idea of what will carry more weight than not when it comes to SEO to help you focus. If you are unsure of what these factors might be, you can read the search engine ranking factors document created from the collective wisdom of 37 leaders in the world of organic search engine optimization. The information in that document is not provided directly by the search engines, but it can give you an idea of what many of those who work on SEO every day think is important.

Once you understand what ranking factors carry more weight, you can strategically lay these out based on resources, time and effort to tackle these factors that will provide you with a "bigger bang for the buck." Then begin to execute accordingly.

Tracking Consistent SEO Metrics – Unification

Since SEO is an important part of garnering traffic/customers for a company, you should provide transparency into the numbers as well as specifying what needs to be tracked and why.

First, define the SEO metrics to be tracked and the methodology for pulling the data to help ensure consistency no matter who is publishing the numbers.

Next, consider creating a monthly "SEO Report Card" dashboard to communicate results per channel/product to be distributed across the company. The dashboard will provide transparency on how everyone is performing and should track agreed upon metrics such as:

  • Search referrals: month to month actuals
  • Tracking/trending to monthly referral target (per content channel/product): is the content area/product channel hitting/missing/exceeding its monthly target
  • Visits from organic search vs. overall Web site Visits: determines the % of traffic coming from organic search
  • Page Views per Visit (PV/V): what is the quality of traffic coming from organic search and how does that compare to the quality of traffic from other means of traffic generation? In other words, are visitors coming through organic search more/less/equally as engaged?

Increasing Consistency – A Little Organization Goes a Long Way

There is so much information out there on the Web today about SEO and search marketing in general. As many of you know, not all of it is accurate and much of it is outdated.

One of the challenges is people not understanding the cause and effect of their actions (on SEO). I have worked at companies where people were trying to do the right thing, but were unaware of the effect of their actions.

In one case, a number of years ago, I was working at a company (this was pre-AOL) where the marketing team got our entire Web site kicked out of Google's index. Ouch. The marketing team had started testing different versions of the home page, to see how people responded to various layouts, not knowing that the way they were serving these pages caused Google to believe we had created multiple doorway pages. It took about two months to set things right again and in the interim, we lost a lot of valuable traffic to our competition.

In order to help avoid these issues, you should create company "SEO standards" in order to drive a consistent approach to SEO for all teams. These SEO standards should also be incorporated into the company's standard design/technical documentation forms such as product/marketing/design requirements templates.

As mentioned earlier, the SEO team should develop SEO training to help the teams across the company learn SEO in order to be successful in their role of optimizing for search. This SEO training can be done by leveraging the internal SEO SMEs or hiring an outside firm.

If you use the internal SEO SMEs to do the training, you need to be mindful of their time. One way to manage their time is to have regularly scheduled training courses and publicly publish the dates of when SEO training will be available so the SMEs can plan their schedules accordingly. Or you can hire a company to do the training on a regular basis. Either option will do; it more depends on your flexibility and your budget.

How Will it All Work?

In the end it looks something like this:

061307-Mitchell.jpg

One last thing to consider is having an internal SEO Wiki or an intranet to post information related to the SEO program. This can include everything mentioned above (SEO targets, monthly dashboard reporting, SEO documentation, training materials, training schedule) as well as posting internal SEO wins/challenges, internal case studies, lessons learned, recommended reading material to learn more on their own, provide a forum for people to ask SEO SMEs questions (retain a running Q&A so you are not answering the same questions over and over) and anything else to inspire and excite the masses.

The very essence of leading the SEO effort is that you have to have vision. The key point in succeeding is that you don't tell people exactly how to do things – you teach them what to do, hold people accountable and let them (pleasantly!) surprise you with their results.

In my next article, I will tackle paid search and why it makes sense to centrally manage it in a large organization.

Melanie Mitchell is the vice president of SEO/SEM at AOL. Melanie has over eight years of experience in Web site promotion and over six years experience in search marketing for major sites across several industries including travel, local, entertainment, ecommerce, news and sports. She has managed SEO and PPC campaigns both in-house and from the agency side.


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