Last year, I "called out" American Express for issuing a handbook ("OPEN BOOK, a Practical Guide for Business Growth") to all small business owners that provided them "helpful advice" on how to run and market their businesses. Their handbook was a compilation from many sources, including an "expert" interactive marketer who suggested that companies "Don't waste money on a so-called Search Engine Optimization (S.E.O.) Specialist."
From this, I quickly analyzed the Web sites ranking on Google for the keyword "credit cards" and suggested that American Express might want to do something to compete with these smaller companies who were kicking their butt in organic search. I even went so far as to do a quick Web site review and offered some SEO advice.
Obviously, the folks at American Express either don't read my column or they seriously don't believe in SEO. If you were to try to go to www.americanexpress.com, you would see a 301 redirect to https://home.americanexpress.com, which then 302 redirects to https://home.americanexpress.com/home/mt_personal.shtml?. I dug a little deeper and found that www.americanexpress.ca is set up in the same manner, as is www.americanexpress.co.uk. I can only assume that this goes on and on.
From this, you might presume that the industry is still in a pretty good position, with the big boys staying out of the game, and allowing for smaller -- more nimble and hungry -- marketers to compete in this space. While I don't have the research to back this up, I'm hearing a lot more major companies discussing getting on the SEO bandwagon.
This could be a product of our economic state (companies looking for more efficient ways to market their businesses), or it could just be the natural evolution of marketing (a move toward digital marketing and accountability for marketing dollars spent). Aside from this, if you listen carefully to what Google CEO Eric Schmidt said last October, you'll perhaps see that he'd lifted the lid on what they're trying to achieve with their algorithm:
The Internet is fast becoming a "cesspool" where false information thrives, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said yesterday. Speaking with an audience of magazine executives visiting the Google campus here as part of their annual industry conference, he said their brands were increasingly important signals that content can be trusted.
"Brands are the solution, not the problem," Mr. Schmidt said. "Brands are how you sort out the cesspool."
Getting back to American Express, when I revisited Google's results for the keyword phrase "credit cards," I saw some leading brands ranking now that weren't last year. By and large, the smaller companies still outpace the larger brands, but BankRate and Mastercard are in the top 10 and Citi Cards and Bank of America are in the top 20.
Now, I can quickly see that MasterCard has given some consideration to SEO, but their Web site is hardly a case study for best practices. They're enjoying their ranking because they're a huge brand, they have a huge amount of "cred", and have a huge number of quality backlinks.
I guess it's nice when people who use your services also link to your Web site to show that they "accept Mastercard." Smaller companies don't have this luxury.
This shows that all large brands have to do is get out of their own way just a little to zoom to top rankings and large traffic gains. American Express hasn't figured this out, yet.
These larger Web sites have all of the "natural" elements that search engines look for. More often than not, they've put a lot of money into developing quality content on their Web sites, they have loads of partners and vendors who are willing (perhaps "forced"?) to link to them in a certain manner. All they have to do is build a Web site that is remotely search engine friendly and institute some basic best practices for SEO and they'd enjoy the benefits that it has taken smaller firms years to accomplish.
That's a bit of a scary proposition for those who help smaller marketers compete in organic search.
It seems that our jobs just keep getting tougher. The search engines are continually on the lookout for holes in their algorithms (things which are easy to exploit/manipulate), more companies are looking toward SEO as a cheap, efficient, and effective manner to grow their businesses, and now it seems that more large brands are trying to get their heads wrapped around SEO and to actually move forward with these initiatives. Smaller brands, and those SEOs who work with smaller brands, need to gear up to wage war like never before.
Just as we saw with the start-up of the PPC model (entry point was low until there was more demand and higher bidding), we'll see the same with SEO. If it takes more work to provide SEO, then it's common sense that prices also will need to go up (time really is money).
However, for many of these large brands, the investment is a drop in the bucket. With proper consultation, these large brands could begin to dominate, if they just learn to get out of their own way.
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