I have spent the better part of my career dealing with enterprise level issues (both working in one and being an outside consultant). While some of the basic issues that impact smaller businesses such as having XML sitemaps, and well defined HTML elements are very similar, there are three things that differ and change the way you need to think about how you deploy Search. These are:
- Organizational Co-ordination
Did You Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight?
The scale of search and the challenges they present can be very unique to large companies. The two biggest challenges I see commonly are miss identifying issues, and poorly planned strategies.
Let’s look at miss identifying issues, I have seen several times the suggestion to large enterprise sites that already have hundreds of thousands of links built up that they need more links. Not a specific page but the site in general.
At whatever point it was that link building became a main currency of SEO this simply didn’t scale well for large enterprises. The arena in which they play may be measured by hundreds of thousands of links that gap between some of the most critical pages (think home page and top level product pages).
Sometimes you just have to identify which battles can or cannot be won, or you need to come up with a very, very unique value proposition for people to want to link to your site.
The other issue is poorly planned strategy. Large enterprises who have budgets measuring in the scale of millions of dollars per month can often fall into the pitfall of spend, spend, spend some more. Managing the volume of keywords that millions of dollars can purchase typically means automated bidding and rule based solutions. The challenge is these solutions are still only as good as the people seeding them. As well only a few take into account cannibalization of organic search terms.
Buying and spending at this volume means a clearly defined plan (and no I’m not just talking about what customers to target) but how you will maximize quality score to minimize cost per click, as well how you will maximize ROI by aligning to conversion when traffic is delivered. I do believe that paid search should deliver a significantly better conversion than almost any other channel because as a marketer you control the entire customer experience from search term (intent of what they want) through to the landing page. Paid search is more than simply buying keywords.
Sponsorship: Whoever Controls the Money Controls the Power
It amazes me that even today getting executive buy in for search strategy both SEO and Paid Search is not always a given. The largest challenge is that most individuals that control the dollars are not educated in the benefits of search, and to be clear I do not blame them.
No the blame rests on the marketing teams that expect to be given dollars because it’s search. I seldom see well thought out business plans that articulate the value of search to a company. A good plan should include what impact will search have on revenue, what sort of investment is required, how long until profitability is achieved, and what sort of peripheral impacts can search have beyond revenue generation or cost savings. Yes cost savings, online support is typically more cost effective than dealing with a phone call, but if someone can’t find online support they’ll seek out a phone number and call.
Also keep in mind often one presentation of the value of search is not enough to always get full buy in, you may need to go through several stages:
- Proof of Concept
- Short term investment
- Long term support
- Organizational Acceptance
At any point a program can get killed if perceived value is not recognized, my only advice is clearly define success measurements before kicking off, re-validate just before launch, adjust to succeed against those measures, and repeat.
People and Organizations: The Final Frontier
The last and biggest challenge is when search is organizationally accepted but fragmented. This happens when you have many teams and each has a responsibility for search. I see this fragmentation happen in different ways; it can be across product lines, business unites, or separating paid and organic search.
More money and time is probably lost because of poorly defined roles and responsibilities. Without governance and oversight like any other department it can quickly turn to lost time and revenue. My personal take is to define a single center of excellence, I have worked in one and it was successful, but it also requires the right people and the right level of authority.
It does not have to own all the budgets, but it should have the over sight and governance to mandate and determine how certain keywords are split or owned, and they should be able to work across organizations and functions. They should also host your subject matter experts. The team doesn’t have to be large it just has to be smart and empowered. Having an SEO expert, a paid search expert, an analyst or two, a strategist, and technologist can be a very strong team and should enabled to participate in all search conversations in an organization.
While this is a top line view of some challenges of enterprise search each of these have layers upon layers of challenges that need to be thought out and planned for, as well it is also not a one size fits all regardless of what a software supplier may say. Process and challenges need to be addressed specific to an organization and that can take time to build upon. It also why at times we see the little guys out maneuver the larger enterprise. The ability to test adjust and control more facets of your search program quickly and in a tight knit group can be an empowering thing. Enterprises just need to learn how to scale that model up.