This morning Jeff Preston, Disney’s SEO manager, Topher Kohan, the SEO coordinator for CNN, and Alex Bennert, an in-house SEO for the Wall Street Journal, will speak to an audience of several thousand people at PubCon on the topic of enterprise level in-house SEO. Having managed the SEO for some of the world’s most recognizable brands, each of these individuals can speak authoritatively on the subject. They are about to get started.
Bennert has worked with the Wall Street Journal and its properties for a little over three years. Prior to her time at WSJ she worked for an agency and several smaller companies.
Prior to working for Disney, Preton worked for an agency in Japan. After realizing Disney was not executing SEO well, Preston applied for and was hired to manage the SEO for the Disney.com flagship site as well as The Disney Channel, Disney movies, and several other Disney properties.
Kohan manages CNN.com, CNN Mexico, and several other CNN properties and his background includes working for small companies, the CDC, and several other companies.
What was your number one success?
Bennert: Moving to first click free – allows user to read one article for free, implementation of canonicalization tag across the whole site, and having the newsfeed sitemap on demand rather than incrementally.
Preston: Learning how to optimize a dynamic flash site that was being fed by a CSS – the site has to be fun since it is geared towards children.
Kohan: Election 2008 – he updated election data in real-time with cutting edge online reporting, but it was all in AJAX, which presented a problem for the bots. However, every piece of text was replicated so the search engines could process it correctly and drive organic traffic. 29% of total traffic that evening came from organic search on election night.
What was your number one “oops” moment and how did you correct it?
Bennert: When she first started at the WSJ she approached every group (i.e. IT, Executive Team, Editorial, IM) with the same message. Over time, she learned to tailor her message to each individual audience.
Preston: He will get super-generic terms (i.e. Cars) that correspond to movies or shows and sometimes he will have difficulty getting the site to rank for the generic term. He also has learned to give people the benefit of the doubt if they don’t complete a task — sometimes their superior has reassigned them to other tasks.
Kohan: The 2010 Midterm was a disaster for him. He felt like his team would execute well without much direction and they did not. They did not rank for simple election terms – 2008 pages were ranking over the current pages. It taught him no matter how small the event is put 100% into it.
One for in-house SEOs?
Bennert: Go to more meetings than you need to attend – they will get used to having you around and you will learn which meetings are essential. It is good to know everybody. The product cycle should include SEO and you should have the opportunity to review the product requirement document.
Preston: The bigger your organization gets, the more difficult it is to make the meetings of the other teams (PR, Marketing, IT, etc.) meetings. It is important to be involved with the other teams and make the majority of the meetings. It is during these times that you can educate people on what you do and make yourself indispensable.
Kohan: Manage the SEO appearance of your company – educate the people you work with. You don’t want to chase the algorithm you want to make exceptional/well-coded content the search engines will not be a problem. When you start as an in-house SEO, you are the enemy – you are making more work for them. Educate the journalists that you can bring them 500,000 more readers to their article and all of a sudden they don’t mind the extra work you are asking them to do.
Preston: If you were working on the agency side, how would you switch to in-house?
Kohan: Don’t go work for a top-tier organization initially. Cut your teeth on a smaller site, which will make your life much easier. Also, be your own advocate — give monthly updates that are specific to each team. These updates (reports) should “toot your own horn” and sell the continuation of SEO within the organization.
Bennert: The first thing to learn in an enterprise organization is patience. Things do not happen quickly at the enterprise level. Also, you may still be working with limited resources so tackle things a little bit at a time. Know everything about your IT department — buy them drinks, give them birthday gifts, and engage with them. These people can help you.
Preston (answering his own question): Celebrate your wins — If there is a big SEO lift, publicly thank the departments that helped you out. If you do this, they will be more likely to bail you out when you need them in the future.