SEO at the enterprise level has unique challenges smaller sites just don’t typically face.
To find out what those were, I asked enterprise SEO professionals and agencies with enterprise SEO clients what their biggest challenges were, and how they thought enterprise SEO differs from SMB SEO.
As expected, I receive a variety of responses, but by far the most common involved the challenge of scale.
What Is Scale in SEO?
When we talk about scale in reference to SEO, we mean the ability to assess, prioritize, and perform vital SEO tasks and campaigns at the huge level necessary for sites (or networks of sites) with a massive number of pages.
At the enterprise level, discovering and implementing the efficiencies of scale is essential, both technically and socially (having to interact and cooperate with others in your organization).
As @SEOGoddess put it:
“…the volume of everything changes everything. More pages, more data, more people to work with, more money [available and at stake].”
Melanie Phung adds:
“An in-house SEO is more like a product management track than a marketing track. It’s all about optimizing at scale and making business cases why your requests deserve priority, not one-off decisions. Think turning an aircraft carrier vs. a speed boat.”
But before we turn to the many challenges inherent to SEO at the enterprise level, let’s take a brief look at its positives and advantages.
Positive Aspects of Enterprise SEO
Even though a lot of things about large-scale SEO can be more difficult, there are some distinct advantages and perks to working at that level.
Ela Iliesi says:
“I can’t explain the joy of having a team of front and back end devs as well as content writers to make all SEO directions come true! Plus being able to discuss big issues with an international team of SEOs working for the same group.”
If Holly Miller Anderson had to name one advantage of enterprise SEO, it would be time. She says:
“Smaller businesses only have so much time to grow relying on SEO as a channel before resources, money, etc. run out. Enterprise sites have a longer burn rate because income is calibrated across many sources & internal teams.”
On the other hand, Jacque Urick’s “one word” positive is “resources.”
The potential to acquire large, meaningful, impactful resources is so much greater for an enterprise, whether it’s tools, headcount, skills, etc. With scale there is huge opportunity.
That’s the main difference I see.
— Jacque Urick (@moarinternets) March 30, 2021
JP Sherman enjoys:
“Taking ownership of the projects, being able to influence and see the results of long term efforts & lastly, being able to run interesting experiments.”
@laminky also lauded the ability to run large tests, adding:
“I get to see results much quicker based on the sheer number of pages you have to test and the traffic they’re getting.”
The Biggest Scaling Problem: Internal Politics & Buy-In
It’s probably obvious that SEO pros handling larger sites would have some unique technical challenges, but by far the most-mentioned scale problem brought up by the enterprise SEO pros I talked with involved organizational obstacles.
According to @langlishe:
“You go from being the expert (small business) to being another cog who wants their business case action[ed] (enterprise level). You have to fight a lot more for small changes and have more data and evidence,” .
Topher Kohan counsels taking a larger view:
“A good In-House knows where SEO fits in the business and when to put the needs of the business ahead of the SEO needs. Should also know to spell out what the impact will be if the SEO task is delayed.”
Gabe Gayheart agrees, adding:
“The SEO plan, should align with executive teams goals. That involves politics, teaching and collaboration.”
As much as enterprise SEO experts might wish to be valued for their technical expertise, too often much of their time is spent on trying to prevent other stakeholders from ruining their work.
As Phil Wade shared:
It's often about stopping the business doing the wrong thing, rather than your expertly crafted audit based plan.
While you're busy on this, the dev teams latest update is modifying every URL and the brand team are changing 'Black Friday Deals' to 'Black Friday Offers'.
— Phil Wade (@iamphilwade) March 30, 2021
Steve Plunkett and others brought up the constant delays while waiting for approvals, whether from leadership, IT, security, dev, content, or creative teams. Others added having to wait for others to implement your strategies or changes once they have been approved.
Natalie Mott brought up what she called “excessive levels of scrutiny” over her recommendations, as opposed to “SEO on smaller sites, [where] generally you’ll make a recommendation and the client/dev will implement it.”
Sara Grube stressed the need to invest in providing education for other stakeholders. This includes dispelling SEO myths and misconceptions as well as what should be prioritized. For example, when she started her new position one of the first things she had to do was get the focus off Alexa rank.
Several large-site SEO pros preferred to see these challenges as opportunities rather than hindrances.
As James Scroggie put it:
SEO truly becomes the glue between all channels. Anticipating what another department / territory will do next to ensure that SEO is always considered both first, and last in every discussion concerning web change. Entrenching yourself in every meeting that might have an SEO play
— James Scroggie (@seoscroggie) March 30, 2021
SEO: Scale Thyself
Out of the hundreds of responses I received to my requests for enterprise SEO professionals to share their biggest challenges, I think this was my favorite.
You need to scale yourself, because you are likely on a small team or the only SEO in the building. To scale yourself, start by meeting as many people as you can across all the functional teams and find a way to solve/inform one of their problems using SEO Data. Rinse and repeat.
— J. James Patterson (@JJPattersonSEO) March 30, 2021
We know from my company’s many enterprise-level clients that in most cases no matter how large the business or site, the SEO team is often relatively small; and more often than you’d think, just one person.
So learning to scale yourself – your time, availability, capacities, relationships – is perhaps the most essential skill for an enterprise SEO.
I love Patterson’s strategy of becoming a problem-solver for people on teams you’ll need to work with. When you solve someone’s problem, they’re likely to be eager to help you when you need it.
That being said, if you can build a dedicated SEO team, you definitely should, but given the problems of scale you face at the enterprise level, it needs to be a team of highly skilled specialists.
As Martin McGarry put it:
“You can’t rely on generalists to perform in all areas of SEO. You’ll need an expert tech SEO, a dedicated content strategist, on-page analyst, link acquisition team, conversion analyst & maybe more.”
Jairus Mitchell added that understanding process is also an essential personal skill, particularly being able to navigate internal processes and workflows.
Scaling Tech: The Actual Work of SEO
It’s interesting that so many of the responses had little or nothing to do with what most of us would think of as the main actual work of an enterprise SEO: maintaining, repairing, and improving the technical aspects of your company’s site.
Obviously, most SEO pros at that level realize they’ll never get to do that work if they haven’t first cleared away the obstacles and met the other needs mentioned above.
But that doesn’t mean they are unaware of the unique technical challenges of large-scale SEO…
Tessa Bonacci Nadik sums it up well:
“Enterprise SEO isn’t always as simple as “best practices.” Sometimes, because of the way the business monetizes or operates, best practices are simply impossible. Out-of-the-box thinking and problem-solving abilities become absolutely critical for a successful program.”
For one thing, says Ryan Jones:
“Enterprise-level SEOs deal with lots of complicated technical issues that just don’t exist for small businesses. External link building is less important, but internal crawl errors matter a LOT more.”
Ben Barker agrees, adding:
“On the enterprise sites it’s often the basics that drive the most value but are the hardest to implement.”
That means being able to prioritize what gets fixed first is critical. Malte Landwehr advises:
“If it does not affect at least 100,000 URLs, don’t waste time to investigate it.”
Add to that the complications introduced by the “black box” nature of search engines:
Fighting for priority with dramatically poorer data. Everyone is fighting for resources but SEO is fighting in the dark. From Not Provided to multi touch attribution, we are at a constant disadvantage to get resources.
— Russ Jones (@rjonesx) March 31, 2021
Scale That Mountain
Chatting with all these enterprise SEO professionals over the past week made me proud to be part of the industry that supports them.
They face daunting challenges, almost superhuman in their complexity and size.
But using the concept of scale, they learn how to leverage what they have and make the impossible happen.