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SEO For The Enterprise: My Interview With Marshall Simmonds

Enterprise-level SEO ain’t for the faint of heart. Marshall Simmonds is one of the top experts at Enterprise SEO and he took some time to answer some questions about his trade:

1. Please give us your background and tell us what you do for a living.

I’ve been working in the search industry since my 1997 start in Bend, Oregon.  I took a job with in 1999 managing their search strategy for the network.  This entailed a massive education process in what was considered a very new area of promotion.  I received invaluable experience in true strategic enterprise consulting when was acquired by publishing conglomerate Primedia.

This was my first foray working with and managing diverse (and sometimes competing) business models and teams across nearly 250 titles (e.g. MotorTrend, Seventeen, and American Baby) and nearly as many CMS platforms (angry fist shake at all-things-Vignette).  In 2005 was purchased by The New York Times Company.  My job then extended to include the Boston Globe, the International Herald Tribune and all 160 years of the archives (over 22 million pieces of content) with strict editorial procedures.  It was also in 2005 when joining the NYT, I got the go ahead to start Define Search Strategies – a boutique consultant group specializing in enterprise level SEO and SMO working with top brands and the major blue chip publishers.  In 2011 I officially spun Define off from the NYT under the new name Define Media Group, Inc. We harness some of the best industry minds and experience in search and social marketing.  Define excels at executing large audience development campaigns. Our priorities are analysis, educating organizations, and leveraging institutional knowledge to achieve business objectives.

2. On your corporate website, you talk about Enterprise Level Training.  Can you talk more about what that concept is and why it is necessary?

Integrating audience development best practices; awareness, keyword research and choice, good title, headline and META description creation, linking, social media promotion, and feedback (real-time and legacy) is critical to driving traffic.  It starts with upper management and extends through to the tech and product groups, marketing and content creators – essentially everyone.  If an enterprise organization is only half committed to a comprehensive audience development process it will fail.

There’s no doubt that in the beginning, there will be growing pains as is with any big shifts in strategy.  And yes, there will be whining!  Every major content producer must consider SEO in some way if they want to compete.  Why? Because your competition is doing it. The differentiator though comes down to execution.  Are the essential audience development strategies unique to a brand’s content being leveraged?  Are the best practices integrated into the day-to-day workflow and supported at all levels?  If not, it will fail.  If they are, content is given its best possible chance for placement out of the gate before the promotion cycles take over.

3. Frequently, Enterprise SEO is as much about managing people as it is about managing websites.  Can you talk about how you can best coax the stakeholders to do the tasks necessary to make the effort succeed?

Quite simply through examples and repetition. An example of failed attempts has a tremendous effect on those responsible as it is direct feedback on their work and the results.  Samples of successful attempts by competitors in that same scenario fuels the competitive spirit and adds perspective.  Of course acknowledgement is key too when the process goes smoothly.  However, this message must be repeated constantly through trainings and communication.

What’s more each enterprise level organization is different in this regard and how a company receives and acts on information must be considered and re-evaluated to insure at a minimum a basic level of understanding.

4. Can you talk about some Enterprise level crawling issues and how an Enterprise SEO might deal with them?

Indexation is the most common technical hurdle we encounter in any engagement.  Most of the time the problem revolves around the XML sitemap.  Sure sometimes it’s Google’s fault and you’ve found a bug, but more often it’s client-side.  Is the API you’re converting mistranslating the timestamp?  Are you utilizing the ‘lastmod’ and ‘publication_date’ tags to accurately differentiate articles (publishers commonly re-issue stories for correction and updates to breaking news and features)? Are you actively (*see daily) monitoring inclusion health?

That means to say is someone tasked with checking in WMT to insure the sitemap isn’t throwing off errors and if there is a situation is there a clearly defined process for immediate ticket elevation?  This protocol ultimately requires the CTO’s total buy-in to support the cause.

5. As you know, many Enterprise websites have lots of juicy data locked away in online databases accessible only by query.  What are some good methods to make that data crawl accessible?

Archives are treasure troves for potential revenue and residual traffic generation and yet simple automation isn’t an effective strategy.  It’s too easy to expose a database and end up with a bunch of low value pages that are basically just internal search results.

The play is to empower an editorial team to take available data and convert it into useful content.  This doesn’t mean a hub page or topic page strategy, because if you didn’t get in early (2005-2009) that time has passed. It’s more an opportunity to scrutinize and harvest internal search metrics to narrow the focus and only then create and link to pages with a high probably of success.  As with any project of this level: Test -> Evaluate -> Measure -> Adjust (and consider scalability).

6. How can an Enterprise-level social media strategy improve the overall SEO strength of the flagship site?

No real revelations here most SEOs don’t know but for the sake of validation (a common and necessary practice in our industry) it’s now a critical step in promotion even in this SMO infancy phase.  At the very least it demands (or should call for) a coordinated and centralized strategy.

That means to say the Social team needs to be talking to Search who needs to talk to Edit to determine, research and communicate the most accurate target market.  Ideally this spawns a consistent message across all platforms; headline/title optimization for news and websearch, Twitter, Blogs, RSS, Facebook for the early link grab.  More than just helping the long-term SEO play it facilitates an active strategic interaction across many moving parts within an organization.  If a company, no matter the size, can come together around a centralized effort, consider his or her responsibility and repeatedly act in a manner consistent with the communicated strategy? Success.

7. Can you talk about Enterprise-level universal search strategy and how the resources of a large organization might be utilized to produce diverse types of content that can be leveraged for SEO?

Universal search is my favorite Google enhancement over the last several years.  It turned a near mutually exclusive approach into a much more open effort.  A site with several types of digital assets; video, photo galleries, archives, the appeal of micro-formats, blogs etc has more opportunity than ever with high user engagement to back it up.  Extracting that data is typically the hardest part.  Brightcove certainly doesn’t make it easy to produce video sitemaps or employ a 1:1 video to URL format.  Photo gallery carousels are similar and often don’t have relevant context outside copyright info.  The reasons go on and these assets left “locked-away” as mentioned in question #5, leave money on the table and don’t effectively leverage all possible entry points into a site.  Securing the resources to extract, create, map, submit and monitor the effort is the real objective.

It’s more a question of understanding what monetizes well on the site and a CTO who believes.  Sure video is buzz-worthy right now but micro-formats and rich snippets result in a higher CTR and photo archives are always a solid resource investment.  Any good enterprise SEO knows well the benefits of analysis and salesmanship.  This entails the ability to demonstrate a market need and communicate how it can be satisfied with a product or service (hopefully yours).  It also demands insight to look beyond trends and argue against the quick gain temptations management loves.  Thankfully, SEO has moved past the days of pointing to ranking as a mark of success and well into the role of deeply affecting revenue and convertible traffic.

Follow Marshall on Twitter at @mdsimmonds

Category SEO
Todd Mintz SEMpdx

Todd Mintz knows PPC…knows Social Media…knows SEO…knows Blogging…knows Domaining…and knows them all real well. He is also a Director & ...

SEO For The Enterprise: My Interview With Marshall Simmonds

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