What is Enterprise SEO? (And Why It's Worth It)

Cara Bowles    By under SEO.

What Is Enterprise SEO?

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If you're here, you probably already know that SEO, or search engine optimization, is a form of marketing intended to increase visibility in search engines, draw in more search traffic, attract more relevant search visitors, and in general to work towards business goals by leveraging search engines and the users who come from them.

Odds are you also have at least a vague definition of what an enterprise is: a "big" business. Exactly what "big" means is a moving target, but it generally means a business that has hundreds or even thousands of employees. Some enterprises will have fewer employees, but they will have cost budgets of similar size, and simply rely more heavily on outsourcing or freelancers.

So the direct answer to the question "what is enterprise SEO" is self-explanatory: it's SEO for enterprises.

A more specific and helpful question is what makes enterprise SEO different from SEO for smaller businesses. While every enterprise business is different, they tend to have certain things in common that impact SEO in similar ways. SEOs without experience promoting enterprises will need to adjust their strategy to make a meaningful impact on an enterprise's search traffic.

Enterprises Already Have Press Coverage

There is some degree of natural press coverage that will happen regardless of any outreach efforts made by the SEO team. Small scale efforts to build links by placing guest editorials and reaching out to webmasters can often be a drop in the bucket by comparison. This doesn't mean enterprise SEOs shouldn't be thinking about links and ways to earn them, but it does dramatically change the approach.

Brand Name Search Traffic Is More Significant

Searches for an enterprise brand name are popular enough that a small business would consider it a win to rank for a query with similar levels of traffic. An enterprise will usually rank in the top position for its own one-word brand name. Enterprises are also likely to have searchers using the brand name in longer queries, not simply searching for the brand name, and this is an area where review sites, news media, blogs, and opportunistically optimized ecommerce competitors may outrank the enterprise for its own branded queries.

Enterprise Sites Are More Complicated

An enterprise doesn't have to have a larger or more complicated site than a small business, but they often do. More employees typically mean more hands have touched the website, which may mean more inconsistencies. A large number of pages can mean that many pages are neglected and not as optimized as they could be. It also means that a site redesign or any kind of sitewide change can have a dramatic impact on many sources of search traffic, and one wrong move can hurt a great deal more.

Enterprises are more likely to run on homebrew content management systems, to run custom-built web applications, to use multiple platforms, to require the involvement of developers to make edits, and are less likely to run on WordPress or a similar platform.

Enterprises Have Multiple Brands

It's very common for enterprises to have a history of acquiring other brands, going through mergers, and promoting products and services under different brand names. This creates opportunities for both traffic and monumental mistakes, that aren't possible with smaller businesses. An acquisition can be an opportunity to acquire all of the search traffic of another brand, but overzealous redesigns and rebranding after an acquisition can also result in throwing away an acquired brand's search traffic in ways that can't be completely recovered from.

Owning multiple brands can be an opportunity to infuse a brand with authoritative links that most competitors can't compete with. But it can only be done within the scope of Google's guidelines.

Enterprises Have More Stakeholders

Enterprises are often publicly traded companies. They always have a relatively large number of executives, and permissions and access to make changes to a site are rarely straightforward. Developers may be needed to implement many changes, which makes earning buy-in even more important than usual. An SEO team will need to effectively communicate and collaborate with a much larger number of stakeholders in order to get work done in an enterprise than when working with a smaller business.

One of the biggest challenges of SEOs working for an enterprise is overcoming the hurdles that can prevent them from making changes to the site that can have a noticeable impact on search traffic.

How Enterprise SEO Helps Business

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Organic search traffic remains a very important channel for online business. Fifty-three percent of all trackable web traffic comes from organic search. Organic search is also one of the highest converting traffic sources as of 2019. At 2.6 percent, it outperforms social media (1.1 percent), display ads (0.3 percent), direct traffic (2.1 percent), and email (2.5 percent). It ties with paid search and is beat only by referral traffic's 3.0 percent.

SEO helps an enterprise by:

  • Growing search engine traffic.
  • Increasing brand impressions in search results.
  • Identifying unfulfilled market demand from search traffic.
  • Improving search engine traffic conversion rates.
  • Expanding the mouth of your lead generation funnel.
  • Capturing existing demand from search traffic that wasn't properly targeted.

Many SEO efforts also benefit other marketing efforts. Earning links in a way that offers long term SEO benefit is likely to also earn referral traffic, as well as business relationships with influencers that can extend into social media and other channels. More first impressions from search engines can lead to more direct traffic, and more direct traffic, in turn, can improve behavioral metrics that search engines use to identify authoritative sites, creating a virtuous cycle.

The results of SEO are cumulative, meaning that SEO labor tends to add to long term monthly metrics, rather than a single month's metrics. Where X amount of money spent on paid advertisements will give you Y amount of visitors once, Z amount of, for example, blog posts will give you Y amount of visitors every month. While this is a simplification, it gets at the root of the strategic difference.

Is Enterprise SEO Necessary?

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Most business models don't strictly need SEO to be successful, but nearly every business can benefit from it. The opportunities for a relatively small amount of labor to produce a great deal of movement are, in most cases, more pr0minant for enterprises than for small businesses.

To understand the importance and potential of SEO, it paradoxically helps to understand why enterprises don't strictly "need" it. Virtually every modern business needs search engine traffic, but the way modern search engines work, a business that is doing a good job of promoting itself will usually be doing a good job of building trust with search engines as a byproduct.

SEO sees the trust an unoptimized enterprise site has built with search engines as a treasure trove of unexploited opportunities.

Most enterprises will not have done the work of identifying exactly what their target consumers are searching for. An enterprise site that has built trust with search engines can capture traffic for almost any keyword more easily than a small business can. Enterprise SEO leverages this advantage combined with knowledge of what searchers are typing into Google to capture unfulfilled demand.

Most enterprises don't understand how their existing promotional efforts impact search traffic, and as a result, fail to see how a few small tweaks to their promotional strategy could significantly impact the amount of search traffic they are capable of drawing.

Most enterprises have done very little work to help search engines understand what the pages on their site are about. This is especially common for ecommerce sites with thousands of pages. Many enterprise sites serve multiple copies of the same pages at different addresses, have no clearly defined keywords for most of their pages, have poorly optimized images, haven't leveraged subtitles, and are serving little to no original content on most of their pages.

So while enterprise SEO isn't strictly necessary for most enterprises, setting it aside is leaving important opportunities and competitive advantages on the table.

How To Do Enterprise SEO

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Enterprise SEO is an industry much more than it is a skillset. While any individual who is doing SEO for an enterprise is technically doing enterprise SEO, the industry is much larger than the skills of a single individual. For that reason, it's impossible to answer the question "how do you do enterprise SEO?" with a comprehensive series of instructions or lessons that would fit in a single blog post, or, frankly, a single person's lifetime.

The only way to answer the question is in terms of broad strategy, and who belongs on an SEO team, because effective enterprise SEO is always a team effort.

The labor of enterprise SEO mostly falls within the following skillsets:

  • Strategy
  • Web development and technical SEO
  • Market and keyword research
  • Content creation
  • Outreach
  • Data analysis
  • Conversion rate optimization
  • Lead nurturing

Strategists

An SEO strategist focuses on the big picture. Any good strategist will take the ideas of everyone on the team to heart when deciding on a direction. A strategist may use the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) method to keep work focused on outcomes rather than output, as well as iterative Agile techniques to adjust to the swiftly changing industry.

The most vital skills a strategist should have come from project management, but they should have enough history with technical SEO to understand how search engines tend to respond to certain types of labor. A strategist with project management skills but not SEO knowledge will not understand the most effective goals to set or the best way to organize resources to achieve them.

Developer SEOs

A developer SEO, or technical SEO, should have a history with web markup and code, as well as knowledge of how search engines operate, and a familiarity with web standards. Most of the work of a developer SEO or technical SEO will revolve around optimizing metadata and site structure, running audits, and addressing HTML errors and server errors.

A developer SEO may also build applications and tools, either to partially automate SEO tasks or to create user-facing applications that engage users and contribute to the kind of user behavior that brings in more search traffic and more trust with search engines.

Market And Keyword Research

Market research in SEO involves identifying what kinds of searches are already drawing traffic to the site, and identifying what else potential customers are searching for that hasn't been targeted yet. A market researcher for an enterprise SEO team will also likely identify what keywords competitors are using, and may find market opportunities by cross-referencing sites from other industries with overlapping consumer bases.

Their primary goal is to identify unfulfilled demand. This can be a demand for specific types of content and applications that can attract attention for brand impressions and lead generation. It can also be a demand for products and services the enterprise could consider selling.

The market research may also delve into competitive research, analyzing not only what search traffic competitors are targeting, but what SEO strategies they are using that could be emulated or outmaneuvered.

Content Creation

Content creators in the SEO industry have the dual skillset of being able to produce content that keeps users engaged, while also producing content that is easy for search engines to parse and interpret and to do so in a way that leverages the knowledge offered by SEO market research.

Content creators will likely not only produce content for an enterprise site, but also for publication on other platforms for promotional purposes.

Content creators are arguably the most diverse set of workers in the SEO industry since they can specialize in producing text or multimedia, in generating leads or converting them into sales, and in one of various platforms including company blogs, a site's sales pages, guest editorials for other sites, and creating content for one of many different social media platforms.

Some content creators may have more overlap with the technical SEO or keyword research side of SEO than others, and devote more energy towards editing existing content to be more effective with search engines.

Outreach

SEO professionals who focus on outreach are essentially SEO-savvy promoters.

Search engines have changed many times over, but for nearly twenty years links between sites and pages have remained a very important signal that search engines rely on to gauge the subject matter and authority of pages on the web.

From a pure SEO perspective, the goal of outreach is to earn links from other websites.

Outreach for enterprise SEO requires a different approach than outreach for small businesses, however. As we discussed above, enterprises are usually earning some natural press on their own. An approach to outreach that focuses on earning one link at a time can be relatively ineffective under these conditions.

Instead, outreach for enterprise SEO puts more focus on multiplying the effects of press coverage, increasing press coverage in a way that is likely to lead to more people linking to the site, and engaging in campaigns that are likely to earn links.

An outreach professional should be skilled at building relationships with influential people on the web, who have the power not only to link to your site with authoritative links but also to attract audiences large and influential enough to send meaningful links of their own.

Outreach professionals may also rely on competitive research for information about how competitors and other sites have earned their own links. This can lead not only to strategy ideas but to potential contacts and relationships.

Data Analysis

Good SEO tends to be a highly data-driven field, and at the level of enterprise SEO, the amount of data analysis required warrants hiring a professional entirely for data analysis.

The work of an analyst is to use the wealth of data an SEO team obtains and creates in order to provide meaningful feedback and actionable information.

Analysts act as a sort of sidekick to every other role within an SEO team. They inform strategy, provide data for technical SEO, assist in market and keyword research, measure the effectiveness of content and outreach strategies, and inform conversion rate optimization and lead generation strategies.

Analysts provide other team members with the data they need to do their jobs most effectively, in the format that is most useful for each member of the team.

They are also best suited for measuring the effectiveness of tactics and strategies the team has been employing, isolating the impacts of the team from the noise surrounding it.

Conversion Rate Optimization

Conversion rate optimization, or CRO, can be thought of as a separate discipline from SEO since it is about finding ways to get more conversions out of existing traffic, rather than growing traffic. However, there is a lot of overlap, and when the focus is on optimizing conversions from search engine traffic, this is literally a form of search engine optimization.

CROs with SEO knowledge combine the psychology and hypothesis testing techniques of generic CRO with knowledge of search engine traffic and the engines themselves. Information about what keywords a page is ranking for in search engines leaves a CRO better equipped to understand what will help them convert.

Pages sometimes rank for a diverse range of search queries, and other pages on the site may be a better fit for many of the users that land on a page. Knowledge of which keywords pages are ranking for helps CROs understand when and where to place calls to action to send visitors to other pages where they are more likely to convert.

Lead Nurturing

Like CRO, lead nurturing doesn't necessarily fall under the SEO umbrella, but a lead nurturing strategy heavily interlaced with the SEO team and the overall SEO strategy is a good and powerful thing.

Many SEO and lead nurturing strategies, isolated from each other, tend to target consumers much closer to the bottom of the funnel, who are very close to making a purchase already.

Without lead nurturing, an SEO strategy that puts more emphasis on search queries further away from the bottom of the funnel can be very successful at growing traffic and brand impressions without having much impact on sales. Without SEO, a lead nurturing strategy that focuses on high up the funnel consumers tends to demand too many resources invested in advertisements or social media promotion to be profitable.

When the two work in synchronization, however, SEO focused on long-tail traffic can feed long-term lead nurturing campaigns, creating a synergy that isn't otherwise possible.

How Much Does Enterprise SEO Cost?

According to a survey by seoClarity, enterprise investment in SEO varies dramatically. Nearly half (45 percent) of businesses with more than 500 employees invested more than $20,000 per month. Seventy-six percent of them invested more than $5,000. Surprisingly, 11 percent invested less than $1,000 per month.

We discuss the costs of SEO in this post and conclude that a business of any size can't effectively outsource SEO for anything less than $4,000 per month. This shouldn't be at all surprising, considering the average SEO professional makes $81,103 per year, or roughly $6,800 per month. Anything less than that is below the costs of labor in the industry, and you shouldn't expect anything more than access to SEO software in that price range.

The seoClarity study mentioned above found that the typical SEO team had two to five members, with 40 percent of enterprises falling into this category. Seventeen percent had more than 20 SEO employees, and 19 percent had only one employee. Only one percent had no SEO employees.

Investing more certainly doesn't guarantee success, but the seoClarity study found that 46.8percent of businesses that spent over $20,000 per month on SEO considered themselves "successful." No other spending category came close, with only 17 percent of companies in the $5,000 to $10,000 range reporting themselves as successful. How SEO spending was invested was very important, however, since those spending over $20,000 a month were also most likely to be frustrated with the results.

Start Doing Enterprise SEO Right

Many of our clients at Northcutt are enterprise-level businesses. To learn more about how we recommend approaching enterprise SEO, here is our proven process.