Author: Eli Schwartz
To some, the term “enterprise SEO” connotes something big and scary, but in truth, enterprise SEO was probably given its name by software vendors who wanted to charge a lot for the same tools that small businesses pay small monthly fees for.
A better name for “enterprise SEO” is simply “SEO at large scale.” The actual levers that work for SEO in a much smaller business still work in a bigger one, it is just the scale at which changes are made and the impact the changes will have that is different.
The size of the website means that change happens at a different pace, so while for a small website a change can occur with a simple publish button, on a larger website (and certainly one at a larger company) change requires significantly more coordination and effort. A small website or company might have one webmaster who manages all aspects of a web presence, while a big website and company will have entire teams dedicated to each component of the web presence (social, SEO, PPC, etc).
When I presented internally to businesses that thought SEO at larger companies was a different beast entirely, I found it helpful to explain the differences using a transportation analogy:
Both a truck and a train deliver goods, but only one of them takes a mile to stop and requires very specific guidelines (tracks and schedules) in order to operate.
With that in mind, these are my top 10 tips to be successful with SEO at scale.
01. Use the right tools for the job
Tools are generally popular with everyone but, oftentimes, SEO can be done without them. However, when it comes to SEO at scale, tools are absolutely critical for getting the job done.
For a small website, you probably know every change made to the site, but on a larger site, things can happen without you ever knowing. Creating a way to monitor changes on a website is essential. You can set up alerts that tell you every time a page was changed, or use a content tracking tool, such as SEO Radar.
You will also likely need a cloud-based crawling tool that can indicate the current health of a site relative to its performance. A desktop crawler (like Screaming Frog) will probably not cut it if you have a very large site.
Consider automatically crawling the site on a monthly basis so you can track changes. At a large company, you will likely have to whitelist the crawling URL, so make sure you choose a tool that has that capability.
Finally, if you read my book, Product-Led SEO, you would know that I am not a proponent of tracking rankings as a primary KPI for your SEO progress. However, you should be storing your Google Search Console data in an internal warehouse so you can deep-dive into larger visibility changes by query and URL.
02. Learn to manage up and down
When it comes to SEO at scale, your people skills are more important than your technical chops. Your ability to manage up and down will be the difference between a great SEO career and one characterized by more (and possibly unnecessary) friction.
The ability to show your manager and your manager’s manager what is effective in your daily activities will help you get raises and promotions. At the same time, if you have a team that reports to you, have them spend time on the most effective efforts, such as identifying content gaps that will help users progress towards a conversion, for example, rather than just best practices. Any effort that you can expend on connecting with the people you report to and those that report up to you will pay off quite handsomely when you need to get things done.
Lastly, some larger organizations also use agencies to supplement their internal activities. Know how to extend your capabilities by maximizing the resources of the agency to achieve your longer term goals. Learn what is the best use of your time and outsource the rest. As an example, doing keyword research in Semrush might be something the agency can do, while putting together the content roadmap based on that research is something you should do.
03. Make friends with everyone
In addition to managing up and down, you also will need friends across the entire company. This extends to all teams—not just the teams you directly work with.
Everyone has priorities and they might conflict with your directive to generate the maximum amount of organic traffic/revenue. Having colleagues you can rely on will help you get things done even if you don’t have the authority to make requests of others.
I have had many instances where I was able to get critical SEO tickets closed because I asked the product manager to do it for me as a favor. I am certain that, had I not called in the favor, I would still be waiting.
04. Establish yourself as an authority
On that note, you should be building authority, so everyone knows that you are the expert and they shouldn’t be bringing in outside experts to override your opinions.
It is worth putting in the effort to share on social media, publish on SEO websites, and speak at industry conferences because this will build your credibility within your own company. I can recall more than a few instances where I was able to end an SEO debate by showing an article with my opinion published on another site. The very fact that someone else was willing to publish it made it more than an opinion—at least internally.
05. Educate colleagues to create more SEO advocates
Your day shouldn’t be filled with fixing 404’s, updating titles, and firing off tickets to fix canonicals. As someone working on SEO at scale, these kinds of one-off fixes might not even move the needle.
Instead, dedicate your time to educating everyone in the company so that they can spend their resources effectively, implementing SEO best practices on anything they produce. You should create educational resources and white papers that will live in the organization long after you leave.
Take the time to present on SEO topics around the company—this will help more people get familiar with SEO while also bolstering your internal authority. (If you ever choose to go into consulting, those assets that you leave behind will become your marketing collateral to everyone in that company forever.)
Remember, you are measured by the SEO progress of the entire company, so by educating as many of your colleagues as possible, you are turning them into agents of your goals.
06. Speak to business KPIs, not SEO metrics
When other marketing teams share their wins, they use business KPIs. But, for some reason, SEO teams like to create their own metrics. Use the company’s primary business metrics to share successes and talk about business bottom lines.
In most cases, this will be revenue but it could also be:
Yes, it’s going to be hard to get attribution for all of your SEO work, but it is worth the effort to try and approximate something that makes sense and is widely understood by stakeholders as well as other teams.
Don’t be shy—take as much credit as you can for all wins. This is your career on the line, so now is not the time to be too humble. You can caveat things (for example, you could say, “This is brand traffic so, it’s not entirely our doing,”) but there’s no reason not to at least highlight the brand traffic from SEO.
07. Learn to pitch for budget
You need a budget if you are going to be successful, so use your business KPIs to ask for that budget. If more employees and tools are going to help you, ask for them and get them allocated to you, but be prepared to show how it will help the business succeed. Make friends with managers and teams that are successful at landing large budgets and learn how to do the same.
The best way to be successful in your SEO role is to have as many resources as possible at your disposal, and all of those resources will cost money. Perfect the ability to pitch for and score budget and success will become a lot more attainable.
08. Plan to make plans
“Planning” is the process that happens at least once per year (if not more often) where everyone talks about how successful they were the prior year and what their big plans are for next year. To be honest, it is one of the most boring things I ever did in a corporate setting, but it’s also the best way to share wins and goals.
The reality is that many things that get planned in these sessions never make it to the light of day. However, participating in the planning process and projecting future growth helps build the internal authority you need. Don’t think too short term—think as long term as you can and you will score budget and visibility.
You might think planning for a massive amount of growth in organic traffic is a waste of time because you don’t think the other teams will ever ship the changes you need. But, don’t shoot yourself in the foot by thinking small. Announce those big plans and, if you miss that target, you have a better story to tell about the need for resources the following year.
09. Report on business metrics, not just rankings
In a small business, reporting can be very simple—it might even just be a quick note to the CEO. With SEO at scale, you likely have to build internal reports on whatever tools the company uses to report business metrics.
In many companies, no one is even tracking search data because no one told them to. You may want to give up on just having a simple Google Analytics dashboard since it is probably missing critical information you need for your growth story.
As the SEO at scale, you should take the time to build it and scope it well so your efforts are reflected in the best manner possible. Learn the internal reporting system, make friends with the data science team, and build the best report possible with the KPIs that the business uses to measure other channels, whether that is pages viewed, leads, signups or sales.
10. Experiment constantly
If you have been doing SEO for a while, you may have learned that there’s no formulaic way to approach SEO. Large scale SEO is the most fertile ground for learning and it’s how you can develop your own methodologies as to what works vs. what doesn’t.
Always have a list of experiments you can run: Do sitemaps help with ranking? Do you really need an H1? This is your time to learn and become an expert at your craft. Instead of saying “it depends,” use this as an opportunity to learn something new.
Most SEO tests are going to end without any data, but that in itself is a learning. While an SEO at a smaller organization might run out of tasks to do if change isn’t happening, at a large one, you will have an infinite amount of work because there’s always a test you can run.
Enterprise SEO is a team effort, and every team needs a leader
Some people find that they thrive as the SEO changemaster in small organizations, while others love being a part of a larger organization where they can be seen as a subject matter expert (but aren’t able to enact as much direct change).
If you’re making the switch to “enterprise SEO” (which is really just SEO at scale), these tips should make your new responsibilities much easier while helping to make SEO a part of the company culture. Not only will your organic presence benefit, but so too will your career.
Eli Schwartz - Growth Advisor and SEO Consultant
Eli Schwartz is the bestselling author of Product-Led SEO: The Why Behind Building Your Organic Growth Strategy. A growth advisor and consultant, his ability to demystify and craft organic marketing strategies has generated billions in value for some of the internet's top sites.