At enterprise companies, SEOs cannot ‘do’ most of the SEO

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At enterprise companies, SEOs cannot 'do' most of the SEOThis is part of our series on in-house SEO in which we dig into the operational challenges and opportunities that managing search engine optimization in-house presents.

A shock to most non-SEO teams at large corporations is that they are the ones impacting SEO every day. They are even more surprised to learn that most SEO teams spend very little time “doing” SEO (because they can’t) and most of their time advising SEO. That’s what I’m going to talk about in this article. It’s one you may want to forward other teams.

Most of my days are spent educating non-SEO teams at large corporations to understand the complexities of SEO and how much their decisions impact it. Often, I gently walk them through the ways numerous decisions by these teams have compounded organic optimization challenges for their sites. I have focused on in-house SEO since 2002, so this article comes with a lot of enterprise experience, and this is likely how SEO works if you are at a large company.

Every company is either an SEO Avoider or an SEO Pacesetter (few are Pacesetters)

My book, The Executive SEO Playbook, talks about every enterprise company being either an SEO Avoider or an SEO Pacesetter. Surprising to most, the designations have nothing to do with SEO teams’ knowledge. It has everything to do with SEO operations. This is because SEO operations is what makes or breaks SEO at a large corporation.

SEO Avoiders are companies that are skipping (or not doing) SEO, either intentionally or unintentionally.

SEO Pacesetters are companies in which everyone — company-wide — is contributing to the 20% of SEO that makes 80% of the impact on their businesses.

At an enterprise organization, how great the SEO is on a site often has little to do with the skill level of the SEO team. While you still need strong SEO chops in a large company, this alone will not push you into SEO Pacesetter status.

What enterprise SEO Teams can “do” for SEO

At a small company, the SEO team has more ability to actually do all the things recommended for SEO from content optimization and link building to sometimes changing code. However, in a large corporation, things are radically different. SEO teams cannot do SEO because they do not control anything on the website (except perhaps title tags and Meta descriptions).

So why does your company have such a large SEO team (or even a single full-time headcount)? Because they spend their time chasing projects, putting out fires and trying to get other teams to do the things that will help SEO grow. They typically do activities along the lines of:

  • Define the SEO strategy (which other teams need to implement).
  • Develop a keyword targeting strategy to be used by writers.
  • Occasionally, manage writers for any SEO specific content as part of the strategy.
  • Find technical problems, write up the requirements and QA test the fixes.
  • Review wireframes and provide feedback.
  • Advise on URL redirects and test when they go live.
  • Train other teams. (Training needs to be consistent and in-depth enough to enable each role to master their 20% of SEO that will make 80% of the impact.)
  • Advise on internal linking.
  • Provide requirements and risk assessments for site changes.

Notice how some of the key SEO tasks vital to doing SEO are not on the list (e.g., optimizing content, making the site SEO friendly, etc.), that’s where non-SEO teams come in.

Non-SEO teams throughout the organization control the content, the code, the links and everything the search engine robots see when they visit your site. As a result, the people actually doing SEO are really the non-SEO teams — and this is a huge shock to every team I train.

Non-SEO teams affect SEO

Now let’s talk about the most important people for an enterprise company’s SEO: every non-SEO team touching the website.

The most important teams impacting SEO every day include:

  • Writers
  • Merchandisers
  • UX designers
  • Product Managers
  • Project Managers
  • Developers
  • QA testers

To the surprise of many, these are the roles “doing” SEO. They are the ones responsible for a company becoming either an SEO Avoider or an SEO Pacesetter. The people in these roles need to understand and be consistently mindful of the impact of their own work on SEO.

What does this mean for non-SEO teams?

Non-SEO teams need training and tools that are proportionate to the level of organic ranking risk (and opportunity) each role has for the site.

I believe that every role needs to master their 20% of SEO that makes 80% of the impact for their role. This 20% needs to be a core competency. This means these teams need training, and sometimes more training than their manager deems necessary. But the argument for it is training is to make your company an SEO Pacesetter. The manager’s team is not going to learn how to help grow organic traffic by double-digit percentages nor mitigate double-digit percentage risks in just an hour or two of SEO training.

So when managers want to know why you’re pushing for SEO training, send them this article. Every non-SEO team influencing the site has the potential to grow organic traffic and outcomes exponentially, but only if they know how. If they don’t, they could accidentally trigger huge organic traffic drops.


About The Author

Jessica is Editor at Large at and the founder of SEOinhouse.com, a company on a mission to make in house SEO simpler. She is a leading advocate of in house SEO, started in house SEO programs at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Business.com and Yahoo! Inc.