What are the greatest challenges being faced by the industry as a whole? What have been the biggest successes? What are companies of different sizes setting as their top priorities for SEO strategy – and how well is it paying off?
To find out, link-building and content marketing agency North Star Inbound, in partnership with seoClarity and BuzzStream, set out to “take the temperature” of enterprise SEO.
They surveyed 240 SEO specialists across the USA from both in-house and agency teams, in a bid to discover how and where enterprise SEO teams are spending their budgets, their most pressing issues, their biggest stumbling blocks, their perception of their own success, and more.
The results shed an intriguing light on what different companies consider to be most important about SEO, how they go about tackling those issues, and which SEO tactics pay the greatest dividends – particularly in terms of how these findings vary across businesses of different sizes, and between in-house and agency SEOs.
So what were the key findings, and what do they mean for the way that SEO is being carried out in 2017-8?
Resources for enterprise SEO: What are they, and where are they going?
How much of a company’s budget and workforce typically gets allocated to SEO? And where do enterprise SEO teams primarily focus their time and attention?
Unsurprisingly, larger companies tend to outspend smaller firms when it comes to SEO, but the study found that companies’ SEO budgets cover the whole range – meaning there is definitely no “magic number” for SEO spend.
The good news (at least for SEOs!) is that the most popular budget was also the largest: 27% of respondents reported that they had a monthly budget of more than $20,000 for SEO. Close to a fifth of companies (19%) had between $5,000 and $10,000 to play with, while a very similar percentage (18%) were allocated less than $1,000.
Perhaps surprisingly, 11% of large companies (with 500+ employees) fell into this bracket – though of course, it’s not just about what you spend on SEO, but how you spend it.
What about people power? The study found that the most common size of SEO team is 2 to 5 members – regardless of the overall size of the company. Two fifths of respondents surveyed (42%) reported working in an SEO team of 2 to 5, while close to a third (32%) had 6 or more people in their team. Nearly a quarter of companies (23%) said that the responsibility for SEO falls on a single person.
Regardless of resources, companies seemed to broadly agree on their priorities for SEO. When asked to rank four areas of SEO in order of priority, respondents from companies of all sizes reported that their top priority was technical SEO.
Second, third and fourth priorities were – again regardless of company size – content development, traffic analysis, and link building, respectively.
But maybe enterprise SEOs should be putting more emphasis on link-building, as survey respondents overwhelmingly described it as the most difficult SEO strategy to execute. Well over half of respondents (58%) ranked it top out of a list of eight, with small companies (with 1-100 employees) feeling the pain most of all.
Why is link-building proving such a tough nut to crack? Let’s look at how enterprise SEOs are tackling link-building.
All about link-building
Well over half of survey respondents reported that link-building was their most difficult strategy to execute, although there were some noticeable variations by size. 68% of small companies rated link-building as the most challenging part of SEO, followed by 62% of medium-size companies and 42% of large companies.
But the difficulties associated with link-building aren’t preventing SEOs from investing in it. 85% of respondents, across all business sizes, reported that they will be maintaining or increasing their link-building budgets this year.
Large companies were most likely to be maintaining their link-building budgets, with 49% reporting they would be keeping their budget for link-building “about the same”, while small companies were most likely to be increasing their budget.
Link-building can be done in a huge number of ways, but there were clear frontrunners for the most effective strategies. SEOs from small, medium and large firms all reported that public relations is their most beneficial tactic for link-building, though for small company SEOs, guest posts came a very close second.
Other effective strategies included infographics (third-most effective for large companies of 500+ employees), local citations/directories (which came in third for small companies), and resource links (which ranked third for medium-sized companies, joint with local citations).
Paid links and comments were universally rated as the least effective strategies by all respondents, though this may also be due to a lack of employing these tactics in the first place – Google penalizes almost all types of paid links, and discourages systematic blog commenting as a method of link-building.
Which companies have been seeing the most success with link-building as an SEO strategy? When asked to rate their most successful strategy over the past 12 months, respondents overwhelmingly pointed to technical on-site optimization: 65% of large companies, 67% of medium-sized companies and 53% of smaller firms rated it as their most effective SEO tactic.
For small companies, blogging and link-building follow close behind, with 35% of SEOs from small firms reporting success with blogging for SEO, and 33% reporting that link-building was their most successful tactic. This was not so for large companies, for whom link-building ranked a distant 6th out of 7 SEO strategies, with just 14% saying it was their most successful strategy.
We know that small firms are more likely to have increased their budgets for link-building in the past year, so perhaps this extra resource towards link-building is making all the difference. But this is something of a chicken-and-egg style conundrum: are small companies allocating more budget towards link-building because it’s successful, or are they successful with link-building because of the extra budget?
Small companies are also more likely to be employing local-level link-building tactics such as local directories or citations. Link-building at a local level can be highly effective when carried out correctly, so perhaps this added emphasis on local SEO is making the difference for enterprise SEOs at small firms.
Finally, which KPIs are SEOs using to track their success with link-building? The favored metrics are Moz Domain Authority and Page Authority, together with the number of linking root domains (both used by 52% of SEOs).
The relevance of the linking page is third-most-used at 47%, while Majestic’s “Trust Flow” metric trails behind on 27%.
Agency vs in-house: Who’s winning at SEO?
Of the 240 SEO specialists surveyed for the study, two-thirds were in-house SEOs, while the remaining third worked for an agency. What differences in approach and outlook did the survey find between these two groups?
When it comes to organizational challenges, agency and in-house SEOs differ slightly on what they consider to be the most pressing issues. Agency SEOs are more likely to encounter challenges with finding SEO talent (44% reported this as their most challenging obstacle) or demonstrating ROI (41%).
For in-house SEOs, developing the right content was their most pressing obstacle (reported by 42% of respondents), while demonstrating ROI was again a key challenge, faced by close to two-fifths of in-house SEOs (37%). Agency SEOs were least likely to struggle with allocating the right resources, with only 18% reporting this as a top organizational challenge, while in-house SEOs struggled least with securing budget (21%) but were more likely to encounter challenges in allocating it (31%).
But the real differences came in the way that agency and in-house SEOs perceived their own success. Agency SEOs were vastly more likely to be confident about their own success: 40% of agency respondents rated themselves as “Successful – we’re absolutely crushing it” compared with just 13% of in-house SEO teams.
However, perhaps in-house SEOs are just modest, as almost half (49%) rated their SEO success as “Positive – we’re doing well enough” (versus 39% of agency SEOs).
In-house SEOs were also more likely to report being “frustrated” with their SEO outcomes (the lowest possible rating) than agencies – 8% of them gave their SEO efforts this rating, compared with only 3% of agency respondents.
What do the findings from the study tell us about the state of enterprise SEO? While SEO will always depend somewhat on the individual circumstances of an organization, there are some broad conclusions we can draw from the data.
- SEO as a discipline appears to be well-resourced overall, demonstrating that companies consider SEO a branch of marketing worth investing in. The challenge is therefore more often deciding how and where to allocate those resources, rather than a lack of resources.
- Technical SEO is a top priority and a top source of success for enterprise SEOs, while companies seem less sure of where they stand with link-building. Many are putting budget into it without necessarily being satisfied with or confident in the results.
- While some SEO mainstays (like technical on-site SEO) are effective regardless of company size, the effectiveness of SEO strategies often depends on the size of a company, with smaller companies seeing much more success with strategies like blogging than larger organizations.
- Agency SEOs are much more likely to feel confident in their SEO success than in-house teams, in spite of reported difficulties with securing the right talent for SEO. However, both in-house and agency SEO teams face difficulties with proving the ROI of SEO, showing perhaps that this perceived success can be difficult to translate into hard numbers for the benefit of the higher-ups.
Why digital marketing video series, Stone Temple’s Eric Enge describes the unique challenges of SEO at the enterprise level, and why larger companies need to pay special attention to SEO.
Mark: Eric, for many years now, you’ve written and talked about SEO as a general topic. In fact, one might say you wrote the book about it. I mean, lead co-author of “The Art of SEO.” So why should we think about SEO at the enterprise level as being anything special?
Eric: Mark, senior execs at large companies have a lot of different needs competing for their limited budget, and SEO is only one of them. And since it’s little understood outside the SEO world, it may not get the priority it deserves.
And in a large company, executives may figure their brand is so large that Google will just naturally send them traffic, but, of course, it’s a lot more complicated than that. So SEOs at enterprise companies have some special challenges if they want to be successful.
Mark: I can see that. Then let’s get into why SEO matters for an enterprise-size company.
Why Does SEO Matter for Enterprise Companies?
Eric: It matters a lot because people go to a search engine with very strong intent, and ranking high for queries when they are in the process of researching or purchasing something they want to buy can mean huge revenue for your company. Those are opportunities you just don’t want to leave to chance.
Then there’s the competitive situation. If your competitors are doing effective SEO and you aren’t, inevitably they’re going to start getting more and more of the traffic that should have been yours.
Mark: And so it matters to the bottom line.
Eric: It can matter a great deal. SEO ends up being a very high margin activity. So failing at it means not just lost incremental revenue, but lost incremental profit.
Mark: So given the stakes, what are some things you think enterprise SEOs in particular need to give their attention to?
Eric: Great question.
- Realize that Google does have limitations. It’s far too easy to create pages it can’t understand or won’t crawl an index. And if Google deems your content is poor in quality, it gets ignored.
- Realize that the search environment is constantly changing and you need to keep up. Just because you’ve implemented some optimizations a while back doesn’t mean you’re in good shape forever. You’ve got to keep on top of what Google is up to, and constantly be measuring and testing your effectiveness.
- Realize that if you do the wrong thing, you get penalized by Google. If companies like BMW and Overstock can be penalized, so can you. There’s a significant upside to doing SEO well. Done correctly, SEO can be a high ROI investment because it brings well-targeted traffic, visibility, and revenue to your business.
Mark: Thanks, Eric. Our readers really should check out your post on our blog about the unique challenges of enterprise SEO.
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Today I present my list of the top 10 SEO women, who represent the top thought leaders on search, social, and content marketing.
Owner of myblogguest.com since November 2009 and SEO consultant, Ann realized the need for her guest blogging services so she became a consultant and owner of SEO Smarty. Ann makes frequent contributions to Search Engine Journal. She is Director of Blue Glass Interactive, a merger of Search and Social. Ann’s blog made it to the number 7 spot in the best 2010 Wikio SEO blog. Matt Cutts was only six points away from hers. She writes and publishes unique blog articles all over the web.
From Ashland, Massachusetts, Jill Whalen, is the most reasonable person known in her industry. She generally compares both sides before making her decision or giving an opinion. Jill Whalen is an innovator of search engine optimization. She started in the field of SEO in the early part of 1990. Her company, High Rankings was founded in 1995. Her experience spans over forty industries; helping them to increase their online presence, conversion rate and sales using search engine strategies.
With almost 25,000 followers and close to 16,000 Tweets on her Twitter page, Jill shows how busy she really is when it comes to connecting and being socially motivated.
From Greensboro/Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Julie Joyce is one of the founders of Link Fish Media. She is also the Director of Operations and with a background in web programming, she fell in love with search engine marketing in 2002. Her leadership skills and goal-oriented focus simplifies her SEO proficiency. Julie worked in a small IT company before she stated Link Fish Media. She was manager to a group of search engine specialists. She gained her experience there. She is one of the founders of SEO Chicks. With more than 10,000 followers and over 20,000 Tweets, Julie has staked an integral claim of the online market place. She makes frequent contributions to Search Engine Land and Search Marketing Gurus.
Vanessa Fox authored the book, Marketing in the Age of Google: Your Online Strategy IS Your Business Strategy (Wiley, 2nd edition, April 2012). She described it as the first book entrepreneurs of the twenty first century must read. She sold her company, “Nine by Blue,” in 2013; after which, she stared the digital agency, RKG. She was the primary product officer in the company until she moved to search engine analytics. Vanessa is known for being the creator of Google Webmaster Central. She is a search engine specialist with about 20 years of experience. With more than 37,000 followers and over 6,000 Tweets, Vanessa is a force to be reckoned with.
Annie Cushing is owner of the Annielytics blog. She named the blog from her first name and the fact that she is obsessed with data visualization and analytics. Annie provides serious information from an insider perspective about the use of marketing tools and pivot tables to evaluate data. She loves to share her knowledge and expertise through presentations and content. She has played almost every starting role as it relates to content writing and promotion on the Internet. She has written content, proofread and edited it, published it, optimized content, marketed content via email and on the web, gotten backlinks for her content, and even shared it on social media.
Jennifer Sable Lopez
Jennifer has defied all the odds when it comes to business and health. She is known as one of the most superior geeks online while still maintaining her semblance as a person with incomparable organizational skills. In her personal life, she beat cancer, which shows you the kind of fighting spirit she has. She has a web development background and a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. She loves to write SEO content. When Jennifer is not working, she is traveling all around the world. She loves watching television programs such as Dora, the Explorer and Dancing with the Stars. She loves to listen to Latin and South African music. She lives with her photographer husband and daughter in Seattle, Washington.
It was in 1996 that Judith Lewis started in the online marketing industry. She has a wide ranging experiencing in SEO tactics, which includes keyword research, link building and developing content. Judith has also dabbled in social media campaign and PPC campaign management. Before her online marketing quest, she worked in various industry sectors such as e-commerce, publishing and technology. She works at Sheshet Consulting and uses her expertise to help small business clients on their organic search, social media and paid search marketing campaigns.
Dana Loookadoo is CEO and owner of Pixel Position, which is a well-known SEO agency and Yo!Yo!, which is a web development company. She provides SEO training and consulting to companies worldwide. She has an innate love for SEO and she studies the way humans behave on the Internet. Dana is unafraid to ask questions or try new stuff. Her focus is on engaging her audience and anything related to search. When she is not working on SEO and social media, she loves cycling.
Rhea Drysdale is the owner of Outspoken Media. She is an SEO and link building specialist. Native of Jacksonville, Florida and currently in Troy, New York, Rhea works tirelessly to manage her SEO Company to stay in the game and remain competitive. She is smart, dedicated and always on a path to learning more about SEO. Her goal in life is to be the best at what she does. She has keen insight and an excellent understanding of all aspects related to SEO, content strategy and social media. Her link building expertise has made her the authority among her male and female counterparts in the industry.
Donna Fontenot is a Web Developer. She is owner of SEO Scoop and a respected blogger at Search Engine People. She also moderates the forum at Search Engine Round Table. Donna wears other hats such as SEO Consultant and Business Coach. She works with all types of SEO projects. In fact, she is enamored with the Internet and ways to drive traffic to her customer’s website. Her voracious craving for search marketing allows her to work hard at perfecting her SEO craft. Owner of blog, DazzlinDonna.com, she is not afraid to share her passion for earning an income online.