How to implement SEO at a mega-corporation

Mike Moran, author and search marketing pioneer at IBM, has been around the block a few times. Here is some of his search marketing wisdom.

Stephan Spencer
Search engine optimization expert Stephan Spencer shares late-breaking SEO tools, tips, trends, resources, news and insights. Stephan is the founder and president of Netconcepts, a web agency specializing in search engine optimized ecommerce. Clients include Discovery Channel, AOL, Home Shopping Network, Verizon SuperPages.com, and REI, to name a few. Stephan is a frequent speaker at Internet conferences around the globe. He is also a Senior Contributor to MarketingProfs.com, a monthly columnist for Practical Ecommerce, and he's been a contributor to DM News, Multichannel Merchant, Catalog Success, Catalog Age, and others.
Stephan Spencer
3 min read

Oftentimes, SEO is much easier to accomplish within a small company. It's hard to be nimble when working at a behemoth.

When I talk about items like title tags, URL structures, meta descriptions and canonical URLs, it sounds all quite logical and seems prudent to implement, doesn't it? Well imagine, what it must take for a company like IBM--whose myriad divisions and business units span 90 countries and over 30 languages--to make even the slightest SEO enhancement.

It's a big deal.

To find out more about what it's like to chip away at SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing) within a mega-corporation like IBM, I went to the source. Meet Mike Moran, a "distinguished engineer" who started working on search marketing for IBM back in the early 2000s when less than 1 percent of Big Blue's traffic was coming from search engines. (Now it's over 25 percent!)

Moran is also co-author of Search Engine Marketing, Inc: Driving Search Traffic to Your Company's Website, and author of the new book called Do it Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules.

Both Moran and I will be speaking at the American Marketing Association's Hot Topic: Search Engine Marketing conference on Friday in Boston and again November 2 in Chicago.

In a 45-minute podcast interview with Moran, we covered a lot of ground related to SEO for big companies, and also how to work within the internal constraints and corporate politics to get what you need done.

Here are some of the more interesting points that came out of the talk...

  • Be an SEO evangelist (not an SEO dictator): If we think about SEO, a lot of things like keyword research and technical fixes such as 301 redirects are very granular things to do. In a larger company, Moran suggests: "There's no way to really make someone the czar of search marketing; it doesn't really work. What you need to do instead is to figure out how to speak with every specialist that you have in the company, and be able to teach them all what the new parts of their job are, and that's a really difficult thing." By teaching your employees good SEO techniques, not only are you reducing the amount of strain on one person, but you're also boosting your return on investment because once people learn what a great title tag looks like, they can continue to write great title tags until SEO "best practices" change.
  • Avoid intramural "bidding wars": Moran offers a really powerful example of something that happened at IBM. Different departments were choosing keywords to bid on that were important to what they were doing. So instead of having one department bid on "Linux", for example, several of them were bidding on the same term, effectively competing against themselves. Moran's point is that a company can significantly reduce its costs "just by analyzing the keyword competition that was intramural, and how much money being wasted" versus having one, consolidated page that showw all of the Linux-related products and services.
  • "Management by embarrassment": To communicate changes that need to be made, Moran and his team designed a color-coded "scorecard" that highlighted each division within IBM. Specific colors were used to show how well certain areas like title tags, body copy, keywords, etc. were up to benchmarked SEO standards. Predictably, the color red signaled a problem area. Despite executives not necessarily understanding the more granular aspects of what needed to be done, they started to instruct their divisions to "do whatever Moran wants" because they were tired of having their division show up each month with a bunch of red marks. Pretty powerful what can be done by capturing some benchmarks and communicating what needs to be done using the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) philosophy.

For more on how to implement SEO at a mega-corporation, check out the 45-minute podcast and the text synopsis.