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It’s a CMO’s worst nightmare – your new website is beautiful, your existing visitors are still engaged and converting, but traffic from organic search has dried up. You’re halfway down the first page for your key search terms, or not on it at all. And to add insult to injury, claiming the top spot in every search is the do-it-yourselfer, the tiny brand with just one location, or the new guy on the block – no one with the clout, brand reputation, or experience in the industry that your company has.

So, what gives? How can these unbelievably small competitors be outranking you so badly in search?

    You’re ignoring basic optimization best practices.

  1. A lot of SEO isn’t, as they say, rocket surgery. But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean you can get away with ignoring it. Every website that wants to rank well in search needs to incorporate the basics: title and meta tag optimization, image alt-tag optimization, sitemaps, quick load times, proper HTML structure… the list could go on and on. Fortunately, this information is out there to be had – and if you don’t consider yourself a do-it-yourselfer when it comes to SEO, there are plenty of agencies willing to help.
  2. Your website is all looks and no substance.

  3. This problem is more common than you might think. Be wary of the design firm that shies away from providing SEO recommendations – or make sure you have your own in-house team or outside agency on hand to check their work. Great design should go hand-in-hand with SEO, balancing your beautiful imagery with explicit, interesting text that both a human and a search engine can easily make sense of. And every page you optimize should be part of a comprehensive and balanced keyword strategy – thought out to include both your breadwinning head terms and the low volume, high-converting longer tail of search.
  4. Your organization won’t move quickly on algorithm updates.

  5. More often than not, if you’re a big enough brand to expect dominance in search, you’ve been at this game for a while. Unfortunately, while the rapidly-changing nature of SEO can be great for new businesses and smaller, agile organizations, it frequently means trouble for bigger ones. Maybe you had an SEO team years back that built tons of shoddy links back to your website. Maybe you built out tons of sales pages with thin content (like eBay did) because that was something you could do in 2010 and not be penalized for it. In any case, Google’s algorithm has only gotten tighter over the last few years, and the penalties more and more severe for sites that don’t comply. The bigger your internal organization, the harder it can be to demand quick action to stop the bleeding or avoid penalties altogether. Learn from the little guy, and give yourself as much power as you can to request preventative or remedial changes.
  6. Your SEO team forgot how to be creative.

  7. The best part of working within a big organization is the amount of budget you have to support your efforts. This can be your best friend – and it’s your ticket to the top, if you know how to use it. But too many brands get stuck with static thinking about search and fail to take advantage of the potential that a big-business budget offers for creative, unique SEO campaigns. True, there’s only so much flexibility you have with the keywords you optimize for, the pages on your website, and so on. But if that’s as far as your thinking goes when it comes to SEO, you’re already behind.Great SEO campaigns are just like any other great marketing campaign – they’re engaging, they come from outside the box, and they drive real results all while maintaining solid brand image and reputation. Want to earn quality links? Find some brilliant way of explaining one part of your industry or brand, put it on your website, and get the word out to everyone you know. Get people to blog about you. Get something going in your city, town, or even your state that’s so exciting and interesting, news outlets want to find out who you are and tell people about you. The bottom line is that if you get people’s attention – and especially if you do it by providing something of real value to them – links will come naturally. Don’t be afraid to be different! The benefits for your brand’s visibility are more than worth it.
  8. You think of SEO as “set and forget.”

  9. No matter how brilliant and thorough your initial SEO setup may have been, this is a game that’s won by paying attention. Search volume fluctuates constantly, as the way people search changes over time. The keywords that meant big money for you five years ago may be nearly irrelevant to your industry now. Always pay close attention to search trends, and update your keyword strategy as needed. (And, as with everything else, that means making the necessary moves in your organization to be able to operate with that kind of flexibility.)
  10. You’re still chasing those three keywords your CEO insists on.

  11. An unfortunate hangover from the earlier days of search marketing, some people really won’t be happy with an SEO campaign until they see #1 rankings every day of the week for the two or three terms they’ve stubbornly dug in and decided are the “bread and butter of your industry.” You’ll know who these people are, because the minute that term drops down to the #2 or #3 spot – like nearly all rankings do, nearly all of the time – all hell will break loose in the office, and the poor soul who’s been labeled the in-house SEO lead will regret the day he told anyone he knew what a SERP was.It should go without saying that this is no longer a productive way of thinking about SEO. Google searches are no longer mostly-incoherent strings of keywords typed in desperate hopes of a single relevant result. The algorithm is getting smarter, and rankings for individual, fixed keywords aren’t going to make or break your SEO strategy anymore. Instead, you should think like the search engines do – tracking keywords based on groupings of related terms, even if those terms do not rely on the exact same root words. Relevance is a nuanced game, and in this era of search, Google is more than capable of ranking your results accordingly. Long story short: focus on the big picture, and don’t get hung up on minutiae.
  12. Your CMS is too complicated or out-of-date to easily adapt for SEO.

  13. This may be a problem more commonly experienced by bigger sites – especially e-commerce platforms with thousands of product pages – but we’ve seen it with smaller brands, too. A crucial step in being able to implement cutting-edge SEO practices is, unsurprisingly, using a content management system (CMS) that is easy to maintain. Plenty of solutions that work fine for basic website management are too unwieldy or limited to be useful for SEO – especially custom platforms that require most or all changes to be made by a third party. (Stay clear of these agencies!) In this industry, agility is your best weapon. Make sure your site’s infrastructure can be agile – and if not, move to switch to a better platform sooner rather than later. You’ll save yourself countless headaches down the road.
  14. You don’t have pages optimized to rank in local search.

  15. It shouldn’t be too surprising that one of the best places for small businesses to get ahead is in local search. In a lot of ways, it’s the great equalizer: a website may not have the resources to dominate search across the country, but it remains one of the best options for users in a certain geographic area. Google rewards this kind of relevance, displaying them at or near the top of the local results package any time it senses the user is performing a location-sensitive search.If you’re a big brand, you don’t have to give up that real estate to the little guy. If you have local stores, they should each have pages in Google Places, all with uniform location and contact information. You should have pages on your website targeting these local keywords, using the appropriate markup, that quickly and easily present valuable information to visitors using local-modified search terms. That way, you’re still doing every bit of the job Google wants you to do – adding value to the web and answering people’s questions – while getting the qualified search traffic you deserve. Just because you don’t have to base your whole site’s optimization strategy on local terms, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be including those terms as part of your broader overall strategy.
  16. You’re ignoring long-tail terms because you think no one’s searching for them.

  17. It’s easy to be enthralled with head terms. If 50,000 people a month are searching for something, you want to show up for it. And that’s fine, because your core pages should be targeting those. But, again, one need not come at the expense of the other. Do some research into the less-frequently searched terms people use to find your business, and consider building out entire new landing pages specifically targeting those terms. Because you may only land a few visitors on those pages, but the chances are good that if they got there, they’re going to be a lot more willing to convert than the user just dipping their toes into the water with a more generic term.

In the end, it’s pretty simple – don’t let smaller businesses get away with tactics you’re just as capable of! As a bigger brand, you have the resources and the experience to earn the top spot every time. So take a look at what the others are doing, and figure out what you need to do to put your website at the head of the pack – regardless of who else is out there.

Any big brand SEO mistakes we missed? Have a horror story (or a tale of victory) about SEO within a bigger organization? Share it with us in the comments!

About Brendan Silk

Brendan Silk is the lead content strategist at Ethoseo and a regular contributor to the Ethoseo blog. In addition to blogging and copywriting, he's spent the past three years honing his SEO and inbound marketing skills, with an emphasis on link building and social media. In his spare time he can usually be found chasing cats, playing drums, or listening to Phish. You can find more posts by Brendan at his bio page on Ethoseo, or follow him on Google+.

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