Keyword research, link building, HTML & CSS – these are all skills that are not directly needed by an enterprise SEO.
You are not a jack-of-all-trades. You are not a growth hacker. This is not traditional SEO.
In enterprise SEO, you’re likely working with millions of pages, often across multiple websites, for a corporation that has a clear goal in mind — and it’s not to increase organic sessions.
Most people think of enterprise SEO as stepping up from the minor to the major leagues of baseball.
It’s not. You’re not playing baseball.
You’re playing cricket. More often than not, you invest five days to get no outcome. It’s slow, unnecessarily complex, and requires a great deal of finesse.
When websites scale up to that level, the work that was done by one SEO for a smaller brand must be divided up and performed by many separate teams.
Keyword research is done by the content team, link building is done by PR, and development won’t let you deploy changes to HTML & CSS. What does it take to succeed in this unique environment?
Focus on honing these 8 essential skills for success in enterprise SEO.
1. Know the Business
If you report on performance by showing keywords that have moved up in rankings, you’re doing it wrong.
Even valuable SEO KPIs such as impressions and organic sessions are often of fleeting interest to a C-level executive.
You must show how investment in SEO leads to increases in business KPIs – those things that sustain a business’s growth. This may be MAUs, leads, signups, revenue, or some other metric.
Ensure these are accurately tracked in Google Analytics (or your web tracking tool of choice) in such a way they can be clearly attributed to your SEO efforts and highlight the effectiveness in your reporting and communications.
Prove you not only understand SEO but can translate that into results for the business, insights into your target audience, your market, and deep knowledge of the wider industry, too.
This will make you a unique and valuable resource in your organization.
2. Understand SEOwnership
Jono Alderson shows us that SEO has become multi-disciplinary to a point that no one person or team can own SEO.
All these things have happened:
Developers released a new feature along with thousands of parameter-based URLs without any canonical.
User Experience updated the interface design, removing all “ugly” H1s.
Editorial refused to add evergreen articles to the content calendar.
CPC budgets were slashed and organic branded searches plummeted.
Sales decided to launch an ad platform and the script tanked core web vitals.
The list goes on.
The catch is, when organic KPIs drop, it’s on your shoulders.
Enterprise SEO professionals manage this conundrum by understanding that their job is not to do SEO, but rather to advocate for SEO.
To be an effective advocate, you need to be proactively pulled into everyone else’s projects that touch on SEO as well as win buy-in for your own.
Yours is a role of continual cross-functional collaboration.
In order to become an asset that stakeholders at every level seek out, you need to go beyond just playing well within the organizational hierarchy. You must become a source of insight that adds measurable value to initiatives.
And to become that, you need amazing analysis skills and data… which leads to the next point.
3. RegEx & SEO Reporting Mastery
When it comes to technical SEO for enterprise organizations, the level of complexity increases tenfold.
Looking at site-wide Google organic session growth will not cut it for impact analysis.
You must be able to segment your website’s information architecture down with regular expressions to be able to understand how SEO changes moved the metrics of a select group of pages or types of terms. This will allow you to deep dive into Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and other SEO tools.
Regular expression (regex) allows you to find the metrics. But you will also need to understand in-depth the intricacies of the dimensions. Especially when it comes to crawling and indexing issue classifications in the Google Search Console Coverage Report or search appearance groupings in the Performance Search Results Report.
Advanced analytical skills give you the opportunity to provide essential insights to inform data-driven decision-making. Even if you weren’t involved in a project from the beginning, sharing the SEO impact of an initiative (potential or real) can open the door to you.
Often, this also wins you an early invite to similar projects or even roadmap planning in the future.
But the right data and insights shared in the wrong will get you nowhere. This leads us to…
4. Results Communication
When it comes to sharing SEO outcomes, you’re almost never speaking to another SEO pro. Often not even to another marketer.
It’s highly likely you are communicating with people who have never logged into Google Search Console, barely look at the source/medium report in Google Analytics, and have an outdated understanding of what Google is and how its algorithms work.
It will be squarely on your shoulders to analyze any initiative that impacts SEO and share the results.
To communicate effectively:
Drop the Technical Jargon
Trade SEO slang for phrases that anyone can understand. It’s not “crawled by Googlebot” but “pages Google has looked at.”
Not “pages ranking in the SERPs” but “pages shown when people search in Google.”
Not “implement structured markup for rich snippets” but “add code to enhance visibility in Google.”
Don’t List Metrics, Explain Them
If impressions increase by 30%, dropping position by 5%, you know that’s a big win. But your stakeholders may read it as one win, one loss.
Instead, explain that doing X resulted in a 30% increase in impressions from search terms the website previously did not rank for, allowing the brand to reach new audiences.
Explain that these emergent search terms rank in a lower position, skewing down the average, but that you have confirmed existing search terms maintained their performance.
That way, it’s clearly understood as a win-win.
Prepare for Short Term Nulls
Many SEO improvements you advocate for won’t show their full impact in a few weeks as it takes time for Google to crawl through and process changes on an enterprise-level site.
But that is not an excuse to not communicate.
At maximum, be there four weeks after the launch of an initiative. Share the KPIs while it’s still fresh in their minds, even if this means explaining why there is no movement yet and setting expectations for when you do expect to be able to send the final impact report.
Credit the Work of Others
While you are doing the SEO reporting, and maybe it’s even your project, you likely didn’t do much, if any, of the practical work.
Publicly acknowledge, by name, the contributions of others to any successes (but not failures!).
5. Authoritative on SEO
This does not mean you need to be an oracle that always has the perfect answer and can predict the future.
It does mean your colleagues trust you to always be honest. They believe your word over that opinionated article they found about an SEO issue.
They are willing to prioritize SEO tasks over other opportunities because you say doing so will drive higher results.
Often, this level of authority is hard to earn because you are starting from the back foot. As an industry, SEO is often seen as unpredictable wizardry.
Countering this perception and building your authority will take time and excellent communication.
And that hard-won trust can be dashed in an instant if you make one of the three common mistakes below.
Don’t Fall Into the Trap of Retroactively Blaming an Algorithm Update for Organic Losses
Even if the algorithm change is the cause, if you didn’t proactively alert stakeholders an update is coming and/or that it was released on the day it will hurt your authoritativeness.
Don’t BS People Thinking They Won’t Notice
If you’re unsure of the right answer to a question, be open that you don’t know off the top of your head and commit to giving an update on the request in X days.
It’s far less important to deliver information instantly than it is to deliver it accurately. Blurting out a half-formed answer that can be revealed to be wrong deepens the mistrust of SEO as an industry and you as an expert.
Don’t Claim the Unknown
Many times in my career, I’ve had both in-house and agency SEO pros joyfully report their work led to an increase in organic performance.
When quizzed on the exact tactics they executed to achieve the results, the room went quiet. If you can’t explain the cause of an increase, don’t try to take the credit.
Even if you get away with it once or twice, you’ll lose all credibility when you can’t replicate or build on that success.
For the high-performance tactics you are responsible for, be sure to clearly document the success.
6. Collaborative Documentation
I’m a constant cheerleader for agile SEO backed by concise documentation.
It is an essential skill to be able to clearly write down for each SEO initiative on no more than a few pages what is the current state, what should it be changed to, by who, when, and why.
I find creating an overview table based on SMART criteria and then sub “before and after” tables for each aspect of the change to be an effective format.
The process forces you to think through each tactical element, leading to higher-quality strategies. But more importantly, that document becomes a key asset for collaboration by:
Providing a jumping-off point for other experts to give their valuable input, which can ultimately deliver a better outcome.
Ensuring what you see as needing to be done is aligned with other stakeholders, helping projects be delivered on time at quality.
Bestowing an explicit allocation of resource requirements and responsibilities that whoever signs off the project can understand and agree to.
One trick to fully leverage the benefits of tactical documentation is by holding a meeting with all stakeholders to talk it through in the early stages of the project. This often returns a higher level of feedback and buy-in.
7. Do Things RAPIDly
In some cases, strong strategies can be derailed by uncertainty over roles and responsibilities.
Often the process of documentation kicks off a conversation of who is responsible for what and where those tasks are on each team’s priority list. As well as confirming who can give the “go” to implement the strategy.
This can often stall, or even cancel, SEO initiatives.
Avoid this risk by honing your skills as a facilitator to ensure all stakeholders are clear on their role when it comes to SEO.
I find the RAPID decision-making model is exceptionally useful for working with various parties to understand when it comes to SEO execution, who is in which role.
As an added benefit, this exercise helps to clarify your own role; what is expected of you, what (if any) decision power do you have, and most importantly how you can accomplish your tasks.
8. Evangelize SEO Skills
Become a thought-leader within your organization.
Dash outdated concept of SEO being about stuffing keywords on a page by sharing the latest innovations in search or explaining in graspable concepts how certain SEO strategies really work.
Enlighten your colleagues how SEO is not only optimizing a website, but rather a brand as a whole entity in all its instances – website, Youtube, Google Maps entry, media coverage, physical stores’ foot traffic, etc.
SEO is inherently interesting. Excite your colleagues with your passion. Help them become better SEO professionals so that they can seamlessly integrate it into their work.
This can come in a myriad of forms:
As a casual chat.
A quarterly knowledge share workshop on a certain topic.
A monthly email update.
A five-minute slot in the weekly meeting.
Ad hoc article sharing in a relevant Slack channel.
Create an SEO knowledge base or training course.
And yes, even over the token “buying a beer” strategy.
Try out a few different ways to see which best engages your audience of budding SEO professionals.
All screenshots taken by author, July 2021