As an SEO consultant, I sometimes get the impression that European companies have difficulties with understanding how they can exploit the SEO-potential of their websites. The reasons for this are hugely varied, but from a consultant’s perspective, there are a number of frequently-occuring problems that prevent webmasters from making their websites the best they can be.
Small companies don’t always have the necessary technical know-how, whereas large companies face challenges such as long or inefficient communication channels and endless decision-making processes which either delay or thwart SEO measures. In this article, we discuss the three main obstacles for companies that prevent them from carrying out efficient and profitable SEO strategies. These obstacles have far reaching consequences, but all are avoidable.
Search engine optimization is data-driven. Analyzing and evaluating large amounts of data provides the basis for a coordinated SEO strategy. But this is costly. Allegedly inexpensive solutions often aren’t as good as they seem, and can end up causing higher costs for your site once the damage is done and your Google visibility has dropped significantly.
Low-budget SEO – without a prospect of timely, professional implementation – has little prospect of success. However, this obstacle can also be seen as an advantage if the SEO initiative is used in its early phase to sensitize important decision-makers to the topic of search engines and to win them over as future advocates. In many cases, however, negative experiences make a lot of persuasion work necessary before a consensus can be established.
SEO often has a low status in companies. The awareness of how important SEO is for online success is not yet clear in many companies – for example if a product or service ranks well in the Google search without much optimization, there is less pressure to act. However, this comfortable situation can change abruptly if a competitor launches a similarly good or even better product on the market, or if Google adapts its algorithms.
Figure 1: Low-budget SEO often leads to loss of visibility and consequently to avoidable additional costs.
A passive online strategy can quickly turn out to be a trap, and countless examples illustrate the importance of Google policy compliance. Although publicly discussed cases are rare, they prove that inaction in SEO is a mistake. Hoping for good luck is not a corporate strategy. If you don’t want your company's website to disappear from the Google Index overnight, it must be technically optimized and remain Google-compliant.
Search engine optimisation works best if it is carried out consistently and across teams, whether development, content, marketing, press, legal department, the external link building agency or the UX freelancer. All these teams contribute to SEO-relevant signals. This is why an open, innovation-oriented corporate culture offers the best prospects for success.
Because search engine optimization is so interdisciplinary, efficient decision-making paths are important. The larger the company, the more employees there are who have an influence on SEO signals in their respective areas. All employees who influence SEO should be involved, but SEO projects should not fail or be delayed due to the veto of individuals. SEO projects, like all other projects, must be subject to a single decision maker who can ultimately make decisions in the interests of the company.
Reasons relating to corporate culture often prevent or hinder SEO projects and therefore sales. This can happen unintentionally.. Sometimes, for example, the structure of a website reflects the regional sales departments. The “German team” manages a subdomain with content for German-speaking users, while the “British team” uses a completely different CMS on another subdomain to address English-speaking consumers. In extreme cases, the teams are rivals – they use different technologies and have nothing in common. Google is not interested in such circumstances, but the inconsistent technical and content signals over time lead to the rankings of the entire website falling into a bottomless pit.
Unrealistic objectives, sometimes derived from wishful thinking, also belong to the reasons why promising SEO projects fail. First of all, many companies think in yearly quarters, and results are expected by the end of the quarter. Google algorithms are not interested in this. It can take several months before Google re-crawls a website that has been improved as part of an SEO project and updated the results accordingly. This depends on the page performance – the loading time of the website – and the management of the crawl budget. With the right data, it’s possible to estimate how often Google crawls which parts of a website, (especially if you analyze server logs). As a rule, however, it will usually take at least 6 months for Google to reevaluate parts of a website. For decision-makers who are used to quarterly thinking, this is initially difficult to accept. SEO represents a long-term investment – this fact may require a company-wide rethink.
Incorrectly defined targets with a focus on irrelevant KPIs are widespread. Companies need key figures that are both comprehensible and correct. However, some “SEO” KPIs, such as the popular desire to increase visitor numbers, are useless. Simply attracting millions of new visitors is hardly a challenge, and can be achieved easily in a short space of time. However, website visitors are initially only a cost factor. The effort is only worth it if the new visitors convert to customers. Moreover, arbitrary goals such as “5% more” are often far below what technical optimization can achieve. The question is: why only aim for 5% growth when 5,000% is possible?
Companies should target KPIs that are actually relevant for ranking well in Google, such as loading times or click rates, as well as ambitious but feasible time periods. This makes a significant contribution to the success of an SEO initiative. Currently, values still available in the old Google Search Console such as pages crawled per day, kilobytes downloaded per day and the time taken to download a page in milliseconds are examples of measurable, important and influenceable indicators. It doesn’t seem that this important information was taken into account when migrating to the new Google Search Console. However, there are other KPIs that are at least as important as Google’s SERPs, such as clicks, impressions, click-through rate and average position in Google SERPs. In addition, Google Lighthouse offers a host of SEO-relevant, sometimes critical values that can be used as benchmarks and performance features.
Figure 2: Uniform growth of impressions and clicks: this is what healthy SEO looks like.
Don’t wait, act today, and avoid these frequent obstacles to SEO. There are companies that only decide to become active in SEO when it is almost too late, for example when the website has already fallen out of favor with Google, or when a domain or CMS move has already been decided upon and has long been planned. Or if new markets are to be conquered and the online strategy for this has already been defined. In all these cases, an SEO audit is long overdue, especially to limit damage.
Ideally, companies should reach a broad consensus that SEO is an important instrument of online marketing. If the project can be used to raise awareness up to the decision-making level, or even to transfer know-how (keyword: expert training!), SEO has the potential to have a decisive and often spectacular impact on the growth of the company as a whole. In such cases, the structural, technical and strategic changes initiated by an SEO project are often only the first step towards a promising future.
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Published on 11/11/2019 by Kaspar Szymanski.
Kaspar Szymanski is a renowned SEO expert, former senior member of the famed Google Search Quality team and among the select few former Googlers with extensive policy driving, webspam hunting and webmaster outreach expertise. Nowadays Kaspar applies his skill set to recover websites from Google penalties and help clients to max out the potential of their websites in search engines.