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Why is search marketing so hard for large sites?

It is actually harder for large companies to succeed at search marketing than it is for smaller ones. The very specialization that makes large organizations work hampers search marketing efforts—too many groups need training and watching for anyone to manage it all. Unless you know how to do it. Check out the this month’s Biznology Newsletter to see what you need to know. You might be surprised.

Unlike most marketing efforts, the bigger you are, the harder search marketing is. We know that in marketing, size has inherent advantages. The bigger the budget, the more advertising you can buy, the more free media coverage you can coax, the better a public relations person you can hire, and on and on. But search marketing is different. Companies with well-known brand names assume it is easy for their Web site to rank highly in search results, but John Tawadros, Director of Client Services & Technology of search marketing firm iProspect, explains that “the field is more equal. Just because you’re a big name doesn’t mean much to the search engines.” In fact, well-known brands have lots of competition for search rankings, both from their competitors and from their allies—many resellers rank highly for well-known brands. Amazon may rank well when a searcher searches for “sony dvd player”—possibly even higher than Sony’s Web site.

It’s actually easier in some ways for small Web sites to succeed in search marketing than large ones. There are fewer people who need to know what to do, and the whole Web site is managed one way by one team. As soon as your site is large enough that you hear some telltale conversations about separating your team or even your site into multiple parts, then search marketing has just gotten tougher. Make no mistake—these conversations are actually the sweet sound of success! Your Web site has grown too large to be run in the old simple way. It’s good that it’s growing and needs to be managed differently, but it makes search marketing much more difficult.

Multiple Teams of Specialists

“The copy writers and the HTML coders really should be in different departments…”Sounds logical, and it is. So why does this cause problems? Unfortunately, search marketing gets more difficult precisely because it can’t be handled solely as a specialty. Each of your specialists must understand what they are personally required to do to make your search marketing a success. Your JavaScript programmers must place their code in files separate from the HTML files. Your copy writers must use the right words in their copy. Your Webmasters must choose the right naming convention for your pages’ URLs (Uniform Resource Locators-the Web page addresses that start with “www”). The key point you need to understand is that search marketing is a team effort and that medium-to-large Web sites have multiple teams that must work together for your search marketing to succeed.

Multiple Product Sites

“Each product line should really run its own separate Web site…” Your organization may be so highly decentralized that your customers don’t even think of your separate products as coming from the same company. How many of you know that Proctor & Gamble make Crest toothpaste, as well as the Cheer, Gain, and Tide laundry detergents? And how many even care? P&G’s customers don’t need to know what company makes these products—they know the brand names and that’s enough. And if they have a need to learn more about the new whitening ingredient in Crest, they are much more likely to go to than So, Proctor & Gamble created separate Web sites for each major brand.

And each Web site might get its own team. There might be a Crest Webmaster, a Cheer Webmaster, a Gain Webmaster, and a Tide Webmaster, with the other specialists divided by product as well. Multiple product sites foster excellent communication among the specialists assigned to each product, but can create a situation where there may be almost no communication across products.

For most Web tasks, this may not be problematic, but for search marketing, it can be. The Tide, Cheer, and Gain sites should each be found when searchers look for “laundry detergent”—but the respective teams may be fighting over those searchers instead of working together. To lead search marketing across P&G, you must coax these disparate product groups to sometimes collaborate instead of always competing. Perhaps they should team up to create the ultimate “laundry detergent” page that showcases each of their products. This is harder to pull off than it sounds, because collaboration might violate the competitive corporate culture. None of these separate Web teams need to collaborate for other Web tasks, but for search marketing, they do.

Multiple Audiences

“We should really have different user experiences for consumers than for our business customers…” Perhaps your company is highly customer-centric, conducting all sales and marketing based on audiences, or market segments. So, you have a Web site for large business customers, another for small-to-medium customers, and a third for consumers, even though they buy many of the same products. Of course, each of these sites can be run by separate teams that may not need to work together with the other sites’ teams. (Are you starting to see a pattern here?) Separate audience Web sites can be a very effective way to communicate with your customers, because you can tune your marketing message to each audience’s unique needs. Large businesses may want more customized service, while smaller firms might be willing to take a one-size-fits-all solution to their problem-these differing needs can be addressed with somewhat different offerings that are described differently on your Web site.

And dividing this Web site based on customer size usually works well—until you consider search marketing. Unfortunately, when a prospective customer searches for your product name in Google, there’s no way to know which audience that searcher belongs to. Neither the large company group nor the small company solution group is focused on search marketing, so how will the right page be returned?

Multiple Countries

“It is really easier for everyone if the Canada and the U.S. sites are separate…” Another common way to divide up a Web site is by country, and like all the other ways we have seen, it makes a lot of sense. (That’s why companies do it!) Your company probably does not sell the same exact products in every country, so it makes sense that each country might have its own Web site for customers in that country to visit. Each country may have different languages, currency, cultural norms, laws—it’s easy to see why Web sites are so frequently divided this way. But this clever organizational idea once again hurts search marketing efforts. Some searchers use country-specific search engines, but many use global search engines, such as What happens when a Canadian searcher enters “four-slice toaster” into the global search engine? Google may be able to determine the language of the query as English, but there may be excellent English-language pages on toasters in the UK, Australia, Canada, the US, and many other countries. Your company may also have excellent matches for all of those countries-each toaster page is very similar to those in the other countries, but is specific to the country (it shows the toaster that conforms to UK electrical standards and is priced in British pounds). Google might just show the UK pages even though it’s not the one the Canadian searcher wanted and suppress the rest as being “similar pages.” If the wrong country page is displayed, your visitor can’t buy your product very easily-he may be asked to pay in British pounds when he has Canadian dollars in his wallet.

You can see that if your corporate Web site is divided by country, you may find multiple country Web teams battling to capture searchers with the same query—they want their pages to “win” so that your other country pages are the ones suppressed. Worse, you may have well-known brand names, such as “Coke,” that are used in many countries regardless of language. How do you know which country those searchers want?

Multiple Technologies

“We decided to keep using the Apache server for the marketing information but we are putting all of the commerce functions into WebSphere…” Web sites use content management systems, portal servers, and other technology components that each need to be carefully configured to support your search marketing efforts. It’s especially complicated when your Web site has been pieced together across a large organization, because your site probably uses different components in each part of the site. So, your multiple product sites (or audience sites or country sites) might each have their own teams using different technologies to run each site. In the initial rush to get every part of your company on the Web, a divide and conquer strategy may have ruled the day, with each division doing its own thing. Unfortunately, you’re paying for that now, be-cause every combination of technology that displays a Web page must be configured prop-erly to make search marketing work. The more technology combinations you have, the harder it is to get them all working for search. Frequently you need to coordinate multiple changes to fix one problem because, for example, the content management system and the portal are both contributing causes.

What Now?

Search marketers with large sites have problems, but there are solutions. Check out two presentations from this week’s Search Engine Strategies conference. The first is anoverview of Big Site Search Marketing, while the second is a set of best practices on how to work together for search success .

Mike Moran

Mike Moran is a Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also served as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He was a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research and is now a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board. A Certified Speaking Professional, Mike regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide

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