A couple of months ago, Clutch – an independent research company, conducted a survey on how large corporations employ digital marketing. This survey was posed to marketers from 501 different companies in the US that have over 100 employees each.
Included in that survey was Search Engine Optimization. SEO, of course, is the implementation of strategies and optimizations that are designed to rank web pages higher on search results. SEO is also a highly dynamic practice with constant algorithm changes from the likes of Google and Bing.
The goal of search engines is to provide relevant search results to users and they’re continually refining that process. People working in the SEO field need to stay current with these changes. Unfortunately, search engines provide very little information on their algorithm. As such, SEO often times comes down to best practices and key principles. But the game is always changing.
It makes logical sense that every company would want its content to surface as the top search result. Naturally, to make that happen, SEO would and should be a priority for businesses.
Back to the survey.
What it found was startling and a shift away from how companies had previously been focusing their marketing resources.
“SEO is the least popular digital marketing channel”
It’s true, from this survey, that large corporations are favouring other marketing efforts above search optimization as it's not listed in the top six channels. This is to the point where, of the options, SEO sits at the very bottom with only 44% of corporations making SEO a part of their digital strategy. Of course, not long ago we would very likely have seen SEO rank far higher up the list.
So, what’s going on? Well, there are a few likely scenarios at play here.
The first is the contrast between large and small companies and the perceived value of SEO.
Typically, small companies are not well known and don’t have the same brand awareness as a large corporation. This explains why, if the same question were posed to smaller companies, search optimization would be higher on that list. Small companies need to be in the mix and so they focus their efforts to be found. Large corporations know that through all their other marketing efforts such as PR and social media, people know who they are and will already be top-of-mind.
The survey also points out that the main goal for large corporations is to “increase sales and revenue.” That’s quite understandable, it’s the whole reason a corporation exists. However, SEO is not a fast means to that end. SEO is a long and continued process of various optimizations and algorithm accommodations.
Certainly, in the long run, having a site that’s at the top of search results is hugely beneficial. However, it doesn’t have the same immediacy as other channels when it comes to large corporations.
This also leads into another factor that plays against SEO in this survey, and this is the fact that SEO is complicated. You don’t just press a few buttons to make optimizations. Sure, a simple WordPress site has many plugins developed to assist with optimizations but those only work so well. A large corporation’s website is likely to be large and the upkeep, maintenance, and required array of different forms of optimization increase accordingly. This adds complexity which is not always understood in the same way more intuitive forms of marketing are.
The changing face of SEO
Perhaps the biggest reason for SEO to be ranked so low by large corporations is that it’s not actually ranking low! Search optimization in today’s world is vastly different than it was a decade ago.
With all the algorithm developments and AI involved in search rankings, the biggest factors which contribute to positioning are relevancy and quality. The factors which contribute to building those up are backlinks and valuable content. So, SEO now, in many ways, goes by a different name and that’s PR.
A strong PR team will be working to gain earned media in quality publications which have high levels of domain authority. The PR team will also be developing content that provides relevant and real value to people. Search engines like Google love this and it factors highly in their algorithm.
As search engines continue in this direction, it’s the PR team which is giving Google what it wants, leaving the SEO work as strictly on-site optimizations. Having an optimized and well-functioning site is still very important to have, but not to the same degree as what PR is providing to search engines.
When it comes down to it, large corporations have a different view of SEO today.
We see SEO as a lower priority because: 1) large corporations may likely have a strong brand awareness and people will seek them out for their product, 2) SEO is also a slow, gradual process, and corporations are driven by the goal of profits today, and 3) we see search optimization as a complex process.
However, maybe the true reason SEO ranks where it does in the eyes of corporations is simply due to a changing of the game with some of the role moving into the hands of PR.