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Fail at Scale
Large Enterprises and the
Challenges of In-House SEO
Keith Goode
Position: Sr. SEO Strategist, IBM
Experience:
• 20+ Years in Online Marketing
• 10+ Years of Experience in In-House SEO
• Previous Employers: AMD, HomeAway,
Dell, seoClarity
• Appearances: Pubcon, SMX West, Digital
Summit, Advanced Search Summit
• Follow: @keithgoode
Some Light Housekeeping
* Disclaimer: Opinions expressed herein are my own. No forward-looking statements regarding
IBM have been included. None of IBM’s secret sauce has been revealed. Statements made in this
presentation have not been tested by the FDA.
Problem
Arrogance
At Pubcon Austin 2020, I Presented This
Follow me at @keithgoode
Innovation Spurs Brand Spurs Links
• The presentation was titled “SEO Whales: Inside Large Enterprise
Sites”
• My Key Takeaways were:
• As a company, brand and reputation are the most valuable things for search
efficacy.
• Democratization and enablement will go a long way to aligning your
organization.
• What a difference two months make?
Follow me at @keithgoode
Ranking and Traffic Losses
• The next month, the
Analytics team contacted
me to ask why we would
be seeing traffic losses
• I noticed a corresponding
loss in ranking starting in
December
• Had the whale run
aground?
Organic Keywords in Ahrefs
Follow me at @keithgoode
Massive Loss in Backlinks
January 2020 September 2020
Follow me at @keithgoode
Previously, that number was 1.9B backlinks. What
happened?
The Silver Bullet Mentality
An SEO Industry Problem
Algo Watch
Follow me at @keithgoode
As a large enterprise website, if you’re
doing legitimate SEO, a single algorithm
update (or Google hiccup) shouldn’t
hurt your site…for long.
It isn’t a single silver bullet you
should be worried about. You’re
more likely to suffer from Lingchi,
death by a thousand cuts…
… and many of those cuts are
self-inflicted.
Understanding the Background
Historical Context to the Big Link Loss
Technical SEO Doesn’t Always Happen When You Want it to or
When It’s Most Convenient
We Had Been Chasing Three Bandits for a While
video.ibm.com
spammers
IBM
Community
spammers
Old numbered
server sub-
domains
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Old Numbered Servers
• We wanted to consolidate sub-domains and reduce the need for
cross-sub-domain content
• We wanted to optimize the crawl for Googlebot
• We wanted to retire old servers
Follow me at @keithgoode
Video Spammers
• Old uStream.tv
accounts had been
largely neglected
• These were posting
promises of free
downloads to
movies but linked
off-site
Follow me at @keithgoode
Whack-a-Mole Spammers
• We addressed these when
Google made us aware of them
• But these were being posted
faster than we could resolve
them
Follow me at @keithgoode
Community Spammers Were of Particular
Concern
• Soundly and justly called out
online
• The problem appears to be
across the board for large sites
• Blackhat SEO agencies were
selling links from our site
Follow me at @keithgoode
22
A Simple Google Search Revealed How Bad It Was
User Account Tactics
• Building user profiles and selling
links for specific subject matters
• Links are sold as “contextual
links,” which tend to carry more
weight than navigational and
footer links
• “Mark Gallaher” linked off to a
few different sites, who had
presumably purchased links to
their content
23
Follow me at @keithgoode
• Moderate active areas of IBM Community that allow creation of profiles or
blog posts and comments
• Identify spammy accounts, suspend (noindex) their accounts and all their
contributions
• Close all inactive communities, redirecting to main IBM Community
homepage
• Implement the “ugc” link attribute for all user-generated links:
• <a href=“URL” rel=“ugc”>Anchor Text</a>
• More information here: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/96569?hl=en
Our Team’s Recommendations Were Complex
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Their Solution Was Simple
• There is no reason at all to allow HTML in the user profiles
• Turn off HTML in user profiles
• Scrub all HTML out of existing user profiles
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The Problem
• Number servers were retired
• Video accounts were closed down
• HTML capabilities were removed from Community accounts
• All within a two-month span
Follow me at @keithgoode
1.6 Billion Spammy backlinks lost is still 1.6 Billion backlinks lost.
3-Month Window of Big Losses in Ranking
Where Big Sites Fail
The 1000 Cuts that Eventually Hurt Us
1000 Cuts of Neglect
• Comments sections
• User accounts
• Forums
• Video posting
• All of these can and do fall prey
Follow me at @keithgoode
1000 Cuts of Budget and Priority
• An automated, intelligent
redirect functionality in backlog
• We should’ve dedicated staff to
mitigating spammy links
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1000 Cuts of Time
• Work or Meet – You Can’t Do
Both
• Compliance Training
• Executive Updates
• Standing Meetings
Follow me at @keithgoode
1000 Cuts of Unaligned…
• Executives and Product Owners
• Subdomain work-arounds
• Work that falls outside of
standards
• Work that isn’t sufficiently QA’d
• Writers
• Directionless and marketing-speak
writing
• Developers
• Non-standard implementation
• Exacerbation of Core Web Vitals
Follow me at @keithgoode
Fixing the Problem
How Can Projects and Organizations Align with Best Practices in SEO
Space Out Releases that Impact SEO
• Release
• Wait
• Measure and
• Allow for a Natural Correction
Follow me at @keithgoode
Yes, Democratize … But…
Pitfalls of a One-Size-Fits-All Enablement
• General SEO Training to the
entire organization is worthless
• Best Case: Attendees leave
feeling like they learned
something but will forget
everything
• Worst Case: They’ll think they
know SEO and will get it Wrong
Follow me at @keithgoode
Customize Training for Each Discipline
Crawling
• Googlebot
• Barriers to
Success:
• No Nav Links
• Not in Sitemap
• Robots.txt
Disallow
• Content in
JavaScript
• Orphaned
Pages
• Robots
“Nofollow”
Indexing
• Stored @
Google
• Barriers to
Success:
• Robots
“Noindex” tag
• Excessive
Duplication
(bad canonical
tag)
• Innaccurate
Localization
• Text isn’t
readable
Ranking
• PageRank
• RankBrain
• Organic SERP
• Barriers to
Success:
• No relevance
• Slow Page Load
• Not mobile
responsive
• No internal
links
• No external
links
• No Keyword
Use
Useful
Responses
• Instant Answer
• Knowledge
Graph
• Barriers to
Success:
• No Structured
Markup
• No Schema
• Lack of
relevant, easy-
to-follow
content
Technical/Systemic Technical/Project Content-Related
Seek Executive Support and Build Standards
• Either fight 20 different
department heads by yourself,
or
• Get the highest level executive
on your side to give you
authority over those heads
• Implement rigorous standards
for:
• Content
• Development
• PR and Promotion
Follow me at @keithgoode
Resolution
How Has the Recovery Gone?
Stabilizing and Steady
Key Takeaways
1. Do Not Neglect Any Portion of Your Site
2. Monitor Your Backlink Profile Closely
3. Align Your Organization to Being SEO Aware
But More Importantly
Stop Hurting Yourself
Thank You!
Follow me at @keithgoode on Twitter

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Fail at Scale: Large Enterprises and the Challenges of In-House SEO

  • 1. Fail at Scale Large Enterprises and the Challenges of In-House SEO
  • 2. Keith Goode Position: Sr. SEO Strategist, IBM Experience: • 20+ Years in Online Marketing • 10+ Years of Experience in In-House SEO • Previous Employers: AMD, HomeAway, Dell, seoClarity • Appearances: Pubcon, SMX West, Digital Summit, Advanced Search Summit • Follow: @keithgoode
  • 3. Some Light Housekeeping * Disclaimer: Opinions expressed herein are my own. No forward-looking statements regarding IBM have been included. None of IBM’s secret sauce has been revealed. Statements made in this presentation have not been tested by the FDA.
  • 5. At Pubcon Austin 2020, I Presented This Follow me at @keithgoode
  • 6. Innovation Spurs Brand Spurs Links • The presentation was titled “SEO Whales: Inside Large Enterprise Sites” • My Key Takeaways were: • As a company, brand and reputation are the most valuable things for search efficacy. • Democratization and enablement will go a long way to aligning your organization. • What a difference two months make? Follow me at @keithgoode
  • 7. Ranking and Traffic Losses • The next month, the Analytics team contacted me to ask why we would be seeing traffic losses • I noticed a corresponding loss in ranking starting in December • Had the whale run aground? Organic Keywords in Ahrefs Follow me at @keithgoode
  • 8. Massive Loss in Backlinks January 2020 September 2020 Follow me at @keithgoode
  • 9. Previously, that number was 1.9B backlinks. What happened?
  • 10. The Silver Bullet Mentality An SEO Industry Problem
  • 11. Algo Watch Follow me at @keithgoode
  • 12. As a large enterprise website, if you’re doing legitimate SEO, a single algorithm update (or Google hiccup) shouldn’t hurt your site…for long.
  • 13. It isn’t a single silver bullet you should be worried about. You’re more likely to suffer from Lingchi, death by a thousand cuts…
  • 14. … and many of those cuts are self-inflicted.
  • 15. Understanding the Background Historical Context to the Big Link Loss
  • 16. Technical SEO Doesn’t Always Happen When You Want it to or When It’s Most Convenient
  • 17. We Had Been Chasing Three Bandits for a While video.ibm.com spammers IBM Community spammers Old numbered server sub- domains Follow me at @keithgoode
  • 18. Old Numbered Servers • We wanted to consolidate sub-domains and reduce the need for cross-sub-domain content • We wanted to optimize the crawl for Googlebot • We wanted to retire old servers Follow me at @keithgoode
  • 19. Video Spammers • Old uStream.tv accounts had been largely neglected • These were posting promises of free downloads to movies but linked off-site Follow me at @keithgoode
  • 20. Whack-a-Mole Spammers • We addressed these when Google made us aware of them • But these were being posted faster than we could resolve them Follow me at @keithgoode
  • 21. Community Spammers Were of Particular Concern • Soundly and justly called out online • The problem appears to be across the board for large sites • Blackhat SEO agencies were selling links from our site Follow me at @keithgoode
  • 22. 22 A Simple Google Search Revealed How Bad It Was
  • 23. User Account Tactics • Building user profiles and selling links for specific subject matters • Links are sold as “contextual links,” which tend to carry more weight than navigational and footer links • “Mark Gallaher” linked off to a few different sites, who had presumably purchased links to their content 23 Follow me at @keithgoode
  • 24. • Moderate active areas of IBM Community that allow creation of profiles or blog posts and comments • Identify spammy accounts, suspend (noindex) their accounts and all their contributions • Close all inactive communities, redirecting to main IBM Community homepage • Implement the “ugc” link attribute for all user-generated links: • <a href=“URL” rel=“ugc”>Anchor Text</a> • More information here: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/96569?hl=en Our Team’s Recommendations Were Complex Follow me at @keithgoode
  • 25. Their Solution Was Simple • There is no reason at all to allow HTML in the user profiles • Turn off HTML in user profiles • Scrub all HTML out of existing user profiles Follow me at @keithgoode
  • 26. The Problem • Number servers were retired • Video accounts were closed down • HTML capabilities were removed from Community accounts • All within a two-month span Follow me at @keithgoode
  • 27. 1.6 Billion Spammy backlinks lost is still 1.6 Billion backlinks lost.
  • 28. 3-Month Window of Big Losses in Ranking
  • 29. Where Big Sites Fail The 1000 Cuts that Eventually Hurt Us
  • 30. 1000 Cuts of Neglect • Comments sections • User accounts • Forums • Video posting • All of these can and do fall prey Follow me at @keithgoode
  • 31. 1000 Cuts of Budget and Priority • An automated, intelligent redirect functionality in backlog • We should’ve dedicated staff to mitigating spammy links Follow me at @keithgoode
  • 32. 1000 Cuts of Time • Work or Meet – You Can’t Do Both • Compliance Training • Executive Updates • Standing Meetings Follow me at @keithgoode
  • 33. 1000 Cuts of Unaligned… • Executives and Product Owners • Subdomain work-arounds • Work that falls outside of standards • Work that isn’t sufficiently QA’d • Writers • Directionless and marketing-speak writing • Developers • Non-standard implementation • Exacerbation of Core Web Vitals Follow me at @keithgoode
  • 34. Fixing the Problem How Can Projects and Organizations Align with Best Practices in SEO
  • 35. Space Out Releases that Impact SEO • Release • Wait • Measure and • Allow for a Natural Correction Follow me at @keithgoode
  • 37. Pitfalls of a One-Size-Fits-All Enablement • General SEO Training to the entire organization is worthless • Best Case: Attendees leave feeling like they learned something but will forget everything • Worst Case: They’ll think they know SEO and will get it Wrong Follow me at @keithgoode
  • 38. Customize Training for Each Discipline Crawling • Googlebot • Barriers to Success: • No Nav Links • Not in Sitemap • Robots.txt Disallow • Content in JavaScript • Orphaned Pages • Robots “Nofollow” Indexing • Stored @ Google • Barriers to Success: • Robots “Noindex” tag • Excessive Duplication (bad canonical tag) • Innaccurate Localization • Text isn’t readable Ranking • PageRank • RankBrain • Organic SERP • Barriers to Success: • No relevance • Slow Page Load • Not mobile responsive • No internal links • No external links • No Keyword Use Useful Responses • Instant Answer • Knowledge Graph • Barriers to Success: • No Structured Markup • No Schema • Lack of relevant, easy- to-follow content Technical/Systemic Technical/Project Content-Related
  • 39. Seek Executive Support and Build Standards • Either fight 20 different department heads by yourself, or • Get the highest level executive on your side to give you authority over those heads • Implement rigorous standards for: • Content • Development • PR and Promotion Follow me at @keithgoode
  • 40. Resolution How Has the Recovery Gone?
  • 42. Key Takeaways 1. Do Not Neglect Any Portion of Your Site 2. Monitor Your Backlink Profile Closely 3. Align Your Organization to Being SEO Aware
  • 43. But More Importantly Stop Hurting Yourself
  • 44. Thank You! Follow me at @keithgoode on Twitter