Big Business SEO – Tom Critchlow at #searchlove

Big Business SEO – Tom Critchlow at #searchlove

24th October 2011

Good morning folks, today I’m going to be offering up some of the top tips from a handful of sessions at #searchlove 2011 in London. Stick by State of Search for all sorts of blog coverage of the conference both today and tomorrow.

The first topic up for discussion today (after an introduction to the Power of Community by Rand Fishkin) is Tom Critchlow of Distilled speaking about Big Business SEO. This topic should be really interesting and is certainly close to my heart as something I’ve done a great deal of in the past year so really looking forward to Tom’s thoughts on this!


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Tom’s first tip is: “think big!” big companies will laugh you out of the room because you don’t think big enough and ask for enough money. Big companies are not likely to get excited to change the keywords in their title tags, it’s going to have to be something bigger than that – but you’ll need to be able to justify it with the numbers so you need to pitch the vision and then justify the budget with pilot projects.

If you can prove that it works on a smaller scale and show that it works at that scale then it’s a lot easier to make the big sell- but they need to know where you’re headed before you deliver it. The up-sell is much easier if you’ve already told them what the aim is and then prove it on the pilot scale first.

The Lean Enterprise

Tom spoke about how popular the lean start-up is and how this is beginning to be applied at the enterprise level: Ideas->Build->Product->Measure->Data->Learn->Ideas… and on and on. Lean entreprises have to learn quickly whislt realising that big projects take big budgets and a lot of time to complete.

We all tend to laugh at what big companies do because they tend to suck at onpage optimisation, but you can usually bet they’re working on something much bigger – Tom’s example of the big vision pitch would be along the lines of the fact that Zappos have over 50k product videos – to him this is more exciting and will have a bigger impact than just changing all the title tags.

“One of the most important things you can do is invest in page-types” – incremental improvements to large existing pages and it’s about building new page types as well. “Invest in improving your page types… Good page types are not sufficient, but they are required!”

The point here is that doing things properly will not guarantee you will rank but to rank you can usually guarantee that you will have to do this sort of thing – a conversation I’ve had myself in a few cases.

Ranking Data

For a big company SEOmoz data will not cut it. You really need to go for something like BrightEdge, Covario, Conductor, etc. (Worth adding that my personal preference here would be a combination of BrightEdge and Advanced Web Ranking or something built in house). “You are blind without data so invest in it up front” and DON’T SHOW EVERYTHING, but be sure that you have information should you ever require, it’s not about showing everything but you do need to have this information.

The above is a point that I know that I’ve discussed with Tom in the past and definitely worth bearing in mind – getting reporting right and getting the costs associated sold in before you start is one of the single most important things you can do when working on big business SEO.


Tom talked about his annoyance with the fact that there is usually not a call to action and that people usually deliver the same sort of SEO 101 training without tailoring this to the individual. Tom showed a great slide (way too much info to get down here) about the different teams and how they can help push the SEO forward.

Enterprise Getting Shit Done

Interesting Tom has mentioned the State of Search post about Agencies vs. In-house SEOs and referenced the “and then you just” point in particular. Good for the room to know and definitely worth you reading through the post if you have a moment!

The more you can think about who will be responsible for the different aspects (producing, publishing, etc.) up front the better off you will be. Tom referenced an enterprise clients with 7 infographics having been delivered and the fact that not a single one has yet been published as a failing – I also know the feeling of this far too well! It’s all about getting the process right first and then worry about the deliverables – which seems backwards, but is essential.

There IS NO “and then you just.”

[Edit- it looks like Tom and I were on the same wavelength here as I seem to have preempted his point on the need for process]

And if you have to, try to change the processes. Effecting change is the same as changing processes.

Project Management

“In small companies and to move the needle a small company needs to hustle, but to move the needle in an enterprise company you need project management.” All of the hustle in the world will get you nowhere but frustrated in big business SEO so as scary as it may sound you really need to do good project management.

Tom then went on to speak about the need to change language to look like you know what you’re doing in terms of project management. Waiting to see what else he says on this because I actually don’t think it’s worth blagging it – you really do need to do project management properly or you will pay the price. But with that said, using the right language – the main point there is dead right.

Specific terms referenced: “gap analysis, SWOT analysis, GANT charts, etc.” – this doesn’t need to change anything about the SEO we’re doing but if you pitch it in a language that executives understand means you will probably go a long way.

Prune Aggressively

As a big site, one of the most valuable things you can do is get rid of the low quality pages to bring down the number of pages you have indexed. Do some pruning and get rid of all of the old junk that is no longer used or good (old profiles, low quality content, etc.)

“Low quality content can harm an entire domain” quoted from Michael Wyszomierski from Google. As an aside – this is definitely the case with big sites (in my experience particularly big ecommerce sites with products that have expired, products without unique product descriptions, etc.). If it’s not doing anything for you the aim should be to get these pages out of the index rather than try to rank for terms that you don’t necessarily deserve to or want to rank for.

Tom then also talked about consolidating content into places it matters and referenced Gucci having 5 million Facebook fans and how they don’t do that on their own site. He says you should consolidate it into places it matters. Great content is produced right here on Facebook and none of this is helping Gucci.

I’m actually of a different mind about this because Tom’s saying it’s “lost” here on Facebook but my argument would be, you have these 5 million viewers (and acces/visibility to way more right on Facebook) you shouldn’t move this content because you will never get that sort of following on the Gucci site and you’d be duplicating your efforts. I do definitely think there’s more they could do to leverage these users and get them back to their site (competitions, microsites, etc.) but I think they should definitely not abandon this platform that has worked so well for them and sadly I do think they’d need to up their game and tie it back rather than try to lead the exodus. It’s possible I’ve overstated Tom’s point here but this was my read on what he said.

Get in bed with Google, but be careful

As an entreprise client it’s much easier to get in with Google than it would be if you were a smaller client. On the one hand you can look to leverage opportunities, get the inside scoop, etc. However, the problem is that potentially you could help them and get in bed and then lose your rankings. Again, couldn’t possibly comment on this but let’s say a lot of Tom’s hypotheticals about Google are not working your best interest is worth bearing in mind before agreeing and/or outing your clients.

See more coverage of Searchlove 2011


Written By
Sam Crocker is SEO Associate Director at OMD UK. Sam focuses on increasing traffic and conversions for websites whilst always keeping his eye on a company’s bottom line.
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