Enterprising Enterprise SEO: My Interview With David Portney
Published: August 28, 2012
Author: Todd Mintz
I’ve known David, SEO Strategist at Portent, for a few years through our SEMpdx Portland Search Marketing Group. When we chatted recently at our annual rooftop event, perhaps with a combination of fun and sun (and maybe a little rum), I ended up asking David to do an e-interview, and he graciously accepted.
1) Please give me your background and tell us what you do for a living.
First let me start by saying “Thanks!” for the opportunity to be interviewed by you, Todd, – I’ve been following your interviews for quite some time, and it’s truly an honor.
Up until 2009, my professional background was primarily business management, and I worked mostly in the grocery and construction industries. I was briefly a beer brewing instructor (had to toss that in), and I’m a published author of several books about public speaking.
Originally, I got into SEO in 2008 as a hobby just to see if I could get any of my vanity websites ranking high in Google, and I unexpectedly found myself becoming fascinated by SEO and wanting to learn more and more.
I started my professional career in SEO in January 2010, and this past February 2012 I started working at Portent, Inc. as an SEO Strategist. I’m extremely proud to be working there. To say I love what I do would be an understatement (let’s call it passion and not obsession, okay?), and I get to work with a group of incredibly smart and enthusiastic people.
2) What are some of the unique challenges faced by organizations trying to implement an Enterprise SEO Strategy?
I’d be remiss not to mention that Ian Lurie addresses this issue quite well and has written a string of articles on the topic of Enterprise SEO.
In my experience, organizations typically face either technology challenges such as a Content Management System that limits their ability to implement SEO changes, or internal challenges such as time constraints – or sometimes both.
Many times a large investment of time and money has been made in a CMS or current platform, which makes changing directions difficult – even though in the mid- to long-term it would be for the best from the SEO perspective. A smaller company with a smaller budget is not as likely to have sunk large costs investing in a platform.
And, organizations (of all sizes) have employees that already have full-time jobs and are not necessarily excited by a huge to-do list supplied by their SEO company.
Sometimes larger companies have layers of approvals to get through as opposed to a smaller company where strategies may be approved more quickly. Generally smaller companies can move more quickly but have smaller budgets, whereas larger organizations have larger budgets but are not as nimble.
3) Which corporate stakeholders need to be involved in an Enterprise SEO Implementation?
Because businesses have varying staffing structures, this can vary widely from company to company. They may or may not have their own Dev/IT, copy/content, PR/marketing teams, and they may also outsource for some or all of these skills. The executives may be hands-on types and want in on all the meetings and strategies, or they may prefer to stay on a high level and just see the reports.
The way I see it, the more stakeholders that can be interested and involved in the process, the better. Not in the sense of “death by committee” or a “too many chefs in the kitchen” kind of thing; rather, when people are involved in the SEO process, they better understand that SEO is not some kind of magic fairy dust you sprinkle onto a website and miraculously get rankings traffic and conversions. It’s a sustained effort across various areas including technical, content, and outreach, so the more people pulling on the same side of the rope, the better.
Plus, large organization can sometimes result in “silos” of employees who may know about terrific assets that can contribute to the success of SEO content-building or outreach efforts – assets that might not be uncovered otherwise.
4) Talk to me about a content strategy for the Enterprise.
An editorial calendar can help out tremendously here, as can a serious dedication to a content growth strategy. Every Enterprise needs a blog, and it should be in a directory on the domain and not in a subdomain or on a platform separate from the site.
I like to see SEO-driven content creation (based on good, quality keyword research) but also “SEO-free” copy writing. By SEO-free I mean writing about industry trends or news, etc., without regard for SEO keywords – because this is more likely to develop genuinely interesting content that visitors may be more likely to engage with and share.
Even very experienced writers can sometimes feel handicapped or “hog-tied” by having to write with keywords in mind, so just letting them cut loose and write is always a great strategy. That content can stand on its own merits, and if need be it can be retrofitted by a skilled SEO.
Existing content can often be polished up as well – both in quantity and quality. If pages are thin on content, they can be beefed up.
It’s common that businesses write for their website in the way they talk about their business or offering and not necessarily how their target market would search for what they do. They may use jargon and specialized industry buzzwords and terminology their customers would never use when searching online. Writing for the target market can open up tremendous opportunities for site content!
Polishing up the current copy and adding new pages as necessary and publishing to their blog regularly are must-do strategies from the SEO perspective. The blog will also serve as the hub of a Social strategy – if one social networking site falls out of favor or fails, the content on the blog remains.
Also, it’s not uncommon for very large sites to have duplicate content issues. An example of this is an ecommerce site with the same manufacturer product descriptions as a zillion other websites. They’ll need to devote resources to de-duplicating that content; there’s no magic bullet to solve that problem.
5) How can a corporate website stay on the good side of Panda / Penguin?
Generally speaking, Panda means making sure all the pages of your site are unique and high-quality, and Penguin means making sure your link profile is mostly clean. I say mostly because there will always be somebody running a scraper site with settings that just happen to pull in a page from your site with the links back to your site, or some scraper directory doing the same thing.
You have total control of the content on your site, but you can’t completely control who links to you. Cleaning up content by pruning useless thin content pages and expanding content where needed can be time-consuming, especially on a large site, but it needs to be done.
Do a complete link profile review right now, whether you’ve gotten warnings from Google or not – especially if you’ve ever bought links. Pull links from Google & Bing Webmaster Tools. Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO, and ahrefs.com. Combine and de-duplicate the list and grab whois information; look for blocks of sites owned by the same person, which may be an indication of a link farm. Sort the list by anchor text and calculate the percentage of brand and domain anchor text versus “targeted” keyword-rich anchor text. Use the 80/20 rule and some common sense here. Look at the domain names for any outright spammy-sounding websites. Spot-check a good number of those and other websites – actually look at the site and your link.
If or when you send emails to webmasters requesting link removal, you’re going to see better results if your tone is friendly. No one likes to be threatened, bullied, or intimidated.
If you’re worried about competitors hiring people to do “negative SEO” and bomb your site with bad links, keep an eye on Google Webmaster Tools; they recently added a “download latest links” button. The data downloads with dates so you can see if there’s a sudden influx of links, and the links themselves provide useful information too (hint, hint).
6) As you are a fellow telecommuter, talk to me about the benefits and drawbacks of working at home.
The benefits are my own bathroom and kitchen. The drawbacks are not being around the super-smart people I work with so I can absorb all of their skills.
On the upside, Seattle is only about a three-hour drive from my home in Vancouver, WA, and I head into the office at least once per month. And every week we have something called “Portent U,” and we have regular SEO team meetings and other trainings, so I do get to connect enough to not feel isolated.
I have a friend who telecommutes, and the other day he told me he struggles to stay focused. I don’t have that problem – partly because I’m very into what I do but also because focusing comes easily to me and I’m not tempted to watch TV or otherwise goof off. I think if you like what you do it almost doesn’t matter where you do it as long as you’re not distracted by that space.
– Todd Mintz, Sr. Account Manager