Fortune 500 Companies Fail At SEO


Fortune 500 companies fail at search engine optimization, and many still don't link paid-search keywords to SEO campaigns, although they collectively spend about $3.4 million daily on 97,559 keywords, according to a report.

The Conductor Research Q4/2009 Fortune 500 Report released Wednesday identifies that only 25% of those keywords rank in the top 50 natural search results on search engines such as Google, Microsoft Bing or Yahoo. The Fortune 500 report analyzes national search results and optimization effectiveness, as well as trends and integration plans for the corporate and the consumer brands during the December 2009 quarter.

Analyzing the most expensive keywords that companies bought allowed Conductor to measure intent by assuming these words should float to the top of natural search in query results.



"Since they spend all that money on paid-search keywords you would expect these companies would want the keywords in natural search to correlate with investments on the other side and make them as visible as possible," says Nathan Safran, senior research analyst at Conductor Research.

The group made slight improvements in aligning natural search with their paid campaigns, increasing the percentage of companies in the top 50 natural search results to 25% in the December 2009 quarter -- up from 17% in the year-ago quarter, but overall the Fortune 500 remains largely invisible in natural search.

Results also identify that only 2% of the domains surveyed show a significant number of terms in the top results. Many companies still have not adopted a culture that identifies what it takes to build and support a natural search campaign, Safran says.

Still, 15% of the companies demonstrate mid-to-strong presence for their most advertised keywords. And, 53% have no natural search visibility for their most advertised keywords.

Fortune 500 natural search visibility decreased with longer search queries, and 68% of keywords were found on a landing page, such as phone, compared with a top-level domain page, such as

Compete ranked each keyword, gave it a score and averaged it into a grade. Grades A and B note the best, but Grades C through F average poor visibility across keywords.

Compared with Q4 2008, the results this year identify a major gap between the companies that rank well for some terms and ones that have poor visibility. Even among the top performers, there were no companies that had a majority of terms ranking in the top 25. The group also did not improve on their overall visibility score, rating a 'D-' and scoring 61 on the visibility scale, the same score it received in our previous research.

The report breaks down the companies by market segment, including retail, finance and insurance, manufacturing, transportation and warehouse, food services, construction, science and technical, and more. It shed light on keyword distribution of the retail and information subcategories, and search visibility by industry.

Conductor also found that the Fortune 500's visibility remains in inverse proportion to the length of the search query. The most significant drop occurred in searches with greater than seven words. The inconsistency between the visibility in query results for one- and two-word searches increased in this year's study, with one-word searches scoring a 70 on the search visibility scale and two-word searches scoring a 65, compared with 62 for both one- and two-word searches last year.

8 comments about "Fortune 500 Companies Fail At SEO".
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  1. Michael Hubbard from Media Two Interactive, February 17, 2010 at 11:21 a.m.

    Interesting report, but I don't like this assumption: "Since they spend all that money on paid-search keywords you would expect these companies would want the keywords in natural search to correlate with investments on the other side and make them as visible as possible".

    A lot of times we will build out paid search campaigns to complement our clients organic listings, or to highlight specific features, products, offers, etc so our bid strategies may not align with overall organic strategies. In other words, it doesn't always mean that we think we should be ranked #1 organically for that terms as it very well could be a promotional, one-time only strategy. So if this is the only basis of this report, then I find it rather short-sighted unless it was just meant as a PR piece for their new biz group to sell SEO services.

  2. Steven Graff from Bloofusion Inc., February 17, 2010 at 12:44 p.m.

    This report is a bit generous in its categorization of an "A". Ranking in the top 30 is not "A" worthy, earlier studies show that less than 13% of searchers click past the second page of results (top 20). This would likely drop the number of Fortune 500 companies deserving an A-rank down to 0.1% from the already pathetic 0.2% award in this report.

    Another article published in Online Media Daily today "First Page Or Bust: 95% of Non-Branded Natural Clicks Come From Page One" emphasizes what soft grading this is, and how much worse this situation is for Fortune 500 companies.

  3. Kevin Horne from Lairig Marketing, February 17, 2010 at 1:57 p.m.

    And then you get an example like Cisco. Google the term "cisco" and you'll see nothing but content all the way down page one. Beautiful SEO, right?

    But then, at the top of the page is a sponsored link for Completely unnecessary, no?

    Now we know where some of Google's $23 billion comes from...

  4. Gene Skazovski from FairSquare Inc, February 17, 2010 at 3:44 p.m.

    Interesting, but not surprising. When companies get too big they tend to forget some of the most important elements. BofA's customer service is one of the worst comparing to other smaller banks and it does not stop at banking and the list goes on and on....

    SEO is still in adolescence stage being relatively new so I am glad there is lots of work ahead for me and other SEO professional.

    BTW Don't forget that Fortune 500 companies have so much red tape to go through no wonder they can't get started on SEO.

  5. Gene Skazovski from FairSquare Inc, February 17, 2010 at 7:37 p.m.

    I just could not hold myself and had to make a few additional comments:
    1. "25% of those keywords rank in the top 50 natural search results on search engines such as Google" - why would you care if they rank anywhere beyond 2nd page? (or 1st page for that matter?)
    2. in a lot of cases Fortune 500 companies (management to be exact) think that people search for their company name and not the products they offer, thus they see no need for SEO or actually don't really understand its benefit. at least this gives a small chance for little guys to take a stab at the products big guys offer.
    3. "Fortune 500 natural search visibility decreased with longer search queries" - this is where the search is going so we should give Fortune 500 at least a few years to catch up. That's ok, when the time will come we'll be here to help them out :)
    I mean there is so much more, but I have to get back to work... Good luck to all of you out there

  6. Michael Hubbard from Media Two Interactive, February 18, 2010 at 8:43 a.m.

    Kevin - your example of Cisco to me is actually a company that is doing it right - not wrong. I know there are plenty of articles about bidding on your own brand terms, but keep in mind, Google allows competitors to bid on your brand (or should I say, doesn't discourage them), so if you are not in that top spot, then someone else will be. So think about it - is it worth the $.05 per click to be there to not lose even one customer? I've done the math for all of our clients, and it is well worth it. Trust me - VERY well worth it. You have to protect your brand terms even if it means spending a few dollars extra a month.

  7. Kevin Horne from Lairig Marketing, February 18, 2010 at 11:19 a.m.

    @M. Hubbard:
    I totally understand your example. Thanks.

    But it's just another data point to me for how Google has architected a way to line its own pockets, 5 cents at a time (altho i imagine the price for "cisco" would be a little higher? ;).

    Having to "protect yourself" doesnt seem like value-added marketing to me...

  8. Fj Rich from EPI, February 22, 2010 at 6:18 p.m.

    Good stuff. Thx

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