We refer to various company start-ups, ventures and corporations as the animal known as the Fortune 500 "enterprise," a term with a certain image and austerity. This entity separates itself from others. There are expectations and the perception of vast opportunity. Still, it's not shaping up the way we'd all like on the enterprise landscape.
I was reminded of marketers' bittersweet relationship with the enterprise, in a conversation over the weekend. A young but savvy marketer spoke of his love for developing and running enterprise-level natural search campaigns. Recognizing both his love and his pain, and tugging on a gray hair or two, I said, "How's that working out for you?'
It seems like just yesterday (it was 2003), that I was helping enterprise technology clients on enterprise-level search initiatives. Back then, this amounted to developing a protocol for keyword arbitration and something approximating a central program in which business divisions could participate. All under the stewardship of one global search leader. It was an extraordinary and bloody struggle for all involved.
Then, it was just yesterday (actually a couple months ago) that I was supporting an agency client through exactly the same journey with a financial services enterprise client. I felt like a time traveler. Nothing had changed. Same dialogue. In fact, when I conducted a cursory market survey of search leadership, it turned out we can count the companies who have successfully nailed enterprise search on one hand. "Nailed" meaning they have centralized ownership; keyword arbitration; rules of engagement and best practices on content development and management; and appropriate monitoring and analytics tools.
Yet these infrastructures and rules say nothing about how well these companies are doing in the marketplace with integrated search efforts. And further, because we are only talking about a handful of emergent rock stars, the bigger picture for enterprise search marketers, namely the Fortune 500, is grim. As a collective whole, enterprise search is just not happening.
Well-timed as a backdrop to my conversation over the weekend was the release of Conductor, Inc.'s report, "Natural Search Trends of the Fortune 500." What's important to remember before perusing this report is that search is not a nascent method in the world of digital. Its roots are strong; many of the originating practices have been around since the '90s. Sure, PPC emerged in the early part of his decade, and search would become an industry unto itself. But, the core practice and wisdom of optimizing a Web site for natural performance was foundational. It's stunning how neglected it remains. A few stats from the Conductor, Inc. report:
· The Fortune 500 as a group spent approximately $3.4 million per day on 97,559 keywords -- yet only 25% of these keywords rank in the top 50 natural search results.
· 53% of Fortune 500 companies have no natural search visibility for their most advertised keywords.
· 68% of visible keywords were found on a landing page. For some industry sectors (i.e., "Real Estate and Leasing," it was even lower. For some, like "Wholesale Trade," it was higher.
Within the greater narrative of the report, we detect the disparity between what a brand seems willing to put ad dollars against on PPC and organic efforts.
The narrative also reveals familiar disconnects between corporate divisions. For example, that data point on presence of keywords on landing pages showcases the classic break in collaboration between advertising, marketing, merchandising, content, Webmaster and IT.
As we who covet the enterprise puzzle know, the active collaboration between these interests is nothing if not an unnatural act. The enterprise has to advocate and enable it. This is still out of whack at most companies.
This search marketing imbalance is but one example of marketing operational strife at the lauded enterprise. Salivating client developers aspire to sell into these organizations, business unit by business unit - tackling enterprise mapping and the like. But, obstacles prevail.
When it comes to search services specifically, strategists and practitioners can write the plan in their sleep. They know what needs to be done. And so do many client-side marketers. But, the path is perilous.
Strategists themselves will routinely tell you their companies are still on a quest for integrated marketing that's truly operational on digital, let alone search. So it's no surprise that broken org structures, barriers to functional collaboration, and mosaics of agency partnerships make all matters worse.