Big Companies Fall Short with SEO and Content Marketing
By Mike Murray
President, Online Marketing Coach
Even with their vast resources, Fortune 100 companies still miss the mark with search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing on multiple levels.
They clearly enjoy high rankings for many keyword phrases, but I don’t believe that they are doing as much as they should to pursue some keyword phrases that could drive millions of visitors to their websites.
They have the capacity to make headway. After all, Fortune 500 companies that made the 2015 list generated $12.5 trillion in revenues and $945 billion in profits while employing 26.8 million people around the world. Surely, the top 100 could leverage some of their earnings and talent.
For each of the Fortune 100 companies, I focused on their 500 most searched keyword phrases, which rank 11-20 on Google 19.4% of the time on average. Some of those keyword phrases are relevant and are searched thousands of times a year. Others involve millions of searches every year.
I referenced the Fortune 500 list released in 2015 and focused on the Fortune 100. Most of the analysis in November and December 2015 involved U.S. desktop computer data that SEMrush tracks for Google. SEMrush captures rankings for domains and related subdomains and includes average monthly searches on Google (I multiplied monthly estimates for annual totals). I visited each website and explored several pages, including the source code. I expanded my analysis with Screaming Frog SEO Spider for each website’s SEO page titles, URL structures, images and meta descriptions. Additional data came from Majestic Site Explorer for inbound links and Google for home page load time, mobile data and indexed website pages/files.
Even with their significant SEO and content marketing success, Fortune 100 companies repeatedly sell themselves short.
They lack search engine visibility for relevant keyword phrases that are searched more than 1,000 times each month and, in some cases, millions of times a year.
With a proactive online marketing strategy, they could improve their search engine rankings and do a much better job to support branding, lead generation, sales and other goals.
Data from SEMrush is quite telling. Clearly, Fortune 100 businesses dominate organic results, often holding #1 positions for branded and non-branded keywords (based on SEMrush data that captures their root domain and subdomains).
Unfortunately, these companies are underachievers – at least with SEO and content marketing. Hundreds of keyword phrases often rank beyond the first page of Google based on data from SEMrush, which tracks more than 80 million U.S. keyword phrases at any given time.
Fortune 100 websites can perform much better in light of authority they’ve built with their large websites, the backlinks they attract and the age of their domains (some are nearly 30 years old now). It shouldn’t be difficult for them to shore up their SEO practices, including creating additional content, to support keyword phrases that aren’t at or near the top of search engine results pages (SERPs).
For each company, I focused on their 500 keyword phrases with the most searches. I ruled out the first 1-10 because that range would include many branded keyword phrases. I targeted the next set of positions – 11-20 – on the second page of SERPs because they might be easier to improve than something ranking on the third page or worse.
The Fortune 100 businesses should either optimize existing content or add new content to target the keywords that could support their brands and bottom lines.
Here are the key findings:
- 4% of the time on average, for each Fortune 100 company, their 500 most searched keyword phrases rank 11-20 on Google
- 56% don’t use non-branded keyword phrases in their home page SEO page titles (some use “home,” but that’s hardly a target keyword)
- 23% don’t use a home page meta description that could appear with search engine results
- 78% of home page meta descriptions are distinct from interior meta descriptions
- 71% merely repeat visible interior page headers for their SEO page titles instead of adjusting SEO page titles to accentuate keyword phrases
- 20% generally don’t use meta descriptions with interior pages
- 89% generally don’t name images with keywords with dashes (they prefer ineffective underscores and generic or jammed words)
- 93% feature a reasonably evident call to action on the home page (several were borderline)
- 99% don’t include keywords other than the brand in domain names
- 76% generally use dashes to separate words with page URLs (they still lack strategic keyword choices in many cases)
- 70% benefit from 500,000 or more inbound links
- 20% aren’t mobile-friendly based on Google’s test
- 36% have 50,000 pages/files or more indexed on Google
- 71% of their home pages score less than 60 out of 100 points on Google’s PageSpeed Insights for mobile devices (32% score under 60 for how their home pages load on desktop computers).
Big companies like the Fortune 100 could make some changes as simple as fully optimizing SEO page titles. For example, 56% don’t use non-branded keyword phrases in their home page SEO titles.
Fortune 100 and other large companies have many options to ensure that their SEO and content marketing efforts pay off for them. They could certainly expand the content on some pages and improve overall SEO techniques. But they should seriously consider creating new content to target keyword phrases that haven’t managed to make the first page of Google. Their current pages often support many keyword phrases already, including those within the 1-10 positions. New content could include:
- How-to Guides
- Case Studies
- Industry Trends and Resources
- White Papers
- Videos with Transcripts
When diving into the data, I noticed many single keywords (also known as head keywords) that ranked 1-10 on the first page of Google. But I also saw plenty of longer keyword phrases that didn’t appear until the third age of Google or several pages later.
For example, IBM ranks #25 on Google for the word “notebook” for this page: http://www.ibm.com/software/products/en/analysts-notebook
Google estimates that there are nearly 600,000 thousand searches a year for “notebook.” Ranking that low, it’s not likely that IBM attracts many visitors who use that word. With that amount of volume, it’s still relevant even though “notebook” could also refer to everything from paper to a tearjerker movie.
ExxonMobil ranks #17 on Google for “best synthetic oil” that’s searched about 40,000 times a year. The current landing page is:
Costco sells washers and dryers and encourages visitors to become members of the popular wholesale club.
But Costco ranks only #16 for “dryers” on Google, meaning it’s not likely to get many of the estimated 8 million annual searches for that search term.
Clearly, not every keyword phrase is appropriate for Costco and other Fortune 100 companies. On the surface, “Cinemark” may not be relevant for Costco. Many searchers are looking for movie times in their region or a travel destination.
However, there are an estimated 12 million searches a year for “Cinemark” on Google. Would Costco prefer to grab more visitors given that the company ranks #15 on Google for ”Cinemark” for its Cinemark Platinum Supersaver 10-Pack page?http://www.costco.com/Cinemark-Platinum-Supersaver-10-pack– .product.100089446.html
Costco does rank #2 for “Cinemark movie tickets,” which generates about 3,000 searches on Google each year. It’s also #4 for “Cinemark tickets,” which is searched about 8,500 times a year on Google. The search totals seem low, but they’re estimates.
Here are examples for other companies:
Companies should make every effort to secure high rankings because organic traffic sends 51% of all website traffic – more than any other source, according to the 2014 “Cracking the Content Code” report from BrightEdge, an enterprise SEO software platform. BrightEdge, which tracks billions of pieces of content and supports 41% of the Fortune 500 companies among its clients, found that organic traffic outpaces paid, social and other forms of website traffic.
First page rankings are critical because that’s where most of the organic clicks occur. Several studies over the past decade have explored organic click trends with different results. Yet, in all cases, it’s clear that the first 10 positions attract the most clicks.
Examples include Chitika, which in 2013 indicated that 92% of organic clicks are on the first page of Google. A Caphyon study in 2014 found that on average 71.33% of organic clicks occur on the first page of Google.
Regardless of those click trends, online marketing executives are under pressure to get the highest rankings and traffic for the most relevant keywords.
In 2014, Ascend2 and Conductor released “Inside Enterprise SEO: SEO Survey Benchmarks for Large Companies,” a study of marketing, sales and business professionals.
Overall, enterprises appeared to be reasonably pleased with their SEO efforts, but some respondents thought they could have done much better. For example, 17% of enterprises described their SEO activities as “very successful” and 28% summarized their SEO strategies as “not successful.”
The most important objectives for their SEO strategies included generating more leads (61%) and increasing website traffic (57%).
With interior pages, 71% of the time they generally just repeat the visible content header (the visible content title) and use that for the SEO page title. As a result, many SEO page titles are limited to broad keywords that don’t reflect a strong keyword strategy.
Updating SEO page titles alone could make a difference. Additionally, large companies should consider adding pages to support both SEO and content marketing. For starters, they could create a series of Q&As with their own subject matter experts; add blog posts that target specific keywords; and offer tips and insights in how-to guides.
I’m confident that the new content would likely rank well because big companies already have other factors that are in their favor, including domain name age, the number of pages on their websites and hundreds of thousands of backlinks from other websites.
With that much going for them, it’s a shame that the Fortune 100 don’t do more to invest in content marketing and the SEO techniques they can use to modify existing content or add new pages that appeal to potential customers and search engines alike.
The Salesforce “2015 State of Marketing” survey found that marketers are confident with their ability to handle SEO/SEM, which ranked fourth in popularity among 26 distribution channels and strategies. Among respondents in small, mid-sized, and large businesses, 66% described their SEO/SEM efforts as “very effective/effective.”
Marketers’ concerns and priorities are also apparent in new research reports from Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs:
“B2B Content Marketing 2016: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends – North America” “B2C Content Marketing 2016: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends – North America”
The studies included responses from marketing professionals in small, mid-sized, and large companies (including content marketing leaders, writers, and designers).
B2B content marketers view SEO rankings (67%) and website traffic (71%) as important metrics in addition to the quantity and quality of sales, the need for higher conversion rates and brand lift.
B2C content marketers see SEO rankings (75%) and website traffic (79%) as essential – even more so than B2B content marketers. B2C content marketers believe that sales and conversion rates as more important metrics than rankings or traffic.
Home pages should include keywords within SEO page titles to help attract more visitors who can engage with websites. Here are three examples from Fortune 100 companies that aren’t as strong as they could be:
In this example, the mere presence of “meats & livestock” can help with some keyword rankings. But the company focuses on investments, which means that more specific keyword phrases should be pursued with an SEO strategy.
Here is the SEO page title:
<title>INTL FCStone – Meats/Livestock</title>
But the content includes more specific words in sentences like: “The trading of commodities and derivatives such as futures, options, and swaps involves substantial risk of loss and may not be suitable for all investors.”
In this next case, Publix is in better shape than “meats & livestock” with the association of the phrase “food safety” with the context of the “home” reference. The SEO page title is nearly identical to the visible page header, but at least marketers added “tips” to expand the SEO page title. Unfortunately, the SEO page title includes “food safety” twice and lacks additional words that could be more descriptive.
<title>Food Safety at Home | Food Safety Tips | Publix Super Markets</title>
Pfizer went in a different direction than other Fortune 100 companies. It’s not helpful to include the same company description in every SEO page title like Pfizer does – “One of the world’s premier biopharmaceutical companies.” The extra words crowd out other keywords and push the limits on the SEO page title, which should be about 70 characters (including spaces).
Lockheed Martin takes the easy route and merely lists its name with most of its meta descriptions. Although meta descriptions don’t affect rankings, each should be written to include a clear call to action or at least emphasize brand attributes and the page content. Searchers can easily see the descriptions on search results pages.
With some of its meta descriptions, Lockheed Martin actually goes overboard. Meta descriptions typically are limited to about 155 characters (including spaces). For example, one of theirs that lacks a call to action has more than 500 characters and spaces. Google cut it off mid-sentence.
Wells Fargo isn’t the only company that neglects image optimization. But the following example clearly shows what not to do. I’m not sure that “family outside” is a target keyword phrase. But even if “family” is a good word, it won’t be effective because of the underscores. Google doesn’t recognize them as keyword separators. Including the image dimensions also isn’t useful.
Typically, the Google Mobile-Friendly Test reveals several problems, including content that’s too wide for the screen, text that’s too small to read and links that are too close together.
Online marketers have long debated the value of including keyword phrases in domain names. They still influence search engine rankings. But the Fortune 100 businesses typically limit them to their brands.
Most Fortune 100 companies use dashes in their page URLs, which can help with search engine rankings. Unfortunately, the URLs didn’t appear to have strategic keywords in many cases. Overall, their website structures could accommodate more pages with keyword-rich URLs.
Here are examples of reasonably good URLs:
Others have flaws like words that are combined without dashes or words separated with underscores. Google, for example, doesn’t consider an underscore as a keyword separator.
Ultimately, companies should want to support their brands, generate leads and/or increase sales with SEO and content marketing. At least with their home pages, they’re doing a reasonable job with calls to action.
Although it’s a little busy, I’m impressed with Sysco’s home page design.
But other websites lack calls to action or they were hard to find – like Plains All American Pipeline, which favors white text.
Fortunately, Plains All American Pipeline eventually has some calls to action farther down the home page:
Energy Transfer has one of the most basic designs. I don’t consider “Contact Us” as a prominent call to action. I was looking for something that stood out.
UnitedHealth Group has a nice image, but it isn’t clear what a visitor should do other than reading a little in search of something compelling.
Search engine ranking factors also include the time it takes for a website page to load. The Fortune 100 struggle to perform exceptionally well in this area.
With Google PageSpeed for Mobile, only 29% managed to score 60 or more out of 100 points. For desktop computers, only 32% of the companies got at least 60 out of 100. On the low end, one company got 11 points and another scored 99. The average was 65.
The tool uncovers cumbersome programming and server issues that can affect how quickly a website loads, including:
- Formatting and compressing images
- Leveraging browser caching
Faced with fierce competition, regulatory pressures and economic shifts, large companies should do everything within reason to leverage both SEO and content marketing. Many of the businesses I analyzed have tremendous visibility for many of their keyword phrases.
Unfortunately, they’re not using all of the SEO basics or introducing new forms of content to take hold of the keyword phrases that could drive far more visitors to their websites. I limited my analysis to the 11-20 positions for the 500 most searched keyword phrases.
But the problem and the opportunities are also apparent for many keywords that fall beyond the 20th position on Google.
The lack of a keyword focus on the home page is especially astonishing. As I noted earlier, 56% of the Fortune 100 companies don’t really make the effort to include non- branded keywords in the SEO page title for the home page.
They may hope to convert visitors on other pages. But why not take advantage of the authority of the website, including the power of the home page? Once someone reaches the home page, the design should guide him throughout the website.
How are you analyzing your data and measuring the success of your SEO and content marketing strategies?