4 Reasons Many Big Brands Downplay SEO

While this post will focus on 4 issues big brands and big sites may be facing regarding SEO, there are actually three primary issues often faced by agencies dealing with big brands in the search and social media marketplace. This is the first post in a three part series and addresses:


Why Many Big Brands Are Not Embracing SEO


Only 40% of the top 100 retailer sites* are optimized well or moderately well while 27% show no signs of any optimization at all.  Non-optimized sites that perform well on the search engines are relying heavily on the popularity of their brand names. 


The issues behind the lack of optimization on these bigger sites and bigger brands are numerous. None are insurmountable, but many brands are unwilling to deal with the issues that do present themselves.


Some of the issues are dealt with here:


  1. Ease of Maintenance

Big brands and big sites require ease of maintenance. As a consequence, many have opted for content management solutions, and many CMS are simply not SEO friendly.


Redeveloping the backend and incorporating a more friendly CMS solution is often seen to be too costly or too time consuming, and many agencies are unable to provide solid potential return data that satisfies the brands.


Likewise, working with the support teams of some CMS that can be SEO friendly is seen to be a non-optimal use of web development and marketing resources when time constraints and costs are of the essence. The bigger brands have a far greater need to prove immediate returns to shareholders and stakeholders than smaller sites and brands, and this ‘short-sightedness’ often leads to under compensation regarding newer or less easily explained or quantified initiatives.


The need to easily maintain sites is often due to the brands requirement to create more pages quickly. What is very often not fully understood is that more pages are not going to benefit the brand unless they are topically dedicated and optimized, as well as relevant and usable. Bigger is not always better.


CMS often have single database includes that populate an entire site for the field in question. Coding the same title tag for all pages is very likely to trigger the duplicate content filter in Google, especially when the unique content on the page is minimal; for example, in the case of a product catalogue.


URL rewriting very often raises its ugly head when it comes to easy CMS and the need to add new pages. For example, URL mapping can be applied to a Websphere portal URL to make it more attractive but as soon as a user lands on the portal page the URL string will revert to its original state to preserve portlet state and other information. The URLs generated are action/render URLs which are encoded by the portal in its own proprietary way. It is possible that using session hiding and regular expression for the URLs may maintain their ‘cleaned-up’ state, but big brands like definite answers immediately.


2. Personalization and Tracking


Personalization, tracking and other mapping requirements are very important to the big brands for the same reason outlined above – reporting to the share and stakeholders is of paramount importance. It needs to be easily qualifiable and quantifiable. If it’s not, unless the brand is very proactive when it comes to embracing new technologies, ideas and media, they are unlikely to embrace it.


What many big brands don’t get is that the search results are going to display the most applicable page to a search query. They are not going to rank every product on the same web site in the top ten listings for a search on ‘Apple Ipod’.


Explaining that big brands may need to target highly informative portal pages to lead to other more specific product areas for the majority of users is not an easy task. They know their market so well they can get myopic, and very often expect that the majority of their audience think or search the same way. Many of their existing market do know what they want exactly, but search is not only about answering the search query intent of existing or well informed customers. In fact, search by nature should be answering the less specific intent likely to be embraced by the less informed members of their potential target market who are actually searching for information.


3. Languages and Multiple Countries


Many large brands keep all their languages under one top level domain (TLD). It is a fact that if your country code top level domain (ccTLD) is a .com, and if the site is hosted in the US, that any search for that website’s products on .co.uk (in-country search in the UK) will not yield a single result for that website.


When it comes to languages, as soon as a big brand translates its pages into a different language, regardless of where they are hosted or what their ccTLD, their site is likely appear in the results for the language search term (assuming optimization) as long as it is not an in-country search. There is no duplicate content filter applied to different languages. Therefore, if someone in Spain is searching for a product or service a big brand offers, and the brand has translated their offering into Spanish in a folder on the .com TLD, they will appear in the results if the search is on Spanish language sites. However, if someone in Spain searches for in-country results, the website will not be displayed in the SERPs.


The way to get around this that many big brands are not willing to consider due to reporting, CMS integration, and cost validation issues is to host each language site in the target market country and on a relevant ccTLD. At the very least they need to purchase the relevant ccTLD.


The final point on languages is that as soon as a big brand has a different ccTLD, it does not matter if they duplicate their content within the same language. The duplicate content filter will not be applied to the same extent. For example, targeting the UK, the US, South Africa and Australia utilizing colloquial language and spelling differentials is fine. The .com may list first in a general search depending on search query, backlinks and a host of other factors pushing the ccTLD version out of the SERPs, or not: 



  • Searching Google ‘the web’ for ‘Amazon’ on Google.ca (Canada) results in a listing for Amazon.com
  • Searching Google ‘the web’ for ‘Amazon’ on Google.co.uk (UK) results in a listing for Amazon.co.uk
  • For both, searching in-country gives the country code TLD in first position

4. Legal Red-Tape


There is an enormous amount of hassle with the bigger brands when trying to get public content approved. It very often goes from the copy team to the marketing team to the legal team and back again. Over and over and over again.


Eventually the optimized content that was usable, effective, and which might possibly have converted is full of crap about the ‘incontrovertible essence of ingenuity…. and fastidiousness of quality control… and incomparable differentials’ that no-one knows what it actually does, how it will benefit and why it is worth spending your hard earned money on. That’s even assuming the searcher bothered to read past the MASSIVE non-connotative image of a the headless man holding a piece of paper in the first place.


Big brands are big on themselves in many cases – not all as evidenced by the efficacy of Amazon, eBay and many others in the multinational, multi-lingual arena. The point is to educate those that are not willing to embrace search on why they should, assuming you as the SEO can explain it in terms they want to hear.


Next post will look at Big Brands, Big Sites and SMM, and why they are so reluctant to embrace it.


Laura has worked on numerous large brands including Rolex, Pampers,
Mercedes Benz
USA, USAA and Hyatt Hotels & Resorts.
She can be reached on laura at semcanada dot org,
or you can follow her on


 * IR Study 2007



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