Building and scaling global SEO Centers of Excellence
Before you can involve your company’s executives in SEO advocacy, you need a set of best practices and clear goals to share. Here's how you do it.
Wider spread internet adoption and mobile use worldwide are opening up lucrative new markets in Latin America, China and the rest of Asia-Pacific and more. Global opportunities bring with them a whole new realm of user behaviors, language and intent considerations, and search engine expectations for SEOs to navigate. Google is practically nonexistent in China, for example, where more than 800 million Internet users choose Baidu – which handles an average of 6 billion queries daily in China alone – Haosou, or a handful of others instead.
How can you ensure that your SEO is built to scale as you expand into new global markets?
Being one of a handful of SEOs constantly attempting to explain and justify your needs, budget and activities is a constant uphill battle. Instead, I’ve long been an advocate for the development of Centers of Excellence inside enterprise brands as a proven way to decentralize critical knowledge and best practices. In doing so, SEOs can win buy-in and cooperation across the brand.
In developing Global SEO Centers of Excellence, you can win support and share in SEO successes across the brand. Here’s how.
Promoting SEO maturity in your organization
You have to walk before you can run. Before you can involve your company’s executives and other teams in SEO advocacy and process, you need a set of best practices and clear goals to share.
In organizations with high SEO maturity, we see several common positive traits across the people, process and platforms involved, including:
- The SEO team is supported by strong, cross-organizational executive support for search
- A central SEO team owns the Center of Excellence and drives network-wide activities that support its goals
- The organization boasts a digitally native community that supports skills development and certifications
- There are formal, documented engagement and SEO models deployed throughout the process of content development
- Customer-driven insights drive data-backed content decisions
- Social, paid search, and SEO are tightly integrated
- Standardized dashboards and reporting capabilities integrate on-page and off-page data, automating where possible and enabling the activation of data in as near to real-time as possible
- Audits, insights, publishing and other core SEO activities are integrated at the platform level
Only once your people, processes and platform in place are you ready to scale your global SEO efforts. These are the backbone of your Center of Excellence – it’s the foundation on which your organization-wide understanding of and advocacy for SEO can be built.
Below is an example of a framework for broader Digital Centers of Excellence that you can also map to.
3 Key Traits of Successful Global SEO Centers of Excellence
With that baseline in place, what do these centers actually look like? As you set out to build yours, pay particular attention to these three critical areas.
1. An inherent understanding of demand in each region
Does your team understand searcher behavior as well as the powerful search engines in each region?
Even here in the United States, where Google takes the lion’s share of queries, the way search results come back varies wildly across regions. The content will be different, but the entire structure of the SERP may change, as well. A query that brings back a Map Pack result in one region may generate plain blue links in a different (perhaps underserviced or rural) area.
In this “where to stay” example, you can see that Google and Yandex are offering different types of enriched Local Pack results, while Baidu opted for text links (with the top result geared to tourists, a clear reflection of my querying in English from the other side of the world).
Results are going to vary widely across industries and verticals as well as search engines, geographic regions and languages. They may also be influenced by the search engine’s perception of the searcher’s intent, how well prospective sites are marked up and potentially hundreds of other factors.
Inside your SEO Center of Excellence, you need to have a documented process for investigating and optimizing for different kinds of search results in the areas in which you do business. Make sure that you account for the following:
- Who owns the responsibility of investigating the opportunity in each region;
- Wow the opportunity and requirements to achieve various search results are communicated internally;
- Who is responsible for staying on top of new features, updates, and other search engine changes;
- How the results of these optimizations will be tracked and measured across regions
- How wins will be communicated to executives;
- How progress and success will be measured, tracked, and reported to inform operations throughout the organization.
2. Content is localized for each market
Localizing content goes far deeper than translation, and it begins with the definition of each market. In some cases, a market may be a neighborhood, ZIP/postal code or city. In others, an entire country might constitute a single market.
Your content needs to help audience members in each market in their decision-making. It needs to appeal to them; to answer a question or need and resonate on a level that moves them to the next stage in their purchasing journey. Truly localized content reflects:
- Local language, dialect, and slang
- Search trends in the region (mobile vs desktop, keywords, etc.)
- Local knowledge, via photos, videos, references to local landmarks, and more
A Global SEO Center of Excellence has a defined and documented process for ensuring that content is properly localized and updated as needed. For factors such as on-page SEO ranking factors can vary from engine to engine.
Source: BrightEdge International Search Success
3. Global, mobile, and local SEO are all part of the framework
Even as SEO teams strive for unity and recognition among departments, there can be division inside the team. Yes, your SEO strategies for mobile, local and global look different. No, they should not be siloed and operate independently of one another.
Your comprehensive global SEO strategy will include technical best practices that support all efforts, such as the proper use of hreflang tags. This code will help Google understand the intended country and language for each piece of content, helping it appear for the right audiences and reducing the likelihood of Google perceiving content intended for different groups as duplicate.
That foundation supports your global, local and mobile optimizations. Because some mobile optimizations can impact local rankings, and local can impact organic and so on, careful coordination is needed between the specialists in each area.
Aligning these specialists within the broader context of your Global SEO Center of Excellence ensures:
- that decisions and optimizations consistently factor in the corporate framework and strategic goals of the organization;
- that cross-functional SEO knowledge can be shared throughout the organization to support all search-related initiatives;
- that efficiencies are realized wherever possible in the sharing of resources, data analysis, keyword research, etc.
Ensure the stability and longevity of your global SEO efforts
SEO is not an island. To ensure the success of your SEO efforts in a global enterprise, you need to get everyone from IT and web development to operations, communications and marketing, and product on board. The Center of Excellence model gives you a centralized hub of SEO efforts, but also a framework by which to decentralize that knowledge and support your best practices for search across the organization.
This definition and structure help you deliver the best content and most engaging, relevant experiences to the right audience members at the right time – wherever in the world they happen to be.