Cisco Systems optimizes organic search from the inside out

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For big companies, search marketing complexity can grow exponentially. That's been true at networking and communications technology company Cisco Systems. With more than 66,000 employees and a global presence, Cisco's centralized search strategy had to cover its business units, products and product launches. Moreover, the strategy had to address multiple constituencies: customers, prospects and a plethora of internal bloggers and other content providers. All that posed quite a challenge, said Dave Lloyd, search marketing manager at Cisco, who had to establish SEO best practices within a central team. “What we wanted to do was to maximize all the opportunities of search—and do that in collaboration with our marketing mix,” Lloyd said. Because of Cisco's vast product list and huge number of potential landing pages, a comprehensive paid-search campaign that addressed so many variables was considered too costly. Instead, Lloyd's attention focused on developing a “tangible” organic search solution, with a balance between branded and nonbranded queries, and achieving high rankings from both broad general queries as well as more specific “long-tail,” multiword searches. According to Craig Macdonald, CMO and senior VP-product management with marketing analytics company Covario Inc., Cisco's huge site and the large number of employees contributing content to it created an “uncorralled organic search situation.” Beginning a little more than two years ago, Cisco and Covario developed a database of keywords and a plan to align those keywords with specific landing pages. Cisco started by optimizing 10 high-visibility Web properties in the U.S. Using Covario's automated analytics, Cisco Web pages were regularly audited for their “healthily optimized” status, determining if content, tags, link strategy and more (Covario checks 56 different optimization factors that influence organic search ranking) all complied with the agreed-upon plan, and that the site was well indexed and “crawlable” by the search engines. Based on biweekly reports, and with a Web analytics tool from Omniture detailing conversion, Cisco's internal team continued to optimize the site to improve search rankings. Thr keyword database became a “shared resource” within the company, Lloyd said. What's more, Cisco's internal bloggers, public relations team, social media team—and even employees handling video optimization and images—underwent training on how to incorporate the keyword cache in an optimum fashion. “Just like properties such as Google, Facebook and Twitter are intertwined to give us good search results, we needed to coordinate on a people level to make sure our search algorithms were aligned with technical content,” Lloyd said. “We needed content that was well-written, correctly conveying marketing to other human beings, but that also has SEO content.” That SEO content included things like page titles, tags, keywords and linking. How has Cisco's organic search efforts turned out? Previously, none of its “priority pages” (those pertaining to its foremost products) could be found on the first page of Google' organic search results. Today, about half the company's several hundred priority pages appear in that coveted spot. Also performing well are the company's product-oriented URLs, with a third showing up on Google's page one, Lloyd said. In addition, traffic to Cisco's site has increased. From January 2008 to January 2009, traffic to Cisco's Web site increased 16%. “And there are intangibles related to traffic,” Lloyd said, “including whether we show up in the search results where the customer expected us to. If we do, that supports brand reputation and recognition, as well as customer satisfaction.” For the future, Cisco and Covario are working to optimize Cisco online video, with an eye to making these assets rank well in organic search, too. M
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