Why marketing leaders need to invest in SEO to drive growth
The latest in our series of webinars looks into the real-world results marketing leaders can achieve by investing in SEO.
Jess Carrasco is Director at Progress Residential and former Director of Enterprise SEO at American Express. In his conversation with Alex Schaefer last Thursday, Carrasco reflected on his time at Amex and shared the journey he and his team took to overhaul the company’s vast website to make it more friendly for search engines and users.
Read on for our takeaways from the webinar and check out the embedded video for the full presentation and the accompanying Q&A.
‘What is it that we are trying to solve?’
Carrasco’s journey really started back in 2017 with a simple brand search for ‘American Express’. He quickly found that the SERPs content was not organized in a meaningful way – especially when it came to features like site links.
The Amex site had been built and had evolved over 20 years. There were different domains and subdomains and multiple CMSs. This was being reflected in the search results.
‘We had pockets of the organization that were focused on SEO,’ he says. ‘I think it’s very challenging when you have a pocket of the site that’s focused on it but you’re missing the larger context of what your site is really about holistically.’
Away from the brand terms, there were other issues too. Leaders were asking: “Why don’t we rank for credit card and credit cards?” And as Carrasco pointed out to them, the answer was nuanced.
This was the driver for Carrasco to begin thinking about the site in SXO (Search Experience Optimization) terms. After all, such a large proportion of users were coming to the site from Google, it drastically needed to be reorganized to ensure that people who are searching for brand-related terms are getting to the most useful pages with as minimal clicks as possible and that the site could begin to rank with more visibility for those competitive sector-related keyphrases too.
Strategy: Start organizing the site
The first step for Carrasco was to consolidate all of the American Express domains and subdomains.
He set about creating a standardized taxonomy for the site’s URL structure – identifying seven primary content folders (which he admits was optimistic for such a sprawling multinational site with multiple products).
But SEO crawl data was a big help here. Analytics ensured every decision was informed and that things were grouped logically. After this, Carrasco faced his first big challenge – something that would come up again and again.
‘Once we’d defined these content folders, we had to take them to the stakeholders,’ he says. ‘There was a lot of pushback – what’s the value? How do I prioritize this? When do I see my ROI?’
Thankfully some of the product teams were enthusiastic or, at least, didn’t take too much talking around. Carrasco focused on these parts of the company who were ready, willing, and able.
He anticipated that if they could get results for them, then he could maybe achieve wider buy-in from those who weren’t so sure.
Results drive adoption throughout the rest of business
One of the first product teams to embrace Carrasco’s program was Travel – and the results were pretty clear-cut.
After moving onto the American Express domain, they tripled their traffic. The team also saw conversion rates go up too – thanks in part to better visibility and SXO for users searching for more long-tail keyphrases.
In short, users were finding what they needed quicker – more often clicking through to the product they needed straight from the site links in the organic SERPs. Carrasco defines this as understanding the spirit of what users are trying to find.
Crucially, now the early adopters at Amex had seen some success and Carrasco had the data to show these results, he could build out the program to other business areas. But the reliance on this data to sell to other teams was a continual part of the overhaul.
‘It was constant selling,’ he says. ‘Towards the end, people got it.’
The importance of data and being able to sell the value of SEO to other stakeholders who might not really understand search is something that really underpins Carrasco’s time at Amex.
His experience also really points to the unique perspective SEO data gives to those who are analyzing it. It really gives marketers the chance to see the overall working of the site, to understand it holistically, and to identify – as Carrasco says – the spirit of what users are looking for.
This was vital for Amex – a legacy site that has evolved over two decades into a sprawling mass of domains, subdomains, and siloed teams.
Today, of course, the American Express site is lean and clean with a useful portal on the front page which is reflected in the site links in the organic SERPs. This is a testament to Carrasco’s nous and his persistence throughout his program to use data to really show how logical structure and clean organized content can improve visibility and give the user the best experience – even before they click through to the site.
Watch the webinar again in full