fortune 500The world’s biggest companies are failing at more than their profit performance these days. A new report from SEO measurement company Conductor finds that organic search results from the Fortune 500 would hardly rate a good MBA project. In fact, the report says “as a whole, the group is still doing a very poor job of ensuring that their ‘money’ keywords are represented in natural search.” It found that only 20.82 percent of Fortune 500 keywords rank within the top 100 search results, as measured during the fourth quarter of 2008.

The lesson Fortune 500 companies are learning is that paid search buys exactly that: paid results. The Fortune 500 as a group spent approximately $51 million per day on 88,792 keywords with relatively little to show on organic results, according to the report. And many of those keywords were consolidated in a few industry verticals and in a handful of companies.

The methodology for the study is important. Conductor, working with Spy Fu, determined all domains owned by each of the 500 companies. This research generated a list of 3,400 consumer facing domains.  From this list any URLs which led directly back to the parent company page, along with any URL’s that led to foreign sites, were purged. The remaining URLs were ranked according to the amount of daily traffic they received.

From this the study  discerned that only 1.41 percent of the domains (not companies) surveyed showed significant number of their search terms in the top results. 10.14 percent of Fortune 500 companies studied showed mid- to-strong presence for their most advertised keywords. 41.69 percent had a grade of low-to-mid presence and 46.76 percent of Fortune 500 companies have very low or non-existent visibility for their most advertised keywords.

Visibility is defined by presence in the top 100 total organic search terms. A rank in the top 30 rates a high visibility. Low visibility ranks 50-75 and so on. Bottom line: “Fortune 500 companies still continue to be largely invisible in natural search.”

The study was consistent with the SEMPO study released Tuesday, which showed that large companies are not afraid to throw money at search. It also shows that their skill set in spending that money leaves a lot to be desired. If the Fortune 500 knew more about how to promote their key domains, and used the expertise many smaller companies do about linking paid search to organic search, they wouldn’t be invisible.

The results are also notable for the companies and verticals that have high organic visibility. The number of paid keywords was almost completely dominated by the information category. Manufacturing, healthcare and utilities were non-existent. You could argue that they don’t need to invest heavily in search engine marketing. The most visible category for organic search is accommodations, led by MGM Mirage. Among the companies that get the best results from the paid to organic crossover are the ones that need to be visible. IBM, Amazon, and Viacom top that list.

The Fortune 500 is a long way from walking the walk when it comes to overall search marketing expertise. The solution is more intellectual, not financial, capital.