The importance of having an SEO strategy
Search engine optimisation is blinking on the radar of many a marketer, as this ‘thing that needs to be done’. But despite the urgency, the edgeless abyss that SEO can appear to be is off-putting and holds many marketers back from jumping in. Likewise those that have jumped in haven’t always come out the other side successfully. So what is it that’s going to help ease you into the business of getting your SEO done, and ensure you stay on track through to successful completion on the other side? The answer is a solid SEO strategy, and you’ll be pleased to know that doesn’t have to be overly technical, and you may well find that it fits neatly alongside other marketing strategy and planning activities too.
SEO strategy should start, as with all marketing activities, with a goal. And unless you are particularly sophisticated in your understanding of SEO, and advanced in your stages of planning, we would suggest the goal should not be any of the following; to get SEO done, to get all the pages on the site optimised, to ensure the website is search engine friendly, to ensure that rankings are improved. These are all essential pieces of the puzzle, but won't help you understand what this is supposed to look like when it’s all done. Yet this is often what is missing. Many a company has spent considerable time and money resolving aspects of their site that were superfluous to the reason they weren’t ranking.
SEO is, after all, marketing activity designed to tap into the consumers browsing activity in largely the same way as you would utilise paid search.
And in the same way that paid search strategy doesn’t begin with granular sub tasks like landing URL’s, tracking tags or ad copy split testing, nor should your SEO strategy start with sub tasks like standardising meta tags, or ensuring the HTML is W3C compliant.
Start with the problem you are trying to solve
Generally this is quite an easy one to assess as it usually boils down to a number. A gap in traffic numbers, sales numbers or revenue numbers that it would be useful to plug, ideally of course, with SEO if it could, and were it cost efficient to do so. There are other goals granted, but this is the most common, and whilst this might sound like a given, you’d be surprised how little this materialises in the requirements we see. You wouldn’t move into business planning without a number of sales you were trying to achieve after 1 or 2 years, or a media plan without any idea of what level of response you wanted to generate, so don’t forget this in the planning of your SEO.
Assess the opportunity within the medium
Can the medium deliver the volume you need to solve the above issue? It’s a standard issue question for any media plan, and is not something to be overlooked in the SEO plan either. Your best friend here is keyword analysis. By reviewing the keywords that fall into the types of categories that represent the demands of searchers, you can build up a picture of the amount of available searcher demand in a marketplace for your products, categories, sub categories, brands etc. The source of this data abounds, from tools like Google’s Search Term Suggestion Tool, Bing’s keyword tools, Wordtracker and more.
All of which poll search engine databases to help you identify relevant keywords and their respective frequency of use, to help you identify how big the audience opportunity is and 'where it’s at' in keyword terms.
From here you can extrapolate click through rates, conversion rates, revenue numbers etc, allowing this activity to give an opportunity analysis that will tell you if the demand is in the medium to supply you with enough to meet your needs.
Can we realistically rank for the keywords
From the previous exercise you should have a realistic vision of what keywords you need to deliver the visibility and coverage that will achieve your primary objectives. However here is where the planning aspect gets a little more technical, but no less important.
In PPC (or any above the line activity for that matter), obtaining the visibility in the medium, is an implicit part of the system. You’re paying for it after all. The bulk of the effort and ingenuity goes into budgetary and bid management practises, placement management, ad copy targeting, trafficking and stats.
In SEO however, the visibility is not part of the system. Arguably... there is no organised system, and obtaining visibility in the complex, unseen, and intensely fought over landscape of natural search, is the bulk of the effort. Through precisely planned and executed SEO techniques designed to help your site claw its way past dozens of aggressively optimising competitors, half of which would readily sell their grandma and her wheel-chair on eBay, if they thought it would help.
So now you need to determine how competitive the terms that you need to place on, actually are. Who’s already in that space and what standards have they achieved in terms of accessibility, relevancy and link based credibility. Is there an addressable gap there? Or are you worlds apart? You may need to ponder, can you win these keyword battles? If you registered your domain two weeks ago and you’re hoping to have a pop at the casino space, you’d be picking an unlikely fight. That said, they do say that there are few things that can’t be solved with enough time and money, and that’s where we link up with stage 1 again.
We need to determine which keyword can deliver for you. If those keywords can be achieved and if they can be achieved in a reasonable time frame.
You have a strategy if:
- You know what you want to achieve.
- You know what kind of keywords would deliver.
- You know who you are trying to beat in the process.
- You know why they are there and what type of SEO works, and what level of works you need to invest in to catch up.
- You know that it still makes commercial sense to make the investments in those works.
Knowing these things will help you in the buying and vendor selection process, in developing good expectations with your agency, bosses and other stakeholders, in maintaining project momentum over time, and in ensuring your SEO is progressing in a positive direction, and not just ticking the “done SEO” box.
If you don’t have these, then you are heading into an abyss without goals or boundaries. Without anyone to hold accountable and without anyone to answer your questions projects like this can tick along forever without delivering anything, until someone gets serious enough to stop wasting time and money and re-approach it from a fresh perspective.
To quote a very enlightened Donald Zimmerman; “A vision without a task is but a dream, a task without a vision is drudgery, a vision and a task is the hope of the world”
And whilst I’m sure he was talking about something far more profound than SEO, embracing the principle and developing your SEO strategy with your search marketing partner will put the kind of edges, clarity and purpose to your SEO that has most likely been holding it back all this time.