Why SEO must start with strategy, planning
SEO is ongoing. It isn’t a one-time thing.
Achieving the results you desire requires disciplined thinking and focus.
If you dive into the weeds too quickly, you may find that hours or days have passed and you’ve invested time into areas that may not have any real impact in the end.
While agility is key on an ongoing basis in SEO, it is equally important to have a solid strategy and plan upfront.
A strategy and plan, with a clear direction and baseline, allows for:
- Meaningful objectives to be set.
- Expectations to be managed.
- Adjustments to be made along the way.
Being both proactive and reactive (within a moment) is important, whether you’re working for yourself, your boss, or your clients.
“What are your goals?”
This is the first question you should ask when someone reaches out for SEO help.
Define them. Document them.
Knowing what you need SEO to produce is critical. Goals are a critical filter for all strategic and tactical plans.
Goals could be:
- E-commerce sales.
- Specific types of engagement.
- Some other conversion or metric.
When you don’t know what the end goals are – and how to reach them – you can waste a lot of time and resources guessing or floating from SEO tactic to tactic.
Defining target audiences
You need to define who you’re trying to reach and how they search and behave online.
Once you do that, you can map out conversion paths, funnels, and ways to target and engage them.
In addition to knowing who you want to reach, it’s also critical to know the size of the net that you’re casting.
Sometimes, goals can be too big for the opportunity that SEO presents. Reaching a certain audience could be too ambitious. Or perhaps the competition is simply too great to get meaningful results.
Keyword research tools, industry/market research and sources within your industry can help you research and define your target audience, as well as with persona development.
When you know who your audience is and what topics and keywords map out to your conversion goals, you have a narrowed competitor landscape to review.
Dive deep into who owns the SERP real estate for terms and topics that you want to drive traffic to your site.
Use SEO tools to identify, set up monitoring and an ongoing plan to track the competitors. This will give you a reference point and can help you understand why they are ranking.
Goals and KPIs are not the same. Yes, you might have a single KPI that is tied to an end goal, but you can measure several data points that may be close to, or far away from, a conversion goal.
Don’t jump into your action plan before you define the KPIs that matter based on your goals, target audience, and funnels.
While average position and impressions might not be close to the end goal of a lead submission or e-commerce transaction, they are necessary to get there.
Define all the KPIs that matter. Put emphasis and priority on the ones that will be indicators and progress metrics versus those that are tied directly to the end goals.
Be consistent with them and map them out in advance.
Baselines and benchmarks
Using what you know about audiences, competitors and the KPIs that matter to you, it’s important to understand your current performance.
You want to objectively measure the return on investment and outcome of your efforts over time.
Now is the time to capture baselines of your own performance and benchmarks of how they stack up against the industry. Plus, we can compare them to our ultimate goals and see how far we need to go.
This can range from visibility through rankings and average position to impressions to visits and conversions. There are engagement metrics that you can look at as well as to how visitors are moving through defined funnels.
To get this data, you can use SEO tools or Google Analytics’ benchmarking report.
Be sure to document benchmarks. These metrics will become your baseline and define your starting point so you can evaluate your efforts in meaningful intervals going forward.
Now it’s time to set up your reporting infrastructure. Whether you’re configuring Google Analytics to be your data source, leveraging Google Data Studio, or third party software, you want to get everything in order now.
Don’t wait until you’re off and running. In many cases if you don’t have clean data, filters, and segments, you can’t fix the details later.
There’s nothing worse than over or under counting and not being able to go back and correct it once you’ve gotten deep into your work.
Also, configure your reporting to show the starting points and how you’re tracking toward goals. The reporting should help you tie back to your efforts and gain insights to adjust your strategy as you go.
By this point, you should be ready to do some final initial auditing and strategy work.
A quick technical audit will help you understand how much work is needed to get the technical house in order when you start planning out the work. It will also help you understand how big that effort will be in terms of IT, code and site performance.
At the same time, you’ll want to know what kind of effort and strategy is needed for content.
Doing a gap analysis, going back to audience and competitor research data, and factoring out how much effort is needed to match and exceed competitors will be critical while also delivering exactly what your audience wants.
Use the auditing and reviews to develop a strategy and overall assessment of needs that will go into your tactical plan.
Tactical plan and schedule
By this point, a big picture roadmap should have started to emerge. You’ve identified and defined your big needs.
But you can’t do it all at once. How quickly you can reach specific goals will depend on your resources and pacing.
Now you need to plan the work, measure it and control the resources in a prioritized way. Put together a phased schedule and plan. All the while knowing there will still be a lot of unknowns as you go through multiple tasks, such as:
- Updating copy.
- Optimizing on-page elements.
- Digging deep into technical issues.
- Going through rounds of link building.
You must be proactive, not reactive. Drive an organized strategy and the needed tactics to achieve your plans.
Resource planning and roles definition
This step can happen earlier and/or throughout your planning process. Be careful not to get too deep into crafting the perfect strategy and plan without making sure you have the resources to pull it off.
- An SEO team.
- Content creators.
- Those that will be approving the work.
Your stakeholders are important, too.
Additionally, any hard costs in terms of vendors and tools shouldn’t be overlooked. These all factor into ROI and as well as how much they can enable or slow your plan and efforts.
Avoid overestimating. Also, make the case for more resources if you think your plan can’t deliver on the goals with your current resources.
Now is the time to have these conversations – not months or years into an effort.
The big idea
I would argue with anyone that SEO is best approached as an ongoing discipline that has proper balance between planned activities and the necessary agility that comes with constant search engine changes and fluidity of the web.
Yes, plans are subject to change – maybe even right after they are written and launched. However, the absence of a strategy and plan leads to a reactive approach and one that lacks efficiency, focus and prioritization.
Start with a strategy and plan. And revisit it on a regular basis.
Take this approach for every new initiative or client. It will make life easier!