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Do you have an SEO strategy outlined somewhere that doesn’t start with some list of tactics? 

It’s high time we talk about what SEO strategy is, and why so many very large well-known brands are without one. First, let’s define the term strategy, as defined by Webster’s Dictionary: 

Strategy: a plan, method, or series of maneuvers or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result

The very first words in the definition “a plan..” that’s right! What is your company’s plan to increase the success of your SEO program this year? The answer should never be: 

Our SEO strategy is to build a new tool to integrate schema across our thousands of our site’s pages. That is a tactic, NOT a plan. 

It still frankly amazes me, that in this year 2019, I still encounter countless SEO teams, clients and others who simply have no earthly idea as to how to establish and manage an SEO Strategy. 

Here’s a direct quote from a well-known US based telecom company, when asked about their biggest SEO challenges  “Well we have a few (marketers),  where some are seen as the subject matter expert in SEO, whether they are or not – we are paying more for (paid) search because there’s no seo strategy. We have no repeatable method to get it done.”

Let’s Start with Why. Why is there no SEO strategy in place? 

The number one reason there is no SEO strategy is because the senior leader of the SEO program simply has not constructed one. He/she may be really great at mastering technical SEO tactics, like no one’s business, but when it comes to establishing, and delivering an actual SEO strategy, they are lost. 

This is not something that’s taught to SEO practitioners. This is why SEO mentorship is so critically important to the growth of the SEO in their career. You either gain the business experience through years of managing SEO programs in-house or through great account management within a digital search agency, or you go it alone, and no one questions you. 

Chief Marketing Officers for some odd reason don’t feel it necessary to develop a cohesive and all encompassing digital marketing strategy. At least from the experiences I’ve had over the last 15 years. I have yet to see anyone within a very senior level position mandate an effective digital marketing strategy that incorporates all digital marketing activities including SEO, Paid Search, Social Media, etc. 

Many SEOs barely know how to lead and manage an effective SEO program in-house. You might ask yourself, how would they? There’s so much they may not be able to fully grasp from being entirely responsible for the organization’s SEO traffic and results to educating the organization on best practice, and the IT/developers on what they should or should not do from an SEO standpoint, to developing a business plan to acquire more resources to support their effort.

What you, the SEO specialist/manager/director should do to develop an SEO strategy

First, you have to know what your company’s primary annual objectives and key results are. Every business no matter how small or large, has outlined their primary goals and objectives for the year. 

How can you take what that CEO says and translate that into your SEO strategy? 

Here’s a framework to help you build your SEO strategy.

  1. Gather the facts: What does the business need this year in order to achieve its goals/sales targets, etc? 
  2. Vision: Establish a vision statement. Integrate that vision as you build your plan and be the one to communicate that vision out to the rest of the marketing team, and the organization at large. 
  3. Market: Determine the market segmentation and targeting
  4. Competition: Find out what the competitive landscape looks like
  5. Define the strategy: Increase brand awareness to a new product offering, or improve discoverability of the least visible product category that leads to an increase in sales. 
  6. Outline the SEO tactics involved: Develop new content within that product category for a specific part of the customer journey. Conduct UX testing, reconstruct the navigation menu, and increase internal linking to that product category. These are all great examples of a tactical list of things that will ultimately support your SEO strategy. 
  7. Measure: Always measure your results. Communicate what you’re measuring, and always include your original KPIs set within your stated strategy, so that when you share your performance, it aligns with what you originally set your strategy on.

Avoid This Situation After Q1

It’s January 3rd. Welcome to the brand new year, and its the first quarter – now you’re ready to get started on the newly developed SEO strategy you worked so hard developing last month before the holiday break. 

Then…. this happens…

You’re told something goes horribly wrong. The development team decided to rearrange a few sub folders and didn’t redirect them properly. Now the traffic that was not an issue a week ago, suddenly is a major concern. Two days later, your walking down the hall back to your desk, when someone from product strategy walks by and says, “hey did you hear, we’re launching our new product next week – the pages are all done, and our sales people are getting the word out ahead of the launch. Did you need to do some SEO or something sometime soon?” 

Now the original strategy you developed, worked so hard on last month is completely derailed and it’s only week one of the first quarter.  

Guess what that might do to your SEO strategy for this year? 

Better question to ask is this, how do you handle those urgent requests when you’re trying to get the plan you’ve been communicating to the organization off the ground? 

How many professional SEOs who’ve ever worked in a large enterprise organization has ever had to deal with these kinds of situations? If you are an SEO and you’re reading this, I can bet anything you know exactly what I’m talking about. 

If you’re an executive overseeing the SEO team – here’s reality as to why your SEO program goes off the rails. 

Focus your time on prioritization and sticking to your plan

Of course you’re going to have to make sure you work with the development team to right those URLs into the right redirection and yes, product team SEO must be included in your discussion around product launching and what those new sales pages should include, and where they should live, optimization from start to launch. 

The best way to approach your job as an SEO overseeing a very large (hundreds of thousands of pages, products, services) is to prioritize your life. Every quarter, month, week, and day should be scheduled. Treat your work as if you oversee this entire SEO operation for this company….because YOU do. 

Thinking back to your original SEO strategy you developed back in December again. Once you developed that strategy you more than likely went back in and established a roadmap of milestones you needed to hit. Those milestones include some level of SEO activity, and work that has to be completed in order to accomplish your goals for the year. 

Rather than getting overwhelmed by it all just focus on the big picture stuff first. “Begin with the end in mind.” Franklin Covey quote always helps here. By the end of the year you need to see growth in something. Back it up, what needs to be done in order to successfully accomplish that goal? 

Let’s use a very simplistic example: You want to increase organic visitation to one of your company’s products that lives in a very specific category on your site. 

What do you need to do in order to accomplish that one goal? 

Look at the existing content in that category. Conduct a content audit, and gap analysis to determine what in the buyer journey currently exists? What is missing? Is there way too much bottom funnel, or ready to buy content, but nothing for those visitors who might not even be aware that their problem you solve exists? 

Has there been a persona development analysis established for that particular product group? If not, is that something you or your sales team can do? How much time would that take? 

Developing the new content, reviewing with the product team and then publishing the content. How that new content be shared with other digital marketing channels? What is the social media team’s editorial calendar and when can you make sure you coordinate with them to get that content built and ready for them in time? 

Have you run a baseline in your analytics to see what that product category is doing right now from a traffic standpoint? Have you built out a dashboard that will show your performance over time? 

All these tasks should be carefully project managed because you will always have SEO fire drills that go off at some point in the year, and as easy as it is to tell your CMO at the end of the year that you failed to execute your SEO strategy because all these other headwinds got in your way – is really not a good excuse.

Start Now – Show Success by Q4! 

The best time to get ahead of all your work is by setting aside some time each month dedicated to just planning. I like Fridays for this kind of activity – especially summer Fridays when most people take off early.

As I write this it’s near the end of July – more than the year is half over and maybe you’re thinking – this is a great idea for December, but it’s July how can I get my SEO strategy established now and show some success by end of the year? 

Take the next available Friday and map out one thing you absolutely must do to prove your SEO program is a success by the end of the year. 

Then build a plan – what will you do for the remainder of Q3, and what will you do in each month of Q4 to achieve that one thing? 

Make sure you buffer in time to deal with those urgent issues that do crop up, and for the love of God please don’t stop what you’re doing because Google has decided to make an algorithmic adjustment. Those happen far more frequently now than at any time in the history of search so just focus on executing your plan, follow best practices, and find time to educate other internal teams to do the same. 

The day to day of any SEO professional in-house is no easy task. No one ever said this work is simple. It’s complex, it’s about being a good project manager, a diplomat in your organization and a teacher to many who might have little to no patience for your enthusiasm for SEO. 

Focus on what you need to help your organization achieve whatever its key performance goals are – avoid getting side tracked or being persuaded to change or alter your strategy. This is where your leadership and expertise is most important and where you will ultimately become successful at what you do. 

What do you do to maintain your SEO strategy? Let me know in the comments below. 

What do you need help with in architecting your SEO strategy?