In this industry, we spend a lot of time trading SEO tactics and ideas with each other for mutual benefit.
It’s a wonderful thing. Not every industry does this.
Unfortunately, we invest less time in talking about how to develop our own SEO strategies.
While every SEO strategy is – and should be – different, there’s an underlying strategy to developing strategies.
Here are five things every SEO strategy needs.
1. A Mind Map
A mind map is a place to build your strategy from the ground up. A mind map is simply a branching series of categories, usually reaching out from the center, moving from more general to more specific categories, with ideas becoming more granular.
It isn’t a visualization of your final strategy. A mind map exists not to help you present your plan, but to help you think about it.
Mind maps are tools that help you envision your thinking process in a way that makes it easier for you to combine ideas by helping you see how they fit together as a whole. They help reduce the load that your strategy imposes on your working memory so that you can focus on thinking and brainstorming.
You can use a tool like Mind Meister, or you can simply jot down your ideas as they come to you in the visual format.
The primary benefit of using a mind map is its ability to help you think in nonlinear fashion.
Using a mind map allows you to see everything at once, in a structure that resembles the networked way that your real brain works, so I highly suggest using one as you develop your SEO strategy.
2. A Visual Representation
Once your strategy becomes more concrete, you will need a more in depth and professional document than your mind map.
Keep in mind what a strategy is: a plan.
That means you have goals, specific tasks attached to those goals, some tasks that have to come before others, recurring tasks that will need to be iterated and honed, and subtasks that will become more numerous and specific as time goes on.
You need to be able to present all of this quickly and easily to your client and your teams, and you need to do so in a format that is simple enough for all parties to understand, as well as edit.
You can use Google Sheets, Trello, Workzone, Basecamp, or whatever you prefer. The specific tool isn’t as important as your method for using it.
It must be immediately clear to all parties about how to read the plan and make changes if needed. It must also be clear:
Which task is assigned to whom.
Which tasks follow the first.
Which tasks are recurring, planned, in progress, and finished.
3. An Understanding of the Company
Whether you’re an in-house or outsourced SEO, you need to have a solid understanding of the company in order to make any SEO strategy successful. You need to know what strengths you can leverage in order to get the most SEO value, what tactics will work best for the brand identity, and what is standing in your way.
Here are some of the most important factors you should consider as you develop your strategy:
What is the product’s unique selling proposition?
We may be referring to a line of products or a single product, but whatever the case may be, we need to know what makes our company different in order for any strategy to work. This will strongly impact the types of outreach that will make sense, the type of audiences we will want to cultivate, the type of keywords we will be tracking, and much more.
What is the company’s vision?
We need to go deeper than knowing what industry we are in and that we want to be profitable, if we want to generate the kind of waves that affect visibility in the search engines. Dig deep into that vision statement to look for ideas that will guide your strategy goals and metrics. If your vision statement isn’t doing that for you, you might want to consider developing a new vision statement for your own campaign, which serves the purpose.
Where is the company really hurting right now?
This is one of those things that might seem like you can avoid early on, but will always creep in and decimate an SEO strategy (or department, or partnership) if it isn’t annihilated. Understand what the company really needs to see and really can’t accommodate before you commit to a strategy.
4. An Understanding of the Audience
You need to know who your audience is, and that means a great deal more than just what keywords they’re searching for.
Here are a few things you need to determine, either by talking to your client, surveying your audience, browsing some relevant internet hangouts, or all of the above and more:
How accepting are they of marketing, upselling, and so on?
If you’ve ever consumed anything in the self-help industry, you might have noticed how comfortable “gurus” in that industry are willing to upsell their audience, even spend a dedicated portion of a paid presentation for advertising their other products. Alternatively, if you’ve ever spent any time trying to link to anything of your own on Reddit, you know that they are hypersensitive to any kind of promotion at all. This is something you need to be highly aware of as you develop your strategy.
What is their level of knowledge?
Are you talking to people who know everything about their subject matter and will laugh off anybody who try to share introductory material? Are you talking to people who are completely oblivious to industry jargons?
How close are they to the industry?
Is your audience consumers (B2C) or businesses (B2B)? Will these people be intimately familiar with your industry, or almost entirely outside of it? Are they interested in understanding more about the industry, or do they care solely about how your products can benefit them?
5. Precise Goals
For a goal to be useful, it needs to be precise, and for it to be precise, we should be focusing more on the working parts and how they fit together than on a particular dollar amount.
We need to be deliberate when we choose our metrics and KPIs.
Yes, we want revenue to go up faster than costs, and yes, it can be useful to set a financial goal. We certainly should be setting goals that have time limits.
However, a strategy is about achieving goals that have a specific impact on the company, its direction and future, and the way that the business itself functions. That means our metrics should reflect what is happening with the working pieces themselves. This could mean links and authority, it could mean rankings, or it could mean organic search traffic.
The point is, everybody should agree on what metrics make sense and why.
I strongly believe in the value of task-oriented goals over KPI goals. This is because, especially when it comes to inbound marketing and SEO, our impact on KPIs is indirect. For this reason, I believe in setting goals for projects, living up to those goals, then measuring the impact and adjusting the strategy in response.
This is an approach that is more likely to lead to knowledge and actual optimization, as opposed to finding ways to manipulate the KPIs while losing sight of the long-term impact.
Nearly every SEO strategy can benefit from these five elements. Build them into your framework and make them a part of the way you do business.
Screenshot 1: MindMeister