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Step 2: Write Your Strategy Brief

A good digital audit is instrumental in driving your SEO strategy brief. But there is other input that must be taken into account as well. For my SEO client contracts I discuss all the following issues with them and then issue the final document of my notes back to them before proceeding to the next step: keyword research.

  • Objective: Is your primary objective to achieve more sales leads from the site? Or perhaps to spread brand awareness? Be careful here, because what the SEO might presume for a primary objective can be very different from expectations from the information architect or others. (This, along with the need for compromise, is discussed in the “Compromises in Digital Planning” section.)
  • Marketing plan and pieces: Do you have an existing marketing or digital plan to work with? What kinds of existing media and pieces has the company tried? What examples do you have to reference for branding, messaging, and the like?
  • Drivers/Problems: Why are these your objectives? What are the market drivers in the mix? What business or industry problems occur to drive these objectives?
  • Target audience and search behavior: You want to identify your primary audience for your website keywords and copy. One of the things discussed later is that you may have different objectives for your SEO than for the rest of your digital marketing. Likewise, you may want to target a different audience than your typical customer. Your existing customers have most likely already visited your site, know how and where to find what they want, and how to contact you.

    So it is very common for websites to target prospects and new visitors. There’s more on this discussed throughout this chapter, but it’s something to focus your website strategy. To aid you in this process, you can also research the demographics of a specific website’s visitors with tools like Quantcast and GoogleTrends, and overall analysis of web and social users with resources like Pew Internet Research.

    Important questions to ask yourself here include these: What do you think the target’s search approach is for your services? At what point of the process do you think prospects search? What is their role with social media relative to your industry?

  • Positioning and messaging: What is your brand positioning and your brand voice? Should you take a more niche, differentiated positioning for your online representation and your online messaging? Do you need more differentiation online versus competitors?
  • Any additional selling points: Spell out your services as benefits for the customer. What are the deliverables, sought by customers, which your company provides? Why would customers want them from you?
  • Integrated marketing communications (IMC), ad campaigns, and the like: What other marketing materials does your SEO integrate with? Is it part of an ad campaign, or is it overall corporate branding? Will there also be SEM/PPC advertising?
  • Web strategy: You have your primary objective; what’s your web strategy? Will you focus heavily on location-based SEO? PPC advertising to support the SEO? Google Images or YouTube video?
  • Starting, preliminary, suggested keywords, or terminology: The client or project approver usually has some good input on industry phrases, customer phrases, and potential keywords. These are instrumental to starting the keyword research phase (along with the digital audit).
  • Future, ongoing SEO, and social media: What are you planning for implementation between this new site-build SEO and ongoing post-build SEO efforts? After the foundation of your web content and keyword integration is complete, blogging and social media are great for ongoing SEO success. A critical component to social media (and organic search content overall) is to know your resources; don’t commit to time or content you won’t be able to achieve. Identify and plan accordingly.

Your digital strategy brief is your guide, and it’s crucial. Refer to it constantly throughout your website and SEO process. It is the leading hand that guides your next steps and your SEO page plans. Even so, don’t forget to get the necessary approvals, and don’t forget about the necessary compromises. Compromises? We don’t need no stinking compromises! Actually, yes, we do.

Compromises in Digital Planning

Some areas of digital marketing may have to be compromised in spite of SEO; you can’t meet all aspects of perfect SEO upfront. There are other contributors to digital marketing that must be consulted in the planning and generation processes. From these parties and compromises, the website objectives and digital strategy brief can be formed. The parties, personnel, and roles that may have to be consulted and accommodated prior to website SEO execution can include the following:

  • Branding: Brand messaging may be very different from optimal SEO messaging, and often the branding goals may be very different from the SEO goals. For example, you may want your SEO to serve a new target audience in contrast to traditional brand positioning to customers and your market at large. Or you may want SEO for a product promotion goal in contrast to SEO for overall corporate brand awareness.

    Whatever your relationship with branding, I always recommend using keyword research (for both keyword/consumer demand, as well as competition) as part of the branding process. This is why I say great branding and brand positioning are uniquely tied to consumer search. What do the people want? What do they search for? And what are competitors NOT providing? Search can reveal all; that is, keyword research can show the actual products/services customers are searching for and the actual language they use to describe them. So why not be “the what” that people are searching for?

  • Target audience: Every market’s target audience is different and behaves differently in social media. For example, someone in a financial forum asking questions about investments is going to have a different approach and phraseology than one commenting on a blog about sci-fi animated films. Take the same principle and apply it to search—not only the terminology, but the casualness of approach will differentiate target audiences and search behavior. The better you know your audience, the better you’ll know the content to serve them—and the strings of words they’ll enter into search engines.
  • Image/design: Search engines love relevant and unique content—the more the better. This can be in conflict if your company is striving for a simplified content, graphic-heavy web look (especially if it’s Adobe Flash, which spiders really can’t crawl!).
  • User interface and web usability: Although many will argue that what is good for usability is good for the search engines, there can still be road blocks here. A good information architect’s (IA) focus is to serve the web user more than the search engines.
  • Copywriting: A good copywriter will often find issues with specific keyword phrases and an SEO’s attempt to force them in copy and headlines. But like the IA, his/her best interest is in serving the web user. So a compromise is often necessary between these roles and SEO. However, a good copywriter can also be the SEO’s best friend; both should work together for aspects such as the strategy and value of linkbaiting and writing for semantic content indexing. (Don’t worry, we’ll dive into this in Chapter 6, “In-Depth Hands-On SEO Execution.”)
  • A/B or multivariate testing: Testing is yet an alternative, different goal for digital marketing. The effects for this type of optimization are quite different. Testing requires a clear, controlled environment. Often, such search marketing testing requires subtle differences between isolated, singular web landing pages, such as for campaigns. You can have one campaign directed to one landing page or microsite and another directed to the alternative. There’s a lot of fun stuff to get into when we discuss such testing. So if you want to skip ahead and dive in, you’ll find more in Chapter 7.
  • Sales lead-generation and copy-behind forms: Sales departments will often prefer websites to act as lead-generation (as discussed elsewhere in this book). This is all good and fine, but lead-generation typically requires incentivized content behind a lead-generation form (customer info-capture, see Figure 3.3). Any content behind a form cannot be crawled, so it becomes an SEO barrier. Again, valid SEO compromises must take place. Who was that politician who said that the middle of the road was only for road kill? I’m not sure how successful he would have been as a digital marketer.

    Figure 3.3

    Figure 3.3 Customer incentive lead-generation form.

  • Programmers root for best, fast, cleanest web development: Iterative compromises are required between technology developments. The best tools for the programmer are often not what are best for SEO. Deep-web IT security measures may daunt crawlers. Although IT may want more content behind a login form, for SEO it is best the other way. Hard-core programmers are also often not fans of WordPress—they prefer other tools for CMS (content management system; platform allowing for easy user content editing) within their platforms. This allows them more customization and integrations. Programmers may want to use more iFrames and .js/jQuery functionality, piping in certain content and linking out to other servers or third-party services—more items acting as robot stumbling blocks. IP address, dynamic URLs, and server hosting issues can also be contested between IT programmers and SEOs. After all IA issues are on the table and agreements or compromises have been met, it is best to document a timeline of SEO, site changes, and analytics. In other words, the two will often be working down separate paths, with the SEO optimizing and the programmer building and testing. Without good communication (as is usually the case), multiple problems ensue. Hence, a timeline (see Figure 3.4) of events must be set up, documented, and followed for easy troubleshooting when there are problems. (Trust me, there are always problems in a build.)

    Figure 3.4

    Figure 3.4 A detailed timeline is crucial when trying to avoid communication issues.

Finally, there will always be some kind of compromise between the SEO and the client for unexpected reasons. (It’s okay. It’s not politics, just SEO.)

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