If there's one thing both business owners and SEO consultants can benefit enormously from, it's a strategy planning template. Everyone knows that a strategy-based approach to marketing will trounce a competing approach that is purely tactical. The difficulty lies in coming up with a winning strategy, especially when your organization hasn't formally devised one before.
Enter the SEO Strategy Template
It's a simple set of 'rules' (more like guidelines) that you can follow like a roadmap, adapt and tweak, modify and customize, until you have a unique strategy planning document for marketing your business.
This is such an easily repeatable and reproducible process that it is surprising that everyone within the SEO industry is not already exploring, using or implementing such an approach to evolving an SEO strategy.
So if you're interested in formulating your company's strategy using an easy-to-follow and powerful process, then read about this method to create a planning template based on the SOSTAC model.
Introducing The SOSTAC Planning Model
In the 1990s, PR Smith introduced the SOSTAC strategy framework to help plan a marketing system that is comprehensive, yet flexible enough to be adapted to fit the varying needs of a wide range of clients.
SOSTAC stands for:
Situation - where you are now
Objectives - where you are heading
Strategy - how to get there
Tactics - how to execute the plan
Actions - who is in charge, and when should it get done
Control - measure and monitor to see if you get there
This systematic approach to outlining a superior marketing strategy is both simple and elegant, while being powerful and effective. You can use it as the framework of a planning template for your SEO strategy.
Let's explore it in more detail.
1. Situation Analysis - Where Are You Now?
Before you begin any marketing effort, you must know where you stand at the moment. From an SEO standpoint, you'll look at
your site performance
the search engine traffic you're getting
your best keywords with highest conversion rates, and
comparison against your competition
Taking stock will make your future endeavors more productive. Asking the right questions, and coming up with the answers, is a good starting point.
a. Is business good? Management guru Peter Drucker would begin consultations with the question, "How's business?" Study your Web traffic, sales volume and profit, your assets and liabilities, your cash flow and expenses. Is business booming? If not, why not?
b. What are your strengths? What sets you apart from everyone else in your industry or market niche? Why do your customers seek you out? How are you insulated against competition?
c. Do you have a marketing strategy? Look at your current marketing campaigns and SEO efforts. Do they work well? Which activities are the most effective? What impact does each one have on your business?
d. Are your goals clear? Is your target audience clearly defined? Do you know your best keywords? Your most profitable clients (and top keywords) make up only a tiny fraction of the total. Are you aware of them? Are you focusing on serving them well?
e. What are you weak at? Are you employing the most cost-effective and high impact marketing channels and SEO efforts? How can they be made more efficient?
f. Is your business protected against adversity? Will technological innovations or disruption in the status quo harm or destroy your business? Or are you positioned to take advantage of seismic shifts in your industry? Are your competitors more powerful, versatile, creative than you are?
2. Setting Objectives - Where Are You Headed?
Once you know where you stand, you must define your goals and objectives for the future.
a. What are your biggest goals? Why does your business or website exist? Is your mission statement clearly defined, and can you state it in a concise "positioning declaration"? It will explain why you are in business, and whom you aim to serve.
b. What does your business set out to achieve? Is bottom-line profit your primary motive? Or do you want to achieve something else? How do you plan to serve your market?
c. What marketing methods will you focus on? Which elements of your SEO plan will bring you more clients, improve conversion to sales, and result in repeat business and/or referrals?
d. What does your marketing say? Are you trying to generate more leads, pre-qualify serious prospects, close more direct sales, encourage referrals or seek out business partners? Your message must be tailored specifically for each objective if you are to succeed massively.
When you have a set of well-defined objectives, run them through the SMART test to see if they are really your highest and best targets.
S - Specific. Are your goals clear and specific? M - Measured. Can your goals be measured? A - Actions. What actions will make them happen? R - Realistic. Are they achievable goals? T - Time. Will they meet your deadlines?
Knowing where you stand, and armed with your major objectives, it's time to proceed to the next stage - and iron out your strategy.
3. Formulating Strategy - How To Get There?
Strategy is the high level blueprint for your SEO efforts. It may involve a focus on local SEO, or brand building, or something else. This is the 'big picture' phase, and you don't have to get into too many details. But you do need to capture the soul of your SEO strategy in a clear and solid way.
The first step is to narrow down your focus to appeal to a specific section of your audience that you can serve better than anyone else. Depending upon the size and scope of your business, this segment may be large or small. But by defining your target market clearly, you'll avoid the major pitfall that defeats all non-strategic marketers - the mistaken belief that your ideal prospect is... everyone!
Once you know, in general terms, who your prospects are, you can proceed to learn more about them. Getting into the mind of your buyers, and correctly figuring out what they want, and when, can be your biggest competitive edge and the driver of mind-blowing profits. Targeting your marketing to appeal to this audience can skyrocket conversions effortlessly.
Based on this knowledge, you can refine your positioning and control how you will be perceived by your market.
4. Tactics - How To Execute Your Plan?
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. And your strategy is only as powerful as the actions that you will take to execute it.
This phase is about outlining the steps to take, and their desired end-result. It's hard to predict SEO outcomes accurately, but you'll be able to make reasonable estimations, which will then serve as a roadmap for your SEO campaign.
a. Which tools will you use? Every kind of marketing (including SEO) has an array of tools to deploy at will. It's tempting to try them all. But it's better to use just a few, using them effectively and well.
b. Plan your assault. The same tools can be put to use with widely varying results. Picking the right one for the right reasons can have a synergistic effect on your results.
c. Telegraph your message. Target it at your ideal prospect. Refine it to cut through the clutter and speak directly to your audience's biggest wants or needs. Remember, confused prospects don't buy!
d. Be consistent. Branding and direct selling both work better with repetition.
e. Get a budget. Marketing strategically can be expensive, at first. Assign the resources and funds necessary to your marketing plan before you begin implementing it. Otherwise you'll run out of steam, losing momentum and money.
5. Actions - Who Is In Charge?
With your strategy and tactics planned out, your template then points you towards the next step... assigning roles and setting deadlines.
Without clearly defined responsibilities, and a time frame within which to complete tasks, your marketing will stagnate and lose speed. This phase is about the nitty-gritty daily actions - what to do, who will do it, and when it should get done. Whether you chart it out on a week-by-week basis, or choose a different time frame, what matters is having an outline that everyone can access and follow.
a. Pick a leader. Put individuals in charge of specific components of your SEO activities.
b. Set a time frame. Draw up a marketing calendar and set deadlines for completion of each action step.
c. Can they do it? Assigning tasks to someone based on a job description rather than their ability, skill or capacity to get it done can be a critical mistake.
d. Measure progress. Decide upon the metrics to monitor. Will they show if a job is getting done? Can they be easily measured? How often will you keep track?
e. Document results. Sharing visual feedback and results of your campaign's progress can help get a team energized, and working better together. In today's complex SEO universe, having a synergistic team effort can compound your chances of success.
6. Control - Monitor & Measure
The Web analytics portion of any SEO project is where you'll look at progress, and review it in the context of the initial situation analysis. The feedback serves to redefine and tweak your strategy, closing the loop, and making the system more powerful as it grows and evolves over time.
a. Keep measurements relevant. Higher search rankings matter. But it's more important to measure bottom-line impact on business profitability.
b. Who will measure metrics? Scripts and software record data, but someone must compile and present it to team members. If trends can be spotted early, you can modify actions to get higher results.
c. How often to measure data? Collecting and analyzing information shouldn't
become an end in itself. Choose an optimal schedule, and stick to it.
d. What tools and resources do you need? How complex and costly your monitoring systems must be depend on the scope and scale of your business and the diversity of your SEO efforts.
e. How will the data be interpreted? What will be the impact of this analysis on your SEO strategy? Your planning template must explain this clearly upfront.
f. What's your back up plan? If things don't go right, how will you bail out? Who decides when to switch plans? When will it happen? While you can't factor in all eventualities, having a set of options is helpful. Remember, when everything else is equal, the one with the most options wins!
So, there you are! A planning template for your SEO strategy that can be reliably constructed through following a step by step plan modeled on the powerful SOSTAC framework.
Keep in mind that increased revenues and profit, achieving major business goals, getting to them faster, and lowering costs are the biggest advantages of having a planning template. It beats blindly using SEO tools or following standardized SEO checklists, and hoping for stellar results.
A strategic effort is slightly more effort-intensive. It will initially cost more to implement. It may even take longer to fructify. But when it does, the results will blow your competition out of the water - and skyrocket your results!
That's what makes an SEO strategy desirable, and a planning template worth developing.
All roads lead to Rome. There are many ways to arrive at a winning SEO strategy based on a planning template. In more than a decade spent working in the SEO and digital marketing industry, this approach detailed above has been what worked effectively for me. That's the reason I want to share this to help and motivate other business owners and SEO consultants who understand the importance of having an SEO strategy, but are not sure how to go about crafting one.
If you know of a better (or different) way to apply the SOSTAC model to evolve an SEO strategy and create a planning template, do let us know. I'll do my best to answer questions and help in any way I can. Please share your comments, questions or suggestions in a comment below, or write to me using the contact form. I'd love to get a vibrant discussion going on this all-important topic of SEO strategy.
I was out shopping last week for a pair of speakers for my music system. There's a street in town that sells every type of audio accessory. Everyone goes there to buy gadgets.
When I entered the first store and asked for the component I wanted, the clerk smiled and said it wasn't in stock. Then, she did something that surprised me at the time (but made perfect sense later, when I thought about it). She directed me to another store a block down the road where I could find it.
No, she didn't just point me in the right direction and say, "Go there!"
She stepped out from behind the counter, and walked along with me to the small, easy-to-miss shop. She then introduced me to the girl at the front desk and explained what I was looking for. A few seconds of friendly banter later, she smiled and waved goodbye as she went back to her store. And her friend helped me out. I returned home, happily carrying the part I needed.
On the ride back, I thought about what had just transpired.
How easy it would have been for the shopgirl to merely guide me to the other place, or even just state that she didn't have the part in stock and move on to another customer. Yet she took the time, trouble and effort to guide me - to her competitor!
As a businessman, I wondered: "How does THAT make any sense?"
Well, it does. When you see the big picture. And think about adding value to the entire community of audio equipment sellers.
Every customer arriving at that street was a potential buyer looking for a specific type of item. Every store on the street sold related items. If one didn't stock a specific piece, someone else surely had it. By helping a customer (me) find what he wanted, even if it meant guiding him away from her own store, the brilliant businesswoman (she) was actually growing the value and brand of the ENTIRE STREET, the whole community of musical equipment stores!
That's why everyone in our town goes there to buy audio stuff. We know we'll find it - somewhere. Which means we'll keep going back there every time we need more of the same.
And then, I had my big 'A-ha' moment!
It guided how I practice SEO - and share my experience with fellow consultants and specialists in my field.
But as the lady at the little speaker shop taught me, you are not adding "too much value" for your competitors... only to your customers!
In the short term, it might appear as if you're giving away the farm. But this isn't charity - it's an investment. Into your brand. Your reputation. Your future success.
By helping everyone around you, you are not only helping consolidate the position of your entire industry... you are growing your influence within your peer group.
SEO is a huge market. You're not going to claim each and every piece of the large pie. You will never be able to reach every potential client of yours and educate them about the power of SEO in their business. But collectively, along with all of your peers in the SEO consulting field, you can make a big impact in an area that matters most in getting the right SEO clients for yourself.
Selling SEO Is Not Technical - It Is Emotional!
Too often we see SEO experts try to sell prospective clients on "results" - more page 1 rankings, higher traffic, better keywords. Effective SEO is about all this... and more. It is about going higher up the Maslowian hierarchy of needs, and touching clients on an emotional level.
You're not selling the #1 position on Google (which is unstable anyway). You're selling "safety". You offer a secure stream of prospects for their products and services. You're helping future proof their business. You're showing them a way to sustain their profits. And by doing this, you're taking an express elevator up the pyramid of their emotional needs - while your competition is laboring up the stairs!
In their groundbreaking book, Al Ries and Jack Trout talk about marketing as war. However, your competition (or enemy) is NOT other consultants within the SEO-industry - it's your clients. Clients buy SEO services. The battle you wage is for their mind. And to secure your place firmly in their mind, you must first win the contest for their heart. As negotiation experts Roger Fisher and William Ury say in "Getting To Yes":
It is not enough to know that they see things differently. If you want to influence them, you also need to understand empathetically the power of their point of view, and to feel the emotional force with which they believe it.
You must get into the very heart of their business. Understand what they do, and what they need to do. Show your prospective clients how you will add the value they need and seek. Paint a picture of the future you are helping them craft for themselves. Convince them that your approach and actions will make them winners.
People do not always decide and act upon facts (logically). They act upon how they interpret what you say, and upon how that makes them feel (emotionally).
Atmosphere, chemistry and the energy between you and your client is as important as the SEO spec or offer itself. When you circumvent this process by thrusting facts and figures into their faces, you are destroying trust even before it has had a chance to take root and flourish. You are becoming a "Business Prevention Unit".
How Education Marketing Helps Find Your Perfect SEO Clients
Few business managers and executives know much about SEO. It's up to you to show them the value an optimized website will add to their business. Blindly pitching SEO services to a company with little experience or knowledge will be a futile effort that is wasteful of time and energy.
If you spend the larger part of your marketing day running after new clients, it will suck away your most precious asset - your time. And unless you are able to attract the right kind of client, the one who understands the strategic importance of SEO and is able to see beyond the band-aid of a SEO checklist that will win a #1 ranking on Google, all your client-hunting efforts will be wasted. Quick sales are quick fixes; they can back fire on you.
All of that changes when you start viewing your competitors as "colleagues" or even "partners".
Look, not every client is the right one for you. By sharing your knowledge and getting fellow consultants to follow suit, you are effectively "crowd sourcing" the process which will educate your buyers about the value of SEO in their business. In one master stroke, you'll save yourself time, effort and money spent on 'marketing' - and even shape the future of the SEO industry.
By educating your clients, you eliminate time wasters and skeptics among your new buyers. This helps you retain clients for longer, and gain their trust and support for your strategic initiatives to help them dominate search results. You'll get the budget you need to implement an effective SEO blueprint without having to slash your own rates to the bone. And you'll do it sans quick fixes - lifting your clients to a higher level, by giving them a strategic focus.
Let's make no mistake about it. Buying SEO is difficult. It involves making smart decisions, insight, and an understanding about the complexity. Once the decision makers in any company or business truly understand SEO, they will shun the snake oil sales pitches of tactical SEO shysters, and even resist the temptation to 'outsource' their SEO to an in house IT team.
That means we, as SEO consultants, must do our bit to educate our market about the nuances and intricacies of our work on their behalf. When we do this successfully, collectively, we make the pie bigger - and tastier! It will boost your chances of being able to tack on an extra zero to the bill you present clients after your work is done. It will stop your ideal prospects from viewing SEO as a cost, and start viewing it as an investment.
Informed Prospects Are Better Buyers
Knowledge, insight and understanding about SEO in the market often leads to more sales - and bigger sales. Of course, bigger deals need to be rooted in a sound mastery of the technical basics. Marketing managers, CEOs or board members of large professional companies don't spend millions on things they are doubtful about. They research well and look for quality providers.
But they are also people, with their own deep seated needs and desires - for safety, for security, for comfort. And they evaluate service providers on more than just merit.
Talking bad about your competitors is bad karma. Saying good things about your fellow professionals while simultaneously differentiating yourself through better positioning is a win-win deal. It profiles you as a nice person, honest and trustworthy. When it comes to long term business relationships and lifting clients to a higher plane of strategy driven SEO, this is the "extra 1%" that can boost you ahead of everyone else... even when you are slightly behind in other elements.
Going after the big deals means you must be well prepared. And a critical part of that preparation involves educating the buyer. Without a strong belief in your capabilities, and confidence in the value and revenue that this investment will create, you cannot expect them to invest heavily. All players in this game (consultants like myself, and agencies) are contributing to making the pie bigger. By helping everyone else, we are actually helping ourselves over the long run.
Earlier this year, my company and our biggest competitor jointly won a prize called "Gulltaggen - Beste Søkstrategi" (gold/winner) in Norway. Sharing an award for the best Search Strategy for the year with our competitor may seem odd - but in fact, it is fantastic. Together, we can help each other in many ways. We are two companies, both professional and staffed with smart, skilled, great people, who now have a better foundation to convince the marketplace and the people engaged in the selection process that what we do is valuable. In concert, we can feature more success stories, more customer case studies, and symbiotically we are investing in our collective success.
So, as busy SEO consultants, what can we do to make it easier for ourselves to find quality clients, with enough time (and less stress) to complete the job and focus on results and business growth for them? How can we stop worrying about budget overruns, or defend ourselves against competitors who make unreasonably low bids (that are unsustainable in the longer term)?
The simple answer lies in educating our buyers. By ensuring they make better, and more qualified, buying decisions. With insight and understanding, correct decisions will naturally follow. It's the age-old 'chicken and egg' situation. The chicken (SEO knowledge provided to prospective customers) will deliver the egg (your big budget client, with extra zeroes added to your bill!)
Educate Your Way To Higher SEO Budgets
There's a danger to pricing your services too cheap. Attracting new clients through rebates and extreme discounts can get you into trouble. While you may win a few new accounts, the razor thin margins make them less valuable over time. Selling your SEO services at the right level is important.
Understand this... your prospective buyer is looking at the industry as a whole, and trying to make sense of it. SEO is a team effort. Even one bad player on the team can ruin the match. That's why, despite SEO being one of the most cost effective forms of marketing, we are still struggling to get a secure trust-based footing in our market's mind.
Here's the reason. Most marketing and business executives haven't learned about SEO at school. Sure, they've read the headlines, and realize they probably need SEO. But they don't know about the dynamics and synergies.
If they believe a rubber boat is all they need to sail the treacherous ocean of online business tactics, then that's what they'll look to buy. But what happens when a big wave hits? They get hurt.
Or if they are convinced that rowing their way all along the shore is best for them, they'll miss the chance of shooting ahead of their competition by going straight across on a freighter.
It's up to us to fix this lacuna, and show our clients what effective SEO really is.
If just closing a sale is the sole focus of an SEO consultant, even if it means charging rock-bottom prices, then you are constrained to using the least resources so that you can afford to get the job finished.
But what happens when external environmental changes force a change in course? Your hands are tied!
Your client feels unsafe, uncertain and scared. You must then give them more attention, more time. Your resources are being strained to breaking point. When your clients can't see the differences between your SEO efforts and traditional marketing (CPC and CPM models), and you're forced to reluctantly admit that you cannot guarantee results, they must go to the board and explain to the CEO or executives that the money spent on SEO isn't delivering any return.
Executives risk looking stupid, and so they become stressed. They ask difficult questions. Interfere in minor SEO details. Force you into a defensive stance. And they may even slash an already inadequate budget.
You're halfway across the ocean - and have run out of steam! You won't reach your destination, and the goods remain undelivered.
How To Navigate Stormy SEO Seas
As the captain of your SEO ship, you have no room or time for unscheduled stops at every fjord or port. You must stick to the course you've charted.
Your offer was based on the estimate of a certain number of hours to achieve specific results. If you waste these resources on a hesitant, unsure and skeptical client, you won't be able to deliver upon your promise. Even if you make no promises, you'll still fall short of the one-sided expectations of your client - and your contract will not be renewed.
Even if you are well paid for your effort, serving the wrong clients can set you back several steps. In the same time, you might be working with a better qualified client, raising the bar and adding zeroes to your bills, all the while partnering with well-informed prospects who have bought in to your strategic long-term plan that can add value to their business in more than one direction.
What if you could eliminate this wasteful effort of reaching, convincing and working for "wrong" clients?
Sharing knowledge within the community (even with non-clients) will play a major role in creating such a better future for all SEO experts. Nobody will hate you for helping them. It's very likely that you'll get some new friends and followers along the way, and they may even call you later with a job offer, or to seek advice, or even to order your SEO services.
That's when you'll know that you've won the battle for their minds - and hearts!