Planning an SEO Campaign

Filed in MY BEST POSTS, SEO by Matt McGee on November 12, 2008 18 Comments

SEO Success PyramidDid You Know: In 2002, Habitat for Humanity set a world record when it built a 3-bedroom, 2-bath home in Alabama in only 3 hours, 26 minutes, 34 seconds? It’s true. (official YouTube video) Guess how long it took to plan such an amazing feat….

3 years, 9 months

Nothing great really happens by chance. As the saying goes, luck happens when preparation meets opportunity. Real success, real accomplishment is always the result of careful planning and preparation — of creating a plan and then executing it. That’s certainly the case with great SEO and online marketing campaigns, and that’s why planning is one of the foundational elements of the SEO Success Pyramid.

How to Plan a Successful SEO Campaign

I love working with clients who bring energy and enthusiasm to an SEO campaign. It’s great to want to jump in and get started on new content development, link building, blogging, and so forth. But first, that energy and enthusiasm has to be channeled into creating a plan that outlines the strategies and tactics that’ll be used.

Step 1: Set Goals

The first step in an SEO plan is to set goals. What problems do you hope the SEO project will solve? You might need more organic traffic, more sales of your red widgets, more sign-ups to your newsletter or community, or more contacts via a lead generation form.

The question I like to ask at this early stage is, How will we measure success? Answer that question and you have your goals.

Step 2: Establish Your SEO Team

This is easy if you’re a one-man-band or a company with only a few employees. But if you’re a small business with multiple departments in your organization, it’s imperative to establish at the start who will be the primary drivers of your SEO campaign. A typical SEO project will touch your Marketing, Product, PR, and IT/Tech departments. And it’ll obviously need sign-off at the executive level.

This is also a good time to discuss other resources that will be needed. For example, do you have an analytics program tracking web site traffic, or do you need to choose one? If you plan to launch a blog, do you have a good writer with a blogger’s personality? Know what you have and what you need in terms of people and resources.

Step 3: Identify Your Audience

Chances are you get a variety of people visiting your web site, but do you know which type of person tends to become a customer most often? You might have a product that appeals mainly to men/husbands, but studies suggest that major purchases are usually decided by women/wives. Know your audience and you’ll be able to tailor your copy for better SEO success.

Step 4: Choose Appropriate Strategies/Tactics

There’s no fixed solution here. Every company is unique, and every SEO campaign has to be unique, too. Knowing your goals, your available resources, and your intended audience will help you choose the right strategies and tactics for your SEO campaign. Be careful not to try too much at the start. I believe it’s better to move slowly and do a few things very well than to spread your company so thin that the campaign as a whole suffers from lack of accomplishment.

Step 5: Measure Your Results

Plan on tracking your results closely, but realize that SEO is not about overnight success. Like many other search marketers, I tell most clients it usually takes 3-6 months to see any tangible results from most SEO tactics. The actual time depends on the competitiveness of your industry and a host of other factors that are out of your control.

Step 6: Adjust and Repeat

SEO is an ongoing process, not a one-time effort that can be turned off like a TV when the show is over. After a few months you should have a good idea of what worked and what didn’t. Plan on using the data you have to eliminate the underperforming strategies and tactics. Go back to Step 1 — do you need to re-examine your goals? Go back to Step 2 — did you put together the right team? Continual evaluation of your success and failures should be part of every SEO plan.

Final Thoughts

This has been an attempt to simplify what can sometimes be a complex process. I’ve purposely left out the discussion on doing SEO yourself vs. hiring an SEO consultant, and I’ve also ignored any mention of budgeting. Both of these are important parts of planning an SEO campaign; this article assumes you’ve made those decisions already.

The main point I hope to make here is that you must devote time to planning. “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail” is a truism that fits small business SEO campaigns. Be enthusiastic, but first channel that enthusiasm into developing a winning plan for your online marketing efforts.

Your turn: What would you add to this list of SEO campaign planning steps?

Comments (18)

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  1. W.R. says:

    Excellent read. In my opinion this is the most important factor – “Identify Your Audience”. If you know what audience to target and don’t set your goals too high then you can be on to a winner. If your competition is high for the audience your targeting then your targeting the wrong audience.

  2. Jeff Howard says:

    I think its important to create a blueprint if you will at the beginning of the campaign which outlines, goals and tasks to be completed. I call this a campaign blueprint. It does a good job of creating expectations as well.

  3. Amen! I had almost this exact conversation yesterday. I especially appreciate what you said about not spreading yourself too thin. I also like Seth Godin’s approach about having enough water for 100 seeds. You’ll grow roots if you water 5 of those for 20 days rather than all of them for 1 day. SEO needs to follow a similar planned focus.

    SEO must be planned, like building a house. At Scary SEO, Chris Hart of Bruce Clay mentioned it costs 3-4 times more money to not do it right the first time.

    Add to the list? I’ve added “Identify Value Proposition” to the SEO planning list. For an e-commerce site, for example, each product page should represent that product’s value proposition. Optimization efforts should be planned around the value proposition with an associated call to action.

  4. Ryan Rose says:

    Matt, Great post. Something I feel should be added to the list would to set expectations. I know this could be blended in with #5 but I’ve worked with many clients who’s expectations weren’t in line with the initial results. They expected “the flood gates” of new visitors to open after 2 or 3 weeks and when it doesn’t, they start getting cranky.

    I think setting expectations is important especially in today’s economy. Everyone is looking for a quick fix to their business woes.

  5. I think more people should read this. I get many phone calls with people think that SEO just happens in 30days and boom…your at the top. I like this outline.

  6. Allan says:

    Would you consider establishing the team before setting goals? Would it be helpful to have the team help set goals and commit to delivering rather than dictating the goals to them?

  7. Matt McGee says:

    I think you could probably flip those two items and make it work, Allan.

    I suppose there’s two levels of team involved, though. I’m assuming that an initial team has already been established to deal with the budget issues, the hire-or-do-it-ourselves issues, and so forth – that team would set goals, too.

    The team I’m referring to in #2 is more about who’s going to do (or lead) the hands-on effort on a department-by-department basis. Someone in IT/Tech will need to make sure things like 301 redirects, URL rewriting, etc., are done correctly – but that person may not necessarily be involved in goal setting.

    Thanks for all the comments. And I like the additional suggestions, Dana and Ryan – thanks!

  8. L.S. says:

    The most important part of SEO is consistency. It must become an integral part of the process. Permanently.

    Yes, much planning should happen. but don’t plan too much.

    Act, measure. Adjust and repeat.

  9. Barton says:

    You mentioned in your final thoughts avoiding the issue of finding a good SEO. I think that finding a good SEO is essential. Your process though good is useless without quality people to implement it.

  10. Matt McGee says:

    You seem to have misunderstood me, Barton. Nowhere am I suggesting you don’t need to find good people. I’m saying that the decision to do it yourself or hire a consultant is outside the scope of what I wanted to present here. This article is strictly about planning the campaign, whether you hire someone to help or D-I-Y.

  11. T.T. says:

    Absolutely an on time post! Identifying your audience is the foundation to knowing which direction your marketing campaign will go. Otherwise your marketing and promotion efforts will be on the loose like a wild mustang!

  12. Matt Wutzke says:

    You have missed out local seo tips in the chart!

  13. Matt McGee says:

    Hi Matt — if you’re referring to the SEO Success Pyramid, I mention local search right up near the top.

  14. Morkel says:

    Perfect article, No need to add anything, except one thing in 6th step(Adjust and Repeat), Repeat, Repeat, Repeat and Repeat till you get success:).Anyways, apart from jokes, i just want to say that you have written so much in minimum words. You can write 6 different articles on these 6 steps, hope to see it in future to get some more knowledge from your side.

  15. Matt Wutzke says:

    Nice article, Planing is so improtant, I always do my seo work randomly, someday add some links and find no effective results.
    Now I try to set a plan following your six steps. Please share more details about these six steps. Thanks.

  16. Extremely helpful!
    I have a question concerning linking to competitors: I have heard that it is advantageous to add a link to your competitor. Does this help you overcome that competitor or am I operating on wrong information?

  17. Jonathan says:

    Excellent Post!
    The final step to adjust and repeat is something I need to work on, and reading this was a great reminder that SEO takes consistant and continual effort. You’ve inspired me to re-evaluate and continue on in my efforts. Thanks!

  18. Gillani says:

    Hello Matt McGee,
    in the second step you have established the need to have an analytics program to track the traffic stats. which one is the best software in your opinion?

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