Whether you are putting together a proposal for a client or assessing your own needs, you need to be able to accurately predict how much time, energy and effort will be necessary to build a successful SEO campaign. Of course, in order to predict the time involvement you need to first know the strengths and weaknesses of the website which will then help you determine what will need to be done to accomplish your goals and make the site a viable competitor.
Last week I went over several areas that need to be considered and analyzed in order to accurately put together a framework for a workable SEO campaign. I'll finish that list today before moving on to part three where we'll discuss the goals of the campaign; another vital aspect.
Analytics and Reporting
Analyzing and reporting can be a crucial part of the campaign, especially when it comes to measuring for success. It's fairly easy to provide keyword ranking reports for clients, but all things considered, rankings are not the best measures of success. Of course, you have to first determine what measurements will be used and how that information will be gathered.
Not all reports can be automated. Some take a good deal of analysis to fully understand. One thing to remember is that progress reports are not just a means of informing the boss or the client of how well things are going, they are a means to further refine the campaign and plan out new strategies for success.
Once you determine what information is important, how it will be gathered and presented to the client, you are then in a much better position to determine how much time and effort will be required to create these weekly or monthly analysis reports. For some it may be relatively easy, however for those that need more data, that process can be much more time consuming.
One of the most important aspects of a successful SEO campaign is the underlying construction of the website. In simple terms site architecture boils down to the search engine friendliness of the site. There are dozens of components to site architecture which can be thoroughly analyzed but one doesn't always have the time to do such an analysis when trying to put together the cliff notes version of a site's needs. It's important, then, to be able to quickly analyze the overall architecture of the site and then anticipate any additional needs that may arise.
A quick review will consider the site directory structure, navigation paths, URL structure, internal linking and, as much as can be determined, what is editable and what is not. Many times, due to the platform or the programmers that built the site, key areas such as title tags are not easily editable. This will need to be taken into account before setting realistic goals, as reprogramming may add additional time to the cause.
The size of the site will be a significant factor in the time needed to perform an complete architectural review. Small sites, of course, will require a lot less work than larger sites. But don't let that fool you too easily as once you dig in and start reviewing, even the small sites can uncover a whole lot of issues that you had not anticipated. When estimating time hope for the best but prepare for the worst, and plan accordingly.
Site Design & Usability
Website design can be subjective to one's personal tastes but in the broad sense website usability can be universal. The site either works or it doesn't. Of course there are also many shades of what "works" which is why testing is an important part of improving overall site usability, but still there are many general usability truths which can be applied.
Once you have a pretty good grasp on the broader usability principles, which are fairly easy to understand, analyzing a site and pinpointing problematic areas is fairly easy. For some sites minor tweaks here and there will be needed right away and for others a drastic site overhaul might be required.
If possible plan time for detail usability testing, but at the very least you can get a feel for the bigger changes that will be necessary and plan accordingly. Leave room for discussion and implementation of any changes that may be recommended as not everything will be cut and dried.
There are two kinds of competitors that need to be considered. The obvious group are those found online by doing a few keyword searches that you'll likely be competing against. The second is the off-line competition. The offline competition are usually the power horses of any industry that may have little or no online presence. But the reason they are important is because they may be able to jump online at any given time and immediately dominate the market. Whether that can, or will, happen is unknown, but its smart to at least be thinking ahead.
Getting a quick glance at the competition is essential in helping to determine projections for success. You'll want to compare quality of brand, site usefulness, incoming backlinks and a handful of other measures. If the competition has been well-established online and are a recognizable force then it will be difficult to overcome that. If you're looking for quick success, time is not on your side. You also need to consider the depth of the pockets of those you're going against. If they pour tens of thousands of dollars a month into online marketing, a few hundred dollars a month will hardly make an impact.
I suggest researching at least three to five competitors using at least three different keywords. This will give you a decent picture of what you'll be competing against and help you set a better estimation of the time and resources it will take to match and beat those who maintain stronger positioning than you.
Uniqueness and Branding
There is one question I ask of almost every potential client: What makes you unique. I'm often surprised by two things 1) those that simply can't state what it is about them that makes them any better or different than all the other companies doing the same thing, and 2) those that can answer that question in a way that makes you say, "I want to buy from them." Obviously, it's the latter of the two that we want for clients. These are the people who have put some serious thought into their own branding. They have developed a way to take something that many others do and turned it into something unique that no one else does quite like them.
Being able to articulate what makes you unique and why people should buy from you rather than the competition is critical. If you can't do that then you have to face reality, there really is no reason that Google, or any other engine, should rank your site on the first page. You're one in a million and you'll likely stay ranked that way. On the other hand, if you are able to position yourself as something unique in the industry then you now have a reason to be ranked higher. But think it through. Better customer service or '"more products for less" is rarely a unique positioning. That may work for Wal-Mart but it won't likely work for you.
If you already know what it is that truly makes you unique--and therefore more brandable--from your competition then you won't have to spend any time at all in developing that position. On the other hand, you may find that there really isn't any 'there' there. This, of course, is one of the hardest things to do because it often requires a complete re-evaluation of the company, what it does and what it stands for. This isn't necessarily the job of the Internet Marketer, but if you're in that place, you need to start thinking in that direction. And if you can't, and the company won't do that kind of re-thinking, you can at least set the expectations for delivering long term success in the search results.
Social Media Review
This is for a bit more advanced analysis and doesn't necessarily need to be a part of the initial review, but it is helpful if you want as complete a picture as possible up front. You want to do a bit a brainstorming to develop ideas and strategies that will produce viable for social media and link baiting opportunities. Jot down ideas for articles, tools, website enhancements, etc.
It wouldn't hurt, at this point, to look at what some of your competitors might be doing. Check to see if they are doing anything strategic with Facebook or Myspace. Check out any articles they may have gotten significant stumbles or Diggs. Use this information to generate ideas and strategies that can be implemented in the short and longer term.
It'll be difficult to estimate time frames for many of the social media ideas and many probably won't come to fruition. But take some time to get quotes on some of the larger things that might have to be outsourced and produce rough estimates for anything that you might be able to do yourself.
Spending even five minutes on each of these points can give you a pretty clear picture of a site's current positioning. You'll have a clearer picture of what you are up against which will then allow you to plan your search engine optimization campaign accordingly.
But there is still more to consider, and while I have saved that for the last installment of this series, it really is the most important. In Part III we'll look at the goals of the online marketing campaign that you'll be setting out to achieved. We'll outline a few things that are important for anybody to know before they even begin to develop an online marketing strategy. Its' simply a matter of knowing who you are, what you want to archive and what resources do you have to get you there.
Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.
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