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.
Trond Lyngbø is a Senior SEO Strategist at Metronet Norge with over 10 years of experience. Trond is the author of the books “Importance of SEO for Your Online Business” and “Power Social Media Marketing”. He can be found on Twitter @TrondLyngbo.