How to create an SEO workflow
Ask a dozen different SEO’s how their process is run and you’ll get a dozen different answers. This is a product of the lack of standardization within the SEO industry and a reflection of the level of maturity the industry suffers at the time of writing this. Because of this, creating an SEO workflow can be a difficult task and many organizations end up resorting to expensive consultancies. I’ve been thinking about how to define the role of SEO within an organization and how we can standardize some approaches to make life easier for not only the hiring managers and search marketing teams, but for the SEO his or herself. We’ll go over an example of a workflow for SEO and how it can be used to run day to day operations for a large organization.
A process based approach
In the late 90’s, when SEO was born, process improvement and redesign were both nascent approaches to organizational thinking and laser printers cost a couple grand. The term silo is a recurring word in many business texts to refer to the era predating this time, when org charts ruled the landscape and there was little incentive for a department to support anyone other than their immediate vertical chain of command
Creating a workflow for SEO involves involving SEO’s pre and post-processes. This is to say, who is supplying the inputs, and who will be receiving the outputs. First, we’ll consider the inputs to the SEO process and how they can be transformed in to an actionable product.
The primary inputs to the SEO process for a generic enterprise organization look something like this.
• Raw data from analytics tool
• Industry news, whitepapers, research
• Other marketing teams
The generic SEO process involves extracting the three inputs, transforming them into insights and producing actionable documents for team members. Below is a very general workflow diagram showing how SEO can fit in to an organization. Note the customers of the SEO process: It’s important to know that even though in this diagram they are customers of the process, those same stakeholders will also need to pull the SEO process in to all of their respective projects that involve making changes to the website. This will prevent suboptimal changes from rolling out to a website Thus, for their respective workflows, SEO needs to be a component as well.
The previous workflow example is simply a very broad example based on my experiences. There are many other activities that take place within the function of SEO so I am simply proposing this as a starting point for diagramming workflow of SEO within an organization. I hope this has helped non-SEO’s and SEO’s alike understand how SEO fits in to the larger scheme of an organization and helps people begin to think in terms of processes, workflow and standards with regard to the SEO industry. It’s an industry that needs more thought on its processes to grow. It’s my hope to build this blog based around building out a search arm that takes a process-focused approach and to add useful tools, guides and posts about how to implement one.
I look forward to hearing any experiences anyone may have with building a search team and integrating it into the processes of the organization to add real value.
Disclaimer: Neither I nor anybody else can say with 100% certainty how Google reacts to site architecture changes. Do your due diligence and draw your own conclusions based on available research and theories.
There’s no shortage of FUD in the SEO industry when it comes to search engine updates rolled out by Google. When Matt Cutts of Google dropped a hint to Hub Pages that they should try using subdomains in order to recover from the Panda update the industry was taken back a bit. Reason being, it has been said previously that subdomains were no longer treated any differently than subfolders and webmasters had no reason other than vanity to consider the differences. The advice, however, seemed to work out well for Hub Pages, allowing them to recover a good portion of their search traffic.
Does this mean that subdomains are the best choice for SEO friendly site architecture? Not necessarily. Why were subdomains optimal for Hub Pages? Because they had a lot of trash content. And subdomains allow websites to signal that these mini-sites, while under the main domain should not reflect on the quality of the site overall. Any black hat SEO that the pages within the subdomain are found guilty of, will theoretically not impact the other subdomains or greater domain itself.
This is not a license to create millions of doorway pages with subdomains, but rather a guideline for how to architect your site with SEO in mind. I tend to side with the camp that says subdomains aren’t the catch-all SEO solution for site architecture…but there are circumstances when it pays to consider your options.
Questions to ask yourself when considering the subdomain vs subfolder question:
- Do you want the prevent the content of this new section from reflecting on the quality of the overall parent domain?
- Is the goal of the content in the new section different than the goal of the content on the main domain? (for example, is your main domain transactional while your new content is largely informational?)
- Is the new section largely user generated?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you have a strong candidate section for a subdomain.
I’m interested in any case studies or evidence that you may have to shed additional perspective on these observations, or if you have evidence pointing to the contrary of what I say.
One of the great things about SEO in a large organization is the wealth of information you have at your disposal via connections that cut across functional units. It’s important for an SEO to not just operate within a silo and to cut across functional divisions to utilize knowledge within the company. After all, the keywords that consumers use to find products frequently differ than the keywords that B2B buyers use to find products online. In this situation, the best keyword is not always the most intuitive according to what the AdWords Keyword Tool says it is.
Relationships With Product, Category or Service Managers
If you have never spoken with any product managers, category managers or service managers within your organization, you are missing out on crucial intel surrounding how consumers talk about your products and services. Reaching out to these people and integrating them into the keyword research phase of content optimization will help tremendously.
Why? Because many organizations will use marketing language that contains phrases that are unique to strictly their business. This is great for branding campaigns, but not the kind of thing you want to optimize content around. Consider a scenario at at tech company seeking to enhance their search results positions. If you reach out to those in charge of marketing these solutions, you can tell them: “Ok, so pretend I’m a potential customer. I am interested in optimizing my infrastructure. What are the words and questions that I am going to type in a search engine to look for this? If I’m looking for cloud business reviews, what are the words and keyword combinations I’m going to use when researching this?”
This seems simple enough and like something that should have been considered at the initial content creation phase, it frequently is overlooked. These direct questions to different functional managers can yield impressive insights in to their world…Insights that may bring forth keyword ideas that go somewhat under the radar on the AdWords Keyword Tool while bringing in massive deals for the relatively low volume search traffic.
This is additionally helpful when you are targeting multiple segments. Different segments use different language to refer to the same thing. Getting the assistance of a subject matter expert of a particular segment will yield much more success than merely relying on keyword tools who are demographic-agnostic.
On Site Search Analytics
By far, the greatest measure of what your customers are actively searching for. Many on-site search engines can tie in with your analytics providers to provide you with this kind of information. This is also a measure of how your customers perceive you as a business. If you a services provider, make sure that the on-site search traffic is indicative of that.
Here’s an exercise. Take a list of all of your on-site keywords for the past month or so. Go to http://www.wordle.net/create and enter your list. The resultant keyword cloud is a visual representation of how customers perceive your offerings. If what you think you’re offering is not what is prominent in the keyword cloud, it’s time to reconsider something in the way of design or website branding to make sure that all of your offerings are called out.
Also, it’s good to take a look at the more granular levels of the keyword cloud to make sure that the on-site search demand is properly reflected through optimizations of your targeted natural search content. After all, creating content that is catered to your users demands is one of the highest value activities you can engage in.
These are just a few of the ways in which you can analyze current and potential keywords. The important thing to take away here is that when you’re dealing with B2B or any specific segment, keyword patterns might not follow the trend. Take a step back and think about ways you can research your market’s keywords outside of things like the AdWords Keyword tool. Go across functional divisions in glean insights in any ways you can.
I’ve been reading a lot lately about improving business processes and thinking about how I can integrate best practices for business process improvement with search engine optimization in a large organization. After all, if there’s one department, that I feel still operates in silos at many organizations, it’s search.
Why? Search is still relatively new. Most of the popular search agencies have little experience developing the skillets of their clients to integrate the data they are being given into organizational processes.
Given this, I’ve drafted a capability maturity model for SEO within organizations, based off of the traditional capability maturity model developed by the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Melon. I encourage anybody with input to add to it. I don’t claim to be an expert in business process integration, so if you have a suggestion for this model let me know, and let’s keep this a living document!
Level 1 – Initial - Organization has no process for managing search across the organization. Ad hoc reporting is used.
Level 2 – Repeatable – Organization has baseline metrics that are managed such as natural search visitors and rankings and on some consistent basis. Most SEO efforts include on-page content optimization and meta code. Effort is still siloed.
Level 3 – Defined – Clearly defined projects are undertaken and managed with a focus on technical site optimization and remediation as well as crossing into other functional areas of the organization. Metrics are more specific and speak to brand, non-brand and how these impact revenue.
Level 4 – Managed – KPIs and year over year goals are set for natural search teams to aim for. Projects have clear timelines and clear returns. Metrics are the same; however the report sees other functional areas of the organization.
Level 5 – Optimizing – The organization learns from the insights gleaned from the search team and data is integrated into the decision making process of cross-functional teams.
I would say most small businesses are in Level 2 if they have a local SEO company working for them. Level 3 is where most businesses end up after they first contract a search agency. Level 4 is something that is difficult for agencies to see unless they do a lot of on-premise work. Something that is currently only executed by the larger consulting firms. Level 5 is, in my opinion, only scalable when search has been fully integrated into an in-house organization. What do you think? Where are you in this paradigm?
If there’s one thing to take away from the following post it’s this: “89% of the traffic generated by search ads is not replaced by organic clicks when ads are paused.”
Google recently published a study stating that their AdWords service drives an additional 89% of incremental search traffic. The measure of incremental search traffic is a metric they call “Incremental Ad Clicks” or “IAC”.
The IAC is a ratio of how many total clicks a site gets over how many paid clicks the site gets across two periods. Consider their example:
A: An advertiser spends $1,000 in period A and receives 400 organic and 300 paid clicks.
B: In period B, they cut ad spend to $0 and get 500 organic clicks and 0 paid clicks.
The resultant IAC is 66.7%, which means that 66.7% of the traffic was not replaced by organic traffic when the paid search campaign was paused.
What does this mean for B2B search marketers? Taken at face value, it means that good organic positioning for keywords is no reason to decrease spend on paid search campaigns. And I imagine that the AdWords team were absolutely thrilled when they came to this conclusion. A few lingering questions remain however: What kinds of keywords comprise the 89% gains of incremental traffic? If I bid on my branded keywords, will I still see 89% lift? Is it still 89% if I run strictly non-branded campaigns? No word yet from Google on whether or not their conclusions hold across brand and non-brand terms.
Ultimately, the take away from this study is that the more places your potential customers can see your message, the better. I would argue that there is most likely a significant difference in the IAC of brand and non-brand terms, however there’s no escaping that you will lose clicks by forgoing a paid search campaign because of a strong organic presence.
It appears that paid search, despite it’s low CTR relative to organic, is here to stay. What do you think? Have you had any experience with decreasing spend when ranking well organically?