My career began at a dedicated search agency, often working with third party vendors and IT teams to accomplish SEO objectives. While I experienced many successes there, I now truly realize the importance of tight-knit collaboration and building SEO into the integrated marketing conversation.
For some this might seem repetitive, but based on my experience in the industry there are too many people who believe creating a document and handing it to the client will result in 100% implementation of the recommendation. Working at an integrated agency, I now have the opportunity to oversee implementation of search programs and weigh their impact on design, development, IA, and KPI framework construction. It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
Step 1 – IA (Information Architecture) Development
One of the best parts of stepping into this role is having the opportunity to learn that the sitemap and IA are much more complex than I had experienced in the past. We need to consider consumer research, competitive research, business objectives, federal regulations, etc.
It is easy to tell that in our case, search strategy is more informative and less imperative. Ideally we will be able to achieve the best of all worlds, but contributing to the massive research before the construction of a website gives us the opportunity to weigh keyword optimization & schema with messaging, etc. Long story short, having the opportunity to conduct thorough keyword research and use it as an influence on the final sitemap rather than a concrete road map results in a final product which integrates comprehensive user research, search strategy, and modern IA strategies. What a great way to start a project.
Step 2 – Copywriting
Now that the sitemap for a new site has been determined, we can conduct another round of keyword research, this time in a much more focused (and less exploratory) manner. The best part about mapping out keywords in this stage is having the ability to oversee their implementation, and you don’t have to work alone. For an SEO professional, I feel it is incredibly important to gather feedback from all parties involved. Whether its working with your creative team to find out how the keywords mesh with their vision for a site, or discussing with the development team how keyword selections may affect technical implementation, this stage is a great opportunity to encourage collaboration and accomplish your SEO objectives while gathering feedback from your peers. Once again, search is truly integrated.
Step 3 – Design
This is where as an SEO, you get to pull out your fine-tooth comb. While it may not be the most glorious of tasks, making sure image naming conventions are in place and teaching designers about a/b testing can be incredibly rewarding in the big scheme of things. I personally am careful to never mess with creative juices, but sometime there are search ranking factors that need to be explored during the design phase that can impact how much copy goes on to a page and how well optimized your site is to send users through conversion funnels. I love pulling out studies on click through rates for social share buttons and giving examples of how imagery can effect user behavior. Working with design is part education and part intricate planning.
Step 4 – Development
This is a very important step, and there are a lot of hats in the ring. At this point the site is ready to be built (or re-built) and your guidance as a search expert is extremely important to the performance of the website post-production. Have you mapped out your 301 redirects and talked to the development team about site speed and canonical content? Are you familiar with the CMS and its intricacies? What kinds of issues do you foresee for the development team in implementing your search strategy from a technical standpoint? These are all important questions, and they have to be answered concisely. In the integrated marketing process this is where the real challenge begins.
Imagine having a client who paid for search integration and your first post-launch recommendation is to optimize site speed. This is also the point where you have total control over what you want to track and tag. If you can’t communicate with development and map out tracking snippets for key events and conversions, you are putting yourself in front of a nice, thick brick wall.
Step 5 – Measurement & Growth
It is a pretty awesome feeling when a new site is constructed and your new search strategy is functioning after such epic collaboration. Now you have the responsibility of reporting on your strategy and providing insights that will continue to improve the site over time. First, you can pat yourself on the back for covering all of your SEO bases the first time around, and next you can start to get excited about implementing some good old fashioned reporting. I am a strong believer that website performance doesn’t have a ceiling. Although your initial search strategy is solid and in place, there is always opportunity to improve the site. Good reporting will always lead to actionable insights, so use it to keep your search mojo flowing.
The bottom line is that search strategies should be nurtured in to the design and development process as much as possible, and it is a long process that requires organization and the willingness to collaborate. When done properly, working through these five touch points can result in a strong product that is ready for testing and growth. This process ensures the fundamentals are in place, the right factors are considered, and team building is taking place.
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