Ask a bunch of SEO professionals what’s the most important thing about SEO and you’ll probably hear things like “keyword research” or “link building” or “site structure.” All of these things are important, but all of these things put together don’t even come close to the most important thing about SEO: Business strategy.
Yup… business strategy is the most important thing about SEO… or any facet of marketing, for that matter.
Give me a minute and I’ll explain…
What Is Business Strategy?
“Strategy” is probably the most overused word in all of business. It gets attached to all sorts of things in order to increase the perceived importance of whatever it is that’s being discussed. Social media… (yawn). Social media strategy… now THAT’S important! Let me get out my wallet!
All kidding aside, the one place where the word “strategy” will never be out of place is when it is used to describe questions and answers about the most fundamental aspects of your business:
- What business are we in?
- Who are our customers?
- Who are our competitors?
- Why do people buy (and not buy) from us?
There is nothing (and I do mean nothing) more important to your business than knowing the answers to these questions, with as much detail as possible. With appropriate answers to these questions, you can align your business so that everyone is “rowing in the same direction” so to speak. Without appropriate answers to these questions, there will likely be internal misalignment that creates confusion and waste… and just so I have your complete attention… when I say “waste” I mean wasted money.
This might sound like a bunch of bull**** at the moment, but let me give you a couple of examples and I think you’ll start to see the light.
Willy’s Windows makes high-end and custom replacement windows for single family homes. They have two different sets of customers. First are the contractors, who resell the windows via their local businesses in the mid-western portion of the US. Second are the “end users,” or the customers of the contractors, who typically pay for both the windows themselves (resold by a contractor) and the services of the contractor to install them. Both sets of customers must be satisfied for Willy’s Windows to be successful.
Willy’s Windows competes with Pat’s Portholes and Cal’s Casements for the midwestern US market. Both companies are bigger than Willy’s and have more resources to spend on marketing. Pat’s Portholes is the low-cost provider, offering bargain basement prices on the most basic replacement windows available. Cal’s Casements sits somewhere in the middle, with a “best bang for your buck” approach. Cal’s windows are more attractive and last longer than Pat’s at a slightly higher price. Neither competitor, however, offers the quality of Willy’s Windows, offers custom options, or charges prices as high as Willy’s does.
The contractors who partner with Willy’s to resell and install windows are “white glove” level contractors. They’re higher priced than other contractors, but have reputations for doing top notch work that lasts a lifetime. Similarly, end users (the homeowners) of Willy’s products are households with $200,000 plus per year in income who have both the desire and the resources to install top of the line products in their homes.
The Market Landscape and Business Strategy
Here’s the thing about business strategy. You already have one, whether you know it or not. The above information is simply “what’s happening in the marketplace” for the purposes of driving a case study, not necessarily what the owners of Willy’s Windows have determined by sitting down in a conference room together and hashing everything out so they can ensure that everyone within the business is on the same page about who Willy’s is, what Willy’s does and who Willy’s customers are.
SEO Driven By Nothing In Particular
If the owners of Willy’s Windows have not asked and answered the above mentioned fundamental questions about their own business, setting a direction for marketing, operations, etc. becomes a minefield or risk and uncertainty. Let’s look at the SEO ramifications:
- Because there are no fundamental pieces of information about the strategic identity of Willy’s, its customers and its competitors, the marketing department chooses to pursue the key phrase “replacement windows” for SEO purposes.
- “Replacement windows” defines what Willy’s does, but not specifically enough for Willy’s to be competitive. Willy’s spends tens of thousands of dollars on SEO services to target this term, but gets beaten easily by the bigger competitors who have more available resources. Worse, when visitors do come to Willy’s site based on this term they are mostly looking for lower cost options than what Willy’s has to offer and thus do not convert at a high rate.
Willy’s Windows has just spent a bunch of money on a pursuit that was DOA before it even started, all because its employees didn’t know the answers to fundamental questions about the business.
SEO Driven By Business Strategy
If the owners of Willy’s Windows have engaged in business strategy exercises, then they already know about where they sit within the market landscape, who their customers / competitors are, and why their customers buy from them vs. their competitors. This changes the marketing department’s SEO decisions significantly:
- Because they understand the competitive landscape, the marketing department decides to target the key phrase “custom windows” for SEO purposes.
- This phrase gets targeted first because neither of Willy’s main competitors offer custom options and the phrase is also less competitive in general than “replacement windows.”
- Willy’s spends less money to rank for “custom windows” than they would have spent to rank for “replacement windows” and they also convert more of their visitors because their target customers often search for “custom windows” while customers looking for lower cost options do not.
This was a hypothetical set of examples, but every day in every corner of the world marketing departments make wasteful decisions that could be avoided if strategic identity information is used to align the various pieces of the business. Always remember that “ready, aim, fire” is the best way to hit your target. “Ready, fire, aim” doesn’t work so well.