How Your SEO Strategy Fits the Game Your Business is Playing

Tumbling Dice

John Andrews’ post, You’re Free to Go Home, touches on a range of issues Internet marketers face with SEO, whether they’ve taken the time to realize it or not. It also helps crystallize a frustration we have seen many clients and prospects face.

Andrews used his experience playing racquetball to illustrate the key points of the post. He explains how another racquetball player used a more strategic and less “respected” move (the dink) to beat his opponents (and he beat them often). This made the game less fun for the competitive player; at one point Andrews just stopped playing because he despised playing the game so much.

“When he was there, racquetball sucked.”

The objective of the story is that if you want to win you have to play all of the competition, no matter how much you might distaste the way they play.

The SEO Philosophy in Andrews’ Post
The most common way we hear about the concepts in this story are when someone finds a website ranking well for a desired keyword and it does not seem to make sense. For beginners in SEO, perhaps the site does not fit “SEO Best Practices”. Sometimes the site is blatantly breaking rules we’ve come to acknowledge as “true”. It is just as common however, that at a surface level, the differences are subtle and subjective.

Sometimes we think the site just sucks.

It’s difficult to explain why someone’s 5 page, looks-like-it-took-5-minutes-to-build, brochure-ware is outranking a marketing departments’ 5 – 6 figure investment in a comprehensive web solution. But sometimes that happens and we want to know why.

That brings us to the key takeaway for marketing managers: It is important to of understand the “rules of the game” your organization must face in achieving visibility in organic search engine results. I break this down into three key components.

Part 1: Competition Analysis
There are two types of competition: those that sales and marketing teams find themselves consistently bidding against in traditional proposals and those that vie for the same keywords the business associates themselves with in search results.

While these competitors might be the same offline and online, in many cases they are different. Organizations use different methods for reaching customers online, including lead generation sites, affiliate marketing, and distributors. In the latter cases, you’re no longer facing just the main competitor, but the SEO strategies of the third party site owners as well.

What do you want to know? Here is a short-list:

  • Your competitors’ inbound link strategy
  • What types of sites are linking to your competition
  • What type of content your competition is creating that is link friendly
  • What differentiates your business offering from theirs

Understanding the competitive strategy is the first step in determining how your SEO strategy will need to be developed to gain ground in search engine results.

Part 2: Risk Tolerance
Once you have an understanding of your competitor’s SEO strategies, what is the organizations’ tolerance for risk? How much or how willing is the organization to invest in SEO?

Two key factors impact risk tolerance. First, what if the competition is very aggressive? For example, if it is obvious you’re competition is buying hundreds or maybe thousands of links, how will you counter this strategy?

If you spam your way to #1, you played legitimate SEO just like anybody else. And you’ve assumed the associated risks of ban and penalty and social shun. Grab the cash while the vault door’s open.

The reality is most organizations cannot afford to take excessive risks; nor would we recommend it. There are jobs, contracts, and careers at stake.

Of course you should never gamble what you can’t afford to lose.

More often than not however, marketing is not beating out the competition in SEO because they don’t have the right tools and resources in place to compete. In these cases, they key becomes evaluating potential SEO strategies, establishing realistic goals and benchmarks that will define success, and executing the plan.

In the latter case, the “risk” involves the opportunity cost of investing in some other marketing tactic.

Part 3: Building The Right Team
The final piece of the puzzle is having the right team in place to evaluate competition, make recommendations, and put the SEO strategy in place.

Whether an organization chooses to bring people in-house, work with consultants, or completely outsource their entire search engine marketing program, the key is choosing competent people, with experience, that understand the business needs and can tailor SEO strategies in coordination with them.

Winning The Game
Perhaps you’re marketing team will never truly “win the game”. Maybe the top spot for a particular keyword ranking will be too elusive, the competition too aggressive, or the risk too great. The key is understanding “the rules” of the game and the strategies the competition brings to the court.

One final point: winning may not be just being #1 for a particular keyword ranking. For marketing managers, it is also about making appropriate decisions, based on business objectives, to gain the best outcomes possible for your organization.

“Working with KoMarketing was more like a partnership as supposed to just another consulting project. We learned a lot from KoMarketing, while excelling in all aspects of SEO for our website. If your looking for a hard working, dedicated team, KoMarketing is a partnership you won’t regret.”

— Alexis Karlin, Digital Marketing Specialist, Neolane (Acquired by Adobe)

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