Preparing your SEO strategy for the year ahead: 5 key checks

Preparing your SEO strategy for the year ahead: 5 key checks

The New Year is upon us, full of personal plans made with the best intentions.
It also represents a time for businesses and teams to take stock and plan for the coming year; the difference being that unlike personal plans, business plans cannot remain unfulfilled.
Many of you will be looking to 2018 with a renewed vigor for your SEO strategy. Strategies will vary depending on a number of factors including the complexity of the campaign, the length that your team has been working on it and the work completed thus far.

However, there is a fundamental checklist that we have here at Yellowball that is applicable to all campaigns:
1. Review the previous year
Blue sky thinking and creative ideas for the year ahead are fantastic; fear not, they will come. In the meantime, it is critical that we learn from previous actions by reviewing 2017.
If you set goals at the beginning of the year, you can use these as benchmarks to understand your successes, and also pinpoint where the campaign experienced hurdles.
Break the campaign down into major component parts and be self critical about the outputs from your team within these components. The results (rankings, traffic, conversions) are the obvious end goals; remember that these results come as a consequence of actions and this review should be focused on learning points that will influence the SEO strategy for 2018.
Agencies should speak to their clients to get input from their perspective. These feedback sessions are essential in understanding where processes and communication can be improved to create a more efficient campaign.
Finally, from experience it is valuable to keep these reviews as objective as possible. On one hand a review can get overly optimistic celebrating successes of the previous year, brushing over the hurdles. On the other hand, make note of hurdles, learning points and subsequent actions for 2018 but avoid an overly pessimistic outlook.
SEO is a mid to long term investment – if your processes and actions are in line with strategy, then trust in these; the results will come. 
2. Revisit your research
Do not underestimate the value in revisiting your research and initial strategy. Not only are markets and behavior in a constant state of flux, but with another year under their belts, your team will have additional insight that may influence future strategy.
Go further than just keyword research; reassess your buyer personas and inbound funnel. Loop in individuals that are not at the coal face of the project. They are often able to give a fresh perspective on items that can be invaluable to the ongoing success of the campaign.
You may well find that everything checks out, but it is worth the exercise just to refresh your memory on the strategy. You may even uncover some gems!
3. Set targets
Targets and KPIs. In a world where results can seem like a mirage in a baking desert, it is all too easy to bypass targets in favor of a more output oriented strategy when in fact the two go hand in hand. Don’t be afraid to set targets – the numbers should be available to you.
If it is traffic-related, this can be targeted through average search volumes vs current and target positions. If it is conversions you can utilize traffic in conjunction with present conversion rates.
These targets will give you clarity and focus on the actual day to day planning of your SEO strategy in 2018. For example, if you wanted to increase your conversions by x% in 2018, this target could result in:
An assessment of minimum rankings required to achieve the traffic (and therefore conversions) using your current conversion rate.
Highlighting that conversion rates need to be improved and that the web design and UX/UI team need to be more involved in the campaign.
A realization that your content may not be aligned with the sharper end of your sales funnel, indicating that the content strategy needs revisiting.
An analysis that dictates your user acquisition strategy needs to expand, according to rankings, potential traffic and desired conversion rate.
Once you have your targets identified, don’t just file them away on your desktop. Share them.
For in-house teams, share targets with any team member that will be involved in the project and the powers that be. For agencies, build your client relationships by delivering these targets face to face with detailed explanation and any requirements from their side. Everyone should be aligned to their responsibilities in achieving these goals.

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4. Brainstorm
We’ve all been there. The relative grace period at the beginning of the year is short-lived, as the never ending pile of daily tasks rears its head again. Teams can find it difficult to set aside the time to get together and have extended brainstorming sessions (over and above the regular ones that should be occurring), so make the most of your time now.
Fresh off the back of your analysis (and hopefully a relaxing Christmas break), teams have had time to take a step back and look at the campaign from a slightly different point of view. Again, a larger brainstorming session may kick up new ideas compared to the last one conducted.
5. Planning
As a result of your actions in steps 1-4, you should have a clearer idea of the campaign’s framework for the coming year. Itemizing and scheduling every single granular detail of a campaign for an entire year is highly unlikely, so schedule key milestones and any major items.

It is important that you allow the flexibility to remain agile in your processes without facilitating a campaign requiring more structure.
What you should be able to plan is your resourcing. With your goals and overarching strategy identified, you should have a plan of action for your implementation – implementation that will most likely require man hours and/or budget.
Resourcing additional hands, whether that be via recruitment or freelancer networks, should be planned well in advance. For those that have internal structures requiring sign-off on budgets, present them and gain sign-off before that budget is reassigned!
Hopefully these 5 steps will provide an overarching structure for your preparation of a refreshed (or brand new) SEO campaign for 2018. The nuances and minutiae are dependent on your own style, business set-up, resources and strategy.

Simon Ensor is the Managing Director of Yellowball, a London-based digital marketing agency, and a specialist in SEO and social media.

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