Creating A Search Strategy That's Right For You

March 23, 2016

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My motto as a SEO and PPC consultant is quickly becoming:


Wil Reynolds has a great quote: “So many of us are winning at search and losing at people.”

We’re using best practices to optimize for Google, but we’re not optimizing for who really matters: our audience.

I’ll take it a step further and say that many of us lose sight of how search fits into larger organizational goals, especially those of us from an outside consultancy who don’t see the inner workings.

We’re recommending or implementing strategies that, while popular and effective, might not be useful or feasible for that particular entity.

Of course, there will always be low-hanging fruit we need to pick, like optimizing title tags or making sure daily budgets are correct. But how do we go beyond that? How do we craft a search strategy that compliments overall marketing objectives?

Nail Down Unique Value Proposition(s)

Before even considering creating a “search” strategy, or even a marketing strategy, start at the beginning: identify your audience and develop a message that you want to communicate to that audience.

We joke here that the “new” SEO is not doing SEO. Search engines are quickly becoming more sophisticated and behaving more like humans, and so we’re approaching SEO like we would traditional marketing. And with PPC, you’re already writing for a human; the search engine is just a vehicle to deliver that message.

The main question to answer is why should someone pick your organization? Why should they click on your ad? Or download your whitepaper? Or buy your product?

And not only that, but what is the end result? Too often, companies tend to focus too much on themselves:

“Our rates beat the industry standard by 5%.”

“We’ve been a leader in [blank] since 1975.”

That’s great, but what does any of that do for the consumer? My colleague Michael Bartholow jokes (half-seriously) about tattooing this image across his back:

This is the foundation of the message on every channel you utilize. The message is not about you. It isn’t even really about your product.

It’s about how you make your consumers’ lives better. 

If you can’t identify how you do that, you need to stop reading this post and do some serious audience research and soul-searching.

Identify and Prioritize Goals

Digital marketers often strive to create a “Holy Grail” strategy.


Hopefully it’s better than his Holy Grail Strategy. Source:

For SEO, we want a strategy that will lead to people to reading our blog, buying our stuff, sharing our content, and advocating for our quality.

In PPC, we want to be top of page for every relevant keyword, reduce our costs, increase our conversions, and have our paid strategy be in sync with our organic strategy.

And we should strive for these goals.

But the truth nobody wants to hear is that it might not be possible (at least, not without a lot of time, effort and testing). With paid search in particular, it’s very hard to accomplish multiple goals simultaneously. And unless you have an army of SEOs at your disposal, chances are you need to prioritize goals as well, or at least attack them one at a time.

Take a step back and identify what search as a channel does for your business. Where does it fit in the marketing puzzle and what is it trying to achieve?

It doesn’t need to be one goal necessarily. Sometimes you think you know the answer, but need to dig deeper to get a better understanding.

LunaMetrics’ Stephen Kapusta gives a good example of this in his post on tough PPC questions. Say you rely on paid search to provide leads, and it’s costing more than you would like to acquire each lead. You notice your cost per acquisition (CPA) is $500, but on closer inspection, your branded CPA is $15 and your non-branded is $3,000.

In this case, the budget needs to be re-prioritized. If you divert money towards brand awareness, you may be able to drive more low-cost, branded leads. You’ll probably lose impression share for ineffective non-branded keywords, as well as lower total conversions.

But the important part is you’re now driving leads at a cost that’s better for your business. Instead of driving a high amount of leads at a high cost, you’re driving less, but more cost-effective, leads while also building awareness that will trickle down through other channels (direct, organic, offline), but is tough to measure in traditional KPIs.

In some cases, you will need to spend a significant amount of money to not only build, but maintain awareness. One of our clients works in an extremely competitive niche, where each click is worth at least $50 and a search for their brand triggers all 7 competitor ads. They can’t rely solely on SEO to build and maintain all of their awareness; they need to use paid search to maintain visibility on all fronts; even on their own brand.

Consider All Fronts

You also need to consider your non-digital channels. Traditional and in-person marketing through events like tradeshows can be very effective, even in our own digitally-rooted industry, as proven by the amount of vendors hawking their products at conferences like SMX.

Several years ago, Pepsi decided to shift its focus on traditional advertising, going so far as pulling out of the Super Bowl lineup, in order to focus on a massive social media and web-based initiative called Pepsi Refresh.

Digitally, it was a smash hit.

It generated a wild amount of traffic, likes, tweets, and votes.

Financially, it was a disaster.

Pepsi lost at least 5% market share and somewhere in the ballpark of $500 million in sales.

While search is an important channel for all industries, you do need to consider how it fits into the overall picture. If you’re Pepsi, traditional advertising is essential to your marketing efforts and your budget allocation should reflect that.

Leverage Personnel Strengths

I’ve worked on a multitude of sites, from professionally-coded behemoths to 20-page sites coded by the non-techie business owner. I’ve also worked on AdWords accounts that are supported by full creative teams, as well as ones where I am the creative team.

While there are similarities in the recommendations I give for each, I always try to identify personnel strengths I can utilize, especially if a client has limited resources. That way, I’m giving actionable and feasible strategies.

Consider the example of Black Owl Outdoors. The company began as a YouTube channel created by two brothers with a passion for the outdoors. One brother is a former United States Forest service member, while the other has a background in photography, graphic and web design, and film editing.

Together, they leverage their expertise to create beautifully shot videos on outdoor gear and survival skills.


The content is great, but their site could use some work.

The blog, or at least the written part, is terse. I would encourage them to add transcripts of their videos to make them more SEO-friendly.

But if I was doing content strategy for them, I would tell them to still focus on creating kick-ass videos, since it built their following and plays to their strengths. Why focus on the relatively limiting, but more SEO-friendly medium of text and waste awesome talent?

Think about the skillsets in your office that you can tap into. Most of us in the search department aren’t graphic designers, but thankfully we can tap into Megan Pritts, who runs her own creative blog and creates sweet display ads.


It’s also important to consider what skillsets are missing. If there is nobody with strong coding experience, maybe you shouldn’t try to get fancy with schema. If nobody is available to consistently write a blog, focus on other kinds of content and outreach.

Make the largest impact with what you have, especially if you’re a smaller organization.

Granted, if something is severely broken and will require outside help, I will absolutely point it out and advise on the best way to fix it, but I try to focus on recommendations that are achievable by a client’s teams.

These steps require introspection and asking difficult questions. But if you can come up with satisfactory answers, it helps determine the best search strategy for you.