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Is Agile Marketing the Future of Search in 2013?

gibbons-kevin
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Over the last few weeks, the one thing I'm hearing a lot more people starting to talk about is the need to be agile in marketing campaigns.

At BlueGlassX, Greg Boser went as far to predict that agile marketing is going to be the new buzzword of 2013:

greg-tweet

As I said in my last post, it doesn't matter what you call your online strategy - and buzzword or not, that's not what's important - but there's a lot about agile marketing as a concept that makes perfect sense.

2012 Is the Year That Search Grew up!

Looking back over 2012, we've seen a huge volume of changes.

The problem we've had with SEO in the past is that there was a huge gap between what Google said the algorithm did and what it actually did. Everyone knew all along we should be creating great content to build a brand online. But this year, more than any other, we've seen that gap close to the point that the only way to achieve sustainable results is to finally do what Google has been telling us all along!

This means we have to be nimble and able to think on our feet a lot more to naturally acquire relevant links as a by-product of high-quality content generation, not by traditional link building.

Andy Betts has written some excellent posts on the shifts we're seeing recently, and I spoke at SES London back in February about the measurement of ROI in search. During this time I definitely feel that we've seen a significant shift toward the industry evolving in this way, with not just search marketers realizing the value, but also social, PR, content, and branding teams being integrated into the bigger digital picture, too.

Having a Great Strategy Doesn't Mean You Forget About the Tactics

2012 has been a crazy year for seeing SEO evolve - how many years is an Internet year now? In 2012 I think we're looking at closer to seven years for every month!

And 12 months on, we now seem to be in a world where we realize having a solid, long-term strategy is a far more effective and sustainable way to get results.

But that doesn't mean we should completely forget about tactic-driven strategies. Tactics are still a key part of your strategy that gets you to the top - so as long as you apply tactics that complement your long-term strategy, as opposed to quick wins, you should still be trying out new tactics all of the time.

Everyone knows that the only constant in this game is change - even if you're staying on top of what's working now, you're still likely to be behind the curve.

To quote Greg Boser again, "Chaos is good, complacency is the kiss of death" - and there's no way you can stand still in this game; everything changes so quickly. You need to be looking ahead to where things are going; read the patents (for example, this one on Agent Rank gives some very clear signs) and make sure you're testing all of the time. That way when your competitors are chasing you, they're always one step behind.

Learn From Agile Project Management

There's a huge amount you can learn about marketing by reading about agile project management techniques and processes.

agile-process

Image source: Tutorials Point

This might be a very new way of thinking for search marketers, but it's not a new concept or model. In fact, it follows a very simple process:

  1. Build
  2. Measure
  3. Learn

agile

Image source: HubSpot

If you're trying to prove a point to your boss or client, this is clearly the easiest route to getting that message across. This is exactly the same way you would create a prototype for showcasing a new product, or a pilot episode for a TV series.

For anyone who is experienced in SEO, I would suggest that rather than trying to develop new skills in search, perhaps you should buy a book on agile project management instead.

But with agile marketing there's no need to change your whole strategy, just make sure you're adaptable enough to learn what does and doesn't work - and be well prepared to take advantage of any opportunities that may come along.

I think the one thing I've learned, especially this year, is that it's not always a case of right or wrong. There's a good chance you're doing something that's working, but it doesn't mean it's your best option.

The great thing about this industry is that we're constantly surrounded by great opportunities - so the first step is often figuring out what you shouldn't be doing or how you can free up some time.

For example, where are you wasting your time? What don't you enjoy doing? What aren't you good at? Once you figure this out, everything else is much easier to fall into place. Whether it's reviewing a client fit, your career, or your online marketing strategy, it's exactly the same.

Agile Isn't Flexible, It's Intuitive

In order to make your marketing campaigns agile, you need to fully understand what this means - and just as importantly, what it doesn't.

While it may seem like a campaign that's flexible, that's not what it's about. Yes, it's sensible that rather than having a rigid 12-month editorial calendar, you add flexibility in order to adapt and change. For example, perhaps you'll set 25 percent of your plan aside for topical issues, which may come up and allow time to be adaptable (depending on your industry, it may be much higher).

But flexibility suggests making a compromise, which isn't the most effective way of getting results. An agile marketing campaign needs to be able to adapt and intuitively grow based on your key findings and strategy.

Run Controlled Experiments and Prove a Point

As Greg says, it shouldn't be a "throw stuff against the wall and hope that something sticks" model. Instead, you should be testing out new ideas and concepts by creating controlled experiments.

If you can closely measure the impact of a tactic on a small scale, and prove a point that if you do X, this Y happens, then you can make data-driven, strategic decisions on whether you'd like to roll this out more heavily across your campaign.

This makes you more agile in being able to move quickly . Plus, it means that by running small experiments in this way, you'll be able to prioritize decisions based on their likely success. And that's what it's all about - the building and prioritization of a clear marketing plan.

Marketers Need to Lose the Fear of Failure

By being agile, you also lose that fear of failure. It's not about making every single thing you do a success - that leads to taking safe bets and consistently getting average to good results.

You might be happy with that, but if instead you accept that you're going to make mistakes along the way, you're incrementally improving your processes and likely to achieve much better results in the long term. Matt Roberts from Linkdex made an excellent analogy recently, which was a comparison with the VC funding model.

"VC's will often back 10 companies, accepting that some will be complete failures, others will do ok - but if one is a big success that outweighs everything else they've backed. And this applies to search and content - it's much better to have one outstanding piece of content which outperforms everything else you've done, than it is to have 10 pieces [of] content which have had good results."

SocialTriggers.com by Derek Halpern is another good example of this. Derek would much rather have one great piece of content and then focus the rest of his time on promoting that content. His theory being "why create new content when there are still people who haven't seen your last post yet?"

It's a different way of looking at things, but again it makes a lot of sense - he's learned what resonates with his audience, to the point that every post he writes has over 100 comments. So now he gives his audience what they want to see - and follows up by promoting it as much as possible.

Your Team Must Be Integrated, Not Siloed

If you're going to have an agile strategy, the first thing you need to do is ditch the silos.

In order to get the best results, you need to make sure that everyone is on the same page. The days of doing SEO, social media, PR/branding, and even content marketing effectively in silos have gone - each of these benefit and help each other in different ways, so to get the best value you have to look at the bigger picture.

By using an integrated model, you can figure out your internal restraints and challenges - and then fix them. It's not always easy when everyone is fighting against each other for their own individual goals and budgets.

When's the Best Time to Publish a Story? When It's Most Relevant!

I was asked this question after my BlueGlassX presentation. My answer was to find out more about your audience and to learn what works best with them, in a similar way to how you would test an email marketing campaign.

However, for topical stories, timing is everything. If there's big news that's happening within your industry, you need to be prepared to drop everything and adapt, so that you can instantly switch your focus to what's most relevant.

For example, following Michael Jackson's death in the early hours of the morning, Amazon very quickly updated its Amazon Store to make a tribute to him and cater toward the huge demand of people looking to purchase his music. You don't wait for the optimal sharing time for topical stories like this.

Summary

For agile campaigns, you need to be on top of your game, and know what's going on around you. If you're prepared to adapt quickly when that topical story comes along, you're much more likely to reap the rewards.

Likewise, if you can ensure your campaigns are ready to adapt and you learn from both your successes and failures, then that makes you more likely to achieve that steady progress month-on-month, which is far more sustainable to long-term growth.

What do you think? Are your campaigns agile enough? And how important do you think this is going to be toward marketing success in 2013?


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