Strategic SEM Planning for 2011

Today marks the first day of December. The holiday season is in full swing, the year is almost over, your dev team is most likely on a moratorium through the end of the year, and you should be sitting down, with your chair reclined, sipping your eggnog while the traffic comes rolling in.

Only now isn't the time to sit still. Now is the time to get working on your 2011 strategies.

With 11 months worth of data from 2010, you have a good idea of what worked and what didn't (along with, hopefully, why it didn't), which should feed into what you'll do going forward.

If you wait until January to think about your 2011 strategies, then you're wasting time. By the time you've got them straightened out, you'll be looking at February for implementation. Your competition won't be waiting.

So what directions can you go in for 2011?

More of the Same?

If you're happy with your results, you've maybe seen consistent growth, or you're leading your category, then you most likely should continue down the same path.

Now, this doesn't mean that you should sit still and let your competition catch up or overtake you. On the contrary, you should always strive to improve and hone your performance within your market.

In AOL Sports, for example, we've generated big numbers on one particular recurring event for the last 18 months. We've been the market leader for that particular event, always ranking first for the top terms.

So we decided to devote more resources to this event. Our numbers (for keywords related specifically to these events) jumped by 2.5 times over the last couple of months, compared to the end of last year and start of this one.

Time to Branch Out?

While you may be doing well in your core markets, perhaps a new sphere of opportunity has opened over the past year.

Look around, do some fresh keyword research, see if the numbers have changed since last year. Look at trending data.

Look for new keywords that may have appeared since the last time you checked. It could be that some ancillary term has quietly taken off and become a potential conversion driver.

It may also be a good time to examine related markets. Perhaps now you can start writing about or selling a product that last year didn't have the required level of opportunity.

Re-evaluate Your Focus?

Perhaps you can concentrate on a subset of your market that no longer does as well as it used to. It could be that the market is saturated, or has matured to the point of dying. You'll need to examine whether to continue focusing on this area.

You need to ask yourself and answer these questions:

  • How profitable is this market?

  • What's the potential for the long term?

  • Are we targeting the right demographics for our brand?

  • What's the opportunity cost of remaining in this area of the market versus placing our resources in other areas?

When you have the answers to these questions, some of which will be best guesses, then it's time to sit down with the subject matter experts (SME) within your organization to discuss your strategic direction. While executives know the big picture, the SMEs are intimately involved with the day to day details within your market, and that knowledge needs to be able to flow upwards, to influence the big picture view.

Key Takeaways

Identify the right strategy, lay out your goals, confirm your resource needs, and communicate your 2011 roadmap to all stakeholders. Then, and only then, can you can sit down and have that glass of eggnog.

About the author

Simon Heseltine is the Director in charge of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) at AOL Inc. In this role Simon and his team are responsible for organic search and training across all AOL and Huffington Post Media Group properties. He has also visited the UK office on several occasions to consult and train the AOL-UK teams on SEO best practices.

In his previous position as Director of Search at a Washington, D.C., based agency, Simon was responsible for developing and implementing organic search and social media strategies for companies across several industries. He also developed and delivered training programs for clients, including a large U.S. media company, to enable them to best take advantage of the opportunities available to their companies through both organic search and social media.

Simon is a frequent speaker at conferences in the U.S. and UK on topics ranging from SEO to social search to reputation management. He also teaches SEO at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., as part of their Digital Media Management program.

Simon has a BA (Hons) from the University of Humberside, and a Masters in IT from Virginia Tech.