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Avoiding Search Strategy Pitfalls

search pitfalls strikeBuilding a digital and search strategy isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do. Even when the stars align, and all is right with the universe, there are still hiccups and hurdles in its design and implementation. And, that’s in the best of all possible worlds. Now imagine when you got multiple failures of communication or possibly no communication at all. Teeth-grinding, hair-pulling madness.

There’s nothing worse than “surprises”. There’s nothing worse than discovering something that you should have known about but somehow never got the memo. We’re talking strategy-changing, game-changing surprises. There is no end to adages and clichés that cover “the best laid plans”, but we sure as hell have to try.

I’m a firm believer that the best digital and search strategy is done before you put a single new line of code on the site. The more you can map out what’s what and who’s who, the stronger the strategy will be in the end. And, the better results you’ll see in the end.

There quite a few common pitfalls that we fall into repeatedly. Whether its pressure from the client or your own instincts to “make quick progress”, it pays to slow down to speed up. And, these pitfalls are happening today, as we speak. It’s rampant in every business size, enterprise to small business. No one is immune.

Pitfall #1: Shifting, Fuzzy Goals and Conversions

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this one: “I would like more [insert online metric here]”. “More” is a pretty amorphous goal. Clearly, more is the objective with all marketing, but let’s talk about specifics here.

Creating a great digital and search strategy from the objective of “more” is definitely not the best place to start. It’s pretty hard to create over-arching strategy with fine-tuned tactics around “more”. And, what’s more (no pun intended), is that “more” doesn’t have a shape.

“More” isn’t concrete and doesn’t attach to anything; it’s this blob that moves where it pleases, and only when it’s in its best interest to do so. Also, “more” has a tendency to not be the thing at the end of the campaign or project. You created your strategy to achieve “more”. Tracked, progressed, and reported against “more” for year. Only to find out that wasn’t the “more” they really meant.

And, you can guess where it goes from there. They Said ““ I Did. Client engagements have ended over less, but this is one of the most common causes. Misunderstanding (misinterpretation) of the “more” conversion. You did your job; you built and implemented the strategy that got “more”. It was simply the wrong one.

The best way to build the right and most exacting strategy is to clearly define goals and conversion metrics with your client. Probe and ask questions in the initial conversations with the client, before any strategy or work kicks off.

If they say, “more traffic”, then the next question is, “And what should more traffic ultimately do on this site?” Questions like these get to the heart of throughput means to your client: more traffic may be the initial catalyst, but X is what they really want from “more”.

Pitfall #2: “Surprise!” We Made Content

This is definitely not exclusive to enterprise level clients; I’ve had quite a few small business clients “surprise” me with pages and pages of new content. But, I will say that enterprise clients certainly have more of a knack for surprises, with a lot greater frequency.

There’s no limit to the things I’ve seen over the years. Whole sub-domains of content, completely separate sites that are “development” sites, and, my personal favorite, an entire new section of the site. You think sabotage, they think helping. In today’s Panda/Penguin era, something like this can cripple a site in a couple of weeks, depending how big of a surprise it turns out to be.

Granted, sometimes there no way to avoid this pitfall. Clients will be clients, and they will do what they do. Notwithstanding, this comes down to a communication failure from Day 1 to the Present. And, again, it comes back to not asking the right questions. It’s definitely not in my nature to want to pry, but at some level I have to put that aside before I create the strategy and execute against it.

The best way to avoid this pitfall is to be in as constant communication as possible or feasile with your client. Asking questions about marketing initiatives on regular basis or if they have any new projects/products coming down the line. These questions can give you some foresight as to what may be coming up for your client and how you can alter/tailor your current strategy to meet those needs.

Like I said, this is difficult to put into practice, and it comes down to time, budget, etc. But, it’s not impossible. Even a once-a-month regroup with the client can help to root these out. And, I’ll be the first to say that at the enterprise level, with so many moving parts and walled-off divisions, even reaching out to your point of contact might not be enough. But, hey, even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while. 😀

Pitfall #3: Bogus Analytics

This is more of an enterprise level problem, but certainly affects small and mid-sized business too. Bogus analytics. There’s nothing like being a month into a campaign and finding out that the analytics are garbage. That nothing is tracking properly: absolutely nothing.

Even the most basics of metrics are broken because of incorrect tagging practices or far-reaching filters. Many people believe “analytics just work” out of the box. If only that was the case! It’s soul-crushing. All your hard work can never be measured accurately, and your strategy means absolutely nothing because you can’t prove that it actually worked in any capacity.

With lessons learned (the hard way), I always ask for analytics (any and all) upfront so I can run an audit on them. Check filters, check events and tagging, to make sure they all trigger properly. Enterprise clients often have the worst analytics, and should have a mandatory check, because with so many stake holders and so many moving gears, things always get messed up. It’s best practice to run a thorough audit on analytics.

Hopefully being aware of these three pitfalls of search and digital strategy help you sidestep them in the future. These are the three biggest ones I still run across today, and there are certainly more of them. If you want to add to one to the list that you think is an egregious offender that people need to know about, please do!

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