The crazy-effective 12-month digital marketing campaign schedule
Getting long-lasting results in digital marketing takes time. Columnist Stoney DeGeyter outlines his own successful process for an ongoing year-long commitment.
Anyone who’s read more than a few of my posts will likely know that I’m a big fan of establishing and sticking to a process.
Part of that process is knowing what needs to be done for a successful web marketing campaign. Another part is figuring out how to do it. Fortunately, the what-to-do doesn’t change all that much, while (unfortunately) the how-to changes almost daily.
But since you can’t do everything at once, the what-to-do needs a framework and a timeline for implementation. Since I have only worked at one SEO company my entire life, I have only one source of reference: me. So if you ever wanted to know, this is our process for long-term web marketing campaigns.
Why 12 months?
Let’s start with the understanding that it is always our preference to work with 12-month-long campaigns. There are three reasons for this:
- Results don’t happen instantly. In fact, when you are dealing with a low-authority website, achieving strong results can take more than a year. Sure, there is always low-hanging fruit that will start moving the needle, but it usually takes a good nine to 12 months for the ROI to manifest.
- Some sites are so severely messed up that a good chunk of available time is spent on fixing these problems rather than on actual marketing. This, of course, delays the realization of ROI further.
- Managing client expectations is a tricky business. I have found that no matter how many times you tell clients not to expect results until the later months, they still get antsy. A 12-month contract forces them to stay the course until results start proving themselves instead of bailing before the real value of the work starts becoming apparent.
While we do our best to map out a full 12-month strategy for the initial proposal, it’s not always easy to get it right. The more you dig into a site, the more issues you find. So every campaign needs to be adaptive. The best way we have found to do this is to carve out several sprints throughout the year.
Breaking it up into three-month sprints seems most obvious. However, when you include the time needed to determine the strategy, implement the strategy and report on its success, three months can be a bit tight. So we break our strategies into four-month sprints.
The goal for each sprint is to have all non-monthly, recurring tasks completed by the end of the third month, allowing the fourth month to be spent on reporting and on outlining the strategy for the next sprint.
Web marketing sprint 1: months 1–4
The first sprint is dedicated almost entirely to research. Not completely, as we want to get a few things implemented and rolled out, but much of what we research here will help us assess not just what to do going forward but the best way to do it and how much time we’ll need to invest.
We think of the optimization and marketing of a website as similar to building a house. Before you can begin, there is a lot of work that must be done: obtaining permits, developing plans, gathering approvals and so forth. And then the foundation must be built. Skipping these steps might allow you to build your home more quickly, but it can get you into trouble later on.
Persona/KPI interview & questionnaire
Before someone ever becomes a client, we have them fill out a questionnaire that helps us put together a proposal based on their needs. Once they become a client, we have an additional questionnaire, along with an interview.
These two things give us data for understanding how best to work with the client and mapping out how best to reach their audience and achieve the goals that they are measuring.
There is no point in having goals and KPIs if you can’t track them in an analytics package. We make sure analytics code is properly installed on the site and the KPIs and goals are set up so everything can be properly tracked and assessed.
If the client needs, or requests, specific site audit reports, this becomes our starting point. If the report itself isn’t important, then that allows us to audit areas of the site on an as-needed basis, rather than cramming them all in up front. The audit is just a way to compile all our findings in one place for easy reference.
Topical keyword research
Almost every site can be broken down into a handful (or more) of topics. The most obvious example would be product categories (e.g., ski jackets, ski goggles, ski gloves) for a retail site. I’ve written extensively on this process, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but one thing to note is that this is a very interactive process with the client.
As we do research, we look for their input and direction. This gives us the information needed to perform more research until we have all the unique topics covered. We’ll also look through the site to determine the URL that will work as the best landing page for each topic.
Information architecture analysis & implementation
The architecture of a site is critical to the performance of all the marking campaigns going forward. If the architecture is bad, the search engines and visitors will have trouble accessing the information.
The bulk of the time here is spent on the analysis, but we try to save time to implement some much-needed and most-critical fixes.
This isn’t something every site needs, but a lot do. After performing the keyword research, we will be able to assess whether improving navigation will be valuable to the client or not. If so, we use the research to map out navigation changes for the site. Then, we send it to the client to review and approve.
Taking time to review and assess the client’s current social media endeavors helps us develop a detailed plan for going forward. This review includes looking at competitors and mapping out what’s needed for a successful social strategy.
At the end of the term, we put together a benchmark report that outlines what we’ve done, assesses the performance data and provides the strategy for the next sprint. We don’t really expect the needle to move in this report due to the heavy emphasis on research during this phase, but hopefully, some changes have begun to have an effect.
Web marketing sprint 2: months 5–8
This is where we really start diving into implementing plans based upon the research from the first sprint. That research gives us an idea what the critical elements are for success and the time we’ll need to invest in each.
We mapped out the navigation in the first sprint, and with that map, we now have a better understanding of what will be required to implement it. If we have time in Sprint 1, we’ll implement it there, but otherwise we’ll make sure to reserve time here to get it rolled out.
The topical keyword research from Sprint 1 helps us map out the keyword focus of most of the site pages. We’ll use that research to implement a sitewide optimization of title, description and heading tags. While this doesn’t include the detailed page optimization process, it is a big step toward making the entire site search engine-friendly.
Each term, we try to perform a detailed optimization on a specific number of pages. We start with the highest-priority topics — as determined by the client — and keyword research the heck out of them.
This gives us a list of anywhere from 10 to several thousand keywords to work with. These keywords then have to be grouped and sorted by searcher intent. Typically, that means we end up with multiple groups of five to 15 keywords each.
Each of these groups needs a unique URL. We already have one for the primary group, but as each group has a varied searcher intent, we need to make sure we optimize the page that best matches that intent. In many cases, this means creating a new page or blog post targeting these searchers’ needs.
Once the keywords are finalized, we do another layer of research for “related” words. These words help us flesh out the topic more fully. From here, the text is optimized with an eye toward the client’s interest and actions and, once approved by the client, it is implemented on the site.
It’s always a good idea to take a good overall look at the site content, its messaging and whether or not it’s fulfilling the role it should be. Once the new navigation is implemented across the site, we can then look at each page to make sure that the content is effective at moving forward with the conversion process. If not, we’ll update it to ensure that the visitor gets what they need and is directed to the next steps.
Editorial calendar & blogging
A key component of social media marketing is having content to share. This starts with an editorial calendar. Whether the client writes the blog posts or we work with them to develop good blog content, the calendar helps keep everyone on track.
Social media implementation
Social strategy in hand, we can now work full-steam at implementing that strategy. Hopefully, we can start the implementation in Sprint 1, but this sprint should benefit from having an active strategy over the full four months.
Information architecture analysis
We started this in Sprint 1, but it is, essentially a never-ending process. More research finds more things to fix, and more time must be spent on fixing them.
We try to designate a specific number of hours each month to research and implement what we can. If we find more issues than we have time to fix, then we schedule the fixes for the next sprint.
Yet again, we outline what we have done over the course of the sprint, assess the performance data and provide the strategy for the next one.
While we don’t expect to see results that will blow us out of the water, we should start seeing the impact of the work we have done to date.
Web marketing sprint 3: months 9–12
Each benchmark report helps us fine-tune our strategies going forward. It helps us see the biggest needs and the best opportunities for improvement. That might help us determine which pages we optimize, which area we put more focus into (social, on-page optimization, conversion optimization and so on).
But by the time we get to this third sprint, we are settling into some strong routines. We still maintain a high degree of flexibility, but we are working from the strength of knowledge.
Information architecture analysis
This is an ongoing process using tools and other resources to assess issues and implement fixes across the site.
If we have not optimized all the keyword groups from the highest-priority keyword topic, we continue to work on that here. Once we have optimized all relevant keywords for a topic, we move on to the next-highest-priority topic and do the same. This process continues for as long as there are keywords left to optimize.
SEO performance reviews
Now that we have rolled out some optimized pages in the second sprint, we can begin going back to review how those pages have performed. It might be a bit soon for some pages, but we can set the baseline and watch what happens. If the pages underperform expectations, we’ll assess why and see what we can do to improve.
Social media implementation/blogging
This is another continuous process. Social media success requires maintaining momentum. Once you stop engaging on social, you’ll begin to lose much of the value that you have put into it. That’s not to say social media doesn’t offer long-term value — it does. But there is also a “what have you done for me lately” component with your audience.
By the time we get to this phase, we can start doing some conversion optimization and testing. We’ll be able to see the impact of the new navigation, as well as some optimized pages. Now that we have a strong baseline, we can continue to look for ways to improve ROI throughout the site.
This benchmark report should be the clincher. It’s the culmination of 12 months’ worth of work and a full eight months of actual strategy implementation. And the ROI should show in the data!
Ongoing web marketing sprints: months 13–24
Good optimization never stops. You have momentum, and you’re seeing the return on investment, so the best thing you can do is to continue doing what works.
Expand your reach by optimizing more keywords, continuing to build an audience through social media and improving your conversion rates to achieve better and better ROI.
By working with perpetual four-month sprints, we create a nice rhythm of setting goals, implementing changes and reviewing results, while we also focus on where the biggest needs are at any time.
Oh, how I wish I could say that every campaign fit perfectly into this format. Unfortunately, they don’t. We start on every campaign with a general outline of the client’s needs, and sometimes, the more we dig, the clearer the path becomes. This framework is a good starting point, but in order to be effective, we also have to go where the ROI is.
When it comes to web marketing, time is critical. Not just how quickly you can get it done, but how much time you have to implement an effective strategy. The less time is available, the fewer changes can be implemented, which slows the results. But the more time you have, the more you can accomplish.