Strategy components: Search, Experience Planning
Search engine optimisation (SEO) and pay-per-click search marketing (PPC) are intensive activities that have developed a highly tactical focus over the last few years. This is due to the vast amounts of data they generate and their ability to measure performance on a weekly or even daily basis, which fosters a tendency to plan and manage on these timescales.
A priority for search strategy is to inform SEO and PPC activities with an understanding of their place in the broader business context. By examining how their content makes organisations discoverable through search, search strategy helps organisations brief manage their search agencies more effectively, realising greater value from those relationships. It also aligns seemingly unrelated web, infrastructure, or content projects with search-related objectives.
The first stage in the process is to create a business case for investment in search. If detailed analytics are available, potential benefits should be identified in a clear and accurate manner. The process for creating the business case relies on these analytics as well as data from other sources that measures volumes of search traffic and trends in keywords used. A successful business case for search conveys the “size of the prize”, demonstrating how much the company stands to gain from improved discoverability through search.
Following communication and acceptance of the business case, the second stage is to create the roadmap for search.
As a strategic plan the roadmap is not necessarily linear, and is based on assumptions whose liability to change is acknowledged. The search roadmap should also incorporate details of planned or in-flight projects that may impact the company’s effectiveness in search, and in doing so will touch upon technology and content as well as branding, marketing and even operations.
However it may include a greater level of detail than other strategic plans, offering tactical guidance possibly based on a close examination of tactics used by competitors. This detail should prove valuable to implementation and content teams some time after the strategy is delivered, in keeping with the principle that strategic thinking should be communicable.
Finally, the data-intensive nature of SEO and PPC means that effectiveness of the strategy should be highly measurable. Any strategic search roadmap that does not define clear objectives should be seen as invalid.
The experience planner’s aim is to drive real business change through customer experience.
“Experience planning” is another term for what might also be called “user experience strategy”. It’s an activity that bridges the gap between conventional market research, business planning, and user experience design. The main outputs from this activity are typically a set of UX principles along with a roadmap showing how the customer experience will evolve over a long time period, typically several years in duration, and how that evolution will serve the interests of the business.
The real value of this activity, however, comes not so much from these final outputs but from the by-products of their creation. The experience planner will have read and synthesised as much research as possible, potentially carrying out primary research also. While the final outputs will distill these into a manageable executive summary for senior stakeholders, the detailed findings from are extremely valuable to anyone who will be involved in the framing and delivery of related projects.
Experience planning often involves exercises that would typically fall under the remit of “classic” UX such as scenario modelling, persona definition, behavioural analysis, all the way up to wireframing or prototyping in some cases. The difference here is that UX artefacts are used to tell a story about the future rather than to dictate the form of an actual product. In this situation the experience planner needs to draw upon their experience in UX, often working more rapidly than usual, and drawing upon whatever research and data they can gather.
There is a lot of similarity between the stories produced by experience planners and the outputs that form the basis of high-level strategic visions. One difference, however, is that experience planning is concerned with the specifics of how the vision will come about – the incremental transition of the current customer experience towards its planned future state. Experience planning must therefore be considered when designing and delivering even smaller projects such as microsites or campaign materials. If it is restricted to grand, large-scale efforts its purpose will be defeated and the long-term customer experience plan will start to move in divergent directions.
In the next chapter, we’ll continue to explore the components of digital strategy by looking at Content and Engagement.