Before SEO — Planning Online Success

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My previous article outlined the pervasive essence of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and finished with a call to action.  That action is the market analysis and consequent plan so essential to successful SEO.

Before we start on pre-SEO market analysis, let us clear the air on a couple of points:

  • Business Is Business. 
    Neither the Internet nor the web programs carried upon it change the fundamental principles of business.  A customer has a need or want and seeks a supplier who has the capability and capacity to satisfy that need or want profitably.  Thus a seller and a buyer have communicated and transacted to their mutual satisfaction.  Although simplistic, this is the essential nature of business.  A web presence via the Internet may be the whole or part of your business model.

  • Role of an SEO.
    b2ap3_thumbnail_Search-Engine-Optimisation.jpg - 15.43 kb After your market analysis, and after you decide that a web presence is right for your enterprise, you have much to put in place and then to manage on an ongoing basis.  The market analysis will help you to define your starting product mix and your starting target customer niche.  Given those decisions by you, business is business and the essential rules of the market do apply.  This should enable you, without technical web expertise, to drive the direction of your online enterprise.
    You could employ and coordinate disparate niche experts - this approach may distract you from growing your business and, because it is not your skill set, increase risk and cost.  Or you could employ a firm with the business and technology experience, capacity and skills to best implement and maintain your online presence as directed by you - such a firm will use and manage a combination of internal skills plus sub-contract support. 

    Seek an SEO firm which can do everything online you need for you to:
    — drive your business profitably, while
    — delighting your customers and suppliers.

Background Reading for Success.  Inc. magazine is published providing 'Small Business Resources for the Entrepreneur'.  The author, Jeff Haden, provides an Inc. Owners' Manual containing a wealth of sound advice for the online entrepreneur.  The articles are fresh and are pertinent to your new or expanding business.

Market Research, Market Planning, Market Plan Implementation → Profitable Sales


You will have seen isolated shops with little passing traffic and very few walk-in sales - no matter how well presented the shop, people must 'see' that shop in order to enter and buy.  Many retailers commit to extreme rents in large popular shopping centres to get the passing traffic - the shop is then seen by many people, but this is still no guarantee of profitable sales.  Brand profile, reputation and promotion, including easy discovery through search, are key to the 'visibility' of any business.

How does this parallel to an online business?  Even a well presented online business (shop) needs search 'hits' (traffic).  Pay an SEO specialist (shopping centre rent) to get you many search 'hits' (passing traffic) and you can actually go backwards - high traffic, higher costs but few sales.  Just as for a physical shop and product, the online seller must have the right product at the right price and place, promoted to a receptive audience.  This is marketing.

As for a physical store, continuing market research and planning, and continuing execution of a living marketing plan may result in increasing and sustained profitable sales for the web store marketer.  Some familiarity with the 4 Ps of the marketing mix will assist you to market research, plan and act to succeed.

The Marketing Mix & 4 Ps:  Product, Place, Price and Promotion
— Mind Tools provides an easy to read explanation of the concept.

Marketing-MixWhile this article will treat each 'P' separately, each decision for one P needs validation by the decisions on each of the other Ps.  You will need to cycle through the Ps several times before the decisions on all 4 Ps make a complementary and favourable whole.  Note again, this is a recursive process.

  • Product.
    What to sell?  Your 'product' can be any mix of information, concepts, physical products and services.  Indeed, bundling information, concepts and services with a physical product may provide that market or product differentiation bettering the offering of your competitors.
    Your aim is for your business to profitably satisfy a want or need with your product.  Your personality, service, warranty, delivery terms and price are all bundled into the product that you wish to sell.  Many businesses may sell a Brand-X gizmo.  Recursively considering all the Ps in the context of your product bundling will help you identify key-points of favourable differentiation. 
    Those key-points lead naturally to a concise set of keywords and keyword phrases favourably distilling your product offerings.  The Pareto or 80/20 Rule applies here - the majority of your sales are likely to come from searches on nearly unique-to-you keyword phrases (long tailed keywords as in the tail of a Pareto Distribution Curve).

  • Place.
    Your store is online, right?  Right, but the full answer is much more complex than that:

    • Distribution Channel.
      Your product may come from one or more suppliers, may be bundled or consolidated in some way and will end up with your customer.  Be sure to define and validate the complete fulfilment supply chain including timeliness, fragility, perishability and legality.

    • Region.
      Plan and validate locations for sourcing, consolidation and destinations whether country, city, national, inter-national, inter-state, etc.

    • Demographic.
      Define and validate the customer target niche for each and every product - age, sex, race, religion, nationality, education, income, etc.

  • Price.
    Realistically calculate your complete channel costs and your expectation of a return:

    • Cost Constraints.
      No successful business simply buys and sells at a margin on purchase price - such a business could suddenly go broke without realising why.
      Your costs may include staff, computers, software, communications, office supplies, rent, product sourcing, utilities, taxes, bad debts, fraud, storage, product consolidation, freight/distribution, accounting, legal, online hosting, market research, promotion, SEO, customer support and returns.
      Be sure to understand fully the different impacts on your business of variable and fixed costs.  Competitors with higher sales volumes by product and/or in total may have an overwhelming advantage.

    • Competitive Constraints.
      Be very sure of your capacity and capability to compete profitably.  You will not meet an equal playing field:
      • There can be extremely strong barriers to the entry of competitors.  These barriers range from overt action by competitors to extreme difficulty in gaining good search engine page ranking.
        Price cutting can give a competitive edge, but first your offering must be seen.  Too low a price may work against your sale because prospective customers may suspect you of poor service or of selling seconds.  You will not be able to sell below cost for long - be careful as your competitor may secretly buy from you for on-sale.  This is a special risk in commodity product sales where there is little value add.
      • Does your product offering have some uniqueness giving competitive benefit?  Will your product offering disappear in a cloud of alternative offerings of equal or better benefit to a customer?
      • Will your customers have bargaining power playing you off against other suppliers or pressing for volume discounts?  Do you have the nous and resolve to refuse potential customers who would be unprofitable to you?
        Will you have the comfort of access to more than one supplier who will seek your business?  Will your competitor have the strength  to have your supplier ramp up prices or close you out?  Remember that your supplier might sell no more in total through your entry into the market!
      • How many competitors will you have?   Will your business be seen online in competition with them?  Do you have a favourable differentiator enabling you to charge a premium price?

    • Demographic Constraints..
      Define and validate the customer target niche for each and every product - you cannot sell to everyone.  How much does your market niche have for spending?  Is there money remaining for your product after the essentials have been purchased?  Discretionary spending is discretionary - you could lose sales of, say, fancy high heel shoes because of a special sales campaign on iPad tablets.  Once the iPad is bought, there is no money for shoes.

    • Mathematics.
      Seek assistance if needed to do at least some simplistic mathematics to assess your financial viability after following your plan.  A break-even-analysis and a linked cost-volume-profit-analysis can be built into a spread sheet to enable you to dynamically what-if test a range of alternative scenarios.  Jot down the assumptions for each scenario to temper an overly enthusiastic response to theoretically positive results.

  • Promotion.
    The essence of the market still holds true.  However, the immediacy, convenience, channels and relationships facilitated by technology have brought revolutionary opportunities and risks for business.
    In the past, outbound or push advertisements in magazines, newspapers, radio and TV, plus email, letterbox drops, web site pop-ups, etc were primary forms of promotion - inbound or pull referrals from satisfied customers were occasional bonuses.  Such outbound or push promotion is losing traction.
    Now and in the future, technology helps to block unsolicited email, pop-ups, banners and so on.  The law prohibits spamming and unwanted telephone selling.  Such outbound or push promotion is rapidly diminishing in volume and value - inbound or pull promotion through social media is increasing.  The savvy business owner will now work hard to favourably influence that social media conversation as a major part of the business' promotion.  The business owner will engage with customers and suppliers directly via social media, and will present content of interest and value to stimulate social conversation and to rank with search engines.
    You will, no doubt, have heard about keywords in the context of SEO.  With the assistance of market research, you are best fitted to provide your SEO with keyword phrases uniquely defining the needs and wants of your target customers.  Your SEO needs a seed keyword + keyword phrase set from which to validate the viability of your plan.

The Next Steps the time that you get to this point you will, hopefully, be excited by the prospect of the business you are about to start or extend online.  Go through the following checklist to see that you are ready to move on:

  • Action Plans.  You have created at least an outline marketing plan plus a plan for next-step actions with your SEO, suppliers, advisers and collaborators.  To focus your actions and to test progress, you have defined and listed your goals and achievement measures.  You have also resourced the activities you are about to undertake.

  • Confidence in Starter Product/s.  Your starting product mix is well defined, you have a pricing range, you know in detail your customer target niche, you have written down the differentiating benefits of your product, and you have a customer service and support policy.  You have estimated initial sales volumes and the rate of growth to achieve profitability.

  • Competition.  You have assessed your competition and have contingency plans for all foreseeable eventualities.

  • Ongoing Intelligence.  New technology, the immediacy of communication and increasing customer expectation will put your online business at great risk unless you move with changes almost real time.  On the other hand, there are great opportunities for the entrepreneur who is technology and customer focussed with quick response systems in place.  Your full service SEO will ensure that you are aware of systems and processes which you should employ to stay ahead of the curve.

  •  You know what you are about to do and why.  You have assessed the risks and put in place plans to respond to and mitigate those risks.  Now is the time to commit fully to your plan and just do it!

  • Patience.  Part of your planning will have included recognition that success online does not happen overnight.  Search engines and the online marketplace change rapidly.  Although penalised by search engines, 'Black Hat' schemes for top page ranking continue to be promoted.  Your SEO will have helped educate you on the extreme risks of following such a course.  SEO requires frequent ongoing work including outstanding content.  Steady does it with patience, but diligence, is the fastest route to confident online success.

The next article in this series will progress through the SEO processes which will launch and establish your successful online business.

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