Strategic Planning in a Recovering Market (1-3)

September 28, 2010

Many companies begin their annual planning process in Q4 of each year. So, I thought that I would pass along some of the insights of Don Roberts, Exotek. He is a principal of a consulting and operations-support company focused solely on the systems integrator. At NIWeek 2010, Don offered his advice on strategic planning as our market recovers.

More than 75% of the average company’s market value comes from intangible assets that traditional metrics don’t measure

                                -Kaplan and Norton HBR 2000

Strategic Planning

The primary goal of strategic planning is to build organizational focus and competency. It gives you the opportunity to balance short term pressures with your long term goals. You can also assess your market situation and react to the changing environment proactively. Then, you can establish organizational alignment.

Strategic planning also provides a recurring process whereby your organization makes choices:

  • Why do we exist?
  • What are our major goals?
  • What resources do we need for a successful future?
  • Who will be our customers?

But, strategic planning is not a way of making future decisions. You can’t create a blueprint of the future because there is no guarantee that things will not change. So, strategic planning should not be a long and drawn out process, but rather an efficient annual assessment of your business to make necessary course adjustments.

Getting Started

Don recommends beginning your strategic planning process, but clarifying:

  • Mission – Why do we exist
  • Core Values – What is important to us
  • Vision – What we want to be

He cautions that semantics not important. The real goal is develop a consensus on the fundamental aspects of your company that will govern your strategic decisions.

Next, consider your product and/or service offering. Review what you are currently selling from your customer’s perspective. Why are they buying from you? What is your competitive strategy? Is your offering valued by customers? Sustainable? Hard to match?

Next, you can define what you want to accomplish in the coming year.  These objectives can be hard or soft, but there can only be one set. Consider organizing them into four perspectives:

  • Financial
  • Customer
  • Internal Processes
  • Learning and Growth

Once your objectives are set, you can drive them into your annual operating plans. For instance, determine how these objectives translate into specific goals for your leaders and how they affect the personal development of your employees. How do your objectives impact the development plans for your products and services? And, what are your marketing and sales plans to capture business for those products and services.

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SEO (4 of 4) – Promoting Content Off-Page

September 21, 2010

Finally, we’ll be talking about promoting content off the page.  Of all the things you can do to optimize your content for search, this is the most important.  This is how Google is determining your popularity and putting you at the top of the results page.

Run with the Popular Crowd

Gaining popularity by link building is the key to getting to the top of the results.  It’s more important than anything else you’ll be doing to optimize your page.  Here are some tips for building links.  First, get links from trusted and relevant sites.  Examples of trusted sites are credible institutions like .edus and .govs, user-generated content like blogs and forums, popular sites that Google deems particular relevant and important for a keyword (a good way to find this out is to search the term – popular sites will show up at the top of the results page), and then content rich sites. 

The more links there are on a page, the less value those links have to Google.  Relevancy is just as important as trustworthiness.  It will actually hurt you if your site is about test and automation and you get a link from a blog on women’s fashion.  You should also focus on getting links from external pages as opposed to internal pages.  At NI, we’ve got a lot of content, so it’s pretty easy to build links to our pages from within the site, but for Google, it’s more important that we get links from outside of ni.com.  It’s more valuable if someone else says your popular than you say your popular.  Finally, try to get links from unique domains.  A domain is the name of a website or URL.  Ni.com is our domain name.  It’s more valuable to get 15 links from 15 different domains than 15 links from one domain.

How to Build Links to Your Site

First, create excite content.  Again, Google is trying to reward good content.  If people are really excited about what you do as a company, they are naturally going to talk about you and link back to your site.  You can even create exciting content on an external blog and point back to your site from there.  Then you get some external links to boot.  Next, build relationships.  Build relationships with editors to write articles for you, build relationships with bloggers in your industry to get them to write posts on you.  Next, post comments on blogs and forums related to your industry.  Social  media is a great way to get links back to your site.

Building credibility and popularity through links takes some time, so it’s important to start investing in it early and keep at it until you see the results you want on Google.

Things to Avoid

There are some things to be aware of when you are creating links.  The biggest we’ve already talked about, which is making sure the site is credible and relevant.  “Nofollow” is also good to avoid.  “Nofollow” is an HTML tag used to instruct search engines that a hyperlink should not influence the page’s value in the rankings.  Essentially, it is a vote that doesn’t count.  So don’t waste time posting a link if you aren’t going to get credit for it.  How can you tell if a link is “nofollow”?  Firefox has a great SEO tool that will highlight the “nofollow” links on a page for you.  That way you can easily see if the entire comments section is off limits for SEO-valuable links.  Why would sites want to use “nofollow”? A  lot of social media sites like Facebook and Wikipedia use “nofollow” because they want to make sure the content is valuable for users and not just a breeding ground for links. 

Next, don’t move too fast.  I would recommend only adding 5-7 links a week.  Google is wary of you trying to best their system and they want to make sure you’re earning your popularity.  So don’t make rapid changes. 

Paid links are also a big no-no.  Google has lots of tools in place to try to tell if this is happening, so beware of any site that asks you to pay in exchange for a link.


SEO (3 of 4) – Optimizing the Content on Your Page

September 15, 2010

Continuing to highlight the Search Engine Optimization presentation from Alliance Day, we now turn our attention to designing a SEO-friendly web page. Here is an example of a perfectly optimized web page for the keyword “chocolate donuts.” 

Google views certain content on the page as more important based on where you place it.  The items with a higher weight are page title, headings, and URL.  So you want to make sure in particular that your keywords are at this level. 

Page title

It is also sometimes called the title tag.  A HTML tag is a code surrounded by brackets that denotes format, hyperlinks or information for the bot. The page title or title tag shows up in a couple of places.  It is visible at the top of the browser.  It is also the clickable link in the search engine results.  Here it is “Chocolate Donuts |Mary’s Bakery.” It includes the keyword and also lets users know who is selling the donuts. 

Meta Tags

Meta is a type of HTML tag that gives information about the page.  The bot can see this information in the HTML, but the user can’t see it on the page.  Users can see it on the search engine results page below the clickable link.  Here’s what that looks like.  It is not a factor in determining your rankings, but can help persuade users to click on your link versus another one on the first page. 

Headings

It also, includes our keyword “chocolate donuts.”  Google recognizes the HTML tag “H” and then the number, such as H1 or H2 as the heading tag.  This is the one you want to use in the HTML when you build your page. 

Page Text

You’ll notice the keyword is also sprinkled throughout the body content, with a few variations to allow for users variations in the query and for natural writing.  The keyword is also included in the image file name and alt attribute. 

Alt Tag

The alt attribute, or alt tag, specifies alternative text when the element to which it is applied cannot be rendered.  So if an image can’t load in my browser, I will see this text.  It’s not going to provide the same weight as text, but it is how Google can read your images.

SEO (4 of 4) – Promoting Content Off-Page


SEO (2 of 4) – Understanding the End User

September 7, 2010

Continuing to highlight the Search Engine Optimization presentation from Alliance Day, we now talk about understanding the user.  The way the user interacts with a search engine is by inputting keywords.  So it’s important to understand the language customers use to describe their applications and your products and services.

Brainstorm for Keywords

Start by asking yourself or your sales team.  By interacting with your customers, you probably already have a pretty good idea of what words they use to describe what they’re doing or looking for.  

Search the keywords

 Test out what you think people might be using and see what shows up.  Do you see other companies like you or products similar to what you sell?  Use your web analytics tool.  Web analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis, and reporting of internet data in order to optimize web usage.  This will give you an idea of what keywords people are already searching to get to your site, and it will help you understand how users interact with your content.  Since Google is trying to reward good content, this is a great way to measure what users think of your content.  If you don’t have a web analytics tool, you can get one at www.google.com/analytics

Use Google Keyword Tool

Google offers a great tool that will show you how many times people are searching a word, both locally and globally.  If you are going to build a SEO program, you want to make sure you are building it on keywords that people are actually using.  This is a way to validate that.  Finally, test it out using AdWords.  AdWords are Google’s adverting product on search results.  If you are still concerned that a keyword may not be the right one, AdWords are a fast way to see if users are clicking to see your page and then doing the action you want them to do.  Optimize content for search can take a great deal of time to do correctly, so putting in the investment up front to make sure you are using the right keywords is very important.

Select Your Keywords

Now, it’s time to narrow it down to 1-3 for a page. Think about the long tail of SEO – the distribution of search terms from broad to niche.  There is a greater chance with a broad keyword that you may not have exactly what your user is looking for, but you will get a lot of traffic for this term if you show up in the first three results.  By choosing 2-3 word phrases, you will have less competition and less search volume, meaning you could potentially get less traffic to your site, but it will also convert better, meaning the customers that get to your site are more likely to continue shopping and browsing.  At the bottom of the spectrum are extremely descriptive phrases. These words probably don’t have a lot of competition or search volume, but if someone types that phrase into the box, they are going to see exactly what they’re looking for.

SEO (3 of 4) – Optimizing the Content on Your Page