The idea of considering a company’s internal strengths and weaknesses and reviewing the opportunities and threats in the external environment provides a useful framework for informing and guiding SEO improvement efforts. SWOT analysis is a simple but powerful analytical tool that can be used by any business – even an online sock monkey retailer – to identify ways to make SEO improvements and progress from a strategically sound foundation.
Internal Factors – Strengths & Weaknesses
The first step in any SWOT analysis worth the whiteboard it’s written on is to spend the time necessary to carefully consider and document your company’s core strengths.
SEO is largely about establishing relevance and authority, and thus a high search engine rank, for a defined set of keywords and long-tail keyword phrases. It is important to carefully consider and document your company’s most important strengths if you want to be able to choose the right keyword phrases to define how your company will be seen by search engines.
Let’s say we:
– run an online retail business with a focused, niche product – custom-designed sock monkeys – and that we pride ourselves on how closely we know and service our customers to meet their unique needs. And,
– our primary competition comes from a large online retailer with much wider product selection of sock animals and very high brand awareness.
Were this the case, it would be important to optimize the content of our site to the needs of our unique target market and to highlight our superior service. If service and customer intimacy are important elements of our competitive advantage or internal strengths, then creating search-optimized pages with authority around how our company works to uniquely meet the needs of our customers should be a priority for our company.
Picking the right keyword phrases to align with our company’s true strengths is a very important first step in conducting a solid SWOT analysis with search marketing in mind. SEO and PPC keyword research tool providers allow us to explore and consider hundreds or even thousands of keywords and long-tail keyword phrases that our competitors are already using.
And if there is anything we online sock monkey retailers should know about, it’s long tails!
Setting off on a keyword research project without a solid understanding of our sock company’s true strengths would be setting sail without a compass or GPS. We have to document our strengths and helpful advantages in order to accurately describe what we truly want to be known for.
The other internal organizational factors we need to consider are our company’s weaknesses. I know, I know, we don’t have any weaknesses, right? Of course we do. All companies, large or small, have potentially harmful weaknesses. Being aware of our weaknesses and proactively working to address the soft underbelly of our sock monkey business is the point of identifying them. (Yes, pun intended – sorry.)
As mentioned, our sock monkey online retail business lacks brand awareness. This is a pretty major weakness relative to our primary competition. If the vast majority of our target audience simply searches for “sock monkey Amazon” or “sock monkey eBay”, our site will likely never get a chance to be seen by those customers. In this situation, paid search techniques can be an effective strategy to consider relative to organic search approaches.
If you aren’t the brand leader, there are times that it makes sense to purchase and bid on keyword phrases containing the brand leader’s name as one element of a long-tail keyword phrase. Google’s policies do not allow for use of trademarked words within AdWords copy, but they can nevertheless be used within the keyword phrases you bid upon. This is a relatively simple approach to limiting the impact of low brand recognition.
Internal Factor Resources
Careful consideration of internal factors is important for establishing the domain within which we want to have authority. In other words, compiling a meaningful list of our company’s strengths and weaknesses is an important first step to defining the areas we want to “own” online.
Taking the time to identify how our business is performing – and the relative importance of each competitive factor – can be important for determining not only which direction to steer our business but also what copy needs to be developed or improved to increase our search rankings. I’ve found using a template like the one provided here can be helpful for at least getting the ideas flowing.
Once you complete a Strength and Weakness Analysis, the next step is to plot the results into a Performance-Importance Matrix. This matrix can serve to focus your efforts on search marketing tactics that can truly make a difference.
External Factors – Opportunities & Threats
Opportunity and Threat Analysis has traditionally been an exercise by which companies systematically scan their external environment to monitor important macroeconomic forces. Such factors as demographic shifts, technology developments, and legal and political changes can all have an effect a firm’s long-term prospects and at times even viability. Environmental scanning is of course relevant to all businesses, whether they have a presence on the internet or not. Scanning, tracking, and monitoring shifts in the dynamic online competitive environment, though, is critical to the long-term success of any search marketing effort.
An opportunity is essentially an attractive domain in which to apply marketing action and effort where the company would enjoy a competitive advantage. Opportunities are often classified by their attractiveness as well as their probability of success.
A threat can be thought of as a challenge posed by an unfavorable trend or development which, without corrective action, would erode the company’s position. Threats often get noted by their seriousness and probability of occurrence.
Opportunities and Threats in Online Markets
As mentioned, the dynamic nature of online markets compounds the need to stay informed. Additionally, online markets are often more “perfect” than traditional markets. Switching costs and even first-mover advantages are often lower. Location and distribution advantages for many products and services such as software and virtual goods are razor thin or non-existent.
In the fast-paced online competitive environment, staying on top of your game should include active competitor scanning and monitoring. An interesting aspect of online markets, though, is that your online competitors, especially in SEO, are not always the same competitors you normally face. Sometimes, it can be quite surprising to discover who you actually compete with for in the SERPs.
Returning to our hypothetical example, our online competition for precious sock monkey purchaser traffic may come not only from keywords used by toy manufacturers but also from sock manufacturers. We might even be competing with purveyors of fine primate hosiery, who knows. Without research and the right tools, it’s difficult to say for certain.
External Factor Resources
Knowing who you are truly competing with for traffic and monitoring your page rank in relation to these competitors has become fairly simple. Competitor search marketing monitoring is available from a relatively new class of search marketing analytics companies like iSpionage (yup, my company), Spyfu, and a handful of others.
These keyword research and competitor monitoring service providers can help you understand how your search marketing tactics and strategies are trending over time. Select your competitor’s URLs and the system will notify you when new keywords, ads, and landing page copy are detected. Lists of your most important keywords can even be stored for tracking search engine rank results over time.
With a solid SWOT analysis in hand, and competitor monitoring and keyword research tools at your fingertips, you can achieve search marketing improvements that are aligned with your company’s marketing strategy.
It’s not that hard. Even a sock monkey could do it!
– Chris Sparks is an online marketing and content strategist at the Silicon Valley- based iSpionage, a search marketing competitive intelligence provider. Connect with Chris on Google+ or through Twitter @theinboundagent