SEO Planning & the MoSCoW Method

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One of the challenges facing in-house SEO departments is encouraging others to acknowledge the importance of SEO during common business processes — from the conception of ideas to actual fulfillment.

Not only must you excite others about the potential benefits but also be able to address why it matters by referencing core SEO approaches and how they influence a project’s success.

“The quickest way to ensure that SEO is not left out of the process is by including it as part of documents like creative briefs, PRDs (product requirement documents), initial project plans and so on,” says search engine marketing expert Bob Tripathi. “Find out what those documents are in your company and identify ways you can integrate SEOrelated requirements, tasks and processes into the existing documentation. Within these project documents it is critical for SEO to have a presence; as most project/product managers and developers treat them as concrete specifications.”

If in-house SEO teams want more control — down to the specification level — they need to start at the very beginning. Let’s look at how SEO as a whole can be integrated in something as fundamental as PRDs (or any underlying business strategy document), how and why it should be integrated, and the language that should be used.

Get Inside the Purpose and Scope
Knowing the intention or purpose of a product or service quickly reveals how much those involved and the project itself will rely on SEO for success. The scope of the project (a new product or an entire shift in business direction) and the work that needs to be accomplished are related but also distinct. There is a noticeable difference between project scope (which is more strategy-oriented) and product scope which is more focused on the actual functional work requirements. In-house SEO teams need to understand which situation they are dealing with so that they can determine the best strategy and approach.

For example, if a company is planning to expand its local office to support regional branches, knowing this at the onset of the initiative will provide the SEO department time to establish broad local search marketing efforts. Consider the difference a project of this scope has to something along the lines of providing SEO guidance for a mobile application serving a local area — very different purposes and thus obligations for SEO teams.

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Identify the Stakeholders
Every project (or company) has stakeholders — the people, groups, organizations or systems which can be affected by an enterprise’s actions. PRDs, for example, routinely address how the project impacts these stakeholders.

In order to support stakeholders it is imperative to understand their challenges. If a sales team is identified as one of the primary stakeholder groups of a new product, reach out to the team leader to offer support in the form of content optimization; perhaps including whitepapers, blog posts, video presentations, slideshows and case studies.

Not being “aware” that the project is approaching is understandable, in some instances. But not finding ways to enable SEO to improve the chances of project success once the project comes to light is inexcusable in every case. And that requires knowing exactly who or what teams need SEO support.

Focus on the Requirements
In the planning stages of a product or project, SEO departments must be keenly aware of what requirements are being outlined. This includes core functionalities, technical elements and even user interaction.

For example, you have decided to develop a new forum that will let website visitors earn points for sharing your content. In this case, SEO departments (or individuals) will want to have influence or control over how the shared content will appear; perhaps in terms of titles, descriptions, short URLs or anchor text.

The MoSCoW Method
Of course, different rules exist for different businesses, their formal documents and approaches. When you understand the language for something as particular as a PRD, however, you are better able to communicate the importance of what strategies or techniques are most appropriate for the given situation.

This comes down to a process of aligning the SEO tasks that you are confident are fundamental to the project’s success and distancing yourself or your department when you know time is better spent on other, high-priority tasks.

One way to define the levels of requirement and emphasize the importance of a particular approach, feature or functionality is through the use of the MoSCoW Method — a prioritization technique used in business analysis and software development to reach an understanding with stakeholders on the importance they place on the delivery of specific requirements.

MUST: Implies an absolute requirement of the specification.

SHOULD: Requirements that, while critical to success, will not influence delivery.

COULD: Items that are not critical but do add value to the underlying objective.

WON’T: Requirements that will not provide value initially and will not be included in the initial release but are still ‘wanted’ by stakeholders.

This use of MoSCoW was first developed by Dai Clegg of Oracle UK Consulting; in CASE Method Fast- Track: A RAD Approach (2004). Under this method, all requirements are important but they are prioritized to deliver the greatest and most immediate benefits early.

For SEOs (in-house or otherwise) knowing what requirements are assigned which value is useful not only in the success of the project itself and in determining what SEO factors will demand the most attention, but also helps other departments understand the value and challenges of SEO moving forward, in other projects. In time, you might find that proactive SEO, combined with the MoSCoW method, actually begins to shape business initiatives altogether.

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