3 Golden Rules of SEO Project Planning

Whenever you take on an SEO campaign for a new client, there are a number of items to be considered, and it’s almost a given that no matter how much thought goes into the process or how careful you are with your client communication and documentation, something will go wrong.

That’s okay, though…. it goes with the territory. You try to cover as many bases as you can, and be prepared with contingency plans to handle the hiccups, and you move on.

German Field Marshal Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke, in the 19th century, said “no plan survives contact with the enemy”. While an SEO campaign may not (normally) be as bloody as a battlefield, we can still draw a good parallel to Moltke’s adage. The gist of it is, plans need to be flexible, because things will happen to render them less effective. It never fails.

And in this business, less effective isn’t acceptable.

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So, we do our audit, establish a benchmark, do our KW and competitor research, while our new client provides us with a tidy discovery package… what else is there to do before we start building our campaign plan?

You’re kidding, right? Tell me you’re not going to forget this very important step!

1. Set up your Communications

This is critical, and the earlier it’s done, the better for everyone. Both you and your client need to establish your respective responsibilities, expectations, communications chain and contingency plans. Assume that something will go wrong, someone will drop the ball or something will change the game -then identify all the what-ifs up front. If-then arguments work very well in real life, too.

Then, if the client’s developer fails to deliver something on-time or as specified, or if some new intern suddenly decides to accidentally wipe out the analytics data, or even if a competitor suddenly unleashes a blitzkrieg marketing campaign, there may be surprises, but there won’t be disasters, because you considered those possibilities beforehand. Maybe not precisely those things, but hiccups in those general areas.

And when something happens, and you’re cool and confident as you implement your Plan B, the customer will be impressed and the impact will be mitigated.3 Golden Rules

That’s how stars are made, my child! Things go wrong for everyone, now and then… stars plan for it and have their bases covered. Their plan survives contact with the enemy.

2. Don’t Fly by the Seat of your Pants

As long as I’m tossing around old sayings, how about this one?

Failing to plan is planning to fail.

Some of us like to play things off the cuff, trusting our instincts to quickly and smoothly handle whatever happens. If we’re really good (and more than a little lucky), it may work out fine, most days. But eventually, our own failure to plan will be our downfall. If you fall into that category, it’s time to change the way you do things.

Don’t fall into the all-too-common trap of studiously preparing a plan and then just as studiously ignoring it.

3. Keep a Record of EVERYTHING

One of the best things you can do to save wasted time and make your efforts more effective is to keep detailed records of absolutely everything that has to do with the project. That means all communications, task lists, as well as all changes to the plan, schedule or the website.

When something happens, that is not the best time to have to lose a couple of hours or more trying to figure out who did or said what. Having that information at your fingertips can not only be a lifesaver, it makes you look more professional.

Most importantly, you may have to educate your client in this regard. If they do something that has an effect on your plan, whether beneficial or detrimental, it’s critical to know precisely what it was. Making them understand this and adhere to a strict documentation of any and all actions taken will benefit both of you.

Putting it to Use Later

Depending upon how much detail you like to put in your reports to your clients, meticulous records can be a mighty handy resource. As a minimum, I like to be able to detail all the actions that were taken, so I lean heavily on my actions log.

I’ve also found that keeping detailed records has another great benefit. Eventually, I’m probably going to have a similar situation repeat itself with another client. Since some of my contingency plans work like a champ, and others don’t turn out as well as I’d hoped, being able to refer back to those and use what worked and refine what didn’t has saved me a lot of time (and time is money) on other jobs.

So there you go… my three Golden Rules. They’ve helped me out numerous times – I hope they do the same for you. If you have any others that you’d suggest, I’m all ears!

Doc Sheldon retired from his business management consultancy in 2008 and became a perpetual student of all things SEO. He began providing professional webcopy to a worldwide array of clients, and has been actively involved in SEO for over five years, and writing professionally for nearly forty.

Discuss This Article

Comments: 2

  • Why create content as link bait if it’s a waste of time to read? What, I should keep track of what I do? I should talk to those who hired me? I should create a project plan? Don’t waste your time writing if it’s just link baiting garbage.

  • Doc Sheldon says:


    Although I suspect your questions were rhetorical, I’ll respond to them nevertheless, just in case you’re really interested. First appearances can, after all, be deceiving.

    “Why create content as link bait if it’s a waste of time to read?”

    First of all, I didn’t write the piece as link bait. I wrote it as a reminder/heads-up to a broad spectrum of readers, some of whom may be very experienced, some who may be less so. Unless you’re of the opinion that everything published here is specifically directed to you, I would assume you might recognize that.

    “What, I should keep track of what I do? I should talk to those who hired me? I should create a project plan?”

    I’ll address these three together: Yes, yes and yes. As an expert in niche marketing in Madison, you apparently already know that. Again, though, this piece was written for a broad audience, some of whom might be less worldly than you.

    One can’t help but think that if you really felt that it was a waste of your time to read, then your comment was probably a further waste of time. ;)

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