The way in which digital marketing agencies traditionally plan and implement campaigns is broken.

A waterfall methodology has long been abandoned by development teams, and now marketing teams, in favour of agile working methods.

The key question we need to ask ourselves is, what do we do when things go wrong? SEO is an ever-changing market that is constantly evolving, with a competitive environment of fickle customers. Google updates, SERP movements, competitor challenges. So how can we expect a plan that is put in place now, to be the most appropriate plan in 6 months’ time?

Waterfall type projects are outdated and don’t work in our market

It has been proven by many business professionals that when working to a structured plan, you will rarely succeed. Too many constraints often mean failure is likely somewhere. Campaigns go over budget, it takes twice the time than expected, teams are pressured to do a lot of work and, most commonly, Google throws a spanner in the works with another algorithm update, smashing our entire plan to pieces! What if you could avoid all of this?

Inventor of the Scrum software development process, Jeff Sutherland states:

“Management teams want two things in projects – control and predictability. All that time and effort put into planning, trying to restrict change and know the unknowable is a waste of time. Every project involves discovery of problems and bursts of inspiration.”

Every project involves discovery of problems and bursts of inspiration

Jeff Sutherland

Instead of digital marketing campaigns being dictated by rules, plans, reports, meetings, calls; the tasks that we focus on should be based on delivering value. Working to goals helps us to focus on the now, it helps us reflect on success and helps us adapt to change.

What is ‘Agile’?

So what does being ‘agile’ mean? By definition, it means ‘able to move quickly and easily’. So for project management, an ‘Agile Manifesto’ was created by a group of professionals who were tired of projects failing, so they came up with the following to define the manifesto:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Agile for SEO represents the need to have the freedom and ability to quickly respond to change, especially in the digital marketing industry where goalposts are constantly moving and changing.

To put it simply – you should work quickly and learn fast. To do it right, you should follow these simple steps:

  • Plan what you’re going to do
  • Do it
  • Check if it was what was wanted
  • Act on that and change, and repeat

A lot of time can go wasted on work that isn’t necessary or doesn’t have the expected impact.

Long technical SEO documents are a thing of the past

Let’s use an example.

The goal of your SEO campaign may be to improve rankings generally across your entire website. The likely recommendation would be URL changes, title tag and meta description improvements, copy updates, maybe some speed improvements.

As an agency, this would require maybe two or three days analysing and creating a long document providing you with insight and actions for every single change we believe will make a difference.

This will then typically get handed over to your development team, who will see the document and probably roll their eyes; we’ve asked them to make 100’s of changes to a site and do this as soon as possible! The truth is that it will likely take months for your team to work through our suggestions.

The breakdown

So how about we break it down?

We could analyse the data, decide where we think we could have the quickest and biggest impact, and provide recommendations to optimise one page, one title tag, one piece of optimised content.

Your development team will likely see this request and get it done quickly as it’s only a small change.

We can then measure the success of the changes we implemented. Did we see any ranking improvements? Great! Let’s do more in our next sprint.

Did nothing happen? Did rankings fall? Maybe we need to rethink the approach.

Imagine if we’d have spent several days working on this strategy across the entire site, and several weeks or months or your development team making the requested changes, for us to not see the impact we’d anticipated.

By the time some changes get made, the recommendations might be so outdated that we need to do it all again. Not only has this wasted a lot of resource and effort from both teams, it can also be incredibly disappointing and disheartening to go back to the drawing board and start again.

How do you plan for SEO with agile?

When we are planning campaigns, we start with the bigger picture. Define the key themes. What do we want to achieve? What are the goals as a business? How are we measuring success? These key points will help determine our priorities and help focus our time and energy to do a few things really well.

1. Create a backlog

Think about creating a ‘backlog’ of ideas, or suggestions, in actionable items. What do we know needs to be achieved, what are the quick wins, and what do we know we need to do now? Agile is all about getting a minimal viable product (MVP) out of the actions and assessing the success before doing more of the same.

We break down backlogs into bite sized deliverables. Thinking about how it will help the campaign we always ask ourselves why it is important and what results do we expect. This helps determine the viability of the task. We like to use the ‘MOSCoW’ concept to help us with priority, considering whether it is a ‘must’ ‘should’ ‘could’ or ‘would’.

2. Set up your sprint

With traditional agile for web development, the idea is to work through small increments of tasks in a ‘sprint’, with the aim to deliver a ‘working’ product or software at the end. We can apply this same methodology to SEO. In our case, the idea is that everything done within a sprint is actionable and measurable, not dependent on future tasks. The difference with a web project and SEO, is no campaign for SEO is ever complete.

3. Run your sprint

Every iteration, or ‘sprint’, should follow a cycle; plan, act, test, deploy, review, and adapt on repeat. By working in a cyclic nature, we are continuing to deliver value through incremental improvements, driving success to your campaigns.

4. Reflect & improve

The key to agile is to keep testing and improving on a frequent and regular basis so the backlog reflects the best tasks to achieve your goals.

What do you use to keep track of your tasks?

There are many, many project management tools out there (believe me, we’ve tried them all!). I would say it’s pretty much what works best for you and your team. We’ve used all sorts, but we now use Asana internally, which is great for working with backlogs and sprints with it’s ‘board’ view of tasks. Trello is great for collaboration with clients and can integrate with many other tools, and Slack is a must have for any collaborative agile teams.

We also use Harvest for resource and time tracking against our agile projects. The most important thing when choosing your project management, is ensuring it allows team wide collaboration, it offers transparency across your projects, and most importantly is simple enough to use so it enables you to work effectively and efficiently.

Agile encourages honesty and transparency. Question everything, learn from failure, embrace change and respond to data and insights.

We pride ourselves on delivering digital marketing campaigns for our clients that are transparent, accountable, effective, that deliver growth and success. This is the beauty of agile.

Want to know more about how we deliver agile SEO campaigns? Get in touch.