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SWOT Analysis for SEO

25 October 2012 BY

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Back when dinosaurs still walked the earth  I did a marketing qualification in Direct & Interactive Marketing. Whilst the course was definitely really useful most of the stuff I learned back then I don’t use very much and as a result it languishes half-forgotten somewhere in the recesses of my brain.

The SWOT Analysis was one such technique I’d forgotten I knew until Phil Nottingham (who works with me at Distilled) was asked to complete one for a client… and it all came flooding back.

“SWOT Analysis – hells yes! Why the hell haven’t I been doing those recently?”

*Cue blank stares*

Why was I so excited? For the uninitiated a SWOT Analysis is a strategic planning technique credited to Albert Humphrey that dates back to the 1960s.

Actually, wait. That doesn’t sound very exciting does it? Let me break it down :)

SWOT the WHAT?

SWOT stands for:

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Opportunities
  • Threats

Strengths and weaknesses are internal factors (i.e. they are particular to the organisation) whereas opportunities and threats are external factors (i.e. particular to the landscape which the company operates in).

A SWOT Analysis is typically applied to a company (and their competitive landscape) and is used to help determine high level strategy to achieve a company’s over-arching objectives. These objectives might be profit-led or growth-led; for example:

  • Is it more important to build profits (profit-led) or sales (growth-led)?
  • Do you want to sell more to existing customers (profit-led) or acquire new ones (growth-led)?
  • Do you want to develop/improve existing products (profit-led) or add new products (growth-led)?

Of course in the real world it’s often not an ‘either/or’ scenario, but hopefully you get the picture.

A SWOT Analysis is typically presented in a grid as shown below:

So what?

Well determining the right SEO strategy for a company is difficult. In my experience most clients come to us with an objective that looks something like this:

“Grow sales via non-paid traffic from X to Y.”

There are many  ways one might go about doing that – right? Do you focus on head terms, or the long tail? Do some conversion rate optimisation? Do you need links to improve rankings? Or is it the site’s poor architecture ruining your chances? Has the site been penalised?

What might stop you from achieving your objective(s)? Competitor activity? Algorithm updates? What are Google up to? Have they (or are they likely to) leap into your vertical?

Well, friends a SWOT analysis might just help.

Plus, added bonuses…

You’re presenting something in a familiar (well familiar if you’re talking to marketers or high-level managers), easily digestible format. I’ve never been a fan of long documents – they don’t get read; and even if they are, people are often left thinking, but how does this all fit together? What are we actually doing here?

You’re forced to be specific and make recommendations that will work for that specific company, rather than talking in general terms. You’re making concrete recommendations.

Sample SWOT Analysis for SEO

OK – let’s do this.  I’m going to do a SWOT analysis for an imaginary site.

Like most their objective is to grow sales from non-paid traffic from X to Y.

Internal Factors

Strengths

  • They look and sound like a brand (rather than having an exact match domain)
  • Clean backlink profile
  • Strong social following
  • Already creating some content via their blog

Weaknesses

  • Poor on-page SEO / keyword targeting
  • Low conversion rates
  • Little in the way of ‘link-worthy’ content
  • No PR or outreach resource

External Factors

Opportunities

  • Improve on-page SEO & keyword targeting
  • Conversion rate optimisation
  • Create more ‘shareable’ (& ‘link-worthy’) content
  • Train in-house PR / outreach team (or provide an external resource)

Threats

  • Competitors with higher page / domain authority
  • Algorithmic updates (NB unlikely to cause problems)

See where I’m going with this?

The aim of the game is to turn around weaknesses (where possible), translate strengths into opportunities and neutralise threats wherever you can. You can see that the opportunities can neatly be translated into tactics which will help them achieve their goals:
  • Improving on-page SEO & keyword targeting will likely win them some long tail traffic
  • Conversion rate optimisation will help them get more sales from the traffic they get (NB both paid and non-paid)
  • Creating more ‘shareable” content will help them grow their social following, thus furthering their reach and generating traffic
  • PR / Outreach resource (whether internal or external) combined with the ‘shareable’ (& ‘link-worthy’) content will help build domain strength and enable them to increase search visibility. Whilst this won’t neutralise the threat of their stronger competitors in the short term, over time they’ll begin to catch up.

Obviously, that example might not be quite relevant to your own situation, but hopefully you can see how you might utilise it for your own site or your client’s sites.

Points to note

It seems only right and proper that I should highlight that the SWOT technique (like many other techniques) does of course have it’s detractors. For example, the nature of the SWOT grid doesn’t allow for any weighting of factors in terms of importance.

It’s also probably important to note that I’m definitely ‘bending’ SWOT analysis into a framework that suits my own purposes. A true SWOT analysis should look at all channels to market – not just SEO.

Furthermore it’s  entirely conceivable that in some circumstances your SWOT analysis might lead you to conclude that actually, organic search isn’t an appropriate route to market – for example if Google’s leaping into your vertical in a big way and / or if you’ve strong, well-established competitors with bigger budgets you might not be able to compete in any meaningful way.

Further reading

After I’d written this, I also found these other great posts about using SWOT which are definitely worth a read:

Want to learn more about SWOT analysis? I’d recommend checking out this guide from the somewhat amusingly titled Business Balls site.

And so dear readers – over to you. Do you already use SWOT analysis for SEO / online marketing? Find it useful? Or do you use other techniques? Do let me know via the comments :)

Image credits:
Lego – http://www.flickr.com/photos/kwl/4678498113/sizes/z/in/set-72157623544311963/
SWOT Matrix – http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:SWOT_en.svg&page=1 
AUTHORED BY:
h

Hannah Smith is an SEO Consultant working for Distilled in their London office. She manages technical, link building and content campaigns for clients across a range verticals in addition to managing one of the internal SEO teams at Distilled.
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