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Skip the slides: why writing a business case can be better for your SEO plans

Updated: Sep 28, 2023


This blog post borrows a lot from my BrightonSEO talk but expands to use cases beyond product management.


A few weeks back I asked SEOs how they pitch their big projects:



My guess would be that in-house and agency folks would vote differently, but I was wrong. Everyone bets more on slides than written documents. Breaking down numbers a little further, slides are the main choice for 68% of in-house and 72% of agencies.


I used to spend a lot of time in slides too, until I saw a Product Requirements Document (PRD) in action. Borrowing the definition from an Indeed Career Guide article:


A product requirements document defines a specific product's purpose, features, functionalities and behaviours. It outlines everything you want to include in a product release before presenting it to the key stakeholders or clients.


It all depends on the company and the people you work with, but I realized that PRDs were great for getting buy-in from higher-level stakeholders. Instead of spending time making pretty slides, I’m investing a lot more time on the actual idea, going into detail, refining the hypothesis and gathering feedback. They can read this async and ask questions as comments on a Google Doc - Or the meeting can start by giving them some time to read this document on their own.


I also had cases where realized that an idea wasn’t good enough or we wouldn’t be able to execute it only because I spent more time researching about it, even before I got to present this idea to many more stakeholders.


I look back at some plans I had for clients back in my agency years and I’d certainly do things differently if I had today’s knowledge at the time.


You can call this a PRD or an SEO Business Case. This article from The Gray Dot is a great example - it's a case for an eCommerce company considering adding structured data to its product detail pages. The broad idea is to detail your plan in a written document where you have to build your case mostly with words. Detail as much as you can, avoid vague answers. You may include external case studies and results found for other clients or previous internal results in your argument as well.


I’ve given a simple PRD template in my talk and you can download it here. It’s an example case of an automated internal linking feature. Beyond a product feature, you could also use this same principle to build and present your SEO strategy as well.


Below is a fictional case of things I’d do for a fictional hotel business. I used to do SEO for a large hotel chain in Ireland and while it’s been a few years, I still have some of their challenges fresh in my brain. This a very short version of a business case, you should go more in-depth as you explain your plans, estimate impact, costs, etc.


Background

What is it: Give the background to set the scene about your pitch. Explain the problem you have, how this would be a solution and the issues by taking a simpler route or keeping things the way they are now.


Hotels have huge competition from Online Travel Agencies (Booking, Tripadvisor, etc). While your main target keywords are wide terms such as hotels in [city], the bigger the city, the more search results are dominated by OTAs.



Opportunity

What it is: How big is the opportunity? What page types are covered? How many [KPI] can be earned?


While the highest volume, broader keywords are not a feasible opportunity, there are still plenty of opportunities to explore:


  • Hotels in [location]: You’re unlikely to rank for these keywords unless you also provide a listing with several hotels. Being a chain with several hotels in a city, you may be able to provide a listing with several hotels that match this broader intent.

  • Hotels near [attractions]: the more focused a search is, the more likely your location comes into play. Hotels near [attraction] tend to display actual hotel pages more often. It also a common refinement search users do and likely to have a higher conversion rate vs generic listing.

  • Google Local Pack: You also have a big opportunity to appear on map listings. These display four results just below ads, but before organic listings. This is a space where only hotels appear and while OTAs appear as a possible option to book hotels from, at least you’ll be a prominent choice and guests may book directly from you.

  • Secondary offers: we can also optimise pages for offers beyond simple hotel stays. This includes restaurant and bar-only deals tied in with external events, leisure center (hotels with pool, gym, spa), packages (hotel deals), specific audiences (family friend hotels), meeting rooms, events, etc.


Testing

What it is: Detail the most basic version of this initiative, just enough to prove impact. Explain what is included and what is NOT included.


Some hypotheses we’d like to test are:


  • Does Google reward you by mentioning a nearby attraction on your homepage?

  • Do reviews mentioning a nearby attraction help you to be on the local pack?

  • Should you display prices on page titles?

  • Does building links to these near [attraction] pages increase your rankings?

  • Is your Google Business Page a higher source of non-branded traffic than your website?

  • Does adding videos to your GBP page increase bookings?

  • Should near [attraction] pages be used in PPC ads as well?


Technical Debt

What it is: an overall view of tasks to be done. These should be double-checked by the teams/people who are executing them to make sure they're relevant and representative of their work.


SEO

  • Keyword research to map opportunities

  • Map pages to optimise

  • Map pages to be created

  • Research potential structured data opportunities

  • Work with hotel staff to create GBP reviews strategy

Dev

  • Give SEO teams access to CMS

  • Implement dynamic title tag for prices

  • Install [name] plugin

Video

  • Create videos specifically for the organic web (GBP, TikTok, Instagram)


Open Questions

What it is: Questions asked by stakeholders as they read the document. Keep answering them and address the questions in other sections if a new task is required.

  • What is a healthy percentage of non-branded traffic and bookings?

  • How can you optimize to rank higher on Online Travel Agencies listings?

  • Can you drive organic bookings via social media by creating demand as you promote an interesting but hidden attraction?


Rollout & Impact

What it is: Scope of release, expected release date, when and how results will be measured. Run a causal impact analysis, previous tests ran internally or an external study (e.g. see examples on the Case Study Database).


After an initial technical audit and keyword research, these are our proposed deadlines to start rolling out updates:

  • Optimise GBP (rollout 01/2024, measure results 03/2024)

  • Create new [10] location pages (rollout 02/2024, measure results 04/2024)

  • Example Task 3/4/5/etc


SEO Business Case: Conclusions


Every company and client is different, but the best way to measure how good or bad they’ll receive this is by testing. You don’t need to ignore visuals, they still have you to create a vision, but your ideas are worth more time than cropping and resizing images.


A few years ago I’d most certainly not have considered a document like this as relevant as today, but in 2023 I feel my ideas are much stronger with a document like this - The plan is stronger and feedback is easier (do allow people to leave comments and address them).


Go build your business case and if this works for you, come back to thank me later!


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