The Web Strategy Pyramid: A Well-balanced Web Strategy

Jun 27 2010 by Jason Schubring | 27 Comments

The Web Strategy Pyramid: A Well-balanced Web Strategy

Remember when mom always told you to eat your vegetables? Little did you know she was giving you fantastic advice for managing your Web strategy. In these days of Twitter, Facebook, forums, blogs and more, it can be tempting to skip over the basics and dive headfirst into an oh-so-tempting dish of social media or SEO "tricks."

Businesses of all sizes are pigging out on social media without putting an equal amount of effort into forging a solid foundation built on a user-friendly Web experience and great content.

To deliver a site that gives users the experience they are looking for, we need to set it upon a solid foundation of content, usable navigation, and strong SEO practices.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at what I call the "The Web Strategy Pyramid" (a tip of the hat to the FDA’s Food Pyramid for the inspiration).

The Web Strategy Pyramid

The Web Strategy Pyramid

Content

Let’s start at the bottom of the pyramid and work our way up. "Content is king," is a cliché, but it’s that way for one reason: it’s true. You can have the best ads, the most Twitter followers, and the coolest design, but none of it will stick with your users and gain momentum if you don’t have the content they are looking for.

Fantastic content is the fuel that drives all these other efforts. After all, why would anyone tweet about your site or click that Facebook Like button if you don’t have anything worth sharing?

The single best way to get a great start is with your content. If it’s unique, compelling, interesting and written for your users, you’ve given yourself a fantastic foundation to build on.

A few points to consider before we move on:

  • Does your site content use terms that your users understand or are you using jargon?
  • Is the content intentionally written for the Web in short, digestible chunks, or is it recycled from a corporate brochure?
  • If you’re a blogger, does your content have a unique perspective and point of view that’s worthy of discussion and retweets?

Creating fantastic Web content is a complex subject that if you’re interested in learning a bit about, you can read up on via the Content Strategy category.

Usability/Design

If your visitors can’t find what they’re looking for, it won’t matter that you’ve filled your site with fantastic content. Complex navigation, poor use of whitespace, distracting graphics or animations, and a vast array of other UX missteps can destroy your hope of converting a visit into a sale, or a follower into a raving fan.

Not long ago, performing a usability test on a complex site or application could cost tens of thousands of dollars. Now, there are many alternatives for gathering user feedback on your site design and interface.

Simple "discount" testing with co-workers or family members using paper mockups or wireframes. Can they perform the most common tasks? Do they understand your navigation?

A basic lab setup using a tool like Adobe Connect to capture the user’s screen movements, vocal comments, and facial expressions, all of which can be recorded and archived for review and analysis.

Online survey tools like Zoomerang or Survey Monkey combined with screenshots can be a quick way to gather input from key audiences.

Usability tools like Usabilla can help you gather more specific interface feedback through a combination of survey questions and heat maps.

Those of you who are veterans of usability testing will agree that none of these compare to having a Ph.D. conduct an interview/test in a lab setting. However, my point is this: Lack of budget is no longer an excuse for skipping usability testing and review.

Some basic tools and well thought-out questions are far better than not testing at all. Taking this step will put you light years ahead of many competitors.

SEO

Some of you may be surprised that SEO is not one of the items at the base of the pyramid. If they can’t find you, who cares? Well, let me explain: If your content is well written and focused on the needs of your users, you’ll already have made good progress down the road to effective SEO.

Too many times people try to find the "secret" to ranking well in the search engines, but never take the time to evaluate the content on their site. One of the real secrets to SEO is building a solid base of relevant content. Again, here are a few points to consider:

  • Do you use the keywords in your content that your users are searching for? There are a multitude of tools to help you research this including Google Insights, Wordtracker and others.
  • Do your headings (i.e. H1, H2, H3) include keywords?
  • Do your page titles contain keywords and reflect the topic of the content?

Is your site content written to make users happy, or search engines happy? I hope that it’s the former.

Social Media

Ah, finally. On to the good stuff! Now that you’ve forced your way through establishing a rock-solid foundation of content, usability, and SEO, we’re ready to dive head first into social media.

I’ll assume that everyone reading this is already aware of the sites like Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace and probably has some experience using tools to optimize their social media efforts (Radian6, ScoutLabs, HootSuite, etc.)

With this assumption in mind, the single most important point I can make is this: Have a long-term strategy for social media.

Far too many companies and individuals launch a Facebook page or social media effort without having a target audience, clear purpose, and well-defined goals.

Do you have a well-defined strategy for social media? Here are a few items to help you determine if that’s the case:

  • If you’re a corporation and someone is assigned to monitoring social media, is it their sole focus, or is it something they only do when they have spare time?
  • Does your company use a PR or advertising agency for social media? Using these types of firms is typically great for the initial launch and ongoing campaigns, but what happens in two years? Four years?
  • Who responds to your customers concerns on Twitter, Facebook, and forums? Will that choice stand the test of time and customer expectations? More importantly, is it cost effective?

Pay-per-click (PPC)

Now that we’ve established a website strategy forged upon great content, a user-friendly interface, SEO, and Social Media, let’s top things off with a bit of PPC. Depending on your business needs, PPC could play a fairly major role. In most typical cases, however, you’ll be best served by taking care of all the other essentials before using PPC. Look at it this way: Why would you spend money driving visitors to a site that is not well-positioned to make the most of every one of those visits?

A Few Final Thoughts

Will this pyramid potentially shift based on your specific needs? Certainly. If you’re a small/medium business selling a complex product to a small niche market, SEO and PPC may be more important for you. If you’re a blogger, social media may be a vital part of your foundation. This isn’t chiseled in stone, but the core point remains the same regardless of your goals: take care of the basics and don’t let that tempting piece of "dessert" divert your attention until you’ve taken care of the basics. Your users (and possibly your bank account) will thank you for it.

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About the Author

Jason Schubring has built more than 100 Websites and delivered e-mail campaigns for companies of all sizes. His strategic, design, and Web development background creates a unique perspective on effectively combining digital and traditional marketing. To connect with him, follow him on Twitter @jasonschubring or find him on LinkedIn.

27 Comments

Agi

June 27th, 2010

essential things, thanks for sharing!

Jennifer R

June 27th, 2010

Maybe this pyramid was effect of “Content is king”, right?

Ross Johnson

June 27th, 2010

What about user tasks and site objectives? Identifying these would be way before content in web strategy as they will dictate every level of strategy afterwards.

Heather Villa

June 27th, 2010

Hi Jason,

I love the pyramid. Too many people put SEO and Social Media before Usability. If your site is not easy to use and people can not find what they want, it’s useless. So you’ll have a ton of people finding you, but no conversions. Simply a waste of time.

Mojave

June 27th, 2010

Great article, and a great way to visualize a web strategy. I see many business skipping the Content base and move right to Social and PPC to try to drive engagement with the site, which usually ends in failure.

Also your point on having a social media strategy is dead on. It doesn’t have to be complex, but just an outline of what you are trying to accomplish and what tools you’ll use in social media. Many people skip that step too, and end up unfocused and jumping around in social media.

Wynne

June 27th, 2010

Hi Jason.
You’ve got some good points here i.e. getting your basic content sorted out, and that creates a solid platform to launch your other efforts.

Anwar

June 27th, 2010

Some nice tips here. What sparked an interest in me is “basic lab setup using a tool like Adobe Connect to capture the user’s screen movements”. This is the 1st I’ve heard of this.

What’s funny is you said in the same sentence how you can monitor facial expressions. I wonder how this can be done.

Jon Brink

June 27th, 2010

Too bad so many people hock their stuff so cheaply. It’s really kind of ruining our hobby.

Jason Schubring

June 27th, 2010

@Ross, I think you’re right on. In fact, that’s why “content” and “usability” are the bottom two. User tasks and site objectives are really encapsulated in those, but I think you make a great point in shining a spotlight on them more specifically!

@Anwar, Adobe Connect records the user’s face via webcam, so you can watch them back along with the screen movements and audio.

Mark Shaw

June 27th, 2010

Fantastic article. It really takes me back to the origins of websites and makes me remember what is most important. The content. Thanks so much for the post!

Richie

June 27th, 2010

Worthy points, Jason. Good Content definitely lays a strong foundation for a successful website. Social Media has grown rapidly in the couple of years and we have effectively utilize its power along with the other parts of the pyramid to build a robust web strategy.

Cesar Noel

June 28th, 2010

A well written article on Web Strategy. I would agree on the pyramid structure. Content will always be “king”.

Nikos

June 28th, 2010

Nice collection of some basic things that one should pay attention on.

In other words, content is king once again and no SEO “trick” can make up for poorly written content… except you are happy with 100% bounce rate.

Sebastian

June 28th, 2010

Good list and all so true. The content is what makes a website good. If the content fails, the website fails. Period.

Jordan Walker

June 28th, 2010

Great depiction and incite about strategy.

ddeja

June 28th, 2010

Hyh. As always we know what to do, but mostly people are so impatient that they forget about content, usability and go straight to seo and social.

Good article.

kuankuan

June 28th, 2010

Yes , we not only know how to do,but just do it .

Project Center

June 29th, 2010

Jason:

I had not heard of ScoutLabs, will certainly have to check them out.

Blogging/content is definitely important and I’ve let our blog suffer from time to time due to time constraints but understand how crucial it is to bring traffic back again and again.

In addition to WordTracker and Google’s Keyword tool I have found that Market Samurai is also helpful (paid service) for finding out additional info on keywords, etc.

Like our fruits and veggies, we need to implement all of the pyramid in order for our overall efforts and goals to be achieved.

Mia Moses

June 30th, 2010

This pyramid is almost common sense, hopefully no one over complicates things…

leogeo

June 30th, 2010

Very usefularticle.Thanks so much for the article like this.Thanks for sharing……

Doug Kessler

July 6th, 2010

Nice one. One might come away with the idea that PPC is the pinnacle of web marketing rather than a cherry on top. But I like what you’ve done!

huddersfield

July 8th, 2010

Very good article. I picked up one or two things I havn’t thought about before, so thanks! :)

Kat

July 18th, 2010

Great article! I totally agree on the ranking of each element. Agree on the PPC coming last and should only be a small part of your web strategy. It should only come in once your website is fully optimised, has functional landing pages with call to actions and of course great content.

Trudster

March 15th, 2011

Great insight. Thanks for reminding us of the importance of the basics. In the highly competitive environment that we all live in, it’s a human tendency to strive to make anything we do as complex as possible to “win”….feeling that that somehow means it was done right. But basic, foundational efforts are invariably the most important steps to be done first.

mindtreks

March 15th, 2011

Thanks for this great info. i’m just a beginner on SEO :D

UCS

June 9th, 2011

Thanks for the tips. I am a small business owner/operator trying to tackle the daunting task of SEO and after reading your article realize that I need to focus on the pyramid starting with “Content”. Thanks again!

Samuel

June 27th, 2011

I like the way you put these 5 most important part of internet marketing; content, usability, search, social and paid/display advertising. We could add affiliatte marketing to that tho’.
IMO I would put social under SEO and affiliation on top of SEO, social seems to be less ROI focus (as PPC for example), put more about content and users, that’s why.
cheers :)

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