Needs Assessment: Key 1st Step For Successful Search Marketing

My last article, How To Structure an In-House SEO Team, stated that once business goals and KPIs are established, in-house marketers must conduct a needs assessment for both the in-house search team and the Web site. Your Search Engine Marketing Needs Assessment Report (SEMNAR) is the anchor for future in-house search projects, specifying the resources needed to accomplish your search marketing goals. Before getting into the details of the SEMNAR, I want to touch on the importance of training in professional services and how the Search Marketing NAR facilitates training.

The role of training in professional services

Every professional practitioner receives ongoing training during his or her career. The American Society for Training and Development estimates that U.S. organizations spend $109.25 billion on employee learning and development annually, approximately $29.50 billion of which is spent on external services. Professional training is especially common in the service sectors such as real estate, medicine, public safety, transportation, etc. It’s no coincidence that the professionals who embrace training and focus on developing their strengths are the top performers year after year. Those who are complacent about education and training tend to fall behind and often become cynical or stale in their day-to-day activities.

In marketing, and in particular, organic search engine marketing (SEO), there is a clear need for best-of-breed, top-gun style training if companies expect their in-house staff to exhibit the skills required to be number one in their industry and category within major search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and MSN Live.

In-house search engine marketers and managers are well advised to seek additional training on a month-to-month basis if they expect to surpass their competitors. As an in-house train-the-trainer, I’ve seen first hand the benefits of well-trained staff performance, and recall several instances where the big brands receiving this type of in-house training reaped major financial benefits by effectively competing and expanding their markets within the natural SERPs. I’ve also witnessed the challenges for companies that have delayed in-house SEO training, and the ramp-up time required to catch up in competitive markets where it can take years to make up for lost time.

The type of training I’m referring to is not typical classroom training of lecturing or memorizing—teams and managers can do that on their own time. What I am referring to is dynamic brainstorming, problem solving, and utilizing a network of search engine marketing experts throughout the United States. This type of training is focused on very specific internal problem-solving sessions, relevant to business goals and objectives. Nothing about this type of training is generic or pre-packaged. It’s all spontaneous, and the client gets real answers and solutions to very real and difficult problems in natural search.

The purpose of the NAR

It is common practice within many professions to perform an assessment before embarking on any particular path, action, or tactical behavior.

In professional municipal fire services, for example, fire departments conduct need assessments to identify strengths and weaknesses in order to be better prepared as first responders to the daily occurrence of unfortunate, yet inevitable, circumstances. A Needs Assessment Report (NAR) is a compilation of identified needs and recommendations providing a critical path to success, no matter what the objective is or how large and complex the issue might be. The result of a NAR for a search marketing in-house staff often migrates to triage-like behavior with a focus on quick wins as well as a strategy for long-term success.

As practitioners within the search engine marketing community, we are, to some degree, very similar to a fire department. We take a proactive approach in preparing for inevitable problems, and we respond appropriately to improve a given situation. The only difference is that our actions are generally not considered life threatening, although some business owners who rely on the Web as their life-blood for revenue or lead generation may disagree. Many businesses become extremely concerned when search engine marketing (both paid and organic) is not operating efficiently at full capacity.

Given that you have your CEO’s support, a needs assessment report is the starting point for in-house training and natural search implementation. The SEMNAR revolves around your business structure, the existing organization, specific staff members, and your overall business goals.

Like any good head-to-toe assessment, it begins with pre-planning and a systematic, expert review of every part of your organization as it relates to organic and paid search team structure, the tools used, your Web development plans, network operations, measurement and analytics, graphic design, copywriting, branding, and the competitive landscape.

The blueprint for your in-house search engine marketing team

The SEMNAR will provide a blueprint for your in-house paid and organic SEM teams. The report will identify your company’s resources and its strengths and weaknesses related to your search marketing objectives.

The intention of the SEMNAR process is to document a critical path for making intelligent decisions for building your in-house paid and organic search teams. Another benefit of the report is the creation of an organic SEO plan and efficient deployment of best practice search tactics within your company’s existing infrastructure. The SEMNAR will provide your search team, C-level executives, and everyone in the company, with a cornerstone document for company short- and long-term goals, training objectives, business priorities, action plans, and accountability related to all search engine marketing activities.

It would be ideal to have the SEMNAR performed by an outside team of in-house search engine marketing experts, in conjunction with a company project manager who can objectively assess your company’s search marketing needs. By identifying the project needs and the means to accomplish them, you can avoid potential in-house turf battles that might arise between developers, marketers, brand managers, and search team members.

Search always works best when the CEO mandates a needs assessment with top-down support. This is especially true when it comes to organic SEO, which requires support and personnel resources from multiple functions within the company and affects every aspect of your Web site.

The discovery brief

The best way to kick-off the SEMNAR is with a Discovery Brief. This document is designed to provide your outside team of search experts with a clear understanding of the company’s:

  • Background (target market and competitive advantages)

  • Objectives and corresponding KPIs
  • Organizational structure and internal resources
  • Web site optimization and promotion strategies and tactics (past and current)

If you would like an example Discovery Brief please contact me directly.

As you can imagine, preparing the SEMNAR takes time. But it’s time well spent as it makes the job easier for everyone; the in-house team, other departments and the outside trainers.

Paul J. Bruemmer has provided search engine marketing expertise and in-house consulting services to prominent American businesses since 1995. As Director of Search Marketing at Red Door Interactive, he is responsible for the strategic implementation of search engine marketing activities within Red Door’s Internet Presence Management (IPM) services. John Faris, who co-authored this article, is Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Analyst at Red Door Interactive. Faris’ primary role is to create initial SEO recommendations and execute strategic recurring SEO for Red Door’s Internet Presence Management clients. The In House column appears periodically at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | In House Search Marketing | Search Marketing: General


About The Author: is Managing Partner at PB Communications LLC. Specializing in SaaS solutions for Enterprise Store Locator/Finders, Semantic/Organic/Local/Mobile and SEO Diagnostic Audits for increasing online and in-store foot traffic.

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  • Carrie Hill

    Great article, Paul.

    I work as a SEM in the “outsourced” side of things and a NAR is the first step for any program in my opinion. If you don’t outline what they need and develop a scope of work – it’s impossible to show a clear set of – “this is what you need – this is what we implemented – this is the result.” This also gives your clients a “score card” to which they can hold you accountable. This gives power to your client and helps them feel like they are receiving a value for their money.

    SEM is can sometimes be an in-tangible process without solid visible “deliverables.” Making sure everyone is on the same page and has the same expectations is the first step to making your clients partners – not just clients.


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