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Project Managing SEO with Prince2

Project management in SEO is something that is sometimes over looked or not prioritised. Most SEOs know what needs to be done because it’s staring them in the face. It’s the implementation that is the tricky part, getting the job done within your own parameters is where most of us fall down.

Recently I completed a Prince2 project management course and thought I would share some of the takeaways from the week’s training.

Projects: A project is a temporary organisation that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to an agreed Business Case.

The last bit of the above statement should resonate with SEOs – is there a business case for what you are proposing? Think about your potential client; is there a clear business case for embarking on a large SEO campaign? At Verve we take great care in looking in to weather potential clients are going to see a return on their money. If we feel that even after completing a 6 or 12 month project will they see enough profit to pay for our services as well as run their current business?

Identify bad ideas before you start

If there is no business case or a measureable way of accounting for your SEO endeavours then there is no way of knowing if you have had a positive or negative effect on your client’s business. So put it down and walk away. Lots of ideas are cute, like kittens, but you are not in this for cute, you’re in this for your clients to improve their online presence.

Product, what are you going to produce at the end of this process?

Make sure there is a clear achievable objective for your client to work with. What will the ‘product’ of your project be? Will it be increased visitors and better conversions? Will it be new features and usability of the current website? Will it be a new website? Or will it be a link building campaign? Whichever kind of project you are working on, there has to be a continued business justification for the project, or you end the project early.

Learn from Experience

One of the great things I liked about the Prince2 course was that one of the principles was to learn from experience. So if you are starting a social campaign, make sure everyone involved has read all the previous social campaign case studies. Look for more case studies online, make sure you have made a list of threats to the project, and advantages, and just be aware of what could go wrong. Like a grown up Cub Scout, be prepared.

Lessons learnt should be an on-going process. Every project should have a case study written for it, so you can evaluate what worked and what didn’t work. SEO is fast moving, things change, but the fundamentals of how a project works don’t. It shouldn’t matter that you’re building a website or a garden wall, the principles are the same. The 7 Prince2 principles are as follows:

  • Continued business justification
  • Learn from experience
  • Define roles and responsibilities
  • Manage by stages
  • Manage by exception
  • Focus on products
  • Tailor to suit the project environment

Continued Business Justification

It seems pretty obvious, but you need to stop and analyse what the business is going to gain from your endeavours. Have you looked into the projected outcomes? There are various ways you can make projections and there are loads of tools to help. But the simplest way to work things is with the historical data of a site. If available, you can ask your potential client for what they make each month and how much traffic they get, what their current rankings are and use those to make a rough estimate of what will be needed to pay for your services and what they can expect to get back, based on their current conversion rate etc.

In a Prince2 project there are requirements:

  • Is there a justifiable reason to start it
  • The justification should remain valid throughout the life of the project
  • The justification is documented and approved.

Themes

Once you have your head around principles, there are the 7 themes of a Prince2 project management. Prince2 was designed by civil servants for government projects, but this doesn’t mean that it can’t be adapted to work on smaller projects. One of the key elements of Prince2 is that it should be tailored to the environment.

The seven themes are:

  1. Business case: This theme addresses how the idea is developed into a viable investment proposition for the organization, and how project management maintains the focus on the organisation’s objectives throughout the project.
  2. Organization: The organization sponsoring the project needs to allocate the work to the managers who will be responsible for it, and steer it through to completion. Projects are cross functional so the normal line function structures are not suitable
  3. Quality: The initial idea will only be understood as a broad outline. This theme explains how the outline is developed so that all participants understand the quality attributes of the products to be delivered – and then how project management will ensure that these requirements are subsequently delivered.
  4. Plans: In Prince2 the process proceeds through a series of approved plans. The quality theme is closely linked to making sure the approved plans are sequentially met. A plan is vital to make sure the communication and control of the project is kept in balance.
  5. Risk: Projects by their nature entail more risk than the day-to-day business of an organization. This theme addresses how to identify and manage risk.
  6. Change: This theme deals with change. Projects by their nature are susceptible to change; this theme relates to how project management can spot potential impacts on the baseline aspects of the project. Examples may be unanticipated general problems request for change or failures in quality.
  7. Progress: This theme addresses the on-going viability of the plans. It monitors the actual performance of the project and ultimately how and whether the project should proceed.

Theme

Addresses

Business case

Why?

Organization

Who?

Quality

What?

Plans

How much?

How?

When?

Risk

What if?

Change

What’s the impact?

Progress

Where are we now?

Where are we going?

Should we carry on?

 

As an SEO, the two things that stand out in the themes are the change and risk. SEO changes swiftly so it’s something as an industry we are used to, but to quantify it and expect it and PLAN for it, is a step forward in project management for SEOs. The other theme that I took to instantly was ‘Quality’. It’s a word that gets bounded around a lot within the industry, I’m constantly getting emails promising quality links and quality content. But what I took from the Prince2 methodology was the idea that you can quantify quality, you can measure it, you can identify it, meaning you can raise the quality on everything that you do and make sure that nothing leaves the organization without being checked for quality.

For example if you’re designing a new landing page for a client, what elements make up a good landing page? Title, meta, functionality, layout, call to action, internal linking, images, videos, alt tags, social signals and so on. Does your landing page include all these elements? Has the copy been written and checked for accuracy? Checked for keywords? Checked that it all works and fits within the guidelines set down by your client? As you dig you realise that each and every element can be checked and either accepted or rejected.

“Everything can be measured. Start measuring quality”

How to reduce risk

Risk is something that we deal with every day. Crossing the road, running for the bus, over taking a slower moving vehicle, drinking beer after drinking wine. What do we do every day in split seconds, we:

  • Identify
  • Assess
  • Plan
  • Implement
  • Communicate

These are the things that we do subconsciously and we can apply them to every aspect of SEO too and make better decisions while managing projects. There are many, many subsections on risk detailed in the Prince2 course and it’s important to be aware of risk and understand how it should be identified and embraced. Risk isn’t always a negative connotation, ask any gambler.

Some of the considerations when dealing with risk are:

  • Tools: Are there tools that can identify risks? As an SEO you have a plethora of tools you can use to help you identify risk: Linkdex, Search Metrics, Google Analytics, Google Webmaster tools etc.
  • Records and Reporting: Who is in charge of managing risk in your project and how do they report risk to the project management?
  • Scales: Is this high risk? Low risk? Medium risk? How do you measure risk for your particular project? Think about what happens if your keyword suddenly produces a local listing on the SERP, will this have an effect on the entire project? Will it have a low impact?
  • Proximity: If something happens before you get your website live, will it have a big impact on your project? What happens if the competition has just launched a similar product whilst you are developing yours? How close you are to big risks is an important lesson in project management.
  • Early warning indicators: Identify what can tell you if you are approaching any pre-set tolerances of the project? You can look at costs, time, traffic or conversions and monitor these to see what will warn you of impending risks.

The positive side of risk should also be identified. What happens if you suddenly found another 10,000 customers? Could you cope with fulfilling their expectations? The internet is littered with stories of simple folk who haven’t considered the flip side of trying to get more customers. My favourite is the bakery who ended up making 102,000 cupcakes at a loss and spending £12,500 on hiring extra staff to fulfil the orders after not identifying the risks in running a Groupon promotion.

Take Away

This article barely scratches the surface of Prince2 and how it can be used in an SEO agency, but hopefully it identifies two aspects that need to be addressed:

Quality and Risk

Hopefully you can see how both need to be identified and monitored throughout a project’s life cycle. Both have massive implications for projects and both are things that we are used to dealing with as digital marketers. It may just be that you can now see a logical place for how each aspect should be identified and improved upon.

 

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