The OODA Loop, SEO and Digital Marketing: Decide (Part Four)

As we work in the world of digital marketing, sometimes I think Google just likes to mess with people.

Organizations and individuals actively try to please the Googs, dedicating time and resources to SEO zookeeping. Yet Google’s ongoing updates and changes put people in the constant position of having to consider important, real-time digital marketing business decisions – often without knowing whether or not these decisions are even necessary to make.

And sure, as a digital marketing agency we love helping our clients through these decisions. But what if you don’t have that luxury?

What if you own a mid-sized online business, your budget is tight; you have a long term plan to make your site mobile friendly, and all of the sudden you hear the word “Mobilegeddon” and don’t know what to do? Google is saying your site isn’t mobile friendly, you aren’t going to show up in mobile search results, and “Make a change by this date or else.”

And trust me, when Google issues a warning, they do it up good. Have you ever tried to delete a Google+ page? You end up thinking not only are you deleting an unnecessary G+ page, you are launching a nuclear missile.

What do you do?

Enter the OODA Loop.

The OODA Loop is a process for effective decision making introduced by military strategist John Boyd. The letters are an acronym for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act, and over the past few weeks I have written about how this process can be used to achieve SEO and digital marketing success.

Whereas alert observation will help you absorb the information around you, and orientation allows you to process mental models that will shape your interaction with the information gathered, decision making is where you “move forward with your best hypothesis.”

My favorite book on decision making is “Decisive,” by Chip and Dan Heath (you should also read “Made to Stick” and “Switch”). In their book they share how to make better choices in business and life.

The following are four steps for decision making that will help improve your SEO and digital marketing efforts. The Heath brothers call this the “WRAP” process.

Widen Your Options

The first step in making a decision is to get outside of a narrow mindset, and widen your options.

For example, avoid limiting yourself to a “pros and cons” approach to decision making. Although famously introduced in a letter by Benjamin Franklin, the problem isn’t necessarily the assessment of the pluses and minuses of a given choice, but the actual narrowing of a decision to a single choice. Keep your options wide, and only then use pros and cons as a thinking model for each option.

Another example of a narrow mindset is a “whether or not” decision. As a rule, whenever you start thinking in terms of “whether or not” to do something, take this as a warning sign that you need to widen your options.

Instead, expand your options – but not just any options. Ensure the options under consideration actually exist, and are not just perceived options. The Heath brothers call these “false choice options.”

For example, when deciding whether or not to make your site responsive, a full site redesign may not actually be an option. If not, don’t let the option become mental fool’s gold – discard liberally, and hone in on options that actually exist.

You will also want to consider options in parallel. I call this “Black Sheep” decision making (“you can get with this, or you can get with that, you can get with this, or you can get with that…”). Think through many options at the same time, assessing feasibility accordingly.

Reality-Test Your Assumptions

The second step in making a decision is to reality-test your assumptions through gathering information you can trust.

The challenge here is an old nemesis – confirmation bias. Confirmation bias, according to Rolf Dobelli, is “the tendency to interpret new information so that it becomes compatible with our existing theories, beliefs, and convictions.”

Confirmation bias is an absolute landmine in decision making – especially in digital marketing. For example, keywords have a storied history in SEO. As a result, all too often there is a bias toward wanting to “show up first in Google” for a particular keyword. Business leaders have long held existing theories about how search engines work, and they often look to confirm this bias toward keyword ranking when making new decisions. The reality is that “gaming the system” to help keywords rank high in search results is – hear this clear – an archaic practice (new thinking: personalized results! localization!). Don’t let confirmation bias lead you astray.

One way the Heath brothers suggest avoiding this landmine is through conducting small experiments to validate predictions. For example, use split testing (A/B testing) to validate social media posts and ads. Take the time to ensure status updates are optimized and people are engaging with them, and to ensure which ads are converting.

As the Heath brothers say, “Why predict what you can know?”

Attain Distance Before Deciding

The third step in making a decision is to find ways to attain distance before deciding.

As much as our emotions are valuable in decision making, they can also be disruptive. Short-term emotions tempt us to make decisions that are bad in the long term. For example, observing that your competitor is using Snapchat might make you feel strongly you should be using the social channel as well, but that doesn’t mean you actually should be using the channel.

The antidote is shifting your perspective and leaning into your core priorities.

The Heath brothers suggest asking, “What would my best friend do?” or “What would my successor do?” These questions allow you to step away from your frame of reference, and consider how another perspective might lead to a wiser decision.

Furthermore, your core priorities should drive your decision making. Consider the following verse from Robert Frost:

“…So when at times the mob is swayed

To carry praise or blame too far,

We may choose something like a star

To stay our minds on and be staid”

Leaning into your priorities is your opportunity to “choose something like a star.” They are your guideposts.

A franchise client recently prioritized its focus points for franchise development. As a result, our team has shifted focus in how we strategize for digital marketing, to fully align with this priority. This is leading to greater project alignment and targeted decision making.

Prepare To Be Wrong

The fourth step in making a decision is preparing to be wrong.

Yep – you will be wrong. It is an act of hubris to think your decisions will unfold perfectly. Instead you must take the time to plan for both good and bad outcomes.

An effective way to do this, recommended by the Heath brothers, is to set tripwires that will snap you to attention at the right moments. These are trigger points that will show you things are not going well.

For example, properly using Google Analytics will help you see how your website is performing, and will provide you with the information needed for assessment and refinement. Make sure Google Analytics code is on your site, and take time to work through the Google’s Analytics Academy videos for a basic introduction (we have a lot to say about Google as well).

At the end of the day, Google will be Google, and digital marketing is an industry that is highly volatile, filled with doomsday prophets and wild declarations.

But don’t respond to crisis with crisis (my golden rule of crisis management).

Instead, follow the steps above – and the OODA Loop process as a whole– to find a successful model and tool for SEO and digital marketing.

Next we’ll move onto the “A” in the OODA Loop: Act. It’s time to get things done!

Previous Posts:

The OODA Loop, SEO and Digital Marketing: Introduction and Pitfalls (Part One)

The OODA Loop, SEO and Digital Marketing: Observation (Part Two)

The OODA Loop, SEO and Digital Marketing: Orientation (Part Three)

The OODA Loop, SEO and Digital Marketing: Act (Part Five)