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

The buildings were larger than life, the humidity was oppressive, and I was lost.

It was late August 1995, and I had just taken the first big step of my life. After growing up in rural northern Michigan, I decided to attend college in downtown Chicago. Now I found myself lost among skyscrapers, trying to get back to campus for dinner.

What did I need focus on first, to find my way back? Orientation.

O is for Orientation

This is the third part of a blog series titled, “The OODA Loop, SEO & Digital Marketing.” The goal of this series is to provide a tool that accommodates flexible thinking, and provides a model for SEO and digital marketing success.

The tool is called the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act), and is a model presented by military strategist John Boyd as a way to think about change.

Put simply, whereas observation is a campus visit; orientation is deciding to enroll and move in.

And according to John Boyd, orientation is the focal point of the OODA Loop. Orientation “shapes the way we interact with the environment…it shapes the way we observe, the way we decide, the way we act.

But how do you orient yourself within changing environments and the worlds of SEO and digital marketing? By addressing the paradigms and structures you already use for decision making, and being willing to blow them up in order to gain a new perspective matching your current reality. Boyd called this “destructive deduction.”

To illustrate, let me speak for a minute about keyword reporting.

The old paradigm focused on identifying a group of keywords, and then doctoring content to hit the perfect keyword mix ensuring your website will show up high in search results. You would then measure where you were ranking for each keyword, and then put on the surgical mask for more doctoring until you got what you were looking for.

Orient yourself in the current SEO world and you will soon discover that no one is wearing surgical masks. As Freddy illustrates well, the old paradigm is blown up.

Like a “new” take on Pauline theology, the new perspective and paradigm addresses the current reality – the almighty Google wants your site to contain relevant, meaningful content, so that when a user looks for the content you provide, they will find something useful. Oh yeah, the Googs also wants to take into consideration where each person is searching from, and provide relevant content with geographic seasonings.

So how do we get better at this for SEO and digital marketing? Here are some Boydian thoughts, again influenced by a great Art of Manliness post from Brett and Kate McKay.

Collect Mental Models

As you continue learning, the more mental models you will collect, and the more you will have to work with when creating new ones.

No matter what you hear to the contrary, there is never one way of looking at things, and your thinking needs to be flexible enough to constantly accumulate processes for consideration, reevaluate the ones you are using, and have a willingness to blow them all up in order to get a better result.

Recently our team participated in a leadership workshop, led by Angie Morgan of Lead Star (one of our great clients).

One of the most compelling sections of the workshop was a discussion about what it means to cultivate a leader’s mindset. Angie shared that a mindset is the belief that we hold about ourselves and our capabilities.

We can have a fixed mindset, believing that our qualities, abilities, intelligence, personality, and potential are determined at birth. Or we can have a growth mindset, believing that the qualities we possess can evolve. We can improve, grow, and develop our talents and capabilities.

A fixed mindset limits our ability to respond to change. A growth mindset gives us the flexibility and and capacity to address change. At the end of the day – your mindset is your choice.

Using the OODA Loop, and specifically orientation, involves choosing a growth mindset.

Collect mental models, challenge them, refine them, and move forward with what works.

Keep Going

Orientation isn’t just a state you’re in; it’s a process. You’re always orienting.” –John Boyd

The world around you is constantly changing, and the work of orienting yourself to the changing world around you is a constant process.

In SEO and digital marketing, there is rarely a day when the big news isn’t about some new service being offered, a tweak in Google’s algorithm, some change in the AdWords interface, the death of something, or the most recent Matt Cutts sighting.

This requires a need to orient daily – to keep going with the process of assessing the realities around you.

Validate, Then Implement

Will your model work? It might not.

There is a need to study the effectiveness of the processes you use, validating them for effectiveness and implementation.

As an agency, Oneupweb has a history of success in SEO and digital marketing. Yet this success has included validating the processes we use, and making decisions around whether or not we should continue with them.

Put simply, it is a success that includes making changes.

For example, when I started as an Account Manager at Oneupweb, we had very clear SEO projects with clients. The deliverables were specific, and monthly review calls were scripted and data driven.

During one of the first monthly review calls I had with a client, the client contact asked me, “Should we have a Google+ page?

Frankly, I wasn’t sure how to answer her. Not that I didn’t have a thought or recommendation (The answer was, “Yes“), but at that time our contracts weren’t flexible enough for me to accommodate the question.

We needed to destroy our models.

It was shortly thereafter we transitioned our monthly retainers from specific SEO activities, to open content marketing retainers affording the flexibility to meet the diverse needs of the clients.

As a second example, remember the keyword ranking discussion from above?

Did you know that in Oneupweb’s history we had created an effective proprietary program that measured keywords and rankings? It was touted for its effectiveness.

Yet based upon changes in the industry and our willingness to think with a flexible mindset in order to meet the needs of our clients, we blew it up to roll up our sleeves and manage projects in Google Analytics.

We’ve blown up using paid media services that provide bloated reporting metrics.

We’re not hesitant to press the red button if it means we can make things better for our clients.

Lost In Chicago

So let’s go back to that hot summer day in Chicago. I am lost downtown, and trying to get back to campus for dinner. My mental models were constructed from my experience living in a small town. They wouldn’t work here. So what did I do?

I took a deep breath, and decided I had to look beyond all of the noise of the city. I had to set aside the height of the buildings, the pace of the people walking around me, and the fear that was starting to set in.

I had to remember something simpler. And it started with a simple question of orientation – “Which way is north?”

Next week we’ll move on to the “D” in the OODA Loop: Decide. You can observe and orient all you want, but at some point a decision must be made.

Previous Posts:

  1. The OODA Loop, SEO and Digital Marketing: Introduction and Pitfalls (Part One)
  2. The OODA Loop, SEO and Digital Marketing: Observation (Part Two)
  3. The OODA Loop, SEO and Digital Marketing: Decide (Part Four)
  4. The OODA Loop, SEO and Digital Marketing: Act (Part Five)