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How to prioritize SEO using the RICE framework
If you have read my book (and you should), you will know that I am a tremendous advocate for thinking of SEO as a product effort. In my opinion, it makes it far easier to collaborate cross-functionally with engineering, marketing, other product teams, and even finance while implementing SEO with a product mindset: research, plan, build, launch, and optimize.
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As a product effort, SEO has the space to allow for an initiative to take many months or even multiple quarters to show results, and ideally, it does not have to defend the budget too frequently. (Imagine the average new product needing to go through a budget review every quarter!)
When SEO is considered to be a part of marketing, SEO becomes a series of tasks rather than an overarching big project that lasts many quarters. When these tasks are lumped together, they become campaigns, which inherently means they need to show results on a much faster timeline. Marketing campaigns usually have a very short lifespan, which is appropriate when planning a new series of ads or a TV launch but not a great fit when creating a web experience still on the drawing board.
Making SEO a product
The reality is that most SEO teams and goals sit in marketing, and there is likely not much you can do about it from an organizational standpoint unless you are the CEO. However, you can act like it is a product and use product planning frameworks. Clearly outlined goals and processes will make unlocking budgets and bringing other people along with your goals significantly easier.
One of my favorite product planning frameworks is the RICE methodology.
Rice stands for Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort. (I used to use ICE before discovering the extension of “reach” pioneered by Intercom. The ICE method is in my book, but you will see why I prefer to add reach to this model for SEO).
RICE allows you to score and prioritize any initiative openly and standardized. When you do this transparently, you can “show your work” of why something matters in the big picture and then even score diplomacy points by letting go of things that don’t score high enough.
When you walk into a meeting and say, “I would really like to do this particular project, but it didn’t score as well as YOUR project in our RICE framework," you are banking political capital and NOT telling that you are a team player.
Here’s a screengrab of how this looks and a link to the template in Google Sheets.
I score each metric in this model on a 1-10 scale, but you can use 1-100, 1 to a million, low, medium, high, or whatever works for you. (Note: If you choose to use a textual ranking system, make sure it is linked to a quantitative parallel so you can score automatically.)
Here are the definitions from an SEO lens of each aspect of RICE and how to utilize this framework.
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Regarding SEO forecasting and quantifying opportunities, I have never been a fan of keyword research. Keyword research is notoriously inaccurate for various reasons, and I hardly see the point of building an entire forecast from a wrong genesis. Instead, I like to use the total addressable market (TAM) for SEO forecasting and forecast an expected reach rate.
While keyword research might tell me the predicted monthly searches of just one keyword (and its close variants), TAM will tell me how many people would search for that one solution (this deserves an entire newsletter on its own, and I will do so soon).
For Reach in the RICE model, I use a variation of TAM but narrowed down to the people that will be impacted. If I am adjusting a homepage, I start at how many potential customers there are for the product and then narrow that down to how many people might interact with the changed homepage.
If I launch a new product or page for SEO, I start with TAM and then narrow that down to predicting how many people it might attract. Remember, these are not precise predictions; this is just a numerical score. If it’s the whole world, it might be a 10/10, whereas if it's just a handful of people, I would score it as a 1/10.
This is where you will score how much the change you are making will affect the total outcomes of what you are doing.
For example, if I were to create a new subdirectory for a new language on the site, I would estimate how much of an impact it would have on revenue. I would imagine quite a bit, so that would be a 10/10. Alternatively, if I add alt image text to every image on the site, it may not have any revenue impact, so that would be a 1/10 as a score.
While many marketers like to put a strong sales effort behind getting buy-in for a new initiative, this is where you will be brutally honest about the likelihood of the impact happening.
Interestingly enough, this is where scores would flip on the big initiatives. I would have absolute confidence that adding image alt text will have a low impact, so this would be a 10/10, but I am only mildly confident that translating a site into a new language would have a major impact, so that would be a 5/10.
The last metric in this model is how much work something might take, and this is where you win all the diplomacy points. To make the model work, you score things that take a tremendous amount of effort lower, and easy tasks will score higher. This will mean that low-impact but easy work will be approved, but messy, complicated, high-return projects will not.
Returning to my earlier examples, it might be almost no effort to create a new page, so that would be a 10/10. Translating the entire site in a new language might be 1/10, and adding text to every image might be 5/10.
There is no perfect way to score things, so I try to be honest about how much work it might take relative to other things.
Once I score all initiatives, I add the scores in each column. The items that score the highest will be normalized between Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort.
RICE benefits in action
When you present and share your methodology, you can show how you considered and discarded each option and why you chose the plan you did.
The RICE method works even better when you have a defined strategy (see last week’s post), and then you can score each column on how it will help you achieve that strategy.
I find that the best practice for using this framework is to score the rows in partnership with the teams that will be working on them. This allows them to get buy-in on the planning process very early and increases the likelihood that they will ship the things they need for you.
This methodology can be extended to SEO tests, acquisition ideas, and decisions about the agency to hire for a specific initiative. Using this, any other model standardized the specific metrics you will need and hopefully make the best prioritization decisions.
Let me know if I can answer any questions or provide more specific guidance on prioritization with RICE! As always, thank you for reading.
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