Introducing Six Sigma Methodology for SEO

Six Sigma is a principle of quality improvement, business management strategy, originally developed by Motorola, Inc. and popularly implemented by the manufacturing industry (e.g. in the electronics and automobile sectors). It provides a standard method of defining/analyzing a problem and then coming up with improvement plans, all the way down to monitoring and assessing the results. As you’ll soon see, it can also be applied to SEO.

It is called Six Sigma because it is closely associated with the goal of minimizing and “zeroing” defects or non-conformance in a manufacturing or a business processes.

In the above screenshot, the process is operating in “Six Sigma” because the chances of encountering any defects are extremely rare (standard definition: ~3 defect parts out of a million products produced) and the specification limits of the process are on the six sigma limits (x-axis).

However, the above curve is not feasible for online business and SEO. This is because specifications are not well defined, as they are in the electronics industry (for example, a resistor’s specifications should be 10±0.5 ohms, where 10.3 ohms is said to be conforming while 10.8 ohms is a defect).

Over the course of time, due to its popularity in the electronics/manufacturing sectors, the meaning of Six Sigma has been simplified and is mostly associated with a “near perfect process that is continually striving to improve.”

In this three-article series, you will learn how to adopt and integrate “Six Sigma” methodology as part of an existing search engine optimization strategy, which is the main element of success in the online business sector. The objective is to let you adopt a standard method of solving problems and coming up with solutions to improve the quality of your website, service and other measurable elements such as conversion rate, traffic, etc.

By improving your business processes, you reduce cost and increase profits. In fact according to Wikipedia, as of 2006; Motorola has saved over US$17 billion by implementing Six Sigma projects.

Currently, no standard set of methods is popularly known to SEO to define the problem, measure it, analyze and finally improve a situation by implementing corrective actions that can increase customer satisfaction, sales and website traffic.

This first article deals with the core principles of six sigma quality improvement. The second article will illustrate the tools/requisites needed for implementation, and finally the third article gives a real life example/implementation of Six Sigma principles.

In “Six Sigma,” continuous improvement and innovations are the driving element. This is why in the manufacturing sectors, things improve on a daily, monthly and yearly basis. Engineers set and formulate an “improvement plan” on a yearly basis, which is primarily a “Six Sigma” team-based project. The main objective of these continuous improvement projects is reducing cost and increasing profits/sales.

The same principle should be applied to online business, ideally to be integrated with a search engine optimization strategy. One of the major mistakes made by many online business owners is the failure to accept SEO as a “continuous improvement process.” They hire an SEO to increase the rankings and after the SEO work has been done, they are unwilling to improve further (by continually adding useful content or other means). And months later, they realize that their ranking went down and they’ve lost traffic. It simply means their competitors’ websites are continually improving, while their own websites are not. Even Google’s algorithm seems to award more to websites that strive hard to improve.

If the website is improved or reviewed on a periodic basis, then it will most likely increase its life and operating profits. The “Six Sigma” principle will teach you how to do this methodically and systematically.

Another important governing principle in Six Sigma methodology is “dealing with facts by speaking as objectively in as quantified a manner as possible.” It is a widely accepted principle in Six Sigma that “you cannot improve what you cannot measure.” This is easy in SEO. In dealing with online business-related problems, it is very easy to gather numerical data with some degree of accuracy, such as website traffic, conversion rate, bounce rate, etc.

Stating and formulating a "factual" statement is extremely important as compared to making “inferences” when you are going to use Six Sigma methodologies. Instead of saying “Our website has a poor conversion rate. we did not have many sales in the last three months,” if you are a Six Sigma practitioner, you should say: "Our website averaged a 0.1% conversion rate in the last three months and our average profit per month is only $50. With a monthly operating cost of around $100, it just means we are losing fast.”

Speak with numbers, gather data and quantify them as much as possible, and you can easily deal with and improve them.

This cycle was initiated by William Edwards Deming, one of the world’s most renowned applied statisticians. He helped Japan’s manufacturing sector to grow from dust to giants starting in the mid 50s (this is when Japan started to get a big share of the manufacturing sectors, from automobile/Toyota to electronics/Sony).

The PDCA cycle is the foundation of Six Sigma methods. PDCA stands for Plan -> Do -> Check -> Act — and once you’ve completed that cycle, you go back again to the planning phase. 

See the screenshot below:

One of the most popular Six Sigma methods that was inspired by the PDCA cycle is the DMAIC method. Its search engine optimization and online business improvement applications it is illustrated as follows:

Definition phase: The first step of any improvement process is to clearly define the problem. In this step, it is extremely important to be objective and quantify the problem (refer to the previous example in the earlier section). The definition phase is similar to the planning phase of the PDCA cycle. Here is an example of a problem statement in the definition phase:

  • Google AdSense revenue averages $0.8 dollars per day at an average traffic rate of 1200 visitors per month. This example implies that the website’s problem is revenue related to ads. There is some traffic; however the revenue is low, and below client expectations.
  • The average website sales per month is $60, however the average running cost to run the website per month is $55. The net profit is $5. The ROI is poor.
  • The total number of downloads per month averages around 7. Competitor websites selling similar products average around 20.

Measurement phase: After the problem has been clearly defined objectively and quantitatively, the measurement phase deals exclusively with “data gathering.” One of the objectives in this phase is to find “tools” as “accurate as possible” that will be used to gather data.

Bear in mind that the conclusions and recommendations only depend on your data and analysis. Misleading or wrongly gathered data can lead to wrong conclusions and recommendations. Thus an ineffective improvement plan will not solve the problem and does not provide results.

Analysis phase: After the data has been gathered, you can proceed to the analysis phase. This is the most important phase of the six sigma project. Several analysis tools will be employed. These include tools that handle the analysis of variance, regression analysis, correlation, etc.

Improvement phase: The result of the analysis will indicate what actions must be taken to solve the problem. In this phase, corrective actions will be implemented.

For example, say that the analysis reveals that 50% of the website’s pages are not indexed by Google due to poor internal linking, and that this is one of the reasons the whole website is not getting long tail traffic from Google. Then one of the corrective actions will be to improve the internal link structure by providing consistent HTML-based navigation.

Control phase: To ensure correct implementations of the corrective actions is the main objective of the control phase. In this phase, data are continually monitored to reflect the improvement and are compared with the numbers for the same areas before the improvement has was implemented.

Statistical process control is helpful also. For example, after improvement, say average unique daily visitors are around 200±30. A chart can be made to monitor the traffic fluctuations as well as to detect special problems. A good tool to use is Google Analytics.

Any data gathered will be used in the next periodic review of the Six Sigma project, which then constitutes the “definition phase” (repeating the continuous improvement cycle based on the PDCA).

In part two of this tutorial, you will start to learn the various tools, as well as examine a sample Six Sigma-based SEO project.

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