The 20 Percent Edition Nr. 19: The OODA Loop in Website Marketing

Hello friends, and welcome to this edition of The 20 Percent.

When you are working on an internet business, you are in a race against your competition. Your Google rankings, website conversions, and online visibility are essential.

To give yourself the best chance of winning, you must make quick decisions across different areas, some of which may not be your strong cards. In such situations, this model from the military can help: the OODA loop, which is a decision loop of four steps—observe, orient, decide, act (OODA). It was originally developed by U.S.A.F Colonel John Boyd to assist fighter pilots in dogfights but has since been applied more broadly to business and individuals.

The OODA Loop in Website Marketing

Similarly to combat situations, the website business is a constantly changing environment. You can think of daily Google ranking fluctuations as a weather system. Moreover, it’s typical to observe changes depending on the day of the week (see image below), seasonality, and broader market trends.

On one of my websites (above ☝️), traffic peaks every Wednesday and hits rock bottom on Sundays consistently for two years. In other situations, demand is suddenly exploding, and companies have to move fast:

Image source:

Whenever I encounter a rapidly developing situation, the OODA loop is the first process I think about. Those who can adjust more quickly to what’s happening and move faster through the OODA loop will usually win.

Step 1: Observe

For our application in Website Marketing, Observation is the first attempt to quantify what’s changed. Was there a change in the way your visitors interact with the website? Or perhaps the amount of traffic from Google? The average rankings?

My favorite tools for this step are Google Analytics Behavior Flow Report and Google Search Console. The former can provide insights on which pages a visitor goes to before leaving the site, and the latter offers a trove of data for understanding rankings, search terms, etc.

Step 2: Orient

This is perhaps the most important step because it determines how we position ourselves to take advantage of our observations. It’s also the step most vulnerable to bias. During the orientation, we “filter” our observations through our existing knowledge and previous experiences and make up our minds about what problem we are dealing with.

A quick note about bias: I’ve noticed that it’s easy for reality distortion to creep in when you’re under pressure. Our minds are keen to find solutions as a coping mechanism, even when the facts don’t add up.

Questions to ask: Have I experienced something similar before? What was the cause then? How possible is it that it’s the same thing now – are there any other indicators? What does my gut feeling tell about the situation? What’s the simplest explanation?

Step 3: Decide

Deciding is about determining the most appropriate course of action. Since the OODA loop advocates quick decision-making in fluid environments, this step is about making the best decision possible with what information we have available at the moment. Because speed is crucial, I recommend deciding on a course of action using existing frameworks.

Step 4: Act

Once a decision is made, it is essential to act quickly and implement it. Every action should be finite – the goal is to produce enough output to feed back into the observation stage and re-assess the impact of your decision. For this reason, when I apply this framework, I prefer to implement it with people I’ve worked with, using tools I’m very familiar with.

Final Thoughts

If you find yourself in a fluid environment that requires quick decision-making, the OODA Loop is an unparalleled mental framework. It’s data-driven (Observe), impartial (Orient), and fast (Decide & Implement). Moreover, it’s perfect for the fast-paced world of SEO & website marketing, with one caveat: It’s not easy to keep bias at bay when you’re judging a situation under pressure. For that, there’s a Navy Seal quote:

Under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training.

Stay inspired,