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Are you wondering why you need an SEO strategy? Or are you confused about what an SEO strategy is and how to put one together for your business? SEO isn’t just a matter of putting some content together on a WordPress site and get a bunch of links, or social votes. It is more complicated than that, especially if you want to do it in a strategic way.
It’s Not SEO 1.0 Anymore
Just like the internet, SEO has become much more complex over the years. Search engine algorithms are constantly changing. If you don’t keep up with them, innovate and execute consistently, your website will start dropping in the search engine ranks.
Over a decade ago, knowing SEO meant selecting a few keywords on a per page basis, throwing them onto your content and then get some articles or Web 2.0 links. But a strategy like that today will only make Google bypass your website.
Today you get ranked on many different key factors to do with the site’s ability to deliver an amazing experience for the user, how usable your website is, how well you incorporate graphics and video, your ability to deliver a great mobile experience, topical authority, and overall how trusted your website is in your niche market, and a host of other factors. Are you set up for that?
The Advantages of an SEO Strategy
When you have your SEO ducks in a row, the effects can be remarkable. Your ranks start moving up on the search results pages (SERPs), organic traffic begins growing, SEO conversions start growing too and then you know you are starting to pull the right strings.
At that stage, you begin seeing correlations between actions taken and results. What is more important: if the strategy is being properly executed, you are able to start making projections in terms of growth and conversions. Because you measure more religiously, it becomes easier to make estimates in terms of investment, effort, and results.
That’s one of the advantages of having an SEO strategy: you can measure, evaluate, execute, learn and repeat. You have more control and vision than if you are just executing tactical moves without planning.
What You Need Today
In the current SEO environment, you need a multi-faceted approach to your website and your content. You need to stay on top of the tech-heavy expectations of the search engines. You can’t just publish an article or two on your business blog from time to time. You need an optimal combination of frequency and content marketing best practices.
An effective SEO strategy means pinpointing your goals, identifying your audience, finding out what your competition is doing, then coming up with a plan of attack, to emulate their best moves and to even come up with better outputs.
So let’s summarize it. The key fundamentals of an effective SEO strategy are:
- Defining business goals and target audience
- Researching as much as you can afford
- Auditing your digital assets comprehensively
- Setting up a plan to measure
- Improve your site’s usability
- Content development
- Onsite optimization
- Offsite Optimization
- Analyze, re-plan and repeat the process
Here is a closer look at how to use each of the key fundamentals to construct a successful SEO strategy.
1. Define your Business Goals and Target Audience
Every business goal needs research, identifying the right SEO steps and above all, execution and consistency.
Where do you want to be in six months, a year, two years and further down the line? With smart goals and benchmarking, you can track how well the SEO strategy is working throughout the plan::
So you have to clearly define your:
- Business objectives
- Your target audiences
- Expected annual business growth (via KPIs)
Each of the business goals should be turned into objectives for the SEO: monthly expected traffic growth by device, location and audience type. Conversions delivered by SEO and how SEO can support the annual business growth according to the set budget and resources.
SEO is traditionally about growing relevant traffic. In order to determining relevancy you need to track how much of that organic traffic is turning visitors into buyers, leads or whatever you define as conversion in your success metrics. Your investment into SEO has to be geared towards increasing business outputs. That’s why it is necessary to invest enough time and energy into the initial stages of a strategy: to ensure you attract not just traffic but traffic that converts.
Once we know where you want to go, we use the processes, tools, strategies and best practices outlined in steps 2 to 9 to make them happen. We should measure every effort. Measuring is what tells you if the plan is working.
2. Do as Much Research as You Can Afford
You need to know what is currently happening with your website and marketing efforts before you can tailor an effective SEO strategy. That’s why successful businesses invest in research.
Typically your SEO strategy should include researching at the least the following:
- keyword research
- market research in the target sector/niche
- competitor analysis
- industry content that attracts the most links
Keyword research has evolved substantially to the point that you don’t just research, select and target individual keywords. To succeed you need to focus on topic research, slection and targetting. It is about understanding user intent, focus on answering audience questions and finding semantic opportunities in your vertical
Who your audience is, where they gather, what platforms they use for their social networking, which communities they join?
Who are your competitors and what specific strategies are they using? and again, what opportunities can your leverage in your specific target vertical that your competitors may not be aware of?
Is there any specific type of content that may be driving in the majority of following and sharing in social media, as well as links?
You need to research all the above and take it into account through the writing of your strategy plan. Remember that this is just a blueprint. The real strategy plan needs to be written based on the specifics of the business model, external and internal environment, budget limits and clearly defined resources.
3. Audit Your Digital Assets
Involving a wide range of digital assets, you need to figure out what you already have and what you need, then track the metrics to see how effective your efforts are.
Auditing is what gives you the data you need to develop and refine a successful content strategy.
This is the stage where information architecture analysis takes place. It is very easy to neglect this stage and quite typically can be a significant piece of the puzzle to get the strategy right. Audit the site’s information architecture against the business goals and the keyword research results and decide whether a review is needed. You will need to throw UX skill and experience into this process.
An audit your website should include :
- Site navigation
- Site Structure
- Website customer journey bottlenecks
- Content Inventory
- Depth of content
- Crawlability and indexation
- Content rightness and appropriateness
- Engaging copy (performing vs poor copy)
- Onpage optimisation
- Correct use of mark-up (eg: schema)
- Previous campaign work and results
- Backlinks portfolio
- Previous possible penalty or issues
A fully comprehensive audit of all digital assets could take a longer and be more costly, but he will enable you or your agency to come up with more suitable and cost-effective recommendations.
A critical part of the audit consists in comparing your own backlink portfolio against that of your competitors, draw conclusions and come up with a plan as to the types of links you need to overtake the competition in the SERPs (search engine results pages).
4. Set Up a Measurable SEO Plan
The actual SEO strategy you devise uses a range of metrics and incorporates it with your business goals. You will likely need a combination of at least four of the following five different types of data:
Search engine ranking data: this will help you track the position of your target keyword on your local search engines. You need SERP rank checkers
Organic traffic levels vs other channels such as paid advertising, social media, etc.. you need google analytics or a similar analytics tool
Technical SEO reports: whether it is to monitor the effectiveness of technical upgrades or improvements on your website or simply for disaster prevention purposes, it is important that you regularly monitor the integrity of your technical platform: from crawling errors to server stability, speed or URL structures.
Market intelligence: how your site compares with other similar sites (competitors) in your industry: visibility levels, share of voice, overall rankings distribution. ‘Similarweb’, Spyfu, SEMrush are all good tools to have
Conversion-driven data: per channel + conversion rate: your business may be fine with just Google Analytics, or perhaps you need more sophisticated conversion-driven or lead-generation data.
Link analysis: track your link building early and watch for things lost and new links, quality of links, link velocity. Consider SEMrush or Ahrefs for this or if you can afford it, the two of them. When your link portfolio starts growing big you will need more sophisticated link analysis tools like LRT to ensure you can act quickly if you fall victim of NegativeSEO attacks.
To make effective decisions from these three data sources, you need to split up your content into different sets and establish the tracking and monitoring in a granular manner. For example, for a typical E-commerce site you could isolate and track separately each of these content types:
- detail pages.
If your company has clearly defined internal labeling for some of the most common content types, then go with those as it will then later become easier for your colleagues or clients to understand the reports.
The number and types of sets differ according to your business. It’s a lot of work but it can give you amazing clarity about how and why your website is performing the way it is. The granular visibility this gives you is the basis of successful SEO work.
It is also important to split your organic traffic into branded and non-branded. This is almost impossible to get these days with tools like Google Analytics because of the ‘Not provided’ limitation, but you can still this kind of information with tools like SEMrush, or other commercial alternatives.
It is also a good idea to work out what keywords are bringing you the best or more frequent conversions. For this, again you have two options: either you use an SEO suite package or a keyword ranking tool that packs in some form of keyword-driven conversion functionality, or you can track conversions by landing page which is possible to do on GA. The latter is often more sensible than obsessing with single keywords. This reflects a shift in SEO circles these days, away from keyword optimization to topical optimization. A skilled professional can help you choose the best approach or both if she uses the right set of tools.
Once this much is in place, which gives you a complete KPI dashboard, and after establishing your analytics benchmark plan, you can move on to the all-important content.
5. Improve your site’s usability
A successful SEO strategy plan would not be as efficient these days without a UX element. How much work you need to do for this step varies considerably. It depends on whether you are setting up a website from scratch or working with on that is up and running. It’s essential to spend time assessing whether the site in question delivers a good experience for your users. If it doesn’t, it could substantially impact your SEO efforts.
The benefits of considering UX as part of your strategic SEO plan can be huge and quantifiable. But where to look at to improve your site’s usability? This step can be a huge unique project in its own right, and you may not have the resource for a full blown UX exercise and overhaul your online presence. So you will need to make certain decisions. For example, focusing on the conversion funnel and improving it by enforcing a more user-centric approach could help you greatly improve or double your sales/leads.
Deciding where to focus doesn’t stop there. To get the most out of your efforts, you want to find the right balance of best practice methodologies. It takes experience and training to decide where to place your attention and efforts.
For example, will your business benefit from a full UX exercise before you invest more time and effort in traffic acquisition and content development? Or does it make better sense to focus on growth and leave UX improvements and CRO for later in the process?
Whatever the decision your make, finding the right balance between SEO and UX is often the way to go.
6. Content Development
Let me start this section with the usual “Content is king” thing. It is cliché and I’m sick of listening to it but it is very true. Keywords and conversions alone will not deliver a solution for you. When visitors like and engage with your content they stay on your page longer and over time the time on site counts for SEO. Google rewards websites that are delivering great user experience.
So part of the content agenda should be how to develop engaging content that keeps visitors throughout the marketing funnel to eventually become buyers. The right content also gets more buzz on social platforms, which, in turn, contributes to helping you amplify your brand, increase popularity and get more links.
All of this is what drives brand recognition. We can help you keep your brand voice consistent over all the channels, throughout your marketing funnel. That way, you don’t confuse your visitors. They recognize you and your content, wherever it appears.
Too many businesses don’t take advantage of the many channels available. And their brand isn’t uniform throughout all of the content, which frustrates efforts for greater brand recognition.
There are, at the least, three types of content to take into account:
- Structured Website content: copy, video material, graphics, imagery
- Dynamic content or news, eg: blog content or authority articles
- Content produced mainly for campaign work usually for external distribution outside the realms of your main website, eg: webinar material, podcasts
In order to succeed with your content strategy, you need to decide what type of content may impact or resonate more with your audiences. At least the vast majority of business usually benefit from blogging for business.
There are however many different ways to connect with target audiences as part of a Content Strategy. These can range vastly from traditional press releases to authority step-by-step guides, whitepapers or e-books for lead generation to more audiovisual types like infographics, video content, podcasts, webinars.
The majority of the content material can be repurposed in many ways or complement each other and be distributed across different channels with an extra bit of effort. Whatever you decide to do it all requires planning, coordination, and cohesion to avoid being utterly repetitive.
Any educational resource that may help your ideal customer accomplish something, add value or be interesting can be used as part of a content marketing strategy.
It is very important to think very carefully of where in the site architecture you fit in your content. It pays to plan and produce ‘linkbait’-style structural content that you can place high up in the site architecture.
7. Onsite Optimisation
Optimization of your website makes it easy for the search engines to work with you.
Information Architecture, accessibility, and crawl budget
It is often a good idea to start the SEO audit process by assessing the suitability of the information architecture to the set goals of the project. If you have a logical content structure, well-labeled sections and in general and information architecture easy to understand, the search engines will have an easier job at categorizing your site and rank it. This can often be a large and key are that gets neglected or patched up.
This type of optimisation work should be carried out holistically taking a very user-centric and data-driven approach where also market research and keyword research should inform the process.
The ideal and key component should be user testing and design iteration stages that shed feedback from real users to help model the data and information architecture. Like many other processes, this could go from highly UX-focused to moderate UX-driven depending on the project ambition.
The result of this process, if both SEO and UX find a healthy balance making architectural decisions, is a site easy to navigate that pleases and engages users on the site. This indirectly improves search engine visibility as SERP bounce rate decreases.
There are times when you may have to make drastic IA decisions in order to improve crawlability and improve indexation levels, particularly if you are faced with a large site with little or low authority. The art of IA for SEO can be largely affected by the need to improve accessibility and PageRank distribution. Priority sections of your website can be exposed higher for more frequent an intense crawling, and non-business critical site sections can be blocked to search engine bots in order to maximize crawl budget.
An SEO Strategy plan wouldn’t be valid these days without a section to review the site speed. There is always scope in the majority of the case to make improvements to the site caching, headers configuration or CDN set up. Whether it is on the server or client side, every minimal improvement that may get the user closer to experience fast navigation and overall browsing will increase engagement and conversions.
One other common reasons for site slowness is heavy or badly downsampled images,sloppy use of image dimensions on the page or multimedia files uploaded in large format.
It is therefore recommended to audit the overall site’s ability to perform well starting with tools such as Dareboost , GTMetrix or WebpageTest….. which combines the above two tools to give you tremendous insights. Needless to mention the vast array of different plugins to your disposal to improve site speed whether it being on optimizing images, caching or browser rendering of resources.
Digital Asset Optimization
Let’s start with copy: most marketers do not obsess much these days with specifically optimizing copy for website use. So long as the main target keywords and synonyms are found in the text, the copy is of high quality, coherent and written naturally, you shouldn’t have to worry much about it.
Having said that, good copy needs to have specific goals in mind as to what we want users to accomplish on each page. It may need to be persuasive and entice the visitors to take certain actions, leading to better conversion rates, or it may simply adopt a neutral tone and be informative and concise.
Let’s move on :
Meta-tags Optimization: the main tag to pay attention to is still the title tag as it is one of the main Onpage ranking factors. We should also carefully craft our meta description tags,
Structured Data Markup: there many be opportunities to improve your Onpage SEO by incorporating strong markup. The most obvious tags to pay attention to are H tags (H1, H2, H3…), but the introduction of ‘schema’ (via JSON-LD, rich data or RDFa) or any other markup methods.
Images: Image SEO is still very important and something that can deliver very good results if you have the time to do it right. Tags like ALT tag, caption and image urls are still key clues search engine look out for to understand the page context and meaning. Read more about Image SEO
Multimedia optimization: This goes beyond images and focuses on optimizing multimedia website elements such as video, slide-deck embeds, podcasts, e-books, etc. This section should include multimedia optimization: images, videos, and podcasts. There are specific opportunities to optimize each of those multimedia elements.
Mobile optimization: mobile deserves special attention because of the huge growth in usage experienced in the last five years. If your website is now responsive, that’s a good start, however, much testing is required to truly determine whether the user experience is adequate. With the arrival of AMP, there is now a great alternative to improve user experience with five times the standard speed levels on mobile.
Internal linking: I consider internal link building and the good practice around reviewing it and crafting it part of the overall onsite optimization work. With special emphasis on large sites this is often an area largely neglected. Internal linking can be a very powerful tool to help with both UX and technical SEO aspects of site maintenance.
Optimization work involves testing, fine-tuning and refining. It is paramount to allow scope for adhoc implementation of new tactical moves and tests throughout the campaign implementation process. SEO doesn’t just pursue generating any kind of traffic, but highly targeted traffic that delivers your business objectives, so there is a need to be flexible and embed change and innovate as the campaign progresses. This is often achieved by means of allowing time to test copy, new messaging, building new content types or re-optimising digital assets.
8. Offsite optimization (aka Link Building)
This section speaks for itself: optimizing your SEO efforts in the external environment where your site operate. Whether it is via traditional link building, content marketing, social media, assets optimization such as the Apple Store or local optimization, you need to have a link building element into your growth plan. Even if you are producing the best and most value-adding content in your niche you still need to allocate resources to promote it, which easily falls under the category of “link building”.
As with other areas, it could all start with a comprehensive and thorough analysis of the site’s backlink portfolio and that of those competitors that consistently rank on the top 5 to 10 positions.
For some people link building carries negative connotations, so they prefer to call it outreach marketing, relationship building for SEO, and other fancy words. In the end it’s about establishing a strategy to earn links. You need to earn high-quality links from trusted sources and sites relevant to your industry. Again, there is a lot of conversation about link building today as to whether we should carry on referring to it as ‘link building’. So be prepared to find it disguised into different fancy definitions.
Furthermore, Google dislikes the term “link building” and often proclaims that site owners should only focus on building great website content that pleases the user and employ promotional strategies such as social media activities and good customer service. They are trying to do everything possible to combat activities such bulk link acquisition, automated guest blogposts, links from PBNs and other egregious SEO shady link building tactics.
In the end, “Link building” as a concept sticks up as the best name for it as it conveys the right meaning and intent: chasing the link opportunity. For as long as Google uses links as the main ranking factor in their ranking algorithms, links are in to stay and SEOs will have to embrace it the concept.
If you are serious about SEO you need to think about a way to either earn or procure links somehow. Every piece of content you develop (category page, product pages, blog posts, resource pages…) should be backed up by a link building plan.
There are many ways to describe types of links. In short, they can be encapsulated into two main categories:
- Earned links: your content, your creative PR efforts, and outreach helps you earn links naturally
- Search and found links: you actively engage in activities that lead to acquiring links
The 2nd option can go from whitehat to blackhat passing through various shades of grey.
Because Google’s algorithms on determining authority and trust are based around the number and quality of sites/pages linking to your site, there is indeed a genuine SEO task that looks at either earning or chasing those types of links.
Most common link building techniques include:
Linkbait: it has connection and synergies with the other two types explained above and revolves around the same idea, but it focuses on single pieces of content, with the only purpose of getting links. You create a piece of content that sticks up as very comprehensive, valuable and trusted amongst your audiences, something that ideally nobody else has (ideally). It can be a Youtube video, and Infographic or a slidedeck. If it gets viral and bring you hundreds of links, you’ve succeeded. But it doesn’t mean that you have a Content strategy for your website.
Great Content (or Content Strategy): building amazing content on your website combining great copy, engaging images, interesting video material and any other interactive content material can drive in a lot of links. You need to be strategic and setting up a coordinated and coherent strategy throughout your site architecture: one that takes into account your users’ wants and needs. This will get you closer to doing ‘content marketing’.
Content Marketing: the different between this one and the one above is that you align your marketing goals to it and take a holistic and user-centric approach to planning, producing and disseminating content with a significant ‘sales’ element. The distribution of such content can be offsite too, but it should still be controlled by your brand and target audience should be very specific as you aim to bring them into your sales funnel. Here’s how the CMI defines content marketing:
Content marketing is about attracting an audience to an experience (or “destination”) that you own, build, and optimize to achieve your marketing objectives.
Blogger outreach for Guest posting: A great way to get links that are relevant and come from trusted websites is by posting a blog on their site. You automatically tap into their audience, which extends your reach into new markets.
Authority development: Authority develops out of your overall efforts on your marketing and on your website. Authority building establishes you and your website as a trusted player to your audience. By becoming an authority in your niche, you will naturally attract mentions, shares, votes and links from different sources. This can be achieved in many different ways, for example: organizing industry events relevant to your target audience or speaking about your sector strategy or ideas at industry events, or by offering valuable white papers proposing solutions to enterprise-level problems.
Online PR: Establishing partnerships with national or local media journalist or news site owners to expand your business is important offline and online. When you create relationships, you get high-quality links and reach more traffic.
Content syndication: Syndication can get your content in front of a wider audience. It can be complicated, but we know how to determine the most effective ways to syndicate to get the best return on your efforts.
Broken Link building: This link building tactic is, still, today a highly effective way to garner links. It consists of identifying content that contains broken links leading to websites that have expired or removed the page. You can develop content on your site that matches what’s supposed to be behind those broken links and email the webmaster proposing to use your content resource instead. As there is a win-win in the relationship, the chances of success are quite high.
Social media: Social media has the potential to extend your reach amazingly well if you do it right. We can help you be consistent and efficient, engaging in an effective way with followers. The better your social media efforts are the more quality links and referral traffic you are likely to get. You can also get a powerful trusted link from sites like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Google+ even if they are “nofollow.”
Google MyBusiness: if your website has a presence in the high street and your business is mainly targetting a local audience, then go ahead and claim your space in Google My Busines and learn Local SEO. This type of SEO could be all you need to invest time on and attract local customers to your business.
- Read also the Pros and Cons of Outsourcing Link Building
Conclusions about link building
Those above are only a few of the link building tactics that you can use that still work today. But there are plenty of other strategies that you your business could leverage to acquire links in a genuine whitehat way, some of which can be:
- events organizing (eg: meetups),
- competitor’s links analysis,
- mentions tracking and outreach,
- plugin development,
- industry or experts roundups,
9. Analyze, re-plan and repeat the process
Once you have executed your strategy, tactical and action plan, you will need to benchmark the results against your defined KPIs and decide whether you are on the right track. This isn’t about guessing and crossing your fingers. You need to be sure of what SEO is truly bringing to the business. It’s about collecting data and benchmark it regularly and continue tweaking your overall SEO strategy to get the results you want.
That means you first need to determine how to measure your results. You need to set up KPIs that are actual reflections of business success. It can be often confusing to know whether leads and sales can be attributed to one or another channel. It all depends on the kind of attribution model your company or client has adopted. Make sure you have that clear before you establish a measurement system for your project. With this data, you will be in a better position to carry on analysing, measuring and executing with confidence.
Nice overview of an adept SEO strategy, I enjoyed it.
Very informative article! It briefly explains how SEO works. Good job!