You’ve Heard the Cliché — “If You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Fail”
When people talk about SEO, they tend to talk about the great outcomes it can offer: improved rankings, increased traffic, more links pointed to the website and — hopefully, if you execute well — more sales.
That’s the exciting stuff.
But what about the plan to get you there? If you want to achieve the kind of success that makes your competition jealous and your bottom line explode, it won’t happen by accident.
You Need an SEO Strategy
Some would have you believe creating an SEO strategy is as simple as choosing a few keywords, giving your website a quick once-over for any major issues, and then hitting the ground running. And 10 years ago, they might’ve been right.
But today, SEO is much more complicated.
Creating a solid SEO strategy means employing a thoughtful, multifaceted approach that covers everything from the tech-heavy aspects of your website’s infrastructure to creative, targeted approaches to content marketing.
You need an SEO strategy that not only outlines your basic plan of attack, but lays out the goals you’re trying to achieve, profiles the audience you’re trying to reach, and digs into the competitive landscape you’re trying to win in; and there’s a lot more to it than even that.
That might all feel a bit abstract and overwhelming — but it needn’t be. Over time and thousands of client projects, we’ve developed and refined a comprehensive approach to creating an SEO strategy that considers every major component in a way that’s easy to follow and execute on.
It’s built on five “pillars,” or key components:
- Authority and Trust
For the remainder of this piece, I’m going to do a bit of a deep-dive into each component, explaining our approach, why it matters, and the specific steps we consider along the way.
Better information leads to better outcomes, so the first step in any successful SEO strategy is to gather the intel you’ll need to make informed decisions. Before you move forward, you need to get a clear understanding of:
- Your Goals and Objectives — What is it that you want to accomplish? How are you performing now, and what specific benchmarks would you like to achieve?
- Your Audience Segments — Who are you trying to reach? What are their pain points? What does their buyer’s journey look like?
- Your Competitors — Who are you up against, and how are they competing? Your offline competition may not be your online competition; you need a clear picture of the competitive landscape so that you know what it’ll take to compete.
In order to determine all of these things, some of the tasks required at this stage include:
- Keyword Research
Choosing the best targets means analyzing not only traffic levels, but searcher intent, competition level, and stage of the marketing funnel.
- SEO Audit
An SEO audit takes stock of items like how well your website is built, whether there are any infrastructural issues impacting crawling or site speed, whether you’ve been hit with any penalties, and how well you’re currently performing in search.
- Backlink Audit
Because links are an enormous factor in both how well you rank and how liable you are to be hit with a penalty, it’s wise to do an assessment of how many links you have, where they’re coming from, and what the anchor text says.
- Content and Conversion Audit
Driving traffic to your site is only the first step. Nurturing that traffic with compelling content and setting up your pages to convert is critical. These audits look for gaps in your content that are keeping people from converting and also examines how well you’re currently converting.
- Business Goals and Performance Assessment
If you don’t know where you’re going, you may not like where you end up. Setting smart goals and benchmarking current performance gives you a barometer of how well your SEO is performing down the line.
- Strategic Project Plan and KPI Creation
With all of these things assessed, everything is documented and KPIs are set.
It’s not enough to get traffic to your website. It makes little sense to make a large investment in SEO if your website isn’t built to sell. That’s why conversion rate optimization becomes a key consideration when laying out an SEO strategy.
During this part of the process, you’ll need to analyze critical pages on your website where people make first contact, buy, sign up, or ask questions, determining how well the copy, design, and overall user experience are working to transform leads into customers.
Then, take these insights and build out your plan based on the strategy outlined during the first stage and begin optimizing, testing, and measuring.
- Conversion Audits
Begin by taking stock of how well your pages are performing, looking at key metrics like traffic, bounce rates, time-on-site, micro-conversions, and actions taken.
- Content Strategy
Mapping out your content across the marketing funnel is the best way to identify gaps and opportunities for improvement. Once you’ve done this, you can then lay out a prioritized strategy to address.
- Content Optimization and Split-Testing
Content must be optimized not only for SEO, but to earn the greatest returns. To find your best variants, you’ll need to split-test alternatives, choosing key elements to test against one another based on best practices.
- Landing Page Optimization
Just like the above, you must focus on landing pages to find opportunities for improvement across all elements of copy, design, layout, and call to action.
Collecting all of the knowledge gained so far, it’s time to create mock-ups of proposed changes to make it easy for every stakeholder to understand.
Another pillar of a solid SEO plan is your content. We’ve talked about content as it pertains to keywords and conversions, but there’s more to it than that. Content is what will nurture buyers through the marketing funnel; it’s what will help your site rank well in search engines, earn you traction on social, and, ultimately, communicate who your brand is to the world.
Part of this pillar is turning your attention to the specifics of creating and optimizing content to keep customers on your site and search engines happy. To succeed with content, you’ll need to work to enforce consistency in brand voice and tone across all channels while crafting channel-specific strategies to boost engagement and increase conversions.
The channels you should consider include:
- Blog Content
- Whitepapers, E-books, Guides, and Educational Resources
- Viral Content
- Landing and Sales Pages
- Product Copy
- Visual Content (e.g. Infographics, Photos, and Memes)
- Video Content (e.g. Explainer Videos, How-Tos, and Vlogs)
- Webinars and Slideshares
- Press and Media Releases
- Text and Display Ads
When we talk about “optimization” as a pillar, we’re referring to the tasks of optimizing your website in a way that search engines can categorize and rank accordingly. This is a data-heavy, analytics-fueled part of SEO; time must be spent testing and fine-tuning, updating as the campaign progresses, and keeping everything in line with best practices and Google’s own recommendations for webmasters.
The goal is a well-built site that’s fresh and relevant, loads quickly, and is easy for search engines to index and crawl — whether that’s improving an existing site, removing a penalty, or both.
- On-page SEO
A plan must be set in place to optimize not only the content of the page, but the title tags, metadata, and internal links.
- Content Optimization
As we’ve covered, content must be optimized to not only rank well, but to persuade your audience and improve conversions across every stage of the marketing funnel.
- App Optimization
If you’re running on-site apps or other interactive features, ensuring they’re optimized for the best user experience, as well as critical data collection, is an important step.
- Paid Social Management and Profile Optimization
Social media will help to fuel your owned and earned marketing efforts, tying back into the content you create and the site you’ve built. As part of your overall presence, it’s important profiles be consistent, active, and well-maintained, with clear guidelines for interaction.
- Penalty Removal
If your site has been hit with a penalty, priority one must be recovery. Penalty removal levels the playing field, working to not only restore lost growth but open up a clean slate for new progress to be made.
- Backlink Removal and Disavow
As part of penalty removal, cleaning up hazardous, toxic links must be done before your site can perform optimally in search.
For an in-depth look at SEO ranking factors, check out our blog post from just a few weeks ago.
5. Authority and Trust
The final pillar of an effective SEO strategy is authority and trust. Google needs to see your site as trustworthy and authoritative; and since it’s using an algorithm to calculate these metrics, steps can be taken to improve how search engines see your site.
But it’s not just algorithms — your audience wants to see you as trustworthy and authoritative too. Through an integrated strategy that includes thoughtful link building, publisher outreach, content marketing, public relations, and social promotion, you can raise your business’ profile in the market and build the authority and trust you need to rank well.
- Authority Strategy Development
You’ll need to look at your site and marketing efforts on the whole as a means of building authority, laying out the specific steps necessary to become a trusted player in your niche — not just ranking well.
- Link Acquisition
Building authoritative links from relevant, trusted websites will not only improve rankings, but drive referral traffic and increase your visibility in the places that matter. Set out a plan for acquiring links that will move the needle using whitehat, Google-approved means.
- Guest Posting
Guest posting can be used as a means of acquiring trusted, relevant links — but it’s also a means of tapping into audiences and expanding your reach into markets where you otherwise may have gone unknown. Identifying worthy targets and relevant topics to cover are just a few parts of the strategy you must consider when incorporating guest posting; the goal must be to get placement where an audience of those who will either buy from you or link to you, hang out. The closer you can tie your guest posting sources to your niche, the greater the benefit.
- Digital Media Relations
Relationships fuel everything online — from the links you can build to the traffic you can acquire, and beyond. To succeed, you’ll need to work to establish mutually beneficial partnerships and open lines of communication with those who can cover your business and help you achieve your business goals.
- Content Syndication
Syndication is just one more tool at your disposal for getting your content in front of a receptive audience. Be sure to consider the what, where, when, and how of effective syndication to maximize returns.
- Social Promotion
Use social channels to connect with your audience and expand your reach. You’ll need to be consistent and deliberate, using methodical targeting to establish yourself as a trusted authority. Doing so helps to drive all sorts of other important metrics, from referral traffic to quality links.
Effective Strategies Are Measured Strategies
Even the best laid plans can go sideways if there’s no plan in place for measuring the impact. As a critical part of your SEO strategy, you must determine how success will be measured and establish a process for reporting and communication with whomever is responsible for implementing.
You can only improve what you can measure, which means setting KPIs that actually reflect your success and tie back to your business goals is vital for the long-term.
In each of the five pillars I’ve discussed, there will be KPIs and success indicators you need to keep track of. Be sure they’re well defined before you launch the campaign.
Who Should Implement?
We’ve outlined what a solid SEO strategy looks like. Now the question is — who should take the reins for implementing? When you have the choice between hiring an agency and doing it in-house, there are some considerations to be made:
- Time: Does your team have the time to handle the SEO campaign on their own, or will it be just another series of tasks they’re adding to an already busy workload?
- Expertise: Does your in-house team know enough about SEO to competently handle implementation? While some elements of implementation are easy, unless your in-house team has been part of the strategy formation, they may not know how to execute on certain items — whether technical or otherwise.
- Budget: Do you have the budget to hire out for help? Another interesting question is — do you have the budget not to? In-house implementation may seem cheaper on its face, and if you have all the expertise and time already allotted, it may be. But that scenario is rare; and if that’s not the case, then having your staff struggle through implementation may actually cost you more internally than hiring professionals who know exactly what they’re doing.
A great strategy can be bungled by poor execution, so honest reflection is due.