23 October 2019
How to Build an Effective SEO Strategy
Does the sentence ‘build an SEO strategy’ fill you with dread? It does for many people but these days it doesn’t need to…in this article we take a look at 8 simple steps to creating an SEO strategy that will help you generate an actionable and effective SEO roadmap for your site. Whether you’re looking after a multi-million pound site or your own affiliate blog, you’ll find that the process is pretty much the same.
Step 1: Put foundations in place – get the technical SEO right!
If you were building your dream house, before you started painting it and spending thousands on making it look lovely you’d have made sure that the foundations were laid properly and that it was not going to fall down. The same is true with your website. Before you do anything else it is worth doing a health check (a technical SEO audit) to ensure that there are no serious issues that might prevent search engines from effectively crawling, indexing and ranking it.
Prioritise these issues so that any critical things are sorted ASAP and then the rest can be put on your roadmap to resolve as time and resources allow.
Step 2: Think about who you are trying to target
Whether you have an existing website with lots of content or a blank blog template, there is a temptation to dive in and start amending or creating new content with wild abandon – but wait. This is where a bit of time and effort at this stage will ensure that all your future content creation and optimisation efforts can provide maximum returns.
Before you can decide what terms and content you should be focusing your SEO efforts on, you need to know who you are optimising it for. Create a list of your potential customers, and then order them by those you think have the most potential to drive leads or revenue from Organic Search. They are your main target audience and who you should be primarily producing your optimised content to reach.
Step 3: Identify their interests and needs
If you want to experiment further you can create intricate personas for these groups you’ve just identified to try and get inside their heads. In reality though, all you need to do is work out what information the customer will need at each stage of the buyers journey.
What answers will your customers be searching for on Google during their initial research/awareness stages? These will typically be the “How do I..? What is the…? Should I…?” type of questions.
Then work out what will they be searching for during the comparison stages? These will often be the “Suppliers of…? Who/what/which is the best…? Reviews for… Compare Product A versus Product B…” type of searches.
Finally work out what searches might be taking place during the final purchase stages when they have shortlisted you. These can be thing such as “[Brand] review, [Brand] Returns Policy, [Brand] opening hours/application form etc.”
So how do you work out what these searches are?
Well, common sense is a good starting point but, if you have them, you can also speak to your marketing teams who should know the products inside out; the sales teams and customer service teams who are speaking directly with your customers every day.
I like to go on the occasional sales visit or listen in on the phones as it gives clear insight into my target audience. Or contact them yourself. If this is not an option then you can use other sources of information such as:
– Google Console (Webmaster Tools) – see what people are searching for on Google before coming to your site
– PPC Search Query Reports – if you run PPC campaigns then see what people are searching for that triggers your PPC ads to appear
– Internal Search Logs – see what your visitors are searching for on your site (if they are using the search box it often means they can’t immediately find the information they were looking for)
– Bloomberry.com – this great tool lets you see what questions are being asked on forums for any given topic
Finally you can use Google Keyword Planner to find new ideas but to also see what variants of the searches you’ve identified above have the highest search volumes.
Hopefully by doing all this you’ll know what your customers are searching for and which primary and secondary search terms can drive the highest traffic and conversions (but that you can realistically rank for).
Step 4: Build or optimise your content
If your site has been around for a while then you may already have content that is targeting the terms you identified in step 3. The best thing to do at this stage is to put them through your rank checking tool to see:
a) If you already rank for any of them
b) If you do, what position you are currently appearing in? How big a challenge do you have on your hands to get to page one on Google?
c) What page is ranking for that term on Google – is it the one you would expect or want?
Doing this you can see pretty easily where you need to build new content; where you need to further optimise existing content or where you need to adapt/utilise content that is potentially competing with your preferred page content.
Doing the rank check now also means you have a benchmark with which to monitor the success of your efforts over time.
When we talk about content here it is worth spending some time to consider what format your target audience would find most useful to them to consume it in (and what might give you the best chance of gaining links/social shares). This can be a variety of things from basic content pages, articles, whitepapers, blog posts, tools, FAQ’s, infographics, videos/webinars, product pages etc.
It is worth identifying who keeps showing up the highest and most regularly in the search results for your terms and what content Google likes. See what is working for them and do something better!
It is also time well spent at this stage to consider what the conversion point should be on each of these pages. You don’t want to start hitting someone with a “Take our Product Trial” message when they were only doing research and you might have had more success at capturing their details by saying “Register to download our free whitepaper on this topic…”
Step 5: On-Page SEO and Internal Linking
On-page SEO is about making sure every element of your pages is optimised as effectively as possible – whilst remaining natural and readable for users. As well as ensuring your primary and secondary terms are included within the main body content pay particular attention to including them in the Meta Page Titles and H1 headings.
Make sure that your pages are effectively internally linked. If you have a well-structured site with related content all supporting each other through descriptive links (links that use your target terms in them), then you’ll find it really helps Google understand what your pages are about and help them rank.
Look at where existing content needs improving and ensure new content has SEO best practice built in.
Step 6: Create a backlink plan
Backlinks can make a site with great content an authoritative site that ranks even better. Again, we won’t go into great detail here but try to get links from other relevant and authoritative sites.
If you can create content people want to share then that’s often the best way to drive a load of valuable links to you. Other techniques include checking the backlink profile of competitor sites to see if they have links from sites that might be open to providing you one too; identifying mentions of your brand or products where the site did not link to you – or simply asking people for links.
Step 7: Getting resources and prioritising the work
One of the trickiest parts of SEO is not working out what you need to do – it’s trying to find the time and resources to make it a reality. This is because it is often not just your time we are talking about here but that of content teams, developers and many other departments with already stretched resources.
You won’t be able to get everything you want done immediately (or probably for months) so set your expectations accordingly and work out the best way to prioritise the work. By breaking your checklist down into chunks, it will become manageable and achievable.
Pull together a strategy document that clearly details all your recommendations, highlights the current situation and explains the expected benefits that will derive from making each change. This will help to ensure buy in and that your SEO items get suitably prioritised in the backlogs of other departments.
Then work out what order things need to be done. This prioritisation should be based on fixing any critical issues first, followed by focusing on any quick wins. People typically want to see immediate SEO results so focusing on these two first will gain you respect and help push through bigger requests in the future. Everything else should then be scheduled based on an effort versus reward basis.
This plan should clearly state the tasks, dependencies, timelines and who needs to be involved.
Step 8: Monitoring the impact
As changes are implemented you should regularly benchmark rankings, traffic and (where possible) the leads/revenue being generated to try and ascertain the level and value of the SEO changes.
Nothing stands still in SEO and your industry. The products you offer; the strength of the economy; the aggressiveness of new and existing competitors; the Google algorithm; new technology such wearables and voice search via Google Home/Amazon Echo; the audience you target and their needs; the content options available and so on – they are all constantly changing and you have to adapt too.
You should therefore be regularly going back to previous stages and checking if new opportunities and risks have arisen that you need to incorporate into your SEO plans.
Everyone’s situation is different but having an SEO strategy you like (adapted to suit you) really will help you focus your efforts in the right places for maximum return.
Another alternative in helping SEO is marketing automation tools, many will have SEO tools built into help navigate you to the rights and wrongs on your website and content, read our useful piece on MATs here.
Author: Matt Lester, Associate Director – Search and Digital Performance at Fidelity International
Disclaimer: Please note that this blog only contains general information and insights about legal matters. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such. Kompass.com