SEO sometimes seems overwhelming, but the key is to put yourself in a mindset of adding value before asking for something in return.
You should care more about assisting your clients than driving traffic. If you approach SEO with this mindset, you can simplify the task, creating a step-by-step plan on how to create value.
Ascending search rankings takes time, but it is possible. Developing an understanding of the purpose of SEO is the first step.
The Purpose of SEO
When someone searches for your brand, you want your company to be the top result on Google. When someone searches for a pain point your company solves for, you want to address those issues with the content you’re creating so your website will rank well for them too.
“Not every piece of content you create is intended to rank, but that’s what every piece of content related to SEO is intended to do,” Guido says.
Basically, you’re going to have pages that don’t rank well, but, with well-planned content and SEO strategies, you can drive traffic to every page on your site.
It starts with a mixture of on-page and off-page SEO. In on-page SEO, you control the aspects of your search ranking directly within your website — the main focus of this post. Off-page SEO involves contacting outside domains and encouraging them to externally link to your site.
But, how exactly do you start forming an SEO strategy? Here are seven can’t miss elements of a complete SEO strategy:
1. Understand The People You Want to Come to Your Site
Before jumping into specifics, you should develop a thorough understanding of the people you want to attract to your website — in short, your buyer personas. How you approach understanding your personas depends on if you are an established company or a brand new company.
If you are an established company, you can look at your clients and the explicit information associated with them. You might consider how large their company is or what industry they’re in. You should also consider other information, like the types of pain points your company is solving for them.
“Work backwards from there,” Guido says. “Look at other types of search terms and keywords that are related to those issues to build out what your keyword strategy is going to be.”
“If you’re a brand new company, then some of this is going to be a more scientific process,” Guido says.
You have to determine what types of customers you want to attract and what problems you’re going to solve.
Once you have your ideal customers in place and begin generating traffic, you must ensure your audience is actually converting on your content.
“The pure SEO piece is getting people to your site, but if you’re bringing people to the site that never end up converting and becoming customers… then there’s not a ton of value in that,” says Guido.
When prospects get to your website, make sure there is a next step. You should nurture them through a conversion path, where each action they take brings them closer to the ultimate conversion of becoming a customer.
“Having the basis of your buyer personas in place to drive relevant content creation and confirming that content is moving prospects through your sales funnel is imperative to creating value through SEO,” Guido says.
2. Conduct Proactive Keyword Research
Once you develop an understanding of your buyer personas, you should put yourself in their shoes, considering what you would do if you were trying to solve for their pain points. In doing so, pay attention to what keywords you see.
A simple way to start this process is by searching Google for your business’s core topics and paying attention to the autofill words that pop up as you type in your query. Once you perform the search, what articles are on the results page? What keywords are most prevalent?
Next, Guido suggests going to competitors sites and auditing their content. If they have content about a relevant topic that you don’t, you should write about that topic too, ensuring you show up against them.
“Go to tools like Wikipedia. Do additional research on the topic in general to see what people are thinking about. It’s not necessarily about your company at that point. It’s about the thought process that a person uses to get to your company,” Guido says.
If you’re building an SEO strategy, it’s your job to bridge the gap between what people are searching for and what your company helps solve for, whether it’s exactly what you do or not.
For example, if you provide competitor intelligence and your personas are searching for “competitor research,” create content that will rank for competitor research and then guide them to how your company can help with that.
3. Craft Content
Once you’ve outlined the keywords you want to highlight on your site, you have to sit down and actually write content about them, but it needs to be valuable to your personas.
“You can’t just write a post called ‘insert keyword here,’ basically… You have to make something interesting that people actually want to read,” Guido says. “[Content] shouldn’t be self-serving. Keyword stuffing, talking solely about your company, talking about anything like that — it doesn’t benefit the consumer... it benefits you.”
To make effective content, you shouldn’t worry about whether each person is going to convert for you. You should worry about producing value and be confident that people will recognize that value.
“Write the helpful content then go back and see where you could add [specific keywords],” Guido says. “Did we talk about a topic and use a really valuable keyword when we mentioned it? No? Ok, let’s go in and try to work that into the piece.”
4. Get Your Content to Rank
If you’re an established company, you should have a database of people that care about your content topics. It’s worth sharing your content with them, but you should always make sure it’s relevant and well-spaced. Whether you share it through email promotions, a newsletter or a blog subscription, the last thing you want is to do is spam them.
You should also promote your content via social media. Always consider the channel you are posting on and how you could fuel interactions with your posts. Remember, don’t be self-serving. You are trying to provide value over driving traffic — quality is better than quantity when it comes to creating leads.
The next layer of promotion is link building. There are multiple components to this, involving both internal and external linking.
You should make sure you are internally linking. When publishing each new post, go through your existing content and look for keywords related to your new post, then add links from those posts to the new content. If you don’t have pieces to link from, identifying the content gaps can be a great way to conduct topic ideation.
Through internal linking, you can create a topic cluster, which is an organizational map where a core idea and corresponding points are linked, creating comprehensive coverage of a subject.
“The idea behind a topic cluster strategy is you have this core topic that you want to rank for… that is extremely relevant to what you do,” Guido says.
The most popular use of topic clusters is through a pillar page and subtopic structure.
When building a pillar page, you take the core topic from a topic cluster and create a longform, comprehensive piece of content about it.
“It might not go in detail on every topic, but it’ll at least touch on them,” Guido says.
Then, you can create subtopic posts — these should be about all the detailed, higher level things that people are thinking about related to the main idea. Once the subtopics are written, you should link them to the core pillar page.
The pillar and subtopic page should be promoted to outside domains that can provide links as well. Whether you’re using a pillar page and subtopic structure or not, you should leverage off-page SEO to improve your ranking.
In promoting your content to outside domains, you are participating in off-page SEO. To this point, we have only discussed on-page SEO where you control the aspects of your search ranking directly within your website. Off-page SEO involves contacting outside domains and encouraging them to externally link to your site.
When it comes to getting external links to your content, relevance remains imperative, so reaching out to complementary websites is advised. It's also important to make sure you personalize your interactions — even when you're doing outreach on a large scale.
Guido also suggests that if you’re going to ask someone to link to your site, you should give them a reason to be involved. He recommends offering them social media promotion of the post or a link on your site in return.
5. Be Patient
So, you’ve published your content, it’s indexed on Google and you’ve promoted it — now what?
“The next step is really to… be a little patient. If you do all of [the previous steps] well, it can still take weeks, if not months, for it to rank,” says Guido. “The normal timeframe that people like to look at is within 30 to 60 days to see if it’s being picked up by Google.”
While your waiting for a blog post or webpage to gain traction, continue identifying new relevant keywords for your buyer personas and creating content around them.
If you notice your post isn’t doing well over time, you need to identify why.
You should develop some assumptions or hypotheses as to why it’s not doing well: “Is the content not relevant anymore? Did we just miss the mark here and do we need to rewrite it? Or is it just worth unpublishing?” Guido says.
During the optimization process it’s a healthy exercise to group your posts into high, medium and low performers. You can base this off of traffic to the post, time-on-page, click-through rate and bounce rate.
“Your goal should be to reduce the amount of low performers that you have,” Guido says.
You can either unpublish low performers or pull them up to medium performers through optimization. When optimizing low performing pages and leveraging high performing pages, your goal is to increase your domain authority.
“Domain authority is a measure developed by Moz that is intended to predict how well a given site is going to rank on Google,” Guido says. The higher a site’s domain authority, the higher likelihood it will rank above a site with lower authority. “It’s also on a logarithmic scale which means that it’s harder to move from an 80 to a 90 than it is to move from a 40 to a 50. The higher you move up in domain authority, the harder it is to keep moving.”
Page authority is essentially the same thing but on a page by page basis. The more pages you have with high page authority, the better your domain authority will be.
Google considers authority from both a user and technical standpoint. From a user perspective, the more high performing content you produce (as indicated by traffic, time-on-page, click-through rate and bounce rate), the more authoritative you become. As people become more willing to trust you, Google perceives you as creating more value, which increases your SERP rank.
“You can also think about it from a technical perspective. If you’re trying to get your domain authority to be a 50, the more pages you have in the 20 range are going to pull that average down,” Guido says.
Eliminating low performing pages can boost your average.
7. Fix Technical Errors
No matter how well your site performs from a content perspective, SEO also involves correcting technical errors.
For instance, if you get 404 errors where your pages aren’t loading, search crawlers will notice that your site can’t provide optimal value for searchers. It’s important to correct these technical errors on a regular basis to avoid dropping in search engine results page (SERP) rankings.
Google, Moz, and SEMrush all provide tools and documentation to resolve errors on your site.
“Each of them basically categorizes [errors] into high, medium and low priority issues. Obviously you want to deal with the high ones first,” Guido says. “We’ve honestly seen spikes in traffic from resolving high priority errors alone. All things equal, resolving high priority errors can lead to huge boosts in your website traffic.”
Overall, besides optimized content and technical errors, there are a number of other factors search engines consider, including mobile friendliness and domain age. Optinmonster lists the ten most important SEO ranking factors.
“One of the more frustrating things about SEO is you can do all of the right things and you’re not going to see benefits from [them] immediately,” Guido says. “SEO is a long game.”
Don’t be too frantic to change your content. You need to be patient.
“Try not to sweat too much about minor changes in your traffic over time,” he says, “Pay attention to the trend lines. Pay attention to your leading indicators. Know that as you continue to do [SEO] the benefits are compounded.”
Over time, your domain will get older, and, if you are doing the right things, your domain authority and rankings on different keywords will increase.
“If you put the time in, you’re going to see some long-term gains from it,” says Guido.