Finding satisfying answers about search engine optimization can be… challenging. Every SEO publication writes headlines about things that seem too far down the rabbit hole when you’re just looking to get started. They’re talking about “hreflang tags” spreadsheet hacks while most people just want to know the fundamentals of an SEO growth strategy.
I get it. You want to understand the handful of SEO elements that really matter—not a bunch of talking heads debating “the value of nofollow social media links as they pertain to reviews and the local search. algorithm”
Oof. Too much, too soon.
Create an action plan based on these 5 steps before you start reading any of those obscure SEO discussions. I promise you’ll come out farther ahead for it—and if you already have a tentative plan in place, then check out the list of free SEO tools linked at the bottom of this post for your next step.
Let’s get to it.
1) Conduct Competitive and Gap Research
Clients who on lean budgets often want to skip this part, but that’s not really a great idea. It informs the direction you take for your broader strategy, as well as which tactics to pursue. Competitive research gives you a crucial baseline relative to everyone else in your industry, not unlike a map. You wouldn’t drive somewhere completely new without a map or directions, would you?
You want to gather information like this:
- Known and unknown competitors.
- Which keywords competitors use to gain traffic.
- Competitors’ best content.
- Which websites link to your competitors.
Competitive research is important because it shows you where to start. If your competitors found success with certain tactics, then you can as well—and claim a slice of their own proverbial pie in the process. It can go deeper with things like conversion mechanisms, design inspiration, and even influencers, but you’ll have more than enough to chew on with SEO and content alone.
2) Calibrate for Technical SEO
You won’t need to reinvest in technical SEO more than once in your SEO growth strategy (with some maintenance), but it does take some careful planning to get it right the first time. It encompasses things like:
- Server response time
- The size of your theme code
- Website caching
- Your SSL certificate
- Mobile-responsive design
- Site speed
- The XML Sitemap
- Accelerated Mobile Pages
- Search Console integration
You might be thinking, “but Andrew, that looks like stuff developers should handle.” You’d be right in some cases, but not all. Most things on that list can be achieved by a professional SEO, while may need the help of a developer. Who tackles what will depend on your website’s setup, but an SEO can make the recommendations either way.
For example, an SEO can help you pick a cost-effective hosting service to achieve a faster server response time, but something more complex, like “setting up a new server for one directory of a franchise’s WordPress multi-site” would be better-suited to a developer. It’s still doable, but some things require corporate resources (and therefore corporate buy-in) with multiple stakeholders, including developers. For small and medium businesses, however, a straightforward hosting plan is the most cost-effective solution by a mile.
Besides, who wants to pay an external development agency $200 per hour?
3) Create a Crawlable Site Structure
Long gone are the days of publishing thousands of posts right under the top-level domain of your website.
That worked 8 years ago because—when Google was less sophisticated—its programmers told it to pay more attention to pages that lived closer to the top of the URL path. Posts and pages nested under directories or subdirectories didn’t get as much attention, all other things being equal. This still matters up to a point, but Google wants to see structured websites that silo information according to their topics and sub-topics. That’s why the content on this website lives around three core pages:
- Content marketing
- Search engine optimization
- Digital marketing strategy
Google wants quality over quantity (more on that below), and it wants to understand how all of that information relates (or differs) from one area to the next. That’s what it’s looking for when it crawls your pages.
That means you need to incorporate topic clusters and a vertical website structure into your SEO growth strategy.
It’s simple in concept. You just divide your site’s content (main pages, service pages, and blogs) into different buckets for Google’s crawlers to read.
- Lawyers would divide a site by practice area.
- Handymen would divide a site into electrical, woodworking, cabinetry. etc.
- Financial advisors would divide a site by investment vehicle, insurance, and estate planning.
- Real estate agents could divide their websites by neighbourhood or by service.
The point is that you or your business can produce bodies of knowledge with sub-specialties, and that’s how you should organize your content. It lets you get far more mileage out of every piece of content that you write. More traffic creates more chances for something good to happen.
4) Use Content for Your SEO Growth Strategy
Technical SEO and vertical site structures are all well and good, but those things just underpin the meat and potatoes of your website: the content. So how do you use content to attract website visitors?
You’ll grow awareness for your brand name by answering prospects’ questions over time, eventually manifesting as branded keywords—where your company name itself becomes a keyword. This is actually a remarketing avenue because it’s not the visitor’s first encounter with your brand (otherwise they wouldn’t know how to search for your name). That’s a good thing, because it shows that those people have made progress down your sales pipeline.
There’s just one hitch: that only comes with time.
How do you get to that point? You need to acquire monthly traffic from real people that remember your brand for next time. It takes dedication and patience, but it’s absolutely worth it. It starts with investing in content and SEO to broaden the acquisition part of your sales pipeline. This is where you build out your content around specific customer questions. Not only do people learn about your business from your content, but, over time, you’ll notice that people start searching for your company name. I’ve seen a company grow from 50 branded searches per month to 2,000 per month on top of all of its other traffic from Google.
Most people won’t buy from you on the first or second visit to your website this way, of course—it takes multiple positive brand touches to build enough trust for a sale in any industry, after all. But a portion return to your site to learn more about their problems and your solutions to those problems.
It’s a classic sales pipeline in which the top, middle (and possibly even the bottom) sections of the funnel take the form of content interactions instead of cold calls. This kind of SEO growth strategy creates an inflow of leads when you pair it with lead capture mechanisms. That’s the basis of most successful digital marketing funnels.
5) Earn Future-Proof Backlinks
Links are like votes on the Internet, and they’re important to grow your domain’s authority. They’re not created equally, though. That’s why earning a link from a respected, oft-referenced, and authoritative website counts for a lot more than a link from some random food blog with 10 monthly visitors.
What do those links do for you? Great question.
They lend authority to your website, which has the aggregate effect of boosting it in the search result pages. Yes, you’ll rank on the first page for your own brand name without links, but that comes with two major caveats:
- It’s near impossible to rank for competitors’ brand names organically.
- People only search for your brand when they already know you.
That means you’ll need to use backlinks to boost the overall authority of your website, both for your own brand-name keywords as well as the “acquisition” keywords in your content strategy. Some of them come naturally and some need to be earned directly. What’s most important here is to avoid taking shortcuts. Some methods of acquiring backlinks are just dirty; Google can recognize many of them today, and it’ll probably learn to recognize them in the future as well.
That means you should stick to these methods of earning backlinks:
- Guest posting (within reason)
- Content partnerships
That ensures your backlinks won’t be discounted in a major update in the future. SEO’s long-term value is its cumulative nature, each link or content piece adding another layer on top of everything you’ve built up so far. Paying for spam backlinks would only cut yourself off at the knees in the future, if not right away.
Those are the fundamentals for a successful SEO growth strategy. Create your plan with those steps in mind and you’ll be in good shape to start executing on it in short order. Until next time, folks!