Running a few small businesses and a couple start-ups myself is exciting and quite the roller coaster for many reasons. I have been doing SEO for close to 9 years and have seen the evolution over time, and the complexity increase with the evolution.
One thing that has not changed is the value that SEO can provide for a small business, but with the complexity of DIY SEO comes hard work, and there are no shortcuts to building a business. We as SEO’s don’t have any magic solution in which we wave a wand or sprinkle pixy dust over a site and poof #1 rankings. I hear clients say they want SEO, and have even was told by a client (which made me cry inside) “I want to be #1 for all my keywords”, but as a client are you prepared for the time and resource investment it takes to do SEO?
Most businesses are still in the mindset that DIY SEO is simply adding keywords to a website or changing the tagging (title tags, description tags) to reflect better keywords and focus traffic. They have a disconnect between the level of effort is actually takes to get the rankings they are striving for, and the traffic they need to reach their ROI goal.
SEO started with optimizing on-page factors such as keywords in the copy and title tags and has built upon that to include off-page factors such as link building and social media, to where it is now, which is a holistic approach that includes the above metrics along with information architecture and experience design.
SEO is not a 1 time thing, nor is it something that a site should expect to drive incremental traffic in a short time. For example if you are thinking about doing SEO for your site to help this Holiday season (it’s now October) then you are already behind, and it might be better to just do Paid Search (PPC) this year, then start building your SEO strategy starting in the new year. Below you will find some of the most time consuming parts of an SEO campaign, but without them there is no “SEO campaign”.
We all know that content creation is one of the keys to a successful website and getting rankings for head, mid and long-tail keywords in the search results. Valuable content is what drives a websites ability to capture visitors from the search results, and if done properly it also drives conversion. So at a high level what does it take to create quality content? Below you will find a basic outline of the process to go through to get to that quality level that your visitors and the search engines value.
- Define Real Competition: This is a key step in the initial content phase. As you know your online competition is defined by the keyword set and market segment you are trying to capture within the search engines top 10 results. Most businesses have a false sense of who their “real competition” is when it comes to organic search, and thus spend time targeting the wrong sites to pull ahead of. When defining your real online competition it’s important to look at many different data points, some are outlined below.
- Top 10 results for keywords being targeted
- The category of the websites ranking in those top 10. These sites will usually fall into a couple buckets; commercial or informational.
- Link metrics associated with the top 10 results
- Social metics associated with the top 10 results
- Initial Site Content Audit: This helps determine what content is valuable and what content needs to be rewritten or removed due to low quality. Site metrics and the value questionnaires play a large role in this step of defining what Google and users will define as quality content.
- Gap Analysis: This step helps define gaps in content on your website. For example if a website has a large amount of content around one topic yet wants to rank for other keywords in other segments, yet they don’t have the content to support that, this will uncover those “gaps”.
- Keyword Analysis: This portion of the content creation process is probably the most time consuming. It involves searching through many data sources to uncover quality keywords that will inform the content creation process. A few of the tools to use are listed below.
- Google Keyword Tool
- Google and Yahoo Suggest
- Wordtracker Question Tool
- Competitive Content Audit: The competitive content audit has a few primary parts that help inform content creation from a different angle. These parts include:
- Determining which pages are performing the best on a competitors website based on social and link attributes.
- Understanding the competitive content landscape
- Defining content sets that should be mimicked from the competitors websites, use the topics to create new content that has an added value for the user (if you can’t find 2-3 value adds in the piece of content you have written then its not valuable enough). This does not involve copying their content, but their content is used as a guide for content creation topics.
- Keyword Difficulty Analysis: This helps determine how much quality content will need to be created along with the links and social metrics you will need to acquire for your content to compete with other websites targeting the same keyword sets.
- Content Creation:Now we can finally get to writing the content which we have researched keywords for, determined how much we will have to create, and dug into the competitive landscape to determine what to write.
Link building is what helps your quality content get found by the search engines (through their crawl of the web) and ranked for specific keywords (which gives them the ability to be found). Below is a high level view of some of the tactics that go into creating and implementing a link building campaign.
- Competitive link audit
- Competitive link acquisition audit to define tactics your competition is using to gain links
- Determine overlapping links across all competitors. These are the links that you should get first to show Google you are in the same link neighborhood as your top competition.
- Build a list of websites to reach out to for links consisting of:
- Your competitors links
- Blog link opportunities
- Local directory links
- Conversational links
- Q&A link opportunities
- Guest post opportunities
- Sponsorship links
Social Community Building
This goes beyond setting up a twitter and Facebook account.
- It involves researching multiple communities to determine where you costumers hang out and in which online communities they participate in.
- Building profiles and sections within those communities for them to come and interact with you.
- Interacting, having a conversation with, and building a relationship with these online communities.
- Its not about spamming or marketing your businesses products at every chance you get.
It’s basically like finding the correct location and setting up a small shop online within those communities, except you’re not selling anything except knowledge and hoping to build a relationship with people who might be searching for your product in the future. I guess you could call this true branding of you and your business, since branding is mostly about building an emotional connection with consumers.
We certainly have the capability to edit the code of a website or fix the site structure for a small business website (and do it for most clients), but some clients have internal teams that hold the code base close to their chest, and are not willing to give up control of it. This could be because of a fear of a domino effect happening that renders the entire website unusable. So with that said SEO campaigns that include site changes need to have client resources backing these changes.
This involves analyzing a website for 20-30 different factors that could inhibit the site from ranking well or even worse not being indexed in the search results. This initial technical analysis helps inform the SEO team as to what needs to be fixed for the content creation, link building, and social marketing to have the most impact.
Site Architecture Changes
Many times there will be structural issues with a website that inhibit ranking metrics from flowing through the site to the important pages or products on a website. These valuable pages can be buried deep in the architecture of the website past where Google crawls and never get discovered or enough ranking metrics to rank for the keyword target. The fact that these pages are not displayed or linked to prominently on the website also have usability issues which makes it difficult for users to find them after arriving to your site through a branded keyword, or related keyword. This goes hand-in-hand with the content audit mentioned above to help uncover quality content and architect the website for that quality content in a way that is useful for both the users and the search engine spiders.
SEOs only understand a portion of the algorithms that run the top search engines, so we try to correlate the data from the tests we run, with what is impacting a websites rankings to determine some high level ranking factors. The problem is that there is still a portion of the algorithm and sits in a black box that causes the same action taken on 2 websites to produce different results. With any good SEO campaign, or marketing campaign in general, there needs to be a feedback loop in place to report changes in the defined KPIs of a website. This gives the SEO team insight into what is having the largest impact with driving quality traffic. This feedback allows SEOs and site owners to be fluid with their marketing recommendations and focus in on the high value/impact SEO tactics for your site.
Defining Report Structure
- Define KPIs
- Build the SEO Dashboard
- Client Review
- Monthly Reporting SEO Scorecards
So if you really want to do SEO for your website then we can help you drive more traffic and sales. If you think we are just going to change a couple keywords on a page or update the tagging and all of a sudden you will be ranked #1 and your traffic will triple, then I suggest you think again. SEO is not easy, it’s a time and resource intensive marketing channel, but the payoff and rewards are well worth it.