SEO tactics abound but knowing how they fit into an overarching process and strategy is crucial for running an effective SEO campaign. This guide will provide you with a clear framework for creating and executing a winning SEO strategy.
This 4 step process is designed around taking action and iterating to produce results as quickly as possible. It's the exact same process we use with all of our SEO clients to produce long-term and sustainable growth online.
The 4 steps are split into 2 phases. Set Up, unsurprisingly, happens at the start and is something you should return to periodically. How often will depend on the size of your small business and resources but should be no longer than annually.
Implementation is the ongoing month to month actions and data analysis that will drive organic search growth. It's where you implement the roadmap created during the Set Up phase.
Above all else always keep the prospective customer in mind throughout this process. For those searching, their needs are very simple:
Show me a search result that accurately matches what I searched for.
Once I click, provide me with a relevant and credible web page that tells me what to do next.
Prioritise how your website appears in search results and the content on your landing pages and you'll be off to a good start.
Tracking & Quick Wins
This is where we set the foundations for success. Without accurate tracking in place you'll struggle to know what is and what isn't working. Some SEO actions will be obvious right off the bat. Getting these actioned early on can significantly reduce the time required to see a payoff from SEO.
A technical review ensures any critical issues, that could prevent the website from performing in the future, are promptly addressed.
At this stage you're looking for things that are either mission critical or can be implemented quickly. For example, at the extreme end of the scale if search engines are being blocked from crawling the website then there's no chance of SEO success and this issue needs to be addressed immediately.
Avoid getting bogged down at this stage on large projects, instead pick a handful of pages to optimise and then move on to the next step. Outside of critical fixes, quick wins will most likely be content changes; either onsite content or meta content (title tags and meta descriptions).
Use the following resources for a blow by blow guide to conducting a technical SEO review/audit, including spreadsheet template:
Google Analytics Audit
If it's not being tracked it didn't happen! Accurate tracking is critical if you want to know whether your efforts are delivering results or otherwise. Track interactions and goals to qualify visitors once they arrive on your website and understand if you're meeting their needs.
Having intermediary goals or micro conversions in place will tell you where that person is on their purchasing journey. Short of making a purchase, these actions are a clear indicator of interest in your product offering.
Examples of intermediary goals include requesting a quote, downloading a brochure, stock notification sign up, product enquiry, etc. An effective goal should involve some sort of personal data collection.
Improve data accuracy by making sure any referral traffic is genuine. Unusually high revenue from referral traffic sources could be a sign something is not right. Third-party payment gateways, for example, can generate referral traffic for multiple sources when redirecting customers from 3D Secure verification checks back to the website. The Referral Exclusion List will solve this problem.
Most spam website traffic is generated by sending a hit directly to your Google Analytics Tracking ID without ever visiting your website. A hostname filter will filter any traffic that doesn't originate from your website, cutting out the bulk of spam visits.
Conduct a Google Analytics audit and improve your existing implementation with the following resources:
Keep it simple! You can cover each stage of the customer journey or marketing funnel (Awareness, Consideration, Decision) with 3 key metrics:
Remember, intermediary goals play a key role in qualifying traffic. Allocating a value to these goals based on your sales conversion rate will provide the added benefit of being able to get a rough prediction of future revenue.
Research & Strategy
The most important step of the process. Allocating sufficient time to understanding your search market will pay dividends when it comes to moving ahead of the competition.
A lot of your competitors won't go into the same level of detail as we will here, making time spent on Research & Strategy a key competitive advantage for SEO.
Your strategy will only be as good as your data. Investing in a competitor data tool is an absolute must to draw the correct insights from websites that are already succeeding in your search marketplace.
Any of these tools will provide you with the data necessary for a winning SEO strategy. Most of these have a free or low-cost trial available, which will be more than adequate for this one-off research stage. Pick one:
Google ranks pages, not keywords. You'll save yourself a lot of time by identifying key pages from top performing websites/competitors and working backwards.
Once you've identified some initial keywords, use these to search in Google and discover other websites that appear prominently in organic search results. The key is to identify websites or sections of websites that closely match your own offering. This will provide a fair reflection of the opportunity that exists for your own website.
If a competitor has a broader offering, use a prefix search to specify only relevant sections of their website when collecting data.
Export all data to a spreadsheet. Remove noise by filtering for keywords with a traffic estimate greater than 1 and a ranking position less than 41. It will be totally dependant on your market but we typically gather data from 60 to 100 websites.
At this stage you'll have a spreadsheet full of thousands of keywords and URL pairs that represent your search market. To make this data manageable and actionable we need to create groups around topics.
The trick is to create your groups based on pages (URLs) not keywords. One URL can rank for 100's or 1,000's of keywords, making it much more efficient to create groups in this way. By focusing on URLs you'll also uncover semantically related keywords, which you may not have otherwise identified.
For the best results, be strict about identifying pages that closely match a particular topic. Avoid pages that don't have a singular focus, such as homepages.
Get an introduction to keyword grouping with these resources but remember to group based on URLs and not keywords:
Perhaps the most easily overlooked step in the process is to take a proper look at search engine results pages (SERPs). Use a few of the top keywords from each of your identified topic groups to analyse search results.
Look for the type of content that ranks, is it commercial, is it informational? The presence of other search features like ads or people also ask boxes can help to identify searcher intent.
Keep an eye out for mixed intent searches. This is an opportunity to gain double the exposure by covering the topic from both commercial and informational angles.
Make sure to click-through to the top performing pages, many of which you will have already encountered when grouping the keywords. What are the key features that make these pages successful? Consider:
Credibility indicators, like reviews
Also pay attention to any publications that show up frequently within the target search results. These represent good opportunities to gain further exposure for your brand in an upcoming step of this process.
These are the building blocks for your strategy. By this stage, you know what people are searching for and in what numbers, the top performing pages and what makes them successful for a variety of relevant topics.
Learn more about SERP analysis with this resource:
You should end up with 30 to 100 topic areas by this stage that represents the key segments of your search market. To help prioritise the data and make things actionable, turn your groups into a site structure or information architecture diagram.
Without a proper site structure new content is more likely to get pushed into a blog or similar area of the website. Instead, a comprehensive site structure ensures valuable content is integrated prominently within the website hierarchy where it belongs.
The site structure should be based on the research and not your existing site structure. Plan the site structure so it provides landing pages for each level of granularity. For example, in the site structure pictured (you'll have to take my word for this) there are intermediary landing pages for the different types of metal. This means you'll get a different page if you search "galvanised steel" vs. "galvanised steel sheet" and likewise for "corten steel" vs. "corten steel sheet".
When planning your site structure consider different navigation paths. Products can and probably should appear across different category pages.
Once complete, compare this structure to your existing website to identify content gaps and areas for improvement. Use the following resource to get started creating a site structure based on your topic groups:
Campaigns & Projects
This is where planning turns into action. With a clear strategy and roadmap for what's ahead you can also start to bring other people into the mix to help accelerate progress.
Now is the chance to implement some of the larger technical projects for the initial review. It doesn't mean doing everything, only those actions with a clear impact vs. effort payoff.
When prioritising technical SEO enhancements, consider actions which will affect the largest number of pages with the least amount of effort.
Some tasks should be split into smaller chunks and implemented over time alongside other activities, like content creation (coming up next). A good example is something like internal redirects. These won't kill your user experience, in the way that broken pages do, but are nevertheless worth fixing little by little.
Learn more about common technical SEO enhancements with this resource:
It's cliché but content really is king. Time spent creating targeted content based on your keyword research and competitor analysis is one of the highest reward SEO activities.
There's no point creating content if it's not at least as good as, and ideally better, than what else is out there. Fortunately, we took those extra steps in the Research stage to look at the best performing competitor content so we know exactly what this will take.
Content gaps and pages with very thin content should be top of your list to start with. Focus on the areas of your website where you make money i.e. product and product category pages, and then move outwards to more informational pages e.g. buying guides.
Bear in mind new pages will typically take a few months to start generating any proper levels of traffic even for established websites. For this reason, focus on getting content published quickly and improving it over time. Avoid spending too long reviewing and perfecting content prior to publishing unless absolutely required, such as legal or medical content.
This also means enhancements like images and videos can be added later unless they are integral to understanding the content. By all means, drop in something that looks half decent but avoid spending hours tracking down imagery. Initially, time is best spent adding and updating as much text content to the website as possible.
Every page on your website should have a clear next step that takes a visitor closer to completing a commercial goal. Ensure this next step is made clear to visitors. For informational content that might be to consider a few different product options. For a product category it will most likely be to pick a particular product and for a product page it would, of course, be to make the sale.
Write content for prospective customers not search engines. Content should focus on covering each of the identified topic groups comprehensively rather than incorporating specific keyword phrases, which should occur naturally.
Use internal links and secondary navigation to group related content into clusters. In the same way that a book is more valuable than the sum of its chapters, a collection of relevant landing pages signifies authority on a particular topic.
Read our comprehensive guide on how to write for search:
Bonus: E-commerce Content
Searchers can arrive at any page on your website. Someone that touches down on a product page is likely to be nearing the end of the customer journey and, therefore, close to making a purchasing decision.
Consider that this may be the only page that someone sees on your website. With this in mind, you want to make sure your main selling points are present across all product pages. This reduces friction by eliminating the need for someone to visit multiple pages on your website to make a purchasing decision.
Have a strategy to encourage user generated content (UGC) like reviews, Q&A content and customer imagery. This helps to add unique content and credibility directly to product pages.
Google continues to develop image search, making it more commercial, by highlighting products and product availability for example. Implementing product structured data and submitting a product feed to Google Merchant Center can help to enhance organic search exposure.
Use the following resources to implement some e-commerce SEO quick wins:
For established websites, a lot can be achieved without promotion (link building). The right content goes a long way to generating results but in some cases promotion will be required to push that content over the line and ahead of the competition.
Be strategic about promotional efforts. Focus on promoting a particular section of your website and keep topical relevance at the fore when identifying promotional targets.
Where possible, always try to promote from within your search market by targeting publications that already appear for your target topic areas.
If you have a large and changing range of products, focus on promoting into informational and product category pages. This will provide a consistent landing page that can grow over time and is unaffected by individual product changes.
Get a head start on link building with the following resource:
Analysis & Improvement
Review performance against targets for visits, conversions and revenue on a regular basis. For small businesses, monthly is good. Depending on the volume of data, looking at a timeframe that is too small may prove misleading due to a particularly good or bad week, for example.
Use Google Search Console to look for the first shoots of growth. New and updated content will start generating impressions long before clicks catch-up.
Segment landing pages in Google Analytics to see which areas of the website growth is coming from. If you're finding it hard to judge how qualified traffic is, consider if there are any other conversion points that could be introduced to gather more data.
Learn to analyse Google Search Console and Google Analytics data effectively with these resources:
Look for landing pages with a historic high but are now in decline (content decay). The content may have become outdated or there could be new competitors in the market. Either way, it's a good prompt to go back to search results and see what you're up against.
Google Search Console can also help to identify particular topics the website ranks for but don't attract searchers to click-through to the website as frequently as others. This could be a sign that a new page needs to be created to split the topic out from a larger piece of content. Alternatively, the content may need to be updated to better address this particular need.
Learn some common tactics for improving SEO with this resource:
SEO is involved and takes time to pay off but with a clear process and strategy you'll be able to see the road ahead towards increased online revenue.
Base all decisions on solid data, analyse the search market, prioritise for impact, take action and review the results. Simples! 😀