I Need to Focus on SEO – But Where Do I Start?
As promised, we’ve brought in SEO Expert, Mandy Pennington, to show us WHERE TO START in developing a solid SEO strategy! More about Mandy at the bottom of this post! (SPOILER ALERT – You’re going to want to know this lady boss!)
The sweat beads on your forehead as you stare at the one thing that’s been giving you more anxiety than a supermarket checkout line on a holiday weekend:
Your traffic is…well, it sucks. And you want to do something about it because holy guacamole you know KNOW that your site has something to offer. No, YOU have something to offer.
But you also know that just because you built a business and a website, people aren’t going to show up. Rolled out red carpet there may be, but no one got the invite.
Driving traffic to your website is often a multi-channel process that requires some trial and error before finding the right secret sauce. One of those channel components is your search engine optimization and if you know about SEO, you know that you need it to survive online.
But knowing and doing are two different things.
Having a solid SEO strategy is the backbone to any SEO efforts you may decide to undertake on your site.
From meta tags and content marketing to canonicalization and breadcrumbs, it can be a daunting task when you’re first starting out. Never mind the anxiety Google Analytics delivers as you watch your traffic flow at a snail’s pace. There’s so much to consider – so much to think about!
Don’t think you have to know all of the ins and outs to get started. In fact, even if you’re still learning the basics of SEO, you can still put together a strategy that makes sense and can drive results.
Here’s how create a SEO strategy.
#1 Make the Commitment
First and foremost, know that SEO is a critical component to your survival. No business can survive without an online presence and organic search is going to be one of the key drivers of your traffic and leads.
Actually making SEO a priority is a different story. All too often, site owners rely on their web developers to “handle all that SEO stuff”, but the reality is that you have to be committed to keeping up with what’s best for your site, regardless of the trusted team you work with. Those developers may be awesome – but you have be in the driver’s seat of what you want to achieve.
Make the commitment to having a strategy and investing ongoing effort into it, just as you would your brand, your products, or your customer service process.
#2 Who Are You Marketing to Again?
“Everyone needs this!” “Who wouldn’t want me to help them?” “Why aren’t people writing me fan letters for how awesome I am?!” If you’ve said something like this, you’re not alone.
Every business owner starts out thinking that their site, their products, and their services are for absolutely everyone.
But they’re not.
Knowing your target audience and understanding their needs, wants, and unique customer journeys can help you craft the right kind of strategy for your website.
Begin by doing a deep dive into your ideal customer profile and putting it down on paper (or Google Doc). Play with making personas or sketching out user stories. Armed with that information, try mapping your way from the first search query to the end of your conversion process on your site.
- What steps did that user take to find you and navigate your site?
- What did they search at the start of their journeys?
- What device(s) did they use to search, browse, or buy?
- What did they feel as they took each step in your marketing funnel?
- What was their intention when they set out to look for you?
- Is this searcher a browser or a buyer?
Ask questions of that audience to give you insight into how you should be communicating with them in your site content, design, and flow – and what queries they use.
#3 Set Your Intentions (& KPIs!)
Like any marketing channel, SEO requires having key performance indicators (KPIs) to know what’s working and what’s not. Without having goals and objectives to work with, your SEO approach can go from being organized and stress-free to a terrifying hydra that leaves you confused, frustrated, and probably sweaty.
Once you have a clear picture of who your audience is, what they want/need/feel/do, and where you play a role in their mix, start to define what your goals are for your SEO presence.
Do you want to be found by a certain customer segment? Do you want to be an authority on a topic that people search for in your niche? Whatever goals you set, make sure they are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based.
Finally, get cozy with KPIs that ACTUALLY mean something. It’s one thing to look at your traffic, but it’s another to understand what those numbers mean to your overall goals that you’ve set. Start simple and then get progressively more focused and granular.
Every business is different and may have unique expectations around what they want their SEO strategy to yield for them, but some key KPIs you may want to consider include:
- Search engine referral traffic (i.e. where the heck are you visible in search?)
- Search engine share (i.e. how much traffic are you getting from your SEO efforts?)
- Bounce rate (i.e are people finding what they need on your site pages or are they leaving immediately?)
- Search term referrals (i.e. that area of Google Search Console & Google Analytics that tells you what people looked for to find your site)
- Conversion rates on terms/pages (i.e. what did converters use to find you and where did they take that next step?)
- Pages receiving traffic from search (i.e. what content of yours is ranking and visible in the search engine results page?)
Don’t be intimidated if your KPIs show sucky results to start with. SEO takes time and the best insights are usually those that come from looking at longer period comparisons.
#4 Research Time!
This is the part where you dig in your heels and take to Google to start to really flesh out this framework.
Begin by making a list of phrases people would search for to find your business, products, or services.
Then, narrow down that list by doing keyword research on tools like the Google AdWords Keyword Planner (easy, but data is limited if you’re not paying for AdWords) or by using Google Trends or Google Search Suggest to get an idea of what people are really looking for in your niche.
Keep in mind that once you have your list of keywords, not every keyword will make sense to use in your site or in your content.
In fact, it’s important to not try to go after every single keyword on your list. Search engines are smarter than most people give them credit for and they can usually pick up context around a site and what it should rank for by looking at its content.
For example, if you have a website all about The Rolling Stones, don’t feel like you have to use that phrase 100 times throughout. Instead, using words like “music”, “rock n roll” and “Mick Jagger” will tell search engines that your site is all about this legendary rock band. Bottom line: write well and don’t stress about keywords too too much!
Stuck on how to do keyword research? Here are some awesome resources that can walk you through what you need to know about this key building block of your strategy:
- How to Do Local SEO Keyword Research (Search Engine People)
- The Beginner’s Guide to SEO: Keyword Research (Moz)
- How to Do Keyword Research the Smart Way (KISS Metrics)
- How to Do Keyword Research in 2017 (Ahrefs)
#5 Analyze & Identify
Next, analyze where your website you can start to implement your insights you gained from mapping your customer journeys and researching keywords.
Start by creating a map of your site that includes a breakdown of each of your website pages and their navigation order. You can use a tool like Screaming Frog or similar to create a map that shows your pages, their meta tags, and what website elements search engines crawl when they hit your site.
In your map, outline each page in relation to:
- What it’s about and what information it includes
- Which audience(s) it’s tailored to
- Which keyword(s) it uses already or which ones you think you can incorporate into it
- What calls to action exist on that page
- Whether or not the page is optimized to SEO best practices
- How the page and its content fits into your SEO goals
- What KPIs you’ll use to measure the page’s effectiveness relating to your strategy
- What traffic and engagement it sees now, including where that traffic comes from (use Google Analytics for this part!)
With these notes, you’ll be ready to start taking action on each of your pages one by one so that you’ve got a well-optimized site from start to finish.
In this step, you should also take some time to dig into what your competitors are doing well (or maybe not so well, so you have an opportunity to do it better!). Review the other sites in your niche to see how their sites are structured, the content they create, and the keyword phrases they tend to rank for.
There are tons of competitive analysis tools and strategies you can use, but here are some of my favorites for beginners:
- The Illustrated SEO Competitive Analysis Workflow
- The Simple But Effective Guide to Keyword Competition Analysis
- SEMRush (a tool that lets you identify keywords to target as well as the competitors ranking for that keyword already)
- SpyFu (a tool that gives you insight into what paid and organic keywords your competitors are targeting)
- Open Site Explorer (a tool that lets you see what links your competitors have gained and where you stack up in comparison)
#6 Prioritize Then Execute
You have all of this AMAZING insight and now you’re ready to dive in. The question is, where do you start? Prioritizing your SEO next steps should be what you do before you start making any onsite changes.
Figure out what may take more time or resources to implement versus what are some quick wins you can start working on now. Make a list of things that you can work on gradually – there’s no way you can do it all at once while still keeping on top of new or emerging SEO best practices! Plus, if you need a developer to implement technical elements or make changes to your site beyond your skill level, you’ll need to have a plan and timeline around that, too.
Think about what changes will have the most impact.
For example, a new content page that has potential to rank for multiple keyword phrases will have greater influence on your SEO than changing a word or two in your meta tags. Focus on where it matters most to your audiences – the pages that they frequent most or that they use most often should be the ones optimized first. Then, work down the rest of your pages from there.
#7 Reevaluate – Then Find a Way
Jeff Goldblum got it right when he said, “Life, uh…finds a way,” in Jurassic Park. The same principle applies to search engines. Google, Yahoo, Bing, or any other search engine that may come along will always be in the same business: to deliver accurate and relevant results to people who search.
As new technologies and user trends emerge, search engines will be constantly changing (and they already do!) to adapt to new conditions so that they can continue to fulfill that mission.
As time passes and new things happen, you’ll need to continuously reevaluate your SEO strategy to make sure that it still makes sense in relation to your goals.
Make a reminder to review your strategy at regular intervals to ensure you’re being responsive to what’s happening out there.
Take notice of new technology that makes it easier for people to search and navigate the web (Hello, voice search!), as well as shifts in where people spend their time online or on different devices (i.e. the rise of Snapchat and the introduction of even more social in search results).
And once you have your list of things to implement, start doing it! Strategy is only as good as its implementation, so don’t let your hard work sit and go stale! Start taking action and make it a point to continuously work on your SEO.
Phew! That was a lot.
This may feel like a lot of steps, but it’s totally worth it in the long run – but take your time to do it right. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed, find an SEO partner who can work with you to walk you through it all. A good one will work with you in tandem to ensure you understand the what, why, and how of SEO as you collaborate together.
Investing in your SEO strategy with the same time, effort, and attention as your social media or your customer service process can yield the results you’ve been looking for while making this whole business of internet marketing a whole lot less intimidating (not to mention more rewarding!).