How to Create an SEO Strategy
Having an SEO strategy is a no-brainer for digital marketers who know every piece of online content is destined to be sorted and valued by an algorithm.
SEO or Search Engine Optimisation is the practice of optimising your content marketing strategy and website development, so it makes Google and other search engines happy. But you already knew that, didn’t you?
Choosing the right terms to target and phrases to compete on can be tricky. That’s why SEO deserves its own strategy that elaborates on keyword research and puts phrases and search volumes into context.
Alas, it’s no use having your team’s appointed SEO genius understand your search strategy while everybody else is in the dark.
The art of search — and writing to rank — has become far more complex than choosing a word and stuffing it into a blog thousands of times to show up for it.
Now, all marketers need to have a basic understanding of SEO, how to contextualise keywords and how to use natural language in blogs, articles and any other piece of written content.
You must dig deeper than your chosen keywords, to see what these keywords mean to search providers and in what context.
Otherwise, your complete marketing strategy will fail. No biggie.
What Is an SEO Strategy?
As you’ll have figured, an SEO strategy is a little more than a bare-bones list of keywords. While this document is important and central to an SEO strategy, it’s how we contextualise and frame these target keywords that matter.
An SEO strategy will take into account the way Google and other search engines handle a keyword. For example, does your long-tail keyword phrase rank with comparison sites, long-form blogs or service pages?
From here, you’ll be able to strategise about how to compete in the organic search results for this term.
As a result of your SEO strategy, you should be able to assign keywords to the key pages of your website and differentiate between which keywords should feature in web copy and which should appear in articles and blog posts.
Generally speaking, an SEO strategy will deal with four areas of search:
- On-page SEO
- Off-page SEO
- Technical SEO
Content is how SEO weaves into your content marketing efforts. Which terms should you target over the next few months on your blog? What term best describes your services or homepage?
On-page SEO describes anything you’ll do on your website to raise your ranking position. For example, website copy and meta descriptions are all examples of on-page SEO.
Off-page SEO, as you might expect, is the opposite of on-page SEO. This term refers to any action taken away from your website to raise your ranking position. Writing articles for industry websites or getting listed in directories are common examples of off-page SEO.
Technical SEO is well, more technical. Yet, you shouldn’t be put off by this. This practice refers to any changes you make to the infrastructure of your site to raise your ranking position and make your website easier to crawl. Simplifying URL structure, tightening website menus and optimising 404 pages are all examples of technical SEO practice.
While the latter concerns seasoned SEOs or someone with an insane drive to improve their website, some of your SEO plan will involve different members of your team who don’t necessarily recognise SEO as being part of their everyday practice.
All marketers should be aware of the SEO strategy so it can better guide them to create content aligned to the ranking plan.
Just as you might “dumb down” a marketing or content marketing strategy, you could make a simplified strategy – removing technical jargon, specialist steps and site audits — to show to every member of your team.
If a content marketing strategy is like a set of Russian dolls, an SEO strategy is similar to a spider web.
It’s what connects your website to others and vice versa.
Greg Gifford explains the best analogy for an SEO strategy and SEO best practice in his SEO Fundamentals course by SEMrush Academy. In the course’s introduction, Greg explains how SEO is like a virtual neighbourhood where you want to work to build better relationships with your neighbours — all the while being wary of those living on dodgy side streets and outside of the internet’s ideal suburbia.
Why Is an SEO Strategy Important?
Like we said in the introduction to this page, your complete marketing strategy pretty much rides on your SEO masterplan. At least that’s if you’re planning on submitting content online — which almost every company in the world is right now.
But this doesn’t really explain the underlying reason why an SEO strategy is important.
Rather, it just gives you a glimpse of the awful alternative if you don’t get your SEO s*** together.
The real reason why an SEO strategy is important is without it, your content will likely remain undiscovered.
Think about it. If you need to know the answer to a pressing question like, “Are grapes toxic to dogs?” you wouldn’t go about it in any other way than typing in the question to Google (bar calling a family member for an immediate answer).
What we’re saying is, you wouldn’t first think of a company that might know the answer and then try to find if they’d written a blog about it on their website.
Instead, you’d type the search query — which is a key phrase — into search to find the answer from the most reputable source, according to the search engine.
The answer is yes; grapes are in fact highly toxic to dogs as are raisins, as explained by the American Kennel Club, which incidentally boasts the featured snippet for this term.
The secondary reason is your content might not even make it to an undiscovered status.
In fact, it might never get published at all.
Why? To answer this question, we’ll lean on Ahrefs’ “Middle Man” theory.
Essentially, Ahrefs explains that informational pages like blogs, press releases and knowledge bases act as the middlemen in a link transaction.
While you might want to get links to the money-making pages of your website — like service or case study pages — linkers are often reluctant to accept such a promotional link.
Factoring this into an SEO strategy allows you to reach your off-page SEO goals by smartly developing informational content as bait.
That’s why an SEO strategy isn’t a hatched-out plan in an SEO fanatic’s mind; it’s a working document that supports the marketing activities of the whole team.
17-Steps to a Winning SEO Strategy
To create your winning SEO strategy, you’ll first need to follow nine steps that will summarise your SEO efforts, including on-page, off-page and content SEO. Then, we’ll move into the nitty-gritty of technical SEO with a further eight steps to follow.
Keep in mind; these aren’t the only steps you can follow to improve your SEO game.
But they’re the easiest and will set you off on the road to more advanced SEO adventures.
9 Basic SEO Steps
1. Select relevant keywords
It’s obvious you’ll need to select relevant keywords with a decent search volume and that aren’t too competitive. Even SEO amateurs know selecting keywords is all about finding the sweet spot between traffic and your actual chances of capturing that traffic. To create a list of suitable keywords, use tools like SEMrush*, Google Chrome extension Keywords Everywhere and Google’s autocomplete feature.
2. Review first-page content
For each keyword, check out the competition. Whether this is your company’s actual business competition or a blog currently gaining all the good traffic from this term. You’ll want to note how many words a page ranking for this term has — and if there are any particular themes like formatting or having a video on the page which plays a role in ranking. Browse in private or incognito mode to make sure you aren’t seeing personalised or local results. Make notes in a separate column for each keyword to pass along to the person responsible for writing content.
3. Build on the existing offering
Once you’ve identified trends in existing search results, you’ll want to think of ways you can outperform them. You don’t just want to replicate the content listed as the best; you want to go above and beyond this by making new and original content. You can do this by getting quotes from experts using services like HARO or by looking at content posted on forum websites like Quora to use as the basis of discussion. Again, note the most appropriate way to put your businesses slant on a piece of content, so it stands the best chance of ranking in search.
4. Solidify your positioning
Targeting a keyword is one thing, but what’s your intent when writing about the topic? You’ll want to state the angle you aim to have your marketers take when creating content about a given topic or term. Are you trying to remove an objection a potential customer might have? Are you giving expert advice that’s relevant to your field? Or are you making a comparison between two products or services? There are infinite angles to take in marketing when you really start thinking about where your brand fits into the search term.
5. Think about on-page SEO
Differentiating whether keywords will be used for on-page SEO like on-site blogs, FAQ pages and website copy or whether they’ll be used off-site in outreach articles is the first step to figuring out on-page SEO. If you’ve decided to target a keyword on-site, you’ll want to provide loose instructions about which keywords should appear within the text — namely, which headings and subheadings should be present. If the target keyword is to be used off-site, you’ll want to decide which anchor text to use that will link back to a relevant page on your website. It’s all about engaging with SEO in a smart way that tells Google your website is relevant to a popular phrase.
6. Consider search intent
Everything you’ve done before this point is largely old-school SEO practice. But SEO is a constantly evolving role subject to the whims and fancies of Google. Recently, search intent — i.e. the context in which keywords are used — has become increasingly important. To analyse search intent, you’ll need to read the ranking content to figure out why people are searching for a given term. Do they want to learn about something? Do they want to be entertained? Do they want an instant answer? Or do they want to read an in-depth text to eventually reach their own conclusions? Answering this makes your SEO strategy advanced and more likely to succeed.
7. Review content formatting
As well as deciding whether content should be published on-site or off-site, you should also think about which format a key term lends itself to. Some keywords — like versus phrases — where two topics are compared are commonly addressed in blogs. Other terms, like long-tail keywords consisting of multiple nouns, are likely to be suited to service pages. Content formatting can also refer to what type of content is expected within a blog or within a service page. Does this type of keyword warrant a table, an explainer video or a contents section for easy navigation (plus schema markup)? Plus, you’ll need to think about whether these formats will help you to land one of the many types of featured snippets.
8. Remember Internal Linking
Optimised content is far more sophisticated than keyword stuffing. In expertly optimised content, internal linking plays a huge part. This is a good thing for Google and for your reader, who may wish to be directed to other resources. You should link both externally to authoritative sources and internally to other pages on your website. Internal links are incredibly important in showing search engines that you’re an expert on a topic. Plus, it gives an unwritten explanation as to why you might not have elaborated on a subject in a given blog or page if you’ve already spoken about it in-depth previously.
9. Optimise Old Content
As the word strategy implies, planning your SEO campaign will involve looking at new and old opportunities to achieve a long-term goal. Without an SEO strategy, you’re always trying to reinvent the wheel with new keywords, new milestones and new content. In reality, updating your existing content can be just as fruitful, especially if this content is on the brink of ranking well. So, if you’ve already targeted a high-volume keyword in the past, don’t ignore this fact and move on. Make a note to review this content and improve it. You can use Keyword Explorer to find “almost made it” content and we’ve explained the entire process in our quick and dirty guide to improving blog content.
At this point, you’ll have covered three of the four sections of your SEO strategy — content, on-page SEO and off-page SEO.
From here, you can write instructions for your marketing team that clearly outline what’s expected of them when it comes to SEO optimised content creation.
But expert marketers don’t give up here. And neither will you.
Technical SEO can sound daunting and while it might prove a bottomless pit of fixes and tweaks you can make to your website, there are a few simple hacks that will help to improve your website’s ranking — and fast.
Include these in your strategy as tasks your SEO team can carry out to reach your firm’s goal. If they’ve already done them — bravo! — there are plenty of other technical SEO fixes to consider, as well as constantly recurring ones.
8 Technical SEO Tips
1. Structure your website using a sitemap
Like an organisational hierarchy but for your domain, a website sitemap is a visual aid that shows the structure of your website. Creating a sitemap is relatively easy and will undoubtedly boost your SEO status. Basically, submitting a sitemap tells Google how you intend for people (and crawlers) to navigate your website. Doing this will make it easier for crawlers to read, organise and index information from your website’s pages.
2. Think about site navigation
Once you have the structure of your website mapped out, building navigational tools is easy. Think about how your customers will get from A to B without getting frustrated or fed up. Creating elements like a clear menu, shortcuts, symbols and category links has clear benefits for the human user, yet it inadvertently helps with SEO. If users have a better on-site experience, your site engagement and session durations are likely to increase, indicating it’s a website worth advocating.
3. Categorise and tag pages
If you haven’t noticed by now, technical SEO is all about digital organisation. As such, each page should have a tag – or several tags – to stipulate what type of page it is. It could be a landing page or a blog page, for example. Meta tags are invisible, that is the average user can’t see them. However, they are recognised by search engines as a quick way to bookmark what your page is useful for. Think of page tags as genres in a library where each book is swiftly stored for later enjoyment. You don’t want to end up on the book cart every librarian has for the volumes that seemingly don’t belong anywhere and so never get loaned out.
4. Make your content mobile-first
SEO is developing rapidly to become mobile-first. Or at least, it’s advancing to the point that mobile and desktop search results differ to give every searcher the best experience. Improving formatting, load time and interferences like pop-ups can give you a greater chance of ranking as your content will be more mobile-friendly. Nobody has time to wait for a mobile browser to load or the patience to close pop-ups that completely dominate the screen and obscure content. You’ll want to make content aimed at search clean and clear so that it’s inclusive.
5. Pay attention to URLs
Keyword use in a URL — namely, in the slug after your website address — is considered a small ranking factor. This slight boost could be the difference between position eleven and position ten, so write URLs with as much care as you do headlines, subheadings and page text. For example, the URL of this page is exposureninja.com/training/guides/digital-marketing/strategy/seo/ because this piece is all about SEO strategies.
6. Create 404 pages that don’t make people cry
Let’s face it; nobody likes being met with an error page. Each time a user encounters a 404 page, it’s likely they’ll give up and turn to someone else’s website for an answer. Yet with a winning mindset, you can make your 404 pages an opportunity for people to fall in love with your brand. Seriously, there are some creative 404-page designs out there to compete with.
7. Make your website secure
Give your website a little bit of added protection so your favourite search engines can trust you. If you’ve already got a security certificate for your website (in other words, your website appears as HTTPS rather than HTTP), this will sound like SEO for dummies. But surprisingly, many top websites still don’t have this added layer of encryption making us think this step deserves some limelight. We’re talking about the little lock sign that appears on the left-hand side of your website’s URL, which is also known as an SSL certificate. Get one — it’s just something you have to do in life like filing your taxes or paying your MOT bill.
8. Fix broken links
Before making any new mess, you’ll need to sort out your already overflowing inventory. If you haven’t run a tool across your website to comb out any loose hairs, there’s a good chance there are lots of links that no longer work, cramping your style and are compromising your relationship with Google. To fix broken links, you’ll need to identify them in a technical audit using Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider. Doing this is like wiping out your unread emails and ticking off any overdue deadlines. Google might be more inclined to give you a promotion.
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