SEO is the act of getting your website to rank highly in Google or other search engines (yes ― people still use Bing). Showing up at the top of these search engine results pages (SERPs) is going to drive traffic to your website.
To earn and keep that top spot, you need a solid SEO strategy and focus on a few factors, including:
- Determining what your SEO goals are
- Developing a content, onsite, and backlink plan to grow your organic traffic
- Implementing and executing your strategy
- Iterating on your success, learning from your failure, and repeating the steps
Find What You’re Looking For
Why SEO Benefits Your Small Business
The more users you have on your site, the more likely you can achieve your business goal, whether that’s selling a product, driving affiliate traffic, or attracting readers to your blog.
SEO is a process with near-unlimited potential. Unlike other processes, it’s not as costly. An investment in SEO can pay dividends months and years later whereas paid marketing stops when the budg et gets turned off.
However, SEO isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it channel. Once you get to the top spot, somebody is likely right there behind you trying to take it away. SEO also takes time, but it’s worth the investment.
At its most reductive, SEO can be broken down into a few buckets, which include content, links, and on-page SEO as well as technical SEO.
In the past, Google noted that there were more than 200 ranking signals when evaluating a site. It has moved beyond that number these days. While there are several factors in evaluating your site, a good SEO strategy is going to have those three components at its foundation.
What Is an SEO Strategy
An SEO strategy is a clear list of items that are going to help you get your website to the top of page one, or close to it. When you create an SEO strategy, it should take place in three parts:
Your strategy takes into account some quantifiable goals to help keep you accountable. It may involve content, links, and onsite work, which are the three core pillars of SEO.
There’s an SEO joke about hiding a dead body on page two of SERPS because nobody ever looks there. More than 50% of users click on the top three spots on the SERP, so getting your site to the top is crucial to attracting users.
What To Consider When Planning Your SEO Strategy
When planning your SEO strategy, consider where your site is at and what your goals are. A brand new website probably needs a different strategy than an established domain with a steady flow of monthly visitors. Both sites need work done as no site is without its flaws. But your action plan depends on your current situation.
To start, determine what a successful SEO campaign would be for your site. Are you losing traffic? If so, find out why. Are you just getting started with no traffic? This isn’t a real problem as there are tips to correct that.
Consider your budget; if you plan on doing all of the work on your own, your timeline and goals need to account for that. If you’re bringing in partners or vendors, determine how much you’re going to allocate toward SEO.
SEO is a slow-moving process. If you need quick wins, don’t expect that to happen in SEO ― no matter what strategy you implement. If you’re starting from scratch, don’t expect to see any movement for three to six months, even then, those gains won’t move the needle until the year mark.
Tips for Planning Your SEO Strategy
Creating an SEO strategy may seem daunting, especially if you’re new to digital marketing. Don’t be overwhelmed. Breaking up the project into smaller tasks makes crafting your strategy much more manageable and actionable. To get started:
- Define your goals
- Spend time on keyword research
Define Your Goals
Your first strategic move is defining your goals. Once you have users on your site, then what? Perhaps your site is monetized by display ads. In that case, getting users to the site might be good enough. But if you want them to purchase a product or sign up for a newsletter or download, search the customer’s search intent and journey.
If your website relies heavily on content, you may not need to spend a lot of time doing technical SEO. Instead, spend more time on keyword research and content strategy.
However, if your site is selling a product, you should focus on equal parts content and technical SEO to ensure that there are no canonical or tracking issues. You also want to focus on conversion rate optimization (CRO) as well as user behavior.
Examples of your goals may be to increase monthly users by 10%, decrease site bounce rate, or increase visitors’ time on your site. If you have an e-commerce site, consider focusing on increasing both sales and conversions.
Once you have your site goals and have done your research, devise a strategy that works best for your site.
Tips for a New Site
When you start with a new site it is a slow process to attract traffic. New sites can take upwards of a year to really gain steam. Unfortunately, there’s no short cut for this. However, the work you put in now will pay off in the future. It’s also a good chance to build your SEO strategy from the ground up and give your site the best chance of winning.
- Start working on the SERPs as quickly as possible
- Find out what your competitors are doing
- Target keywords with strong search volume and lower difficulty
- Focus on content and onsite SEO
Do Keyword Research For Low Hanging Fruit
For a new site, start working on the SERPs as quickly as possible. Traffic often begets traffic, so it’s important to get on board quickly and get your site in front of visitors. Start with keyword research. Target keywords with a strong search volume and lower difficulty. You can check to see what content is working well on competitors’ sites and then create a better version of it. Look for a need that isn’t being met and fill it.
Run a Competitive Keyword Audit on Your Competitors
Look at your competitors using a tool like Semrush or Ahrefs and see what keywords they hold. Target similar keywords with your content. You can also compile a list of keywords that you believe are valuable and determine if there’s substantial search volume to warrant articles being written on those topics.
Target Longtail Keywords
Don’t shy away from keywords that have a low search volume. While they may not drive much traffic, those keywords sometimes are more qualified.
For example, if you sell footwear, consider ranking for shoes vs. kids shoes for summer. The latter keyword has a much higher purchasing intent.
Tighten Your Onsite SEO
In addition to the content focus, you also need to focus on onsite SEO, which we’ll address later. You want your title tags and H1s to have your keyword or some variation of your keyword in them. You can also optimize your H2s and H3s for related terms that are part of the same keyword group.
Tips for Growing an Established Site
If you’re growing an existing site, it’s time to refine these strategies we’ve discussed. Your site may have a wealth of content already, so creating new content may not be the best focus of your energies. A few ways to work with what you have are:
- Audit Your Site
- Technical SEO
Run an Audit on Your Site
Evaluate what you have. Run a crawl of your site and examine your live pages. Chances are that some of them are underperforming, such as by outdated content, content that doesn’t have enough information―meaning that it doesn’t seem authoritative―or content that might benefit from rich media like graphics, photos, or video.
Set a time a couple of times per year to go through what you have and see how you can leverage it. It’s much easier to edit your existing content than create new content.
You should also check for duplicate content or content on similar topics that may cause cannibalization, which means that you’re competing against yourself.
These pages also might not have internal links pointing to them. This means that they’re orphaned and can’t be found either by users or search engines. Strengthening internal linking could be an easy win for the site.
Technical SEO Considerations
With a larger site, you want to keep an eye on the technical SEO. Examine your robots.txt file to make sure that parts of your site aren’t being “noindexed,” or that the parts that you want noindexed aren’t being indexed accidentally. These technical considerations might be hampering your site’s growth. If you have a product, ensure there is schema on that page, and it’s correct. As sites grow and code is added, existing markup can be tweaked and break.
Page speed is becoming more and more of an important ranking factor. If you have an older site you need to make sure you’re up to speed. A slow site can cost you users and sales.
Check the Google Search Console to see if there are any indexing issues that you can address. Technical SEO might not always result in astronomical growth, but not addressing it can result in significant traffic losses.
Determining Your Content Strategy
Content is the cornerstone of any SEO strategy. To get started, put together a document with keywords that you think are valuable to your users or would like to rank number one for.
There are other considerations like:
- Keyword Tools
- Search Intent
- Rich Media
Use Keyword Research Tools
After you create an initial list of potential keywords, use a keyword research tool to determine the monthly search volume and the keyword difficulty of those words or phrases. You’ll see that some of these keywords might be a reach and that you won’t rank for them immediately. Other keywords might have a lower difficulty and you can rank for them sooner.
Consider Search Intent
Then, it’s time to consider search intent. Are the queries informational, transactional, navigational, or commercial? You’ll know which of these terms meet your site’s goals.
With the right content strategy, you can attract users to your site. These will not be any users, they’ll be qualified ones who have a high chance of converting.
If your business is seasonal, create a calendar to update seasonal content yearly. The best trends of 2021 can also become the best trends of 2022 with further research. Give yourself some lead time when doing this.
Writing articles takes longer than you think. Ensure search engines have time to crawl and index your page. For example, publishing a Christmas piece one day before Christmas isn’t going to drive any traffic.
Rich Media for SEO
Your content strategy doesn’t just have to be blogs. You can create rich media resources like videos or infographics. Any piece of content that’s valuable to your user helps your website rank.
Look at content in clusters. If you’re creating a pillar or parent page on shoes, you can create supporting content on women’s shoes, men’s shoes, athletic shoes, and so on. However, be careful that you don’t go too niche. Creating a full page on shoelaces might be a stretch and offer your users little to no value.
Another great place to look for content ideas is your competitors, so use a tool like Ahrefs or Semrush to see which of your competitors’ pages are doing well so that you can create similar content.
What Is Onsite SEO and How Does It Help Your Strategy?
Onsite SEO ensures that your title tags, H1s, and other elements on a page of your website meet best practices. To meet best practices for onpage SEO you need to focus on:
- Title tags.
- Meta descriptions
- Internal Links
Title Tags and H1s: The Basics
The title tag and H1 of each of your pages should include a keyword you want the page to rank for. If your home page just says “Home,” that’s a great place to start. Additionally, H1s can be slightly different from your title tag, perhaps targeting a secondary keyword.
A single page can rank for hundreds or even thousands of keywords. Take every opportunity to go after keywords. Subheadings should be H2s, these can also target related keywords.
Title tags have a maximum length of about 70 characters, so don’t exceed that or your title ends up being cut off in the SERPs.
If you have existing content, look in Google Analytics and find pages that don’t receive much traffic. Audit these pages to find opportunities. There may be some easy wins. A tool like Screaming Frog also crawls all the pages on your site and gives you an export of title tags, H1s, and H2s.
Review your title tags to ensure that the page targets a relevant keyword. A page about a skincare product should have a topical title tag relating to the product, rather than something like “best skincare reviews.” Also, add alt text to your images. This helps search engines understand what your pictures are. It’s also a great way to ensure your site meets accessibility requirements.
How Meta Descriptions Help With SEO
Meta descriptions aren’t a ranking factor, but they can impact your click-through rate (CTR). Try to write something catchy that drives a potential user to click. Although Google sometimes creates its own meta description for a page, it’s good to follow best practices and write your own meta description.
How Internal Links Help Your SEO
Internal linking is another foundational element of onsite SEO. Links between pages of your site help search engines crawl your site as well as help users navigate around. Additionally, the anchor text of these links help a search engine understand your site. Link to relevant content and use appropriate anchor text that helps a user understand where the link goes.
How Technical SEO Helps Your Strategy
Technical SEO ensures that Google and other search engines can crawl and index your site and is an extension of onsite SEO.
During a site migration or a relaunch, pages can be inadvertently noindexed or 404-ed (meaning the server cannot find that page). You should do a technical audit yearly―at the very least. Start by looking in Google Search Console for any crawl errors and target those.
For the best e-commerce site SEO strategy, ensure that your canonicals are set up correctly. You don’t want duplicate products clogging up the SERPs. This often occurs if you have a product with variations, those could be size or color. Typically, you don’t want each color or version of the product to have a unique URL or page as that type of duplicate content harms your site.
A solid technical SEO strategy will keep your site from losing traffic from an error that can be avoided completely.
How Links Help Your SEO
Links are like votes. The more you get the better your site ranks. However, not all links are created equal. A link from Forbes is worth more than a link from your cousin’s website on his pet dog.
Backlinks help search engines find your site, provide context through the anchor text, and show that your site is valuable. The more quality links you have, the higher the authority of your site. It’s much easier to rank when your site has a high authority. A site like Amazon publishing an article is going to rank at the top quickly as compared to a site with low authority.
Tools like Ahrefs, Moz, and Semrush give your site a score based on the perceived authority of your site. Backlinks help raise this score. These tools also show you if there are spammy or toxic links pointing to your site.
There are many ways to build links to your site. Often, people buy links from vendors. Not only is this against Google’s guidelines, but many of these links are also low quality and won’t provide value to your site.
Unfortunately, people continue to do this anyway. Should you decide to follow this course, be aware of the risk, be cautious, and evaluate each domain you’re purchasing a link on.
More sustainable methods of link building include creating unique and valuable content and reaching out to other publishers asking for a link.
How Local SEO Benefits Your SEO Strategy
If your business has brick-and-mortar stores, local SEO should be a key focus of your SEO strategy. Local SEO helps you rank for “bookstore near me” or “bookstore los angeles,” if that’s where you’re located.
At its most basic, local SEO is ensuring Name, Address, and Phone (NAP) consistency. Search engines want to ensure that your store is where you say it is. There are several services like Moz Local and BrightLocal that help build citations around the web that list your NAP.
Google Business Profile Optimization
Focus on Google Business Profile as well. When possible, have customers leave reviews there, on Yelp, or any other relevant platform. All of this helps your local SEO and helps you show up in the coveted map pack.
SEO Tools That Benefit Your Small Business
There are many SEO tools on the market, each of them great at different things. Tools like Semrush or Ahrefs offer several terrific features that you can use. Each of these tools shows you keyword opportunities, help you perform competitive analysis, and shows you backlink opportunities for your site.
Create projects in these tools to track the performance of your website. You can see how your keywords are doing and spot any wins. These tools also show you how your competitors are doing so that you can keep an eye on their performance.
Screaming Frog is a useful tool to help with onsite SEO. It crawls your site and exports a list of all pages with your title tags, H1s, H2s, and meta descriptions. Having this information is a great way to audit your site and discover any orphaned pages or opportunities to refresh content.
Why Tracking Your SEO Strategy Is Important
After implementing your SEO strategy, it’s important that you take the time to find out what is successful and what isn’t. SEO is as much an art as a science so set up an account in Google Analytics and Google Search Console to ensure that it’s working. With these two tools, you can see the traffic that’s coming to your website. Search Console also alerts you if your website is having indexing issues.
Track your traffic to pages to see what’s working and what isn’t. Look at other signals like bounce rate to see if users find your content informative. In Search Console, you’ll get a glimpse of which keywords are driving users to your site.
You can see impressions, clicks, and the average position of a keyword. Look at this month over month to see if there are any wins and losses. Look year over year if you’re in a seasonal industry.
If you discover any drastic losses in keywords or traffic, dig in and determine why. Sometimes, you’re outranked and sometimes, the page didn’t meet the user’s intent, so Google is finding a more relevant page to show in the SERPs.
Why You Should Iterate and Refine Your SEO Strategy
With your new insights into your traffic, refine your SEO strategy, focus on what works and move away from what isn’t performing for you.
Determine if one type of content is performing better than another type. Perhaps you’ve noticed that your video content is driving more traffic and conversions than your blogs. If that’s the case, invest in more videos.
Maybe your blog is driving traffic but not converting. If that’s the case, then it’s worth investing in some testing software to A/B test different calls-to-action (CTAs) on the blog. You may find that you have a high bounce rate indicating a bad user experience (UX) or some of your content doesn’t entirely meet your users’ needs.
Once you know what works, you can double down and get more bang for your buck. With content or parts of your site that are failing you can try a new angle until you get it right. There’s no need to waste your efforts on something that isn’t working.
What To Do Next
With some planning and a solid SEO strategy in place, you can have a fighting chance to take on your competitors and move your site to the top of the SERPs. Remember that SEO takes time but is well worth the effort. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll get results. In time, you can reduce your paid spend as traffic starts to come in on your organic channel. If you haven’t built your site there are a number of website builders to check out that will help you get off the ground. If you’re a local business, claim your Google Business profile. Of course, a solid keyword strategy is a great place to start getting rankings and driving traffic.