Online shopping has taken over the world.
While people still run to the store to pick things up, the allure of buying just about anything from the comfort of your home is unstoppable.
From plumbing fixtures to pizza rolls, if you want it, you can get it delivered with the push of an app – without leaving the house.
And even if your business sells services, rather than products, there’s an incredible chance that the majority of people are shopping for it online.
This means ecommerce should be a focus for every company that’s selling something. And that means you need an increased focus on web traffic.
After all, you could have the best website in the world, with cutting-edge design, optimized for ideal user experiences, and copy that would make David Ogilvy gnash his teeth in envy, but if no one ever sees it, it’s not doing you an ounce of good.
You need to get found. And that, of course, is why SEO is a crucial part of any modern marketing plan.
You want to rank highly in search engine results pages (SERPs), so you get found organically by your targets.
However, this is much easier said than done. But don’t fret, we’re here to help.
Whether you’re an experienced professional looking to brush up on the fundamentals for a client or a complete newbie trying to figure out how this whole SEO thing works for your business, you’re in the right place.
Here, we’ll walk you through the steps of creating, implementing, and optimizing an SEO campaign that will have your site shooting up the rankings in no time.
What Is An SEO Strategy?
You’ve probably already figured out that an SEO strategy is your plan to make your website or landing page more appealing to Google and other search engines
The goal here is to rank higher and drive more organic traffic (and hopefully conversions).
It sounds simple enough, but there’s a big catch: Search algorithms are always changing.
As Google seeks to enhance the quality of its searches and provide users with better solutions to queries, its algorithms are updated several times a year.
What that means for SEO is that you can’t just set it and forget it. Every search engine optimization needs iterations.
You need to regularly analyze and course-correct to ensure you’re taking advantage of the latest best practices and strategies.
That’s good for SEO professionals – otherwise, we’d be out of jobs rather quickly
But it means a bit of a commitment for you.
To stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the world of search, you need to regularly consult with reliable sources (like this one).
Luckily, there are a wealth of resources you can mine for quality information. Whether you prefer articles, webinars or podcasts, there’s SEO content available for you.
Do You Really Need SEO?
Right now, some of you contrarians are sneering at your screen and asking if you really need SEO to find customers.
You have somebody handling paid search or affiliate marketing for you, so you’re not sure there’s much of a benefit to investing all this time into organic search. Don’t fall into that trap.
Organic search is what drives more than half of all website visits and should be an important part of any organization’s digital marketing strategy, whether you’re a multinational mega-corporation or a mom-and-pop shop.
And it’s especially important for direct-to-consumer sites. By providing useful content, you’re not only building trust, but you’re matching your website with customer intent, which means higher quality leads.
And even better, you’re not paying for every click, which means a lower cost-per-conversion.
So, even if you have the world’s best pay-per-click (PPC) and affiliate marketing campaigns routinely driving motivated customers to your site, you’re still only fighting half the battle by ignoring organic search.
Creating An Effective SEO Strategy: 9 Fundamental Steps
Though SEO requires a comprehensive strategy, you can break it down into several manageable steps.
1. Align SEO With Business Goals & Define KPIs
First things first, you need to know where you currently stand, where you want to go, and how you’ll measure success along the way.
You’ll want to begin by performing an SEO audit.
This is the roadmap that will guide you throughout the entire optimization process and allow you to benchmark against your current site.
You need to examine a variety of aspects, including:
- Domain name, age, history, etc.
- Page factors like headlines, keyword & topical targeting and user engagement.
- Content organization, content quality, and the quality of your images (no one trusts stock photography).
- Duplicate content.
- Website factors like architecture, schema, markup. and click-through rate (CTR).
- Past and upcoming website updates.
- The quality of inbound links.
- On-site factors like sitemaps, image optimization. and robots.txt.
For a step-by-step guide on how to perform this audit, we have an excellent series that will guide you through it.
Once you know where you’re starting from, it’s time to plan your timeframe and allocated budgets and resources.
This is yet another area of life where you get what you pay for. If you’re looking for fast and cheap, you’re not going to get the results you would by investing more time and money.
Obviously, your budget and timeframe will depend on your company’s unique situation, but if you want good results, be prepared to pay for them.
For an idea of how much you should be spending, consult this article.
During this step of the SEO process, you’ll also want to define your key performance indicators (KPIs).
This is how you’ll measure the success of your new implementations and figure out what’s working for you and where you need to make adjustments.
Some of the KPIs you should be tracking are:
- Organic sessions.
- Keyword ranking increases.
- Leads and conversions.
- Bounce rate (keep i mind that bounce rate is an internal metric and is 100% dependent upon the events you set up on your pages and will be phased out in GA 4)
- Pages per session.
- Average session duration.
- Page load time.
- Top exit pages.
- Crawl errors.
For more information on what these are and why they’re important, be sure to read this piece on top SEO KPIs.
2. Perform Keyword Research
Search engine rankings are determined by an algorithm that evaluates a variety of factors to decide how well a website answers a particular search query. And a huge part of that is the use of keywords.
From single words to complex phrases, keywords tell search engines what your content is about. But adding keywords isn’t quite as simple as just plugging in the name of the product or service you want to sell.
You need to do research to ensure keyword optimization, and that means considering the following:
The beauty of the English language (and the bane of SEOs) is in its richness.
But words often have multiple meanings, which makes it crucial to consider search intent, so you don’t attract an audience that was searching for something else.
For example, if you’re trying to attract customers to a haberdashery, ranking highly for [bowlers] may attract people who want to roll a few frames instead of those looking for a new hat.
Once you’ve identified your targets, you need to figure out which keywords are important to them.
It’s usually best to target only a few keywords, as targeting too broadly will make it difficult for the search engine to determine what your pages are about.
These are short phrases consisting of two or more words that people type into search engines to find specific content.
For example, someone looking for dance lessons may ask Google for [tango classes near me].
Keyword Research Tools
The brainstorming process is a great place to start keyword research, but to ensure you’re attracting the right audience and proving your value to search engines, you should utilize a research tool.
Most SEO professionals use Google’s Keyword Planner for this, but it can be a bit frustrating to use, so you may wish to consider other options.
These are specific search terms people use to find an exact match for their query.
They tend to be longer and are more likely to be used by people who are closer to making a purchase.
An example of this would be [vegetarian restaurants in San Antonio], which would most likely be used by someone with a craving for a plant-based meal.
This will tell you the number of searches for a particular keyword over a specified timeframe, giving you an overall idea of the term’s value and competitiveness.
[Christmas lights] is going to get a lot more volume in November and December than it will in July. A lot of terms are seasonal, keep this in mind.
Likewise, [used cars] is going to have more competition than [2006 Volkswagen Passant].
These are keywords targeting users at various parts of the sales funnel.
People at the top of the funnel are more likely to be attracted by more general terms like [Cancun vacation], whereas those who are nearer to purchasing are comparing prices and brands and will more likely be attracted by things like discounts or hotel names.
Keywords are as much about your audience as they are your content.
For a more detailed explanation of every part of keyword research and optimization, we have a detailed ebook on the topic.
3. Define Your Most Valuable Pages
Every team needs an MVP, and in the case of your website, that’s your most valuable pages.
These pages are the ones that do the bulk of the heavy lifting for you.
For non-ecommerce sites, these are usually things like your home page, your services pages or any pages with demos or other offers.
These pages are also likely MVPs for ecommerce sites, but will also be joined by category and/or product level pages.
To find which pages are your site’s most important ones, you should consider what your organization is known for.
What verticals to you compete in? What pain points do you solve? Define these or add more based on the high-level keywords you came up with in the previous step.
Once you’ve identified the category and product pages that bring in the most visitors, you’ll be able to focus your strategy on improving them and increasing your organic traffic.
Read more about how to find your MVPs here.
4. Conduct A Competitive Analysis
If you didn’t have any competition, there would be no need for SEO. But as long as other companies are manufacturing refrigerators, Frigidaire needs to find ways to differentiate itself.
You need to have an idea of what others in your industry are doing, so you can position yourself for the best results.
You need to figure out where you’re being outranked and find ways to turn the tables.
You should know which keywords are most competitive and where you have opportunities.
You should have some understanding of the opposition’s backlinking and site structure, so you can optimize your own site for the best possible search ranking.
Learn more about how to perform this analysis and develop a template for it by reading this piece.
5. Plan For User Experience & Technical SEO
Don’t overlook the importance of how your site is structured, both technically and how users interface with it.
The best content and keyword strategy in the world won’t lead to a single sale if your site is constantly broken or is so frustrating to use that people close your page in disgust.
You should carefully consider your site’s architecture and user experiences to ensure people are taking the desired actions.
Likewise, you should find and fix any technical issues like broken links, slow load times and bad site schema.
There are a number of free tools you can use to ensure your site is working optimally.
6. Consider Your Resources
SEO doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it impacts many other parts of your organization, including marketing, sales, and IT.
If you’re looking for the budget to perform SEO, you may find some of your employees are already well-qualified to help.
For example, your sales team probably knows which products people are most interested in.
Enlisting them in your SEO strategy development will help with lead generation and find new targets who are already qualified.
Similarly, SEO can tell your marketing team what types of content resonates best, so they can fine tune their campaigns. And your copywriters and graphic designers can develop the type of content that will help you shoot up the rankings.
Your IT team probably already has control over your website.
Your SEO strategy should be designed around their expertise, to ensure website design and structure, development cycles, data structure, and core principles are all aligned.
And these are just a few ways you can integrate SEO into your existing workflows.
Others exist if you look closely and it’s very unlikely that you’ll need to start completely from scratch.
Evaluate your existing software, technology, and personnel, as there’s a good chance you have some of the pieces already in place.
And if you need to scale production up, you may find the budget already in place in existing departments.
7. Align Your SEO Strategy With Your Customer Funnel
At the end of the day, sales are the name of the game. Without customers, there’s no revenue, and that means no business.
To aid in the sales process, your SEO strategy should align with your customer funnel.
Sometimes described as the customer journey, your sales funnel is a summation of the touchpoints customers have with your company as they go from awareness to post-purchase.
SEO fits neatly with every stage of this cycle:
- Awareness: In the modern world, many customers first hear about your business online. Through a Google search, for example.
- Interest: This is where customers start doing research. And what better place to do research than your website?
- Decision: The customer wants to buy and is deciding between you and the competition. Your meta description mentioning free shipping could be the thing that sways them.
- Purchase: Ecommerce continues to grow. Having a search engine optimized point of sale makes it easy for people to buy.
- Post-purchase: Customer reviews, either on your website or on a third-party site are a great way to build trust and increase your relevancy for keywords.
8. Report And Set Realistic Expectations
Reporting is essential. You need to be able to effectively measure and report on the progress you’re making.
Reporting allows you to establish consistent, accurate data that earns trust.
It helps you understand the factors behind your ranking and identify areas where you could improve, and not least of all, it proves the value of SEO to the organization’s decision-makers.
One of the most common mistakes people unfamiliar with SEO make is expecting overnight results.
And because of the variables involved with competition, inbound links, and the content itself, it’s nearly impossible to provide a definite timeframe.
You need to go into the process with an understanding that SEO takes time and the more competitive the keywords you’re going after, the longer it will take to climb to the top.
This needs to be conveyed to stakeholders from the start, to ensure expectations are realistic.
For a guide on how to create impactful reports that generate quality insights, read our guide here.
9. Measure And Document Your Strategy
Congratulations on making it this far, but you’re not quite done.
After you’ve generated the reports on how your SEO strategy is working, you need to track the metrics and prove its impact.
Some of the most important metrics you’ll want to consider include organic sessions, bounce rate, top exit pages, and crawl errors.
By identifying all of these, you’ll get a better idea of what you customers are looking for – and what’s driving them away.
For more information, read this article on top SEO KPIs.
There are a variety of both paid and free tools available that you can use to measure and track conversions, and compare them weekly, monthly, or by another timeframe of your choosing.
Simply find one that works for your budget and needs.
No one ever said SEO was easy, at least not anyone who has done it. But it’s a vital part of any modern organization’s business plan.
However, with a solid strategy, a willingness to learn, and a little old-fashioned elbow grease, even a complete beginner can send their website to the top of the SERP.
In this piece, we’ve given you nine steps to take to get your SEO strategy off the ground. But of course, this is just the start.
You need a unique plan that will work for your industry and your needs.
Luckily, Search Engine Journal can help with this too.
Download our ebook on SEO strategy with a full-year blueprint for an easy-to-follow 12-month plan you can use to develop a solid strategy, track your progress, and adjust to changing situations.
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