Creating your first SEO strategy is very daunting no matter if you are starting a website from scratch or building on an already established website. This article will walk through the four steps you can take to create your first strategy from both perspectives.
A strategy is a plan of action to achieve a business goal so if your goal is to launch into a million markets at once maybe email or paid search is a better option for the short term. If, on the other hand, you want to grow your organic traffic through optimising your website and growing your content then SEO is the right choice for you.
Let’s pause here to talk briefly about Google’s algorithm. Google employees are regularly quoted as saying that they use 200+ signals to rank websites well. These signals include links, content, authorship, click through rate, bounce rate, etc. The list is long. It is my personal view that Google categorises website according to topic, industry, location, and some other areas and then uses these ranking factors to rank similar websites.
So, for instance, ten people choose to set up online stores today that sell different things but follow the same SEO and content marketing strategy. Only two or three stores would find success in following this strategy even though some of those who failed did a better job. Hard work is part of the reason you succeed but understanding your industry is the other element for success.
If your top competitors who are killing it in terms of search rankings creates lots of content, but have crap page load speed, you need to make sure you create lots of content, and it would be ideal if you have a good page load speed for good user experience. If your competitors write no content for their websites, but are killing it with gathering links from other domains, you need to do this too. So you cannot copy off your neighbour when it comes to creating an SEO strategy, you need to put the work in, understand what your competition are doing and do better, but don’t kill yourself in the process.
WHAT IS INVOLVED IN AN SEO STRATEGY?
There are four clear steps you need to take when creating a strategy for your SEO plan. Before you start to set goals or activities to follow you need to know where you and your competitors stand. It is important to take all of four steps as:
- If you don’t have a clear understanding of what your competitors are doing you could end up working really hard and failing because your competitors are one step ahead of you,
- When you don’t take stock of what is already on your website you may create new content that competes with your old content and this will cause keyword cannibalisation,
- You may set goals that are not relevant to where your business is moving towards, so your efforts will be in vain,
- And finally you may have great goals but the wrong, or no, KPIs to track success, therefore you don’t know if you have succeeded.
So let’s get into the real work!
External Audits can take time. You should focus on five to ten direct and indirect competitors to make sure you leave no stone unturned. You may feel that you have such a unique business idea that means you have no direct competitors but you will have indirect competitors in the least that you should understand and track. So you have found some competitors to do a competitive analysis with, we’ll get started:
#1 Content– First look at their content — do they have product or service pages and what do these look like? Are blogs important to these competitors and how often do they post? Will you need to post every week to keep up-to-date with your best competitor? What is the average word count of these posts? You could try to match this and add an extra 10%.
#2 Search Optimised – Next, look closely at these websites — are they optimised for SEO? Are their meta titles basic or killing it? Is there a clear keyword strategy for pages or does it feel random? Have they thought about the pages they have created or just added new pages haphazardly?
#3 External Profiles – What are they doing on other online platforms like social media, review sites, Google My Business, etc? Some industries have online platforms where the community spends time, (like Stackoverflow or GitHub for developers) and you need to be here if your competitors (or your audience) are here. Do your competitors distribute content via social media and if so how does their audience engage with it. If their audience engages well with Twitter posts, but are nowhere to be found on Instagram then distribution of content through social media is an important element to pay attention to in your SEO strategy.
#4 Backlinks – Do these competitors guest blog or are they quoted a lot by other websites? Could this be considered PR or link building? If your competitors are getting a lot of links for external sources, Google might see this as an important signal for content quality in your industry.
#5 Site Performance – Finally, look at competitor websites to see if there is a common theme throughout them. Maybe they focus on imagery, or cut imagery out completely. You should question why this is the case and if you should test a dramatically different design.
Alright, step one done!
Next let’s look at the internal factors that tell you how you fair alongside your competition. This part is important as it tells you:
- The amount of work you need to do in order to rank similar or better to your competitors
- If you have the resources to benchmark yourself against your top competitors or if you need to be more realistic and take smaller steps first.
So what is involved in an internal audit from an SEO point of view?
#1 Content – You want to take stock of the content you already have and whether you want to keep it, optimise it, or redirect it. Ask yourself does your content add up to your competitors content from a word count and quality perspective? Do you use a similar layout, include images, what is your linking structure like within each category of your website?
Here you can see that StaatBallett have their intranet indexed which is something that they might not want indexed by search engines.
#2 Search Optimised – Now you need to ask yourself are your pages optimised, at least to the extent of your competitors. You should make sure you have great meta titles, alt tags, page titles, etc, so that you know search engines can gather all the right information from your website quickly. Including an enticing meta title and description will also help users decide to click on your search result over your competitors.
#3 External Profiles – Next look at your external profiles, like social media and other important online spheres. Are you present on all the same platforms as your competitors? Are you as active as them? Do you get good engagement or is it worse than your competitors? Do you actively ask for reviews, and how do you fair versus your competition? Furthermore who looks after these social profiles? If social media and other external profiles are important to your competitors in terms of distribution and customer service you may need to start distributing content through these communication mediums. So you need to know who to contact.
#4 Backlinks – And backlinks — who is linking to you from outside of the business? Are these domains good quality or are they crappy domains? You should disavow the crappy links so they don’t drag your content quality down so run a report through Google Search Console to find out these links and give them to your developer to add to your disavow file.
Is there a domain that links to you quite regularly? Can you partner with them to start guest blogging? In this screenshot I show you how to find your linking sites in Google Search Console which is 100% free but it may take some time after you set up your account to view this information for the first time.
#5 Site Performance – Now you want to look closer at the performance of your website. Does your website load faster or slower than your best competitors? You can find this out through Google’s Lighthouse or PageSpeed Insights tools, which are free. These reports will point out if your CSS or third party tools are slowly down your website, or maybe it revolves about your loading queue. You can run this report and have your developer walk you through each issue that it lists to see if you can improve these on your website.
Are you optimising your image, file size wise? You can significantly slow down your website with huge images so check that you optimise images before you upload them to your website. Google’s free tools will let you know if you need to optimise your images also.
#6 Internal Linking – Then you should look at your internal linking structure — do you have a good linking structure where all new pages are linked to relevant pages within the website and not orphan pages?
“An orphan page is one that has no internal pages linking to it, and no internal links from it making it hard for crawlers to understand the relationship this page has with others on your website.”
Can you improve on the linking structure to make sure all new pages have a good linking structure? The screenshot shows how to find the internal links you have for each page on your website within Google Search Console. You could start by looking at your most important, high traffic pages to make sure the internal linking is good within these, and then work your way back.
#7 Manual Actions – Then finally, does your website have any manual actions against it? Google Search Console will let you know if Google has given you a manual penalty that will have an impact on your website’s rankings.
“A manual action is a penalty that Google has taken against you as it deems some part of your website as untrustworthy or spammy.”
If this is the case, you need to spend your time solving this before you look at optimising anything else. Manual actions can be many things but they normally around for what Google seeing as unnatural linking, or largely duplicate websites. You will notice your rankings and traffic falling significantly without resolving a manual action.
All these above internal audit factors are directly related to what you look at for competitors apart from point six and seven. You should make sure that the benchmark you found for your competitors is what your website achieves. If you don’t match your competitors for their backlinks, their content quality, or optimisation level then it is important to prioritise this in your SEO strategy. Spend some time mapping out what the average competitor has, what you have, and what you have fallen behind on. This list will inform your next step.
Set Informed Goals
Now you need to actually start planning activities. All the things your competitors are doing better than you, you need to rationalise why you should start doing them in your business. What did your competitors get from doing these activities and is this a good idea for you to be doing these? Here are some of the reasons to do any of the activities surrounding SEO
- Content / Search Optimisation – Increase in organic traffic of xx%
- External Profiles – Increase branded search visibility
- Site Performance – Increase organic conversions by xx%
- Search / Meta Title Optimisation – Improve CTR to services pages
- Guest Blogging – Be seen as thought leaders on a topic
- Backlinks and Interviews – Be the leader in XX content format
You always need to set a goal for why you are doing something, or else you will have no measure of success or motivation to continue the activity.
And finally highlight KPIs, or success metrics, for any goal that you setout. You may think that this is an afterthought but a goal without a KPI cannot be successful. You need to know what success looks like before starting a project to understand the real value of it. You could set out to increase the click-through-rate of all services pages but will a .01% increase be classed as successful? Or does an increase in CTR by 2% on each page sound better? This number is important because it tells you when a project is over and if you have achieved what you set out to do.
Sample KPIs with easy reports include:
- Clicks – Google Search Console Performance Report
- Impressions – Google Search Console Performance Report
- CTR – Google Search Console Performance Report
- Rankings – Google Search Console Performance Report
- Conversions – Google Analytics Conversion Report
- But then there are Engagement Metrics like:
- Time on Page – Google Analytics Landing Page Report
- Bounce Rate – Google Analytics Landing Page Report
- Exit Rate – Google Analytics Landing Page Report
Engagement metrics are great for identifying if content is engaging. If you get a bounce rate of 100% on a web page, with a time on page of 1 second this is bad as it denotes that every person who clicked through to this page from organic or other sources left the page within 1 second. However if you get a bounce rate of 100% on a page on your website, with an average time on page of 1 minute, this is way better. People are spending time on this page. They might not be visiting another page on the website but maybe you answered the question that they had, or maybe they rang your office so they didn’t need your website anymore. Engagement metrics are great at helping you understand your audience and the value of your website.
We have set out four steps when creating an SEO Strategy and now you should have a good idea of the activities needed to increase search rankings. But we have talked about what the finished product should look like. There are thousands of SEO strategy templates online that you can download, just like there are thousands of templates online for creating an SEO strategy, but these are not tailored for you and your situation.
Your strategy could be a one page document that you place above your desk as a reminder to yourself or it could be a twelve page document that:
- Summarises your competitor analysis
- Outlines where your company is positioned
- Talks about what your strategy should be
- Denotes what your strategy shouldn’t be
- Highlights how to carry out this strategy (with a pretty gantt chart)
- Shows what success looks like
But at the end of the day you should create a strategy that suits your business not a template you found online.
Creating an SEO strategy, no matter if it is your first strategy or hundredth one, needs to be a tailored strategy for you and your business. That is why you need to put time and effort into doing the research and work to create this SEO strategy.
Creating your first SEO strategy is a simple four step process:
- Do your External Audit to kick the process off
- Move onto your Internal Audit to know what you have
- Set your goals by priority so you see results first
- Identify KPIs, or measures for goal success