Building a Successful SEO Strategy: The 6 Essential Steps
How To Build an SEO Strategy
The world of search engine optimization (SEO) can easily feel overwhelming because there are so many aspects that go into a successful SEO strategy, including On Page and Off Page SEO tactics. The best way to combat this feeling is to think of SEO like any other initiative you’d implement in your business. That is, to see the best results, go about it in a methodical, step-by-step process. This ensures there are no glaring gaps in your overall strategy, but it also makes the process more manageable and less intimidating. With that in mind, the following are six essential steps to creating and implementing any successful SEO strategy.
1. SEO and Business Goal Setting
The first step in any good SEO plan is to set goals and benchmarks. After all, if you don’t know where you want to go, you can’t hope to figure out how to get there.
The rules governing how to create successful SEO goals are the same for any goal. Just remember to be SMART.
A vague goal is doomed to fail. Decide what you want out of your SEO plan, and then write those specifics down. Maybe you want to double traffic to your site or get 30 percent more website-generated leads.
The goal will vary depending on your industry, how established you are, and any number of other factors, but any SEO goal (from multibillion dollar conglomerates to mom-and-pop start-ups) must be specific to succeed.
Set the parameters for how you’ll measure each goal. If you don’t have a quantitative way to assess your goal’s progress, it’ll be difficult to pin down what strides you’ve made. Without measurable goals, you’ll never know if you reached your specific target.
Decide what (if any) tools you’ll need to do this measuring. Will it require manual input of data, or will you purchase a subscription to software such as HubSpot to track traffic, leads, and other metrics.
A good goal has to be attainable, so ask yourself if you have the resources necessary to see this goal come to fruition.
Say your goal is to double site traffic within six months. If you don’t have any budget, resources, or people behind your SEO efforts, you’re simply not in a position yet to go after this goal.
There’s nothing wrong with shooting for the stars. You just can’t expect to reach that star in one leap. Choose a series of smaller realistic goals that will ultimately get you to that desired end point.
If you’re new to SEO and your site is new as well, it’s likely not a realistic goal to expect 5,000 unique hits a day within one business quarter.
Being realistic is an important parameter because failing to reach goals can be discouraging, and you might be adding undue stress to you or your team by reaching too far too soon.
Time is crucial to any goal. If you don’t set a start date, end date, and progress checkpoints, a goal is significantly more likely to miss the mark or fall by the wayside.
Explicitly state when that specific, measurable, attainable, and realistic goal needs to be done by.
Always make sure your SEO goals are in alignment with other business goals. For example, if you want an X percent increase of raw traffic, know how that contributes to or impacts your quarterly profits goal.
2. Competitive Analysis
Once your goals are set, it’s time to identify and compare yourself to the competition. This is the real beginning of your SEO campaign, so let’s break that process down.
- Identify Competition
Finding your SEO competition can be done through several channels.
- Industry knowledge
Use your own employee knowledge base. Who do you know is your offline competition? It’s a good bet they’re your online competition too.
Just type in a URL to find similar sites in your industry.
Screenshot of SimilarWeb report for Amazon.
SEMRush can help you identify key competitors by noting who is ranking for keywords relevant to your business.
Don’t forget—this is about SEO competition. Even if a site doesn’t sell what you sell or offer the service you offer, if you’re both going for the same keyword, that site is your competition.
- Select Competition
With your list of potential competitors, run SEMRush or SimilarWeb reports to find who is specifically targeting the same or similar keywords as you. These are your direct competitors.
Run a report on each identified competitor. You’ll learn the ranking keywords as well as important metrics of those keywords (cost-per-click for paid, traffic percentage, etc.). That report will look something like this:
Photo courtesy of SEMRush
- Compare Yourself with Selected Competitors
Check data on ranked content, popularity of ranked pages, and keywords. Figure out where you outshine your competition and where you need to focus your work.
- Hone Keyword List
After running these comparisons, you can start to polish your keyword list by determining what’s worth going after. What’s driving traffic to other sites? What’s getting high volumes of monthly hits?
3. Keyword Research
You’ve already done a bit of keyword research to help you put together a preliminary list of relevant keywords. Now you’re ready to start expanding and then finalizing your keywords through research.
Keywords—search terms relevant to your industry—can be gathered using the following step-by-step plan.
- Research Your Competition
You’ve already done this! And it’s generated a valuable preliminary list of keywords for you.
- Use Keyword Research Tools
When coming up with the list of keywords you want to target, use the time-saving tools at your disposal. This can include:
- Google AdWords Keyword Planner
- TermExplorer (limited free and paid versions)
Use the various keyword expansion feature of the tools to generate keywords you might not have otherwise considered.
- Filter Keyword Lists
At this point, you should have a huge list of keywords. You’ll need to filter it down to the best.
What does “best” mean, though? Analyze according to:
- Monthly Search Volume
Too many searches, and the competition will be fierce. Too few, and people won’t likely find you for that term. Most people aim for somewhere between one hundred and five hundred searches per month.
- Cost Per Click (CPC)
Even if you’re not paying for keywords, CPC can help you gauge competition and the buying intent surrounding that term.
This metric (found in SEMRush, Keyword Planner, and others) gives you an idea of how hard it will be to rank for that term.
4. Onsite Audit
To confirm there’s nothing glaringly wrong with your website, you should run an onsite audit—a kind of site checkup. Everything from your site speed, mobile responsiveness and your web host could impact the effectiveness of your strategy. In terms of its SEO value, it can ensure you’re maximally visible to the search engines.
The first place to hit is SEMRush. Type your URL into the search box to run a report on yourself. You’ll see, among other metrics, if your search volume is increasing or decreasing over time. If you notice any steep drop-offs, that could indicate a potential SEO-related issue, and it will give you a timeframe to contextualize the problem. For example, were any big changes made to the site around that time?
Don’t forget to also manually check your website in popular search engines and social media sites. Everything should load correctly and quickly. Note any error pages or unexpected formatting in different browsers. These issue will need to be fixed.
All information should also be accurate and up to date—even across different websites and platforms. Check also for frequently updated and high-quality content. This will make you more attractive to search engines.
5. Backlinks Audit
Backlinks are one big way search engines determine the authority and ranking power of a website. (A backlink is when another site adds a link that directs to your site.)
A full backlink audit (a list of all currently active backlinks to your site) often requires a paid account to the checking site, but an audit can be done through:
- Majestic SEO
- Link Research Tools
One important thing to remember about backlinks—you want quality backlinks. Google can actually take punitive action against your site for black-hat link building. Using the full audit, you can detect and remove these “bad” links.
6. KPI Setting
Once your campaign is under way, you’ll need a way to objectively measure its success. That’s where key performance indicators (KPIs) can help. KPI is a common business term that essentially indicates a metric. It’s a way to ascertain the progress or success of any given endeavor.
To measure the success of your SEO campaign, you’ll need to decide what KPIs you’ll use. (For many, this will be an extension of what they’ve already discussed within the “measurable” portion of an SEO goal.)
The most common SEO KPIs include:
- Keyword rank (National & Local SEO)
- Traffic volume
- Return on investment (ROI)
- Links (so long as they’re quality)
What you value out of your SEO campaign will depend largely on your goal (or goals). For example, if increased revenue is your goal, ROI might be paramount.
SEO is a wide umbrella that encompasses a lot of facets and tricks and strategies. People make whole careers out of learning (and staying on top of) the industry. However, anyone can benefit from strategic SEO planning. Even if you don’t know every tactic, being smart, methodical, and organized about your SEO approach will already give you a leg up on much of your competition.