When most people talk about search engine optimization they make it sound like you just need to do a little keyword research and get some links coming to your site… and boom… you have traffic.
But having a great search engine optimization strategy goes beyond the basics… it actually starts from the very beginning.
While there is a lot of advice out there, most of it misses some, if not all, of the steps I’m going to share with you.
Step #1: Assess how search-friendly your site is
Before you make any changes to your site, you need to know where you stand. You need to know if your content is visible to search engines if you want them to index you and list your site.
Now, if you have everything in HTML text format, then you are probably good. However, images, Java applets, Flash files and other non-text content are practically invisible to search engine spiders (even though they claim they can spider some of it). Even the most advanced crawling technologies cannot see this content accurately.
When all your content is HTML, search engines will see it. But if you want to use the other formats, there are ways you can make it visible to search engines. For example:
- You can assign alt attributes to images in gif, jpg, or png. This gives search engines some to crawl and guess as to the visual content, which helps in ranking the relevancy of the page.
- You can also use CSS styles on images as a replacement for text.
- You can simply repeat any content on a page that’s in Flash or Java plug-ins.
- You can provide the transcript for any audio or video files. This is another great way of allowing search engines to crawl content, helping you rank.
Even if you think you’ve got all your content in HTML and don’t think you have any significant problems with content that’s indexable, you should still double check. Here’s how you do that.
Here’s a snapshot of Quick Sprout on Google cache. This is the text version:
You can see all the text, which is a good thing. That means all the search engines are crawling this site and ranking it based on the content.
Here’s a site that’s all flash:
Even though there was very little content on this page to begin with, it isn’t even showing up. That’s not good because search engines cannot index any of the content, including the links.
If you want to go a step further and evaluate what terms and phrases search engines can see on a website, then you can try SEOMoz’s tool Term Extractor.
It shows words according to their frequency on the site. Here’s my blogs most frequently used words:
So how do you use this information? Good question. Well these terms should reflect the words and terms you are targeting. If not, then you’ll want to make changes to the text on the page. Don’t forget to change the title and header tags, too.
Step #2: Evaluating your competitors
After you do a general evaluation of your content on your blog, another meaningful way to see where you stand SEO wise is to find out how you measure up to your competitors.
Use Raven Tools SEO Competitor Analyst checklist to help you identify and track both broad and niche competitors, check on-site competitive rank with keywords and how you measure up to off-site factors.
So why is keeping tabs with your competitors important? Well, for one thing, it’s kind of like getting a free seo insight. Your competitors, especially if they are a big brand, will probably have spent tens of thousands of dollars to achieve their rankings. You can than see what works and what doesn’t work without having spend all the money.
Also, if you want to dominate, then you have to know what your competitors are doing. So here’s a few tools you can use:
- Spyfu – Find and capture profitable opportunities by spying on your competitor’s AdWords campaigns for $79 a month.
- KeyCompete – This tool allows you to identify keywords your competitors are using in their PPC campaigns and tells you who is bidding on your keywords.
- PPC Web Spy – This free competitive analysis tool will show you the Google AdWords keywords your competitors are using.
Step #3: Generate profiles on your targeted audience
The next step you have to do to improve your seo is to figure out who your target audience is. Do you know their age, sex and pain points? Do you know where they live?
To learn how to develop a persona out of your target audience, go over to usability.gov and read their persona descriptions. They’ll even tell you how to do task analysis and scenarios to develop the personas.
What you are trying to do is focus your seo strategy on your audience’s pain points. What is it your audience really needs? Are you meeting their needs? Understanding this information will help you develop a plan for your content that zeros in on these pain points.
You may wonder why I’m jumping into your target audience before I reach the keyword research part. Well, they’re two reasons:
- Content strategy – The content you publish on your website/blog needs to be focused on your target audience and their needs. In fact, when you start developing content based on their problems, that automatically makes it linkbait. For instance, on this site I provide information on web analytics, blogging, running a business and seo. When I learn that entrepreneurs don’t have the time to figure out how to use social media, I will write an article for them to help clear the clutter, like I did with 57 social media resources for entrepreneurs. A good content strategy depends on knowing exactly what your audience wants… and giving it to them.
- Keyword research – Just as you want to write content that’s targeted to your audience, you want to add keywords that are centered on your audience’s pain points (without stuffing of course). Knowing exactly who my audience is, I can eliminate all the keywords that appeal to the general population, and bring my narrowed-down group of readers the content that will help them solve their problems using keywords that resonate with them.
Step #4: Generate seed keywords
This is why it’s important to analyze your keyword content like you did in step one because you want to take those keywords, put them into a spreadsheet and then look at how many searches are being conducted on those keywords for a certain period of time. Score the keyword to see how important it is to your site.
You’ll also want to determine how competitive those keywords are. If I analyze the keyword “search engine marketing” I’ll discover there are 45.5 million results.
If I narrow that search to “search engine marketing strategy” there are 36 million.
Interestingly enough, if I analyze “search engine marketing strategy steps” the number of results will jump up to 65 million! (the more results there are the more competitive the term typically is – this doesn’t hold true in all cases, but it does for a lot)
The lesson there is that just because it’s a long keyword doesn’t mean it’s going to be less competitive. You have to analyze all your keywords and never assume anything.
A quick way to figure out which keywords tend to convert the best, just do quick queries on Google’s Traffic Estimator… the higher the cost per click, the more likely that the keyword converts.
Just because the keywords you’ve chosen are popular and send a lot of traffic to your site it doesn’t mean they’ll exactly convert. In other words, your ROI will be low.
Step #5: Become a great writer
Great search engine optimization boils down to writing great content and SEO friendly blog posts. That’s pretty common advice, but I think too many people think about it after they launch their seo campaign.
That means either you need to train yourself to write well or hire someone.
Hiring somebody is not cheap, so I can understand why you would want to do it yourself. One of the ways you can become a great writer is by following my advice on writing popular blog posts, which breaks down why you should:
- Use simple words.
- Use the word “you.”
- Write how-to posts.
- Write detailed posts.
- Hook your readers.
- Create a conversation.
- Prove your points.
- Show your authority.
- Care about your readers
These tips have helped me to write blog posts that are easy for my audience to read as well as rank well in the search engines. I hope they help you too!
Creating a new search engine optimization strategy can be very lucrative in the long run. You just have to be patient and not try to rank for your prized keyword right out off the bat. If you follow the steps I talked about above you’ll place yourself on the path to seo success.
What steps do you take before launching a new seo strategy?