When most people talk about search engine optimization, they make it sound like you just need to do a little keyword research, 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 so that they can index 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 types of non-text content are practically invisible to search engine spiders. Although they claim they can crawl 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 for your content, there are ways in which 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 something to crawl when it comes 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, even that isn’t 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, 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 see how you measure up to off-site factors.
So, why is keeping tabs on your competitors important? Well, for one thing, it’s kind of like getting a free SEO insight. Your competitors, especially if they are big brands, will probably have spent tens of thousands of dollars to achieve their rankings. You can then 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. Here are a few tools you can use:
- Spyfu – Find and capture profitable opportunities by spying on your competitors’ 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 of your target audience
The next step you have to take to improve your SEO is to figure out who your target audience is. Do you know its age, sex and pain points? Do you know where these people live?
To learn how to develop a persona based on the data of your target audience, go over to usability.gov and read the 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 that your audience really needs? Are you meeting its 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, there are two reasons:
- Content strategy – The content you publish on your website/blog needs to be focused on your target audience and its needs. In fact, when you start developing content based on your audience’s 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 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 within 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 phrase “search engine marketing,” I’ll discover there are 45.5 million results.
If I narrow that search to “search engine marketing strategy,” I get 36 million results.
Interestingly enough, if I analyze “search engine marketing strategy steps,” the number of results jumps 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 of them.)
The lesson here is that just because it’s a long keyword phrase doesn’t mean it’s going to be less competitive. You have to analyze all your keywords/phrases and never assume anything.
A quick way to figure out which keywords convert the best is to 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 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 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?