Learning the art, science, techniques and strategy involved in search engine optimization is easier than you might imagine. The challenge is shifting through all the misinformation on the Web that either has no benefit to search engine rankings, or worse, may have a negative impact and seriously affect online revenues. Below are some SEO tips to help get you started on the path to becoming savvy with SEO.
- Think Strategy, Not Technique
- Use Checklists as a Starting Point
- Project Management is Key
- Choose the Right Tools
- Learn Basic CMS Optimization
- Subscribe and Follow Search News
- Follow SEO Leaders
- Test, Experiment, and Share Results
Think Strategy, Not Technique
Be warned, your peers in the SEO community will tell you that there is no such thing as an “expert in SEO”, but with enough practice and enough data, you can absolutely call yourself an expert and prove yourself whenever challenged. Being an expert means having enough passion to work late nights, weekends, and in your sleep to master a craft, to get faster at it, to try everything 3 times and break things. Like navigating a maze that changes constantly, as an expert, you easily find your way through again and again because you have become a Master of Mazes.
Therefore, be a clean sheet of paper as you learn how a professional manages an effective SEO strategic plan. Forget everything you know for just a moment, and take the 30,000 foot view of what’s going to be required in your strategy to be the best at SEO.
My philosophy on SEO is that there are three fundamental principles and three core disciplines that are the foundation of SEO and are how you organize your strategy for search.
3 SEO Principles
- Relevancy – does my page best satisfy the user’s query?
- Popularity – does the Internet agree that my answer is the best?
- User Behavior – do searchers click my listing the most often, and stay there?
3 SEO Disciplines
- Technology – Web design, scripting, programming and user experience
- Content – Addressing needs at every stage of the buyer’s journey
- Digital PR – forming relationships that trigger organic links and curation
Simple, right? Theoretically, you could simply design your PDF report around these ideas and come up with a thorough plan of attack to help your client, boss or company with SEO. Below are the strategies I’ve used over the last decade that have made all the difference. These are not fly-by-night techniques, these are strategies.
Technical Obstacle Analysis
Over the years we’ve found around 75 focal are the most-impactful when it comes to the marathon of SEO. You can get the list here, but in a nutshell it focuses on speed, mobile-friendliness, crawl-ability, canonicalization, user experience, and security.
This strategy is given to the web designer and web developer through your project management system, where tasks are prioritized and given deadlines.
Link Analysis & Strategy
Google PageRank is what differentiated Google from other search engines in 1997. Basically, it used links as the primary ranking signal instead of content, which at the time could be easily manipulated to “game results”. Today, there are many other signals (some known, most unknown), but PageRank remains at Google’s core.
This means understanding links within a website to interpret which pages are the most important or helpful. It also means understanding the value and content surrounding and within links pointing from an external website; we call this inbound links.
You can download our Link Analysis & Strategy template, or create your own, which typically includes the following:
- Analysis of Inbound Links
- Analysis of the Most Frequent Links Pointing to Competing pages
- Obvious Link Opportunities
- Creative Link Opportunities
Keyword Discovery & Website Taxonomy Plan
By the far the most challenging and time consuming research of an SEO strategy is the keyword discovery and content plan. This involves analyzing existing data from Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Google AdWords, Bing AdCenter, and other sources to build a strategy centered around optimization for high-converting keywords.
However, most of the time, this data is limited, and insights from competitor traffic become the primary source of keywords. Aggregating this data to understand frequent themes, enables the search marketer to reverse-engineer competitor content strategies and not have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to how content is organized, and more importantly, what content is needed to drive relevant traffic to the website.
This task requires extreme patience and critical thinking as you categorize keywords based on the user intent. For example, is the phrase “car accident lawsuit” someone looking for a lawyer, a lawyer looking for insights, or someone trying to find a piece of news? Organizing keyword strategies incorrectly may result in traffic and no leads, or if you’re hoping for links with persuasive content, a high bounce rate with no links to show for your effort.
You can grab a copy of our keyword research and taxonomy report template here, or you can do your own research to come up with a well thought-out plan.
Competitive Analysis (Baseline) Report
Growing inbound web traffic is only meaningful if you know what you grew the traffic from, usually the baseline report. Grab our competitive analysis template or create your own, which should include common SEO-related metrics such as those that emulate Google PageRank.
Advertisers should run a delta report against this initial audit at least every 6 months.
Local and ECommerce SEO Strategies
Depending on the business model, individual strategies may need to be created, such as a local SEO strategy or an e-commerce SEO strategy if the business sells products online.
All the above audits and plans are critical to the success of your search engine optimization strategy. Without them, you’re just “winging it” without anything to measure against.
Use Checklists as a Starting Point
There is never a “one size fits all” solution to SEO, but there are tasks that are foundation to an SEO campaign that lead to the discovery of issues that may be impacting search engine rankings.
In many ways, an SEO campaign is a lot like going to the mechanic to kick up the performance of your car. You can’t just add on a muffler and engine parts without first getting into the engine to see what’s already going on inside.
Even if you are able to work on an area of SEO, there’s no guarantee it will help move rankings up if there are other problems that could be causing loss of rank to begin with, such as unhealthy links or a robots.txt file blocking web crawlers.
Use the menu above to find the checklists we offer to help you get started in each area of search engine optimization. Even better, copy our checklists to your project management system as templates.
Project Management is Key
Without a project management system, you have no record of work performed recorded and time stamped, and no way to communicate about tasks outside of email. Our consultancy uses Ignitur for literally every project we work on. Ignitur includes all the integrated analytics you could ever imagine and reporting on completed tasks, allowing you and your client to see all the work completed and how it improved SEO.
Choose the Right Tools
There are thousands of SEO tools and all-in-one suites to choose from. The tools that have worked well for us are listed below (warning: some of these are blatant affiliate links):
- Google Analytics
- Google Search Console
- Bing Webmaster Tools
- Conductor SearchLight (Call and Mention “Wiideman” for special pricing)
- SEMRush (Try it free)
- Buzzstream (60-day trial!)
- AHREFS (View pricing options)
Learn Basic CMS Optimization
In the early days of SEO, websites were created using web editors and even Notepad. As the Internet evolved, content management systems became the new standard for how to create and publish content without the constant need for web designers or programmers. Over the years, several became known for becoming search engine-friendly, including those listed below:
- WordPress – perfect for lead-generation and Ecommerce under 20 products
- Cirkuit Networks – perfect for Ecommerce over 20 products
- Drupal – perfect for more complicated infrastructures
The challenges with Magento and Shopify are the upgrade costs and recurring costs for the upgrades themselves. Learn the CMS platforms above and the corresponding SEO configurations and you’ll be in great shape to advise a new client as to which platform will offer the largest SEO benefits.
Subscribe and Follow Search News
Something my team does that many SEO agencies and consultancies alike tend to take for granted is following real-time news from the top SEO blogs, such as Google Webmaster Central, Search Engine Land, and Search Engine Journal. We keep a tab pinned in our browsers and our app on the front page of our phone displays with Feedly, allowing us to see what’s happening right now in SEO every day.
Download our Feedly OPML file here.
There are other RSS readers out there, Feedly just happens to be our favorite.
Follow SEO Leaders
There are around 100 leaders in the field of search engine optimization. Our favorites include Bill Hunt, Rand Fishkin, Danny Sullivan, among many who have spent their careers mastering their craft at SEO. Rather than follow them individually, simply subscribe to our SEO Expert Twitter List. Better, pin the feed to your browser so every few hours you can toggle over to Twitter to see what’s happening in the world of SEO instantly.
You can also follow the top “gurus” at popular conferences. Our favorites are listed below:
- SMX and SMX Advanced
- Brighton SEO
- Search Marketing Summit
- State of Search
You’ll also find these leaders in active conversations on Facebook in groups such as the ones below:
- SEO Generation
- White Hat SEO
- SEO Signals Lab
- Dumb SEO Questions
- SEO Chat Private US Group
- SEO Training Dojo
- SEO Zoo – just for fun
Test, Experiment, and Share Results
The culture of SEO experts is defined not just by the sheer passion practitioners and consultants have toward keyword rankings, but also toward the ongoing experiments, testing and research they do to better understand why Google and other engines rank results, not just how they rank pages.
At the office here, we just wrapped up several months of Voice Search tests to better understand how real people use Google Assistant, Google Home as compared to desktop/laptop searching. The results will be published soon, but the fact that we took an interest in search and tested several theories puts above the category of simple SEO fulfillment work and closer to the realm of “expert”, which all of us in the search community hope to be recognized for eventually (though we don’t intentionally strive to be labelled experts we like to be recognized as one).
Thanks for reading.