8 Steps to Effective SEO
Successful search engine optimization goes far beyond identifying keywords and managing content. Like any other media, success requires a strategy that includes research, ongoing reviews, testing and refining. Each of the following eight steps plays a critical role:
1. SEO site audit. The purpose of a SEO site audit is to check the current health of your website. The audit is designed to identify any issues or roadblocks that may be holding your site back from reaching its full ranking potential with search engines. This process involves looking under the hood to see how the site is coded, how content is displayed, how and where it targets keywords, where the site currently get its traffic and conversions from, an analysis of the structure or hierarchy of the site, server errors, page load time, how the site links internally, and how other sites link to it. The audit provides a snapshot of all aspects of your website from an SEO perspective.
2. Keyword research and mapping. The goal of keyword research is to identify words or phrases that your potential customers are searching for. SEO specialists conduct their own research along with keyword research tools to identify which keywords to target. Selection is based upon how frequent, competitive and relevant the keywords and variations are searched for. When targeted appropriately, keywords will help drive a high percentage of prospects or leads that are received. They're likely to result in conversions such as new leads or online sales.
The second step is keyword mapping, where keywords are mapped to specific existing or future pages of your site. This is done to ensure the best, most relevant page of the site is optimized for the most relevant keywords and that internal pages aren't competing for the same keywords. Mapping helps determine the words that appear in the links consumers click on — i.e., anchor text. Mapping indicates where the link should point to for link-building purposes. It will also define how existing content should be optimized, what content should be written and what keywords should be tracked to measure success.
3. Global website optimization. Global or technical website optimization consists of addressing all of the technical issues found in the SEO site audit and providing solutions for each. Topics include providing recommendations for enhancing the site architecture, website URLs, global templates and main site navigation components. A global website optimization document prioritizes solutions to ensure that the easiest to implement solutions are resolved first to improve overall traffic and conversions as soon as possible.
4. Page-based optimization. Page-based optimization is a process that involves optimizing all elements of an individual website page for SEO. The coding of title tags, meta descriptions, HTML headings, images, paragraphs and on-page code such as scripts and styles are analyzed to find opportunities for enhancements. This process will ensure that the structure and elements of a page are coded properly so that the content, images and links on that page will provide the most value from a SEO perspective.
5. Content strategy. Content strategy uses existing keyword research, keyword mapping and global website optimization recommendations to identify and create content that's optimized for the keywords the site is targeting. Words and phrases within HTML elements such as title tags, meta description tags, HTML heading tags, page file names, image file names, image alt tags, lists and paragraphs are optimized to contain the targeted keywords identified within the keyword mapping.
This can involve moving and retargeting existing content and optimizing new content to take advantage of opportunities that can target the topics prospects are searching for. It can also respond to new seasonal, geographical or industry trends.
6. Inbound linking strategy and execution. Also known as link building, linking strategy is used to increase the number of high-quality, relevant links to your website. It's one of the single biggest factors search engines use to rank your website. This process needs to be implemented carefully to comply with search engine guidelines.
The goal of this strategy is to write high-quality content that other sites naturally want to link to as a trusted source. Other options such as advertising, sponsorship and link baiting, which involves writing content specifically to gain links to a website, are ways to aggressively increase the amount of external links directed to your website.
7. Reporting. This is the process of measuring and monitoring a campaign’s success. Custom reports are built based on your company’s key performance indicators and success is typically measured by an increase in traffic, leads, quotes, sales or any other types of conversion. Reporting can be done at any frequency but is typically completed weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually.
A few years ago there was a strong emphasis on traffic data and ranking reports that focused on how much each keyword increased in rankings across top search engines. Monthly reports now tell a more comprehensive story — an explanation of what happened that month, why it happened and how it affects your business.
8. Website reviews. The world of search is very dynamic. External factors such as seasonality and industry changes and changes in search algorithms and external sites can affect how a site performs. Internal factors such as server errors, duplicate content and page load time can also have an impact on a website’s SEO performance. It's important to point out that no SEO campaign is ever complete. There are always new opportunities to gain more market share from competitors or explore new areas not previously targeted.
A website review should be conducted on a monthly or more frequent basis, and should consist of a deeper analysis of how the site is performing along with identifying new opportunities. This is very much like the SEO site audit where issues are identified and prioritized, but also involves looking at the performance of previous recommendations to identify strategies that are underperforming and need to be tweaked, refined or replaced with a new strategy or tactic.
A site review also includes an overview of recommendations, what was implemented and the impact of SEO engagement on the site, traffic, sales and conversions. This review will help you see the overall value of the engagement and the return on investment.