Search engine optimisation is one of the most cost-effective ways to reach your digital goals. According to BrightEdge, SEO brings in 1000% more traffic than organic social media, and has an increasingly large impact on broader business objectives.
Whether you are looking to boss the Google SERPs, increase organic traffic, use search engines as a revenue-generating channel or simply increase awareness of your brand, SEO can and will help you succeed.
But where do you start? SEO is a complex and moving field and using tactics with no overarching vision will lead to confusion and mediocre results. The first step is creating an SEO strategy that will guide you and your team over the next six to 12 months.
This article will show you how to do it.
What is an SEO strategy?
An SEO strategy is a detailed plan to improve search engine rankings and increase organic traffic to your website. There are many aspects to an SEO strategy, which we will delve into shortly, but the most important goal must be to provide extreme value and relevance to your audience.
SEO principles and best practices are so effective because they allow us to target our audience at every stage of the customer journey. According to Forrester in this report, customers who find businesses through search engines are more engaged and more likely to trust the brand (20x more clicks than ads in the SERPs, according to Sparktoro). And in the age of influencers and online reviews, trust is the gold standard.
In order to begin building an SEO strategy, you need to consider these three questions:
- Where are you now?
- Where do you need to get to?
- How are you going to get there?
You also need to think about timeframes, budget and resources. By building a plan with a deadline, you have a much better chance of success.
How to create an SEO strategy for your business: 8 things you need to do to get started
When you have the answers to the above questions nailed down it's time to enter into the process of creating your strategy. Follow the steps below to create your plan.
1. Perform keyword research
The basic building blocks of any solid SEO content strategy are keywords. ‘Keywords’ are the phrases and words users are searching for on Google or Bing. There are ‘short-tail’ keywords, which are single words or simple phrases, and there are ‘long-tail keywords’, which are often longer and represent more specific search queries. Due to their nature, short-tail keywords are often highly competitive. For brands just starting with SEO, long-tail keywords can offer faster and more effective results.
To find out what sort of phrases your audience is using to search for products or services like yours, it is best to use a specialised SEO tool such as those offered by SEMRush, Ahrefs or Moz. These tools will help you compile a list of targetable keywords, along with data on how competitive they are, which will form the foundation of your SEO content marketing strategy and editorial calendar going forward.
2. Perform competitor research
Organic traffic is extremely high value for businesses, so the SERPs are naturally a competitive warzone. In order to make sure your strategy is correct, you need to know what your competitors are doing and, if they are successful, how they are doing it. To do this well you will need a tool like SEMRush, which can help you analyse keyword rankings and domain authority across a wide cross-section of competitors.
The main things to analyse are what pages and keywords they are ranking highly for, and what backlinks are pointing to their site. For those not in the know (yet), backlinks are links from other websites to your website. To Google’s web crawlers, they suggest the site that is being linked to is of high enough value for another site to promote it. They are a key factor in search engine rankings. If your competitors have got lots of high quality backlinks, they are going to be hard to outrank. By creating a list of all competitor backlinks, you can begin to create an SEO link building strategy that will put you on a level playing field.
3. Complete a website audit
Before you begin to create fresh content for your website, it pays to do an in-depth audit to identify existing pieces that could be repurposed to fit into the new strategy. We ask a simple question when deciding what to keep and what to bin: do we archive, optimise or repurpose this content?
Often, when performing a website audit, you will find great content pieces that have been neglected and only need a fresh lick of paint to be useful again. However, don’t be subjective when choosing which pieces of content to salvage. Refer to data tools such as Google Analytics and SEMRush’s content auditing tool to see what pages are bringing in traffic. Except in rare circumstances, the numbers never lie.
4. Set goals and KPIs
Now that the groundwork is complete, it is time to set the goals and KPIs for your strategy. After all, a strategic vision in itself won’t achieve ROI – we need specific numbers and metrics to aspire to in order to keep things on track.
Remember that a goal is the end outcome of what we want to achieve, and the KPIs are the metrics that demonstrate our progress towards those goals. Make sure both are present in your strategy for the most clarity.
An example of setting goals and KPIs would be as follows: Our goal is to increase revenue via organic traffic by £100,000 in the next 12 months. The metrics we will track to demonstrate progress will be organic impressions, organic web traffic and search engine rankings.
5. Create the best content in your niche
In July 2021 Google rolled out its latest core update. Though we can never be 100% what this update will entail (Google are notoriously tight-lipped on details), we can be certain that valuable content with quality links will continue to rank highly and perform well for its respective brand. It’s a simple rule but one that we should all try to follow: when creating content, make sure it is the best piece of content out there for that particular topic. Not second or third – first.
The more value we can add – through videos, text or external links – the safer we will be from any future Google updates and the happier our audience will be with our brand.
6. Build out your topic clusters
Now that you are creating world class content on the regular (or, at least, have aspirations to do so), you can start to build out your topic clusters. ‘Clusters’ are groups of individual content pieces that deal with similar topics or subjects, and indirectly build on top of each other. Content clusters are often anchored together by ‘pillar’ pages, all-encompassing landing pages that explain at a high level a large subject that links all of the cluster pages together.
If you think of it like writing a book, the cluster pages are the individual chapters and the pillar page is the introduction. Together, they comprise a single body of work (and hopefully a bestseller). This pillar-cluster model, made famous by our partners over at HubSpot, helped them see a huge uplift in search results when implemented on their blog.
7. Start to build authority
The holy grail of all SEO work is ‘authority’. Authority is the term Google uses to describe a website that is useful and relevant, and provides value to its target audience. Authority is demonstrated through exceptional, expert-level content, backlinks from reputable sites, numerous and glowing Google reviews and a flourishing community based on exemplary customer service on social media.
Building authority is a long-term game. Depending on the competitiveness of your niche, it can take up to six to 12 months to see SEO results, and that’s just the beginning. The key to success in search marketing is to set up systems that can run and improve indefinitely, with evolving KPIs flexible enough to adhere to changing business goals. If this sounds difficult, it’s because it is – often, bringing in a temporary marketing leader to get you set up is the soundest way to ensure progress.
8. Test and repeat
We are huge fans of using mental models to solve problems at Cognition, and some of the mental models we like to use often to explain the work we do are the open and closed systems of thermodynamics.
A closed system is a system that is isolated from its environment – it is not influenced nor does it influence its surroundings. An open system, on the other hand, is a system that has flows of information between the system and the environment, which then adapts constantly to this continuous exchange.
SEO is an open system. We provide content for search engines and for our audiences, which is then crawled and consumed, and sent back with feedback – either rewards for perceived value (in the form of rankings, review, sales etc.), or the sound of crickets. We then adapt our content and strategies in response to this feedback, and go again, testing again, until we get it right, or at least as close as we can.
We also don’t like the sound of crickets. That’s why we test and analyse all of our SEO work on a regular basis to ensure it is trending in the right direction, and that our assumptions about the market are correct.
We suggest you do the same. Set up regular monthly reporting sessions with your search marketing team to make sure you are still on track to hit your KPIs.
Bringing it all together
Creating an SEO strategy which provides long-term results is no easy task. It requires juggling a lot of moving parts, setting goals, plotting out roadmaps, and being prepared for setbacks. With that said, a clear and defined strategy can go a long way to providing the clarity your team needs to build a system of SEO efficiency. Follow the steps above closely to get off on the right foot.
Looking to climb the search engine rankings? Our Google-accredited search marketing experts can help you create and deliver an efficient SEO strategy, based on current SEO best practices and a time-tested, data-driven methodology. Arrange a consultation to find out more about our search marketing packages.