Before beginning a search engine optimization (SEO) project, it is important to understand the process involved in an effective SEO campaign. To that end, we break the process down into the three steps shown below and describe the activities involved in each of these steps.
One word on search engine optimization in general first, though. SEO does not start and finish with these steps and the initial work that we do. In order to have ongoing success, it is important to monitor results and build meaningful content on a continual basis. I once read the perfect description of the SEO process:
- Reporting & Goal Setting
- Content Building
Keyword phrase research involves identifying a group of keyword phrases that will be used in optimization. This step is critical and requires a considerable amount of time to find a good set of phrases that offer a balanced combination of two important factors: high usage by searchers and relatively low competition within the search engines.
Determining the most used phrase that contains your targeted keyword(s) is relatively easy. Online tools allow you to enter a particular keyword or words and will return all the ways in which that word(s) was used by searchers in the last month and in what volume. However, the most used phrase(s) is also likely the one with the greatest competition within the search results and may, therefore, not be where you would want to devote your optimization efforts. A more effective approach is to find a set of phrases (10 is a nice round number) that are heavily used by searchers but somewhat less competitive in terms of the total number of search results.
For example, assume you own a business that leases apartments in a particular metropolitan area, “Big City.” Your apartments are only located in one metro area, so you are not going to select general terms such as “apartments;” you are only interested in those searchers seeking an apartment in your city. The logical place to start is with the name of your city and the word “apartments.” You may find that the most used phrase is “big city apartments.” However, when you do sample searches in Google and Yahoo for that phrase you realize that the competition for that phrase is steep. If you go back to your findings from the keyword tool, you might find that a phrase such as “apartments in big city” is still heavily used by searchers but is far less competitive. Those phrases are the ones you will then target in the site optimization portion of the SEO work.
Once armed with the target keyword phrases, we do a thorough competitive analysis of the subject site against its 7 – 10 biggest competitors (using both offline and online competitors). We use a series of SEO metrics, including indexed content, Alexa rating, inbound links, domain age, and social media following among others. Through this process, we are able to gauge the client site’s starting position against its competition and identify areas requiring priority in the subsequent work. For example, if we see that relative to the competition, the client’s site has 50% less indexed content, then content building would be a priority in the goal setting that happens in the next phase.
REPORTING & GOAL SETTING
After establishing your targeted keyword phrases and starting position relative to the site’s competitive set, it is important to understand what the subject site’s starting position is within the search engines. Doing so ensures that you know the specific areas that need work and provides a baseline against which to gauge the subsequent campaign’s success.
Access to site traffic information is very important. These statistics show how searchers are finding and interacting with the subject site, e.g., which search engines, what keyword phrases are being used, bounce rates, most popular content, etc. Understanding the site’s traffic level and the source of its referrals can also be a critical tool in making other online marketing decisions.
After developing a complete picture of the site’s starting position, goals are set for the SEO plan. These goals are measurable (one big advantage of SEO over other advertising options) and tied to the specific business objectives of the site. In the ongoing progress of reporting and follow up, progress towards the plan’s goals are analyzed and reported. Adjustments to the SEO plan can be made according to the findings of these progress reports.
Content is king in search engine optimization. The search engines love text; high volume, high-quality content related to your business will serve you in a couple of important ways.
First, a site loaded with high-quality content of interest to site users will give them a reason to stay and a reason to come back. After all, the reason they came to your site was to find information. Second, you will receive the added benefit of serving up exactly what the search engines want – content. Search engines will have more information to store about your business and products; that information will translate directly into the ranking they give your site for related keyword phrases. For more information on content development and specific ideas about ways to expand your site’s content, read our, Content is Still King.
We often find in the Competitive Research phase that the client’s site is falling behind its competitors in the amount of indexed content. In those cases, this phase of the process takes on additional importance.