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SEO is one of those marketing disciplines that requires foresight, plenty of planning, a methodical approach and maybe just a bit of marketing intuition.
I've plundered the excellent Econsultancy SEO Best Practice Guide for some tips on how to approach SEO planning and research.
Check out the big guide for more than 400 pages of detailed and actionable insight.
Here we go..
Don’t underestimate the task
A good SEO strategy is like building or redeveloping a business to last. More often than not it will involve considerable time and resources.
Understand your own site performance, but also the competition and the market
Of course, any plan involves measurement of improvement and hence an audit of performance as it stands, before work begins.
Although this audit of current performance is paramount, one also needs to consider the performance of competitors and the state of the market.
There's no point target a phrase that a competitor has a stranglehold on if there's an equally important phrase you believe is up for grabs.
Similarly, market analysis allows one to see how a sector or product maps to search. An example given in the guide is that of plumbing. Even with contextual search on the rise, most plumbers are better targeting the prase 'plumber London' than simply 'plumber' (providing the plumber works in London).
Understanding the market means understanding the customer - what locations are they in and what devices are they using?
Plan for your proposition not a list of ranking factors
Remember that SEO ranking factors are a broad church. Every company is affected in different ways by different factors and, of course, you as a marketer might not be able to affect every variable.
Some marketers might be working with restrictions on their ability to change web architecture, such as building landing pages. Others might be working for a brand that doesn't have a well-developed social media presence. These factors will affect strategy.
Learn from PPC
SEO and PPC are complementary, see Google's fairly new paid and organic search report in AdWords.
Although concentrating efforts in both areas tends not to be deleterious, of course it makes sense to use paid search to fill gaps, buying phrases for which you might not be ranking organically for yet. You must be careful though to ensure each click is useful for the customer. Use PPC experimentation to understand how easy or otherwise improving organic ranking might be.
PPC also allows for copy testing on a small scale, potentially informing wider content efforts.
It is important to remember that without attribution analysis, ROI may be understated for SEO if PPC takes last clicks.
Plan for ROI
Is an increase in ROI the aim, or is this a longer term customer acquisition campaign?
Break down ROI by location, device, and keyphrases. This is important for setting priorities.
Setting expectations for ROI also dictates a knowledge of the timeframes involved. When will the company start to see acquisition?
Prioritise the basics
If your title tags needs sorting out, best to start with those before going on to bigger strategic fish. That much is probably a given.
It's also clear that working upwards from the long tail keyphrases is going to bear more fruit that planning from day dot for that one highly competitive phrase.
As an example, target 'brown Oxford shoes for men', then 'brown shoes for men', then 'brown shoes' and finally 'shoes'.
Get other teams involved
SEO is a beast that involves marketing, tech and your company's content creators. In understanding and mapping the resource available to you, make sure you countenance who might be able to help with keyword research, content creation and campaign measurement.
Be agile and opportunistic with keyphrase research
Remember that opportunities come and go in search. The results page can change with:
- real world events
- social activity
- changes in the way we use the web, such as new devices
- changes in reach as new territories come online
- changes in the way search engines present information
You must keep abreast of these changes.
What is the audience trying to do?
This is probably the most important strategic point. You shouldn't lose track of the customer journey and what it is they are trying to achieve.
The journey from search phrase to appropriate landing page and product must be one that makes sense. Customers may well be searching around a problem they have encountered, rather than for your product or service specifically. What devices and in what location ware customers likely to be?
Inhabiting the mind of the customer will help with keyphrase research and optimising the customer journey.
Understand the state of your site
This is part of prioritisation and understanding the customer journey.
Is your website in good shape? Do you have a content strategy in place? Is your SEO planning part of a multichannel approach?
Think laterally about link building
Don't just target high authority sites in your sector. Where else might your information me valued?
Once you've started producing content to target keyphrases, make sure you track what does well. This can take the form of social mentions, comments on site, impressions or uniques, new visits, conversion rate, bounce rate etc.
Knowing what's performing well is vital for maintining momentum.