“Almost all Internet users turn to search engines for answers. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the process of improving your ranking in search engines in order to get more people to your site.” – Gabriel Weinberg, Traction.
The aim of every business is to get more traffic to its website, not just any traffic, but the kind of customer that is likely to convert.
Search engine optimisation is an opportunity for all business websites to attract that right kind of traffic, however, it’s not a simple “fix”. SEO has been subject to all sorts of myths over the past few years, with practitioners often being heralded as performing some kind of wizardry.
There are no magic tricks, what works is a persistent strategy. SEO involves a series of steps and strategies that can help improve your search engine ranking, thus making it easier for consumers to find you. There are no short-cuts. Let’s explore how you can put SEO to work for your business:
Good news and bad news…
We’ve already hinted at the main thrust of the bad news that SEO will not be a quick fix. In fact we always advise clients to wait 3-6 months after they put strategies in place before checking to see if ranking improvements took effect. As a result, doing SEO properly generally requires senior level buy-in.
Most people seem to want the bad news first, so let’s look at a few more points to the negative:
- SEO is getting harder. A few years ago you may have found a few “quick wins” but that is no longer the case. Everyone started using those strategies, diminishing the effectiveness. The bar has been set higher.
- Are you a small business with only a few pages on your website? Sorry to say, SEO will likely be very hard for you and probably not a good channel for acquiring customers. e. SEO is much more suited to businesses with a lot of content and multiple website pages, but it still takes work.
- That hard work means a lot of time devoted to SEO strategies, possibly money as well.
- You can’t trust everything you read or hear about SEO. There are still a lot of myths being pedalled and false “gurus” over-exaggerating their ability to bring your website a heap of traffic. If they’re promising quick wins, this should be a red flag.
The good news is that when SEO is done well, it works. While no one knows the exact list of ranking factors and their weighting on SEO (this is something that search engines like Google keep close to their chests), we do know enough to make a difference. In fact, Google recently confirmed their top three ranking factors, which is a great start.
Some more good news:
- We know that, at their core, search engines are focused on providing users with the best possible experience. This means giving them highly relevant results from websites they’re likely to visit. If you can provide quality content that answers their questions well, on a website that is user-friendly and designed well, you have a good chance of gaining organic traffic.
- Organic traffic is free. If you use the right strategies, you can gain a lot of traffic without advertising spend.
- As you learn more, it becomes easier to build a repeatable process for increasing your search engine ranking over time.
- On average most sites get 30-80% of traffic from Google search, hence some would argue it is the number one most important channel you can have. This is why many SaaS products have a blog – it’s about that “quality content” that answers the questions of searchers.
- SEO is what happens when you’re doing everything else correctly. If you already have a good website, and publish great content you will likely find that you are already ranking for some search terms.
Your strategy matters
The most important first-step for increasing your search engine rankings is to have a clear approach and strategy. SEO is not a “one and done” operation, it takes perseverance and consist methodology.
The next logical question is, how do you develop that strategy? If you’d like information on the technical aspects take a look at our guides:
- On-Page Ranking Factors
- SEO Ranking Factors Guide
- Google Algorithm Changes
While it’s important to know the technicalities of what makes SEO tick, it’s even more important to focus on an effective high-level approach. We’ve seen many companies get lost in the latest tips and tactics, then fail to achieve the results they were looking for.
It is generally accepted that approximately 75% of all search traffic goes to the top five results, with a disproportionate amount of traffic going to the very top results. So, if you are not in the top five search results, you are effectively invisible and your search engine optimisation work is largely a wasted effort.
Our approach takes into account more than just the technical aspects. To get results and do SEO properly means collaborating with others in your marketing and wider teams. You need to cover areas such as design, usability, conversion optimisation and content. You need to understand your market, your customers and your competitors. In short, you cannot do SEO in isolation.
6 steps to develop SEO strategy
Our approach is to follow these 6 steps:
1. Develop buyer personas.
You absolutely must have a clear understanding of your target customer in order to create an effective SEO strategy. A great way to do this is to conduct customer research, then create buyer personas for them.
We prepared a guide explaining how to build your buyer personas here.
2. Initial keyword research.
This is a foundational element of SEO – you could even think of it as like an architect’s role in building a house.
As a first step, look at your buyer personas and aim to do keyword research based on what that audience wants. A mistake some companies make is to base all of their research on content that they already have on their website. Why is this a mistake? It ignores the possibility that there may be needs that the current content is not meeting.
Build a spreadsheet of keywords on high-level topics, covering:
1. The needs and pain points of your target audiences.
2. A list of all of your products and services.
3. A list of any existing core site sections or content topics.
In general we suggest starting with keyword categories based off your persona types and their needs. You can get more granular and record keyword subsections based on topics for each of these target personas.
3. Expand your keywords and get search volumes.
“Expanding” your keywords means finding the different search terms in which they are used. For example, “cyber security” might expand to terms such as “cyber security strategy ” or “how to implement an effective cyber security strategy .” You also want to include related terms.
Remember that Google does put emphasis on searcher intent, so it’s not good enough just to target a certain word or phrase, it has to relate to the intent of your own buyers. Rand Fishkin of Moz talks about this in his video below:
We usually use Google Keyword Planner to help with this as it also gives us estimated search volumes. Yahoo and Bing currently don’t release search volume data although you can estimate these based on each search engine’s market share, if required.
We typically start with high-level general words, to see what is popular around a particular topic and what other related terms it might be worth adding to lists (even as another category, if there is enough volume).
The following structure can help with new keywords ideas:
- Who – Your brand
- What – The things you do (“security software for …”)
- When – Any time-related keywords people may use (“best security software for … 2017”)
- Where – Relevant geographic areas or company types (“security software for hospitals”)
- How – Any relevant technology or processes you follow
We would then identify good target keywords and export these, along with their search volumes into a master SEO spreadsheet.
4. Find gaps and opportunities.
Finding gaps and opportunities means that you’re going to look at estimated search volume, and referral volume to try to get a sense of where your company might be doing well and where you might not be.
- GAPS: These are found where there is content on the site for a term, but the referral volume is very low compared to the search volume, or there are no referrals.
- OPPORTUNITIES: These are terms where there is significant search volume for something relevant to your target markets (and what your company is offering), but there is no content on your site to attract those searchers.
5. Spy on competitors.
We’re not talking about any sort of espionage here, but you can find out the keywords that your competitors are targeting and ranking for. This can give you additional ideas to build a strategy to outrank them.
A key point to remember is that your main business competitors may not be your biggest organic search competitors, particularly if others are using the same terms. Do a search to see who shows up in the top five results for your keywords.
Once you’ve found your competitor’s keywords and who is ranking for the keywords you want to target, you need to look at what draws customers to them, what is causing them to rank highly in search engine results, and how you can convince people to visit you instead. This goes beyond just keywords, it’s a look at where you may have competitive advantage with product features, too.
SEO today isn’t just great keywords and metatags, it’s about having great product or service, and being able to clearly communicate its value to potential customers.
We tend to look at the following 5 main areas in SEO competitor analysis:
3. On-Page SEO
4. Inbound Links
5. Traffic Volumes
6. Unique opportunities.
Our sixth step is to look at any unique opportunities you might have to use data (which may be owned by your company) to boost your SEO. We’re talking about content that Google hasn’t seen before or hasn’t been presented online before.
Examples could include:
- Unique, user-generated content such as reviews or posts made to social media.
- Content that uses data that is held and maintained by your company and is not available to others.
You’re looking for examples that will make your website both different and remarkable to your target audience.
Using your research
The result of a process such as this is firstly, gained insights. Your team will have a very good sense of what is going on, where the problem areas are, how they stack up against competitors, where they’re doing well and where they have clear opportunities to improve.
Secondly, you’ll have a custom, actionable strategy and recommendations from what has been learned from those insights, such as:
- Specific terminology to use
- Design elements to consider
- Internal and external linking to implement
- Specific blogging strategies
- Site features and content
From using this information, you can create an SEO strategy that is well-defined, long lasting, and helps to increase the visibility of your company and brand online.
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