In some ways, SEO is pretty complicated these days, between social media, brand building, link building and of course the all-important on-page stuff.
Now I don’t want to imply for a moment that this is the right order. Everything should be on-going or at least re-visited occasionally & the right order very much depends on the project you are working on and to an extent where you think your skills lie.
This guide is intended to be a quick and easy guide for planning out a new project, as well as getting some new ideas for your existing products.
1 – Keyword Research
Keyword research comes at the start of most SEO projects, it is perhaps the most important aspect of SEO; after all, if you end up ranking for the wrong keywords then you have wasted your efforts.
Keyword research isn’t necessarily about finding unexploited opportunities per se. In fact, there really aren’t many of them these days anyway. It’s about getting ideas for what your potential visitors may be searching for.
There are numerous guides online that go into detail on keyword research and there are dozens of ways to go about it. Google’s keyword tool is essential (find it here) and depending on your budget there are various keyword difficulty tools available, although the best ones cost money.
Whatever your strategy, it is best to select the most relevant keywords rather than necessarily the ones with the most traffic. You want to make sure that your site is absolutely appropriate for that keyword phrase, otherwise there is little point in ranking for it.
For example: If you’re going to try to rank for “fence painting tips” then you had better make sure that when a visitor arrives from the search engines they find every tip they will ever need on painting fences.
If they arrive and find a sales page selling them paint they will leave again just as fast – and that’s bad for business and for SEO.
2 – Competition Analysis
The second “bit” (I’m not calling it a step because this whole process should be cyclical) is competitor research. In this instance we are talking about SEO, but researching your competition is important in virtually every aspect of business, even in the real world.
In SEO terms your main aim is to understand what your competition is doing right and also finding areas that they could be doing better. Then you can adjust your approach and hopefully out-compete them.
There are a number of ways to research your competition, so let’s start with the basics. Firstly, your competition in SEO terms are the sites and pages which are ranking for the terms you want to rank for:
What keywords are they targeting?
Start by looking for obvious signs of SEO on other pages of their websites. Which terms are they targeting? Are they optimized for any keywords that you hadn’t thought of? This exercise can often inform future keyword research.
How well optimized are they?
If they are ranking for a phrase you want to target, look for chinks in their armor. Have they done their title tags properly, is the page actually relevant? Or are they just relying on their links. If they have missed a step, make sure your site does the job properly.
What about their links?
Moz’s open site explorer is an essential tool. You can check your competitor’s link profile and look for opportunities. Find their best links and see if you can get similar links.
You can also track their links each month and try to figure out what their link building strategy is. Emulate them, but do it better – just be careful not to copy their mistakes too.
3 – Site Architecture
Site architecture is all about how your site fits together. You should have some ideas about this from your keyword research and also from analyzing your competition.
In an ideal SEO world, you will use your keyword research to inform your website’s layout, but you will probably have other, user related considerations too and you may be working on a site which has already been built.
In SEO terms, your site architecture should ensure that each keyword you want to target is given a relevant page. If you have a phrase which doesn’t really make sense on any existing page you have a choice: Create a new page, or don’t target that phrase.
Good architecture will allow you to make your pages very relevant for your keywords and will also produce a simple navigation structure so that when visitors land on your optimized pages they are able to find their way onto the rest of the site and get everything they need. Also you need to make sure that your website is blazing fast.
Once you have designed your site you might even want to revisit your keyword research to test out a few new ideas, and you should certainly compare your site’s usability to that of your competitors.
4 – Basic On-Page SEO
On-page SEO gets left out a lot these days – it’s not that it isn’t considered important, just that it ‘should’ be fairly simple. A lot of your on-page SEO should be covered by the site architecture and by covering a few basics:
- Page Title
- Meta Description
- H1 Tag
- Strong tags
- Canonical Tag
- Image Alt tag
- Keywords rich content
When working on a large site I will do this gradually alongside other SEO tasks. No point faffing about with 100-page titles when your home page doesn’t even have any links yet.
You should have turned your keyword research into a sort of site map spread-sheet thingy. I tend to use that as an SEO progress sheet – I check off which pages are at which stage of on-page SEO so I know where I’m up to.
Google likes to see sites gradually evolving anyway, so this is doubly beneficial. Woo.
5 – Link Building
Once your site is built and laid out nicely there’s nothing to stop you building some delicious links. I tend to do the on-page SEO for the home page as a basic step and then I start looking to build some links whilst I keep working on those other pages; adding content etc.
If you did your homework properly you probably have a list of juicy sites to target. But don’t be lazy; go have a mooch around the internet and find some more targets too.
You won’t beat your competition by just copying
You need to copy and improve upon
Anyway, hopefully you know not to upset the big G with silly link networks, spammy spun articles and the like. Nice ethical link building is hard work and can be a bit dull, but it’s the only way to do the job properly.
Here are a few link building strategies to consider:
- Guest Posting
- Holding Competition
- Link Baiting with careful promotion
- Blog Carnivals
- Help Other Webmasters
There’s more than these 5 methods, but this post is wordy enough as it is, so go do your own research. Here is a guide to managing your guest posting, which is probably one of the best methods of link building right now.
6 – Advanced On-Page SEO
Once you have the basics sorted, on-page SEO is actually a lot more about the user. In many ways you need to become a usability expert and throw in a bit of old-fashioned marketing expertise. Look at your website from your user’s point of view and make it better.
The principals are simple; a large (and growing) part of Google’s algorithm is user-behavior, so take a look at your page, think about your keywords and ask yourself “If I was searching for this phrase, what would I be looking for?”
You are an expert already, but your clients may not be so don’t overlook the obvious.
This is another great time to revisit your competition analysis and see what you missed. Does your competitor’s landing page have a great feature that your site is missing? If your competition has something that you don’t, ask yourself whether your site would be better if you added that feature.
Don’t over-complicate things unnecessarily though; adding features is great if those features make your user’s life better. Sometimes though, having a simpler, more user-friendly site is the key to better rankings.
7 – Social Signals
Social signals are all about brand building. You can utilize it even if you’re not a big fan of social media yourself. The simplest option is to encourage your users to Tweet about you, Pin you or whatever else.
Don’t bother opening your own Twitter account unless you are prepared to put in the work. A poorly run social media campaign can do you more harm than none at all. So, if you’re not into it, just focus on the simple things like getting your more social visitors to do the job for you.
Try to pick the right platform too. If your niche is a visual one then Pinterest might make more sense than Twitter. Some niches might not suit social media as much as others either.
Oh, and for the time being Facebook is (mostly) closed to Google, so from an SEO point of view don’t worry about it. Of course, if you think you can make Facebook work from a traffic perspective, great, go ahead!
Whatever you do, track the performance of your social media campaigns and figure out what works best.
8 – Data Analysis
Finally, data analysis; this not just the end of the process, it is also the start. Everything you do has a result – even if you don’t know what the result is. By tracking your progress, you can learn what works and what doesn’t.
Data analysis can come from many sources; needless to say, Analytics is the obvious choice, but comments left on a blog, items purchased from a shop, email sign ups etc… All offer valuable data to shuffle through.
Data is pointless unless you do something with it
- Find keywords that you never thought of by looking at your best traffic sources.
- Sniff out top performing pages and revisit the SEO to make the best of the opportunity.
- Sniff out poor performers and revisit your SEO to improve upon them.
- Learn which links bring you the most traffic and try to build more like them.
The list goes on and until you master this step your SEO loop will be incomplete. This isn’t the last step, it’s just the one before you return to step 1.