More than 90 percent of consumers today check out a business online before making a purchase decision. So, if you’re not paying attention to SEO with your various digital marketing campaigns, I can say with certainty that you’re not getting a good return on your investment.
Consider the fact that 75 percent of online searchers won’t even go past the first page of search engine results and nearly 80 percent of search engine users almost always click on natural search results. See the power of search engine optimization now? Of course, SEO is only effective if it’s done right, meaning a combination of relevant content and a comprehensive, well-planned and executed strategy.
If you’re wondering how to create SEO campaign strategies, there are ten steps I recommend that can make this process less stressful and more productive.
- Define Your Audience and Set Goals
- Research Potential Audience Reach
- Plan Out Your Content
- Architect a Content Management System (CMS)
- Measure Your Results
- Optimize for Better Positioning
- Start a Paid Search Campaign
- Evaluate Paid Search Data
- Create New Organic Content from Search Terms
- Optimize, Optimize, Optimize
1. Define Your Audience and Set Goals
Before you launch any search engine optimization campaign, you have to know exactly who your potential customers are, which ones will likely be productive leads, and which ones will likely want to visit your website and engage with your brand.
You’ll only be setting yourself up for lackluster results if you kick of an SEO campaign with vague goals in minds. You should also have a clear understanding of what you can realistically expect from your efforts.
Get started with this process by answering the following questions:
Who do you want to target?
The answer to this question should never be “everyone.” There’s a big difference in the kind of content you would present if your primary target is millennials than what you would present to older consumers. Tap into your existing data to get a better understanding of who actually uses your products or services, or seeks out businesses like yours.
If you’re currently not using a Client Relationship Management (CRM) tool to monitor lead performance I would suggest making this a priority. There are many types of CRMs to choose from that allow you to integrate into your SEO campaign.
The purpose of having a CRM is so that you can monitor the quality of your leads as well as the longevity. Although, it is equally as important when attempting to identify which leads are better so that you can adjust your campaigns to target more of those consumers.
Specifically, pay attention to things like:
- Age range and gender
- Geographic location
- Income level and education
- General shopping habits
If you’re at a point where you think you already know your audience but you’re still not seeing the preferred results with your campaigns, you may not be targeting the right searchers. Explore your data to see who’s actually buying and using your products and/or services.
Also, consider how you want to position your brand. For instance, if you want to emphasize the quality of your products, your target audience wouldn’t be thrifty shoppers mainly concerned about savings.
Why do you want to target them?
Are you primarily trying to get more conversions on your website? Do you want to get more people to come to your physical location after finding your business info online? Maybe you’re mostly looking to create brand awareness? Or you could just want to be seen as a source of trusted information. Before you can go any further, you have to clearly know what your intent is for your SEO campaign.
What do you expect searchers who come across your content to do? One way to make this process a bit easier is to create a customer or buyer persona — a fictionalized version of your “ideal” customer based on your existing data. The insights gained from your persona can make it easier to plan your campaigns with more confidence.
What results do you want to achieve?
It’s one thing to say you want more conversions and another thing entirely to say that you’d like to see a 20 percent boost in website traffic within the next few months. The more specific you are with your goals, the more likely it is you’ll be able to do what’s necessary to get there. This doesn’t automatically mean you’ll always reach your goals, but I’ll discuss that in more detail later.
2. Research Potential Audience Reach
Once you’ve established your goals and you know who you want to reach, go further and find out just how much of an audience you already have online. Do this by taking a closer look at keyword volume and competitiveness for for search words and terms related to what you have to offer. Exploring audience reach can also give you a better idea of how to optimize your content and what results you can realistically expect.
A good starting place with this type of research is Google’s Keyword Planner. The keyword data you get from this tool can be used to plan your AdWords campaigns with keywords more likely to put your message in front of the right searchers. If you just want to use Google’s Keyword Planner to get a better idea of what keywords to use within your content for your organic efforts, ignore the search volume data.
The keywords you focus on should resemble the vocabulary of your audience in terms of the questions they are asking and the specific set of keywords they are using to find products and services similar to what you offer.
Also, pay attention to location. Look at both local and national competitiveness. If your SEO campaign will be focused on a wider audience, then it’s smart to consider nationwide trends with keywords. But if you want to target searchers within certain areas, pay more attention to what’s trending within your target locations.
A great tool in identifying trends is called Google Trends. I suggest using this tool for your parent pages, cornerstone content, and short tail keywords. It is fairly accurate in not only determining audience but also seasonality for your topics.
Competitiveness is also something you’ll want to consider. If you’ll be doing paid campaigns, this is definitely something you’ll want to pay attention to. I suggest going beyond the keywords that are the most popular. It’s entirely possible to reach the same audience with less-competitive keywords with the right content strategy. Plus, you’ll get a better cost-per-click rate. I’ll have more to say about paid campaigns later.
If you’ve ever started typing in a search on Google then you’re well-aware of this next suggestion for determining potential audience reach. Available since 2008, the Google Suggest feature is sometimes referred to as “auto complete.” But whatever you choose to call it, it’s a handy feature for audience research purposes because of the way Google produces the suggested results.
The suggested results are based on how people are actually searching at any given moment. So, you might type in “discounts” in December and get “holiday discounts at Walmart” as a suggestion because that’s what happens to be getting the most search volume. Suggestions also vary based on detected location, which is useful for determining what local searchers are looking for when searching for what you happen to offer.
You can also use the Google Suggest feature as a way to gauge how popular your business is at any given time within your target area for certain search terms. For instance, let’s say it’s the week before Thanksgiving and you own a local grocery store. You could do a search for “turkeys on sale” and see what local stores come up within suggested auto complete results. If your store isn’t one of the suggestions, you may want to make some adjustments to your content.
If you want to test potential audience reach in other locations you’re not currently targeting, simply change your location on Google and type again and see what suggestions come up for that area. Google’s suggestions sometimes include things that have been searched for previously based on Google’s Web history feature.
You’ll also get suggestions based on your own search history. But you can identify these suggestions with the “remove” option next to them so you can focus on data from other searchers and ignore what’s based on your own search history.
Google’s Autocomplete also has what’s termed a “freshness layer,” which is based on short-term spikes in search popularity. This is important audience reach data because short-term results aren’t usually reflected in the same data you would get with keyword research tools that are based on long-term trends. A good example of this is the sudden spikes in search activity for certain actors or musical acts right after an awards show is over. Google hasn’t said how fresh “fresh” is, but it appears to reflect search trends within the past hour or so.
Looking at Google’s suggestions will give you a better idea of what people tend to search for in relation to your business, your industry, or the specific products and services you offer. While suggested results data shouldn’t be the only basis for your SEO campaigns, this is definitely useful data you can leverage to come up with a more focused game plan to target your intended audience more effectively.
There isn’t really a shortcut when it comes to figuring out audience reach. But you can get some help figuring out audience reach by checking out the target keywords your competitors are using to target the same audience. Pay particular attention to any geo-specific keywords they may be using to get an idea of where you should be focusing your efforts.
As long as you are checking out your competition, see what kind of content they are producing and what kind of interaction they’re getting on their social and blog pages.
Another way to gauge your potential audience reach is by testing your organic and paid content. Methods like A/B testing where you present two versions of the same content in slight different ways can give you some valuable data you can use to see what gets the most engagement. You can also do some testing to see which social platforms your target audience prefers. If it makes sense to do so, you can even do some experimenting with different geographic areas beyond the ones you normally target to see if there’s interest in your products and services.
3. Plan Out Your Content
Any SEO campaign (or anything related to SEO, in general) is going to require carefully prepared and presented content. With content, I suggest creating a content road map that will take your audience on a journey with your brand and what you have to offer. Another analogy is to think of your content as your brand’s story. There will be a main theme that consists of several different chapters that cover specific topics related to your brand’s theme.
Structure your content so that it has a clear rhyme and reason for whoever happens to view it. Each individual piece of content, even if it’s in the form of a short AdWords’ ad or a single tweet, should have an obvious purpose.
With your website, break down your content by identifying parent and child pages within your site. For instance, your homepage (“parent page”) may have internal links to other pages within your site (“child pages”) that provide more detailed product/service info.
Child pages are organized by hierarchy. So, you could create top-level parent pages that would be visible in your main menu. The child pages would then appear only in the menu when the user moves their mouse or finger over the parent page. An example of parent-child content is the service section of a website. In this case, the parent page might be something like “Transmission Parts.” The child pages would be the ones for each of the parts.
The idea behind structuring your content in this way is to build topical relevancy within search as well as building an internal linking strategy. It is essential that you plan your content to be scalable and easily navigable. Once pages start ranking on your site you are going to want to point your users to “other” relevant content.
Preferably, you want to have some type of order and organization with your content. One way to build your content road map is to use Google Sheets. It’s a free tool that’s accessible from your PC, smartphone, or tablet that can be used to map out your content in very precise detail. It comes in handy because you can easily make updates and make your content outline available to anyone on your team.
Things to include in your content roadmap would be page name, title, primary keyword target, breadcrumbs, URL structure, and meta information. Structuring your road map in this way will assist you in building your site out down the road.
Finally, have an editorial calendar so you can keep track of things like:
- Topics covered in your blog posts so you can avoid repetitious content
- What specific content is performing well (e.g., getting more likes, generating more traffic from results pages)
- Age of website and blog content so you can tell when it’s time to update older content
Google Calendar is perfect for following an editorial timeline and has some free templates you can use. One especially appealing feature of Google Calendar is the ability to set up recurring events. For example, if you know you’ll publish something new every Monday at 10am, this would be a recurring slot. Even if you don’t have new content created yet, you can use the recurring feature as a reminder to have something ready.
You can also use Google Sheets to create and update your editorial calendar. There are also apps you can use for the same purpose. If you want to old school, an Excel spreadsheet can be equally effective, although you’ll be foregoing some of the extra features you’ll get with Google Calendar.
Regardless of how you prefer to set up your editorial calendar, you’ll need to decide on a publishing or content creation schedule. Maybe you want to publish Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays on your blog. Or maybe once a week is better for some of your platforms. You can also set up specific dates and times to distribute and publish your content. Just avoid the temptation to over-commit with your content publishing plans. Pushing yourself too hard to stick to a schedule could result in a drop in quality.
4. Architect a Content Management System (CMS)
To make your SEO campaigns effective, you’ll need an application that supports your digital content — a content management system. It’s what allows you to create, organize, publish, and edit that content that complements your optimization efforts.
Powering nearly 25 percent of the Web, WordPress is an incredibly versatile platform, which makes it a smart choice as your content management system. One study found that nearly 70 percent of websites evaluated had a WordPress-powered CMS. It’s also an excellent CMS because it’s flexible for clients, designers, and developers.
But what if WordPress default features aren’t right for you? Not a problem. Customized plugins and other features can be added to give you the CMS that’s right for your business. User experience is also front and center with WordPress, which can have a domino effect on SEO campaigns. Here’s why I think this is the right choice for a CMS:
- Minimal expense: WordPress is free, and so are thousands of plugins.
- User friendly: It’s a CMS that’s easy to use update and maintain.
- Easily accessible: Thanks to iOS and Android apps, WordPress is accessible anywhere.
- Adjustable administration access: You can alter the access permission to allow certain members of your staff to help out with the upkeep of your site.
- It’s good for start-ups and businesses with basic needs and is an excellent CMS for start-ups and other businesses that prefer a simple, straightforward platform.
- It’s naturally SEO-friendly: WordPress works well in search engines! For instance, you can alter the URL structure for any post so you can focus on specific keywords. Images can also be easily enhanced with alt text so search engines can categorize them.
- More importantly, WP’s code is clean, correctly formatted, and appealing to bots (search engine crawlers).
My suggestion with WordPress is to check your site’s speed on a regular basis. Why? Simply because no matter how wonderful your CMS is, it’s not going to give you the best possible results if searchers are bailing because of slow loading. For most website visitors today, anything longer than 5 seconds is too slow.
5. Measure Your Results
The beauty of specific page SEO is that results for your site can be tracked with very precise details. The go-to resource for most of the stats you’ll need is Google Analytics (GA) and Google Search Console (GSC). It’s easy to set up if you follow the directions here. Reports can be customized to highlight everything from how long visitors are staying on your site to what specific content is driving the most traffic back to your various pages.
Google Analytics data can also be presented as a clickmap when you want to boil down your data for certain periods so you can spot trends and patterns. If you want to see how your brand is performing on other search engines, you should be able to find similar analytics sources. With Bing, for instance, the GSC equivalent is Bing Webmaster Tools. Bing also has an SEO tool that will give you on-demand reports that point out any issues with your page sources.
When tracking engagement on any search engine, I recommend including:
- Sales and lead data
- Data from screen recordings
- Info on all possible forms of site engagement (e.g., searchers who visit but don’t convert, what specific pages generate the most traffic)
For screen recordings, third party tools like Inspectlet allow you to record videos of your visitors as the visit and use your site. You can see everything each visitor does, right down to every single mouse movement, scroll, click, and keypress.
The data you get from recording sessions can be used to determine:
What may be causing your visitors to hesitate before making a conversion
What content on your site is generating the most engagement
What part of the sales funnel you need to pay more attention to by using video info to see if most visitors are arriving to your site ready to take action or they seem to need more of an incentive to take action
Google Data Studio is another handy tool I recommend. It turns your data into informative dashboards and reports. All of the info is fully customizable, which makes it easier to get a better idea of how your business is performing so you can make well-informed decisions about your SEO strategy and specific page optimization techniques.
Data Studio allows you to build reports that are not only specific to your goals and objectives but the reports are also dynamic. With the ability to filter and sort your data in your customized reports you can now spend more time optimizing and less time making sense of reports.
With Google Tag Manager (GTM), you’ll be able to update your marketing and analytical tags and code snippets. GTM allows you to control what your tags should do and when they should do it. On a related note, you can implement Google Analytics with GTM so you can update your GA code on your website. This is just another way to automate and maintain your SEO strategy so that you can spend more time optimizing.
6. Optimize for Better Positioning
Search results can be influenced by many factors. This is why it’s important to optimize your SEO campaigns with better positioning in mind by paying attention to all aspects of search engine optimization. Start with your content. My suggestion with content is simple — write with real people in mind, not search engines.
Google is increasingly placing more value on the relevance of content anyway, so this approach to content preparation can help with visibility on multiple levels.
Shift your attention to the content that’s NOT performing well. Because this is what has the biggest negative impact on your online visibility. Spot under-performing content by looking at things like bounce rates for each page, clicks-to-conversions ratios, and general traffic patterns.
Possible solutions I recommend for lackluster content:
- Adjusting presentation (e.g., shorter paragraphs, attention-grabbing headers, bullet lists or numerics for better readability).
- Reading comments left by customers in your comments section or your social followers to get a better idea of what topics you could be addressing better.
- Making your calls-to-action more compelling and visible (they don’t always have to be at the very bottom of a page).
- Repurposing your meta descriptions so they more accurately reflect the content on your landing pages (especially if you’ve changed your content since your descriptions were first written).
- Reusing content from a unique case study you did or from a recent webinar you hosted to make your content more original and appealing to your audience.
Link building is another important step that can give your visibility and authority a boost. It’s external links, or backlinks pointing back to your site, that tell search engines your content has value to searchers. As for actually getting these links, the emphasis should always be on quality, not quantity. Yes, it may take you a longer time to secure links from quality source, but you’ll definitely enjoy better optimization because of your efforts.
But it’s actually quality content that helps attract more links and improve optimization results. A 2016 study of more than a million Google search results pages found that top-quality content always produced more links. The study also showed that the number of referring domains also matters, meaning you want links from many different sources (that are still relevant). There’s also research confirming that links are major ranking factor, which is why link building should be part of your optimization strategy.
As for how to go about snagging quality links, here are the methods that still work today:
- Guest blogging
- Seeking relationships with influencers
- Searching for broken links (you scan popular sites or blogs for broken links, send an email letting them know, and you offer a link to one of your articles on the same topic so your link will replace the broken one)
- Use an infographic (it’s a highly shareable form of content that tends to attract links)
Don’t forget to look at the technical aspects of SEO. Quality content will be more likely to be displayed in front of the intended eyes if you pay attention to things like title tags and meta descriptions. Meta descriptions, in particular, are important because these snippets of info about your pages show up on search results pages. If they’re properly optimized, you’re more likely to see productive traffic (e.g., searchers likely to take the desired action) being directed to your site.
7. Start a Paid Search Campaign
Leverage the power of your existing website and individual landing pages by starting a paid search campaign. When properly planned and executed, paid search can be an effective way to immediately put your message in front of searchers likely to be interested in your products and services.
Let’s take a step back here. If you’re new to paid search, it’s the sponsored ad results that appear above organic results on search engine results pages. But you’ll only pay for these ads when somebody actually clicks on the link. The trick to running successful PPC campaigns is to turn most of those clicks into conversions.
Get started with paid search by creating an AdWords account. In a nutshell, this means selecting your campaign type and name, determining the specific geographic location where your ads will be displayed, setting your daily budget, creating ad groups, choosing your keywords, and setting up your maximum cost-per-click.
Before you dive in, work out your goals for your paid campaigns. The structure of your campaigns will vary based on whether you’re primarily looking to sell products, trying to get more email subscribers, or hoping to achieve some other end goal. Have a clear purpose with each campaign and you’ll be off to a good start.
The most important thing to remember with AdWords is to pay careful attention to your budget and how your campaigns are performing. You also want to forecast your monthly budgets and get very specific about when your ads are displayed.
Content and keywords are the two most important parts of an effective AdWords strategy. Ideally, you want to use the same keywords you are already using within your website content. As for keyword research, save yourself some time if you’re new to AdWords and use the same research you did for your organic campaigns.
With content, make sure your ads are going to relevant landing pages. You can have the best ad copy in the world, but it’s not going to mean anything if what’s on your landing pages isn’t reinforcing your message and encouraging conversions.
Quality Score (QS) is another important part of AdWords’ campaigns. Google’s Quality Score is a rating that’s based on the quality and relevance of your keywords and your pay-per-click ads. QS should be a priority because this is what will determine your cost-per-click. It’s based on factors such as landing page quality and relevance and the relevance of each keyword to its related ad group.
If done right your organic keywords will influence your quality score positively when used for your PPC campaigns.
On a related note, I recommend exploring native advertising. It’s a form of paid media advertising that’s primarily done online today. While many people equate native ads with sponsored content, this is just one of several native advertising formats. Native ads are so-named because they take on the look and feel of the site they are displayed on.
Ads of this nature can appear also appear in:
- In-feed units
- Paid search units
- Recommendation modules and widgets
- Promoted listings
The main benefit of native ads is that they appear naturally within related content. And because of this, searchers are less likely to be annoyed by these ads. As is the case with AdWords’ ads, you want to let the reader know what next step you want them to take (e.g., click to your site, call a listed number, etc.). Also, be sure to label your content so it’s still clear that it’s ad copy.
8. Evaluate Paid Search Data
The key to success with AdWords campaigns is analytics. And the good thing about paid search is all the data you’ll have available to determine if you’re on the right track with your campaigns. You’ll also want to keep evaluating your keywords to identify what your target audience is searching for. When you set up campaigns with keywords, AdWords gives you the exact search terms your audience is searching for.
This is GOLD!
If you’re not sure if you have the right balance between your ad copy and your landing page content, do smaller test campaigns. Evaluate your data from these smaller, low-risk campaigns. Adjust your strategy based on what’s working. Once you find a successful formula that leads to more interest in your brand and a steady stream of revenue and traffic, you’ll be able to spend more with greater confidence.
AdWords data alone will tell you stats like how many conversions you’re getting and how much you are paying per click. But what happens between each click and conversion won’t be clear unless you make Google Analytics part of the equation when you evaluate your paid search data. Link the two together by importing a GA view into AdWords.
Look at data that includes average visit duration on your pages, bounce rate, and percentage of new visitors. After you have everything set up with your paid campaigns, I suggest keeping an eye on the following stats to maximize your ROI with your various campaigns:
- Keyword engagement: If you are getting high numbers with average visit duration and page visits, but still not seeing the results you want, then the problem is likely related to the content on your site. The solution is some adjustments to your landing page content.
- Keywords driving actions from new users: Once your keywords are effectively driving new visitors into your funnel, take a closer look at their actions with the Search Funnels and Assisted Conversions reports. This will let you know if the same keywords are leading to conversions, or if different keywords and channels are performing better.
- Landing page activity: Your bounce rate, average time on site, and conversion rate data will allow you to spot ads that aren’t converting or inspiring meaningful engagement. Get a clearer picture of landing page data across your entire account by also looking at your GA Landing Page report.
When evaluating your paid search data, remember that being number one isn’t everything with AdWords. Take a closer look at ad positions to see what kind of results you’re getting in relation to the top performers. In some cases, you may discover that conversion rates are actually worse at the top.
In instances like this, aiming for the top spot may not be worth the added cost. The GA Keyword Positions report can help you make the call about whether or not it’s worth the effort to focus your attention on getting the top spot.
9. Create New Organic Content from Search Terms
An effective SEO strategy involves both paid and organic efforts. It takes time to get organic results, but it’s definitely worth the effort since a strategy that’s working can complement your paid search efforts. Ultimately, this is what will be best for your brand. Also, paid results end when campaigns end. However, organic content can pick up the slack and maintain your visibility between campaigns.
Yes, PPC and organic search are two different things. But you can build organic content that converts based off of your PPC performance. You can even tap into a lot of the same data to see what content you’re already producing is generating the most interest from searchers.
Leverage your search terms to strategize in creating new content for your site. Look at your search data and create or repurpose your landing page content based on what searchers are finding relevant.
Creating new organic content from search terms can also come in handy if you’re looking for landing pages that will fit in better with your new ad groups or campaigns. This will also make it easier to convert search terms into exact match keywords in AdWords.
Matching your organic content with exact match keywords can also give you a boost with your organic search results. This is because searchers looking for specific keywords will come across both your paid display ads and your organic content, which means more exposure for your brand on results pages.
10. Optimize, Optimize, Optimize
Just because you reach a point where all of your SEO campaigns are performing as expected doesn’t mean things will stay that way forever. I’m also a firm believer that there’s always room for improvement. Optimization is an ongoing process. Good data can clue you into what you’re doing right and direct your attention to aspects of your SEO strategy that need some adjustments.
Realistically, you’re not always going to be successful in reaching your audience and achieving your goals. Your site might be too slow, your content might be too weak, your messaging might be a little off, people might find your content difficult to read, the query people are searching for doesn’t match the result they were given. But all of these things can be fixed!
If wired up correctly, your data will tell you everything you need to know about your user base. Maintain your SEO success by:
Adjusting your Google Analytics reports so you’ll get updates on the data that’s most important to you.
Keeping up on trends with technology and search engines to determine what you may be able to use on your website or within your content (e.g., things like voice search and rich snippets).
Using tools to your advantage (many of which are free or have free versions) to periodically check on things like keyword performance, trending topics within your niche, and what’s going on with your competitors.
Whether your various SEO campaigns involve landing pages, blog posts, your or various social pages, you’re more likely to see meaningful results if you have a solid digital marketing strategy in place before you launch your various campaigns. This means researching your target audience, determining how they prefer to connect with you online, and consistently producing quality content.
As for the return on investment you can expect, I wish I could give you a definitive answer. But the reality is that many different factors will determine what kind of ROI you enjoy. Just keep in mind that while SEO campaigns will come and go, search engine optimization is a long-term investment that will require consistent attention and some fine-tuning here and there.