How to Plan an SEO Campaign That Works
Steve Warren Feb 01, 2017
Back to SEO
Back to SEO
Setting Things Up
Don't be surprised if this is longer than you expected. Preparation is the key to success with every worthwhile job, yet it is the part that is most often neglected. Think of it as setting up the solid foundation on which your business empire (well, your search engine rankings at least) will be built. Don't build your castle on sand.
Manage Your Expectations
1) Be Patient
Don't expect to see results in your first week, or even month. This used to happen in the early days (with smaller markets, we were so confident we'd predict quick success, and always got it), but nowadays it's not just the work that takes time, but there are time delays built into Google's own algorithm (see this article for some very high authority research).
Also, be prepared for an environment where there are lots of grey areas. This guide is as factual and action-centric as I can make it, but if you want to know, at the start, how long it will take to get results, all I can say is that it depends, because every business, every website and every market are different. There is a "Time Plan" later on, and I guess you could say maybe six to twelve months (depending), but at this stage you must concentrate on getting the structure and process of your campaign put into place.
If you like to set yourself targets, it's best to make them process-related (e.g. "Do jobs A, B and C") rather than results-based (e.g. "Achieve rankings of X, Y and Z").
If your business is in trouble, SEO won't save it: it will demand resources you probably can't afford over a time scale you surely don't have. But with the right budget in place in a business where the culture is positive and growth-driven, SEO will provide what is likely to be the most cost effective route to new customers that you have ever seen.
Just be patient.
2) White Hat versus Black Hat
These terms were coined to reflect the situation in Wild West films, where the white hats were worn by the "good guys" and the black hats by the "bad guys" (see here if you want confirmation).
And if you like the idea of being one of the "bad guys", just remember that although they may have had a lot of fun for a while (shooting people and frightening everyone, getting money and "goils"), they were the ones who got shot at the end – which is another great parallel for what happens with SEO.
Established wisdom is that black hat SEO techniques may (if you're lucky) work for a while, but sooner or later you'll be caught and justice will prevail. I never bother with any kind of shortcuts because I want my results to be sustainable. If I may say so, so should you.
3) Quality versus Quantity
Relax, take a breather, and realise you will succeed by the quality of what you do. Get into good habits: it's better, for example, to create one very good blog post every month than twenty pieces of utterly forgettable rubbish.
You can scale up later, when you have acquired more experience, better contacts and improved skills.
4) You Reap What You Sow
As long as you work effectively (yes, following these guidelines) it will be a straightforward matter of the more you put in, the more you will get out.
Lots of well-informed, consistent work will get you places. But if you dabble at it, or work when you feel like it, or chase every new idea you come across, you really shouldn’t be wasting your time.
A point to remember here is that if you have some "big hitters" in your market, you can still beat them if your activity is more organised and better managed. We have done this many times: one client overtook Regus in the serviced offices market, another outranked Microsoft for training, and another beat all the multinationals for freight forwarding. You can do this: just remember to prioritise and focus on what’s important.
Preparation of Your Campaign
As with many jobs (whether you are cooking a new recipe, spraying an auto or writing an article), the standard of your preparation will often define the quality of the finished result. Yes, it's time consuming, and can be boring at times, but if you skip this part of the job, you will set yourself up for poor results, if not complete failure.
1) Match Yourself and Your Market
This shouldn't take long, but the answers you give here will drive the rest of your activity.
What is Your Market?
Although you may feel there's an obvious answer, try to think more deeply. If you sell motorcycles, are they sports, commuter, or do you try to cast as wide a net as possible?
Who Are Your Target Customers?
This just means knowing what kind of people they are, and what position they are in. Try to be reasonably specific: "Purchasing Manager" doesn’t really do it. In our own campaigns, we often give people a name, and a persona, to aid our visualisation. So it could be "Helen from HR" or "Trendy Tina" or even "Billy Who’s Broke".
What Are Their Expectations?
Why do they buy your products? What drives their choice is often different from the function of the product or service. What does your customer want to do? What are their objectives? What "pushes their buttons"?
If it's Helen, we may say that she wants a reliable provider, with whom she can forge a long-term partnership. But if it's Tina, she may be preoccupied with style and other people’s perceptions. And we're sure that Billy’s decision is likely to be extremely price-driven.
How Do You Match Their Expectations?
In other words, how do you (and your website) match the features of your goods and services with customer expectations, so you provide the benefits they want? The answer is usually straightforward enough, but I have sometimes seen clients who cannot really answer this – and this leads to a (very useful) tighter definition of what they do.
2) SEO Tools
There are lots of tools out there, each with their own advantages, and here are a few of those that combine lots of features with relative ease of use and reasonable costs:
We have used them all (and many others) in our time, but it's beyond the scope of this guide to review them: they all have their strengths and provide value across the board.
3) Research and Select Your Keywords
We are still on the basics here, but this is probably the biggest factor in deciding the results you get from the hard work you put in.
A Few Notes About Keyword Strategy
It is important that your final list of target keywords contains only those which have some "commercial intent". This means that a keyword phrase that says "buy", "order" or "suppliers" implies an intended commercial action, and will be valuable. On the other hand, if it includes "definition of", "how to" or "history of" then the visitor is just looking for information. I'll ignore arguments about early-stage research because I want to get you somewhere quickly, and will recommend that you go for keywords that have high commercial intent, or are neutral (e.g. "water softeners", "party entertainers").
Set Up Your Preliminary List
You know the names of your products or services, and you also know (from your work above) what extra words, like "reliable", "latest" or "cheap", could be used by your target customers.
Make selections that are consistent with your business objectives (so don't use "cheap" if you are marketing a high-end product). Draw up a preliminary list, which will form the basis for your work.
Look at What Your Competitors Do
Firstly, define your competitors! For the purposes of SEO, a competitor is not Jonny-In-The-Next-Town with whom you’ve been local rivals for years. A competitor is someone who has search engine rankings for the keywords you want to target. So it's easy to find them. But look at the other keywords they are targeting: inspect the meta tags on their main pages – that's Title, Description, and even Keywords (though few use that one any more). Experiment with similar keywords and see if they have rankings or even ads appearing.
This is a great way of mining for additional keyword terms, and it may yield some that are more productive than your original choices.
Dig Deeper For Your Core List
Plug the list into a keyword research tool. All the tools I’ve listed above have their own variations, though Google also has a Keyword Planner for which you'll need a Google Adwords account, but although it is easier to use than more advanced tools, its results are too aggregated for many people's liking, the "competition" metric relates to advertising bids (not rankings), and you can't extend its use to other kinds of analysis (covered later on).
Also, any article about keyword research wouldn't be complete without a mention of WordTracker which has been around for a long time, but it lacks the breadth of other functions that you may need later on. It's your choice.
There are two measures to bear in mind: Difficulty Level and Search Volume. Don't pick those where the difficulty level is too high: this means it will take a lot of work to get results. And if the search volume is low, even with top rankings, you’ll not get worthwhile numbers of visitors.
An example of some research we did recently showed up the following example:
- Equestrian clothing: Difficulty: 6% Searches: 1,600
- Horse riding clothing: Difficulty: 11% Searches: 200
- Equine clothing: Difficulty: 22% Searches: 150
Here, it's clear that, of the three keyword terms, the highest volume is (unusually) the easiest to get results for: if you see these kinds of opportunities, be sure to take advantage of them.
Aim for a list where the keywords have low difficulty and high volume, which avoids the two "brick walls". If you select keywords with low difficulty but also low search volumes, it will mean that although you may be encouraged by improvements in your rankings, you are likely to be baffled because your web traffic doesn’t improve. We see this all the time. On the other hand, if your keywords have high volumes but also high difficulty, you may be permanently marooned on page 2, or 3 (or worse…).
Make a list of what you may consider to be "achievable" and divide them into categories or sections that correspond to your website. This is your core list of keywords that will direct everything you do from now on.
Your PPC Trial
The best way to proceed next is via a pay per click (PPC) advertising campaign, through Google or perhaps Bing (though Bing doesn't have the volumes of Google). This will take several weeks, plus some further resource in setting up the campaigns and, of course, paying for the ads. Many people want to move on without this, and they are obviously entitled to do so.
However, if you do follow the PPC Trial route, you will test your keywords in real time, in your market, and be able to see how they perform. Analysis of visitor behaviour, as well as (hopefully) business sales or leads, will give you an insight into how things will operate with your SEO. It can direct you in where to focus your efforts, and maybe where not to waste your time.
4) Onsite (On-Page) SEO
With the "hard yards" out of the way, and your list of keywords at the ready, you can now optimise the pages on your website.
Because you divided your keyword list into website-related categories, you can now apply them to specific pages. Observe the following rules:
- Apply one keyword phrase (or two closely-related phrases) to each page
- Use major pages (just one click, maximum two, from the home page) wherever possible
- Ensure that the content on the page is highly relevant to the keyword phrase
A how-to process guide on this subject would drag us into too much detail (a bit "off-topic" maybe), but the essence of it is to make sure you have your keyword phrase (or a close variant of it) in the following elements on your selected pages:
- Meta Title tag – this provides Google, Bing (etc) with the heading text for your listing. The general rule is to capitalise every major word, and keep it between 55 and 65 characters in length. Make it descriptive, not just repeated keywords, so that more people will be likely to click on it.
- Meta Description tag – if you do this well, it is very likely to form the descriptive text below the heading. It needs to be informative but more conversational in tone: again, think of motivating the viewer to click: including the keyword term once, and a call to action at the end, are often a good idea.
- Page Structure – Ensure that heading tags (H1, plus 2-3 H2 tags) exist on the page and contain variations of the keyword phrase (not all the same text!) Also ensure that the keywords appear in the main body copy of the page, including variations (e.g. "quality printing", "printing quality" and "quality expert printing").
- Image Alt Tags – Make sure that all image tags have alt attributes (often, mistakenly, called "alt tags"), and that some (but not all) contain your keywords.
Remember that this process is not to "fool" search engines, but to inform. If you don't do this, and your pages are devoid of any real occurrences of your keyword, how will Google et al know what they are about?
It's also, when compared with the other SEO work you have to do, a very quick and simple job.
There are three elements here:
- Usability – a general usability rule (which applies to humans and search engines alike) says that every page on the website should be no more than three clicks from any other page. Make sure that this is true wherever possible.
- Anchor text – this is the text you click on to follow a link, and which sends a signal to the search engine about the topic of the page it points to. If, therefore, you include keywords in the anchor text, that will give a tiny boost to your SEO. But do this in moderation, because "over-optimisation" with keyword-rich links all over the page, will be ignored or even penalised.
- Target pages – these are your "selling" pages: those that you want people to visit. You should always make sure that any pages relevant to the subject of a target page have a prominent link to it. (So an article which reviews are announces a product should link to the page that sells it.) This will help you get more from visitors and search engines.
You must always keep a regular check on SEO-related technical issues. These include:
- Page script (500) errors
- Page not found (404) errors (broken links)
- Page load times
You can do this by using the Google Search Console, for which you'll need to set up a Google account, then add your site to your login page.
In your first SEO exercise, you should audit the site and confirm that these are under control. When this is done, you should perform a monthly check to make sure all is still in order.
Mobile search is growing fast. But the evangelists don't tell you that it's only in relevant markets: if you're selling music downloads, or run a local restaurant, mobile is likely to dominate your traffic. However, if you are hoping to grow the distribution network for the heavy machinery you manufacture, I'd say that your potential customers, even though they undoubtedly have mobile phones, are going to prefer to use a PC for their search. I'm not trying to over-simplify, but if you're in a B2C (business to consumer) market, mobile is more likely to feature than in a B2B (business to business) market. But you know your customers, and it's your decision as to whether you concern yourself with mobile.
If you do want to optimise for mobile, there are several additional factors to consider:
- Make sure you site is responsive (i.e. it creates a different version in response to whether it is viewed on a PC or mobile (or tablet for that matter).
- Avoid animations using Flash (or at least hide them on mobile and tablet)
- Don't use pop-up windows
- Be VERY attentive to page load speeds: images, in particular, can slow down a page to a crawl, during which visitors will just give up (they are VERY impatient!)
- Use a font size that can be read easily on mobile. A general rule is that it should be at least 16px (pixels)
- Make sure that "touch" elements (e.g. links) aren't too close together
Google has a very good mobile-friendly tool that you can use to check your own website (or any page on it). And who better to judge whether your site will do well on Google than Google?
I warned you – there's a lot to it. But once you've done it, with the exception of periodic reviews, it's in place and you have a great basis on which to build. If you don’t have the time, or the patience, to do all this, and want to get on to the more "interesting" stuff, you do so at your peril and risk spitting into the wind for ever. But, as always, it's your choice. :-)
Today's post is the first part of our three-part “How to Run an SEO Campaign That Works” series of articles - if you enjoyed reading the article, make sure to have a look at the next two instalments here:
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