1. Master Keyword Research
Always start with keyword research. Don’t assume that you know what consumers want.
You likely understand your industry jargon. But your prospects might use different terms than trade colleagues to refer to your services or goods. Keyword research provides an understanding of the words and phrases that consumers use to find your products. It also helps to gauge the demand for them. It identifies the keyword themes that real searchers use in their search queries.
The best keyword tools offer a quantitative demand score that helps determine the relative value in targeting each keyword theme. Google Keyword Planner is the go-to keyword research tool, though you’ll need an active Google Ads — formerly AdWords — campaign to get the most useful data.
2. Understand Your Competition
Search for the most important products and services you offer and note the most prominent websites in the search results, those that share your business model as well as the ones that are dissimilar to yours but compete for the same searches.
- What are they doing well?
- What content themes do they have that you’re lacking?
- Do they structure their site differently to target more valuable keywords?
- Do they have interesting features to better engage their prospects?
Also, study their reviews and benchmark their social media activity to learn what their customers think versus what you hear, or not, from your own.
3. Plan Your Site
With an understanding of what consumers want and the keywords they use to find those products and services, identify pages on your website to address those search queries.
Having a list on paper or a spreadsheet of all top-, mid-, and low-tier web pages and their corresponding keyword focus forms the basis of your website’s architecture. Each high- and medium-priority keyword from your keyword research should have a corresponding page to optimize on your site.
Use long-tail keyword themes that drive fewer searches and are typically much longer and more specific — such as “how to get red wine out of carpet” or “where to buy wooden hangars” — in blog posts and FAQ pages.
4. Optimize Your Site
The next step is to create the pages. This is the hard part. Depending on your ecommerce platform and your access to developers and designers, you may need to outsource some of this work.
Any website today should be mobile responsive to cater to the ever-growing faction of smartphone and tablet users. A mobile-friendly site is important for two reasons. First, according to Google, more than half of searches come from smartphones. Make sure that the experience of those users is seamless and engaging.
5. Produce Regular Content
You don’t have to start a blog or turn your business into a publishing company by posting content every day. It’s unrealistic for many ecommerce sites. But publish your own content regularly. Schedule weekly or at least monthly updates. Consistency is key.
Content does not need to be text. For example, an architectural firm could publish photographs of its projects with short textual descriptions. Realtors could publish weekly video bulletins with transcripts. Publishing content that is tailored to the consumption habits of your target audience is the goal.
6. DIY Public Relations
Link authority is a major component of SEO, but purchasing links is forbidden by Google, Bing, and other search engines. That’s where outreach and public relations come into play. If you have PR representatives, coordinate with them so as to not invalidate their efforts. But if you’re doing it yourself, read on.
Google advises site owners to build compelling websites that users want to tell their friends about — sites that users visit over and over. This content-heavy approach to SEO is Google’s answer to the ever-present question of “how do I get more links ethically?”
The content you’re already producing should be targeted to different segments of the media or blogosphere. These pieces then become conversation starters with different sites, as an enticement for them to write about or link to.
The competitive research in step two, above, comes in handy here because you now have an idea of the most influential and best-ranking sites to approach.
7. Build Your Social Media Network
Join Twitter and one or two other social media platforms. You have many options — Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, many more. Social media enables you to connect with your customers and prospects and offers an audience for your content.
Understanding and nurturing these relationships boosts your SEO in the long run. Increasing the exposure of your content also increases the likelihood that some of those viewers will blog about it or link to it.
8. Understand Google Analytics
You can’t optimize what you don’t measure. The importance of analytics in digital marketing is akin to financial reports in business. Both are essential to track performance.
Have a basic understanding of Google Analytics (or whatever web analytics package your business uses). In Google Analytics, study the reports under Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels. By clicking on “Organic Search,” you’ll be able to analyze performance for your SEO program.
9. Read an SEO Blog
Study an SEO guide such as my “SEO How-to” series. Then subscribe to an SEO blog.
- Helpful, free beginner SEO guides include Moz’s “The Beginner’s Guide to SEO,” Search Engine Land’s “Guide to SEO,” and Google’s “Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.”
- For quick updates on SEO changes, try two YouTube channels: Moz’s “Whiteboard Friday” and “Google Webmasters.”
- If you have more time and are keen to follow the SEO industry, subscribe to Moz and Search Engine Land.
10. Ask Questions
If you are stuck or need answers, jump into SEO communities to ask questions. Google’s Webmaster Forum offers the largest SEO community on the web. Other good options are the WebmasterWorld Forum, Moz’s Q&A Forum, Search Engine Roundtable, and Search Engine Watch Forum.