The job of an SEO is to drive as much traffic as possible to their client’s sites.
One of the key ways to improve this is by fine-tuning your SEO process.
This post will take you through the 10 integral steps to creating an SEO strategy that’ll provide consistent results.
What is an SEO strategy?
An SEO strategy is the planning and implementation of activities that will take you from where you’re ranking currently to a higher position.
The outcome of most successful SEO strategies is higher quality traffic from search engines, resulting in more conversions or revenue generated.
The SEO strategy is both your process and plans to get your site ranking better.
Why do you need an SEO strategy?
“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
With so much online competition, it’s crucial to create a well-thought-out strategy instead of going in blind and targeting every keyword that comes to mind.
You might get lucky, but you’ll also waste a lot of resources.
By taking the time to plan, you give yourself time to ensure nothing is missed and you’re following the latest SEO best practices.
What is the best SEO strategy for 2021?
Without further ado, let’s look at the top steps to create a great strategy for your SEO.
1. Start with keyword research
All marketing starts with knowing your audience. In SEO, those audience insights include keyword research.
Keyword research takes the guesswork out of what pages to create and optimize. It’s the first task in a well-developed strategy.
Know your audience
First things first, find out what your audience is searching for.
While third-party tools are great, you can also learn a lot by using Google.
Search for things like the name of your service or questions your users may have.
As you’re searching, check what comes up in the dropdown showing Google Autosuggest results.
Check SERP features like People Also Ask (PAA) to see potential questions you could answer — and the terms your audience uses to search.
Also, look at related searches at the bottom of the SERP for further ideas.
Enhance your research further by using free tools such as AlsoAsked that scrapes PAA results for you.
Or AnswerThePublic that uses Google Autocomplete to find common questions.
Cover the entire customer journey
When researching, cover the whole customer journey through the funnel with optimized content.
It’s no good targeting only commercial terms; you’ll miss the opportunity to introduce your brand while customers are still in the researching phase.
Not only does this introduce your brand to them, but it helps build trust and positions you as an authority, meaning users are more likely to convert when the time comes to buy.
Group your keywords into categories
Keyword grouping is crucial, as it makes it easier to optimize a piece of content using a bundle of related keywords, and helps prevent keyword cannibalization.
By mapping keyword groups to individual pages, the content to include becomes clearer, preventing accidentally creating another page targeting the same keywords.
Don’t forget long-tail keywords!
While long-tail keywords tend to have lower traffic than more general keywords, they are highly targeted, often resulting in higher conversion rates and lower competition.
These are often seen as low-hanging fruit because the terms are usually much easier to rank for.
2. Perform a SERP analysis
Now you have your keywords set; it’s time to discover the intent of those keywords.
You can do this easily by searching each keyword on Google. Let’s look at “best face masks” as an example.
Determine search intent
Once we’ve brought up the SERP, it’s time to analyze the results and determine whether the results are informational or commercial focused.
If the answer is informational, create a blog post to target the user at the beginning of the buyer’s journey.
In the previous example, you can see it’s informational with the SERP filled with blog posts and news articles.
Analyze SERP features
But don’t forget to consider other features like video:
Or even news:
You’ll also want to see how competing articles use structured data.
Are they including things like FAQ structured data to enhance their snippet?
Or including recipe structured data to provide more details on the SERP?
Review competitor’s content
At this point, it’s useful to check the types of content that competitors are creating and make notes on how you can do things better.
Some things to consider are:
- The format, e.g., is it a listicle, video, long-form written content?
- Are there custom graphics and imagery?
- Are there any quotes from experts?
- Is the article fact-checked?
- Is the content writing by a known expert in the industry?
- Are they using AMP? Or Web Stories?
It’s a good idea to follow a similar format and take things a step further. As they’ve shown up on page one, they must be doing something that Google wants to see!
Alternatively, if the SERP is commercial, consider creating either a category/product page or services page on your site.
Again, analyze your competitor’s pages and ask yourself if they’re doing anything to add value to these?
Some things to look out for are:
- Reviews: They help to build customer confidence and add unique content to the page.
- Internal linking structure: Are there links to related products? Where does the product sit within the site hierarchy?
- Structured data: Is the site including product structured data and acquiring rich results?
Pay special attention to things such as review structured data.
This can have a significant impact on your CTR, including on image search:
While I’m figuring out query intent, I usually create two separate keyword research pieces, one for commercial and the other for informational terms.
While how you handle this is up to you, keeping them separate ensures you’re not creating the wrong types of content to rank for keywords.
3. Map keywords to pages
Now you understand the intent of keywords, map keywords with similar intents and SERP results to pages.
I mentioned earlier that mapping keywords to pages helps avoid keyword cannibalization.
It’s crucial to avoid keyword cannibalization, as this can come with a whole host of problems, such as:
- Lower conversion rates: If cannibalized pages perform better than your pages with planned out funnels and great UX, your CRO team won’t be happy.
- Diluted PageRank: Authority gathered on the URLs will not be as strong as it could be. It’s better to have one strong page on a topic rather than two weaker pages.
By understanding the intent of keywords and creating a clear plan, you avoid all these issues.
4. Consider topic clusters and internal linking when planning.
A thought out internal linking strategy can drastically improve your SEO performance.
Benefits of internal linking includes:
- Improved UX
- Increased average time on site
- Helps search engines crawl and index your site
- Helps spread PageRank throughout the site
First, I’d start by grouping pages on similar topics together into pillar pages and cluster pages.
A pillar page is a site page that provides an overview of a topic and links out to cluster pages.
A cluster page provides further details and targets long-tail search around that topic.
This is called a topic cluster structure. All pages within a cluster should be internally linking to allow users to navigate through your content on a topic.
Here are some more steps to follow to ensure you get the most out of your internal linking strategy:
Follow a flat site structure.
A flat site structure is when essential pages are one click away from the homepage. This is also positive for users, making it easier for them to find the content they’re looking for.
Link to high importance pages from high authority pages
PageRank on one page passes to the other pages that URL links to. So find your pages with lots of backlinks and make sure they have plenty of internal links to your important pages.
You can do this easily in most backlink tools by checking the top pages with external links. In Ahrefs, this is called the “Best By Links” report.
For the Advanced Web Ranking site, you can see we should improve internal linking on our CTR study post and our Google Algorithm Changes content as they have a lot of referring domains.
If you want to spot topically relevant internal links, use advanced search operators in Google. For our CTR post, we could search something like:
What’s returned is a list of other content pieces on CTR we could be linking to.
If you want to find high-opportunity URLs, head into Google Search Console’s performance report, view both impressions and average position, and then look at data aggregated by page.
You then want to pick out pages with a high average position that also receives lots of impressions. Adding internal links to these pages could boost where you rank, increasing the number of clicks received.
Link together commercial and informational pages
Customers browsing your commercial page may still be just researching and not ready to buy.
Make sure you give them informational content to help with their buying decision.
Travel sites implement this well, mostly due to the long buyer journey with multiple steps of research. Take TUI, for example. On each destination page, they list blog guides to help users decide where to go.
Alongside just being great for users, this helps PageRank flow effectively throughout the site.
5. Make your pages better than the competition.
Now you’ve got the research out of the way; it’s time to create your pages!
You have two options here.
- Create something better than the competition
- Create something completely different
It’s tempting to try something completely different, but content showing on page one of the SERP means the format is already working and, therefore, a useful guide.
Even when I do something different, I still try to include all the topically relevant information.
Some of my top tips to get the most out of your content are:
Make it well-designed and visually appealing.
An attractive page helps form a good impression and provides a better user experience.
Look at this page on how to create a website as an example.
Your content would be far more engaging if the page was a mixture of text, lists, video and includes imagery, like this page.
Make sure you add assets that make your page unique.
In many cases, the content you create will be very similar to the competition. Take this SERP, for example.
All the listings are similar and will cover the same information.
So how do you differentiate?
One way is by adding things unique to your business, such as:
- Custom graphics
- Unique data
- Expert quotes or interviews
Once you’ve added these, you’ve added value over competitors and given other sites more reason to link to your article.
Some other top tips for making your page better than the competition include:
- Add jump-to links: This is beneficial if it’s a long-form piece. It saves the user time rather than scrolling through to get to where they want to be and they can show up in the SERP.
- Add custom-designed elements: Add custom CSS styling for quotes, sidenotes, and pro-tips. These are all things that make your content presentation unique.
- Cover the topic better: Determine how well competitors have covered the subject. Maybe you can be better just by including more information.
6. Cover on-page SEO
There’s no use spending time creating unique, engaging content if you’re going to let it down with poor on-page SEO.
This is like the pièce de résistance of ensuring your page has a chance of ranking.
There are four main areas of on-page SEO you need to get right.
Title tag optimization
Title tag optimization is the main part of your listing on a SERP.
Keeping titles keyword-rich gives search engines a clear idea of what your page is about. It also helps with CTR, giving users an idea of what they’ll find on your page before visiting it.
An example of a good title tag optimizing for “best video games” would be:
The 100 Best Video Games of all time | [brand name]
An example of a bad title tag would be:
Our Favorite Video Games This Year | [brand name]
The meta description is shown underneath the title tag and summarizes the page’s content.
It’s there to entice the searcher to click through to your page, so you’ll want to add your focus keyword in the description.
Some things to keep in mind when creating the meta description are:
- Keep it short – around 150 characters.
- Include a call to action if possible.
- Make sure it is relevant to the page’s content.
Short descriptive URLs
Short, easily readable URLs perform better than longer URLs.
This for example:
Looks better than this:
But be aware, this is more for UX reasons than anything else. Once Google has indexed content, the URL is only a minor ranking signal.
The SEO effect of keywords in the URL is minimal once the content is indexed. Make URLs that work for your users, not for SEO. Also, changing URLs on an existing site is a site-migration & it will take time/fluctuations to be reprocessed, so I’d avoid that unless it’s critical.— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) August 19, 2020
Rich snippets and structured data
Adding structured data to your pages will put you in the race for claiming a rich snippet.
These can have a massive impact on what your listing looks like visually and your CTR, so it’s something to include in your SEO strategy.
7. Prevent technical roadblocks
Technical SEO is an essential part of your SEO strategy. Strong technical proficiency ensures you have good site fundamentals and prevents hampering performance on your off-page and on-page SEO efforts.
There are various checks to ensure technical issues aren’t holding you back, but there are tools to help.
One of my favorites is Sitebulb.
Thanks to its various visualizations, you can easily spot issues like internal redirects or orphaned pages.
Pages with a low word count, possibly suggesting a lower value to users.
It also provides you with a “Hints” section, giving you quick insights into potential issues with your site that have been automatically identified.
8. Do a broader competitor analysis.
While we’ve looked at competitors on a page-by-page basis during our SERP analysis, you’ll also want to take a broader look at the market.
This is where an SEO competitor analysis can help. The main areas you want to compare are:
- Market share
- Link authority
- Brand popularity
- Page speed
A Market share analysis gives you an overview of where everyone is positioned in the market.
You’ll find your direct competitors and how far away you are from competing with the top players.
Comparing domain authority metrics against competitors lets you quickly see whose link profile you want to investigate to inform your link building strategy.
More prominent brands have a better CTR, they get more links, and they also tend to get more traffic
The average person looks for authority and trust when making a decision, and they’re more likely to come to that conclusion with a brand they already know and like.
I tend to do a quick analysis by checking the monthly search volume of different brands to see who’s the most popular within an industry.
While only a minor factor in ranking, a fast site is essential to provide a good user experience, especially on mobile.
A study by Imperva found that 35% of people state they would drop off if the page took longer than 3-5 seconds to load. If you fall into this loading time, you could pass a potential conversion to your competition without knowing it.
For a quick overview, use PageSpeed Insights and note the score for both mobile and desktop.
9. Promote your pages
We’ve covered on-page SEO; it’s time to take things off-page and promote your content.
Off-page SEO is all about creating links and increasing your site’s authority.
Some top tactics include:
- Skyscraper technique
- Broken link building
- Content promotion
This is creating similar but way better content than your competitors.
There are three critical steps to the skyscraper technique, and these are:
- Find content that has attracted a lot of links.
- Make an even better version of this content.
- Outreach this new piece to relevant websites
Backlinko has a great guide breaking down this process further.
Broken link building
Broken link building is as it sounds. The aim is to find a broken link on a website and offer your content as a replacement.
Many sites recommend doing broken link building by entering competitors sites into something like Ahrefs and then checking the broken links report.
While this works, I also tend to do this in a slightly different way.
Enter a topic you’re covering into “Ahrefs Content Explorer” and filter for “Only Broken” URLs.
By doing this, the results returned will be any pages that mention SEO strategies that now 404.
If we then find domains linking to these pages, we get a list of sites we could contact.
Broken link building works as It’s a win-win.
They replace a broken link, making the content more useful, and you gain a link!
Having a great promotion strategy is a brilliant way of naturally acquiring links.
Some of my favorite ways include:
- Facebook groups: Facebook has many users, so using it is a great way to reach a vast number of people quickly and easily. Find a popular Facebook group that is relevant to your niche and create a voice there. A tip is not to go in and only shout about your content. Join in and become part of the community.
- Slack channels: Slack is a popular channel and an effective way to promote your content. Similar to Facebook, find popular workspaces in a topic you’re writing about, join them, and again, become part of the community.
- Tweet industry experts: You may have quoted some experts with a large following while creating your content. Reach out to them to let them know they’ve been featured and thank them for being a valuable resource. There’s no harm inflating someone’s ego; they might just share your content.
10. Track your performance
While there are many ways to track SEO, rank trackers are up there at the top for the most useful.
Here’s how you can get started.
After you’ve done your keyword research, set up a project on Advanced Web Ranking and start adding your keywords.
If you’ve categorized your keywords, make sure to use the CSV import feature to carry those categories into the tool.
Once added, reports will start filling in showing performance alongside crucial information like the SERP features found when checking Google.
As you go through improving pages or creating new ones, you’ll be able to see the impact effortlessly.
On top of that, you can also keep an eye on how your competitors’ SEO strategies are performing.
Outside of rank trackers, you’ll also want to keep an eye on a variety of other metrics, including:
- Google Search Console metrics: Clicks, impressions, CTR
- Google Analytics metrics: Sessions, conversions, revenue
So there you have it! My tips to help you build the best SEO strategy you can in just 10 steps! You might find that you come back and adjust your strategy as it’s the internet, and everything is continuously changing, but as long as you follow these steps, you’ll do great.