This past week, I was joined by Josh McCoy of Vizion Interactive in presenting an SEO workshop for attendees of the Integrated Marketing Summit in Kansas City. The workshop was four hours and the presentation totaled just more than 100 slides.
As you might imagine, there was a lot of stuff to talk about. By its nature, some of that content was a "bit" on the technical side, but we tried our best to speak "English" so that the attendees could walk away with fewer questions than they had coming in.
We wanted the workshop to be interactive, and welcomed questions. One question did strike me as something that I think too often is bantered in executive meetings throughout the world…
The comment (and question), as best as I can recall was something like, "You’ve covered a lot of technical stuff in this presentation, but can you just tell me what the one thing is that we can do to really improve our results for SEO?"
We didn’t dodge the question. I mean, if you had to pick one tactic, I would have to pick "create content." But, that’s really too simplistic an answer.
I shared with this individual that sometimes content isn’t the answer. Each and every project is unique, the competitive set is unique, and every website (company) has its own set of unique challenges. I shared a few examples of instances where I had worked with large organizations that simply had an issue with getting content indexed. Once this "one thing" was fixed, it was a hockey stick. Traffic, in some cases, doubled. These companies already had authority built into their site (solid link profile/larger brands, etc.). And, in some cases, that "one thing" was the fact that their title tags were absolutely horrible (yes, there are still some with the title tag of "home" on their home/index page of their sites).
But, these "one thing" opportunities don’t come around very often.
More often, you are engaging in an omni-channel approach to building authority, strategically developing content, technical stuff, and optimizing conversion rates as much as you are title tags.
This, in my opinion, is "today’s SEO."
For many of you, this is not news. But, what became clear to me this past week is that there are still many who think of SEO as a "quick fix" or consider it a "do this one thing, and you’ve done SEO." I’ve certainly read my fair share of wonderful columns detailing individual tactics that are involved in the SEO process, but I don’t know that I’ve seen one which tried to hit upon the various things that go into an SEO engagement, within the confines of one article. I will attempt to hit upon most of these, today.
A common expression in recent years has been that "if it’s digital, it’s optimizable." If we’re really doing this well, our recipe to SEO success involves a lot of ingredients. Here are the few that jump out, to me:
Once you have content, you need to make sure that it’s indexed. Developing a sound URL structure is very foundational to this effort (you would rather a URL such as www.sitename.com/products/name-of-product than www.mccoysbikeshop.com/Products.aspx?Categoryid=94&Productid=72 - example pulled from Josh McCoy’s post from two years ago onproper URL structure.) Alongside of this, you’ll want to develop and submit an XML sitemap and work on internal linking.
The basis of SEO is that you have quality content that "speaks to" everything that you do. Finding the keywords/themes of this content is the art/science of SEO (you want to target keywords that have search volume, are relevant, AND that you stand a fair chance of ranking for; see Competitive Analysis, later). Once you have developed a list of targeted keywords, you must determine how these keywords match up with content that you current have on your website (or other properties – see Social Media Marketing) and what content you may need to develop (product/service page content/video/blog, etc.). When you’re creating content correctly, you are creating content that is original, high-quality content that speaks to your intended audience in the right manner, so that they might engage with the content (and your company) and possibly share that content, so that you can work toward earning links.
As stated previously, everything in SEO is relative to the competitive set. You can spend a lot of time in this area of practice (and I suggest that this isn’t merely a "one-and-done" affair, either). At its core, the competitive analysis is about determining the opportunities that exist to do well in SEO (is there light at the end of the ROI tunnel?) and what you might need to do to be successful. My favorite tool remains SEMRush.com for a quick analysis of the opportunity. Enter in some competitor domains and see how much traction they have in Google (SEM Rush provides a "SE Traffic Price" metric, showing what it might cost – in AdWords spend – to get what these guys are otherwise getting "for free" via non-paid search). From there, you might also want to do some site: searches in Google to see how much content the competitors have indexed (and what kinds of content), to gain a sense for what you may need to build. You can also use any number of link research tools (OpenSiteExplorer, MajesticSEO, ahrefs/) just to name a few. Put all of this together in a spreadsheet and analyze the opportunity (and the opportunity cost/work) to get a sense for what the project is going to look like. A good illustration of the process, was developed by Aleyda Solis on Moz, but there are certainly more components that go into an in-depth competitive analysis. Some of those are outlined by Boris Demaria on woorank.
To me, it is impossible to claim that you are an expert at SEO if you aren’t deep into analytics. At the end of the day, we are not optimizing for "rankings." We are optimizing towards quality traffic increases and an increase in conversions/money.
Usability/Conversion Rate Optimization
In my opinion, an SEO engagement is all about "optimizing for results." At the end of the day, if I’m the customer, I want money. I want ROI (more money back than I pay in). If it so happens that my "SEO company" happens to spend considerable time in usability/conversion rate optimization, then so be it. A 25 percent lift in conversions/sales is perhaps more important than a 25 percent lift in traffic (and certainly a hell of a lot more important than a general rankings increase). You can certainly use your analytics platform to identify where visitors are falling off and, in some cases, you can simply eye-ball test some things that are obviously wrong with the usability of a website. That aside, I do really like what Lucky Orange is doing with its real-time analytics product. You can see how people are navigating the site, in real time (as well as view recorded visits), gain insight on what the experience looks like in different browsers/platforms, get insight via heat maps for mouse movements, clicks, and scroll depth, and a whole lot more.
For as long as I can recall, we have recognized the similarities in PR and SEO. PR "back in the day" may have strictly referred to "submit press releases to gain links," but that has certainly not been the case for quite some time. PR is a way of amplifying your message. It’s outreach to journalists/influencers. It’s "promotion." There’s a lot of great reading out there about how to synergize efforts. One such case study that was developed was this piece by Robin Swire on Moz.com. One very common practice for us is to set up alerts for our clients using HARO, to identify opportunities to contribute to pieces that are being published (folks seeking an expert opinion/contribution to an article that is being written). This is great for the agencies who have clients who are unwilling (unable) to commit the time necessary to write compelling "thought leadership pieces," but may have time to contribute a few paragraphs. Often, these contributions will result in a link back to your site. Even without a link, I have think that Google is smart enough to pass some value through (as was hinted at last year, in Google’s John Mueller’s Webmaster Central hangout).
In a perfect world, you have enough money (and time) to support both SEO and PPC efforts. And, in a perfect world, there is a PPC budget that can be established/maintained for keyword research purposes. With PPC, you can obviously buy your way into position to gain traffic for specific keywords, and test them, so that you can determine if these keywords are worthy of being a part of the SEO effort.
Social Media Marketing
Much like PR, social media marketing is about amplifying content and trying to earn links, buzz, social shares, and build brand equity. The core of the effort may begin with hosting/maintaining a blog (with good/researched/resourceful content). Developing a blog is not something to take lightly. Please do NOT do this if you do not intend to maintain quality content on a regular basis. How often should you post? Every situation is unique, but I would say that if you don’t intend to update the blog AT LEAST once per week, then perhaps you should consider your options. Step one is determining how to structure your blog. There are reasons why you might consider sub-domain versus sub-directory versus a separate domain. From there, you will want to create an editorial calendar that helps to shape your content initiatives. That said, some of the best posts are those which – quickly – get posted on "hot topics" and are shared, immediately. If you are an early source on something, there is a better chance that you will earn links. Creating the content is one thing…promotion of that content, is another. This is where PR and social media promotion come in. You must get the right eyeballs on your content. If it’s engaging enough, folks will share it. If folks share it, you stand to earn a few links.
There are certainly many other elements that can go into a "full service" SEO engagement (I haven’t even talked about local SEO, video SEO, image SEO, mobile, or a number of other things), but I hope that this has helped to shape the discussion of "what SEO is," and helps others to understand that it’s not – usually – any "one thing."