In the early 2000s, Google took over the internet as the dominant search engine and has since reigned supreme with a 92% market share. Though many SEO practices and methods have changed with algorithm updates, SEO is still the Holy Grail of digital marketing.
While pay-per-click advertising is guaranteed to earn short-term top-of-page rankings, SEO is the only way to master search engines, including Google. Organic search is still the primary source of website traffic, so it’s in your business’s best interests to rank well in search engine results pages (SERPs).
As Google’s algorithms become more intelligent, they produce subtle and gradual shifts in organic search results. For instance, a listing these days may have a map, elements from a knowledge graph, videos, images, and more. Such featured snippets provide searchers with instant answers and increase click-through rates. They’re also shaping SEO strategies.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to developing an SEO strategy, nor is there a definitive recipe to rank. However, there are best practices to help you get the results you want. Our 2023 SEO playbook will show you how.
An SEO strategy is a comprehensive roadmap designed to enhance a website’s search engine rankings and attract more organic traffic. This blueprint encompasses various essential components, such as technical SEO, content strategy, on-page SEO, link building, and user experience, which serve as the foundational pillars of an effective SEO plan.
The four key areas of an SEO strategy are:
Google reviews over 200 factors when ranking web pages to determine which content is more relevant, trustworthy, and valuable for readers. Naturally, high-ranking content has a better chance of attracting clicks, especially since 91% of searchers do not look past page one on Google.
According to Statistica, more than 263 million American consumers shop online—some 80% of the population. Therefore, those who wish to engage with customers must invest in an SEO strategy, together with other online marketing initiatives, to amplify sales.
First things first: SEO is an ongoing, agile and flexible strategy. Search engine algorithms, the competition, and the market aren’t static—nor is SEO. It’s constantly evolving as Google improves user experience.
When we onboard a new client, we create a foundational SEO strategy, a baseline if you will, on top of which all their other digital marketing strategies are built.
Most marketing assets you publish lead directly back to your website. If it looks unprofessional, is slow to load, or offers a poor user experience then your marketing efforts will be futile.
So, before we start content marketing, we make sure your on-page, off-page, technical and local SEO has been correctly optimized for scalable growth. With the basics in place, there’s almost nothing stopping you from going global or dominating the local market.
At Comrade, we won’t commit to a multi-month SEO project unless our clients are happy with the basic SEO strategy we’ve implemented. If not, there’s absolutely no obligation for them to continue working with us.
Alarm bells should sound if the digital marketing company you hire jumps straight into content marketing and PPC campaigns without assessing your website’s current SEO status.
Here are the reasons why you should always request an SEO strategy first:
Businesses need SEO first because it is the most viable and cost-effective way to understand and reach customers in key moments that matter. Instead of putting out what you think your target audience wants, your SEO strategy ensures you’re creating content that people are actually searching for.
For the non-marketer, search engine optimization can seem like an impossible project to undertake, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The basic tips, tools, and techniques below can drastically improve your website and your SEO content strategy.
Creating a target audience is essential to developing a solid SEO strategy. To forge real connections, you have to speak directly and authentically to the customers who matter most to your business.
A target audience is made up of buyer personas (semi-fictional representations of your ideal customers based on in-depth research). Buyer personas represent a segment of your target audience—most businesses have more than one.
These personas allow you to focus on the pain points of your prospects and provide you with the marketing power to hit the right people at the right time, with the right content.
Creating buyer personas entails analyzing trends, behavior, demographics, and patterns among your customers and then compiling different profiles based on this research.
Psychographic and demographic data such as age, gender, career, subculture, attitudes and opinions, purchase intent, and lifestyle can all be used to define your personas.
Whereas a target audience defines a group of customers, a buyer persona zooms in to look at specific members of that group. How do you find your audience? Your customer base provides a wealth of information, and likely contains several buyer personas.
Google Analytics, general customer feedback, and surveys, as well as Facebook Audience Insights, are good starting points. Once you’re armed with quantitative and qualitative research and any other details you want to prioritize, you’re ready to create your buyer personas.
Let’s pretend you own a meal-kit company, and you’ve created a buyer persona called Sandra the Working Mom with the following information.
Name: Sandra the Working Mom
Age: 35-45 years old.
Lives in: US
Income: $120,000 +
Relationship Status: Married
Job: Senior Business Executive
Role in purchase decision: Makes all purchasing decisions
Biggest challenge: Not having time to source and cook nutritious meals for the family
Aspirations: Wants to spend more time with her family.
Online behavior: Spends time on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Favorite brands: Sprouts Farmers Market and Starbucks
Content consumption: Long-form articles (especially the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg)
As you can see from this example, buyer personas work like composite sketches. They provide a general idea of a type of person, with specific buying habits and challenges applicable to a niche group.
SEO software suite Ahrefs sums up the importance of having clear goals:
“SEO goals are important because they bring focus and clarity to your strategy by providing a clear target. If you don’t have SEO goals, you’re shooting in the dark. That’s never a good idea because you’re unlikely to achieve something unless you aim for it.”
At Comrade, we extrapolate this further and develop SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely). Clients frequently tell us they want more sales, which is fantastic but does little to help formulate a strategy.
A winning SEO strategy has SMART goals. For example, “We want to increase online sales by 45% in the next six months.” Working with tangible metrics makes it far easier to plan ahead and roll out a strategy that achieves your key performance indicators.
Increased sales are also not the only goal you can achieve with SEO. Perhaps you want to boost traffic to your website, generate more organic leads, improve your branding, or provide a better user experience. It’s entirely possible to create SEO strategies that achieve multiple goals.
This brings us to two salient points: 1. You have to know the current status of your website’s SEO, and 2. You have to understand your business’s market position before you develop a strategy.
We perform SEO audits free of charge to give you an idea of the work that needs to be done. A business with zero online presence will need an aggressive SEO campaign, whereas one that’s already known might focus on expanding to different territories or safeguarding current SERP rankings.
Additionally, when you know who you’re competing against, you can make strategic decisions about how to compete with them. In reality, if you don’t have the budget for a massive local billboard, you might focus your efforts on local SEO, Google Ads, and content marketing to secure your market share online.
Setting a digital marketing budget is like asking, “how long is a piece of string?” It’s challenging because it varies from business to business. Most companies don’t establish a budget until they’re large enough to afford it, yet they should be setting aside between 2% and 10% of their annual revenue for digital marketing.
Business owners balk at the cost, but we consider it an investment. The U.S. Small Business Administration recommends allocating 7-8% of your revenue to marketing. Paying a small fee to obtain a client that uses your products or services for life is always worthwhile.
When it comes to budgeting, there are multiple factors that affect the price, such as company and industry size, as well as growth stage. For instance, businesses getting their feet off the ground and focussing on brand building might allocate up to 20%, a much higher percentage than established companies.
Then there is also the resource factor. Do you have an in-house team? Are you outsourcing certain services, or do you require an agency to handle all your digital marketing and SEO needs?
Businesses that don’t have an in-house team tend to hire agencies to do the work for them. While these services come at a price, they alleviate the stress of having to do it yourself, and entrusting your SEO success to professionals guarantees results.
A sound SEO strategy will address three main facets, which you must budget for:
Once an agency has implemented a basic SEO strategy, you can expect to pay $1,500+ per month for continued optimization. This should, at the very least, include monthly analytics and reporting, keyword targeting, and updates to your meta titles, tags, and descriptions.
Our SEO experts will gladly provide you with a monthly estimate if you need a ballpark figure to guide your budget.
Target keywords are the words and keyword phrases in your web content that make it possible for potential customers to find you via search engines. They describe what a particular piece of content is about and serve as one of the many factors used by search engines to determine page rank.
For example, let’s say you Google search, “How to clean sneakers.” A piece of content that ranks for the keyword phrase “clean sneakers” would appear on SERPs.
Keywords are part of your on-page SEO strategy. Using them correctly requires understanding search intent. Google categorizes searches into four basic consumer motivations:
When you understand user intent, you’ll know what your customers have in mind when typing in search queries. Some are interested in buying a product, while others are not that far along the sales funnel and are looking for general information. Either way, you’ll need to find and use keywords that match their intent.
You can come up with keywords by making a general list. So, if we use our earlier meal-kit example, these keywords might be “meal-kit company,” “quick recipes,” “healthy recipes for the family,” “easy dinners,” and so on. Of course, your buyer personas will guide your list.
Then, you can use free tools like Google Trends, Google Keyword Planner, or paid ones such as SEMRush, Moz, and Ahrefs for more in-depth data, which will help you discover new keywords, examine their difficulty, and track competitor keyword rankings.
One reason keyword optimization is important is that it communicates to search engines what your webpages are about. Another is the right keywords send a strong relevance signal to Google. The more often your web pages appear in SERPs, the greater your traffic and conversions.
When Google introduced its Hummingbird algorithm in 2013, it shifted from focusing on target keywords to topics to better understand user intent. Thus, aiming to target a range of semantically related keywords and phrases, rather than just one, creates higher quality content.
To continue with our meal-kit business example, let’s say the primary keyword is “meal-kit.” Hypothetically you can add keyword clusters like “healthy meal-kit,” “order meal-kit,” “buy meal-kits near me,” and “best meal-kit” to your content, so you can address the same purchase intent across a broader section of searchers. This will rank your page for a mixture of short and long-tail keywords and attract more traffic.
A content strategy’s main objective is to create meaningful and engaging content that appeals to your target customers and builds lasting relationships with them. Perhaps you’re wondering what the fuss is. Can’t you just invest in paid advertising?
Pay-per-click is advantageous, but you have to invest money continuously to maintain a steady flow of traffic. With content marketing, you create evergreen content that generates organic traffic for years to come. But the significance of content marketing runs deeper than this.
Search engines rank websites that publish fresh content higher. And content creation is part of the inbound marketing philosophy whereby instead of interrupting customers with a barrage of advertisements, you create digital experiences tailored to them.
Content marketing is where you put your keyword research to use. The sales funnel has six stages: awareness, interest, consideration, intent, evaluation, and purchase. Each stage needs different content.
Remember earlier we spoke about user intent? Someone at the buying stage has different needs than someone at the consideration stage. A carefully tailored content strategy knows what keywords customers use at each stage of the funnel and creates relevant content accordingly, with the aim to nudge them towards making a purchase.
Publishing valuable content increases your chances of turning leads into customers. Your audience might come to you for free information, but they’ll stay for further expertise and product and service offers that solve their problems.
Content offerings you create might include: blog posts, email newsletters, social media content, guides, video content, webinars, case studies, and podcasts. Currently, video makes up more than 80% of consumer internet traffic, and 86% of marketers claim the medium has helped them generate more leads on social channels.
So, if you need content ideas, video is a good place to start.
Without a competitor analysis, your digital marketing and SEO strategy won’t be as effective.
According to HubSpot a competitor analysis “is a strategy that involves researching major competitors to gain insight into their products, sales, and marketing tactics.” It alerts you to best practices and reveals gaps you can fill in the market—as well as weaknesses you need to fix to stand out.
An SEO analysis should assess your competition’s keywords, backlinks, and content. Ideally, you want to determine what your competitors are doing and apply it to your strategy. What’s great about a competitive analysis is you don’t have to create an SEO strategy from scratch; you can reverse engineer the most successful elements into your SEO strategy.
Also, SEO is competitive by design. A good analysis will help you map your keywords to the buying cycle and ensure you’re using the best ones for your target audience and ROI.
Let’s build on our meal-kit example. After a competitor analysis, you might find that “meal-kit” is the most popular keyword, i.e., it has a high search volume. The only issue is that 10 websites already rank for this keyword, and because they have strong domain authority, it’s going to be challenging to usurp their search engine position.
However, long-tail keywords like “what is a meal-kit” or “meal-kit company near me” are less popular. Therefore, there is a better chance you’ll rank higher with them. Of course, a good keyword strategy uses a combination of keywords, but you get the idea.
Most marketers streamline the analysis process by using software tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush, and Moz to generate insightful reports without too much work.
So, you’ve just built a wonderful website? Great, but there’s still work to do! Conducting a website audit, setting the right KPIs, having the right link structure, and monitoring your SEO will go a long way in boosting your initial SEO efforts.
Just like conscientious drivers don’t wait for their cars to break down before getting service; you shouldn’t wait until your website is negatively affecting sales to have it audited.
Audits are essential measures to improve the efficiency and visibility of your website. Some of the most common and highest priority issues we fix are broken links, faulty URL structures, duplicate content, and slow page speed.
Your brand will immediately benefit from higher user engagement, more traffic, and increased conversions after rectifying common performance issues.
A comprehensive audit will analyze:
You should conduct website audits between two to four times a year. If you’ve experienced a drop in search engine rankings, increased page loading times, or have updated your website, you’ll want to conduct an audit. Think of it as a health check for your website.
You’ve probably heard of the story of the athlete who trains really hard to run a marathon and then fails only because they were doing weight training instead of long-distance running. This example is a little silly, but it illustrates why you need to set the right KPIs.
KPIs stand for key performance indicators. A common business term, they’re typically a quantifiable measure of performance over time for specific objectives. Businesses use them as milestones to gauge progress and make better marketing decisions (Although they’re not strictly relegated to marketing alone.)
You need KPIs to move your business forward on a strategic level. Without them, you can’t track your SEO campaign’s success and won’t know if your efforts are paying off.
Important KPIs to track include, but aren’t limited to:
Let’s briefly discuss the difference between KPIs and metrics. An SEO metric is a value used to track, monitor, and compare progress. A conversion rate, for example, is a metric. All the above terms are also metrics. So, what transforms them into KPIs?
An SEO KPI is a measurable value that indicates SEO effectiveness and whether you achieved your goal. For example, a KPIs conversion of 55% means you want 55% of people who come across a call to action to convert. Therefore, if you don’t attain 55%, you won’t achieve your KPI. When you attach a numerical value (percentage) to a metric, it becomes KPIs.
Your KPIs should be realistic and aspirational. Adjusting KPIs to meet your progress is a no-go, and a clear sign you’ve either misjudged what’s achievable or are underperforming unless it’s due to a major algorithm change or the sudden rise of a new digital platform you need to take advantage of.
Instead, you should follow the 6 A’s method and make your KPIs aligned, attainable, acute, accurate, actionable, and alive. In other words, these indicators should be aligned with your company goals, realistic to your business’s position in the market, and easy to understand.
Link-building (off-page SEO) is the practice of getting other, authoritative websites to link back to your website. Like SEO, it is a major ranking factor—often the single reason a page ranks higher than its competitors.
When another website links to yours, it signals to Google your website is a quality resource on a subject. Websites with more backlinks tend to rank higher because they have more “link juice” (equity passed from one page or site to another).
There are numerous link-building techniques you can use. SEMrush categorizes them into advanced and quick strategies:
Accruing inbound links (backlinks) is possibly the most time-consuming aspect of SEO because it’s not entirely in your control. In an ideal situation, you’d just create high-quality content that’s automatically shared by other websites, but there’s no guarantee this will happen, even with the best content.
What you can do though is write several guest blogs and get them syndicated on other blogs or tag thought leaders who you think would reshare and link back to your website when you publish relevant articles on social media.
Marketing talk about linking can be somewhat confusing. There is what we call internal linking, which is something different and refers to internal links between pages on your website.
Internal links are super important for SEO because they turn isolated pages into part of your website’s content infrastructure and give Google a good idea of which pages are the most important.
While they’re mostly used for navigational purposes, internal links can also help readers access more information via related pages and articles. For eCommerce brands, a strategic internal link structure can drive your traffic towards a sale.
A well-placed link from early funnel content can usher your audience deeper into the funnel and drive conversions. For example, you can push customers towards gated content, a product page, or a free trial, moving them from visitors to leads.
Adaptability is vital to sustaining profitability. SEO strategies are assets that can be updated time and again. Therefore, it’s good to view SEO as part of an agile framework that involves incremental iteration and continual progress.
“We” habitually speak about SEO as a challenge due to its fluctuating nature; however, it’s better to accept its evolving nature is the norm and not an anomaly. Hence, the main reason you need to measure your SEO metrics is to determine whether your strategy is working within an altering digital landscape.
Google Analytics offers an easy and free way to track website visitor behavior, whereas Google Search Console will tell you everything you need to know about your website’s technical performance.
When it comes to updating content to improve conversions, there are several tools you can use:
Monitoring your competition, rewriting, and adding new additions to your already published content is essential if you want to see your content on page one of Google’s search results. There is a genuine possibility your existing content will age badly if left unattended, harming your rankings.
Google algorithm updates, political events, or having old content are clear indicators you should revisit existing web pages. Outdated content is likely filled with the wrong keywords, which could result in your website missing out on valuable conversion opportunities.
Moreover, it’s not always easy to recover a slip in ranking. In fact, it’s far easier to maintain your content’s performance through the use of current keywords, as part of a regular SEO maintenance plan.
Are you aware Google introduces 500 to 600 changes to its algorithm every year? Quite simply, failing to keep up will negatively impact your visibility and organic traffic. This means staying abreast of industry news and responding strategically.
Digital publications such as Search Engine Journal and Search Engine Land are helpful in this regard. Outsourcing your SEO needs is also an easier solution. After all, it’s an agency’s job to know how best to serve its clients.
Our experts are always aware of Google algorithm trends and recommend paying close attention to and incorporating the following tactics in 2023.
Google is continuing to create personalized knowledge graphs based on a search engine user’s search history and behaviors. If you’ve ever Googled an entity (person, place, or thing) and seen the information box (knowledge panel) that appears on the right-hand side, you have witnessed Google’s knowledge graph at play (its database of facts it uses to compile its knowledge panels).
As a result, businesses need to optimize their entire eCommerce sites with Schema Markup to ensure they appear in more featured snippets. These highlighted excerpts appear at the top of Google search results and provide users with quick answers to their queries.
Featured snippets can contain videos, images, reviews, and other important information. Currently, they mostly appear when users enter informational queries, but this will likely broaden in the near future. Interestingly, they also appear for voice searches, too.
Around 40% of voice search answers come from featured snippets, and 75% of voice search results rank in the top three. Thus, in 2023, you’ll want to include long-tail keywords that sound more like natural speech in your web copy and apply structured data to increase click-through rates via featured snippets.
A quick explanation of structured data: Structured data is a standardized formula for providing information about a page, and classifying its content; for example, a book review, what the book is about, who the author is, how much it costs, and so on.
It’s a bona fide SEO hack that fast-tracks Google’s understanding of your web pages, so it can present your content attractively to users.
94% of people watch explainer videos to understand brands and products! For the past two years, we’ve seen video consumption skyrocket. Google has taken note and now displays relevant video content on SERPs as rich snippets.
As the most consumed medium, video marketing is a must. If you want to maximize your videos’ ROI, you should also apply structured data. For example, Google’s Key Moments functionality allows users to navigate video segments like book chapters to encourage more in-depth engagement.
To quote Google: “You can manually tell [us] about the important points of your video. We will prioritize key moments set by you, either through structured data or the YouTube description.”
Implementing structured data to your videos helps your target audience find the information they want, generates more views, and increases click-through rates.
SEO content trends indicate that long-form content is still highly prized. It attracts three times more traffic and backlinks and generates four times more shares. This is because longer content meets Google’s E-A-T algorithm (expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness).
Blog posts over 2ooo+ words that utilize H1-H4, and bullet points fare particularly well—they contain more keywords and do a better job at showcasing a brand’s expertise. To boost your content’s E-A-T performance, ensure your outbound links are targeted at high domain authority websites, and your content is easy to share.
Google Discover is a curated feed that delivers articles and videos on mobile devices based on a user’s past Google searches. Its algorithm has a clear bias toward visual content like videos, pictures, and infographics, which it punts to smartphone users.
Since its release in 2018, Google Discover has gained over 800 million monthly active users. Although it’s relatively new, Vogue reported that in foreign markets, Google Discover accounted for more than three-quarters of the traffic its titles received from Google properties.
To rank high on Google Discover, you need to optimize your content for mobile, avoid clickbait titles, use a rich mix of visual content types and adhere to the E-A-T algorithm. You can monitor your website’s performance on Google Discover on Search Console.
While still small in terms of market size, we think it’s worth mentioning considering the ubiquity of smartphone use.
An effective SEO strategy is always up-to-date. As a professional agency that provides world-class strategies for all our clients, we recommend a very detailed audit and strategy review at least once a year, followed by intermediary reviews every quarter.
Intermediary reviews are used to course-correct any problems that arise during the year. SEO is continually changing, so it’s important to troubleshoot issues as soon as possible. In any case, it’s necessary to update website content for SEO—keywords that are popular now might not be as effective in six months.
You should conduct a review if your website experiences any of the following:
You should never copy your competitor’s SEO strategy for the simple reason that even if you’re in the same industry and sell similar products, you are not the same business.
Online buyers are smart and compare several companies before choosing the best one. If your strategy is the same, they’ll start to notice the content you create is similar, and while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we bet you would rather not be known for copying another brand.
Perception aside, there are technical complications to discourage being a copycat. Even if you implement the same strategy as your competitors, the outcome will vary because your domain age, business locality, quality of reviews, brand recognition, and many other factors will be different.
Furthermore, while competitive research offers useful insights, we’ll never be able to see the full extent of activities your competitors are using, such as their budget and resources. On that note: There will always be competitors with bigger budgets and more resources, so use them as inspiration and motivation, but continually strive to create an SEO strategy designed to serve your unique company.
Creating an SEO plan that doubles your leads is no small task. The SEO process isn’t necessarily complex, it just has plenty of moving parts, which is challenging for non-marketers to master and maintain.
That’s why ambitious businesses hire Comrade Digital Marketing.
From developing quality backlinks to keyword research and on-page optimization, our specialists can help with a particular component of SEO or take care of the lot. We achieve a 175% traffic increase on average for our clients and would love to accelerate your sales. Book your free SEO audit today to get started.
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