Basic SEO Strategy: What's SEO And How Do I Do It?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of getting your page to rank within the search results on Google, typically for keywords (aka: search terms) that are searched by someone looking for what you offer. These are results are *NOT* the paid or sponsored ads (AdWords) on google.
SEO is a very nuanced because Google's proprietary A.I. algorithm decides where each page on the internet ranks for anything anyone "googles" (a keyword). The first page of results is typically the only page a user bothers to look through, and the first 5 results are extremely coveted positions because they're the first things users see & therefore receive more clicks.
Let's take a look at the factors involved, how SEO works, what we know about the algorithm. Then I'll show you how to take advantage of that, and the typical process of optimizing a page or a site.
SEO Factors & Foundation
Like I said, Google's algorithm is proprietary. However, if you're internet savvy, a lot of the factors involved are common sense. If you're not, 100% of this might be over your head, but use the chat function in the bottom right and I'll help you navigate some of nerd-speak that's about to happen.
Below is a visual aid that outlines everything involved. I've grouped this into 4 main categories: User Experience, Links, Technical, and Authority. Arguably, this could be grouped differently, but these are the things involved in an SEO strategy.
The biggest takeaway here is that all of these are one cohesive foundation. You can't simply have one piece right and expect a massive influx of revenue from organic search. Additionally, if you're doing all of these things right, you'll also reap the benefits from other marketing channels that are driving traffic to your site.
It all starts with a Keyword Strategy
Now that we know what's involved, Let's lay out the process.
It all starts with a keyword strategy. Keywords are what users type into Google when they want to search for something.
Each page ranks for keywords individually. In other words, a page about hats will probably rank for the keyword "hats," but if the rest of the site is selling indoor house plants, only the pages that mention indoor house plants will rank for "indoor house plants" as a keyword. Conversely, those pages won't rank for "hats." This is called Relevance. The page must be relevant to (or about) a keyword if you want Google to rank you for that keyword.
So if you want to rank for a keyword, it needs a page that's extremely specific to that keyword in on-page content, images, and technical elements all within clean back and front end code for Google to read ("crawl"). Additionally, if you have an extremely thorough page that covers a topic well, that page can now (as of February 2021) rank for a variety of keywords that you cover within that topic.
Choosing Keywords: Long Tail VS Category Keywords
Choosing these keywords can be tricky. The biggest thing to remember is that you can always "google" the keyword before including it in your strategy. If your page's content and page type (blog post, product page, category page, etc) is echoed through the first page of results for that keyword, you can most likely add the keyword to your list of contenders.
However, the keywords most people think of are either way too competitive and will take years to get to page one if ever, and way too vague. So let's drill down and find ones that make the biggest and smartest impact by looking at the search intent for two types of keywords:
Category Keywords are usually general, conceptual and vague, even in the e-commerce space.
"Hats," "mens shoes," "marketing," etc. -- they all fall into this "Category Keyword" group. These kinds of keywords are more "top-of-funnel" in nature. Searchers who are still narrowing down their options and researching what it is they really want.
The users searching these keywords are less likely to convert at this stage and more likely to bounce. Since these are so general, there are a lot of people who start with these kinds of keywords when they begin their shopping journey. This makes for larger search volumes which makes these keywords seem more appealing. However, only pages massive quantities of SKUs with exactly the product being searched & mass market appeal will make it to the top of page 1 for these keywords. These keywords are extremely competitive which makes it extremely expensive to optimize because they require a competitive number of backlinks.
Think you have what it takes? Google it and see if you page has the same kind of content, user experience, SKUs & aesthetics as the pages that Google has already ranked on the first page.
Long Tail Keywords: the smarter & economical choice
Long Tail Keywords are usually more descriptive and specific.
Users go through a shopping funnel of sorts. They start with research about the kind of item they'd like, the kind of company or brand they'd like to buy, then they look for unique selling features (or unique value props / UVPs) that they desire in the product (things like colors, textures, sizes, functionalities, etc).
When users know exactly what they want to buy they search highly specific keywords ("red suede adidas tennis shoes for women" for example). This is the stage where you want to capture the users because they're ready to convert, therefore these are the kinds of keywords you want in your strategy. Since these are so specific and appeal to a person & their subjective preferences rather than a persona of people, they often have slightly smaller search volumes. However, this makes them significantly less competitive and the higher conversion rate often makes up for the smaller number of people searching it.
Remember, you still have to take care of the rest of the foundation: provide a competitive UX, a competitive number of SKUs or product or content depending on what's on page 1 of Google for this keyword, and ensure your page is specifically about the keyword.
What do you do with a keyword strategy
In some cases, the keyword strategy process will alter the way your site is set up, or your site architecture. I'm not going to lie to you, this is a very difficult process for most to execute and execute well. Generally, your site should be in a broad to narrow structure. A broad to narrow structure can capture both the long tail keyword potential while leaving the door open for larger category keywords in the future. This also makes for a good user experience and multi-channel marketing because it considers how people shop and search.
Keywords need to be disseminated appropriately across your site to the pages most relevant for each keyword. Keywords should go in your title tags, meta descriptions, on-page content, in meta data, schema data, and alt tags if it makes sense. If you're creating a new site, add it into your URLs as well.
Eventually, you'll also want to hint at & incorporate your keyword with your back linking strategy, but I'd advise not to attempt this yourself. An unexperienced link builder is more likely to absolutely and semipermanently destroy your site.
Then Do This Stuff
After the keyword strategy, core web vitals & user experience take over as the next biggest factors. If users are given a poor user experience, poor user interface, and poor core web vitals (like slow load times), users will likely "bounce" off of your site.
If your bounce rate is high, Google determines your site's pages aren't worthy of many first page rankings and keeps you from receiving more traffic. It will test other sites in your place to figure out who belongs on page one.
From there, external links are Google's version of a popularity contest. In other words, other websites linking to your pages within keyword-rich content is what Google uses to understand whether the general population likes you, and what it likes you for. There's often a trade-off between quality and quantity of sits linking to you that can help small businesses to rank well for good keywords without a massive expense.
Your links have to fit naturally into this external content, and has to follow a plethora of do's and don'ts so your site isn't harmed in the process.
Google then Crawls these external sites, follows their links to your pages, and rewards each page with higher rankings. Google will also crawl your pages and understand what each one is about. Google has to crawl every page on the entire internet frequently, so this part takes time. But once this happens, Google will rank each of your pages for proper keywords.
Consistency is Key
External links, keeping up with Algorithm Updates, frequently re-submitting your sitemap, adding new content or products, and keeping up with UX best practices are absolutely necessary. Otherwise, your rankings will slip, users go elsewhere if you have stale content, and your results are gone.
A cost effective maintenance strategy is something any good SEO can produce without sacrificing results. More often than not, tying this to a PR strategy is a great way to keep natural links flowing without tons of effort or finances.
That was a lot. Need Help?
This is really only the basics. You can certainly take this and run with it, but in my experience most people like to know they're making the right decisions and have someone to guide them when they're not. SEO & digital marketing have been my bread and butter for 8+ years. If you need some help, click the chat button, or hire me for a few hours each month to keep your SEO strategy on track and producing results.