This article is part of an SEO series from WooRank. Thank you for supporting the partners who make SitePoint possible.
Search engine optimization has, for a long time, been regarded as an important, possibly vital, marketing tactic for businesses, and most business owners understand that SEO is necessary to attract potential customers to their websites. However, what many website owners fail to realize is that optimizing pages without a solid SEO strategy as a foundation won’t get them the results they want. However, if you follow this four-step guide, you’ll be able to craft and execute an effective SEO strategy that will not only increase traffic to your site, but will ensure your website winds up in front of the right type of users for your marketing goals.
1. Establish Goals & Identify Target Audience
What Will Success Look Like?
The first step in determining your SEO strategy is deciding how you’ll measure success. Since this is an SEO strategy, the first thought is usually “rank highly in search results.” However, defining your goal is really answering the question “Why do I want to rank highly in search results?” There are two types of goals you can base your strategy around:
- Branding: This goal is basically seeking to make you more popular by getting your brand in front of as many people as possible while creating a positive link between your brand and the user. You can measure success here by increased traffic and better user engagement by tracking impressions, click through rate (CTR), pages per session or decreasing bounce rate. Optimizing for brand awareness isn’t going to lead directly to increased sales, but it will make you memorable and increase the likelihood of return visits from customers when they are in-market and ready to buy.
- Conversion: A “conversion” is an action taken on your website, whether that be a sale, email newsletter signup or downloading an app. Measuring success for conversion goals is simple: Are the total number of conversions, or conversion rate, increasing? This is the most common campaign goal for digital marketing.
This isn’t an either-or situation. You can use a hybrid SEO strategy that uses some keywords to rank highly for high-volume, poorly-converting searches, while also targeting extremely well-converting keywords that don’t get as much volume.
Determine Your Audience
The next step is figure out who your potential customers are. The best way to do this is to construct buyer personas (also known as marketing personas). Buyer personas are generalized representations of your customers — they tell you who’s interested in and using your products. When building your buyer personas, Google Analytics is your best friend.
Start looking at broad information and then get more granular. In Analytics, select Overview under Demographics. You’ll see the breakdown of visitors by age and gender.
A quick look tells us our target audience for our business is 25 to 34 year-old men. Next, get more granular by checking in the Interests reports. This is where you’ll see what your audience is interested in, and what they’re in-market for when they visit your website.
If you want to get more granular, you can solicit customer interviews or capture personal data via forms on your website. Some information to ask for, depending on what type of business you have, includes:
- Job title, role and/or responsibilities
- City, state or country
- Communication preferences
- Company size
- Family background and status
2. Find the Right Keywords
Your campaign goal will inform how you choose keywords to target. Since Google’s Hummingbird update, your SEO strategy should be optimized based on the way people use search engines to achieve a goal. Sometimes that means completing a transaction, but more often that means finding a piece of information or answering a question. From a marketing perspective, there are three basic ways people use search engines:
- To find a piece of information: These searchers are either not looking to buy anything, or are at the absolute beginning of the conversion process. Informational searches often include words and phrases like “how to”, “do I need”, “where to find” and “what is”. Don’t count on these searchers to convert on their first visit to your site — they’re just deciding if they want or need a product in the first place. However, since informational keywords make up the majority of searches online, you should still target these users and then use retargeting to convert them later.
- To lean more about something: This sounds like the same thing as the first group, but these searchers are actually further along in the sales process. They’ve already decided they need a certain product or service and are trying to decide which is the best for them. They generally use phrases like “top 10”, “comparison”, “deals on”, “cheap” or “review” in their keywords. Some of those words, particularly “deals” and “cheap” might look spammy to you, but the truth is they can help attract users who are right on the verge of buying so they can help you turn researchers into buyers.
- To complete an action: Whether it be creating an account, signing up for an email newsletter, completing a contact form or completing a purchase, these people are using the search engine to complete a task. When they click on a search result, they expect to land directly on the page that will let them complete that task, so if they have to click through to another page on your site they’re likely to bounce and not look back. These keywords don’t see a lot of volume but they should convert like crazy.
At what part of the conversion funnel is your ideal buyer persona at? Do you want to target people just finding out about your industry, to improve your brand awareness and establish thought leadership? Or, do you want to let others do the heavy lifting and optimize just for conversion rate? There’s no right answer to those questions and they’re not mutually exclusive. If you want, you can run campaigns to optimize landing pages for each type of searcher to move users through the entire conversion process on your website.
Use your SEO strategy to categorize your keyword research. Group your keywords by persona and intent, so you can keep in touch with your audience throughout the conversion process. Again, the best place to start here is your analytics. Dig into your organic search traffic to find keywords that best fit each persona and campaign goal. For a branding campaign, look at impressions, CTR and average position. You can get this data in your Google Analytics account by syncing it with your Google Search Console account.
If you’re looking to optimize for conversions, add conversion rate and abandoned funnels to your analytics report.
Once you’ve gathered a few keywords per persona that are aligned with your strategic goal, do keyword research to expand your list. There are a lot of tools you can use here. To get an idea of organic traffic for keywords add them to WooRank’s SERP Checker keyword tool. SERP Checker will show you estimated monthly search volume and your site’s current and historical rankings for each keyword.
Plus, with SERP Checker, you’ll avoid Google’s data throttling in AdWords’ Keyword Planner tool for accounts below a certain spend threshold.
If you haven’t created an Advanced Review with WooRank yet, Keyword Planner and Bing’s keyword research tool in its Webmaster Tools are both available for free. Technically they’re for PPC research but their data is applicable to SEO as well.
3. Build Your Site for SEO
Build your landing pages around your keywords, with a landing page for each keyword topic. Trying to make a page rank for multiple keywords that are not closely related is often very difficult and can be counterproductive if the theme of the content on the page doesn’t match the keyword — so don’t go overboard with the keyword research! Ideally, your number of keywords and landing pages would coincide with the number of product and category pages your business has, plus each location (if you have multiple) you have and any special deals you offer. This will make it much easier not only for your pages to rank highly in search results, but it will also help you get content in front of the right audience.
When creating your landing pages, include your keywords in these places:
URL: Include your keywords at the beginning of your URL to tell both human users and search engines what sort of content they should expect to find on the page. Maintain a clear hierarchy of domain, category, sub-category and page. If your keyword has multiple words, avoid using underscores (like_this) between words. Use hyphens instead. Search engines interpret hyphens as word separators but don’t recognize underscores. That means they’ll see example.com/longtail_keyword they same as example.com/longtailkeyword, which will make it hard for them to interpret the URL.
Title tag: Search engines rely on title tags almost more than any other on page attribute to determine what a page is about, so they’re one of the most important parts of SEO. Optimize your title tags by including your keywords at the beginning, if they don’t take up the whole character limit. If you have the space and want to include multiple keywords, your location for local SEO, or your brand, use the pipes character (|) to set them apart.
If your title is too long it will get cut off in search results, so keep it under 60 characters, including spaces and punctuation. Search engines are really good at figuring out when you’re trying to manipulate the rankings, so don’t stuff your title tags full of keywords, or repeat keywords over and over again.
A page’s title is indicated in the page’s
<head>. When implemented correctly, it looks like this:
<title>This is the Title</title>
Headers and Sub-heads: Search engines rely on headers and sub-heads to figure out a page’s topic, much like they do with title tags, particularly the
<h1> tag. The h1 tag is the most important header on the page and can be considered the title for the page content (however, it’s not the same thing as the title tag), so include your keyword here.
<h6> tags are sub-headers and are used to structure your content for readers. They’re also an opportunity to use your keyword, and semantically related words and phrases, consistently throughout the page.
Header tags also enhance your page’s user experience by giving it order and structure and therefore making it easier and more enjoyable to consume. Search engines take user experience into account when ranking pages, so using headers is good for your SEO.
Note that with HTML4 you can really only use one
<h1> tag per page, otherwise you risk looking like spam. However, with HTML5, you can use the
<article> tag to denote different sections of content and give each section its own h1. If you aren’t using HTML5, or if you aren’t completely sure, play it safe and only use one
<h1> tag on each page.
Meta description: Search engines don’t use meta descriptions as a ranking factor, but they are still an important part of your page’s SEO. Search engines combine descriptions with title tags and URLs to form search snippets, which they display in search results. Think of them like billboards for your page: Try to use enticing words/phrases if you are aiming for conversions like “cheap,” “deals,” “reviews” or “top 10”. A good meta description will help improve your organic CTR, which is a ranking factor. On the other hand, a bad or inaccurate meta description will cause a high bounce rate, which will be a clue to search engines that your page is irrelevant to the keyword or provides a bad user experience. Both of those things can cause you to drop in the rankings.
4. Track and Adjust
SEO is a constant and ongoing process — there’s no set it and forget it option. Keep track of your progress by monitoring any increases and decreases in search traffic to evaluate the effectiveness of your efforts. What’s working and what’s not? WooRank’s weekly email digest will help you stay on top of your SEO efforts by delivering keyword performance and traffic data each week. See how your performance changes daily and weekly to spot any opportunities or trends for future marketing efforts.
Set up reports in your analytics to track not only the traffic, but whether or not that traffic is helping you reach your marketing goal of improved brand awareness and/or increased conversion. If your landing pages are seeing high bounce rates, it could be that your page content isn’t resonating with your buyer personas. If you aren’t seeing more conversions from your product pages, your target keywords might not be used by people at the end of the sales funnel. However, if you’re keeping track of the right metrics, making the right optimizations in the right places should see you advancing toward your goal.