What is SEO Process? – A setup by step strategy for search engine optimization. Use this as your top-level checklist.
Step 1: Target Market Business Analysis
- Website analysis. Analysis of meta sets/keywords, visible text and code to determine how well you’re positioned for search engines. For example, how much code do you have on a page compared to text?
- Competitive analysis. Examination of content keywords and present engine rankings of competitive websites to determine an effective engine positioning strategy. Pick the top five results in the Google listing results to begin this process. Expand as necessary. Use tools such as Semrush.com and Keywordspy.com.
- Initial keyword nomination. Development of a prioritized list of targeted search terms related to your customer base and market segment. Begin with this: What would you type into a search engine to find your business website or page? Then, ask your customers!
Step 2: Keyword Research and Development
- Keyword analysis. From nomination, further identify a targeted list of keywords and phrases. Review competitive lists and other pertinent industry sources. Use your preliminary list to determine an indicative number of recent search engine queries and how many websites are competing for each keyword. Prioritize keywords and phrases, plurals, singulars and misspellings. (If search users commonly misspell a keyword, you should identify and use it). Please note that Google will try to correct the term when searching, so use this with care.
- Baseline ranking assessment. You need to understand where you are now in order to accurately assess your future rankings. Keep a simple Excel sheet to start the process. Check weekly to begin. As you get more comfortable, check every 30 to 45 days. You should see improvements in website traffic, a key indicator of progress for your keywords. Some optimizers will say that rankings are dead. Yes, traffic and conversions are more important, but we use rankings as an indicator.
- Goals and Objectives. Clearly define your objectives in advance so you can truly measure your ROI from any programs you implement. Start simple, but don’t skip this step. Example: You may decide to increase website traffic from a current baseline of 100 visitors a day to 200 visitors over the next 30 days. Or you may want to improve your current conversion rate of one percent to two in a specified period. You may begin with top-level, aggregate numbers, but you must drill down into specific pages that can improve products, services, and business sales.
Step 3: Content Optimization and Submission
- Create page titles. Keyword-based titles help establish page theme and direction for your keywords.
- Create meta tags. Meta description tags can influence click-throughs but aren’t directly used for rankings. (Google doesn’t use the keywords tag anymore.)
- Place strategic search phrases on pages. Integrate selected keywords into your website source code and existing content on designated pages. Make sure to apply a suggested guideline of one to three keywords/phrases per content page and add more pages to complete the list. Ensure that related words are used as a natural inclusion of your keywords. It helps the search engines quickly determine what the page is about. A natural approach to this works best. In the past, 100 to 300 words on a page was recommended. Many tests show that pages with 800 to 2,000 words can outperform shorter ones. In the end, the users, the marketplace, content and links will determine the popularity and ranking numbers.
- Develop new sitemaps for Google and Bing. Make it easier for search engines to index your website. Create both XML and HTML versions. An HTML version is the first step. XML sitemaps can easily be submitted via Google and Bing webmaster tools.
- Submit website to directories (limited use). Professional search marketers don’t submit the URL to the major search engines, but it’s possible to do so. A better and faster way is to get links back to your site naturally. Links get your site indexed by the search engines. However, you should submit your URL to directories such as Yahoo! (paid), Business.com (paid) and DMOZ (free). Some may choose to include AdSense (google.com/adsense) scripts on a new site to get their Google Media bot to visit. It will likely get your pages indexed quickly.
Step 4: Continuous Testing and Measuring
- Test and measure. Analyze search engine rankings and web traffic to determine the effectiveness of the programs you’ve implemented, including assessment of individual keyword performance. Test the results of changes, and keep changes tracked in an Excel spreadsheet, or whatever you’re comfortable with.
- Maintenance. Ongoing addition and modification of keywords and website content are necessary to continually improve search engine rankings so growth doesn’t stall or decline from neglect. You also want to review your link strategy and ensure that your inbound and outbound links are relevant to your business. A blog can provide you the necessary structure and ease of content addition that you need.
Table of Contents
SEO Research Process
Keyword phrase research involves identifying a group of keyword phrases that will be used in optimization. This step is critical and requires a considerable amount of time to find a good set of phrases that offer a balanced combination of two important factors: high usage by searchers and relatively low competition within the search engines.
Determining the most used phrase that contains your targeted keyword(s) is relatively easy. Online tools allow you to enter a particular keyword or words and will return all the ways in which that word(s) was used by searchers in the last month and in what volume. However, the most used phrase(s) is also likely the one with the greatest competition within the search results and may, therefore, not be where you would want to devote your optimization efforts. A more effective approach is to find a set of phrases (10 is a nice round number) that are heavily used by searchers but somewhat less competitive in terms of the total number of search results.
For example, assume you own a business that leases apartments in a particular metropolitan area, “Big City.” Your apartments are only located in one metro area, so you are not going to select general terms such as “apartments;” you are only interested in those searchers seeking an apartment in your city. The logical place to start is with the name of your city and the word “apartments.” You may find that the most used phrase is “big city apartments.” However, when you do sample searches in Google and Yahoo for that phrase you realize that the competition for that phrase is steep. If you go back to your findings from the keyword tool, you might find that a phrase such as “apartments in big city” is still heavily used by searchers but is far less competitive. Those phrases are the ones you will then target in the next step, site optimization.
Once armed with the target keyword phrases, we do a thorough competitive analysis of the subject site against its 7 – 10 biggest competitors (using both offline and online competitors). We use a series of SEO metrics, including indexed content, Alexa rating, inbound links, domain age, and social media following among others. Through this process, we are able to gauge the client site’s starting position against its competition and identify areas requiring priority in the subsequent work. For example, if we see that relative to the competition, the client’s site has 50% less indexed content, then content building would be a priority in the goal setting that happens in the next phase.
Reporting & Goal Setting
After establishing your targeted keyword phrases and starting position relative to the site’s competitive set, it is important to understand what the subject site’s starting position is within the search engines. Doing so ensures that you know the specific areas that need work and provides a baseline against which to gauge the subsequent campaign’s success.
Access to site traffic information is very important. These statistics show how searchers are finding and interacting with the subject site, e.g., which search engines, what keyword phrases are being used, bounce rates, most popular content, etc. Understanding the site’s traffic level and the source of its referrals can also be a critical tool in making other online marketing decisions.
After developing a complete picture of the site’s starting position, goals are set for the SEO plan. These goals are measureable (one big advantage of SEO over other advertising options) and tied to the specific business objectives of the site. In the ongoing progress of reporting and follow up, progress towards the plan’s goals are analyzed and reported. Adjustments to the SEO plan can be made according to the findings of these progress reports.
Content is king in search engine optimization. The search engines love text; high volume, high-quality content related to your business will serve you in a couple of important ways.
First, a site loaded with high-quality content of interest to site users will give them a reason to stay and a reason to come back. After all, the reason they came to your site was to find information. Second, you will receive the added benefit of serving up exactly what the search engines want – content. Search engines will have more information to store about your business and products; that information will translate directly into the ranking they give your site for related keyword phrases. For more information on content development and specific ideas about ways to expand your site’s content, read our, Content is Still King.
We often find in the Competitive Research phase that the client’s site is falling behind its competitors in the amount of indexed content. In those cases, this phase of the process takes on additional importance.
Following the addition of new, high quality content, we tackle on-page optimization. See our piece on Page Optimization Basics for more information on this topic.
- Page Titles – Make sure that your site’s page titles say something other than just your company name or “welcome.” Ideally, they need to lead off with your targeted phrase for that page and then follow with your company name.
- Text-Based Navigation – Search engines cannot read images. If your site’s navigation system is done with images (lots are), you will need a text-based navigation system that the search engines can follow to ensure that all the important service and product-related sub-pages of your site are indexed by the search engines.
- Prominence of Targeted Keyword Phrases – It is not enough to have your keyword phrase(s) somewhere on the web page, the placement and prominence given to them also affects your search engine placement. For example, leading off the site’s first paragraph with your keyword phrase gives it more weight than burying it half way down the page in the middle of a paragraph. Also, using larger font sizes and bolding the text can emphasize its importance and positively affect the page’s ranking for that phrase.
- Site Map – Developing a site map that includes a well-organized list of links to all the important pages of your site and includes a text link to the site map on your home page is the ideal way to make sure that all the site’s pages are indexed by the search engines when they visit the subject site. Google’s Webmaster Tools is ideal for this purpose.
- ALT and META data – These are tags not seen by the site’s users; they are embedded in the site’s code. ALT tags refer to the text that describes an image — words that you see pop up as you mouse over some images. In optimizing your company’s name, an ALT tag placed behind the image of your company’s logo is ideal. Meta tags are lines of code included in the uppermost section of your site’s code. They communicate the page’s subject matter and relevancy to the search engines. Further, the short description of your site included in some search results is pulled from the meta description tag of the home page and should, therefore, be used to the site’s advantage.
Social & Link Building
In marketing, you fish where the fish are. And, the fish are using social media in increasing numbers. The power of online sharing through social media provides tremendous opportunities for companies willing to commit the time to using it. During this phase of the process, we help clients establish a social media presence and consult with the client on how best to use those social media profiles to share site content and connect with customers and potential customers.
Building In-Bound Links
Each new, quality link to your site increases the likelihood of both the search engines’ spiders running across your site as well as searchers looking for services or products like yours. Google views links to your site (as long as they are links from high quality sites) as votes for your site and rewards the site accordingly. You can check your link popularity with a variety of free online tools. In addition, Google’s Webmaster Tools provides information regarding the inbound links to your site. A word of caution: free for all links sites and other low quality sites of that nature are of no use and, in fact, detract from your progress with penalties from the search engines. This became even more important with Google’s release of the Penguin algorithm update. We consult with our clients on ways to build their online reach and influence with new, high-quality inbound links.
Follow Up Reporting and Analysis
The same reporting done in the initial phase of the campaign is done again at regular intervals, post-optimization. Rankings, site traffic levels, social signals and other key metrics can then be compared to pre-optimization levels, giving measurable results to the SEO campaign. The specific metrics used in an SEO plan will depend on the goals of that site.
It can take a while for the search engines to index a site and the rankings to change for that site. For some search engines, the lag time between the work and seeing results can be as long as six months. Clients need to be patient and have realistic expectations regarding the time frame involved with organic (the natural, non-paid results) search engine rankings. If the business need for increased search engine prominence is greater than can be met with optimization alone, I recommend adding a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign to the marketing mix to bridge the time. PPC campaigns such as Google’s AdWords can be set up in a matter of days, allowing for immediate results.
We cannot guarantee any specific rankings for specific phrases. There is no way to guarantee a particular placement within the organic search results of any search engine. DES optimizes a website so that it is as appealing as possible to the search engines, using only white hat tactics. Specifically, DES’s recommendations would ensure that the site is easily spiderable, loaded with keyword-rich content, enjoys quality inbound links, provides a great user experience, and is analyzed and refined based on its performance against our stated goals. These are methods that have proven over time to be effective SEO tactics for our clients.
Be very cautious about any SEO company that promises specific rankings.
The SEO work we perform includes minor non-substantive changes to the site’s existing content/text, emphasizing the targeted keyword phrases. We make recommendations on new content; the writing of any new substantive content is the responsibility of the client. We are happy to connect you with great copywriters if writing the new content is not easily done within your organization. We then take your words and make our non-substantive changes to it, in order to maximize its effectiveness. If you do not want us to make these minor changes to the site’s text, please let us know.