Over the past few years I’ve seen cost effective SEO strategies implemented and executed effectively for hundreds of websites ranging from Fortune 500 companies to small local business owners and professionals. In my opinion they all follow the same 4 step process outlined below. The whole point of any SEO strategy or any marketing is to bring a return on investment, so you need to make sure you follow this 4 step process and don’t overspend on any of the different stages and I’ll expand on that point as I address each step of the process in detail.
Step 1: Performing in-depth Keyword Research and Competitive Analysis
In this process you should use keyword research tools (one of the best is the Google Keyword Tool which is free – just be sure to always use exact match when searching and choose your targeted country in the advanced options interface). From here you should be able to get a feeling for what keywords you want to target based off the search volumes. However, the next step is to do some competitive analysis to see what keywords you should choose to target. Sometimes keywords are either: to competitive, to general, or not geotargeted enough to warrant investing a good link building campaign towards.
If this is the case you have a couple options: you can first pick the “low hanging fruit” – meaning keywords that are less competitive but you will rank for quicker. Or you can choose to go after the big keywords but just understand that they will take longer. I usually think a mix of both is good, focus on some easier keywords to earn the client’s trust and to prove that SEO works while laying the groundwork for the tougher keywords to be targeted in a couple months time.
The competitiveness and number of keywords you choose will heavily influence your monthly budget so you really need to make sure you choose the right keywords in order to get a good return on your SEO and link building investment. A good SEO expert should always lay out different package options and fully explain why they have selected specific keywords to target with their campaign.
Step 2 Perform Content Mapping
Once you have chosen your targeted keywords you need to match these up with pages from your website. It’s not recommended to target the homepage with every keyword so you need to pick your top set of keywords to target the homepage with and then consider which deeper pages of the site could be targeted as well. If you have specific product pages or city locations you should always target these pages in the long run, as it will provide a better search experience then having your potential customer navigate through your site in order to find their desired product/service. Sometimes this is not possible, so you can either consider adding new pages of content, or understand that the more keywords you have = the more diluted your budget will be as it’s spread across the number of keywords you target per page.
Step 3 Perform On Page Optimization to Target Selected Keywords
This is an absolutely crucial step that most companies attempt to do, but usually implement ineffectively. First off, on page factors really only account for about 25% of the entire search algorithm so you really want to make sure you have done a great job maximizing the opportunities. Make sure your targeted keywords are in the title tags, meta descriptions, image alt tags, header tags, and have a decent keyword density within your content as well. So many times I see these expensive, snazzy looking websites all built in flash with terrible navigation structure and no content at all. At the end of the day on page optimization is your chance to theme your website for Google, so don’t waste valuable opportunity saying “Welcome to My Website”! TELL Google what your website is about as much as possible without being spammy. On page optimization is always a trade off between what’s best for the search engines and what’s best for the user – but either way you need to fulfill the basics.
One more thing, on page optimization is a ONE TIME SHOT. I have been shocked and appalled more than once when I hear horror stories from companies claiming that they have been told in the past to perform a quarterly on page optimization review for ridiculous amounts of money. People, unless you are drastically changing your website or your targeted keywords there really is no need to perform on page optimization more than once, albeit except for maybe a few small tweaks here and there to test for usability purposes. Another thing, if you have a massive product site and think that you should spend thousands optimizing every single tag for every single page instead of investing in link building, you are clearly mistaken as once again, on page optimization really only accounts for about 25% of the search algorithm. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying not to invest in on page optimization; it’s just you need to be careful and understand that as long as the basic elements are present (keywords placed prominently in the title tag, meta description, header and image alt tags, content on page) then the page is ready to be targeted with backlinks.
Step 4 Link Building Execution
A good link building strategy is imperative for any cost effective search engine optimization campaign. Even if you perform the best on page optimization possible, chances are you still will not rank well for many of your targeted keywords unless you already have an extremely authoritative site or massive amount of organic backlinks. Each month link building strategies such as directory submissions, content creation and syndication, social media outreach, blogposts, sitelinks and more need to be performed in order to achieve the desired rankings. ALL these strategies need to be natural, organic and make sure they adhere to Google’s guidelines regarding link building. Two keys to any good link building strategy that I always talk about are link variation and link velocity:
Link variation – make sure each month you focus on a wide range of link building strategies and vary the anchor texts used in the backlinks as much as possible.
Link velocity – watch the rate at which you build links very closely. It’s very easy for Google to detect a sudden spike in backlinks so even if you are really excited about SEO and link building but have no links when starting understand that SEO isn’t a quick fix for your business – it takes time so be patient – slow and steady wins the race as it’s not worth risking your online presence in an attempt to game the search engines.
All these 4 steps above are necessary for any cost effective SEO campaign but at the end of the day the process doesn’t differ much, it just changes in size, scope and budget. Any budget decided upon needs to affordable for the business owner to absorb. Ranking improvements don’t happen over night, results should definitely be expected within 90 days but for competitive keywords to crack the first page of Google it can take 6 months and beyond. So any budget agreed upon should be enough to effectively target and achieve rankings for the selected keywords without breaking the bank for the business owner at the same time.
The final step of the process is to always measure incoming traffic based on the keyword rankings using a tool like Google Analytics. If you obtain great rankings and adequate search traffic doesn’t follow then you need to start all over again at step 1 and identify new keywords. Conversely, if you are already getting good leads from a keyword on the second page, then you should invest more heavily or target that keyword better with the existing SEO budget.
Keep open communication between the business owner and SEO company/expert and make sure that everyone is always up to date with monthly ranking reports and even link building examples where required. To ensure the SEO campaign is cost effective and implement properly remember to always stay true to the 4 step process!