All folks who handle digital marketing have a perspective on search engine optimization (SEO). It’s a source of both love and contention depending on the involvement with the process and execution of an SEO campaign. With the glut of tactical advice available, it’s increasingly important to plan SEO projects strategically to ensure that projects with the most potential to have positive business outcomes are prioritized accordingly. Below are seven very actionable rules for those involved at the higher level of the corporate SEO process.
1. Do include SEO early in your strategic planning process for digital marketing. Trying to do SEO after you build your website is like trying to put sugar in a cake after you bake it. SEO should be included from the earliest stages of a site redesign. You can’t decide to do SEO after your site is finished and expect it to have its full strategic impact. SEO is primarily executing on a well-thought-out long-term strategy that is put in place long before a line of code is written.
2. Don’t change URLs without a very good reason! During a redesign, it’s quite tempting to change all of your URLs. This is potentially a critical mistake if done incorrectly. If you have any existing rankings, links, etc., to existing URLs, don’t change them unless your SEO advises the change. There is value in having old URLs that have been indexed for a long time, and there is value to the links pointing to them. Don’t lose out on this value by changing URLs without identifying the proper redirection strategy early and ensuring it’s executed correctly, including performing rigorous QA.
Make sure to run a Web crawl of your existing site, and match it up to the areas of your new beta site. Check for your highest linked (strongest subpages) with OpenSiteExplorer.org, and be sure these URLs remain unchanged, or are 301 redirected correctly.
3. Do perform a cost- to- benefit analysis on your keywords. Keyword information is widely and publicly available now. With tools like Spyfu,SEMrush and SEObook’s competitive research tool (based on the SEMrush data), you can find all of your competitors’ top search phrases in a matter of minutes. You can perform a very simple cost/benefit analysis on these keyword sets by using SEOmoz’s keyword-difficulty tool for an “opposition score” in companion with the SEMrush for the benefit score. You will always be looking for high benefit and low opposition to determine your keyword targeting strategy. K.O.B. analysis (Keyword Opposition to Benefit analysis) establishes the keyword targeting priorities for your website, which, in turn, helps you to organize your conversion goals, user path, site organization and individual Web page layout.
There’s no excuse for not knowing your keyword priorities and passing them around your organization so everyone is aware. SEO is a team sport that requires everyone to understand priorities. Lack of awareness and making simple mistakes can often cause big problems and missed opportunities in what is often a very long-term strategy and process. Ranking for high-end competitive keywords can take a lot of time and resources. Make sure your team understands these goals.
4. Do organize your site information architecture by keyword priority. Information architecture (IA) is one of the most powerful tools for sending search engine signals about the important areas of your website. Your site organization, IA and internal linking structure need to be based around these important keyword priorities that are established long before the first flowcharts and mockups are ever created.
5. Don’t underestimate the power of your title tags. Title tags have always been high on the SEO checklist for a reason. It’s something that yields a large amount of influence as a ranking factor for a variety of reasons, and, most importantly, you have direct control over them and they (should be) easy to change.
Clear, succinct titles are important to entice user click-through rates (CTR) in the search results. Test and retest these titles. Split test variations using pay per click (PPC) and find out what yields the highest CTR. Improving your CTR just a few percentage points can have a very significant impact on your rankings and overall organic traffic to your website. This is one of a lot of instances where your SEO team needs to work well with your other marketing team members, especially paid search.
6. Don’t believe you can rank (for important terms) without links.Your website can’t compete without domain and page authority on par with the competitors in your chosen search results. Inbound links have always been a significantly large portion of Google’s ranking algorithm (between 50 to 70 percent, according to leading search experts). If your site has link equity, you have an advantage. If you don’t, you can’t expect to compete for competitive phrases with only on-page SEO.
Social media signals are worth mentioning as an increasingly important off-site ranking factor, but the Web’s link graph will always play an important role in search ranking.
7. Don’t believe optimization is a bad word. Literally, optimization is defined as the act of being optimal. Optimal is defined as being the best or most favorable.
Optimization – The procedure or procedures used to make a system or design as effective or functional as possible.
So how did optimization become a bad word? The idea of “over-optimization” is just downright absurd, and a way for Google to describe the idea of “too much anchor text” and “other things we don’t like.” Over-optimization is an awful oxymoron that you will continue to hear used often because of the terrible vernacular used within the culture of SEO.
The year 2013 will mark the time where a lot of SEO is fixing bad SEO from previous years due to the use of short-term tactics and rushed timelines with unrealistic expectations due to lack of education.
Many marketing professionals made mistakes they are still trying to justify before and after the last several major Google algorithm updates (Panda and Penguin).
SEO is not meta tags and keyword stuffing. It’s developing and improving the best online marketing strategy from understanding a user’s search intent. SEO is understanding your customers’ behavior before they get to your website. A search is often both the first and last step in the consumer decision-making process, and, because of this, search engine optimization has become an essential part of the marketing mix.
Todd Malicoat is a serial entrepreneur, international speaker on SEO, and digital marketing consultant. As a member of the SEO faculty at MarketMotive.com, he teaches sustainable SEO strategy and implementation.
Follow Todd @stuntdubl