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If you fail to plan, plan to fail. It would be hard not to apply this to SEO.
That’s why in compiling our SEO Best Practice Guide (which has just been majorly revised), we made sure we went to the experts in this area, so that people can get their organic search efforts off to the right start.
I caught up with some of the contributors to this section to ask them some questions about planning and strategy. They provided me with a huge amount of valuable information.
Where are companies going wrong with planning and strategy, and what could they be doing right?
In the last couple of years, Google’s unprecedented attack on links has meant most types of links are becoming riskier to build. I think that businesses may be giving too much of a free reign to those that build links.
I am still seeing legitimate sites building anchor text directory submissions, paid guests posts etc. What they should do is try and vet very carefully every link building strategy that their agencies and teams are building.
When it comes to planning, most businesses should now allow for link removal and link assessment to be part of their strategy. For example, I use LinkRisk.com heavily when looking at clients’ profiles.
David Sewell, SEO Consultant at Fresh Egg:
Companies are often fixated on a handful of key terms – those that are most often typed into search engines, rather than those that make the most difference to their business.
To identify what matters most involves thinking beyond key terms, to the reasons why those terms are being used (and why they are being used in Google) in the first place.
Some companies are being forced, in some cases kicking and screaming, to turn attention away from key terms with the rise of (not provided) being reported in Google Analytics towards thinking more carefully about the audience and their intention when a visitor lands on a page.
There are companies doing this right, but they are few and far between.
(CC images courtesy of marriageequality on Flickr)
Gary Moyle, Head of SEO, NetBooster:
Despite the hype around content marketing I think many companies are still failing to plan their online strategy properly and are either not producing content at all or are missing the mark.
Producing content that is useful to customers, accessible to search engines and aligned with search behaviour is a winning formula.
Many of the challenges in this area relate to internal problems with lines of communication, awareness of natural search and lack of internal resources.
There is also a constant requirement to prove the ROI from content driven campaigns which is an area that many companies still struggle with.
What goals and objectives should companies have when it comes to SEO?
Each and every business is different. The goals and aims should share the business focus, with all specialities pulling towards the same aim. This leads to working in cross-disciplinary groups on campaigns, rather than working in isolation.
The SEO specialist is able to optimise content and delivery – ensuring that the necessary technical aspects of SEO have been considered, e.g. from basic tagging, to identifying trending topics and interests.
So a company goal for SEO should be to ensure the skills of the team are used optimally across all aspects of the business. SEO is not just a rank in Google, it is optimising other digital marketplaces where search takes place, including devices, apps and sector specific search engines.
Most of our clients have the objective of driving increased revenue via organic search and most of our SEO campaigns are geared towards achieving that outcome via a clear set of KPIs. However it's important to set realistic goals and manage client expectations from the outset.
Natural search is very much about the long haul and it's important to educate clients that ROI is generated over the long term. Yes there will be quick wins, however, a well-planned SEO campaign will deliver a solid foundation for years to come.
Customer journeys are also becoming far more complex and purchasing cycles more involved. Natural search is a key part of this mix and understanding how to attribute this channel is vital in order to create accurate budgets, forecasting and objectives.
It's also important to understand that organic search is no longer a siloed channel. SEO campaigns can help achieve multiple objectives. A good example of this is improving page speed which as well as helping organic rankings can also improve quality scores on PPC campaigns, increase user engagement for all channels and potentially reduce IT costs.
The easy answer here is growth in traffic of course. But the real answer can be much more complicated. The ideal objective should be to understand where the business stands when it comes to SEO.
Is it integral? Is it a key part of their mix? I think it’s time to really start thinking of SEO as part of the wider business objectives - from PR to content, to marketing to customer service.
For example, we often talk about "content" but what is content really? I think content is anything that your customers interact with - so a well-built set of FAQs would be a great piece of content.
So would a detailed company PR section - after all, if you want media to link to you - why don’t more businesses have detailed PR sections on their sites?
A lot of big brands have well known people at the helm of the business, yet very few have content around these key business people. Yet these would generate links and exposure, and would be great ways to build up a business’s legitimacy.
What are your preferred tools for benchmarking your current performance?
Google Webmaster Tools data shows accurate impression and clickthrough data. The drawback is that this information is not regionally broken down – and this is important to determine the impact of any work, at a campaign level.
Regional insights can be gained from Google Analytics and heatmaps using fusion tables – visualisation tools often make it easier to see change and create benchmarks.
On a technical level, a favourite benchmarking tool for basic onsite SEO is Semetrical DeepCrawl. This helps to keep content and site crawl issues in check.
Combining our own in-house expertise with the right technology is crucial in understanding campaign performance. We make sure that we partner with the best enterprise level SEO platforms on the market.
BrightEdge in particular has helped us solve the challenge of secure search and measure the business impact of content driven marketing campaigns. The combination of ranking visibility, page level metrics and integrated search query data from Google is very powerful.
If there's one key piece of advice when it comes to planning and strategy for SEO, what would it be?
Control. Control is everything in SEO right now. Control your SEO agencies, control how your PR agencies approach third party bloggers, control the flow of content development that isn’t just fluff, but helps the businesses wider goals, control the data flow so that you really understand how your results are interpreted.
Plan to control the parts of the equation that make up your SEO strategy and you should be better placed to deliver a real strategy rather than just paying lip service to the algorithm.
Focus on what the audience is looking for and where they currently go to find it. The best sites in your sector will be those that give a visitor everything they want in the easiest way possible. Planning for SEO means understanding how those needs can be best met in search.
It might be that onsite content is not the ideal way to reach the audience, and that partnerships or even a guest post is the way to attract the audience to your brand. The key piece of advice is therefore: understand the search behaviour of your audience groups.
Understand your customer's behaviour and align your digital content strategy around those customer needs. This sounds like a simple piece of advice however you'd be surprised how many companies are still not doing this properly.
There are plenty of UK retailers producing content however there is often little or no thought given to relevancy and often basic optimisation (page titles, meta descriptions, copy, inline links etc.).
For example, many of the supermarket chains have well thought out offline editorial strategies based on a thorough understanding of their customer needs but are still failing to translate that to their digital properties.
Publishers that can integrate their online and offline editorial strategies whilst taking into account the complexities of natural search will enjoy a much better return in the long term.