An example of how to run a search engine optimization campaign. Includes an SEO project example and the major aspects that make it successful.
SEO project plan objectives
Our first step is to understand our clients objectives with an SEO campaign. Most clients come to us with an idea of what they want to achieve, but no idea how to achieve it. We seek to understand the intended outcome, make suggestions, and set reasonable expectations. We also work to educate the client on the SEO process, timeline, and expected rate of success. In fact, the first thing we ask clients to do (if they haven’t already done so) is to read this page.
Setup SEO analytics and reporting
To improve something it first needs to be measured. We will request access to existing analytics systems in order to better understand where the site currently stands.
Record baseline search metrics
Once we have access to analytics we will record baseline metrics. These will be checked again just before project execution begins in earnest.
We seek to understand how the site is currently performing. We will examine analytics information, web traffic, keyword analysis, and basic on-page factors that affect search engine ranking. We examine the content management system (CMS) used by the site.
We tend not to focus on the home page as much as content within the site. To this end we will look at the top performing pages on the site. “Top performing” usually means important pages that lead to conversions. We seek to find out why they perform better than other pages, and how they can be improved.
Identify search terms
We tend to approach the question of which search terms to pursue in reverse. Most SEO companies start with a list of search terms provided by the client. While we do take those into consideration, we also look at the search terms people actually type into search queries including long-tail search terms. Often we will build a sitemap based on a taxonomy learned from real-world search phrases, a bottom-up approach. This helps insure the site, its content, and its structure reflect the real world needs of user intent.
Identify inbound links
We also look at the inbound links from third-party sites that already point to the site. We examine the topical relevance of links, the anchor text, and how trustworthy each link is. Sometimes a client will have inbound links from “bad neighborhoods”. These types of links can diminish, rather than improve the strength of a web page. When bad links are found we add them to a link disavow list for later removal via Google Webmaster Console.
Measure domain and page strength
The relative strength of the home page of the site, and various sub-pages is measured using both the Domain Authority and Page Authority metrics. Domain Authority is a score from 0 to 100 that attempts to predict how search engines will rate, and rank, a page. It measures the relative “strength” of either the website as a whole, or a specific page. We use authority measurements to help us compare the relative strength of our clients web pages against those of competitors.
Identify search terms
Search term identification is an art form unto itself. It is common for clients to want to go after extremely competitive search terms from the beginning. Some clients already have domain authority that is high enough to make this possible. But not in most cases. We identify search terms (keywords) that fulfill the objectives of the campaign, but are also realistic. Over time the strength of the entire site will improve, and as it improves more competitive terms can be sought.
One of the best ways to predict what works is to examine what has worked for competitors. Much can be gained by examining the types of on-page SEO and promotion that has worked for them in the past. We’ll also look at the placement of search results to determine approximately how much traffic can be achieved based on the percentage of clicks to a search result.
Identify inbound links
By measuring the inbound links of competitors we make a list of blogs and other online publications within the topic-space of our client that can be approached later in the SEO process. This “punch-list” is used as part of the Outreach Program mentioned later in this campaign example.
Measure domain and page strength
In order to understand how much improvement needs to happen we measure the strength of competitors that are already ranking well for the search terms we seek to improve our clients site for. For example, if our client has a current Domain Authority (DA) of 33 and the competitors DA is 45, we can be reasonably certain that the quality markers of our client need to be improved to the same level in order to compete.
Suggest search terms
We start with the clients wish list of search terms, then look for semantically similar terms. We work in reverse by using the core list to identify alternative search phrases. For example, if a client would like to rank well for “blue widgets” we will seek out additional phrases like “widgets in blue”, “cyan widgets”, and “where do I find blue widgets”.
Identify “low-hanging fruit”
In many cases a website will already rank to some degree for a given search phrase. For search phrases that have been identified as “converting” phrases (we call them “money terms”) that are ranking high, but not high enough, we will focus special attention. Often website conversions can be dramatically improved by simply moving a given page up one or two positions in search results.
Create content plan
The best SEO is based on inbound marketing concepts. Inbound techniques bring visitors in to a website via compelling content. The content on other peoples sites often contains citations and links to deep pages within the site we are optimizing. The content must be relevant, targeted and of very high quality. To achieve this we create a content plan.
The content plan is a spreadsheet (see snippet above) that contains information about planned content both on the site, and on other sites. It contains headlines, word count, descriptions, links, search terms and other information.
Ideally, a content plan will always contain at least two pieces of related content. The content for the website, and the content to be placed on a relevant third-party site that links back to the content on the site being optimized. In many cases there are multiple third-party pieces designed to eventually drive a large number of inbound links to the target page on the site being promoted.
Create editorial calendar
A content plan is useless unless the content is published. The editorial calendar sets the objectives for site content and off-site content to be produced and placed. It includes typical lead times for blogs and larger publications. For example, an article on Inc.com may have a lead time of only a few weeks, whereas other publications could be more than 90 days out before publication due to their internal editorial cycle.
The outreach program seeks to identify publications relevant to the interests of our client so they may be contacted. Information learned earlier in the SEO process during competitive research will have provided a list of target publications and may even provide contact information for authors.
A typical search engine marketing outreach program is undertaken by at least two people, an Outreach Specialist and a Content Manager. The Outreach Specialist identifies and contacts prospective link partners and gently opens a dialogue with them. S/he offers to help with research and content, always looking for the word “yes”. Once the Outreach Specialist identifies a willing partner he or she will work with the Content Manager to deliver the research or content specified. The authors each have a need, it is our job to discover what they are looking for and to help them fulfill it. This often takes the form of outreach via email, social media, telephone calls, and on some occassions personal meetings. The type of outreach program we design is based on the publications we plan to approach.
Example of an SEO outreach email
Ideally, content from the content plan can be used, but often new custom content must be created for the link partner. The Content Manager helps to create the content or acts as editor for content created by subject matter experts. The Outreach Specialist provides the content to the publication which is posted online containing links and citations that serve both the publication partner and our client.
The SEO outreach program continues for the life of the project.
On-page factors improvement
On-page SEO factors relate to things that can be improved on the target website to make it more search engine friendly. We look at meta tag structure, title structure, schema markup, quality and freshness of content, cross-linking, and more. We then create a list of suggested adjustments. Normally the client makes the changes.
Inbound link cleanup
Sometimes links are considered “spammy” or come from what are considered bad neighborhoods. We work to eliminate bad links by working with Google to disavow certain links. This can elimate much of the drag on search results that may be occuring because of previous link building efforts or because low-trust websites link to the target website.
Measuring SEO results
We measure the results of your SEO campaign using clear, easy to understand monitoring and reporting methods. Our methodologies are transparent so you can always see how and why results are improving.