We’re two months into the 2021. Are you ranking on Google yet?
SEO can be overwhelming (and that's a nice way of putting it), so I am going to share my approach to building an SEO strategy that will improve your rank.
I've been doing SEO for several years and built Centori specifically for marketers because I was tired of how complicated all the mainstream SEO tools were.
It's taken a while and a lot of experimentation, but I like to think I've gotten my process for SEO honed down to a system. In my experience, doing SEO successfully boils down to having a good system and approach. Once you have the process and plan of attack the rest is pretty easy.
And I want you to have that system.
No email list you need to join to get it - it's all here in this blog post. And here’s a secret: you can ‘do SEO’ for as little as one hour per week and still see results.
No two SEO strategies will be the same. There are dozens of things you can do when it comes to SEO, but that doesn’t mean you need to, or even should, do all of them. In this post I'll walk you through the tools at your disposal, how and when to use those tools, and share a real-life example of a website I am building and how I am approaching SEO for it.
Yes. Okay post over. That was easy!
I suppose I should elaborate.
While SEO can certainly be a full time job, it doesn't always have to dominate your week. For larger websites with massive content campaigns chances are good you'll have a lot more on your plate when it comes to optimizing for search. But for smaller sites, say one just starting out or sites that blog once/week max there really is only so much you can do from day to day.
They key is prioritization.
You probably don't have a 20-person content team along with a 5-person SEO team. That's okay, you don't need one.
Yes having 100 hours/week to invest in SEO might help things go faster, but if your goal is to go from, say, 200 organic visitors/month to 400 - that's not quite the same scale as an enterprise company trying to go from 100,000 to 120,000.
It does mean you have less time though, so you nee to choose your tactics wisely and be effective at reporting results, otherwise you'll run the risk of spinning your wheels and going nowhere. That's a risk any organization faces though, not just small ones.
I'll break down tactics in more detail later. At a high level there are dozens of things you could do for SEO, but you don't necessarily have to do all or any of them. If you only have one hour per week, you're better off choosing one-two SEO tactics so you can make the most out of your time rather than cram a bunch of complicated campaigns into your one hour.
Using the example of a large company above, with a content team of 20 people and an SEO team of 5 that's 25 people x 40 hours per week = 1000 hours/week larger companies are investing into their content and SEO.
I don't know about you, but I'm sweating.
We've got a pretty small team at Centori, so how can we hope to complete with the big guns out there dominating Google?
Here's a secret: you can beat them.
I'm not saying that to keep your hopes up into subscribing to our newsletter either. How else could we, with a 2-person content team that writes one post per week, rank on the first two pages of Google for several key terms? Or an online insole seller I managed SEO for that could consistently rank on the first page of Google despite only having a handful of people in the company?
It's all about prioritization. If you choose your tactics wisely and play your strengths you'll see results. At the end of the day, SEO really can be as simple as that.
If you are prioritizing your tactics well and feel confident in the tools you are using there is no reason you can do SEO on your own. Having a team or community to back you up helps - at Centori we invite all our customers to a private SEO community where they can interact with other Centori users and SEO specialists.
If you're on your own though don't despair, there is a wealth of great information on SEO to arm you and keep you moving in the right direction.
Before you invest any time into SEO you need to make sure your website is healthy and able to be crawled by Google:
Once the site is healthy I set up Google Analytics and Google Search Console as they will give me most, if not all, the insight I need into how effective our SEO campaigns are. There are other fancy reporting tools you could use, but Google Analytics and Search Console give you an excellent framework to track two very important metrics: how much traffic are you getting from Google, and how are you performing for your target keywords.
Pro tip: Centori integrates with Google Analytics and Google Search Console to provide analytics dashboards and accurate keyword reporting.
About those campaigns, before we dive into an SEO strategy let’s look at the tools we have at our disposal.
Think of the traditional SEO tactics as the tools in your tool chest (or utility belt if you're batman).
Each SEO tactic is well suited for a specific purpose. If you're building a coffee table or a book shelf there are likely different approaches you'd take (or like Batman, when he's scaling a wall he goes for his grappling hook rather than his batarang).
It's the same with SEO, there are many tools/tactics at your disposal and like physical tools some are better suited for certain goals, or jobs, than others.
There are more tools than these, but when I begin building an SEO strategy these are the first tools I look to. Depending on the situation there may be others that are more applicable, though now is not the time to get bogged down in the weeds.
Ready to dive in further?
On page SEO covers everything you can do to optimize the content on your website so it can be better understood by Google and provides a better experience for people visiting your site. On page SEO covers things like title tag usage, meta description usage, how you use headings through your content, and the quality of your content.
On page SEO audits are a good start, but it is also important to monitor as you continue to create content. Fortunately tools like Yoast (for Wordpress) make on page SEO dead simple.
When taking on a new site as a project I run a quick on page SEO check to see how well positioned the website is and then we go from there. For a website I've been working on for a while I usually check its on page SEO once/month or so just to make sure things are looking good.
Technical SEO covers the technical aspects of your website, and usually requires the help of a web developer (depending on your content management system).
This is where you should be best buds with your web team, or whoever manages the technical aspects of your website. Often times it feels like web development and marketing sit on opposite sides of the table, however technical SEO is where there is a beautiful alignment between the two.
Technical SEO is all about how you can ensure that your website can be easily understood by Google, and provides a good experience for website visitors and for Google crawlers.
Site speed optimization, image optimization, CDN usage, sitemap optimization, and robots.txt optimization are all part of technical SEO. Some website builders take care of most of these things for you, though some websites need a bit more involvement from your team to optimize them.
Technical SEO, along with on page SEO, is something I will check early on in a new project and monitor as time goes on to make sure you're not going off track. It's important to partner with your development team on this, as they'll be the experts in implementing many technical SEO fixes and recommendations.
We've covered technical SEO in depth if you want to learn more.
Keyword research is the practice of identifying keywords that your target customers are searching for and you want to rank for.
Keyword research is a constantly evolving process. It takes time and iteration to zero in on the best keywords to target, and you'll find that as you create content you can move from targeting keywords to defending your position for them. It's a constant ebb and flow of identifying keywords, creating or optimizing content, reporting on your progress, and then repeating all over again.
Keyword research is not pulling a list of 1000 keywords and calling it a day. Keyword research is about understanding your target customers (also called buyer personas) and building highly targeted lists of search terms that they care about. There is a lot of nuance in keyword research. Different search intents behind each keyword will dictate what kind of content you should be creating.
It's easy for things to get out of hand, so if you're new to keyword research let's keep it simple. Pick a target customer. What questions do they ask that are related to your product or service? Hop into Google and start Googling those questions and take note of the suggested keywords that Google provides. Continue to pull keywords from Google and save them in a Google Sheet.
Congratulations! You're pulling together some targeted keywords.
We've covered keyword research in depth if you want to learn more.
Content is the bed rock of any good SEO strategy.
It's just that simple: you won't rank if you don't have any content. Of all the tactics here, this is the only one I would say is absolutely required. Keyword research is useless if you aren't using your keywords in new content. You can't build high quality links without any content for them to link to.
It's important to create high quality content and create it consistently. Google favors content that is fresh, as well as content that demonstrates expertise, authority, and trust (otherwise known as the EAT principle). This is not an invitation to churn out low-effort low-value content on the daily in hopes of ranking (looking at you GPT-3 and content farms). Rather, it is an invitation to explore the questions your customers are asking and how you can create well-written content on your website that answers them.
Link building may be one of the more intimidating and challenging aspects of SEO. To be honest, it's the area I've done the least work in though you'll see later that it's one of the tactics I want to give a try.
Link building is the practice of acquiring links from other websites to your own. Backlinks (links from other sites to your own) are one of the most powerful ranking signals to Google about the quality of your site. As a result, link building is filled with spam and black hat tactics. I hate spam, and I'm not about to tell you to email 100 people to earn 1 link. Let's face it, that sucks.
Rather than build links, build relationships.
We've covered link building in depth if you want to learn more.
At the end of the day these six components are all you’ll ever need, to do SEO for your website. How do you know which tool to use, and when?
Raise your hand if you love hypothetical examples of SEO.
Yeah, me neither.
Here's a real example of a website I am working on and doing SEO for. The advice here is practical, because I'm actually going to take it and implement it for my site. No theoretical stuff here.
I love burgers. There just isn’t anything like a good burger so I started my own website where I rate all the burgers I eat. The site is in good technical shape and has all the proper tooling set up, so now it’s time to outline some goals.
Last month I had 16 total visits, I’d love to get 50+ visitors/month ASAP. I've got some good reviews and the world needs to see them (well, 50 people a month).
Is that possible?
A comparable site that ranks pretty well, BurgerJunkies, gets around 300-500+ organic visitors/month so there is certainly a market for burger reviews, however it’s not that big compared to other food blogs.
Given I don’t eat (and review) that many burgers, 50+ visitors/month may be a stretch, but I’m going for it. Shoot high, even if you don’t hit your goal you still made incredible progress.
Here’s a secret: you don’t need to do SEO for 20+ hours a week to get results (though you certainly can).
I’m pretty busy, so I can probably devote 5 hours/month max to this website. Anything else and it cuts too much into the razor-thin line of my work-life balance.
In order to rank on Google I need to know my target keywords and the corresponding content that I want to rank for them.
It’s easiest for me to write about burgers in Massachusetts/Boston so let’s say my target keywords are:
It doesn’t take long to realize that these keywords already covered by some pretty big websites on the first two pages of Google. My website is new, meaning making it to page one is going to be very difficult.
How about reviewing specific restaurants? The volume is going to be much lower but it’s also much less competitive to rank:
For a niche blog like mine, 0-10 searches/month for a keyword is fine. For a larger organization you may want to target higher volume keywords, but for now I’m fine going for the low-hanging fruit.
I’ve got my target keywords, so let’s create some content (and eat some burgers).
I could probably write 5-10 blog reviews/month if I just focus on creating content. This will help me build up authority on the site and give people something to read, but with a new site it will likely take one year at a minimum to actually build up authority and outrank other sites this way.
If I just go with writing content, I may get to 50 visitors/month… by December, if I want to shorten that timeline then I need a bit more than content to build up my authority.
That is where link building comes into play.
My approach to link building is more about building relationships than spamming people for links. I could spend 2-3 hours a month identifying websites that are in my niche, and reaching out to the people behind those sites to share my content and earn a link.
Creating high-value content and sharing it in my niche sounds like a great use of my 5hrs/month, and a good foundation for an SEO strategy.
At the end of every month it’s time to evaluate.
Those are the questions that matter, at least for me. They might not be the questions that matter for you if you are trying different tactics. I'm able to answer these questions easily with Google Search Console and Google Analytics, combined with Centori I get quick answers and feedback as to how well my efforts are paying off.
So can SEO be done in 5 hours a month? Yes. It may be a slower going than if I churned out 20+ posts/month and had 20 hours devoted to building links, but that’d be far too many burgers than is healthy for me, and also is fine for my goals for the site.
Start with your goals. Then choose the tools you are most comfortable using to reach those goals, identify how you are going to measure your progress using those tools, and report along the way.
Not comfortable with link building? Nix it for now. Unsure about technical SEO? It can wait. Even if you do one thing, say blog a bit more, or optimize few pages, that is enough. Just make sure you measure the results.
Above all, have fun. SEO is iterative. It’s about trying out new tactics to see what works, and documenting your findings as you shoot for better rankings.
March 6, 2021
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