The planning phase of search engine optimization involves identifying a strategy and roadmap to reach your goals. The process can be daunting. Consider these six steps as a framework:
- Goal setting. What do you want to accomplish?
- Measurement. How will you monitor performance?
- Site audits. What issues create SEO opportunities?
- Strategy. Which opportunities should you focus on?
- Action plan. How will you capitalize on those opportunities?
- Staffing. Who will do the work?
This post is the third installment in my “SEO How-to” series. “Part 1: Why Use It?” addressed the importance of search engine optimization to ecommerce, and “Part 2: Understanding Search Engines” covered the basics of how search engines function.
Your goals should reflect the role of organic search traffic in your overall marketing mix. Focus on what the program needs to accomplish, and be specific.
The worst goal — and the most common — is, “Drive more traffic from organic search.” When? How much more? How will you know when you’ve reached the goal?
Goals should be measurable, assigned to one person, realistic, and with an endpoint. For example, your goals could include:
- “Susan will drive 10 percent more sales via the organic search channel in 2020 than in 2019.”
- “Terry will partner with the customer support department to create at least 20 additional pages of content by the end of the third quarter of 2020.”
Understanding your current organic-search performance can help determine which areas of the site to optimize. You might decide that one set of pages is already performing at its peak and should be left alone, while another is seriously underperforming and requires immediate attention.
Start with your key performance indicators: traffic and revenue from organic search.
Driving awareness and interest is the primary benefit of organic search. Thus traffic is the best measure of performance. However, tracking revenue is critical, too, to ensure the traffic is relevant to your business.
While they aren’t a KPI, the keywords your site ranks for are critical. Ranking better for high-volume keywords will generate more traffic and, also, increase brand awareness from the exposure in search result pages.
SEO audits uncover why your site performs as it does. Audits typically focus on three areas: technical, content, and authority.
Content audits focus on the relevance of a site’s text to the keyword themes most commonly searched for. Keyword research plays a major role in understanding the words and phrases to focus on.
Authority audits focus on the quality, quantity, and topical relevance of the links from other sites to yours. Data from Google Search Console can help. But a tool such as Majestic or Link Detox can provide much more info to evaluate the quality of those inbound links.
Competitive analysis plays a role in each of these audits. Remember that your competitors in organic search are sites that rank for your targeted keywords. You’ll be up against blogs, newspapers, magazines, and big-box retailers, as well as other similar ecommerce sites.
Analyze the competitors’ sites to understand their technical, relevance, and authority signals. Then feed those insights into your emerging SEO strategy.
The areas of relative failure (as identified in the SEO audits) represent opportunities for growth. Capitalizing on those opportunities boils down to priorities — business value, timeframe, and ability to explain succinctly to decisionmakers.
Consider the following:
- Value. Estimate the potential value in terms of your KPIs: organic search traffic and revenue. Aspects of your strategy could extend beyond immediate SEO benefits. For example, content creation might be lower on the SEO list but higher on the needs of other marketing channels.
- Order of execution. Some opportunities will depend on other functions. Optimizing content in an important section of the site could hinge on first redesigning the page templates. In that case, the redesign has a higher priority than it might otherwise.
- Explanation. When explaining to colleagues and decisionmakers, keep the strategy short. Target three or fewer statements, each representing similar projects or tasks. It isn’t a list of everything you’ll do; it’s a direction to steer your SEO program.
- Timeframe. Include opportunities that can be accomplished quickly. Distant objectives are demoralizing.
- Inspiration. Rally your co-workers. Help them understand the strategy’s benefit to the company, as opposed to the trudge to get there.
Devising the plan is relatively simple. List the opportunities identified in the audits. Then prioritize those opportunities in a timeline.
Each opportunity is a project. Each project is a series of tasks. Assign a completion date and owner to each task, and create a way to track the progress.
For example, optimizing the home page might require three sequential tasks: rewrite the text, approve the text, and post the text on the page. Each task would likely have a separate owner.
Creating and managing an SEO plan is essentially a project. Thus project management tools, such as Asana or Trello, can make it easier.
To determine staffing needs, start by listing the needed skills for your action plan. Then decide which of those skills are missing from your team for potential new hires or outsourcing.
Your budget realities and the urgency and size of your goals will dictate how you add new skills. You could train an existing employee, hire a new employee, or contract with a consultant or agency. Otherwise, you will not meet your objectives.