How to Create Your 2018 SEO Strategy

If you don’t have a search engine optimization strategy for 2018, it’s high time to create it.

Writing an SEO strategy can be intimidating. It sounds like such a lofty document, with expectations of greatness. All a strategy really is, though, is a plan. And all SEO plans share common elements.

2018 Goals

First, decide what you want SEO to achieve in 2018.

Goals are a guiding point for your strategy. They determine how aggressive your strategy needs to be, and what the strategy needs to result in.

Don’t confuse strategy with goals. Your goal statement should be a single sentence that contains a target and a completion date. For example, you may set a goal to achieve at least 10 percent revenue growth from SEO year over year in 2018.

A strategy, on the other hand, is a plan of attack to reach that goal.

For more on setting goals, see “SEO: Measuring Key Performance Indicators.”

2017 Performance Analysis

In this step, look at what happened in 2017 and why. Without knowing where you are today, it’s difficult to know how far you can get tomorrow and what you need to do to get there.

If you haven’t already set up your measurement plan and key performance indicators — which are probably natural search sessions and revenue — this is a good time to do it.

Make sure you understand your year-over-year performance in natural search for the metrics that drive your business. Collect data from your web analytics, Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools, rankings tool, backlink analysis tool, and SEO platform (such as BrightEdge, Searchmetrics, Moz).

Create a presentation that shows what happened in each dataset in 2016 and 2017. Don’t worry yet about why those things happened. Focus first on what happened. And don’t worry about making the presentation beautiful. You’re writing it so that you can understand the universe, not to explain it to others.

If you haven’t already set up your measurement plan and key performance indicators — which are probably natural search sessions and revenue — this is a good time to do it.

You’ll likely uncover hidden issues in the process. Note those issues, but don’t get bogged down trying to explain them yet.

Once you have a document that outlines what happened in 2017, piece together why it happened, to the best of your ability. Natural search performance changes only when something on the site or in the natural search environment changes. There are, in fact, just four things that can alter SEO performance: changes to the site, optimizations you made to the site, search engine algorithm updates, and changes in the search results due to competitors’ actions.

Those four areas will align with changes in performance. Map them out in a timeline that overlays your 2017 performance, to identify the major events that contributed to performance.

When you have pieced together what happened and why based on actual performance in 2017, you’ll know — more or less — what to do for your 2018 strategy.

Keyword Analysis

Next, look at the potential for 2018 based on existing natural search demand.

Keyword research identifies the themes that real people search for. Those themes can be analyzed to determine areas of demand. The degree to which your site can meet that demand more optimally than the competition will largely determine natural search performance.

Using Google Keyword Planner or your favorite keyword tool, conduct your keyword research to determine the words and phrases that people search for to find your products and services. Beyond that, however, look for the ways that people use your products and the questions that they have about purchasing or caring for them.

When you have a mass of keyword data collected, group it into buckets. A list of hundreds or thousands of keywords doesn’t tell you much until you segment it.

Create a presentation that shows what people are searching for in increasing levels of detail. Are they searching in large numbers for a certain product category? Which attributes are important enough to them to search for in conjunction with those products? Do they seem to want more information or simply to transact a purchase?

Again, don’t worry about making the presentation beautiful. It’s not meant to impress anyone.

For more on keyword research and analysis, see “SEO How-to, Part 5: Keyword Research in Action.”

Defining SEO Strategy

In this step, do the heavy lifting of analyzing the data to identify areas of opportunity to capitalize on to build an SEO strategy. It’s time to create the plan to take you from where you are to where you need to be to achieve your goal.

You’ve already put together slides that show your goals, the state of today, and the search demand. Now look for the overlaps. Those are the opportunities.

In your keyword research, are more people looking for a certain type of product you sell? Is that consistent with the pages that drive traffic and revenue? If not, you have an area of opportunity.

It’s time to create the plan to take you from where you are to where you need to be to achieve your goal.

Are people looking for certain attributes — such as color, size, and shape — in conjunction with your products? Do you offer those attributes as navigational elements? Is that information on your product detail pages? If not, providing it can be an area of opportunity.

Are people asking questions — who, what, where, when, why, how — around a relevant topic? If you can answer those in 2018, that’s an area of opportunity.

Now it’s time to communicate. Take the jumble of slides you created that show the current state and piece them together to communicate the strategy based on the opportunities.

For each opportunity, create a slide or two that explains:

  • The challenge or opportunity you’re seeing today;
  • The size of the opportunity based on search demand;
  • How achieving success for each contributes to 2018 goals;
  • The actions you need to achieve success.

Align your goals, the site’s performance challenges, and the search demand opportunities that you identified in your research. Meeting all three of those will help create a strong SEO strategy for 2018.

Jill Kocher Brown
Jill Kocher Brown
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