One of the biggest cliches among digital marketers is that search engine optimization (SEO) isn’t what it used to be. As with any cliche, this is true but also overused beyond belief. Now here’s a statement you don’t hear as often: your SEO strategy for 2020 shouldn’t focus on keywords. Most businesses understand the basic concepts of SEO and why it’s crucial these days. However, just creating content for keywords your customers are searching for is both painstaking and, well, wrong.
What is SEO strategy?
SEO strategy is the process of organizing a website’s content by topic. This helps search engines like Google understand a user’s intent when searching. You can increase your expertise by optimizing a web page around topics and keywords within that topic.
What is an SEO?
Search engine optimizers (SEOs) optimize websites to help them rank higher on search engines and gain more organic traffic. In short, an SEO is a specialized content strategist. They help businesses discover opportunities to answer questions people have about their industry via search engines.
There are three fundamental types of SEO that an SEO strategist can focus on:
- On-Page SEO: This part of your SEO strategy focuses on the content that’s “on” the page. It determines how to optimize content to boost the website’s rankings for specific keywords.
- Off-Page SEO: This SEO focuses on the links that are directing to the website from other locations on the internet. The number of “backlinks” that link to your website helps you build trust in the eyes of a search engine. This, in turn, causes your website to rank higher.
- Technical SEO: This form of SEO involves a site’s structure. Specifically examining the backend of that site to see how each page is set-up.
Remember that not every business can optimize their website for search the same way. That being said, not every SEO will have the same optimization process. It’s an SEO’s job to study their industry, figure out what’s important, and then develop a finely tuned SEO strategy. With that in mind, here are nine steps to ensure that your 2020 SEO strategy is rock solid.
9 Step SEO Content Strategy
1.) Make a list of topics to structure your SEO strategy
Keywords are the heart and soul of SEO. However, they’re not the first step to an organic growth plan these days. The first step is to draft a list of topics you want to cover from month to month. You’ll want to start by compiling a list of 10 short words and terms associated with your product or service. You can then use a keyword analyzer to identify their search volume. From there, you’ll want to develop variations of the keywords and phrases that make sense for your business.
You are linking these topics with popular short-tail keywords, as you can tell. However, you’re not dedicating individual blog posts to these keywords. There is simply too much competition for these short-tail keywords, and they’re also challenging to rank highly for on Google. This is especially true is you’re just starting to optimize your site for search and develop your SEO strategy. We’ll touch on how to implement these topics more later on.
Using search volume and competition as your benchmark, narrow your list down to 10-15 short-tail keywords. You’ll then want to list in order of priority, based on monthly search volume and relevance to your business.
For instance, if a mobile technology company is trying to rank for “5G cell phone” – which is receiving 110,000 searches/month – this short-tail keyword can be one that represents the overarching topic on which they want to create content. The business would then identify a handful of long-tail keywords that relate to this short-tail keyword, have reasonable monthly search volume, and help to elaborate on the topic of 5G cell phones. We’ll take a more in-depth look into these long-tail keywords in the next step of the process.
Each of these keywords is called a “pillar,” and it serves as the primary support for a more extensive “cluster” of long-tail keywords, which brings us to our next step…
2.) Make a list of long-tail keyword based on these topics
This is when you’ll start optimizing your pages for specific keywords. For each pillar you’ve identified, use your keyword tool to identify 5-10 long-tail keywords that dig further into the original topic keyword.
For instance, I regularly write content on the topic of “SEO.” However, it’s still challenging to rank well on Google for such a popular topic on this term alone. Furthermore, I also risk competing with my own content by creating multiple pages that all target the exact same keyword…and potentially the same search engine results page (SERP). Therefore, I also create content on conducting keyword research, optimizing images for search engines, creating an SEO strategy (like this post!), and other subtopics within SEO.
Doing so allows a business to attract people who have varying interests in and concerns about owning their product. This ultimately creates more entry points for people who are interested in buying a product.
Subtopics are a great way to come up with blog post or webpage ideas that explain a specific concept within each broader topic you identified in Step 1 above. Plug these subtopics into your keyword research tool to recognize long-tail keywords on which to base each blog post.
Together, these subtopics create a cluster. So, if you have ten pillar topics, they should each support one group of 5-10 subtopics. This SEO model is called a “topic cluster,” and modern search engine algorithms depend on them to connect users with the information they’re looking for.
Think about it this way. The more specific your content, the more precise the needs of your audience are. This, in turn, means a higher likelihood of converting this traffic into leads. This is how Google finds value in the websites it crawls. The pages that dig into the inner workings are seen as the best answer to an individual’s query, and will then also rank higher.
3.) Build pages for each topic
When it comes down to websites and ranking in search engines, trying to get one page to rank for a handful of keywords is next to impossible. However, here’s where things come together:
Take the ten pillar topics you developed in Step 1 and create a webpage for each one that outlines the issue at a high level. Using the long-tail keywords you came up with for each cluster in Step 2. A pillar page on SEO can describe SEO in brief sections that introduce keyword research, image optimization, SEO strategy, and other subtopics as they are identified. Think of each pillar page as a table of contents where you’ll brief your readers on the subtopics on which you’ll elaborate on in later blog posts.
Use your keyword list to determine how many different pillar pages you need to create. The number of topics for which you generate pillar pages should correlate with how many different products, offerings, and locations your business has. Doing so will make it much easier for your prospects and customers to find you in search engines regardless of the keywords they use.
Every page needs to feature relevant content for your prospects and customers. Furthermore, each page should include pictures and links to pages on your site to enhance their overall experience. Wait until Step 4 for more on internal links.
4.) Set up a blog to improve your SEO strategy
Blogging is an excellent way to rank for keywords and keep your users engaged. After all, each blog post is a web page that gives you another chance to rank in search engines. This should go without saying, but if your business doesn’t already have a blog, set one up ASAP. This is where you’ll dive into each subtopic and actually start showing up on Google.
As you begin to write blog posts and fill up your clusters, you should do three things:
- Do not include your long-tail keyword more than 3-4 times throughout the page. Google doesn’t value exact keyword matches as often as it used to. In fact, too many instances of your keyword can be a red flag that you’re “keyword stuffing.” This can penalize your website and drop your overall ranking.
- Link out to the pillar page you created on the topics. YOu can do this in the form of tags in your content management system (CMS), or as basic anchor text in the body of the article.
- Once you publish each post, link into it from the pillar page that supports the subtopic. Find the point in your pillar page that introduces this post’s subtopic and link it there.
By linking both the pillar and the cluster in this way, you’re essentially telling Google there’s a relationship between the long-tail keyword and the overarching topic that you’re looking to rank for.
5.) Blog every week to establish page authority
Not every blog post or web page that you create needs to belong to a topic cluster. There’s certainly value in writing divergent topics your customers care about in order to give your website authority in the eyes of Google. This cues in Google to pay extra attention to your domain as you add content to your primary topics.
On that note, make a point to blog at least once a week. Remember, you are blogging for your audience, not the search engines. Write about stuff your audience cares about. Make sure you include relevant keywords when appropriate and your audience will begin to take notice and click.
Keep in mind that each topic will not be of equal importance. As your clusters get off the ground, you’ll need to prioritize based on your company’s needs. That being said, create a list of all the different web pages you would like to create and rank them. From there, you want to develop a schedule and develop a plan of attack to get those pages built.
Keep your list updated and prioritized by what web pages will help you best achieve your business goals.
6.) Create a link-building plan to improve your SEO strategy
The topic cluster model is your SEO ticket forward, but it’s not the only way to get your website content to rank higher once you create it.
The first five steps all involved on-page SEO methods. However, we would be fools to ignore off-page SEO. Link-building is the primary goal of off-page SEO and is also a huge factor in how search engines rank your web pages.
Link-building is the process of attracting inbound links (aka “backlinks”) to your website from elsewhere on the web. As a general rule, the more page authority the origin site has, the bigger the effect it will have on the rank of the webpage to which it is linking.
Take some time to brainstorm all the different ways you can attract inbound links to your website. Start small – maybe share your links with other local businesses in exchange for links to their sites. Write a few blog posts and share them on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. You may also want to consider approaching other bloggers for guest blogging opportunities through which you can link back to your website.
Another superb way to attract inbound links is to use your blog to post articles related to current events or news. That way, you have a short of getting linked to from an industry influencer or other bloggers in your industry.
7.) Compress all media before uploading to your website
This is a seemingly small, but important step in the overall SEO process. As your blog or website continues to grow, you’ll likely amass more images, videos, and other related media on your host servers. These digital assets help retain your visitors’ attention, but it’s easy to ignore the fact that they’re still computer files…and computer files have file sizes.
As a basic rule, the bigger the file size, the harder it is for an internet browser to render your website. It just so happens that page speed is one of the major ranking factors when search engines decide where to place your content in its index.
That being said, the smaller the file size, the faster your website will load and the higher you can rank on Google as a result. This likely leaves you wondering – how do you shrink a file size once it’s on your computer?
If you’re planning to upload an image to a blog post, for instance, make sure to examine the file for its file size first. If it’s anywhere in the megabyte (MB) range, even just 1MB, it’s a great idea to use an image compression tool to reduce the file size before uploading it to your blog. There are plenty of media compressor tools available out there. Two of my favorites include TinyPNG and Google’s Squoosh. If you prefer to optimize images already on your blog’s server, then check out EWWW Image Optimizer.
When all is said and done, keeping your files in the kilobytes (KB) can effectively protect your website’s page speed.
Make sure you are mindful when compressing your images and check the file’s actual size once you export it back to your computer. Some tools might not be true to the size it shows you and others can sacrifice some image quality when compressing the artwork.
8.) Stay current with SEO new & best practices
As with the general marketing landscape, the search engine world is constantly evolving. Staying on top of current trends and best practices is a cumbersome task. However, there are numerous online resources that can make it easy for you to manage SEO news and changes that could potentially impact your website and SEO strategy.
Here are a few of my personal favorite SEO resources:
9.) Measure & track your content’s success
There’s no getting around it…SEO requires a lot of time and effort. What good is spending all this time and effort if you can’t see the sweet results of your labor? There are many metrics you can track on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis to keep your SEO plan on track and measure your success.
Since the metric you care about the most is organic traffic (traffic that comes in via search engines), seek out a tool that allows you to track both your overall organic traffic number and how your pages are ranking under each long-tail keyword your pages are targeting. One of my favorite tools for this task is SEMrush…and no, this is not an affiliate link.
You’ll want to create a monthly dashboard using Excel, Google Sheets, or a web analytics package so you can monitor how much traffic comes to your website from organic search.
It also makes sense to track indexed pages, leads, ROI, inbound links, keywords, and your actual rankings on SERPs (search engine results pages). Doing so can help you recognize your success as well as identify areas of opportunity where you can work to improve.
SEO Strategy Process
Once you develop your monthly SEO plan, you should also build out a process to continue to optimize it to fit new intent and keywords. Here are a few steps to consider taking.
1.) Optimize your content historically
Set aside sometime each month to update old blog posts with new and up-to-date info so it continues to rank in SERPs. You can also use this time to add any SEO optimization that wasn’t in the original post, such as missing alt text.
2.) Be on the lookout for changing keywords and new search intent
After your blog has been published for a few months, track where your blog posts are ranking and which keywords they’re ranking for. This can help you adjust subheaders or text to leverage new keyword rankings.
3.) Add more editorial value to old content
Odds are that you’ll find that a post is totally out of date. If this is true, you should go beyond the average SEO update and give it a full makeover. You can do this by updating out of date information or stats, adding new sections that add depth to the post, or adding quotes or original data that can make the post gain more referral traffic.
4.) Note new content and updates aimed at SEO in a monthly content plan
To keep up with your SEO strategy, it is helpful to create and refine a monthly content strategy. Then put your content plan into a spreadsheet or document that your team can monitor and track with ease.