New to SEO? Here’s Where to Start for the Highest Impact
If you’re new to SEO, or perhaps haven’t been keeping up as much as you’d have liked, you probably feel at a loss for where to begin your SEO efforts. You’re certainly not alone – such a rapidly-changing area of marketing can be hard to keep up with and it has only changed more drastically in the last three years. But fortunately for those looking to start an SEO strategy, you’ll find the concepts behind today’s SEO tactics to be simpler than you’d think.
In fact, the onset of machine learning has made SEO increasingly more about humans, and less about machines. In many ways, this has made modern SEO more intuitive than past versions with an audience-first approach being the secret to success.
Start your journey of implementing modern SEO tactics by focusing on four key areas:
- Make your content “findable” and “functional”
- Get to know your audience
- Create a personalized experience
- Share content on social
Make Your Content “Findable” and “Functional”
Technical SEO is all about making sure search engines can access your content and demonstrating to search engines that you have good website functionality. Technical SEO is #1 on this list of where to start your SEO efforts because without taking care of these issues on your website, your chances of ranking for any keywords are significantly diminished.
The list of technical items that could impact your ability to rank is long, and prioritizing these items can be tedious. But starting with the highest impact checkpoints will get you the biggest bang for your buck:
Crawl and Index
Ensure that search engines can crawl and index your content by covering these items:
- Sitemap and Robots.txt
- Avoid iframes
- Be careful with "nofollow" and "noindex" tags
- Fix broken links
- Fix redirect chains
Ensure that search engines can interpret the meaning of your content by covering these items:
- Tag your titles and sub-titles with headings tags
- Tag your images with alt attributes
- Add title tags and meta descriptions to each page
- Look for opportunities to add schema from www.schema.org
Ensure that you check all the boxes on website functionality issues that search engines care about most by covering these items:
- Optimize load speed
- Make your site mobile-friendly
- Fix status code errors
Take a deeper dive: get the download on where to start your technical SEO efforts
Get to Know Your Audience
When performing keyword research, the goal should always be to identify your ideal search audience. In other words, the goal should be to identify the keywords that represent the group of searchers you want to reach most with your content.
Here are three tips for performing modern keyword research to identify the best search audience for achieving your content goals:
It’s about content opportunities, not keyword opportunities
The original method of optimizing content for SEO was to find keywords with search volume to include in your page copy – the idea was if you used the right keywords in all the right places, you would get indexed for these keywords and achieve rankings.
Today, machine learning has amplified natural language search to enable search engines to increasingly become better at interpreting the meaning of keywords and identifying content that will be useful to searchers based on how they search and interact with content. The result is that inserting exact-match keywords into your page copy just doesn’t make much of a difference in rankings anymore.
As search engines have learned how to better match keywords to relevant, quality content without phrase-matching, today’s approach to effective keyword research and content development aligns with search engines better than ever before.
To support content creation that competes in today’s search results, effective keyword research has shifted away from finding opportunities for including keywords in copy and has shifted toward finding opportunities for creating content that answers search intent (in other words, creating content that helps searchers meet their goals). When selecting which keywords to target with your content, remember that it’s all about striking a balance between search volume and search intent:
Search Volume: This is the number of searches for a keyword on average per month. Combining the search volume of all of the keywords you are targeting for the page will give you a better idea of the amount of traffic you can attract to the page.
Search Intent: This shows you the mindset of the audience you attract. Paying attention to the state of mind that your searchers are in when they enter the page allows you to write content tailored to the goals implied by their keyword search. Search intent not only reveals opportunities for creating impactful content that connects with your audience, but also acts as your ticket to achieving top search rankings.
Hint: To get a better idea of search intent, review top ranking search results for the keyword to see what’s currently working for this search audience. Use an incognito window in your Chrome browser to prevent your personal history from affecting the search results.
Long-tail keywords help you reach your niche audience
Broader keywords generally have higher search volume but achieving a top-ranking position for these keywords is usually reserved for big players in the industry. To find opportunities that are more attainable (and probably more relevant as well), ask yourself, “what is our unique value proposition?” and, “how does this value proposition translate into how people might be searching for an offering like ours?”. If there’s demand for your niche offering, chances are that people will be searching for it!
Here’s an example of a broad keyword versus a long-tail alternative:
- “Broad” keyword: men’s shirts
- “Long-tail” niche keyword: customize v-neck men’s shirts online
Consider internal and external factors
When selecting your ideal search audience, it’s critical to consider both the internal and external environment in the competitive landscape. Think of this as your SWOT analysis for search.
Internal (Strengths and Weaknesses):
What keywords are your offerings and content relevant for? Relevance should be the focus – if your offerings and your content aren’t relevant, you won’t get far in attaining 1st page rankings, regardless of the keywords you use on the page.
External (Opportunities and Threats):
What do top ranking search results consist of? When you compare yourself against search competitors for a keyword, note what they do well (threats) and where you can fill the gap (opportunities) to help searchers meet their goals.
BONUS Expert Tip:
If you’re thinking of starting a new company or launching a new product, doing keyword research to inform product development holds huge advantages in aligning your offering with the needs of your audience. Being proactive in considering search data ahead of prototyping drives an audience-first approach to generating sales that will permeate throughout business initiatives.
Create Personalized Experiences
Once you’ve identified your search audience and content opportunities, the next step is to execute on these opportunities by creating content experiences specifically designed for the audiences you’ve selected. With your target search intent in mind (what your audience wants from the content they are searching for), help these searchers meet their goals across these 3 important SEO elements:
Does it make sense to provide a short answer to the keyword search? Including helpful short summaries of information at the beginning of content helps you rank for your target keyword in a few important ways:
First, it makes it more likely for a search engine to pull out and feature this short answer in a rich snippet. This means achieving the highest visibility possible in search results, giving you an extra opportunity to intrigue the audience to click and read more.
Second, short answers also help to prevent searchers from bouncing back to the SERP when they reach your page by capturing their attention right away and intriguing them to read further. Having fewer bounces from your content compared to competing search results sends strong quality signals to search engines.
What should you cover in your content? What should be the overarching focus of the page and what should the sub-focuses be? Using keyword research to inform what to cover and how to structure content not only lends a hand to catering to the interests of your search audience, but also makes a big impact on your site rankings.
The trick to making content structure impactful lies in identifying complementary search intent. Identify keywords that are related, or that complement each other, by exploring how people search about the topic holistically. Researching an entire topic at once reveals everything the searchers want to know, but also helps you draw relationships between related keywords. In turn, this helps you make more informed predictions about what information searchers will find useful on a single page versus multiple pages.
Ask yourself “will speaking to the search intent of multiple keywords on a single page help searches reach their goals?”. If answering search intent of multiple keyword groups on a single page will create a richer, more useful piece of content for searchers, take advantage of this tactic!
By taking a topic-wide approach to content planning, you create more relevant content for users while simultaneously aligning with search engines as they analyze topic-specific search behavior and incorporate these findings into what they predict will be quality content for different keywords.
Heading tag hint: be sure to write your headings in a way that is relevant to the different keyword groups you identified as “complementary”. While it’s true that exact keyword usage is not as important these days, using words that give enough context for search engines to identify relevance to keywords is still very important.
Beyond covering related concepts within content structure, the way you link between related pages/concepts will also send strong signals to search engines about the quality of the content experience you offer.
While navigation and information architecture can be complex, especially with large websites with lots of content, a simple way of making your internal linking impactful for SEO is to keep in mind the navigational journey that you are creating with your internal linking. Ask yourself “if I had just searched for this keyword and landed on this page, where might I want to go to next?”. Keep in mind that internal linking can come in the form of header and footer navigation, sidebar navigation, or links within page copy.
Anchor text hint: be sure to write your anchor text in a way that is relevant to the target keywords for the page you are linking to. While it’s true that exact keyword usage is not as important these days, using words that give enough context for search engines to identify relevance to keywords is still very important.
Share Content on Social
An immovable fact of SEO is that external links matter. In fact, at the very start of Google’s reign in the SEO industry, external links were the very first quality signal known to the public.
So, what’s the trick to getting backlinks pointing to your content? There are no shortcuts or black hat tricks that are effective these days, so instead, a good place to start is creating and sharing content that’s relevant and personalized for your audience via social channels.
Here’s 4 tips for social sharing to get more people to link to your content:
1. Quote the experts
Rapport from a subject matter expert can go a long way. Researching what experts in the field have to say, and incorporating quotes from these experts, gives people more reason to trust your content as a reputable source.
Bonus Benefit: Influencers often like it when they’re referenced in a way that helps to spread the ideas they are passionate about. If you play your cards right, you might just get a link straight from your influencer. This can greatly impact your link-building efforts since links from an influencer’s website are often high-quality in the eyes of search engines and can improve your ranking.
2. Keep up to stay relevant
Are you keeping up with the cultural moments that are relevant to the topics you cover in your content? This kind of topical relevance can help you earn an external link to your webpage.
Think with Google’s Rob Lenois believes “smart money is on bravery” when it comes to making genuine connections with your audience. His advice is, “Rather than broadcasting, we can build—adding to existing conversations among engaged communities eager for what we're dishing out.” It truly is great advice in a time when cultural engagement is so accessible via social media, with high-engagers consistently looking for opportunities to promote where they stand in the midst of the cultural moments they identify with.
Beyond keeping up with trends on social channels, utilizing Google Trends to discover and confirm where trends lie can help you keep a pulse on trending cultural moments.
3. Entice the click with a quick preview
External links won’t happen unless people see your content! Rule of thumb: get the clicks to get the links.
Today’s internet users are overwhelmed by the amount of content out there and no one wants to waste their time on what’s already been said and done before. Instill confidence in your social audience by giving them a glimpse into the content behind the social post. Simple, yet effective – just copy and paste the most compelling snippet from the content you are sharing.
4. Target the right social audience
Social targeting can be your secret weapon to getting your audience engaged and attracting external links to your content. There are many ways to get your social post in front of the right audience by targeting based on audience interests, demographics, or behavior.
If you’ve taken the time to take a topic-based approach to keyword research, you’ll already have plenty of insight into what your target audience is interested in. Use these insights to define your audience and apply to your social targeting strategy.
Tying it All Together
While some things remain as important as they’ve always been, like external link-building and technical SEO, a lot has changed in the last couple of years when it comes to an effective SEO strategy. These days, a lot of companies find themselves needing to refresh their SEO tactics with an audience-first approach.
Researching search intent, creating content that drives engagement, and being thoughtful about how content is being distributed on social are all ways that marketers can take advantages of the modern search landscape.