SEO is a great marketing tool for an entrepreneur. It is scalable when you don’t have a big budget — you don’t have to pay for every click as you have to in paid marketing programs. It also has a great brand impact. Users often ascribe leadership status to companies that are top ranked. SEO therefore is a great program that enables entrepreneurs to compete with large companies on equal footing. Imagine being able to do that with television advertising!
Given that it is such an attractive marketing channel, one would assume that all the business owners would jump on it. That is not the case. In fact SEO remains one of the most under-invested marketing channel among small businesses.
The reason for this neglect is manifold. SEO is unknown, uncertain and takes time. It can be somewhat technical and it takes consistent ongoing investment over a period of time to do a SEO program well. The results have not been predictable, which causes companies to invest in SEO in fits and starts that hurts the program even more.
Not enough knowledge
Companies describe SEO like a ‘black box’ — full of uncertainty. Although businesses have a general sense of important things that factor into improved SEO that matter — e.g. link building, content, social media channels/platforms, user experience, and so on — what they are missing is a clear strategy showing how much each matters so they can prioritize for faster results. Since we are not holding our breaths for Google to disclose their secret algorithm, we need a Plan B to bring sanity and clarity to the process to ultimately deliver the ROI you were hoping for.
Entrepreneurs want to achieve results quickly and the SEO as a channel requires a steady build up over time to be successful. Businesses would be more willing to invest the time if there was a degree of certainty about results which unfortunately has been traditionally absent.
The solution is a structured SEO program backed by analytics.
In working with many companies on SEO programs, we have found that the companies that succeed have a structured approach to SEO backed by strong analytics and measurement framework. Here is a six step structured SEO framework to drive a successful SEO program
1. Understand your target users’ search behavior.
Most buying decisions in both B2C and B2B arenas start with buyers researching on the web. Understand the terms they use in different stages of the purchase journey. The search terms around researching the space maybe different from the terms buyers use as they get closer to making the decision. So map all the terms in various stages of the journey. If you haven’t been discovered on the research phase, it is unlikely that you will be considered when the buyer is making the decision.
2. Prioritize the search terms.
You are unlikely to win at everything. Create a prioritization matrix using three factors-
- Relevance to your product or service
- Search volumes
3. Create a roadmap.
Create a roadmap for the SEO which takes a cascading search term approach. Focus on ranking on easier, longer string of searches which may have lower volumes before eventually getting the high volume, highly competitive major industry terms.
4. Identify the goals.
What is the ultimate success for business and how does SEO play a part? Create goals based on target rankings for the prioritized search terms. The goals should include ranks, traffic and business outcomes like sales or leads. Higher ranks on search engines should drive more traffic and if you are focused on relevant keywords, you should have higher outcomes (like sales or applications).
5. Map out an action plan.
Get your ducks in a row. For the search terms that you want to rank for, get all your efforts to work together.
- Technical clean up: If your site is not crawlable, all your efforts will be in vain. Put the basic technical fixes to ensure site crawlability
- On-page optimization: Work on your site to ensure that you are addressing the search needs articulated by users while searching
- Off-Page optimization: Ensure that your PR effort, other sites that talk about you and your social media effort aligns to the area that you want to be dominant in.
6. Measure and course correct.
Have a monthly report (don’t be more frequent- some ranking movements are just noise) to track rankings, traffic and outcomes. Look at where you are and what competition is doing. Course correct as you go along. There are tools that can help you understand the impact of specific SEO tactics- use them for ongoing SEO prioritization.
SEO takes ongoing consistent effort. While results and outcomes could vary by how competitive the space is, in most cases, a consistent effort for 18 months should get you to where you need to be. Eighteen months is a short time to achieve perception of leadership in the space.