8 Steps to a Successful SEO Campaign
Written by Lee Smith-Bryan and published
When I was updating the Raven Weekly blog post last Friday, I noticed that we hadn’t posted an article since our piece on 7 Social Media Websites and Their Impact on SEO – almost two months ago! I think it’s time we changed that statistic.
Every SEO campaign is a process unto itself. It is contrived of many components that, when executed correctly, form the sum of one large piece. Without each component’s working to its fullest, the benefit of the end product cannot be truly felt.
The 8 steps we’ll be covering are listed below:
Keyword research is essential to get your SEO campaign off to a good start. A successful SEO campaign will benefit in the short and long term from diligent and extensive keyword research. During keyword research, you need to be aware of the following when deciding on your keywords and search terms:
Branding Perceptions: Large companies have their own viewpoints on how they want their product and/or company portrayed online. Before starting a campaign for a large company, you need to establish their chosen targeted keywords. I would suggest getting a list from the client and asking for terms that they want to be given a preference. Not only can you give them what they desire, but you can also optimize the content for long tail searches. Doing this will not only give you an idea of their chosen demographic(s), but will also give you an excellent opportunity to obtain traffic from further expanding on their chosen search terms. With a smaller, more local company, refining their search visibility with a local search campaign will go a long way to achieving success.
Existing Brands: Be careful when selecting which existing brands to compete against. Whether you’re selling brand name items or computer equipment, out of a total 142 million sites online (and growing), you’d be better off spending your time focusing in on a niche area rather than competing with a company whose brand is so predominant.
Generic Keywords: Unless a highly competitive generic search term will bring you a large amount of traffic, it is almost futile even to begin attempting to compete. Instead of doing this, try targeting specifically what is more relative for your site. For example, if you sold shoes on your website, you could target ‘women’s open toed shoes’ instead of ‘women’s shoes.’ This is more likely to achieve a better ROI and attract a greater percentage of customers looking to buy.
Overlooking Geographic Targeting: It should certainly be an ambition of a start-up company to appear in nationwide searches. However, it could be to your detriment if you ignore your local area. Establishing your website as a presence in your local market should be a priority before taking over the world.
Long Tail Searches: Not taking into consideration and neglecting to optimize your content for the long-tail search could see you being left behind in the SERPs. By themselves, long tail search terms may not account for significant traffic, but collectively, they can drive a lot of organic traffic to your website.
Keyword Research Sites:
Sun Tzu once said “Carefully compare the opposing army with your own, so that you
may know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient.”
In the ever-changing world of internet marketing, analyzing your competitors can give you a distinct advantage. Knowing what they do well and what they lack will help you target key areas of the market that you think you can dominate.
Having knowledge of what the competition does, what they charge for their services, what they are about, how they are perceived, and where they are predicted to go in the future can give you a significant boost. Competition research should be split up into three different segments – content structure, data analysis and quantify your metrics.
Analyzing your competition should involve lots of data gathering. First, you should manually gather information by becoming familiar with the competition’s website. Doing this will let you know how seriously they take their online presence and whether they are a significant threat to your search engine visibility.
There are several questions you should ask yourself when evaluating a competitor’s website:
- Does their website meet web standards?
- Is it built with tables, CSS/HTML or Flash?
- Are they keyword stuffing?
- Is it easy to navigate?
- Are the URLs Search Engine friendly?
- Is their blog updated regularly with decent content?
It may be wise at this point to create a list of all the positives and negatives about the sites you evaluate. After you’ve collected a certain amount of data, there should be some correlation in the sites that rank well and those that do things right (such as an updated content-rich blog, search engine-friendly URLs, and a CSS/HTML-driven website).
Otherwise known as a plan of attack, this can be the most crucial part of your competition research. Don’t simply plan on submitting links to social networking sites at random. Each one has its own use and should be selected carefully, based upon your targeted niche and chosen outcome. Some sites should be used for seeding links, while others should be used for generating traffic and gaining exposure.
You need to take advantage of some of the search operators used by Google:
- link:[inserturlhere]: This operator will list webpages that have links to the specified website. This can be useful to determine which websites are linking to your competitors and which content on their site has the most inbound links.
- site:[insertdomainhere]: When the ‘site’ operator is used, it will restrict all returned results to pages in the domain specified. You could do this when you need the results to be more specific than a generic search.
- allintitle:[keywordshere]: Queries that include the ‘allintitle’ operator will limit the results to pages that include all of the specified words in the title. For instance, if I searched for ‘allintitle: seo tools,’ I would get pages that only had “seo” and “tools” in the title.
- intitle:[keywordshere]: When the ‘intitle’ operator is used, Google will return the pages that include the words specified in the query. For instance if I searched for [intitle:soccer nashville], the results would return the word “soccer” and include the word “nashville” anywhere in the document (even if it’s not in the title).
- info:[insertdomainhere]: By typing in the ‘info’ operator, Google will return the information it has about that web page.
Quantify Your Metrics
Establish your competitors based on their SERPs, not their PageRank or a metric that doesn’t have a quantifiable meaning. Those that are ranked well should be your target goal but not your priority. Your priority should be to establish the site as an authority in a niche and continue to build up a user base.
First impressions can be important. How your site looks and reacts can be the difference between users taking the time to browse through and users who land on a page and immediately click away. We’ve all been a part of this experience. The site is either too difficult to navigate, takes too long to load, or is just plain ugly. All of these experiences are definitely not the first impressions you want to give to someone viewing your site for the first time (or at any time, for that matter). Therefore, we can pinpoint whether we’re going to have a pleasant experience on a website by its visual appeal, loading time, and the information being easy to reach.
These requirements — coupled with good design — can be achieved through modern coding techniques, like using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) instead of a table-based layout. CSS allows you to separate the style from the code. Doing this provides numerous benefits:
- Decreased amount of code
- Accessibility to users
- Semantically oriented content for the search engine bots
- Easier updating of style and content
- More cross browser compatibility
Creating a visually appealing website should be at least one of your objectives if you’re designing a website from scratch. Completely underwhelming your user base with a less than adequate design is detrimental to your online presence. A good designer should be more than capable of designing a fully functional, standards-based, compliant website without using tabled-based layouts. Andy Clarke, in his book Transcending CSS, states that:
It is now an essential part of a professional web designer’s job to understand the fundamentals of meaningful markup and CSS.
However, there are instances where a design which is too intricate can hinder the website. The design may be so distracting that the user gets caught up in the layout, rather than the content. For instance, if your site leans heavily on providing information, that’s what the user should get. Information is still information, regardless of how it is dressed up. However, a photography or design site is a good example where an intricate design may prove useful because you’re accentuating the content on the site, not distracting from it.
Good HTML structure should have a natural flow. This means that there should be a logic, an order and a use of semantically oriented markup. A heading should use the header element, a paragraph should use a paragraph element, a list should use the unordered/ordered list elements and so on. But why is this important to SEO? Quite simply, because it helps search engine better understand your content, and therefore improve your SERPs.
A website designed with tables has a completely different structure than a site built with CSS (remember that tables were meant for displaying tabular data, not for a complete layout). Imagine different blocks of information spread out over a large area; then imagine that same information in one single piece that has an order and a natural flow to it. When a search engine bot crawls a website built with tables, it is crawling each table individually, searching for the information. How much simpler for a website to have a structure that contains easy-to-access information for both the search engine and the user!
Arguably the single most important factor in on-site SEO is content. Content on the website should be written and optimized for both users and search engines. Regularly updated, original content will appeal to both users and hungry search engine bots looking for new, original content. Content that is frequently updated and is high quality will always do well in attracting repeat visitors and improving SERPs.
Depending on what stage of the process you’re involved at, the domain name may have already been decided. However, if you’re involved with the process before the decision to buy a domain name has been made, then there are several things to consider when purchasing a domain name for best SEO practices:
- Domain Name Choices
- Hyphenating Your URLs
- Commercial or Geographic
- Short URL
Domain Name Choices
When first searching for a domain name you should always keep in mind search terms, keywords or phrases that will be related to your website. Once you’ve established these you should come up with a list of seven or eight domain name choices. Prioritize by choosing the top three – these three will be your ‘must have’ domain choices. The remaining domains are names you can fall back on or change if your top three choices are all taken.
Unless you want a really-bad-domain-name.info you should register your domain name right away to avoid missing an opportunity. As well as the .com, don’t forget to register the .net, .org and if it applies, the .mobi too. If you’re torn between names you should go ahead and register them all – don’t forget that you can redirect more than one domain name to a website.
Hyphenating Your URLs
Hyphenated domain names have a bad rap, but is the reputation justified? From a usability standpoint, the bad rap is most definitely justified. Having to type in an extra character (that is most likely unnecessary) can be a pain. It also makes verbally explaining your site URL to someone that bit more difficult. Instead of just saying “my domain dot com” you have to say “my (dash) domain (dash) name dot com”. That will get old really quick. Think through your decision carefully. If you still can’t come to a conclusion whether or not to hyphenate, purchase both the unhyphenated URL and the hyphenated version and implement a redirect. Doing this will protect your brand as well as ensuring all visitors who are uncertain about the URL are directed to your site and not a competitors.
However, there are cases where a hyphen would accentuate the content. For instance www.speedofart.com, would be far better with hyphens: www.speed-of-art.com. Now people will have no doubt that the website is about art, and not bodily functions stemming from overly tight swimming trunks. Another example would be www.gotahoe.com. Now, I’m sure Tahoe is a lovely place, but lets not have the URL make like it’s some kind of stripping joint. A much better url would be www.go-tahoe.com or www.go-to-tahoe.com (which is still available by the way).
For maximum URL performance, you should include at least one of your keywords in a hyphenated URL. If we take the Raven URL as an example, we have the hyphenated version http://raven-seo-tools.com, and the unhyphenated URL http://ravenseotools.com . We have the product name and two keywords so with hyphens there is the increased likelihood that search engines will see three separate keywords (‘Raven’, ‘SEO’ and ‘Tools’).
When you think of successful social networking sites, there is one common denominator – their URLs are original and unique. Digg, flickr, ning, Twitter, Mixx, the list is endless. Google is a name we’re all too familiar with, but did you know that the original name, googol was chosen because the term’s meaning is a very large number followed by 100 zeros? Would this be relative at first? Perhaps not, but it certainly is today considering their search domination.
An original name is memorable – people are much more likely to visit your site if they can remember it. Adding content relativity to the url may inspire you to think of some unique domain names. Just because it doesn’t immediately make sense from the outset doesn’t mean that it’s not useful, it just means that no one has figured out a use for it.
Commercial or Geographic Targeting
Living in America, it is obvious to us that a .com is the priority for a Top Level Domain (TLD). But what if your target audience was in Europe or the far east? For those living in the United Kingdom, a .co.uk domain (as well as a .com) would be an absolute priority. Other prominent European domains are .eu, .it, .fr, .es, .de (there are many more). But would choosing a native domain ending help your SEO?
If your site targets users in a particular geographic location, you can use the Google geographic tool (in Webmaster Tools) to determine how your site will appear in country specific SERPs. Sites with country specific domains (.fr for example) are already associated with a geographic region – websites with a neutral TLD like a .com or .org are the websites that will benefit the most should their content be country specific.
Research from late 2007 has suggested that short URLs provide a higher click-through in organic search. The long URLs that are present in search listings appear to lead to the next result. Definitely something you don’t want!
If you have dynamic pages, avoid using parameters, variables or session IDs in your URLs. Consider using search engine friendly URLs to limit your parameters and store your session IDs in cookies. Session IDs can often replicate various URLs resulting in multiple listings of the same content in the SERPs.
So you’ve read this article and now you want to see if your chosen domain(s) are available. One of the best places on the internet to do this would be the Whois lookup and domain name search. Using the Whois tools avoids searching for domains at registrar’s websites and running the risk of any domain you searched for being kept and held for ransom.
Quite often companies have websites built and don’t understand why they’re not receiving traffic. The design is attractive and standards compliant, the user interface has been tested, and the content has been added. Everything is set up and ready for success. However, a lot of the time, a company’s web presence ends there. No afterthought is given to who will maintain the website, who updates the blog, or who adds any content.
Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration. Jeffrey Zeldman
A website that doesn’t engage or interact with its users is an empty shell that has passed up a huge opportunity. Quite simply put, a website needs to do more than just exist – it needs to be a virtual representation of the company for which it was set up to function. So, unless you’re a company who wants to be represented as wannabe’s, underachievers and unprofessional, here are five content essentials to keep both users and search engine bots happy:
No-brainer alert: Search engines like content. However, they love relevant content. Staying on top of the current relevancy trends and constructing your articles or blog posts around them attracts search engine bots and traffic simultaneously.
High-quality content is arguably the single most important thing that needs to occur on your website for you to rank well in the SERPs and gain a high amount of traffic. Unless you’re going for the next I Can Has Cheezburger site, your content should be grammatically correct – use spellcheck, people.
Your content is the priority for engaging the reader. Be passionate about what you write about, and your users will respond; lose their attention, and you’ve lost a potential customer. Focus solely on attracting the search engine bots, and your website loses appeal. Target the user, give them something to be engaged by, and you’ve accomplished two goals: sustainable traffic and search-engine-friendly content.
A lot of bloggers take to writing controversial blog posts as a way to garner some traffic and attention. It’s not a new idea. Traditional media has often utilized the controversy method as a way of getting their moment in the limelight. However, think carefully before you decide to take the plunge with a controversial blog post. Make sure that you’re not writing something solely for the purpose of being controversial; this can and will burn bridges that you may regret sometime in the future.
Being opinionated is another matter entirely. Many TV personalities have developed a very good following from being outspoken. Don’t be so opinionated, however, that you don’t have an open mind and aren’t prepared to rescind any comment that you’ve made. A well-thought-out article or post with evidence to substantiate your opinion will earn you respect among your peers; inane drivel, on the other hand, could do just the opposite..
Creating a blog post just as a filler update when you’ve got nothing useful to say could do you more harm than good. One or two useful posts regarding your website or blog topic per month will serve you far more than daily posts about what you’ve had for dinner. RSS subscriptions are numerous; stand out from the crowd by writing concisely, clearly, and with content that your readers will find useful – for example, ‘how to’s’, ‘best ofs’, ‘top 10 lists’ and software installation guides.
Frequently Updated Content
Once you’ve established yourself with quality posts or articles, you need to maintain that status and update on a consistent basis. Users of the web are creatures of habit. Establish a routine that works for you and stick to it.
Consistent posting not only pleases the website users, but the search engine spiders, too. Search engine bots eat up new content like it’s going out of fashion. Give them a reason to return, and you’ll see the benefits with an increased presence in the SERPs.
Quite often, the way to find out if something is fraudulent is to compare it with the real deal – something authentic. Now, this is not to say that unfriendly URLs are fraudulent in any way; it’s just that they’re untidy, dirty and definitely not liked by search engines. So before we begin discussing the ramifications of using one or the other, let’s take a look at just what they look like side by side:
A Search Engine Friendly URL:
An Unfriendly URL:
Some of the visible differences of the URL structure are immediate – the length and type of characters used are vastly different. However, before we delve deeper into the nuances of the two, it’s important to note that the unfriendly URL is not technically incorrect per se; it just falls well below the modern day coding standards and sufficient technical capabilities needed to maximize its potential.
What a URL Should Contain
In essence, a search-engine-friendly URL should clearly include the following three items:
- The Domain Name
- Content Category
- Article Title
By clearly specifying the domain name, the content category and the article title, the user knows which site he’s at, which category he’s reading, and the name of the title. So in other words, the URL actually makes sense and means something. In comparison to an unfriendly URL which contains virtually no useful elements to a user or a search engine bot, the friendly URL encompasses all the requirements necessary to help achieve good rankings in the SERPs.
As you can see from our example above, unfriendly URLs are difficult to type, do not promote usability, and can potentially pose a security risk. In a content management system (CMS) environment, unfriendly URLs are commonplace. While the CMS may be robust and efficient, in the creative process, no forethought may have been given to the URL.
Search engine bots are finicky (especially Google) – any whiff of anything that remotely smells like a dodgy query string, and they will take their presence elsewhere.
Optimizing Your URL
There are certain elements that can be changed in an unfriendly URL for various reasons. An ampersand, for example (otherwise known as an ‘&’) can be changed to ‘&’. The reason for doing this is because a common error can occur. The ‘&’ is assumed to begin a reference to an entity and browsers can recover from this kind of error but mistakes do happen in certain cases.
Let’s say our URL contained the following query string:
For the part of the URL that is in bold, many browsers convert ‘©=3’ to ‘©=3’ and correctly so. Subsequently, in conversion, the link would then fail.
SEO Friendly URL Recommendations
- Try and keep the URL short
- Avoid using query strings
- Use all lowercase letters – even though domain names are not case sensitive, the rest of the URL is. There was recently some discussion at the Webmaster World forums about using Pascal Casing. While there might be some advantages to using Pascal Casing, I would err on the side of caution and consistency and keep all of your URLs lowercase.
- Use hyphens instead of underscores. it is still considered best practice to use hyphens instead of underscores because most search engines will not seperate
- Keep the URL structure logical
- Include keywords in the domain name
It is no fluke that when googling ‘SEO friendly URLs’ that a Sitepoint article is in first place. The URL is probably the tidiest in the top 10 SERP listings – http://www.sitepoint.com/article/search-engine-friendly-urls. By itself, using tidy URLs may not have such a dramatic impact as link building or optimized title tags, but it can make a difference between a number one listing and a listing below the fold. So if you haven’t thought about implementing friendly URLs on your website or blog, I’d say there’s no bigger incentive than a number one spot in the SERPs.
Whether you’re one of the two candidates to be the next President of the United States or a plumber looking to expand the reaches of his service area, your identity online can define what you do elsewhere. A recent analysis of the Technorati Top 20 blogs suggests that there is a small amount of correlation between the amount of mentions on three large social media sites compared to where they list in the Technorati Top 20. However, if your blog or website doesn’t have a lot of readers or traffic, can you still make an impact? Absolutely. Here’s how.
Social Media Consideration
Do your research and consider your primary target audience before delving knee-deep into social overload. Establishing a primary target audience will better enable you to define your content. Submissions to Digg and Mixx, for example, are likely to create a lot of traffic that bounces. The demographic of the users of Digg and Mixx could get you a lot of one-time traffic (if you make the front page); however, the likelihood that those users will stick around to see if there’s any other useful information on your website is next to none.
The very nature of Digg is socially Darwinistic in nature. This leads to often controversial and outright falsified stories, as marketers try and game the system. However, I think we have to take a step back and assess whether we would rather have a record number of hits resulting in a downed server, or a rise in targeted traffic resulting in increased ROI.
Websites like delicious and StumbleUpon are much more community-centric. The establishment of friends who share and recommend similar interests is much more likely to attract users who will stick around and read the content on your website. The nature in finding something you like on a site and it’s being shared, rather than voted for, takes away an ulterior motive and replaces it with the user’s having the desire to search your site.
Social Media Participation
The concept of User Generated Content (UGC) is not a recent development. It’s human nature to want to reach out and become a part of something. Only recently has it come to the forethought in the online world. Where many companies fail in the participation side of social media is that the communication is one-sided. A company which grasps the concept of social media will generate, take ownership of and benefit from the multiple streams of communication.
An excuse some companies use for not participating in social media is the negative feedback they could receive. Unless you’re an ostrich, sticking your head in the ground and pretending that your problems don’t exist (or even worse, not wanting them to be addressed) is completely missing the point. Unless you are aware of the problematic aspects surrounding your company, how do you expect to improve or grow? Only taking in positive feedback and ignoring the negative is no better than surrounding yourself with yes men. The very companies avoiding social media are the ones who should be embracing it.
Media outlets, retailers, airlines, authors and manufacturers have all gotten in on the social media bandwagon and in particular, the Twitter brand index. There is a general conception that users of social media outlets are geeks or teens hidden away living in their grandmother’s basement. Not so, according to Hitwise UK. Four of the most visited sites in the UK are social media websites. In addition, over 50% of MySpace users are over 35. As internet users mature, the connection becomes less general and more about community participation, and that’s a huge community not to be involved with.
Social Media Evaluation
A evaluation period is a necessary step in measuring your campaign. You should measure your success based on the following:
- Engagement — How did you engage your audience?
- Influence — Did your sphere of online influence increase?
- Reputation — Do more people pay attention to your message?
- Sentiment — How do they feel about it?
- Search Visibility — Was there an increase in organic traffic?
- Conversion — Was there an increase in conversions?
The last item, conversions, is particularly important, because it goes back to the first reason for establishing a social media presence — to drive targeted traffic to your website. Unfortunately, that’s one of the hardest things to track. The main way we track conversions is by using the Analytics conversion code from Raven. We record all of the links we build in Raven’s Link Manager and then place the Raven conversion tracking code on our result page. Then we view reports on how many conversions were created from our link building efforts. It provides us with a fairly accurate SEO ROI report and gives us an indication of how well our social media campaigns are performing.
Each aspect of an SEO campaign defines its own area of importance. Building links should be no different. While significant in its contribution, link building on its own does not make or break an SEO campaign. If you’re investing all of your time, energy and resources building links, it may be time for you to change scope.
A Link is a Link, Right?
Just like the myth that #1 rankings can be achieved overnight, treating all links as equal can lead down the road to SEO oblivion. The type of links you should be looking to build are:
- High Authority
The type of links you should avoid building are on:
- Directories that contain little to no use
- Sites or blogs full of ads or spam links i.e splogs
- Sites that are unrelated to your own (you may get the link juice, but your time would be better spent writing quality content)
A good way to find out if you’re wasting your time pursuing a link from a certain website, is to use the Raven Quality Analyzer.
I can find out in one report which other sites link to the website, how old the domain is, the website’s traffic, and its PageRank. The report lists lots of other metrics, but with just these four, I can find out whether or not it’s really worth my time.
High Quality, Not Quantity
Google’s recent clampdown on directories is a signal for the future. No longer will they see directories as viable for passing on link juice – this means neither should you. This is not to say that they’re not worth going after, but they should be pretty low on your link building scale. Niche directories, on the other hand, are still worth getting a listing from. So instead of pursuing a link from www.general-link-spam-directory.com, you should choose something specific to your website, such as www.soccer-linkage.com
A conundrum that you could come across is that you get in a situation where you have to choose between a site with high authority but which is not subject relevant, and a site that has less of an authority but is relevant to your content. I go with the relevant content every time. Just because a site has a high priority today does not mean that it will still hold the same sway tomorrow. A site can lose authority, but unless it drastically changes, the relevance factor will always remain.
Link Building Strategy
Strategies can be very subjective – a lot of people will stick with what’s worked for them in the past, while others will be a little more experimental. However, there’s a difference in running your own SEO campaign where you might feel more open to thinking outside the box than running a campaign for a client where you have to be mindful of what you’re doing. However, with that being said, there are several concrete methods that should be included in your link building strategy:
- Blogging:A blog is for life, not just for Christmas. In all seriousness, blogging truly is a long-term commitment, and if set up right, can be a great weapon in your arsenal for ranking highly in the SERPs.
- Showing Some Love: Everyone likes to feel wanted. Be generous and selective with your outbound links and don’t expect anything back in return.
- Remember the User: Create content that is unique, well-written, and which encapsulates your niche.
- Participate: Interact with your users by taking advantage of all that social media has to offer.
Inbound / Outbound Links
A link building campaign should consist of utilizing both internal and external links. When looking for sites to build links to, you should assess:
- Where the site’s external links point to
- Where the site’s inbound links are coming from
Finding out who the site links out to is a good measure of what they are trying to achieve. Are they being user centric by linking out to good content, or are they linking to meaningless directories, spam blogs or content that only they will benefit from?
No such thing as a bad inbound link? Think again. Would you really want a link to your website from a pornographic or spam-infested website? If your website is treated as the representation of your company online (which it should be), then you need to ask yourself the question – would you associate with these people in real life? The search engine bots will make the same assumption and decide an outcome that may not have the affect that you were looking (or hoping) for.
So, we’ve covered eight steps that will put you well on the way to a successful SEO campaign. The steps should be used all inclusively – singularly, each one is just a process to go through, but used collectively they’re a great foundation to build most any SEO campaign on.