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A 7-Step SEO Process For Long-Term Search Success

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A 7-Step SEO Process For Long-Term Search Success

It’s no secret that the adventure of SEO means being in it for the long game.

Optimization is a never-ending process.

One day, you’re ranking at the top of the search results – and the next, your competitor publishes something new that knocks you down a rung.

The promise of SEO can bring traffic, revenue, and growth to your business but many marketers give up right after they begin. They love the promise more than they love the process.

In fact, the process holds the key to realizing your end goal in SEO.

Understanding The SEO Process

SEO is like fitness.

In physical fitness, there are no shortcuts to game the system (i.e., your body) unless you’re OK with taking serious health risks.

You need to have a plan and stick to it. That means exercising, eating right, and pushing yourself to continuously improve naturally.

Similarly, in SEO, there’s no way to “game the algorithm” (e.g., Google) unless you expect to cut corners – something I don’t recommend.

So, I was quite surprised recently on a monthly call to learn that one of my large clients was impatient with the SEO process.

How does someone so successful – and one who typically follows a process for the promise of more clients and cases – not understand and love and respect the SEO process?

You can’t get to the promise without going through the process.

SEO (and most forms of digital marketing) is a process that, with patience and strategy, will bring you the promise of new traffic, leads, clients, revenue, and growth.

To understand the process you have to create a plan, have a strategy, and know all the steps in the process.

1. Audit

The Process

Our process always begins with a technical and/or a content audit.

Technical Audit

A technical audit looks at absolutely every element on the site that can impact your SEO performance.

One of the most important of all these elements is speed.

I’ve seen so many websites put a large video introduction on the homepage that takes far too long to load.

The result?

You have a high bounce rate and have lost a potential client or customer.

If only they did a smaller version of the video or moved more relevant content above the fold, their speed and conversions would be much better.

A technical audit should be in-depth and take weeks to complete, depending on what’s wrong with the site.

Content Audit

If you have a large website with thousands of pages of content, then it’s definitely worth doing a content audit.

A content audit will help you identify which pages are performing well and which ones are underperforming.

Then you can make decisions about which piece of content to keep, optimize or rewrite, or remove from your website altogether.

When you remove content from your website, you may see a drop in traffic – but that’s the point. You want to deter non-relevant traffic.

Non-relevant traffic (i.e., visitors who are not aligned with your target audience) is unlikely to convert into clients or customers. In that sense, that traffic doesn’t really benefit your business.

By auditing your content, you can “prune” out the content that’s driving non-relevant traffic and then focus on optimizing the content that’s likely to bring the best results for your business.

Then, once search engines index all this optimized, relevant content, you should begin to see more conversions.

The Promise

By going through the process of a technical audit, content audit, or both, you will have a complete understanding of everything that needs to be fixed in order to rank well in organic search.

SEO is a puzzle. Put the pieces together.

It is just the first step. But the first step can sometimes be the hardest.

Now it’s time to build upon that momentum.

2. Technical SEO

The Process

When it comes to technical SEO, there’s a lot to think about, including:

Improving your technical SEO requires a holistic approach; tackling just one item on this list won’t really move the needle. You need to consider everything if you want your website to perform.

I like to use the analogy of a house here:

A house needs a foundation, electrical, plumbing, walls, and a roof. If you don’t have all these things, you don’t have a house. You have a shell.

The same is true of technical SEO. You need to get all of these elements right to have an optimized website.

The Promise

By increasing the speed, functionality, and user experience (UX) of your website, you’re likely to see more conversions.

This is because users will find your website easier to navigate, read, and engage with.

After conducting a technical audit, you’ll have a list of technical blockers that may be hindering your site’s performance.

Optimize these, and you’ll make your website faster, crawlable, and in a better place to be indexed by search engines.

In fact, we recently made fixes to a site in the brewing industry.

After fixing all the errors, this company saw a 1,100% increase in traffic.

That’s the promise of technical SEO!

3. Keyword Research

The Process

Keyword research is an integral part of the SEO process.

Without keyword research, you’ll only be making guesses about how users are searching for your business, products, or services.

Keyword research tools reveal how many users are searching for a particular term, how difficult it is to rank for that term, and which related terms people are also using to find information online.

This process starts with thinking about the hypothetical terms your target audience may be using to find your business and then using SEO tools to either validate or refute your findings.

Researching your competitors’ sites is another good way to surface keyword opportunities.

Finally, keyword research helps you uncover geo-specific keywords to help you localize your SEO strategy.

I highly recommend reading Roger Montti’s excellent guide, How to Do Keyword Research for SEO: Everything You Need to Know.

The Promise

Keyword research helps you uncover which keywords are most valuable to you.

Optimizing your content around high-value keywords is what will get you in front of your potential clients or customers when they need you most.

If people can’t find you when they’re looking for a service or product you offer, then they can’t buy from you. It’s that simple.

4. Location Demographics

The Process

Whether you’re doing SEO for a local business or a client who offers a service in a specific region, you know the importance of location.

Much like buyer personas, you need to understand how people search for local businesses and service providers, and who they are.

That means you need to ensure you have accurate NAP (name/address/phone) information and content that references your service area, whether it’s a state, city, or neighborhood.

Claim and optimize your Google Business Profile listing.

The Promise

The goal of your website is to speak to your target audience. And when I say your “target audience,” I mean potential customers or clients.

Demographic research will reveal tons of helpful information about where your target audience is searching for goods, services, or information. You can then use this data to inform your targeted, localized SEO strategy.

Keep in mind that Google rewards websites based on factors such as relevance, distance, and prominence.

The promise of SEO in this phase is if you produce a website experience that’s relevant, localized, and authoritative, Google is more likely to rank your content and display it to your target audience.

5. Content Strategy

The Process

You need a content strategy. Here’s a proven strategy.

Foundational Content

This is your core content that targets your main keywords and topics. Create content that is about your services or products (your “money” keywords).

You can further enhance this content by writing about other relevant services and products you offer and any relevant long-tail keywords.

FAQ Content

Create pages that answer common questions your audience is likely asking using Google.

Make sure it has an SEO-friendly URL, you use breadcrumbs, and it is more comprehensive than any other page on the topic (make sure to check the competing pages in the top 10 positions).

Authoritative Content

Let your clients create content to demonstrate their expertise and authenticity.

User Experience

Think about ways to enhance your content (e.g., using visuals), your website navigation (e.g., linking to other relevant pages on your website), and calls to action (e.g., free consultation, make an appointment, content download).

The Promise

Creating content with a purpose will attract the people you want to become your customers or clients.

Make it easy for people to understand who you are, what you offer, and find exactly what they’re looking for.

You will be rewarded with more leads and conversions!

6. Content Writing & Editing

The Process

Your client may want to write their own content, or they may want you to do it.

Either way, the content needs to be optimized.

Always think about the audience or personas first, but without neglecting SEO best practices.

You want to write content that people will engage with and share (and that Google will index and reward with great rankings).

Ultimately, it’s about moving people toward a conversion.

If you haven’t already, make sure to read Ron Lieback’s 47 tips to master SEO writing.

The Promise

Content is essential when it comes to communicating your brand’s message to your target audience.

It also plays a significant role in SEO; if well optimized, your content can drive more organic traffic to your website.

Content also helps to demonstrate authority, relevance, and trust. Well-written, optimized, accurate, and authoritative content is the best way to do that.

Your content should not simply be a medium by which you shoehorn keywords into your website.

Instead, it should speak of the value your business provides, how users can engage with your business, and overall provide a positive experience for your prospective customers.

On the flip side, poorly written content will do the exact opposite – it will send users running to your competitors!

So, don’t treat content as an afterthought. Be sure to invest in high-quality, optimized content.

7. Ranking

The Process

OK, you can’t control Google or any search engine’s rankings.

However, you absolutely can understand how search algorithms work, which helps. But there are never guarantees.

That said, there is one process that can work.

Be excellent at all of the previous points we’ve discussed so far and you should see SEO success.

  • Know your audience.
  • Create great content for your audience.
  • Provide a great website experience for your audience.

Is it easy? No.

But it works!

The Promise

If you do everything you possibly can to optimize your site and build your brand, and you offer a quality product or service, then it’s inevitable that you will be rewarded with the organic search visibility you deserve.

Conclusion

“Success is a journey, not a destination.”

This quote rings just as true for SEO as it does for life.

If you’re always looking at the end result, you’ll miss the adventure, learnings, and experience of the process.

Every successful SEO strategy starts with a plan. Then, it’s a matter of putting in the work for the long haul.

SEO is a marathon, not a sprint.

The only way to get to where you want to be is to develop and follow a process. This process can evolve over time, but a proper plan is way better than “winging it” when it comes to your SEO strategy.

Then, you can celebrate success at every milestone, improve your approach over time, and most of all, enjoy the process of SEO over your business’s lifetime.

More Resources:


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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

Google removed the Covid-era structured data associated with the Home Activities rich results that allowed online events to be surfaced in search since August 2020, publishing a mention of the removal in the search documentation changelog.

Home Activities Rich Results

The structured data for the Home Activities rich results allowed providers of online livestreams, pre-recorded events and online events to be findable in Google Search.

The original documentation has been completely removed from the Google Search Central webpages and now redirects to a changelog notation that explains that the Home Activity rich results is no longer available for display.

The original purpose was to allow people to discover things to do from home while in quarantine, particularly online classes and events. Google’s rich results surfaced details of how to watch, description of the activities and registration information.

Providers of online events were required to use Event or Video structured data. Publishers and businesses who have this kind of structured data should be aware that this kind of rich result is no longer surfaced but it’s not necessary to remove the structured data if it’s a burden, it’s not going to hurt anything to publish structured data that isn’t used for rich results.

The changelog for Google’s official documentation explains:

“Removing home activity documentation
What: Removed documentation on home activity structured data.

Why: The home activity feature no longer appears in Google Search results.”

Read more about Google’s Home Activities rich results:

Google Announces Home Activities Rich Results

Read the Wayback Machine’s archive of Google’s original announcement from 2020:

Home activities

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Olga Strel

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Google’s Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

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Google's Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

In a recent LinkedIn discussion, Gary Illyes, Analyst at Google, revealed that the search engine takes a binary approach when assessing a website’s lastmod signal from sitemaps.

The revelation came as Illyes encouraged website owners to upgrade to WordPress 6.5, which now natively supports the lastmod element in sitemaps.

When Mark Williams-Cook asked if Google has a “reputation system” to gauge how much to trust a site’s reported lastmod dates, Illyes stated, “It’s binary: we either trust it or we don’t.”

No Shades Of Gray For Lastmod

The lastmod tag indicates the date of the most recent significant update to a webpage, helping search engines prioritize crawling and indexing.

Illyes’ response suggests Google doesn’t factor in a website’s history or gradually build trust in the lastmod values being reported.

Google either accepts the lastmod dates provided in a site’s sitemap as accurate, or it disregards them.

This binary approach reinforces the need to implement the lastmod tag correctly and only specify dates when making meaningful changes.

Illyes commends the WordPress developer community for their work on version 6.5, which automatically populates the lastmod field without extra configuration.

Accurate Lastmod Essential For Crawl Prioritization

While convenient for WordPress users, the native lastmod support is only beneficial if Google trusts you’re using it correctly.

Inaccurate lastmod tags could lead to Google ignoring the signal when scheduling crawls.

With Illyes confirming Google’s stance, it shows there’s no room for error when using this tag.

Why SEJ Cares

Understanding how Google acts on lastmod can help ensure Google displays new publish dates in search results when you update your content.

It’s an all-or-nothing situation – if the dates are deemed untrustworthy, the signal could be disregarded sitewide.

With the information revealed by Illyes, you can ensure your implementation follows best practices to the letter.


Featured Image: Danishch/Shutterstock

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

There’s one thing standing between you and several days of SEO, socializing, and Singaporean sunshine: your boss (and their Q4 budget 😅).

But don’t worry—we’ve got your back. Here are 5 arguments (and an example message) you can use to persuade your boss to send you to Ahrefs Evolve.

About Ahrefs Evolve

  • 2 days in sunny Singapore (Oct 24–25)
  • 500 digital marketing enthusiasts
  • 18 top speakers from around the world

Learn more and buy tickets.

SEO is changing at a breakneck pace. Between AI Overviews, Google’s rolling update schedule, their huge API leak, and all the documents released during their antitrust trial, it’s hard to keep up. What works in SEO today?

You could watch a YouTube video or two, maybe even attend an hour-long webinar. Or, much more effective: you could spend two full days learning from a panel of 18 international SEO experts, discussing your takeaways live with other attendees.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve speakers from around the world.

Our world-class speakers are tackling the hardest problems and best opportunities in SEO today. The talk agenda covers topics like:

  • Responding to AI Overviews: Amanda King will teach you how to respond to AI Overviews, Google Gemini, and other AI search functions.
  • Surviving (and thriving) Google’s algo updates: Lily Ray will talk through Google’s recent updates, and share data-driven recommendations for what’s working in search today.
  • Planning for the future of SEO: Bernard Huang will talk through the failures of AI content and the path to better results.

(And attendees will get video recordings of each session, so you can share the knowledge with your teammates too.)

View the full talk agenda here.

There’s no substitute for meeting with influencers, peers, and partners in real life. 

Conferences create serendipity: chance encounters and conversations that can have a huge positive impact on you and your business. By way of example, these are some of the real benefits that have come my way from attending conferences:

  • Conversations that lead to new customers for our business,
  • Invitations to speak at events,
  • New business partnerships and co-marketing opportunities, and
  • Meeting people that we went on to hire.

There’s a “halo” effect that lingers long after the event is over: the people you meet will remember you for longer, think more highly of you, and be more likely to help you out, should you ask.

(And let’s not forget: there’s a lot of information, particularly in SEO, that only gets shared in person.)

The “international” part of Evolve matters too. Evolve is a different crowd to your local run-of-the-mill conference. It’s a chance to meet with people from markets you wouldn’t normally meet—from Australia to Indonesia and beyond.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve attendees by home country.

If you’re an Ahrefs customer (thank you!), you’ll learn tons of tips, tricks and workflow improvements from attending Evolve. You’ll have opportunities to:

  • Attend talks from the Ahrefs team, showcasing advanced features and strategies that you can use in your own business.
  • Pick our brains at the Ahrefs booth, where we’ll offer informal 1:1 coaching sessions and previews of up-coming releases (like our new content optimization tool 🤫).
  • Join dedicated Ahrefs training workshops, hosted by the Ahrefs team and Ahrefs power users (tickets for these workshops will sold separately).

As a manager myself, there are two questions I need answered when approving expenses:

  • Is this a reasonable cost?
  • Will we see a return on this investment?

To answer those questions: early bird tickets for Evolve start at $570. For context, “super early bird” tickets for MozCon (another popular SEO conference) this year were almost twice as much: $999.

There’s a lot included in the ticket price too:

  • World-class international speakers,
  • 5-star hotel venue,
  • 5-star hotel food (two tea breaks with snacks & lunch),
  • Networking afterparty, and
  • Full talk recordings to later share with your team.

SEO is a crucial growth channel for most businesses. If you can improve your company’s SEO performance after attending Evolve (and we think you will), you’ll very easily see a positive return on the investment.

Traveling to tropical Singapore (and eating tons of satay) is great for you, but it’s also great for your team. Attending Evolve is a chance to break with routine, reignite your passion for marketing, and come back to your job reinvigorated.

This would be true for any international conference, but it goes double for Singapore. It’s a truly unique place: an ultra-safe, high-tech city that brings together dozens of different cultures.

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Little India in Singapore

You’ll discover different beliefs, working practices, and ways of business—and if you’re anything like me, come back a richer, wiser person for the experience.

If you’re nervous about pitching your boss on attending Evolve, remember: the worst that can happen is a polite “not this time”, and you’ll find yourself in the same position you are now.

So here goes: take this message template, tweak it to your liking, and send it to your boss over email or Slack… and I’ll see you in Singapore 😉

Email template

Hi [your boss’ name],

Our SEO tool provider, Ahrefs, is holding an SEO and digital marketing conference in Singapore in October. I’d like to attend, and I think it’s in the company’s interest:

  • The talks will help us respond to all the changes happening in SEO today. I’m particularly interested in the talks about AI and recent Google updates. 
  • I can network with my peers. I can discover what’s working at other companies, and explore opportunities for partnerships and co-marketing.
  • I can learn how we can use Ahrefs better across the organization.
  • I’ll come back reinvigorated with new ideas and motivation, and I can share my top takeaways and talk recordings with my team after the event.

Early bird tickets are $570. Given how important SEO is to the growth of our business, I think we’ll easily see a return from the spend.

Can we set up time to chat in more detail? Thanks!

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