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The SEO Process in a Nutshell (4 Steps)

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The SEO Process in a Nutshell (4 Steps)

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of growing a website’s traffic from organic search results. Everyone can do it, and it offers virtually free traffic. But similar to many things in life, success lies in understanding the correct process and sticking with it.

In this short article, I’ll try to distill the process of SEO into its essence: the four steps. To prove this process works, I’ll use our own example, i.e., the SEO process we’ve been using to grow a $100M+ annual recurring revenue SaaS company.

Here are the four steps of the SEO process:

Infographic showing four steps of the SEO process; each steps leads to a higher point of a mountain

1. Get your technicals right

Technical factors can impact your rankings or even prevent your site from appearing on Google’s search result pages.

To rank your content, Google needs to:

  1. Find and crawl your content – You won’t rank if your content is inaccessible to Google (this may be because of a disallowed Googlebot).
  2. Index your content – We’re talking about the master list of all pages that Google keeps in order to display them for relevant search queries. First off, you may choose not to appear in that index by leaving certain instructions for search bots. Also, Google may decide not to show certain pages if it thinks those pages are not the main version of the content (see canonicalization for more info). 

In most cases, unless you’ve specifically instructed Googlebot not to crawl and/or index your site, your pages are ready to show up on the search engine results pages (SERPs). Keep in mind that it may take some time before Google indexes your content. 

But that’s not the end of the technical SEO story. Multiple technical factors can negatively impact your rankings if they are broken but will work in your favor if they are set right. 

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The easiest solution to technical SEO issues is to get SEO auditing tools and fix any problems they report back to you. Two tools we recommend are Google Search Console and Ahrefs Webmaster Tools. You can also set up Bing Webmaster Tools if you want to monitor your performance on Bing. 

Overview report in Ahrefs' Site Audit
Ahrefs’ Site Audit automatically checks for over a hundred SEO issues so that you don’t have to.

2. Find a keyword to target

To get traffic from search engines, you need to create content about something people search for. This is where keyword research tools, such as Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, come in.

Overview of Ahrefs' blog in Ahrefs' Site Explorer
The content on our blog alone brings us an estimated 256.9K organic visits every month. That’s because we create SEO content on topics people search for.

With the help of keyword research tools, you’ll easily find hundreds or even thousands of keyword ideas. 

Matching terms report for "seo" in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer
Entering the main focus of our blog in Keywords Explorer reveals over 395K keyword ideas. Being able to choose the right ones to target is crucial in SEO. After all, our audience wants to read about SEO, not Park Seo-Joon.

But you also need to know how to choose the ones worth going after. So here’s what to consider when prioritizing keywords:

  • Considerable search traffic potential – Search traffic potential (not to be confused with search volume) tells you how much traffic you can potentially get from a keyword.
  • High business potential – Topics with high business potential can convert a good portion of your visitors to customers. Topics with low business potential will make it tough for you to feature your product/service. And topics with no business potential are usually only good for bringing more people through your door. But there are no guarantees people will actually be interested in what you offer. 
  • Low ranking difficulty – The more backlinks the top-ranking pages have and the more renowned the competing brands are, the harder it will be for you to rank. 
  • Clear search intent – The reason behind the search. Usually, it’s one of three things: finding a specific website, learning something, or buying something.
Matching terms report for "seo" in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer; the word "for" added in Include filter
One of the keyword research methods we use is to look for search demand for specific niches or industries in our area of business. For this, we filter for keywords that include the word “for.” For example, the ones highlighted display considerable Traffic Potential (TP), have no extreme ranking difficulty (KD), and have high business potential for us.

Keywords that tick all of the four things above are an ideal situation, but that doesn’t happen all of the time. Mostly, SEOs and content marketers need to go for compromises, e.g., targeting a keyword with high business potential but lower traffic potential. 

3. Create an optimized page

The content of a page is something that allows Google to “connect you” with the searchers. The more interesting and useful your content is, the better. And that’s because quality content is something users expect and search engines need to provide. In fact, Google admits that content is the most important ranking signal. 

List of results in SERP overview showing Google prefers articles listing free SEO tools
First and foremost, a search engine optimized page is a page that fits the search intent. In this case, Google seems to “prefer” articles listing free tools rather than actual free SEO tools. Because of that, we have little chance of ranking with a landing page listing our free tools. So we decided to create an article featuring our tools. It now ranks #1 and brings about 1.3K organic visits each month.

Creating content designed to rank (so-called SEO content) is a nuanced topic. It has a process of its own, and there are lots of details to take care of. 

To make things even harder, how Google ranks content is kept a secret. But Google actually provides a hint on the five things that determine which results will be shown for a given search query:

  • Meaning – How well a page matches searchers’ expectations. The highest-ranking content on the SERPs is usually the best place to check that. 
  • Relevance – Does a page contain relevant information, e.g., words, phrases, and even pictures and videos relevant to what the searchers are looking for. 
  • Quality – Content also needs to be helpful. To determine content quality, Google will take into account both factors occurring on the page (e.g., E-A-T, clear and organized form, freshness) and those occurring outside the page (backlinks, which we’ll talk more about later). 
  • Usability – If your pages and your competitors’ are equal in every other way, Google may allocate a higher ranking to pages that it finds more accessible (e.g., mobile-friendly, secured with an SSL, fast loading). 
  • Context and settings – Google may customize search results based on users’ search history and their current whereabouts. This is why local business owners may want to prioritize keywords with local search intent.

Now, there are techniques SEOs and content marketers use to adhere to these guidelines. But there are too many to explain in this short article. If you want to take a moment to learn about those techniques, see the video below. Otherwise, let’s move on to the next point: building links

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWiNz-7gZ24

Sidenote.

Not all SEO efforts are used for ranking higher in the search results. Some of them optimize elements that are not ranking factors but are visible to the user and can increase the chances of the site getting a click. Examples are the meta description, schema markup, etc.

Recommended reading: What Is SEO Content? How to Write Content That Ranks 

You’ll need two types of links: internal links and backlinks. Both are ranking signals, with backlinks being one of the major signals in SEO. 

Internal links

Internal links are links from other pages on the same website, e.g., a link from one article to another on our blog. Their main roles in SEO are to help search bots crawl pages more efficiently and pass link equity from linking pages. 

Because of the above reasons, you probably won’t find an article on our blog without at least one internal link pointing to another article or a product landing page. 

By having internal links, we can create a situation where a page with a lot of backlinks can give a much-needed boost to newer pages (see the middleman method for more details). 

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Link to SEO guide in our blog's navigation
Apart from linking inside the content, here’s an interesting interlinking tactic. Including a link to our guide on SEO in the blog’s navigation automatically creates an internal link from every blog post to that guide, helping it to rank higher.
Internal Backlinks report for Ahrefs' guide to SEO in Ahrefs' Site Explorer
The Internal Backlinks report in Site Explorer clearly shows different articles linking to the SEO guide, although the internal links don’t necessarily come from the copy but from the navigation.

Backlinks

Backlinks are links from external websites. They act as votes. The more “votes” you get, the higher your chance of outranking the competition. 

The difficulty here is that you can’t fully control backlinks. You can either earn them organically (wait for people to discover you and link to you) or build them (ask people to link to you). Let’s look at that in more detail. 

In the picture below, you can see examples of our case studies that continue to earn backlinks organically. 

The first article about the time needed to rank on Google provides a data-backed answer to a common question about SEO. 

The second one offers an intriguing and unique insight into the effectiveness of SEO. In this article, we focus on the fact that if you write about SEO, it’s hard to ignore that most content doesn’t get any traffic from Google. 

Best by links' growth report for Ahrefs' blog in Ahrefs' Site Explorer
The Best by links’ growth report in Site Explorer allows you to see content that people like to link to and/or is a current target of a link building campaign (useful for competitive research).

And here’s an example of a content piece, 63 SEO Statistics. The piece was created because we wanted to specifically run an outreach campaign about it. Unlike the previous examples, it doesn’t need any original studies. Our process was:

  1. Researching most cited SEO statistics among the top-ranking articles.
  2. Finding and including their more up-to-date versions in our article.
  3. Asking people who linked to websites with outdated statistics to link to our article instead (that’s the outreach part). 
Backlinks report for Ahrefs' blog article on SEO statistics in Ahrefs' Site Explorer
This article got so many backlinks mainly due to an outreach campaign.

Regarding backlinks, it’s important to know that not all links will carry the same weight. 

Generally speaking, the best links you can get are “followed” links placed within the main content and those that come from relevant, authoritative websites. 

Head on to the guides listed below if you want to learn more about backlinks and link building. 

Final thoughts

SEO is a long-term process that sometimes needs to be revisited. So it’s always a good idea to know exactly what you want to achieve before you invest your resources. For this, you can use this tried and tested method called the goal pyramid.

Lastly, it’s important to monitor results on a regular basis because search engine rankings tend to change. For this, it’s best to use a tool that tracks your ranking history and shows how you stack up against competitors (see our Rank Tracker, for example). 

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Got questions or comments? Ping me on Twitter.



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B2B PPC Experts Give Their Take On Google Search On Announcements

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B2B PPC Experts Give Their Take On Google Search On Announcements

Google hosted its 3rd annual Search On event on September 28th.

The event announced numerous Search updates revolving around these key areas:

  • Visualization
  • Personalization
  • Sustainability

After the event, Google’s Ad Liason, Ginny Marvin, hosted a roundtable of PPC experts specifically in the B2B industry to give their thoughts on the announcements, as well as how they may affect B2B. I was able to participate in the roundtable and gained valuable feedback from the industry.

The roundtable of experts comprised of Brad Geddes, Melissa Mackey, Michelle Morgan, Greg Finn, Steph Bin, Michael Henderson, Andrea Cruz Lopez, and myself (Brooke Osmundson).

The Struggle With Images

Some of the updates in Search include browsable search results, larger image assets, and business messages for conversational search.

Brad Geddes, Co-Founder of Adalysis, mentioned “Desktop was never mentioned once.” Others echoed the same sentiment, that many of their B2B clients rely on desktop searches and traffic. With images showing mainly on mobile devices, their B2B clients won’t benefit as much.

Another great point came up about the context of images. While images are great for a user experience, the question reiterated by multiple roundtable members:

  • How is a B2B product or B2B service supposed to portray what they do in an image?

Images in search are certainly valuable for verticals such as apparel, automotive, and general eCommerce businesses. But for B2B, they may be left at a disadvantage.

More Uses Cases, Please

Ginny asked the group what they’d like to change or add to an event like Search On.

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The overall consensus: both Search On and Google Marketing Live (GML) have become more consumer-focused.

Greg Finn said that the Search On event was about what he expected, but Google Marketing Live feels too broad now and that Google isn’t speaking to advertisers anymore.

Marvin acknowledged and then revealed that Google received feedback that after this year’s GML, the vision felt like it was geared towards a high-level investor.

The group gave a few potential solutions to help fill the current gap of what was announced, and then later how advertisers can take action.

  • 30-minute follow-up session on how these relate to advertisers
  • Focus less on verticals
  • Provide more use cases

Michelle Morgan and Melissa Mackey said that “even just screenshots of a B2B SaaS example” would help them immensely. Providing tangible action items on how to bring this information to clients is key.

Google Product Managers Weigh In

The second half of the roundtable included input from multiple Google Search Product Managers. I started off with a more broad question to Google:

  • It seems that Google is becoming a one-stop shop for a user to gather information and make purchases. How should advertisers prepare for this? Will we expect to see lower traffic, higher CPCs to compete for that coveted space?

Cecilia Wong, Global Product Lead of Search Formats, Google, mentioned that while they can’t comment directly on the overall direction, they do focus on Search. Their recommendation:

  • Manage assets and images and optimize for best user experience
  • For B2B, align your images as a sneak peek of what users can expect on the landing page

However, image assets have tight restrictions on what’s allowed. I followed up by asking if they would be loosening asset restrictions for B2B to use creativity in its image assets.

Google could not comment directly but acknowledged that looser restrictions on image content is a need for B2B advertisers.

Is Value-Based Bidding Worth The Hassle?

The topic of value-based bidding came up after Carlo Buchmann, Product Manager of Smart Bidding, said that they want advertisers to embrace and move towards value-based bidding. While the feedback seemed grim, it opened up for candid conversation.

Melissa Mackey said that while she’s talked to her clients about values-based bidding, none of her clients want to pull the trigger. For B2B, it’s difficult to assess the value on different conversion points.

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Further, she stated that clients become fixated on their pipeline information and can end up making it too complicated. To sum up, they’re struggling to translate the value number input to what a sale is actually worth.

Geddes mentioned that some of his more sophisticated clients have moved back to manual bidding because Google doesn’t take all the values and signals to pass back and forth.

Finn closed the conversation with his experience. He emphasized that Google has not brought forth anything about best practices for value-based bidding. By having only one value, it seems like CPA bidding. And when a client has multiple value inputs, Google tends to optimize towards the lower-value conversions – ultimately affecting lead quality.

The Google Search Product Managers closed by providing additional resources to dig into overall best practices to leverage search in the world of automation.

Closing Thoughts

Google made it clear that the future of search is visual. For B2B companies, it may require extra creativity to succeed and compete with the visualization updates.

However, the PPC roundtable experts weighed in that if Google wants advertisers to adopt these features, they need to support advertisers more – especially B2B marketers. With limited time and resources, advertisers big and small are trying to do more with less.

Marketers are relying on Google to make these Search updates relevant to not only the user but the advertisers. Having clearer guides, use cases, and conversations is a great step to bringing back the Google and advertiser collaboration.

A special thank you to Ginny Marvin of Google for making space to hear B2B advertiser feedback, as well as all the PPC experts for weighing in.

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Featured image: Shutterstock/T-K-M

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