By Steve Murphy
In his classic book “The Art of War,” Sun Tzu says:
As marketers and SEO professionals, we must also heed this warning. Trying to create an organic search strategy without a proper plan in place is like baking without a measuring cup. Your brownies will taste awful and no one will want them. Similarly, a sloppy SEO campaign can drive customers away from your brand and leave you with a sour taste in your mouth towards digital marketing.
To help you plan your SEO attack – whether its in house or with an agency – PCG Digital Marketing has created a fun acronym to build off of. Known as the CLEAR Method, it involves content, link building, engagement, architecture and reporting. This method is a fundamentally sound strategy that PCG has used to help hundreds of businesses dominate their markets over the years. But enough shameless self-promotion, let’s jump in:
At the root of any successful search strategy is content. Great content. Interesting content. Memorable content. It’s the reason customers choose to visit your website and the driving force that brings them into your business. Content can include blog posts, videos, infographics, brochures, pictures, press releases and any other form of shareable media.
Planning a meaningful, long-term content plan is absolutely required. Lay out the different pieces of content you plan to build over the next few months. Create a schedule that gives your team time to create quality content, but also forces strict deadlines. Your content strategy lives at the heart of your SEO campaign and will often be the main reason for your success (or failures) over time.
Matt Cutts (Google’s head of web spam and resident SEO uber-nerd) recently revealed that links are still the most important ranking factor in Google’s algorithm. And since Google owns a ridiculous 66.8% of the US search market, we can assume the other engines are following suit.
A regimented link building strategy will guide your content distribution efforts and help you rank for the anchor text that matters most. Tactics such as press release distribution, asset building, guest blogging and community outreach should all be a part of your overall link building strategy, along with dozens of other techniques. Look to place links on highly authoritative websites and don’t be afraid to accept no-followed links either. A natural, spread out link building strategy will give you long term results and a generous ROI.
Social media introduces a dynamic that has always been missing from traditional search: people. We trust people more than some complex algorithm executed by mindless machines.
For this reason, search engines have turned to social signals such as Google+, Facebook, and Twitter to help them rank relevant and popular content. Make sure you have an active presence on these major social networks to engage with prospects online. Create rich, detailed profiles that encourage sharing and feedback with your brand. A solid social media strategy can have a major impact on referral traffic and will continue to play a larger role in search engine algorithms in the future.
Optimizing your website is not only one of the fastest ways to increase your SEO relevance, but it is also one of the most controllable. You decide which keywords to emphasize, which pages to link to and how search engines crawl and index your website.
Evaluate every page on your website to see what value it adds to users. Combine weaker pages to clean up your navigation and eliminate duplicates. Your website should be easily crawlable, so make sure to add alt text to all images and add plenty of internal links to help guide users through your site (think Wikipedia). Finally, create unique titles and descriptions for every page. Constantly improving your on-site SEO will increase the effectiveness of your entire strategy.
Without reporting, you’ll never know if your strategy is working. The best SEO campaigns adapt and change on a monthly or quarterly basis because search engines are always evolving. Start by setting reasonable and achievable goals for your SEO. These goals can include traffic, unique visitors, SERP rankings, number of keywords, unique linking domains, etc.
Create an initial benchmark report that shows you where you currently stand before implementing your SEO strategy. Then build a report template and schedule a structured time to create and review your reports. Try to create reports every 1-3 months so that you give your campaigns time to mature. Use free tools like Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools and Open Site Explorer to measure your success. This data helps remove emotions and assumptions from your decision making and ultimately leads to a more successful strategy.
The above guide should serve as a framework for anyone looking to create a meaningful SEO campaign. Following the CLEAR method will force you to take the time to plan, and ultimately will lead to better results.