It has been really busy starting this year, as you saw there wasn’t a single post published here in January, so I decided to give you something to make up for the lack of posting. If you are serious about doing proper SEO for your website and capitalizing on link building and social media as well as understanding what is required to rank high in your targeted niche, than save this page for when you have time to concentrate and take notes.
I like to think there are 4 stages in preparing a serious SEO campaign:
Of course this is a circle, so once you complete the analysis of your work and results you need to tweak the campaign accordingly and continue. For those of you that want a quick reminder of the process outlined in this article here is a slideshow I did on the topic, and at the end of the post you will find a masterpiece of my designing skills, a blueprint.
“I should have asked creativity and designing skills from Santa this year, but hey, no one is perfect!”
Deciding on Keywords and Landing Pages
– Keyword research
This is the first part obviously, you know your website and have some ides as what your keywords might be, if not fire up your webmaster tools and dig them up, if you are starting a new website use adwords keyword tool or any other keyword tool you prefer.
I use 2 tools, adwords keyword tool and SEOmoz keyword difficulty checker to sort out through basic keyword research. If I’m stuck then I try Google insights and Google trends, and of course I take a look at competitor’s rankings. When using Adwords tool make sure to check the exact match and set your preferences to the country you want to rank in and language. With the basic list of keywords you can then visit keyword difficulty checker and get a closer look at your competitors and basically, the difficulty of those keywords in rough estimates.
– Keyword rankings
Next step is to gather your keyword rankings in order to be able to figure out the priority and overall difficulty of tackling any given keyword you want to pursue. Based on search volumes you might think that keyword A is your best choice, but you are not in top 100 and the competition is fierce, on the other hand the keyword B has less search volume but you are ranking as 11th, very close to the first page and the competition is less severe, so do the math.
– Landing Pages optimization
You can tweak your landing pages at this stage or you can do that after you’ve done competitor research and got a full picture of the keywords you want to pursue and the probability of success. You have to realize that in some cases you will have to create brand new pages of highest quality. Don’t offer half empty pages with questionable content, the best way to rank for any term is to offer the best content, that makes linking much easier.
We will get to content creation later, but if you want to optimize some of the pages at this stage there are numerous factors you need to think about, some of which include:
- Title of the page
- Headings (H1, H2 and so on)
- Meta Description (although it has no impact on rankings it is a vital factor for search results as a good meta description may increase your CTR)
- Loading speed
- Content to ad ratio, make sure your ads are not coming of as spammy, keep it as clean as possible
Competitor research can be a long process, but it is essential to understand your competition in order to beat it. Don’t just go stealing their links, understand them and understand why they are rankings, when you do you will be able to create an actionable linking plan that will get results.
– Find top competitors and check their backlinks
The first part is to find your competitors. The best way to do so is to group a large number of keywords and see the sites that are ranking for the highest number of the same keywords. You can use whoicompete.com for that, a great site by Ann Smarty. This is one of the easiest ways to filter out real competitors, of course manual work is needed as well.
Once you find top 5 top 10 or 20 competitors, you need to do the hard work, check their backlinks. What I tend to do is use open site explorer for this; I run a backlink check on each competitor and export the results in CSV. I list the URL of the linking page, the title of the page, anchor text linking, page authority, domain authority, numbers of domains linking to the website and whether links are dofollow or nofollow.
– Cross examine/compare their backlink profiles
The first part you need to do is research each competitor separate, find out as much as you can about them and why they are ranking for key terms you want to rank for, write that down as you will need it later for your link building plan. Some websites rank due to their long age and authority they got back in the day, some because of their amazing quality and creativity, some due to a great link profile, you need to find out what that is.
When comparing your competitors it is very easy to visualize what needs to be done on some level. You can see which ones have true authority and which ones created it with link building and even shady efforts. By placing several factors of each competitor next to each other some pattern may emerge to enlighten you on the best course to take.
This is a list of a random sample for the keyword “travel insurance” arranged by ranking. As you can see the authority of the ranking page is not an issue here, they are mostly on the same level even though their backlink profiles are quite diverse. You have pages with almost 3000 linking domains and a page with only 2 linking domains. The second place is a site that has only 65 linking domains, so in this case it’s fair to say that the ranks are most likely due to the quality of the page and content and the quality and authority of a few great links rather than mass link profiles some of these sites have.
You can see that two sites fall out with the number of exact anchor text links, which is rather fishy. But overall, the sites ranking in top 10 don’t have a great number of exact match anchors, which means you will need to create better content and focus on more creative link building, as running the numbers game will not help you in this case.
If we visualize the spreadsheet we can see that one of the two sites has really packed on some low quality link building focusing on just one keyword, with not much success I would say. The other site can be skipped as they have almost 3000 linking domains, so in the end the percentage of exact match anchors for them is less than 14%, while the really fishy one has an amazing percentage of 87%.
– Find minimum, maximum and average number of links
After examining your competitors pages and rankings for various keywords and of course their landing pages for content that ranks, I tend to look at the numbers. The first part is the percentage of exact anchors linking to the page (if the page ranks for several keyword variations do percentages in bulk for all variations). In this case the percentages are almost to be ignored, besides 2 websites in top 10 the rest has 10%, the average percentage for top 10 is 10.7% and if we exclude the shady one its 8.3%.
So focusing on exact match anchors won’t do you much good in this case, the only way to know what needs to be done in this case is to closely examine their landing pages and their backlink profiles, as well as to take into account the authority of the website in question, and maybe even the authors of the content. Also, don’t forget internal linking, some sites rank highly just on internal links passing juice from their high authority homepage or top pages.
– Examine types of sites linking in
Although it says type of sites this is just one of the things you need to analyze to get a better picture of your competitor backlink profile. Understanding why a certain page links, how it links and the effect of that link are necessary.
This image can sum it up, but there is always more to it. The first part is understanding why is there a link, is it a paid link, a link to a great resource, a negotiated link like a guest post, or is it because of some relationship like business partnership or associations. You can also filter out by type of content and sites linking, are those blogs, directories, news sites. It will be fairly easy to duplicate guest posts, comments and profiles and create unique ones, but duplicating news mentions and links from relationship based opportunities will be close to impossible. Hint: this is where creative content comes into play.
Once you understand all of this it’s time to make the plan and work on your creative content. By now you should know what keywords to focus on, how to use those keywords and their variations, what types of links you need and the overall length of the campaign. Most importantly, you know by looking at the ranking pages if your content needs to be improved or maybe redesigned as well or it needs to be totally new, provoking, showing, insightful and linkbaiting.
Create High Quality Content
About content creation, here is a great graph showing the though process that needs to be implemented when creating high quality content. Graph was created by Dan Petrovic and was used in one of his post on SEOmoz.
Image source: http://www.seomoz.org/blog/link-building-management
Not much need for words here. Once you have your basic keyword research done and you already saw the competition you need to fire up some brain muscles and do some creative thinking. After that sketch some drafts, don’t push aside any idea at first, write them all down and give them some work. Once you have a few drafts it’s time to take another look at them, approve the ones that make sense and potential and start working on them.
Once they are done they need to be implemented into your site, now this can vary based on the content type, whether it’s a video, image or infographic, tutorial or other regular content types, some of these may need further testing, like plugins, tools and similar. Once you are sure everything is working fine it’s time for some promotion, social media here we come, and of course link building can start.
Link Building Strategy
Creating your link building strategy will not be as hard as you may think after the research done. Once you understand the competitors this will come easy, in some cases you will clearly know what needs to be done, in others you will have to use trial and error.
– Prioritize keywords by traffic gain and probability of achieving ranks (long term, medium, easy win)
You need to make priorities for your link building, if you go all out on one keyword search engines may be alerted on high velocity link building and you may also wake up some sleeping competitors. Prioritize your keywords based on probability of success and go for the easy wins first, but plan to work on them at the same time.
– Plan the numbers and types of links
To know how much time you will spend and to be able to organize yourself better you also need to plan the number and types of links as well as the speed at which your build your links. You can plan according to competitor research you did.
– Strategic link building and opportunity based link building for your brand
To place it in a list it would look like this:
- Link Consolidation
- Branded profiles, corporate associations, directories
- Brand alerts, mentions, syndications, citations
- Blogging, internal linking, authority building
- Competition 404 pages
- Guest blogging and offsite content creation
- Events and Sponsorships
- Promotions and Viral content (implement the high quality content you created before)
I’m guessing not much need for explanations here; some of our older posts explain few of them in detail.
– Creating search queries
Creating great content that will get you links on its own is the best way to accumulate quality links. After that you can go and copy some of the competitor’s backlinks that have authority and most of all make sense. But at one point you will have to find new link opportunities that your competition doesn’t have, for that the easiest way is creating some search queries that will get you targeted types of content.
If you are not an SEO by profession or a seasoned blogger/webmaster you can use some tools to get the search queries that will land you some nice link prospects. One of the best search query tools is Ontolo search query generator. As you can see on the image below, you need to enter the target keyword or general topic keyword or MDK keywords (market defining keyword) and setup the types of pages you want to find like content, directory, sponsorship opportunities etc… Very easy to use and you will get tons of search queries to find new link opportunities.
– Social media presence (increasing your reach)
This is a tough nut to crack and it will take a long time, the best way to go about it is to create compelling content that people will want to share. By making yourself stand out as authority, entertaining or simply communicative you will be able to compile a targeted audience. Again, this takes patience and dedication. If you are managing social media for a company make sure to respond to questions and share your news through social media. The same goes for bloggers and webmasters, communicate, communicate and communicate!
Social media can be tough, but you need it, some of the best and most worthy relationships are formed through social networks and some of the highest quality links will come from the people you talk to online in 140 characters. Don’t focus only on social, but be active, combined with great content and link building, social media is one of the ingredients for success.
Important part of your plan should be reevaluation of work and results. You need to set your goals and evaluate them periodically, this will allow you to examine what has been done and what has been achieved, through that you can tweak your campaign and correct the mistakes. It is up to you to determine when to do this, you can do it every 3, or every 6 months, even monthly but that won’t reflect much on the results.
– Analyze results and success
Go over what has been done, how many links acquired, of what quality, type, anchor text breakdown and of course ranks and traffic gain, or loss.
– Analyze errors and wins
After you get everything on paper analyze wins and losses. What caused certain keyword to gain in ranks and traffic and vice versa, what caused a certain keyword to lose ranks and traffic. You may even notice certain keywords that gained rank but not traffic, so filtering your keywords will be one of the options in this stage.
Look at link velocity, peaks in link gain or certain anchors used aggressively. If you hire someone to do link building for you this can happen, if you do your own link building you should be careful and do everything according to plan.
– Refocus and modify the campaign
When all said and done you know what works for you by now, so changing the course of your campaign will not be as difficult as you may think. The important part is to analyze your work periodically, if you get it in your head that one thing works and never look back to see the results and think about them, you won’t get far.
The most important thing to keep in mind is your audience, this is the part that is hard to implement in any SEO or link building strategy, but getting to know what your target market wants is essential. If you don’t know then find out, ask on social networks, Q/A sites, create polls and surveys, with this knowledge it will be easy to find what keywords to target, what to offer and what content to place on your site, and also how to promote it.
And finally here is the master piece of design I created after 20 failed attempts, I got tired of trying to create something eye catching so I went with the simplest thing possible, hope you don’t mind.
Tools and Resources Used:
Microsoft Excel 2010