There are so many articles online about how to do SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). No wonder it is so hard to work out how to get a good footing. But that’s also an opportunity: to be a cut above average and actually obtain strong results. It’s achievable. I’ve done these articles before and they last. Especially as many of the tips here still apply from when I first started my digital agency over a decade ago.
I’m starting one of the most ambitious projects of my life, coaching my 8-year-old Joseph’s basketball team. And at that age, it’s all about getting a firm hold of the fundamentals. Like SEO, there are thousands upon thousands of sites which teach you how to coach (I’ve looked), but not one that gets Joseph’s team from 22 points down to win the game. This article is that guide. The game and the effort you put in, that’s still up to you.
As a kid, I grew up in the 80s, and those my vintage will remember epic the Daniel LaRusso Karate Kid moment; “If do right, no can defence”. Michael Jordan was the only person I saw actually dominate like that in real life. We all need hooks we can share and find easily, so your zero-to-hero SEO journey is to dream big, “be the Michael Jordan SEO”.
SEO is worth about US$10B in 2020 and skyrocketing. I first pulled apart the SEO patents with my team over a decade ago. As software engineers, we worked it out fast, beating out “SEO agencies” at their own game. And that happens a lot in digital, trends get competitive fast. We’ve been selling SEO as a service since, and I still rate it as a mainstay of any multi-touch marketing.
Ok, enough background. Before you start, score your SEO out of 10. There’s nothing like an LED scoreboard to point at. Now go and check what your actual rating is on Google Search Console. Our task here today is to close the gap to get to a 10/10 strategy. The results and traffic will take care of itself, as long as you commit time and resources to hit your goal.
Our first game, half time, we were down 16-0. I asked the boys how they were going to stop the giant on the other team? Almost in unison they yelled out “push him”. I liked the enthusiasm, but it’s not the answer. Buying backlinks is like pushing the competition; it might work in the short-term, but won’t improve your long-term game. Use those nudges carefully. What has kept our strategy ahead of the curve year on year is playing within the spirit of the game. In SEO, if you want to avoid yo-yoing your results, do things right, don’t cut corners.
There are 4 key pillars of SEO, and how we break down the challenge no matter how strong the competition is: Content, On-site, Off-site and Resourcing.
SEO is about content consistency. If you play season after season, you’ll get better in any sport. Same goes for SEO, think of it in seasons. Now I’m trying in one season to get my kids from bottom to top of the ladder. Ambitious sure, but possible. If the competition is very strong, it may take a few seasons. In that time, if you can, play everyday. Practice makes perfect.
The first step is having a variety of on-point topics. Topics are the buckets you throw titles into. For example: offence, defence, dribbling, free throws, etc. ‘Engaging’ is the most thrown around word on the web, but it basically means, make the content relatable and entertaining for the products and services you are selling. Don’t fake it until you make it, stay true to your skills. Plan to rank for one keyword for one singular page. Write what you know and definitely no plagiarising.
Keywords are the points everything is scored on. There are tons of strategies to building keyword targets, and nearly everything you or your team will do is keyword related. They connect to your page titles, for example, free throws, could be “How to hit 10 free throws in a row”. Keywords are also used to link back to your site. Try to rank for 1-20 keywords at any time, and depending on how much you spend on SEO, budget will define this for you. If you’re not seeing improving results in a month, you’re spread too thin. Competition will be your greatest factor in designing a keyword strategy. Use Google Search Analyser to build a keyword list that shows two key things, how many local searches there are available, and how competitive they are. Add up the available searches per month, that is your available traffic goal. Competition is ranked high, medium and low on our schedules. As we start to chase new keywords, we work out quickly how realistic (and at what cost) it will take to reach and hold grand final position (top 2).
Readers vs. Robots.
Search engines have robots or algorithms, that match people’s actual search strings to your articles. But robots aren’t readers. Search strings or keyword titles aren’t engaging to a human “reader” and visa versa; interesting human titles are not “robot” enough. As you build out, stay aware of this – the middle ground gets far better results than at either end of this scale.
Everything in your strategy should be ready to evolve; you’ll see results on some topics, less on others. Improve your tone of voice, the character of your written content. In life, style is the hardest thing to figure out. Unless your brand character already seriously stands out in your industry, you wont gain that all-important edge. As you climb the ladder, as you’ll plateau if readers bounce off site.
‘On site’ is everything you do to the structure of your site, “the backend”, and the content you publish into site, “the frontend”. Pretty much every platform comes with SEO built in and the backend can be improved. Yes they all say “Search Engine Optimised” with a little marketing tick, but what does that really mean? WordPress and Yoast together are an excellent CMS and content guide for SEO. If you’re on anything else, you’ll have more reliance on people to resource competitive results. If you’re going to launch a new site, get an SEO migration strategy in place well beforehand, this is one of the biggest pitfalls for established companies.
Design for Structure
The design of your website is critical. Most people focus on the design form a visual perspective, but not many designers think about SEO. Get this right upfront as it costs more overtime to fix it. Screaming Frog and Google Page Speed Insights are tools we use to check the fixes we need to put in place. Close the gap on as many as possible, as the structure of the site is the game’s fundamentals. Done poorly and your game will crack under pressure. Sure, you still have to look good, but don’t be the Italian soccer team – so focused on their hair they don’t qualify for the world cup… I know, I know, not a basketball reference 🙂
At some point, you’re likely to go into advanced mode, no matter what platform your site is built on. Now someone on your team or agency must be an SEO geek. They go to SEO meet-ups and trawl through the Google search blogs and are technical wizards. The only warning on this, even working with my own team, these SEO players can hog the ball. SEO is a team sport, and like me, you’re coaching to score commercial results from readers not robots. People purchase, robots don’t. Help guide the SEO geeks into true stars by getting them closer to your level of the business, specifically; what people buy on. Get this right, and you’ll beat out the competition no matter how many championships they’ve won.
Last point on-site is speed. Chrome’s auditing tool on page speed, or Google’s Page Speed test will help you score closer to 100/100. My team and I are huge advocates of speed for usability, but also, Google rewards fast sites with better search rankings.
Don’t bother with any other site speed test, as they will probably show you a better score, but they aren’t Google.
Recently launched google search console’s inbuilt speed indicator (Google Search Console > Enhancements > Speed ) shows the importance given to how your website performs on users visiting your website.
Off site is everything that happens outside of your site to drive traffic in. We pulled the Google search patents apart, and ranked all the elements. Pretty much, all the work on content and on-site and are about equally important to quality back-links alone. At some point, when your on-site and content is humming along, backlinks become the whole game. Backlinks come in a few flavours and all are ranked out of 100. Free-ish, Paid and Profile.
The smaller the referring sites the lower the number. Owned channels like your email-marketing, social media platforms or microsites will likely be under 1-10s. Free links you can get from directories will likely sit around these scores too. Free articles you can publish on digital or industry magazines that link back can push above these, but this is a numbers game and you’ll need a ton of these to make it work, even on low competition keywords. If you’re building social media audiences, we see a ton of clients forget the SEO benefits. Like search, social isn’t ‘free’ anymore, so make sure your strategy generates traffic back to site.
A whole industry has popped up around backlink sales, from reputable magazines (and not-so-reputable ones). But agencies that sell backlinks are the new link-farms, and it is a grey area. This is where I think we’ll see a shift from Google in future algorithm releases. Why? Because Google want profits flowing into paid search, not astro-turfed around them. Remember my players saying, “push him”. Pay-for-play is that push in SEO. It always has been. If you pay for a link, don’t count on it as Google may de-rank it. You don’t need to buy links, but if you do, shoot for scores between 20-60 and make sure they light up the scoreboard with fresh traffic and ranking increases for keywords. Like any advertising, advertorials included, the job is not only to spike but to also hold those results.
News media, pretty much anyone who appears in the “news” tab of Google, have ranks of 60+. Government websites (.gov) or Schools (.edu) also have great quality scores. Google of course has a ranking of 90+. If you have access to these pathways great, if not, we’ve developed creative strategies for clients to build their content marketing into these sources. That secret sauce, we’ll keep for our clients, but a good SEO geek can growth hack these strategies. Traffic on site goes from virtually nothing, to first page and ranked 1-3 within 3 months, even in highly in competitive keyword categories.
Overall remember this – traffic builds traffic, period. Getting a hundred 1-10 score backlinks is like getting 1 good profile backlink, so balance effort with results.
If you’re spending money, then make money. SEO is not immediate. What does it cost you to buy the same keyword in Google Ads? Can you afford it? Can you convert it? This is the resourcing vs. effort game. You need to build a good team, a great site, and run SEO training aggressively over many seasons to make it valuable for your business. While it isn’t immediate, neither is the drop off. Once you’ve got solid rankings and traffic, you can maintain visitors well below paid advertising costs. SEO should also reduce your advertising costs through page ranking.
Starting out, get on-site right, and then shift focus off-site. As you ramp up, it will be backlinks followed by content leading the charge, with an eye occasionally checking on-site. But focus the whole team on the scoreboard. That means, clients, customers, sales. There are hundreds of important data points along the funnel, but nothing more applicable than the bottom line.
How will my team make the finals this season? It does look a little like herding cats in the first few training sessions. But coaching any team is having a strong sense of where they are and where you can take them. And we aren’t playing the Chicago Bulls in the 90s, likely neither are you. Every business is matched into a vertical where they might be bottom of the ladder, but they are in the right league. After getting the lay of the land, I’m building drills I know will have a massive impact on the competition. There are always gaps, and they become pretty clear opportunities when you absorb this high level view, and start applying.
For more info on SEO tips, and how they’ve stood the test of time, search SEO on our website. To find out if we won the finals, I’ll likely be boasting on Social media early 2020 if we do 🙂
We are a leading SEO Agency based in Melbourne and Sydney and we have been winning on slam dunking on search since 2009.