7 Steps Required to Take Prior to Starting an SEO Campaign
“What do we need to do before starting an SEO campaign?” This is one of the most common questions we hear from business owners. They know they need SEO; they just don’t know what it involves or where to begin. In order to start a successful search engine optimization campaign you need to fully understand what you are up against and what you are working with from the beginning. You need to identify potential problems that need to be fixed and lay out a plan to reach the goals of the campaign.
We typically see business owners reach out looking for SEO advice and strategy consultation during three events: a brand new company and website launch that is looking to do SEO the right way from the beginning, companies that are currently thinking about doing a website redesign and want to audit their SEO effort at the same time and ensure that their redesign launch doesn’t impact their organic search traffic, and then companies that are not satisfied with the results of their current SEO campaign.
There are several steps that are required prior to launching an SEO campaign. Following the below advice will help ensure that your SEO effort is being started with a solid base to build on.
1. Google Analytics Audit
It is important to see how much organic traffic your website is currently receiving and where that traffic is coming from. This can help you identify opportunities to significantly increase your organic traffic with some simple adjustments.
You should also make sure that all of your conversion goals are established in Google Analytics. Actions such as contact form submits, sales and leads should all be tracked. This will help you understand where your most valuable traffic is coming from and adjust your strategy to pull in more quality traffic that converts.
There is no simple solution here. You will have to jump into your Google Analytics account and manually look through the data. It will take time, but it is important that you do it correctly. If you aren’t up to speed on Google Analytics check out this infographic about how to use the data.
2. Keyword Research
In order to target the right keywords in an SEO campaign you must first identify what keywords and search terms people are searching for when seeking the service or products that your business sells. The Google AdWords Keyword Planner is a good starting point. This will give you a good idea of the search volume for specific keywords and it can also be used to uncover additional suggestions.
Another easy way to find keywords is by searching in Google and seeing what auto complete results populate. For example, if you were a personal trainer in Miami you can see in the results below about five good keyword options that signal buyer intent.
3. Competition Research
It is important to understand where your competition stands in terms of the keywords you have identified in the step above. Some keywords are simply not worth going after. If there are several authority websites such as Amazon taking up the top real estate it can be a very time consuming and costly battle to even attempt to compete.
Take a look at their website structure, the content they are using and their link profile. Do they have a strong social media presence? Are they attracting a lot of natural links every time they publish new content? How is their on-page optimization? Tools such as SEMRush are great for competition research.
4. Website Structure Audit
You could be publishing the best content and attracting high quality links naturally, but if the search engines can’t properly crawl your website all of that effort is worthless. A proper robots.txt file will tell the search spiders what they shouldn’t crawl and your XML sitemap should indicate what content should be crawled most often.
Website page speed is also very important, as is URL structure, navigation and mobile-friendliness. Your Google Webmaster Tools account will give you insight as to how Google views your website. This is where crawl errors will show up and any message pertaining to how the search engine interacts with your website. You can also identify what keywords triggers your website to appear in organic search. If you don’t currently have Webmaster Tools linked to your website you can set it up here.
5. On-Page Optimization Audit
The on-page elements of your website is what signals to the search engines that your content is relevant and helpful to the users searching for particular keywords and phrases. Off-page factors like inbound links are combined with on-page factors such as title tags, headings, content, URL and internal linking. There are a lot of tools designed to score the on-page optimization and give improvement suggestions. When you fully understand how to properly optimize the on-page factors you won’t need to use a tool. Take a look at our handy on-page optimization guide as a starting point.
6. Content Audit
Before you start an SEO campaign you need to understand how to site content is currently performing. Are any pages currently ranking organically? If so, for what keywords? Is there some content that is ranking on page two that could be quickly pushed to page one? There are always opportunities; you just need to know how to identify them.
Your Google Analytics is a great starting point. View all of your pages and sort them by traffic. Find out what pages attracted the most traffic and then find out where the traffic came from. You can also use your Webmaster Tools to identify pages that are showing up in the organic results. Break your content into groups:
- Content that is on page one and currently receiving organic traffic (these pages can often be pushed even higher when you perfect the on-page optimization and attract a handful of high quality links)
- Content that is on pages two and three (the search engines already see this content as valuable so make on-page changes and work on attracting high quality links to push this content to the first page of Google)
- Pages that have high session times and views (these are content topics that your audience is interested in so expand on these when creating your content publishing plan)
7. Link Profile Audit
SEO is a time consuming and expensive process. If your website has a low quality or spammy link profile you need to fix that problem before even thinking about SEO. Performing a link audit involves manually reviewing all of the inbound links pointing to your website. When low quality links are identified you have to contact the website owner and ask for them to remove the link. This is a very tedious process but one that is essential if you want to truly clean up a low quality link profile.
If you hit a dead end and aren’t able to get some links removed you can submit a disavow file to Google, which essentially tells them not to value those specific links. There are several tools that can help you look into your links, such as Moz’s open site explorer, Ahrefs, Majestic and Link Detox.
Please remember that these are just the basics that should be covered before even beginning to think about launching an SEO campaign. The information collected from these steps is used to develop a strategy and gives you a good indication of what obstacles and challenges are ahead.