Since search engines became a viable marketing channel two decades ago, the SEO and SEM industries have ramped up accordingly to conquer them. A great deal of emphasis is placed, with good reason, on discovering and prioritizing the right keywords for a given website and its audience.
However, discovery is only the first step. If you stop there, you won’t have accomplished anything. Keywords don’t just insert themselves into your website, and even if they did, there’s no guarantee they’d be successful.
An Actionable SEO Strategy Plan for Beginners
A highly underrated piece of an effective SEO strategy is the long-term plan for operationalizing your keywords. This plan should be an ongoing feedback loop of action and analysis, which allows you to adjust your targets as you collect information on what’s working and what isn’t.
Here’s how to tell if you are really practicing SEO, or just paying it lip-service:
1) Establish a Firm List of Keywords to Target
If this list isn’t obvious to you, or there are multiple lists in use by your colleagues, you may need to do (or redo) a discovery project to clear that up. I won’t go into how to do this, but OpenView’s Keyword Generation eBook is a great start.
2) See What Google Thinks You’re Optimizing For
The Google Adwords keyword tool allows you to plug in the URL of your website and tell you what keywords Google sees when it looks at your website. How many of your target keywords overlap with Google’s list?
Recommendation: If there isn’t much overlap, you may need to focus on getting more of those keywords into your website copy or marketing content. Perhaps your bloggers need clearer keyword guidelines or your copy needs to be reworked.
3) See Where You’re Coming Up in Search Results
Just because you’re successfully targeting your list of keywords doesn’t mean you’re showing up in searches for them. Search for each keyword in Google to see where your domain first shows up.
Recommendation: If you’re high in the results, keep up the good work! On the other hand, if your first mention is after the 3rd page, you’re not getting many impressions through organic SEO. Chances are you’re not effectively optimizing for them (#2), or there’s another problem, which #4 will help diagnose.
4) Evaluate the Competition
What URLs are showing up ahead of yours in results? If they’re big companies like Microsoft or big content websites like TechCruch, they’re going to be difficult to dethrone. If they’re personal blogs or dinky startups, you may have an opportunity to surpass them. You can also look at Google’s “competition” rating for each keyword to identify which keywords are hot among your peers.
Recommendation: High competition can explain why some startups fail to move up in rankings despite their best SEO efforts, and may suggest that you try more niche keywords. But if your competition is low, you’re optimizing for keywords, and you’re still not getting results, that’s a different problem. Perhaps Googlers don’t see your website’s relevance and aren’t clicking on your results, or perhaps Google is punishing you for what it’s deemed a shady marketing tactic. This may take a deeper dive to understand.
Rather than building a static list of target keywords, this approach will help you refine your list and learn from your mistakes. It will also help diagnose whether there’s a problem with the keyword, a problem with the execution against that keyword, or neither (and you’re doing awesome).
SEO isn’t a one-time project, it’s a way of life. Make sure you’re listening when the market gives you feedback on your keyword strategy.