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9 Steps to an Effective SEO Strategy in 2022

9 Steps to an Effective SEO Strategy in 2022
Ross Raffin
9 Steps to an Effective SEO Strategy in 2022

9 Steps to an Effective SEO Strategy in 2022

Google is a fickle partner when it comes to search engine optimization. The algorithms (there isn’t just one “Google algorithm”) update on a daily basis. As early as 2016, Google engineers admitted that even they don’t totally understand why the search engine does what it does.  

That’s why modern SEO is less about “tricking Google” and more about “working with Google” in a mutually beneficial fashion.  

Google wants to be the answer engine of the internet. When a searcher has a question, Google wants to be able to answer it. If you provide the best and most trustworthy answer, Google will send organic traffic to your website. 

Simple, right? 

Well, maybe not. 

The problem is that “doing SEO” is a meaningless activity unless it is based on an overarching strategy.

What is an SEO strategy? 

An SEO strategy describes the planning process to increase organic traffic in a way that contributes to business goals. SEO tactics are used to accomplish that overall plan. 

SEO strategy addresses the “why” behind SEO tactics. Without it, SEO does nothing for your business's bottom line.  

When viewed from a different lens, a tactic can also be seen as a strategy. For instance, keyword research is a tactic used in SEO strategy. However, we can also talk about developing a “keyword research strategy” that is composed of different keyword research tactics. The difference is that a keyword research strategy must also answer the goals behind the tactics.  

That’s why search engine optimization strategy starts by looking at business outcomes. 

How SEO Really Works (In Simple Terms)

Step 1: Align SEO Strategy with Business Goals 

Improving organic traffic by itself is a meaningless task. The goal of an SEO strategy is to drive business results. This is primarily done by increasing organic traffic, but it must be the right kind of organic traffic going to the right web pages. 

SEO strategy must have a measurable connection to business outcomes. That connection will usually be rooted in return on investment (ROI). An e-commerce business will have a wildly different strategy from a business that depends on lead generation.  

Goals can be set in any number of ways from KPIs to OKRs and SMART goals. The key is that the goal is measurable. 

Some goals aren’t as easy to track as others. For instance, an SEO goal can be to increase brand awareness. Increased brand awareness contributes to sales, but by how much? The world’s best experts can’t even agree on that.  

Once you have aligned your SEO strategy with business outcomes, you need to determine who you want to bring to your website. 

Step 2: Define Your Target Persona 

The goal of increasing your organic traffic is to bring in your target persona. These are the clients and customers who are interested in engaging your business. 

If you have already developed a target persona, then you are already halfway through this step!  

If not, then you’ll need some survey-based research to find out: 

  • Top challenges of the client 

  • Most common questions in the sales process 

  • Biggest objections during the sales process 

  • What the buying process looks like 

Without knowing this information, you can only guess at what content will attract and retain prospects. It is tempting to rely on “gut feelings” and lived experience to guess, but it can be disastrous when you find out six months into an SEO campaign that you’re bringing the wrong traffic to the site. 

Once you have a target persona, you can determine the most common pain points. These pain points will be essential in choosing topics to cover.

How Target Personas Can Help Your Entire Sales Process

Step 3: Determine Topics 

In the good ol’ days, a business only had to pay attention to keywords and links. The same website could rank well for “dog food” and “legal injuries.” 

No longer. 

These days, Google cares about the depth of expertise that is shown about an overall topic. This is commonly known as topical authority  

While the process of gaining topical authority is long and complex, the foundations of topical authority are choosing topics that are relevant to your target persona. 

You can start with a simple group brainstorm of terms that relate to both your business and the target persona. This usually takes the form of a pain point, but it may be more general than that.  

Remember, Google fancies itself an “answer engine.” It wants you to answer the questions that your target audience have. This is also known as “satisfying user intent.” 

When an internet user types words into a search engine, they have a specific intent in mind. They may want to find out some information, navigate to a destination, or engage in a transaction.  

Google’s goal is to determine what the user’s search intent is and which web page best satisfies it. The search query “directions to Boston” will result in a search engine results page (SERP) full of maps and directions. “Red sneakers” results in a SERP full of shoes that you can buy. 

Step 4: Keyword Research 

Keyword research is the process of finding out the popularity of search terms as well as how much work is required for content to appear on the first Google SERP. It isn’t enough to just know the search volume for keyword; you also need how difficult it is to rank for the keyword. 

Answers To The Top 9 SEO FAQs

Long-Tail versus Short-Tail Keywords 

Keywords are normally divided into two categories: Short-tail (also known as “broad”) keywords and long-tail keywords. Short-tail keywords are usually only one or two words long, have high search volumes, and are very difficult to rank. Long-tail keywords are longer, have lower search volumes, and are almost always easier to rank than short-tail terms. 

The topics you’ve chosen should match up to some short-tail keyword. If you don’t have your own keyword research tool, you can always use Google’s Keyword Planner. 

If you find that your topics only match up to long-tail keywords, you are probably being too specific in your choice of topics. You should be able to write dozens of blog posts related to a topic. 

The Problem with Most Short-Tail Keywords 

The issue with short-tail keywords is that they tend to be extremely competitive while driving non-targeted traffic. 

For example, an e-commerce seller of drones may want to rank for “drones” since it gets 90,500 visit per month according to keyword ranking tool SEMrush 

And that is just for searchers in the United States. 

But who exactly is searching for that short-tail keyword? It will include people who just want the definition of drones, who want news about drones, and who want to learn about government drone strikes. 

The search intent for this keyword isn’t unified; different intents will lead to the same SERP. That means much of the traffic isn’t relevant to buying drones. 

A more prominent problem is that short-tail keywords are extremely difficult to rank. The amount of content and links required may cost too much to be a worthwhile keyword. 

The Solution: Lengthen the Short-Tail 

When you search for short-tail keywords, you usually also get a list of longer variants. For example, a variant of "drones” is “hand-controlled drone.” 

For a given topic, choose around 5 to 10 of these short-tail variants. Each will have their own location on your site known as a “pillar page.” Pillar pages are comprehensive attempts at satisfying user intent while linking internally to in-depth resources. This usually means content that is much longer than the average blog post.  

Each pillar page will be supported by “cluster content” that optimizes for a related long-tail keyword. Cluster content for the pillar page on “hand-controlled drone” may include a blog that is optimized for “how much does a hand-controlled drone cost.” 

In case you’ve lost count, the topic of “drones” would have 5 to 10 pillar pages, and each pillar page would have 5 to 10 long-tail blogs or pages that support them.  

That means, in 2022, it can require 100 pages of content to rank for a short-tail keyword.  

It should be no surprise, then, to learn that the next step involves content strategy. 

CHECKLIST: SEO for Blog Posts

Step 5: SEO Content Strategy 

SEO content strategy balances the needs of your prospects with optimization efforts. It is easy to get too focused on attracting traffic. The trick is bringing the right traffic at the right time to the right place. 

That starts with mapping keywords to your sales funnel. The funnel involves four stages: 

  • Awareness: The prospect knows they have a problem but not necessarily how to solve it. 

  • Consideration: The prospect considers their available solutions, including you. 

  • Decision: The prospect takes an action like buying or converting into a client. 

  • Retention: The client comes back for more or makes referrals. 

Whether you write blogs or landing pages, your website content should accomplish at least one of two tasks: 

  • Attract targeted visitors who may become leads or customers 

  • Convert visitors into leads or customers 

  • Drive visitors or existing leads further down the marketing funnel. 

Different keywords attract prospects at different stages of the funnel. “What is a wicker basket” and “wicker basket coupon” are both keywords related to wicker baskets, but both lie on different ends of the sales funnel. A prospect in the “awareness” stage doesn’t need to see “wicker basket coupons” and a prospect in the “decision” stage already knows what a wicker basket is. 

The next step in SEO content strategy is creating a content calendar. This can be as simple as an excel document, but you will absolutely need it to keep track of the dozens of blog posts and landing pages you may need to build. 

Your blogging should be consistent, but don’t confuse quantity with quality.  

Never blog for the sake of hitting a particular number or rhythm. All you will do is dilute your topical authority and harm your strategic SEO efforts. 

Step 6: On-Page Optimizations 

On-page optimizations revolves around optimizing individual pages for search engines. Depending on who you ask, it may or may not include structured data. 

On-page optimization in the early 2000s consisted of typing the same keyword more times than the competition. This lead to rules such as “use the keyword once every 100 words.” 

This technique is now totally defunct.  

Your keyword should be present on the page, but Google now cares about more than just strings of characters.  

In 2022, you need to think about on-page optimizations in terms of semantic search.3 Widespread Myths About On-Page SEO

Semantic Search  

Semantic search describes how modern search engines generate SERPs based on user intent and the relationship between words. 

In essence, the top-ranking articles for a keyword will be those that best satisfy user intent. That means that articles can rank for a keyword that is NEVER mentioned on the page itself.  

But how does Google know whether a user intent is satisfied? 

While much of Google’s inner workings remain secret, Google patents have revealed that a key role concerns what are called “co-occurring entities.” An entity is a person, place, thing, or concept. Two entities co-occur when they appear near each other on different websites. 

For example, a blog that wants to optimize for the biography of Barack Obama should include co-occurring terms such as “Former President of the United States” and “law professor.” A blog that aims to optimize for “dog leash” may want to also include terms like “dog collar” in the article. 

While having your keyword on the page is not necessary to rank, it is a good idea to include it in the meta-title, URL slug, meta-description, a header, and at least once in the body content. 

Step 7: Technical SEO Strategy 

Great content isn’t enough to satisfy either Google or your prospects. Google is looking for a solid technical foundation for your website.  

Technical SEO strategy optimizes websites for user experience, crawlability, and indexability. 

Let’s break that down: 

  • User experience is how a user interacts with and experiences your website. It includes how fast pages load, how easy it is to navigate through the site, being mobile responsive, and having simple URL structures. 

  • Crawlability describes the search engine’s ability to access your web pages. If there are crawlability issues, Google won’t be able to find all the important pages on your site. If you have orphan pages (web pages that have no internal links from the rest of your website), Google may be unable to crawl them.  

  • Indexability refers to the search engine’s ability to show your web pages in the search results. Google can crawl your page but may not index it. For example, if Google detects duplicate content (multiple pages with extremely similar content), it will only index one of the copies.  

While some aspects of technical SEO can be done before keyword research even starts, a full technical SEO strategy considers how site structure impacts the ability to rank for particular topics.  

An Introduction to Black Hat SEO

Step 8: Off-Page SEO Strategy 

An off-page SEO strategy refers to goals that are only achievable by SEO tactics that occur outside of your website. This include backlink building, citation building, social media, brand building, and more. The most important off-page tactic is backlink building: getting external websites to link to your website. 

How important is it to build backlinks to your content? 

Google has publicly stated that the number and quality of backlinks to a site can be used to gauge how trustworthy that site is. They represent a “vote of confidence” that your site has a trustworthy answer to the users’ search query. 

While it is possible to rank for non-competitive keywords without backlinks, trying to rank for a competitive keyword without off-page tactics is folly. 

Passive versus Active Link building 

Google’s webmaster guidelines are crystal clear: do not pay for links.  

That leaves two options: passively attracting links and manually building them. 

In Google’s ideal world, you have absolutely no direct control over your backlinks. It is totally up to other webmasters and publishers to decide that your content is so authoritative that it should be linked to. 

That is, your website attracts backlinks passively.  

How do you attract backlinks? 

With great content. 

But how do you get eyeballs in front of that content? 

You'll need to have a large e-mail list or engaged social media following. If you don’t, then you may have to boost social media posts or buy paid search ads. That means new businesses can’t get around paying for links in some manner. 

The difference is that Google happens to sell paid search ads. 

Active Link building 

The most basic form of link building involves leveraging your existing relationships. Ask friends and family for a backlink. Offer a backlink to a website in exchange for linking out to them. However, don’t do this often or Google may view what you do as excessive link exchange.  

Another common tactic is guest blogging. In short, you write a blog for a different website and include a link back to your website. However, this is not recommended for amateurs. Using the wrong anchor text in backlinks can lead to a manual penalty that will decimate your site’s traffic. 

If you are getting the sense that active link building is fraught with risks, you are absolutely correct.  

There is a reason that some SEOs specialize in link building. In fact, some SEO agencies outsource their link building to white-label agencies. That’s how complex it can get! 

B2B Link Building Strategies You Should Know

Step 9: Track Progress  

There is no way to improve a strategy if you do not know whether it is working or not. Ultimately, the measurements you take must be sufficient to determine if you've achieved the KPI you set in step one. This usually takes the form of an ROI calculation but may include other business outcomes. 

However, there are other metrics which are essential to finding the holes in your SEO strategy. 

  • Keyword Rankings – Being on page 1 of Google is not enough to guarantee traffic, much less revenue. However, tracking keywords is useful for diagnosing problems with organic traffic. 

  • Organic traffic – While not all organic traffic is useful, it is important to know whether or not your organic visits are going up or down. If your organic visits are down even though your keyword rankings are up, it probably means that your titles and meta-descriptions aren’t enticing enough to attract visits. 

  • Leads – These are form submissions that contain basic information like email addresses and names. They can come from any part of the sales funnel. 

  • Visitor to Lead Ratio – This describes how often visitors fill out forms. If the number of visitors increases but the number of leads does not, the problem may lie with your forms. Alternatively, your new traffic may not be targeted. 

  • MQLs- Marketing qualified leads are leads that are interested in your products or services. If your leads aren’t turning out to be either marketing qualified or sales qualified, you may be bringing in the wrong type of traffic. 

  • SQLs- Sales qualified leads are ready to be handed off to sales. At this point, the job of the SEO ends and the job of the salesman begins. 

If you sell e-commerce goods or otherwise don’t use leads, then you can just replace "leads” with “conversions” or “sales.” 

Should You Outsource Your SEO Strategy? 

At the end of the day, the decision to outsource SEO strategy and implementation should be based on three factors: 

  • In-house bandwidth 

  • In-house expertise 

  • Ambitiousness of goal 

If your employees are already too busy to take on extra responsibilities, then keeping SEO in-house means hiring a dedicated SEO employee. It isn’t enough to be able to consistently produce a blog; SEO is a job unto itself. As you scale your business, you’ll eventually need an entire team of SEOs. 

It won’t take long before that arrangement makes no financial sense. Hiring in-house SEOs is more expensive and much less scalable than outsourcing. 

If you do find an existing employee with bandwidth to spare, the next question is whether your proposed in-house specialist possesses the requisite expertise. For example, have they built links for a company of your size? You certainly do not want to be their first experiment. That puts your entire site at risk.  

Finally, what do you want to achieve? Recall the amount of work that can be required to rank for just one short-tail term. If you just want to rank for a few non-competitive long-tail keywords, you may be able to get away with just blogging. However, if you want targeted traffic that brings in leads and sales, you need to go beyond the basics. 

Google may be a fickle partner, but with the right strategy, you can both find happiness. 

Or at least organic traffic. 


LeadG2 Inbound Marketing Strategy Checklist

About Author

Ross Raffin

Ross is a Content Strategist at LeadG2.

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