Table of Contents:
Ch. 1: What Does an Effective SEO Strategy Look Like?
Ch. 2: What Does an Effective Content Strategy Look Like?
Ch. 3: Is Local SEO Different from Organic SEO?
Ch. 4: What Exactly is a Backlink?
Ch. 5: Do I Have to Pay Google to Rank My Website?
Ch. 6: Can You Evaluate Me Against My SEO Competition?
Ch. 7: When Will I Start to See SEO Results?
Ch. 8: Evaluating ROI in SEO
What Does an Effective SEO Strategy Look Like?
Without an effective SEO strategy behind SEO efforts, you could be spinning tires in the mud. Having goals in mind for success lets you both track progress towards those goals and keeps the goals at top of mind. Here at Firestarter, our effective SEO strategies revolve around keywords initially, then tech SEO, content, and links.
Keywords in an SEO Strategy
Every SEO campaign should start by creating a list of keywords that are relevant, contain intent, and have search volume to back them up. Tools like Keyword Planner and Moz’s keyword tool can give you a snapshot of average searches per month, as well as a few other factors to consider. Taking the time to understand what your potential clients are searching for and the intent behind those searches is key to capturing the traffic that puts food on the table for your website. Once you have these keywords established, you match each URL to one specific keyword. This will be the “target keyword” for the page and you can then go through and optimize the page accordingly. You should use your keywords in your title, description, H1, body paragraphs, and alt text. Once this is taken care of, you should look to incorporate similar keywords that fit on the page where natural. Once your keywords are chosen and your pages are optimized, you can move to clean up the technical errors on your site.
Technical SEO Strategy
Technical SEO is a confusing subject for many of our clients, potential and current. Many of these errors can go unnoticed by the naked eye as they may not be directly impacting your website, user experience, or conversion rate. Let’s take a small step back to look at technical SEO from a top-level perspective. If we break down tech SEO into terms of the infrastructure in your local town, it may make some more sense. If you take a left down a side street in a neighborhood, your expectation would be that road leads you out of that neighborhood in a different path. Most dead ends are marked so you know to not travel that direction unless your end goal is down that road specifically. Search engine crawler bots fall into this analogy as the drivers, and street signs serve as technical SEO “fixes” we would look to implement. As we put up these road signs, we give Google, our driver, indications of what to expect. Say we changed a URL from https://www.firestarterseo.com/seo-services/ to https://www.firestarterseo.com/denver-seo-services/, we would want to make sure to tell any robots crawling the site to not expect anything at the first URL, but redirect that traffic to the second URL. While this is one specific example, break out all of the street signs you see on a regular basis. Once you consider the types of signals given to drivers, you can equate many of those to the types of signals we can send to search engines. Some errors are more important to fix than others, such as dead pages or dead links. We prioritize the most important errors initially but end up taking care of all of the errors found on the site and strive to maintain 0 errors on a weekly basis upon completion.
Content for SEO
Once your keywords are established you can start building out your supporting content. While we touched on content optimization above, this type of content is a little bit different from the content found on your core pages. We prefer to post at least 1 blog per month for each of our clients. This gives us the opportunity to make additions to the website and interlink to the main pages we expect to rank. Posting blogs regularly show Google and other search engines you are keeping your customers up to date on one hand. On the other, additions mean Google needs new information. This ensures Google keeps coming back to find new information. Your competitors who are posting a blog per quarter (if that) are probably being crawled just that often. Who do you think Google would rather rank, someone who makes constant, regular additions to the site, or those who post more sporadically? Another great way to generate unique and engaging content is in what we call digital assets. We will take a much deeper dive in the next chapter into what goes into an effective SEO strategy, but here is a quick explanation:
“Digital assets serve as highly linkable assets which have more likelihood to generate links naturally upon sharing across the web.” – Jared Powers
These forms of content fall to more involved pieces like infographics, comprehensive guides, white papers, and more. While a blog keeps Google coming back, digital assets keep your users coming back. Content allows you to establish yourself as a knowledge resource in the space and each time one of your regular customers thinks about anything related to your services, you will be the first to mind.
Link Building in SEO
In conjunction with the three items above, regular link building is also important. If we view the entire web as a popularity contest, links are votes of popularity. We will dive into what exactly a backlink is later in this guide, but in a nutshell, it is another website containing a hyperlink to your website. As long as the site is relevant to your business and authoritative, you will gain some notoriety from Google for each new link found. In the world of SEO however, not all links are created equal. With the amount of importance placed on links, it is no surprise that companies have started to benefit from this reality. While some providers do, as they say, there are a considerable number of spammy link builders out there. While this may have gotten you removed from the first page in the form of a filter in the past, Google mostly just ignores spammy links these days. Our advanced link building campaigns build high quality, authoritative links designed to “move the needle” for your SEO campaign.
And there you have it. While these items seem simple from a glance, there is a lot more granular detail to build out for continued success in the SEO space which we will cover as you work through this guide.
What Does an Effective Content Strategy Look Like?
An effective content strategy supports your overall efforts with information designed for your users to consume. Since this content is designed to convert users, you should start by understanding your audience, then choose a realistic posting schedule, generate silos or content groups to make sure you are hitting on all potential topics, then build digital assets to support your content.
Understand Your Audience
The books, articles, and other pieces of content are generated for specific audiences outlined in your content strategy. If you’ve ever left an article prematurely or clicked back after landing on a page, you were probably not the intended audience for that piece of content. On the contrary, I bet you can remember a few times where a piece of content stuck around with you for a while. The second option was a piece of content written specifically for you. This may sound crazy, but the reality is you are their customer and therefore their audience. Once a company has a comprehensive understanding of their audience, it becomes much easier to create content that will convert. Educating your clientele is the surest way to a quick close, so take some time to consider your audience and be intentional about writing for that audience.
Regular Blog Posting
As noted in Chapter 1, regular updates to your website keep Google and other crawler bots coming back for more, more regularly. If you could post a blog a week, that would probably be ideal, but that is not realistic for every client. Figuring out a realistic posting schedule and sticking to it will help your results by default. Pair that with the keyword research and a clean site technically, and you will be ranking in no time. One very important item to consider is interlinking. You should make sure you are capitalizing on all opportunities to link to different pages and optimizing current content where possible. The most common pages are your service pages (if you have them), contact page, and home page, but if the link fits, put it in!
Content Silos and Content Groups
Grouping your content into what we refer to as silos will help your content plan remain cohesive and applicable to all of the pages found on your site. Here is an example of what our silos look like:
- Denver SEO
- Local SEO
- Link Building
- SEO Content
- Technical SEO
We can break these clusters up using tools like Answer the Public to understand what the general population is asking around these topics. Peel another layer off of that list to fit into your audience as established, and you have a list of blogs to write in the form of answers to commonly asked questions. This keeps your efforts focused and centered around reality rather than shooting a random shot in the dark every couple of weeks and hoping something sticks. Gather your resources, create a plan, and stick to at, the rest will happen on its own.
Digital Assets for SEO
We touched lightly on them in chapter 1, but let’s dig a little deeper into incorporating these types of content into your search engine optimization strategy. From a basic standpoint, the literal translation of a digital asset is “any file stored digitally”. These pieces are just that, but they do have a more realistic application with our approach. From our perspective the following are examples of digital assets:
- Comprehensive Guide
- White Paper
- Audible Content
For our clients, we mostly stick to the top 3, and regularly to the top 2. One of the first steps we look to take is the creation of a comprehensive guide like this one. This gives search engines valuable content to consume and rank as well as informational content for your users as well. Each of these items falls into the progression of your effective SEO strategy and each company has different needs as they relate.
Is Local SEO Different from Organic SEO?
This is a regular question we get from our potential clients and current clients alike. There is some confusion about the difference in ranking on a local level versus organically. We wanted to take some time to clear this confusion out and clearly outline the differences in local SEO and organic SEO.
Google Local Pack
The first step is to understand what each of these types of results is. Here is a screenshot I have pulled after performing the search of “Denver SEO” on Google:
While we will discuss organic results in the next paragraph, this is focused on the local pack results as noted above. As you can see, these are much more centered around the locations of businesses rather than the websites of those businesses. We will hash out all the factors and differences between ranking the two below, but a large part of the results you will see on these results are based around the location of the device you have performed your search around.
Below is another screenshot of a different set of results based on the same Google search. These are the organic results provided from Google for that search:
As you can see, these are much more based around websites than location. Google even highlights the words in the results that match your search terms. This is the bread and butter of our services here at Firestarter SEO. While there are many factors at play, the technical health, content, and link efforts all apply to these results specifically.
Similarities in Ranking Results
While these are treated as two different types of search results, much of the efforts remain the same. The use of keywords in both systems place an obvious priority on listing those specific keywords we have noted above into both of these systems. On the local results it falls to your Google My Business listings and on the organic side, it falls to the site health overall. There are many more factors at play here no doubt, but keywords are a significant determining factor in the process.
Differences in Ranking Results
While keyword similarities follow both around, that is where the similarities end. There are many different items to build out on your Google My Business profile in the form of services, products, reviews, and more. Those same items can be built out on your website in the form of words and optimization, technical cleanup, and link building efforts. You should place some importance on reviews mentioning specific services they engaged with you in. This gives Google a quick note on what you provide and acts as another trust signal related to that keyword. To create parallels, the content built out of your GMB profile is like the content on your site, the technical health of your website is similar to optimizing your profile for conversions, and reviews serve in a similar manner to links within this system.
What Exactly is a Backlink?
Let’s start this chapter off with a specific example. Can you pick out the hyperlink in this sentence? That probably was not too hard as it stands out amongst the rest of the sentence. While this provides importance to your user, it also provides importance for search engines crawling your pages. If we view links as the roads that connect the web, the picture becomes much more clear. A hyperlink is text which contains a link on a webpage and sends the users who click it to a new page, whether that page is within your site, known as internal links, or outside of your site, known as external links. As established in previous chapters, links serve as votes of popularity in the popularity contest of the world wide web. However, not all votes (links) are created equal and you should generate a link building strategy to fall to when questions pop up.
Quality, Quantity, or Both?
Short answer, both. Long answer, it’s WAY more complicated than that. Here is where we will discuss the difference in types of links and make the point that you should be building a large quantity of a certain type of link and focus heavily on quality for another type of link. For the purposes of this guide, we will break downlinks into separate categories, follow and no-follow. Each website has a certain value established with Google based on its algorithm and the difference in following versus no-follow links is whether they pass that established value onto the hyperlinked website or not.
No follow backlinks carry a tag with them in the code on the page to instruct crawlers to not send the value associated with a page along to the next page through the link. These links typically come in the form of business listings, citations, and directories found across the web. Since these are free options to list your business, it makes sense that Google and other search engines do not place the priority on these links as opposed to followed links. The main accomplishment for these links is something called NAP, or Name, Address, and Phone Number. With more listings across the web with your correct information, you are by default increasing your web presence. Some of the most ready examples of these types of links is something like yelp, web directories, yellow pages and more. When pushing to acquire these types of links, you can focus on quantity over quality.
Follow links carry a tag with them in the code on the page to instruct crawlers to send the value associated with a page along to the next page through the link. These links are generally centered around content and carry much more weight in the eyes of Google in comparison to the no-follow links noted above. Here is an example of a recent outreach article we were able to acquire: https://www.relevance.com/6-ways-to-get-more-website-traffic/. As you can see, this is an informational based resource and in the copy contains a backlink to our site. This website is highly relevant to what we offer, has good trust built with Google, and is put together quite well. These factors are the initial factors we consider when looking for guest post opportunities.
Guest Posts and Outreach
Let’s take a deeper look at those “followed” links that can move the SEO needle for you and the process you should go through for acquiring links like this. Here is a quick breakdown of the process:
- Research and Find Targets
- Reach Out to Targets
- Collect and Organize Responses
- Establish “Low Hanging Fruit” Opportunities
- Initiate Process with Target Links
- Monitor for Live Link Publication
The first step is to gain a clearer picture of the opportunities in front of you. These should be industry-relevant websites who are not direct competitors to your services. Once you know which links you would like to target, you are able to start the reach-out process. Many times there will be a form to submit or an email to reach out to for more information. Each website has its own process and it is important to note the ease of which you can acquire a link on the domain. Once you have run through your first round of reach-outs, you should collect and organize the responses. This gives you an idea of the low hanging fruit opportunities which may require much less effort than alternatives. You would then follow the website’s procedure for submission and monitor for publication of the piece. If you have any link tracking tools, it would also be helpful to add the domains to your tools for monitoring. This process takes much of the guesswork out of acquiring and tracking links.
Do I Have to Pay Google to Rank My Website?
This question comes to us in many forms. Whether it be “How much will I have to pay Google to rank on top of this cost?” or “What is my cost to Google for this agreement?”. Since we see this question quite often, we wanted to take some time to hash out the differences in a campaign where your money is going to Google versus a search engine optimization service provider like Firestarter SEO.
PPC vs. SEO
For much of this initial explanation, we are going to refer to these two screenshots with the intention of outlining the differences in these two efforts.
As you can see, the first picture has red circles in it. These denote the ads found when I searched Denver SEO. The second picture contains the organic results for the same search. These are organic results. The efforts surrounding these results are completely different. SEO and organic results are built around a process of accumulation through much we have discussed in this guide so far, content, tech SEO, and links. The ads on the other hand are a pay to play system. Google employs a system allowing you to pay to show up in this pack of results. There are generally anywhere between three and five ads found on a Google search engine results page. Ads follow more of a “water hose” approach in that you are able to turn it off and turn it on as you please.
Cumulative Effort of SEO
The cumulative effort of this guide, where we take the top-level actions required to get results in an SEO campaign and dig deeper into the specifics is much of the same way SEO efforts work. SEO efforts will not, in most cases, generate results instantly. Especially with younger websites, SEO is a long game. Regular blog production, regular links built, and monitoring technical health leads to incremental changes over time. As long as you have a collective strategy in mind you are are able to generate pieces of content, implement technical improvements, and generate high-quality links that all collectively apply to the search engine results you are looking for.
Water Hose Approach of PPC
The paid side of things with Google is completely different. Tools like keyword planner give us accurate depictions of what a well run campaign looks like with many forecastable measurements and expectations. The real difference is you are paying Google to show up on their platform instead of hiring a service provider to execute on the “cumulative efforts” above to rank my website and yours alike.
It has always been interesting to see the confusion surrounding these two types of efforts as they relate to Google. They are so close to one another in what a user sees, but so far apart in the efforts required to generate results. Some of the best performing campaigns we have run both of these systems in conjunction, giving you the opportunity to show up on a search engine results page 2, 3, or maybe even 4 times!
Can You Evaluate Me Against My SEO Competition?
Evaluation against your SEO competition is the foundation of how we build out our campaigns. With so many measurable metrics contributing to SEO success, we can generate a much clearer picture of the ground we have to make up to gain an upper hand on the competition in your space. Some of the competitive factors we incorporate into our campaigns are the amount of unique domains pointing their links to the site, keyword usage, word count, site size, and much more. Let’s take a deeper look at some of these critical factors.
As much as we have harped on backlinks in this guide, it is no surprise this is a key determining factor on the ground to make up. You can write content, add keywords, add pages to the site and more, but if you are thousands of links behind your competition, we have an uphill battle in front of us either way. Taking the time to understand the efforts being employed by your competition can help everyone involved understand if SEO is the right play, and when to realistically expect results from the campaign. Tools like Moz and AHrefs are excellent for pulling metrics related to your competition in the link building space.
Content and Keyword Usage
Content and measured use of keywords is a great way to audit what your competition is doing. A simple ctrl+f will allow you to see how many times a keyword or phrase is found on the page. You can also copy and paste the text from the page onto a text editor to take a look at word counts. These measured factors give you benchmarks to try and surpass. The intention would be if all other things are equal, what is one thing that you can “add one” to. If your competition has the keyword on the page 6 times, try putting it on your page 7 times. If your competition has 713 words on the page, try to build out 714 (or more). This is what has evolved into what we refer to as our plus one content strategy. We take these measurable factors we can directly control, and try to add one to them where possible. It is also important to look at your direct competition and look at site size overall. How many blogs do they have? How many newsletters have they published? How many services pages do they have? As you can see, we are generating a pretty solid list of direct numbers to try and add one to.
Establishing a clear and measurable line of statistics to beat allows you to know the ground you need to make up for SEO results to come to fruition. This is the foundation of the initial research we do to create our proposals, generate strategies around our campaigns, and generate success for our clients.
When Will I Start to See SEO Results?
The expected time frame to experience SEO results depends on what we discussed in the previous chapter. All of our campaigns are built out with respect to the competition you face. Direct and measurable metrics such as content, keyword usage, links, site size, and more allow us to paint a picture of the ground we have to make up for results. We have had clients skyrocket within the first month because they did not have a developed strategy, and we have worked with newer websites for months to generate results and everything in between. So the easy answer to this question is “it depends”. Your results depend on your competitors, the industry as a whole, the age of the domain, as well as many more granular factors. There are also opportunities to jumpstart results if you do not feel the flexibility to wait months before seeing results. We find one of the most important aspects of a successful campaign is establishing expectations from the start. These factors allow us to do just that.
For a more detailed description of the process in auditing competition for SEO, please refer to the previous chapter. Your competition in the search engine optimization space allows you to quickly understand some of the changes you can make directly to improve your SEO results. While it is not feasible to build thousands of links within one month unless you are employing some really shady tactics, there are other factors you can look to beat out your competitors in. These factors include, but are not limited to the following:
- Site Size
- Keyword Usage
- Word Count
Each of these should not be too hard to pull metrics around. How many blogs do they have? How many pages are there overall? How many times is the target keyword used on the ranking page? What is the word count on the ranking page? How is their site performing overall? As noted in the previous chapter, there are a wealth of tools at your disposal to pull this information. These are items you can implement fairly quickly in an attempt to beat them out.
We see different industries requiring different types of efforts to beat out competition. A great example is the real estate industry. For someone trying to rank for “Denver Commercial Real Estate” is not just up against the local competition. If you follow the link above to the search engine results page, you will see what I am talking about. “Competitors” like CityFeet, LoopNet, and 42Floors are all national shakers who have immense marketing budgets allocated to these efforts. You would either need to look for more long-tail keywords to target or evaluate the efficacy of a Pay-Per-Click campaign for quick results. Many times, however, there is direct local competition included in a search like this. If you go back to the SERP, you will see companies like Pinnacle Real Estate Advisors and Unique Properties. When looking to rank in this space, this is the type of competition you should factor into your research.
Domain Age and SEO
One thing you do not have much control over in relation to the other factors is the age of your domain. A domain is able to gather value from the web without much effort at all due to this factor. The longer your domain is visible and crawled on the web, the more value it has with Google. Obviously, there is no way to go back 10 years and buy a domain name, so you are stuck with your date of acquire either way, but this is a factor considered in how long it may take to generate results that should be considered.
If you have just started your business, acquired your domain, or built your website, you may be chomping at the bit to get some cash flow. While search engine optimization efforts are a process of accumulation, platforms like AdWords, Google local services, and more give you an excellent opportunity to generate traffic and leads to your website. While we see the best performance from websites that run both AdWords and rank on the first page organically, turning on AdWords and paying for a few leads can make a lot of sense as long as you know your ROI for each lead.
Much of this was a long-winded response to say “it depends”, but our first step is to take a look at when you are looking to see results from your campaign, then we create a custom proposal centered around that expectation.
Evaluating ROI in SEO
Most of the factors you consider in making decisions, especially when it comes to money, involves the expected return on investment. Calculating your ROI in SEO can be complicated, especially in the beginning phases of the campaign. If you are significantly behind your competition, it may be some time before you see a measurable return on investment. This creates an opportunity for search engine optimization providers to track and monitor the progress of your campaign as it builds up to measurable results with money in your pocket.
The most important factor to consider when auditing SEO performance and ROI is your keyword movement. Where do businesses go to die? The second page of Google. We all know from our own experience the second page of search engine results is a graveyard. Much of those found beyond page one rarely get clicks. It is important to consider where we start upon the inception of the campaign. Were you just off the first page for many keywords? You could expect to see a quicker ROI than a brand new website that was unfound for all of their keywords. Monitoring overall movement helps you as a business owner understand trends and sets expectations for results coming up. Once your rankings break onto the first page is when the real fun begins.
Conversion Tracking in SEO
The end goal for any SEO campaign should be to have folks reach out to you in whichever format you desire for more information regarding your services, or purchasing them outright depending on how your business is setup. The way we track conversions for most of our clients falls to tracking forms and calls. These are, in general, the most direct form of conversions we can register for a client. A cleaning company may want the phone to ring off the hook while a software company may be looking for form fill outs for demos of their platform. While each client has their own set of measurables related to ROI in SEO, the finer details may be different. We take the time to understand what true conversion looks like for you, expected quantity and then build an SEO Campaign around these factors.
Not all of our clients have forms on their website, but many do. It is just as important to track form submissions for our clients as phone calls when we are evaluating ROI. With Google Analytics code installed on the site and form goals set up through this system we are able to see which traffic sources provided which conversions. Maybe only 10% of your direct visitors are filling out forms while that same metric for organic traffic is near 50%. It would be worth taking a look at your direct traffic to see where people are entering and exiting the site to understand where the disconnect may be. If we can layer our reporting tools over the top of your CRM or other customer service system we can get a clear understanding of the differentiation in traffic and performance for all channels.
Lead Scoring and ROI
The last thing we want to do is blast off a monthly report to you and not have a touchpoint for review. Once we are generating calls and form fill outs to your website we have to take a look at the quality of these leads. Are 90% of your calls spam? Are ¾ form fillouts in a foreign language? Do you keep getting inquiries from people looking for services other than what you provide? It may be time to look at our targeted keywords and rankings for the campaign. We work closely with you, line by line, lead by lead, to take a look at the efficacy of the traffic we are sending your way. Traffic means nothing if they aren’t contacting you and contacts mean nothing if they are not converting in some form or another.
We take immense pride in our reporting software, the visibility we provide, and the transparency in efforts surrounding search engine optimization. We approach each client as an opportunity to educate that client on the process and why we are doing what we are doing. If you have ownership and understanding of the campaign from the start, the entire process runs much more smoothly and you are able to get a quick and accurate depiction of what your ROI in SEO looks like.