In the process of building your website, it’s important to start with your SEO strategy. While it may not be the most exciting part of creating or revamping your website, it is certainly the most important for your success. By starting with strategy, you give yourself the ability to easily adjust other aspects of the site as needed so you don’t have to re-do any of your hard work. It will also help you avoid common mistakes that many businesses make when they implement SEO.
One of the most common mistakes I see businesses make is approaching SEO like a single-time project. Even though you create your strategy at the beginning, SEO requires maintenance. I like to say it’s like taking care of your lawn—you have to do more than just plant the seeds and watch them grow. Just like a lawn takes water every day and trimming at regular intervals, your SEO strategy will need adjustments along the way and regular monitoring and updating.
Another mistake I often see is when people assume they need a blog, so they simply outsource it to get quick, cheap content, but they don’t have a strategy for developing and using that content. Blogs can certainly play an important role in SEO, but content simply for content’s sake is not enough to help you rank well. And what’s worse, writers who offer $50 a blog post are often working in content mills, overworked and lacking focus, or working so quickly they don’t have the time and energy needed to create quality content for you. At best, you may get a scattering of content that lacks strategy and cohesiveness, and at worst, you may even receive plagiarized content, which can seriously hurt your ranking on Google.
Some businesses treat SEO like pay-per-click ads, turning it on and off and completely changing it as they see fit. But like I’ve mentioned, SEO needs continual upkeep and builds upon itself. That’s why it’s so critical to build your strategy from the beginning—if you stop all of a sudden or change the direction of your strategy, you’ll lose the progress you’ve made.
I’ve also seen many businesses work with SEO companies without experience in their field or that use unproven strategies, and this comes back to bite them. When you’re choosing professionals to work with, ensure they’ve worked with businesses like yours before and that they’re using proven SEO strategies. They should be able to lay out a strategy for you that’s customized to your business with the goal of increasing traffic to your site and show how their methods have worked for other businesses like yours in the past. If their strategy is not entirely customized to your website, they may be trying to sell you a one-size-fits-all solution, which won’t be very effective.
So now that you know the common mistakes to avoid in developing your SEO strategy, where should you start? I recommend thinking about your pillar pages as one of the first parts of your strategy.
Pillar pages are web pages that cover a single topic broadly and contain links to more specific, related content. The related content branching off of these pages is called “cluster content” and should share more in-depth information about the subtopic it covers.
It’s important to use pillar pages in your SEO strategy because they help organize your website to make it easier not only for users to navigate but also for Google to crawl. If Google can’t effectively crawl your web pages, they won’t get properly ranked in search results! It’s best to strategically link your pillar pages to your cluster content through keyword anchor text, which helps Google understand how the site is organized.
In building your SEO strategy, you should determine what your pillar pages will cover. The topics you choose should help you connect with your target audience. Here are some questions to help you focus on the right topics:
- What questions are potential clients asking in Google searches?
- What websites are already ranking on Google for these searches, and what does their content look like?
- Does our business have different geographic locations that need their own pillar pages?
- What does the search volume and competition look like, and what can we do to rank well among them?
Once you have your pillar pages in place, you can always adjust them as needed. Understanding your competition and the keywords you’re trying to rank for will allow you to track your progress with incoming traffic and change aspects of your website based on what is and isn’t working well.
It’s good to have an idea of what your pillar pages might look like, but don’t begin building them until you’ve done your research. The first step to building your SEO strategy is examining your competitors’ websites. Which websites are ranking at the top of the search results page for your market? If they’re at the top, they’re doing something right, which means you can learn from them.
You can easily find your competitors by searching for a relevant query to your business. Start by searching your business type and location, such as “physical therapist in Miami.” Whose website shows up at the top of the search results page? They’re your top competitor.
One caveat to this is that businesses who spend a lot on advertising, such as billboards and TV ads, may not be the best to learn from in terms of SEO even if they do show up at the top of the search results. Their popularity may skew their ranking even if they’re not practicing the best SEO strategies throughout their website. If the top few results are big advertising spenders, move on to the next couple of search results to learn from.
Once you’ve taken note of the top few search results, you have a pretty good picture of your competition. If they’re ranking at the top of the results, that’s where you want to be. You can begin to build your strategy based on what’s working for them, so it’s time to start analyzing so you can reverse-engineer their strategies. Make a list of the top three, and focus on them.
It may seem overwhelming to look at a website and try to determine what’s making it rank well. I recommend using a web-crawling tool to start, which can give you insight to the workings of the website, including things like keyword rankings and backlinks. Choose a tool like Screaming Frog SEO Spider, Ahrefs, or Semrush, which can give you the information you need.
To help you understand how the websites are working, take note of the following information about them:
- How many total pages do they have indexed on Google?
- How many organic keywords are they ranking for on Google?
- What is their estimated organic traffic?
- What is their estimated branded and non-branded traffic?
- What is their domain rating?
- What is their total number of referring domains, and which have the highest and lowest domain ratings?
- What are their top pages, and what are the associated ranking keywords for each page?
Use the information you get from the crawling tools to answer the questions above, which will allow you to make more informed decisions about your own SEO strategy. Compare the results to those of your own website—where do they look different? How many pages do you have indexed on Google compared to your competitors? The more pages you have indexed, the better you’ll rank.
SEO strategy building is important foundational work for the success of your website as a whole. By taking the time to research the market and lay out a plan before you implement any new SEO practices, you’ll avoid falling into the common mistakes businesses make with SEO and will set your website up to grow continuously and bring you more business.