Focus your SEO Process: Fundamental Questions to Establish an Effective Strategy

Lately I have been receiving more fundamental questions about the SEO process with basic concerns -instead of more technical or complex activities- that make me realize that many companies and even people starting as SEOs are focusing on doing diverse optimization activities independently and operationally, without being part of a real search engine optimization process with a strategic vision.

To some extent this has been caused by the lack of “complete” and integral information about the SEO process as an Online Marketing strategy and on the other hand, the popularization of manuals and guides focused on optimizing specific aspects of the Web, which helps to clarify SEO day-to-day activities but not to understand its nature.

We should realize that by the implementation alone of some optimization activities a real SEO process is not necessarily being developed, without sharing a common objective and strategy focused on achieving a website conversion goals these activities have few opportunities of being effective at a business level in the long term.

It is essential to always take into consideration that SEO goes beyond specific technical and content optimization activities -that represent its operative base- and it is a long term Online Marketing strategy that focuses on attracting highly qualified traffic -to achieve conversions and a high ROI- through organic search engine results.

To avoid these misunderstandings and help in the definition of an integral SEO process strategy I recommend to answer the following questions that will help to identify the current Website situation in its market, existing resources and possible restrictions.

What is the Website objective?

  • What is a conversion for your Website? What is the business goal of your site? Where is it performed? In your Web, another site or offline?
  • How are you tracking traffic and goals achievement on your Web at the moment?
  • What is the current traffic, conversion and ROI of your Website? And for each online marketing strategy that you’re developing or have executed?
  • Are you looking for medium or long term results? What are the traffic and conversion results you’re looking to achieve thanks to the SEO process?

What is your target market and how does it behave?

  • What is their demographic profile?
  • What language or languages they speak?
  • Where are they geographically located? At a regional, national or international level? In what countries?
  • What keywords are used to look for your products or services?
  • What are the navigation and consumption preferences of your target market?
  • What is the seasonality of your sector? When is the high season? And the low season?

What resources you can count with?

  • Does your site have a CMS? How flexible is it for content updates? And at a Web architecture level? Does it allow to easily modify the URLs?
  • Do you have an internal Web development team or the support of an external Web development agency to perform technical changes under demand? What is their current availability?
  • Do you have an internal communication team with editors or the support of external copywriters to perform content changes in your site under demand? What is their current availability?
  • What other online marketing strategies are you performing? SEM, Social Media Marketing, Email Marketing, Affiliates? What are their results? What has worked better for your site? Why?
  • Do you have a Social Media strategy? Are you developing a social media marketing campaign at the moment? Do you have a community manager?
  • What type of content do you already have in your site? Do you distribute to third-parties? Do you publish a blog, news, videos, images, applications, etc.? Do you have the capacity to start creating this type of content?
  • Do you have a long term budget for your SEO Process? Do you also have a budget to perform changes in your site at a technical and content level? And promotion in other platforms? How much is it?

What is your Web competitiveness in the sector?

  • What is the search volume of your highly relevant keywords for each of your target market languages and countries?
  • What type of content is already ranking in the first positions for those keywords? Are they traditional results or also include images, videos, maps and news?
  • What websites are already ranking for your highly relevant keywords? What is their authority and popularity vs. your site? How are their ranking pages?
  • How many external links do they have? What type of sites are linking to your competition? Compare them with your own external links.
  • What is the age of your site? How old are the competition sites?
  • How many linking domains do they have? And your site?
  • How many linking C blocks do they have? How many do you have?
  • What percentage of nofollow vs. dofollow links do they have? And your site?
  • What terms are included in their external links anchor text? And yours?
  • What specific pages of your competition have those external links? Compare them with yours.

What are the present rankings of your Web?

  • Have you previously performed a SEO Process? What on-page and off-page activities were implemented? What were your objectives? What were the achieved results?
  • What volume of traffic do organic searches bring at the moment to your site? What is the percentage of your site organic traffic. vs. other sources? What is your site organic traffic conversion level vs. other sources?
  • What keywords are attracting organic traffic to your site? What keywords are already ranking? What are their rankings? Are they relevant for your product or services? Are they generic or long-tail? What is their conversion level?
  • What pages of your site are getting organic traffic? Have you already optimized those pages for the keywords they are ranking for?
  • What is the traffic and conversion level of the pages ranking for your site?

What is the present optimization status of your Web?

  • Do you already have a website focused on your target market? With content in the same language of your target market? If your target market speak different languages, Do you have different versions of your site focused to each one of them with original content? Are they organized in one domain at a subdirectory (or subdomain) level or in many domains?
  • Are you showing each page of your site with only one relevant URL? Are each of the pages including unique, topically relevant text content? Are they including keywords already? Are they similar to the competition pages that are already ranking for your desired keywords?
  • Does your site have decriptive, relevant, friendly URLs? Are these URLs hierarchically organized? Are they in the same language of the page content? Are they including keywords already?
  • What is the indexation level of your site vs. your competition? And for each of the site zones or areas?
  • Are the titles and meta descriptions of each page of your site unique, relevant and descriptive? Are they including keywords already?
  • Does the website have a text menu with crawlable links in each page? Does the menu link to hierarchically related and topically relevant pages?
  • Is the site blocking content through robots.txt or the meta robots tag?
  • Is the Website already registered in Google Webmaster Tools? Is the site getting crawling errors?
  • Does the Website have a sitemap.xml?
  • Is the canonical tag being included in the site pages? Where are they referring to?
  • Is the site using Schema.org microdata?
  • Are the site images, videos, news, etc. already optimized?

Define your SEO Strategy

You can’t establish the same level of objectives for a first SEO process of a recently created site that is in a very competitive market and will need a lot of optimization than for an old and already search engine friendly site, that has had previous successful SEO Processes in a less competitive market.

Here lies the importance of the previous questions: With their answers you will have the necessary information to establish a baseline for the SEO process and its strategy.

What it is not reasonable is to establish objectives for a SEO Proccess without knowing the initial situation of the site and its market. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that it won’t be necessary to perform a deeper analysis afterwards, during the process: It will be required but with the purpose of improving it by implementing the necessary changes and not only "identifying" to effectively define the scope of the activities.

Likewise, we have to remember that the final objective of a SEO Process is a high return of investment, so it is fundamental that our long term conversion goals exceed the associated costs of the process.

Taking all this into consideration, we will be able to define:

  • The expected medium and long term SEO goals for rankings, traffic, conversion and ROI.
  • Keywords to rank for: Volume, type, language, seasonality, competitiveness, geographical markets and associated URLs.
  • Pages and content to create or optimize.
  • Volume and type of links to require.
  • References in time to implement changes and achieve objectives.
  • Necessary budget for the SEO Process.
  • Existing assets of the Web for the SEO Process development.
  • Necessary resources for the SEO process execution.
  • Key performance indicators to measure the SEO Process.

Like this we will make sure that our SEO Process will really answer to the Website requirements and its objectives will be reasonably defined based on its competitiveness and target market behavior.

What other questions do you do to focus the SEO Process and develop its working path?

Photo taken from Flickr

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