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SEO strategy 2021: 7 steps to success

A well-developed SEO strategy is an absolute must in order to achieve good rankings for your website in the long term. Unfortunately, it happens far too often that businesses “want to do something SEO now.” There is seldom a clear vision or a defined goal behind this.

Because contemporary search engine optimization is not about processing technical to-dos that some SEO tool spits out. A sustainable SEO strategy must be closely linked to the corporate vision and the needs of the target group. Only in this way can search engine optimization as a channel strengthen digital visibility in the long term, bring more qualified users to the website, and sustainably strengthen the brand. Because of this, SEO experts are becoming increasingly important to businesses. In addition to technical skills, the job of SEO expert also requires an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Because the technical fundamentals are constantly changing.

What is an SEO Strategy? 

An SEO strategy includes:

  1. Clear definition of corporate goals
  2. Precise analysis of the target group and their preferences
  3. Content and technical SEO measures to reach target group and goals
  4. Clear prioritization and structuring of the measures

An essential part of the conception is the analysis of the needs of the users who are served with the company’s services or products. The relevant search terms can only be defined on the basis of these requirements. The SEO strategy is designed for long-term success and usually includes a comprehensive range of measures from the following areas:

It is important to know that there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” solution – every SEO strategy must be individually tailored to the project. An SEO strategy doesn’t last forever either. It must be adapted to market changes, the competitive situation, and user behavior in an agile manner.

An SEO strategy is therefore not a template for a “strategic approach” in which optimizations are carried out in a certain order. Rather, it is an intensive examination of the wishes of the target group and the coordination of these with the corporate vision. The essence of this is made visible in the last step on the website.

Why do I need an SEO strategy? 

This question is closely related to the question “ Why do I need SEO? “. And in some cases, the answer is certainly that SEO is not the top priority in pursuing a specific business vision. Too many companies want to “do SEO” and understand this as a one-time optimization of the website, inserting the keywords (considered to be “correct” but never checked in depth), and – when it comes up – a technical optimization.

And then it works by itself afterward, doesn’t it? No.

If the goal is to achieve a permanent and long-term increase in relevant users on the website, the approach must be strategically oriented towards the needs of the users. The central question that you should ask yourself is: “ How do I give the users on my website exactly what they are looking for? “.

The “s” in strategy stands for “sustainable” 

A good search engine optimization strategy is sustainable. Hardly any other marketing channel is so closely tied to the corporate vision. SEO is always based on what the company essentially does. So the optimization should not be carried out blindly according to run-of-the-mill schedules. Rather, there is the potential here to make a lasting statement for your own brand through the critical selection of the optimization method.

SEO keywords if you will. Sounds a bit esoteric, doesn’t it? Before we shed light on the darkness, let’s complete the confusion with a few wise words: A vision is not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more.

– Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard professor

If there is an interaction between SEO and corporate vision, the conception of an SEO strategy represents a huge opportunity: a possibility to focus more on what users want in the future – a potential to reinvent yourself and remain agile ( or become).

The other way around, this also means that you have to align your measures with what characterizes the company. Do you want to insert text “for the search engine” everywhere that is teeming with keywords and internal links? Can you agree with your guiding principles that links are built using questionable methods or even bought? These are the tradeoffs and interactions that need to be considered. And that means sustainability in terms of search engine optimization.

Conception of a sustainable SEO strategy in 7 steps 

An SEO strategy is always individual. And so the approach to conception is not something that can be clearly defined. The process must always be adapted to the circumstances.

Why are we still describing a concept in 7 steps here? Because people can work much better with processes and instructions. A complete and abstract flow chart for devising an SEO strategy might look like the infographic on the left.

1. Definition of KPIs & objectives 

At the beginning, there should always be the question: What is the goal? Where do we want to go?
What exactly the goal of SEO is can be very different depending on the project:

  • Increase in digital visibility for the target group
  • Market development
  • Lead generation
  • Increase in the conversion rate for sales or service inquiries

When setting goals, it is important that goals are set SMART. SMART is an acronym for: s pecific, m edible, a kzeptiert, r ealistisch and t erminiert. This goal-setting method comes from project management and ensures that goals are not formulated as loose wishful thinking, but like concrete, measurable milestones, the progress of which can be observed (article recommendation: The SMART formula). An example of a target formulation according to SMART would not be “Increase in sales” as above, but, for example, “Increase in sales via users from organic sources by 30% by the end of the following financial year”.

When it comes to the measurability of goals, specific KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) help. These must be determined depending on the target vision of the project and can also be very individual. Classic KPIs in the SEO area are, for example: 

  • the visibility index
  • organic user numbers
  • User behavior metrics
  • Ranking positions of clearly defined keywords
  • organic sales & turnover figures
  • the organic conversion rate

Once goals have been set and KPIs have been set, it is advisable to set up monitoring systems such as dashboards or regular reports in order to guarantee the transparency of the progress for all parties involved.

2. Needs analysis 

Once the goals have been set, the focus is then on the wishes and needs of the potential target group. Because: SEO is an inbound marketing channel. This means that the user already has a specific intention, an intention that he or she tries to put into words when typing in the search engine. A need that has to be matched with the exact matching search result.

A counter-example to this would be classic outbound marketing, in which, for example, a user is made aware of a product via a TV advertisement that satisfies a need that he consciously did not have until a moment ago. In contrast to inbound marketing, the user is “interrupted” and “promoted intrusively” in his everyday actions.

OUTBOUND VS. INBOUND MARKETING

But in order to adapt the SEO strategy to the needs of the users, you first have to know who the potential users are. The target group must be defined.
Procedures such as target group analysis or the creation of personas help here.

Many companies already have a good look at their target audience. Nevertheless, a deep and structured insight into the needs and needs of potential customers is worthwhile.
In contrast to specific target group advertising via Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn, for example, there is no direct way of targeting your target group in search engine optimization. 
Accordingly, the appropriate search terms that most clearly represent the target group must be researched. However, this often results in wastage, as less specific search terms with a lot of volumes can often contain different search intentions. But first back to the needs …

Reference should be made here to the grandiose needs group model by Karl Kratz, which says that users always have a need that is generated by a concrete circumstance or an event. An example:
Malina plays volleyball in an amateur league as a hobby alongside her job. She was injured in a season game. The physiotherapist’s diagnosis: lateral ligament distortion.
She has been prescribed physiotherapy and a bandage. According to the doctor, the healing time is a few weeks, but Malina cannot wait that long. After all, the end of the season is getting closer and they still have to win against their archenemy, the Dünnhausen Mavericks.
So Malina’s search for alternative healing methods begins to support the healing of her overstretched ligaments. 

What exactly can we draw from this? Two things! First, backtracking the chain of events helps us make our users’ needs more tangible.
And secondly, the step of the event (in our example the sports accident) and the need that arises (the faster healing) reveal completely new dimensions in which there are potentials for search queries that can be used to win the user.
If you imagine the user’s path as a path, you don’t try to win him over at the last fork in the road, but rather address his needs at various junctions along his path.

In practice, it makes sense to visualize needs (similar to personas) in mind maps. Ideally, company employees from different departments (especially those with customer contact) are involved in this process in order to cover the broadest possible spectrum of use cases. 

3. Competitor 

The importance and scope of the competition analysis are very dependent on the project. In some cases, you already know the competitors and their approach very well, in others you don’t even have them on your screen (at the latest after step 5 we have identified some).

konkurrenz
How Many Of Our Competitors are ZERO Doing that

The analysis of the competition can be very productive for your own strategy conception. But in some cases, the competition just isn’t strong enough to learn something from them. But that too is learning! Determine what you don’t want to do.

The competition analysis is typically a conceptual measure that extends over the entire conception period of the SEO strategy. It is often worth taking a first look at the competitors as part of the target group analysis. But also in later steps, such as keyword research or the conception of measures for website structure and technical implementation, the analysis of the competition can provide helpful insights. For both: “Dos & Don’ts”.

In practice, there is a whole range of SEO tools that can be used for effective competitor analysis. We use Sistrix with particular preference, but also well-known tools such as SEMrush, XOVI, ahrefs, MOZ, etc. meet the requirements and can also support you in finding strong digital competitors.

And for everyone who is faced with an absolutely overwhelming competitive field, here is a little motivation: As a dwarf, you have to do what the giants can’t.

– Niki Lauda

This can mean, for example, analyzing the niches in the market and focusing on them – or turning the weaknesses of competitors into one’s own strengths (customer service, sustainability, etc.). Think of the parable of David and Goliath. And always keep in mind: “Everyone likes the underdog”.

4. Keyword Research 

The core of the next conceptual step is now to think about the knowledge gained about the target group into specific search queries. Brainstorming processes are ideal for this – either in groups or in individual work with aggregated results.

Once the first formulations and general terms have been collected, tools must be used to check whether they are actually being searched for. Particularly helpful in this process are:

  1. The auto-completion in Google Search ( Google Suggest ) and the related search queries at the bottom of the search results page.
  2. Keyword tools that make use of both of these functions and at the same time reveal related questions about keywords.
  3. Tools like the Keyword Generator , which can be used to generate a wide variety of keyword variations with just a few clicks .
  4. The Google Keyword Planner to query the search volume of the keywords .

Comprehensive keyword research, however, is an art in itself and is beyond the scope of the article at this point.

Once the keywords have been identified, they should definitely be prioritized. The prioritization of the keywords plays a central role in the later prioritization of the measures: If we know which keywords are most important to us, we can also focus on the measures that specifically aim to improve them.

5. Keyword mapping & content strategy 

In the process of keyword mapping, the defined keywords are assigned corresponding target pages on the website. So the question here is: Which of my landing pages on the website best meets the user’s intention. A URL often covers several keywords that can be combined into keyword groups with the same search intent.

Conversely, it also happens that keywords are not yet covered by the existing pages of the website. In such cases, they still have to be created – and we have already defined an initial measure as part of the strategy concept.

In some cases, it can happen that a search intention is addressed by several landing pages. In such cases, pages have to be redesigned or merged in order to avoid duplicate content and keyword cannibalization. And the first concrete SEO measures are slowly peeling out of the abstract haze of clouds full of search terms. Now it’s time to stay tuned! 

At this point, it is essential to think about things like the structure of landing pages and the content strategy. Both topics are beyond the scope here. But to summarize the most important: With the help of the technique of reverse engineering of the search intention the requirements for the own landing page are defined. The starting point is the specific search query, typing it into Google and analyzing the top 10 search results displayed.

First of all, how the search results are structured:

  • Are you running Google Ads or Google Shopping ads ?
  • Is there a Google Local Pack or a Knowledge Graph?
  • Are pictures or videos shown in the search results?

These points already indicate whether the user is primarily:

  • searches for information (informational search intention)
  • wants to buy a product (transactional search intention)
  • wants to know the quickest way to get to the nearest trusted falafel shop, which will hopefully prepare a fresh falafel makali at this late hour (navigation search intention).

The search results displayed provide further information about the specific range of information the user is looking for. Because obviously they already cover the needs of the user in a satisfactory manner, otherwise they would not be so well positioned.

Then it goes into the content analysis :

  • What is the content of the displayed search results covered? (Topic spectrum analysis)
  • Are all relevant topics already covered, or is there a gap in content that I can fill? (It is worth taking a look back at the users’ questions from keyword research here!)
  • What has to be done to make the pages of the competition look like sad partner ads for the regional cheese sheet, while your own landing page is like a Shakespeare sonnet?

6. Technical audit 

At this point, a short apology to all chronically impatient website optimizers, over-motivated marketing trainees with notepads, and business owners with constantly vibrating smartphones. You actually had to wait until the penultimate step on the list before we finally got to the technical analysis. Are the long-awaited quick wins finally coming? Let’s find out!

So far we have proceeded very strongly in terms of content in the formation of strategies. But technical SEO is also essential when planning a broad strategy.

Here it is advisable to carry out a so-called technical audit before defining the specific measures. The entire website is put through its paces once and there is potential that needs to be optimized.

Until a few years ago, the focus here was very much on onpage factors such as snippets, H1 and H structure, URL structure, etc. And while all these points are still important, it must be made clear that in 2021 there will be additional technical factors play a central role. And these should definitely be analyzed comprehensively as part of the technical audit: 

  • The cornerstone is always the question of whether the content can be crawled and indexed . What exactly can Google read out and what is included in the index? An extensive analysis of the indexing report of the Search Console, the website with the Screaming Frog and an analysis of the log files are necessary here.
  • SEO 2021 is mobile first ! And that not only means that mobile friendliness is a decisive factor, but that SEO always puts the mobile version in the focus of optimization in  all work steps.
  • The Core Web Vitals from the new UX report in the Search Console have been officially declared by Google as a new ranking factor. The new report and Lighthouse already give interesting optimization approaches, but the whole thing is not yet 100% mature. But it is obvious that the core web vitals will gain significantly in importance in technical SEO optimization in the near future.

With the completion of the technical audit, a comprehensive catalog of measures should have been collected. This should be worked out and recorded accordingly. However, the question now arises: What do you actually start with? This brings us to our next point.

7. Prioritizing the measures & planning the time agenda 

Prioritization of measures with the Impact Scale

Since packages of measures for optimization have now been established, priorities must be set. Because that is exactly what defines a strategy: Knowing what is important and when in order to be able to set a clear focus and not have to work wildly on all construction sites at the same time.

When assessing the priority of measures, two factors are of decisive relevance:

  1. How much effort does the measure take?
  2. How high is the forecast impact of the measure on my specific goal?

In order to visualize this comparison of the factors, we use the so-called Impact Scale, in which measures are arranged in a coordinate system of effort and impact :

There they are, the long-awaited Quick Wins, at the bottom right of the Impact Scale! The values ​​for effort and impact are of course very subjective and correspond to an estimate.

Abstract packages of measures such as “ technical SEO ” and “ blog ” can be prescribed in the Impact Scale. But it can also be used wonderfully to carry out detailed planning within these fields.

It is thus a visualization aid that works on both a macro and a micro-level. We are happy to provide our template for the Impact Scale as a Google Sheet (download for use). However, it can also be wonderfully drawn by hand on a whiteboard.

Use the timeline to plan the timing of SEO optimization

After it has been determined which measures have which priority, a rough schedule for optimization can be established. Here it must be estimated how much time the corresponding optimizations will take. Of course, this estimate is also subjective. Welcome to search engine optimization! Based on the estimates, we always try to visualize the planning. Visual sensory perception is evolutionarily important for human survival – this should not be underestimated:

For our “timelines ” we use Google presentations or (as in the picture) the timeline function of Asana, but tools like PowerPoint or other visual design tools work wonderfully here. The crux of the matter here is to create a common visual idea of ​​a process for all those involved and to make it clear at all times where the optimization is.

Blocks can also overlap or run partially in parallel. If several people are working on the optimization, it can also make sense in individual cases to define sections or colored blocks for individual people. However, the focus here should be on clarity. The timeline must not be so complex that it goes beyond the scope (if you are on timelines that make your ears ring, I recommend the third season “Dark” on Netflix).

SEO strategy example 

After we have outlined a specific approach to strategy formation, many readers are sure to ask what a specific SEO strategy can look like in an example.

As already discussed in detail, every SEO strategy is extremely individual and includes specifically tailored measures.

Our Impact Scale shows very clearly that the points:

  • Crawl budget optimization
  • Resolve keyword cannibalization
  • Internal links to the main topics 1 & 2 

our “quick wins” are. However, the point “Internal linking” depends on the creation of the landing pages, as the content to be linked does not yet exist on the website.

As we can see, we put the optimization of the crawl budget and the resolution of the keyword cannibalization at the beginning of the optimization. Now the landing pages have to be generated first. Here we have decided to start with topic 2. Why? Focus 2 has less impact, but also less effort. In other words, we create content on the website faster that can achieve positive results with regard to our goals and we can draw lessons from the process that will be helpful for topic 1.

The point “blog posts ” is the most complex and is partly processed in parallel to the landing pages with the same focus. The same keyword research and collected insights can be used here. It makes sense to focus on this over a longer period of time. The blog posts can also be used to internally link the main topics. This point follows on from the completion of all content, for which experience has shown that we have left a small-time buffer towards the end.

On-page optimization takes place parallel to this last step, our point from the Impact Scale with the lowest impact. Interesting, isn’t it? In many projects, on-page optimization is always the first point to start with. It is not always the most effective. Just often … the easiest.

Keeping the strategy flexible with agile project management 

Finally, a few words about the longevity of an SEO strategy and productive project management.

Search engine optimization is a constantly changing field in which technical and content-related requirements, user behavior and the market situation can change at a rapid pace. Not to mention Google algorithm updates.

All of this literally cries out for an approach that repeatedly questions the existing structures and, if necessary, is able to dissolve disruptive structures that slow down progress. There must be something? Oh yes, right. May I introduce: agile project management. (A special form of agile project management is Scrum.

And in this case, agile is not a buzzword like flexible and dynamic, but is based specifically on the three pillars of agile process control :

  1. transparency
  2. inspection
  3. Adaptation

These three pillars are three process steps that have to be carried out regularly. The process is constantly being actively reconsidered and adapted.

But what exactly can this mean for our SEO strategy?

  1. Transparency: The progress in the timeline of the strategic process and in the overarching objective setting is open to everyone. Project management tools that follow the Kanban principle, such as Trello, are suitable here. We use Asana internally.
  2. Inspection: The success in the implementation and the concrete impact on the KPIs are analyzed. Here it is revealed which designed measures and strategic approaches are successful and which are not.  
  3. Adaptation: The entire strategy is adapted based on the inspection. Measures are reconsidered, reprioritized and rearranged in terms of time.

The Timeline and Impact Scale tools are of fundamental importance for both the steps of transparency and inspection. The visual representation, which is easily accessible to everyone (including those not familiar with the subject), makes it clear where the focus is and how the SEO optimization will run (transparency). After the measures have been implemented, a new look is taken at both tools to ask:

  • Were our estimates realistic?
  • Have we calculated the effort well?
  • At which point of the optimization are we currently and what took a lot longer than expected?

These questions help to make it clear whether you are on the right track and allow learnings to be derived for future projects. If it turns out that the previous optimization does not correspond to the assumed expectations, it may make sense to go back a few steps in the conception and to throw the current plan overboard. One should not be afraid of such a restructuring. All of these are learning effects. At this point, reference is made to the quote by Rosabeth Moss Kanter above.

It is important that this process is initiated regularly. For our long-term projects, we schedule an analysis based on the principles of agile project management at least once a quarter.