I have been fortunate in my 14 year SEO career to work with a huge number of companies and I have seen many different implementations of an "SEO campaign." I've seen what works and what doesn't, especially at the enterprise level.
What follows are 10 lessons that I have learned over the years so that you might know what to watch out for as you run or manage your own SEO campaign. Hopefully you find the information valuable!
Lesson #1 - Don't Ignore SEO Recommendations
Put another way, SEO recommendations need to be given their proper prioritization within the list of everything else your IT team is trying to accomplish for your website.
It's important to recognize that most IT teams don't have much visibility into analytics and don't see how much traffic (and ultimately revenue) is created through organic search. Be sure to share this information with them along with the potential opportunity that search could bring to the site if it was better optimized. After all, the name of the game in this economy is revenue and you can't make any if you don't have customers.
Not to under value some of the other projects and activities that IT teams and web developers are engaged in, but few will have the same economic impact to a company that a top listing in Google will have for the right keywords.
Encourage your teams to prioritize the implementation of SEO recommendations and share the success of those recommendations once they are implemented.
Lesson #2 - Solve CMS Issues
You would think in the modern era that all CMS systems would be SEO friendly. Unfortunately this isn't the case.
Make sure your CMS system is evaluated by an SEO professional to potentially identify problems like:
- URL structures that cause duplicate content / difficult to index
- Session IDs
- Lack of support for Custom Page Titles
- Lack of support for rel=canonical tags
There are nearly 100 other potential site-wide technical issues that could cause issues with search engines. Make sure your CMS system is professionally evaluated for these issues as some of them can cause major problems with indexing and ranking.
Lesson #3 - Do Your Keyword Research (and Better Understand Your Users)
Keyword research is really user research that details how your customers are using language to describe your products, services, and content. Make sure you use the language that they are accustomed to.
It's fine to sprinkle in your own marketing vernacular to steer the online conversation, but don't ignore keywords you know people are using. I can't tell you the number of times I have had to explain to people that while I appreciate their intentions in creating a narrative that maps to their marketing goals, they just can't ignore keywords that are commonly used by their customers.
For example, it's fine to say that you're an auto repair shop, but you would be missing out on a huge potential search volume if you also didn't optimize around the term "car repair".
Additionally, make sure you have good segmentation between your brand and non-brand keywords and that you are constantly exploring your long tail performance, especially as it relates to uncovering new opportunities for additional keywords to target.
It's fine to measure and optimize against highly competitive, marquee terms, but don't allow those terms to dominate your focus to the point of only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Most enterprise SEO campaigns have huge traffic numbers that come from the aggregate of long tail terms. As a matter of fact, in many cases, those long tail terms the majority of organic search traffic.
Lesson #4 - Have a Strong Content Strategy
This is one of the hardest challenges that most companies face. If you want to be listed in the top of Google for a particular keyword, then you're going to have to accept the fact that you have to publish strong, authoritative content that is relevant to that keyword on a consistent basis.
If you don't have resources dedicated to this activity you will mostly likely lose out in the long run to your competition that does. It's important to recognize that marketing hyperbole doesn't usually qualify as strong, authoritative content.
You have to put yourself in a search engine's shoes and really evaluate whether your content could be considered one of the top 10 resources in the entire world for users whose intent is to find information related to the keyword that you're optimizing for.
Lesson #5 - Integrate Social Media With SEO
It's no secret that social media has become much more important to search rankings recently. From social mentions to link building, you must integrate social media with your SEO efforts to succeed.
Ensuring that your social team understands what keywords you're targeting and where those keywords are being targeted is a minimum. Integration of SEO best practices into blogging, tweeting, video production and sharing, social media platforms like Facebook and Pinterest as well as your own community platform are critical pieces of the SEO puzzle.
Make sure that your SEO team and your social team are in constant communication for best results of both programs.
Lesson #6 - Develop a Consistent Link Acquisition Strategy
Acquiring links is never easy. If you want to do it right, it’s even harder.
Once you get past a few directory submissions and some other low-hanging fruit, there is really no one size fits all methodology to acquire links. That's why search engines place so much value on them in the ranking algorithms.
The key to getting links on a consistent basis is to effectively market relevant and valuable content to a target audience on an ongoing basis. It takes creativity, patience, and commitment as well as integrated strategy of aligning all of your digital marketing activities with link building best practices.
Lesson #7 - Create a Solid Analytics Platform that Allows Understanding of User Behavior
In order to make data-driven decisions that improve ROI, you have to have a solid understanding of your performance metrics and you have to be able to accurately those key performance indicators. Therefore, at a bare minimum, you must have a comprehensive web analytics platform that has been properly configured to measure organic search traffic, brand versus non brand performance and conversions.
Your web analytics system should be integrated with your CRM data, your ranking data and your social media performance data in order to get the most complete view possible of user behavior across your site and other digital marketing assets.
Having this visibility allows you to measure change to performance based on spend or based on a set of activities which in turn will allow you to evaluate how effective those actions are at producing incremental revenue.
Lesson #8 - Always be Testing
Having a strong analytics foundation allows you not only to understand performance but to test new tactics and gauge their effectiveness. Website elements like landing page design, page titles, link acquisition techniques, content segments and calls to action should constantly be tested for improvement.
Small increases to conversion rates can add up to big increases in revenue and you never know where you can find those conversion increases unless you're diligent about ongoing testing and optimization. Even simple A/B testing can provide huge dividends if it's consistently applied to the right application.
Lesson #9 - Integrate Paid & Organic Search
Finding the right balance paid and organic search is a challenging endeavor for many companies. Every market is a little different and creating an optimal spend budget based on your organic ranking takes some time and some testing to get right.
You can increase the effectiveness of both your paid and organic search programs by ensuring that performance data is shared between both teams. Your organic keyword performance should influence which words you target in paid search and vice versa.
Ensuring that top performing keywords are identified and communicated to both teams is a critical first step toward organic and paid search integration.
Lesson #10 - Develop a Strong Training and Communication Structure
Empowering your team members to contribute to the success of your SEO program through SEO best practices training pays dividends over the long term. Running a successful SEO campaign at the Enterprise level requires contributions from a myriad of team members including IT folks, content writers and developers, social media team members and even executives.
Getting all these folks up to speed on how they can contribute to your SEO efforts and why their contributions are so important is critical in creating a scalable program that produces results.
Hopefully these 10 lessons have given you some tangible ideas on how to improve your own SEO program, especially if you're running an enterprise SEO campaign. Adhering to these principles will give you the strongest opportunity for success. Good luck!
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Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!