SEO has evolved greatly in prominence in the marketing world. Although I still have to explain the basics to my mom every time I see her, marketers across large and small organizations actually seem to understand the value and the importance of organic optimization.
Now it's time to move beyond SEO 101 into the next generation of awareness and prioritization. SEO should be a lifelong engagement for any site. It's unlikely that many "real" SEOs will disagree with this statement, but there are people who feel this is a one-time fix. That theory couldn't be further from the truth.
Getting Started: Why the First 3 Months are the Most Important
The first part of any enterprise-level SEO effort is the most important, since it includes the initial keyword research and recommendations around site structure and information architecture. Without a sound keyword target list, you won't be optimizing for terms that will yield traffic and conversions.
We refer to the process of incorporating keyword research into the content on a page-by-page level as page selection and keyword assignment. This provides a roadmap to content writers and optimizers when they create on-page verbiage.
What many people forget to do, especially when redesigning or initially designing a Web site, is incorporate the keywords into the factors that will drive the decision behind targeted categories and other information architecture.
If we didn't work together with our design team when they were in the process of creating sitemaps and wireframes, there would be more need for change when the optimization recommendations needed to be implemented.
Other efforts that occur in the first three months of a typical engagement are content optimization and link strategizing. This is a crucial part of the process. The first few months of any SEO engagement should set the table, but the next three years of SEO efforts will help achieve consistent valuable organic rankings.
SEO Contracts Should be 3 Years, Minimum
We're most of the way through a process of optimizing pages for a large Web site with multiple lines of business. It has taken us about six months to get a number somewhere over 100 pages optimized and approved by the client.
This site needs at least 200 to 300 more optimized pages for each line of business to completely dominate the rankings, especially for the more difficult categories. At this pace, that would take more than three years. Is there value in doing this? You bet. When just a small number of pages and new links help get results, increasing the volume should translate to even better numbers.
Another reason SEO should be considered at least a three-year effort: it takes a long time to help establish links to a Web site in a manner that is consistent with search engine guidelines. Direct requests, good paid directories like Best of the Web, press releases, and link baiting ideas should be a part of an ongoing plan, not something that happens over the first three months after content and structure optimization.
The majority of the Web sites I work with have at least hundreds, if not thousands, of pages. Some people may feel that the idea of taking years to optimize an entire site only applies in this case. Why would a small site need three years to optimize?
Content advocates, like Jill Whalen, would probably agree that 20 pages probably isn't enough to prove value and authority of any subject, especially if there's any sort of competition for the keywords specific to the subject. A small site should plan to add pages every month in an optimized fashion, in order to not only add content and increase perceived authority on a subject, but also to increase the potential for pages people want to link to.
In short, if you're happy with 20 pages and want lasting number one rankings for 50 terms, there may be a disconnect between your goals and reality. Plus, additional competitors will come into your space every month no matter how specialized you think you are. These competitors will force you to raise the bar higher, and having a plan to keep that bar rising over a number of years is the strongest SEO strategy you can have.
Frank Watson Fires Back
While I agree with your concept, the unfortunate part is most clients don't. They think their sites will be jumping to the top of Google as soon as they hire you. I always let them know it takes time, generally three to six months to start seeing any serious improvement, and that they need to maintain the process beyond that to keep seeing those results.
As we've all encountered, the client gets the lift and think they're done. In some cases, they think they can stop doing anything -- and by extension stop paying. I let them go in some cases. A few months later, they're back asking why their rankings have dropped again. Then you can say what is happening and how they should have a constant approach to SEO. Some listen before that, but many have to experience that drop before they understand the process.
Sadly, yet realistically, some people have to learn by trial and error. Hopefully, more will see this and start to realize earlier. I know I'll be sending my clients the link to the article.