SEO strategy: research you need to do BEFORE the optimisation process

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For companies serving either B2B or B2C audiences, search engine optimization continues to be a priority for driving new traffic.

There are many, many articles suggesting the right tactics to help you deliver that traffic. But within this piece, I want to take a step back and offer a few key components to think through before you even begin the optimization process.

Understand your audience

The first of these preparatory steps is to understand your audience.

If your business has not taken the time to develop personas, get started now. Personas are a set of representative profiles that communicate the important behaviors, goals, wants, needs and frustrations of specific audience segments along their decision-making journey.

Effective personas are driven by primary and secondary data, and used to gain a focused understanding of how a particular persona profile uses a particular “application” within a given context.

audience personas

SEO audit

The next step, once you have identified your audience, is to perform an SEO audit.

This process helps to triage the site you’re trying to drive traffic toward. Does the site have technical issues that are making it difficult for search engines to crawl? Is the content structured in a way that is confusing, not only to the user but to search engines as well? Is the site mobile friendly?

Presenting a mobile friendly site is becoming even more important in anticipation of the upcoming splitting of the Google indexes, in which mobile will be the priority index and desktop will be refreshed less often.

Another way to help get the most out of this SEO audit is to request Analytics and Google Search Console access for the domain.

Content audit

Up next is the content audit.

Now that you know what is driving your audience, their needs, and what you should work on from an SEO viewpoint, you can fully concentrate on understanding how the content that you currently provide fits the needs of your personas, and where it falls along their decision/purchase funnel.

The key to this analysis isn’t to force content to fit these needs, but instead to recognize content that does fit and to identify any gaps.

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Your content is what will help expose your site to your target audience at the right moment in their journey, and it’s worth it to get it right. The other step that should be part of your content audit is to review content themes.

Do similar pieces of content truly need to be separate, or are they more powerful as one piece of content? For content and keyword themes, the focus needs to be on the intent behind the query: what the searcher is looking for.

Competitor analysis

Finally, a thorough competitive analysis will help to develop how you should set your expectations.

How hard are your competitors hitting the marketing channels? Are your competitors keeping current with what is important for their customers, or still telling their customers what is important? Are you in a position to put your content in head-to-head competition and be the expert? How do you rank when it comes to authoritative and trustworthy content that your audience needs?

The idea here is not just to “spy” on your competitors, but to understand how you can set yourself up for success, and how to attract the most relevant audience for your specific website.

One other important factor in this process is to look beyond your “standard” competitors and see if other company websites appear for some of your high priority queries. These may be companies that you haven’t considered as competitors before, but that make sense to keep an eye on.

In conclusion

Following these steps to establish a better understanding of your customer, content and competitive landscape will likely pay dividends as you dive into specific SEO tactics.

These areas of understanding may affect each other holistically as well, for example, findings uncovered in the competitor analysis might highlight a need to classify pieces of content differently than before. Performing this research before executing your SEO strategy will set you up for a better chance at success.

Kevin Gamache is Senior Search Strategist at Wire Stone, an independent digital marketing agency for global Fortune 1000 brands.

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