7 Essential Tasks and the Tools Needed for Beginning an SEO Initiative

On many occasions I find myself meeting, even still to this day, those who state, “We knew we needed SEO, we just didn’t know how to get started.” One of the most important points in a successful organic search campaign is the launching of the initiative itself. It is actually one of my favorite milestones as well. It is a point in the overall process when I get to be a fresh set of eyes and identify opportunities for organic search improvement as well as issues that may be impeding indexation or keyword relevance to search engines.

Granted, your organization or personal site may be going through a point in time where additional measures are needed, for example a redesign and the need for a design SEO review. Nonetheless, through countless site launches I have been a part of, the below details areas you must review in the kickoff of a well-oiled SEO campaign. Why are these important, you ask? What value does a site have that can’t rank? What’s the point of a well-crawled site without a keyword strategy? Where will you compete organically if you don’t know where the competition resides? OK, I’ll stop.

Analytics Review (Google Analytics)

Why You Need This: It will be very tough to brag about the success of your organic campaign if you do not have a solid benchmark. Sound analytical tracking will help you to identify the power of your organic efforts. This is my starting point regardless of a special site/project need.

What You Need to Understand: You need to segment issues from opportunities. Within these, issues you may see are items such as inappropriate filters, inaccurate goal tracking, or paid search traffic slipping into organic traffic to name a few. Opportunities include taking advantage of demographic tracking, event tracking on calls to actions, and areas that allow you to squeeze a little more insight out of Google Analytics.

Where to Start: Honestly, the best tool here is your mind and manual use of analytics. It is interesting what you find when you poke through every area of Google Analytics and see where you are not taking advantage of available data points. I suggest beginning in the Admin section at Property and View Settings for initial setup factors and then drilling down into Reporting where you will want to walk through every area such as Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversion data. Aside from this, start with Screaming Frog and within the Custom dropdown section enter the UA-XXXXXXXX-X Google Analytics account/view number and this will let you know, as a starting point if you have Google Analytics missing from any pages on our site. If you lack SEO focus, I doubt you are using Google Tag Manager, but if so you can filter by searching for pages missing “www.googletagmanager.com” for instance. You can at least get a sense for pages on your site that are missing analytical tracking.

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Keyword Research

Why You Need This: This is typically the first non-analytics starting point of any SEO effort in my experience. The only time it is trumped is if I know that someone is up against a serious crawling inability or a link/content quality penalty that needs addressing first. In the past, SEO in my opinion was 80 percent keyword craze, there was a lot of time spent in this area. Now, it is still a framework element of SEO but we also have evolved into areas such as the true marketing of content, lead optimization and usability.

What You Need to Understand: The fishing pole is much more effective when we have a fish finder. If we don’t know what people are searching for then we are leaving traffic for competitors. It is important that we step outside of what we think our audience is searching for and talk to them. Find what terms they use to refer to our products, then use tools and competitive insight to understand the full breadth of keyword opportunity that exists.

Where to Start: The time-honored tool here is the Google AdWords Keyword Planner. Data showing how many people are searching for specific keywords for paid advertisers can show you a lot as to what terms you need to integrate into your site and consider writing content around. Other tools that can assist with keyword research include Ubersuggest as well as simply using Google Autocomplete.

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Competitive Analysis

Why You Need This: We may know what terms we would like to rank for but competitive intelligence can tell us what other keyword opportunities exist. It can also show us how long the competition has been “search-savvy” and how long it may take us to reach the desired organic visibility.

What You Need to Understand: You need to know what content the competitors have created. What ranks? What has helped it to rank, aided social engagement, and accrued inbound links? Does the competition employ SEO-friendly technical and on-page standards on-site? How much uphill is there in this uphill battle? What have they done that we can do, too?

Where to Start: There are a few tools that come to mind that I would keep at close reach. SEMrush can help you understand what content competitors have that ranks. Another tool is BuzzSumo that will help tell you what content a competitor has that is doing well socially via link earning, also who these engaging parties are. Note, these are your outreach prospects in the future!

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Technical Site Analysis

Why You Need This: Simply put, ranking for those important keywords will be pointless if you do not have a site that is unable to be crawled. What is indexed is what has the potential to show up in search results. To be successful in organic search you have to feed search engines the content you want crawled and tell them the content that is not search-critical.

What You Need to Understand: What content are you telling search engines not to crawl via robots.txt and what content are you telling them is important via XML sitemaps? Do you have pages similar to one another or not search-critical that is need of canonical tagging? What content is being indexed and if it is not, why? Do pages load quickly and if not what is rendering to a search engine and what can you do to technically provide them with this site information?

Where to Start: Google Webmaster Tools is an imperative tool here. This will tell you how Google perceives your site. Specifically, how you link site pages, the most used keywords, error pages, your sitemaps, and much more. Invest in the setup of this feature and do the same with Bing Webmaster Tools. Take it a step further with Pingdom Web Speed to understand how pages load on your site and where you have broken elements.

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On-Page Analysis

Why You Need This: The technical site analysis showed us the skeleton of the site and how well we allow a search engine to index it. Now we have to portray keyword and topical relevance to search engines if we want to appear as an authority for a keyword topic.

What You Need to Understand: A site’s on-page elements require the synergy of a keyword(s) between the title element, page headings and sub-headings, page copy, URL naming conventions, and internal linking. Yes, you need other factors such as sound link-earning activities, etc. to round out SEO success but on-page elements are an SEO area to square away early in the game.

Where to Start: Typically I start with a tool such as Moz’s On-Page Grader. This will show you what is important from an on-page perspective. Once you know all the applicable areas, you can use a tool such as Screaming Frog to begin looking at these areas in bulk. Keep in mind that manual review is imperative as you don’t want to focus on a certain term too intently. A page should focus on a topic but not appear to be written for a search engine over a user.

on-page-analysis

Content Audit

Why You Need This: Content is king, so they say, and in the last few years this SEO element has stolen the show. It very much has become the main point of evolution in SEO. In today’s day and age, if you can create great content, market it well in social media and influencer outreach, you win. I know you want to rank for certain keywords but you also need know how to find what people want to know about those keyword topics so that you can create keyword-rich but resourceful content they will share and link to.

What You Need to Understand: A content audit begins with the identification of what content you rank for. What site pages hold the most keyword rankings and can you create additional content with these success metrics. What content do you possess that has provided the most back links. With these questions in mind, how do competitors fare? Do you have a lopsided site? In other words, do you have performing content in your blog but your regular site content is lacking in performance? A gap analysis between yourself and the competition can glean insight on other potential content build-out opportunities that may exist on the site.

Where to Start: Begin with a tool such as SEMrush within the organic keywords section to understand how many terms you rank for as well as the associated landing pages. Do the same for your competitors as well to understand what content sections they may have that you do not. For your site as well as competitors, utilize the Top Pages section of Open Site Explorer to see what content on your site holds the greatest link equity. Again, do the same for competitors to understand what content has worked in the past for them as it relates to link acquisition.

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Link Audit

Why You Need This: Google Penguin was an algorithmic update that shook many SEO practitioners to their core. For quite a while what was thought to be good SEO meant building links to often irrelevant sites on very keyword specific anchor text. Today, this if attempted, will yield you a penalty. Link-building has become link-earning. It is about great content coupled with the right outreach and marketed to the right audience for hopefully a good reception. Gone are the days of just asking for a link or placing it in a directory.

What You Need to Understand: You may be innocent of all the aforementioned offenses. But what about the boss before your boss and his decision to hire that shady link-building firm three years ago? A deep link crawl will help to tell you if you have some old oats that you are unknowingly sowing.

Where to Start: If you are unaware of the history of your domain’s link profile, enlist a tool such as Link Detox or the new Spam Analysis section in Open Site Explorer. This can glean insight on what inbound links you possess from less than desirable sites. Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO, beyond this, can begin pointing you to the exact anchor text instances of your inbound links. Once you know the history of your links as well as the present state, you can begin looking at competitors’ link profiles in these same tools to understand how you might go about gaining additional links to your domain.

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Conclusion

It should be worth mentioning that SEO is not a one and done process of the above. This is only the primer to understand where you stand within your desired organic landscape. The insight gleaned from the above will help you to begin to understand how to be seen, where to rank, and how to lean on competitive intelligence to develop a fireproof SEO strategy.

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