To Create an SEO Strategy, You'll Have to Be Patient
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We’ve all heard the saying patience is a virtue.
If you are a business owner, entrepreneur or marketer, my guess is that patience may not be your strongest quality. In order to grow a business and keep things afloat, you need to be moving quickly at all times. Yet, if you want to populate on the first page of Google organically and improve your SEO, patience is what differentiates the pretenders from the contenders.
Here's my story.
In 2012, my marketing agency had just celebrated its two-year anniversary. We were a very young company. My sister and I started The Media Captain in 2010 and two years later, we had just landed our biggest account. We would be responsible for managing the SEO of a national company in a very competitive industry. We were somewhat blindsided, however, when we found out that we’d be working alongside a much larger agency. Not a huge deal -- we were just excited to prove we could manage this campaign by ourselves.
Before getting started on the account, I did research on the larger agency we’d be working with to see how it deployed SEO on its own website. To my surprise, it didn’t even rank in its local market for keywords like “SEO Company.” This definitely raised a red flag to me from the get-go.
It was this point in time that the light bulb went off in my head. I said to my sister, “I want to outrank every competitor in our industry on Google within our local market.”
I realized that the majority of marketing agencies don’t utilize the same SEO tactics that they preach to their clients. I decided that moving forward, I was going to wake up early, spend time in the evenings and on the weekends, to improve the SEO of The Media Captain.
It seemed like a no brainer that ranking well on Google would be a good way to close new business. To me, they went hand in hand. If a prospective client found The Media Captain on Google searching for a term like “Columbus SEO Company” (which is where our agency is located), then we were doing something right. I believed that this had to help our chances of being able to close any new account.
It can take years.
You have to realize that on the first page of Google, the first five results account for 67.6 percent of the clicks, according to a Moz study. It is one thing to rank on page one. It is a completely different animal to rank in the top positioning. Ranking on the bottom of page one versus the top is the equivalent to making it to the NFL as a quarterback and just being a backup versus actually starting, making the Pro Bowl and winning the Super Bowl.
Back in 2012, when I had my “a-ha moment,” we had very few terms ranking on the first page. This meant we had very few leads coming in the door through Google.
Fast forward one year to 2013. By this time, we began populating toward the bottom of the first page for many of the keywords we were after. According to Moz’s study, the results from ranking in the six to 10 position on Google account for only 3.73 percent of clicks. We started to get leads from some random businesses who were finding us on Google, which was exciting. Still, there was not a lot of frequency. Just based off of percentages, we knew that if we could get into the top five results, things would drastically change.
In 2014, we continued moving up within the search results. For some less competitive terms, we were ranking in the top three positions. We also moved our way towards the middle of the search engines for more competitive search queries. We were starting to close new business due to our Google strategy. Yet still, two years later, the phone wasn’t ringing every day with new leads, which was what we desired. So, we kept going.
2015 was the real game changer. We moved into the top three positions for the majority of search terms for our business. Our phone was ringing daily and we were closing a lot of new accounts, which allowed our agency to grow. The beauty of this is that since organic placement is earned media, we didn’t have to pay per click. This made what we were doing a very profitable marketing initiative.
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Think like a local bakery.
I’m not trying to toot my own horn here by telling you how we rank well on Google. The point I’m trying to convey is that it took over three years for our agency to truly reap the benefits of a solid SEO strategy. We are in a very competitive industry in one of the top 15 markets in the United States, which meant that it took time to deploy a strategy and for Google to recognize our efforts. We had to be patient.
I recently met with a business owner who couldn’t get over the estimate I gave him that it would take him six months to potentially start ranking well on Google. He was in a less competitive field and already had some good natural backlinks coming in, since he’s been in business for over 10 years. Six months in the grand scheme of thing is not a long time, yet business owners want results yesterday, which is why they often times don't invest in SEO.
You wouldn’t believe how many businesses decide to put the majority of their budget into pay-per-click ads (PPC), since that can generate leads the very next day. It’s instant gratification, and I’m not just saying this due to my agency experience. SEMPO, the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization, estimates that 87 percent of search engine dollars are spent on PPC versus only 13 percent spent on SEO efforts.
Look, we manage a lot of successful PPC campaigns, and this is a great strategy if you need leads coming in ASAP. If you can rank towards the top of Google organically, however, there is not another marketing effort that can yield a better ROI. Once you begin ranking in the top positions on Google, your business will be in a whole different ballgame.
Think of your SEO strategy like opening a bakery. If you are trying to compete with the local baker down the street who has been in business for 30 years, it isn’t going to happen overnight. You might have to stay open an extra day of the week to lure in customers who can’t go to the more established baker on his day off. You’ll have to go door to door to businesses to inform them of your corporate baked good packages. You’ll need to hand out samples so people can try your delicious pastries for free. You’ll need to sponsor a local baseball team so all the parents of the kids get your cakes for their kids’ birthdays, which will help expedite word of mouth marketing. Just like it takes time to establish a customer base, it takes time to earn credibility in the eyes of Google. Trust me, if you can be patient, you will reap the benefits.
This is our strategy.
Step 1: Come up with a defined plan.
Make sure you know what kind of customer you want to lure into your business. Too often, I see businesses trying to rank nationally for keywords, when their focus should be local. Or they try to rank for every suburb in their city rather than just focusing on one location, which can confuse Google.
You need a clear strategy on your most profitable keywords. You also need to determine whether you need a strong focus on your local market or if you should be targeting keywords nationally. Once you have this understanding, you can deploy a strategy to structure your site in a way that will be appealing to Google. If you miss step one, everything else listed below could be a lost cause.
Here's an example: A dentist in Tempe, Ariz., should just go after the city of Tempe since this is where his office is located. Even though it would be enticing to target Phoenix and Scottsdale, he has a higher chance of ranking in the Tempe market due to the physical location actually being in Tempe. This dentist would also have a higher chance to convert on traffic since most people want to find a dentist nearby and might not want to travel 15 minutes from Phoenix to Tempe. If the dentist wants to go after Scottsdale and Phoenix, I’d recommend setting up a PPC campaign to target those nearby cities. He should put his SEO focus on Tempe.
On the other hand, if there were a local Tempe jeweler who ships products throughout the country and has 80 percent of her revenue coming from her ecommerce store, I’d advise her to have more of a national SEO approach. She could still promote her storefront location in Tempe but she’d want to make sure her website was set up with a national presence.
Step 2: Measure your success.
Domain Authority is a score (on a 100-point scale) developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engines. We like to use Domain Authority when comparing one site to another or tracking the “strength” of your website over time.
For our agency, I plugged our website into Moz and tracked it versus the top three competitors in our industry and our market who were ranking high on Google. This provided me with a benchmark of how far I had to take our website in order to give us a realistic shot of ranking towards the top of Google. Even though it took me a couple of years to get into the top-ranking positioning, I was able to track my progress and see measurable results.
Step 3: Generate great content, and in turn, acquire backlinks.
If you are familiar with Google’s algorithm, you are aware that it is predicated based off of backlinks. This is simply a hyperlink on an external website that links back to your website.
We decided to conduct outreach and try to contribute article content onto five external websites, all of which had a strong domain authority and were credible. We made sure some sites had a national presence while others were more hyperlocal to the Columbus market. We were able to establish credibility, generate great referral traffic and of course, acquire links through the articles.
We also went pretty crazy with Help A Reporter Out (HARO) by responding to at least five pitches every day for three years. HARO is one of the greatest tools for PR and SEO any business owner or digital marketer can make use of. It’s free, it generates amazing exposure (if executed properly) and it can really be a game changer (again, if executed properly).
HARO provides journalists with a robust database of sources for upcoming stories and daily opportunities for sources to secure valuable media coverage. Sign up and use this resource as much as you can to build credibility and establish media relationships for your site. If you spend the time and send back two pitches per day for a one-year timespan, you will get tremendous exposure on some of the most popular sites on the web. This will not only help increase your brand exposure, it will greatly help your SEO as well.
Step 4: Optimize your on-site content.
Moz has a “page optimization” feature that every company should make use of. You can literally throw in any keyword and the page you want to optimize it for and it will give you recommendations on how to change the title tag, H1 tag, alt image attributes and other key factors that go into this. You want to make sure the pages of your website provide great value and are optimized for the keywords you want to rank for. Of course, it is important to have a mobile-friendly website as well.
A good trick is to dig into your Google Analytics to see the top visited pages on your site. For instance, with our agency, we realized that our “About” page was the second most visited page on our site. We recently redid this page and added new photos and new verbiage to convey a better story for people who land on this page. We also looked at pages where there was a high bounce rate and figured out ways to improve the user experience on these pages.
This isn’t rocket science. Just spend a weekend analyzing the data and putting together a plan to fix low performing pages. You know your business and your website better than anyone, so you’ll most likely understand and recognize the things that could use some improvement.
Step 5: Focus on local.
If your business has a physical location, make sure you submit your site to a local directory like Moz Local or Aabaco Small Business. If you were ever curious about how an address appears on MapQuest, for example, it is due to submitting your address to a directory, which will make your localized presence consistent across the board.
If you are focused on a local market, it is also important to get connected with local businesses and organizations. Sign up for the Better Business Bureau. Sponsor a youth baseball team and see if they have a “sponsor” section on their site where they’ll link back to you. Ask your customers if they’d write a recap about your service somewhere on their website.
In order for Google to give your business local credit, it needs to see local action taking place.