I spent a leisurely afternoon on my back deck reviewing and evaluating a range of SEO checklists, and in the process, I had a few deeply random thoughts about what SEO really is and how to approach it.
You’ve probably heard Chad Pollitt’s quote about SEO: “SEO isn't something you do. It's what happens when you do everything else right." As I reflected on this simple-yet-profound statement, it occurred to me that if you’re going to do everything else right you have to think about SEO differently than maybe you have in the past.
For a long time, many of us have probably approached SEO with a “what am I going to get out of it” mentality. How many more clicks? How many more leads? How many more sales? This has mostly led to thinking about SEO as an activity and/or a set of tools to use.
However, a better way to approach SEO is to take a page from the new sales playbook that says “always be helping.” In other words, the focus of SEO shouldn’t be all about you—how you can be found, how you can manipulate the system, finding the magic formula, choosing the right tools. Instead, the focus should be finding the best way to assist potential customers find the information and solutions they are searching for—all those other things related to you will follow naturally.
With this shift in mindset, your idea of an SEO success checklist may need to change—moving away from tools and success formulas to focus more on how to help prospects find what they need.
1. Identify What Prospects Need
Instead of staring with a certain tool or topic, your SEO approach needs to start with understanding your target customers’ personas. By identifying things like their education, buying mindset, business and professional goals, and especially their pain points, you’ll gain a complete picture of their needs, the types of things they need help with and how you may be able to help them at different stages of the sales funnel.
2. Document Content Topics and Keywords
With a good grasp on who your targets are, you can then generate content ideas related to your product or service that address the pain points you’ve identified and group them into topic areas that you will address on your web pages, in your blog content, and in your offers.
Once the content areas are identified, it’s time to develop your list of keywords so that they align with the personas and the content areas that will speak to them. You may decide to start with broad keyword ideas (packaging equipment) to get things flowing, which is great and there are many tools out there to help get you started.
However, if you’re going to truly help your prospects find what they need—and find you—you’ll need to create them in ways that go along with how people search. This means thinking in terms of long-tail keywords/phrases (tight-wrap packaging equipment) and/or queries ("What are the operational benefits of tight-wrap packaging?").
A good recommendation is to categorize these long-tails and queries according to search intent, e.g., searching for information/how-tos or searching for a service/product. This will enable you to more easily assign and align keywords that match the purpose of your content pages.
3. Be Conversational
You have to keep in mind that you’re working to develop a relationship with your prospects. So, use your keywords in such a way that they flow into your content naturally and match its tone and intent. Anything different is just awkward and will impair the relationship you’re trying to build. Plus, you should know by now that you can’t just cram keywords into every spot you can think of and repeat them incessantly—it’ll get you dinged by the search engines.
4. Mind Your Keyword Manners
Keywords aren’t just for placing in content. To be polite and helpful as possible, you need to use them in multiple places so that prospects know they’re in the right place to find what they need. These places include:
- Page Titles: The page title is the welcome mat of your content. It helps visitors know they’ve found relevant content, so use keywords here. Aim to keep titles to about 70 characters in length.
- URLs: Having the URL of your site page or blog post contain keywords that correspond to your page title is one more way to convey search relevance.
- Meta Description: The meta description is meant to give searchers a bit more information about the content. Using your keywords here gives them confidence they’re in the right place—just keep it to about 155 characters total.
- Headlines: As with page titles, using your keywords in a blog or page headline conveys confidence that visitors have found the relevant information for which they were looking.
- Image Alt Tags: The images you use convey meaning to the reader, but they need to have alt tags so that search engines know what they are. And with increased use of image search, the alt tags can help visitors find what they need.
5. Be Courteous
Beyond content and keywords, there are other SEO-related factors to help your prospects, including:
- Responsive Site: You know searches on mobile are up and on the rise. Meet your prospects where they are and make sure your site is responsive so that your information can be found right away.
- Internal Links: You’ve pulled together a lot of great information on your site. Be sure to link to the relevant, related bits that may be of interest to visitors. Doing so can help keep them on your site, but also helps demonstrate your authority.
- Content Sharing: While you’ve created some great content that’s primed to be found, don’t just sit on your laurels. Get out there and share that content in places where your prospects may be, whether that’s in industry forums, LinkedIn groups, or other social media.
If you work diligently to know what your prospects need and focus your SEO approach on making it easy for them find it you’ll be in a good shape overall. Will there be bumps along the way? Yes. Will you make some mistakes along the way? Yes. Just take those as lessons learned and know that the process of being helpful isn’t easy, but it is well worth the effort.