By Jason Squardo
Marketers consistently rank search engine optimization (SEO) as one of the greatest drivers of ROI, and the supporting evidence clearly shows that having an actual SEO plan is an essential part of any comprehensive digital marketing strategy.
Planning for SEO, whether that initiative is managed in-house or in conjunction with an agency partner, requires identifying target audiences and keywords, analyzing the competitive landscape and identifying website barriers, as well as building off-page signals through outreach. Learn more about these tactics below and consider employing the following approaches when building out a comprehensive SEO plan for your enterprise in 2015.
Identify Key Target Audiences
Using a variety of proprietary and third-party consumer data, it is important for marketers to start any SEO planning with a clear understanding of their target audience. Through data layering from owned databases, Google Analytics and third parties (e.g. Facebook), marketers can gain valuable information about their customers that will help direct content and SEO initiatives moving forward.
For example, marketers have the ability to track website visitors back to their profiles on Facebook and target them based on their social sharing behaviors. Identifying target audiences by geographic area, interests and other demographic information, allows marketers to build "roadmaps" for optimization.
This initial research helps build a clear picture of how users are searching for and sharing information, and provides valuable insights into keywords, hashtags, topics and purchase intent. For example, local linguistic analysis and keyword research (check out Website Magazine's "Big List of Free Keyword Tools" at wsm.co/ktools14 ) can identify how users in different geographic areas search for information. The often subtle differences in how users in Phoenix search for hotels versus users in Dallas for example, may determine how marketers will optimize for local searches in those areas.
Analyze Off-Page Search Signals & the Competitive Landscape
Using data analysis and initial keyword research, search marketers should then determine what factors may be influencing a competitors' rank. This research is particularly useful when factoring in off-page SEO, which includes the digital public relations and blogger outreach tactics used by a brand's competitors to build high-quality links from credible, authoritative publishers.
Once the search result positions of competitors are identified, as well as the factors potentially contributing to their success, search marketers can start to build a strategy for increasing their own website's ranking. For example, if a company can determine which websites and publishers are linking to its competitors, it can make inferences about the types of publishers that it too will need to build relationships with in order to improve its off-page ranking factors. Using ranking analytics tools can help brands determine which publishers are the most authoritative and will therefore be most influential in helping increase their own positions on the search engine result pages (SERPs) for competitive keywords.
Think About Where Users Are Coming From
When it comes to on-page SEO, having a responsive website design that is optimized for searches made on all devices is essential. On-page structure, content and code that are optimized not only for search engines, but are also user-friendly, are critical to success in search engine optimization.
Identify Optimization Barriers & Adjust Code/Site Structure
Before diving into optimization with target audiences and keywords in mind, it's important to consider the many SEO obstacles that can present themselves. Recognizing SEO obstacles can help marketers effectively maximize all digital marketing efforts, including outlining roadmaps for content.
Use Local Directories to Your Advantage
Local SEO is a rising area of expertise among search engine optimization professionals. It's the process of making a company's locations more visible to individuals searching with a geographic focus, especially on mobile devices. Data analysis and local SEO tools can help marketers determine which local directories, including unique domains and citations, are accurate, up-to-date, and complete for their brand.
Local directories should be filled out completely and consistently for each and every individual location, ideally with a link back to a unique location URL. Uploading to primary local directories (such as Yelp and Yellow Pages) as well as industry-specific directories (like Angie's List for local service providers) can help increase search signals from these highly authoritative sites.
Increasing a brand's local search rankings is an essential component of SEO, as it increases visibility at the very moment users search. This qualified referral traffic can lead to increased online and offline sales.
For further reading, check out "21 Local SEO Mistakes You Didn't Know You Were Making" at wsm.co/localmishaps.
Build on Success to Optimize for Ongoing Success
While these four strategies are essential building blocks to create an effective SEO plan, it is important to remember to take an active approach with your plan. Keeping pace with changing trends is crucial to staying ahead of search engine algorithm updates and the efforts of your competition. Remember to consistently review results, site performance and industry trends. By utilizing these four strategies and taking an active approach, marketers can create an optimized SEO plan to help increase visibility and drive sales.
Jason Squardo is the executive vice president of search at ZOG Digital, a digital marketing company based in Scottsdale, Ariz. Jason has worked for more than 16 years helping Fortune 500 and emerging brands with their SEO efforts.