I’ve been fortunate enough to run SEO projects from small startups all the way to Fortune 500 companies and I can tell you from experience it is never easy to begin doing SEO as a business. The reality is that there is so much information out there that for anyone trying to take the first steps you are guaranteed to waste effort in areas that won’t produce results.
Every SEO project ever conceived started with the desire for results, that number one ranking in Google for an extremely competitive term or massive “unpaid” traffic. This is a good thing but also typically where big problems start. Now that you’ve dedicated the time and budget what do you do next? There is unfortunately an information overload on the subject which makes prioritizing extremely challenging for anyone but a seasoned SEO professional. Here’s what you do:
Set the right goal
SEO is very unique in that success pays off exponentially more as you become more successful. A top 3 ranking is going to send a lot of traffic but 11th will send almost nothing. Furthermore, Google has consistently made changes to guarantee big brands will rank even if their sites have extreme problems that would not allow smaller sites to rank at all.
Eye tracking study of Google SERPs
That means that any SEO plan that doesn’t involve being an authority online is missing the core value of SEO over any other marketing medium. The real benefit of SEO is that it has the potential for the lowest cost per customer acquisition of any marketing channel. If the end goal is to simply get a modest directly measurable ROI a big SEO project is setup to fail from the beginning. Consider looking at other marketing channels particularly paid marketing or just getting a basic technical plan for future SEO efforts.
For low authority sites
If you haven’t developed your business as a top authority on subjects relating to your core business there is a huge gap in what you could be getting out of SEO. The bottom line is that every SEO plan for a low authority website needs to include becoming an authority. These are examples of strong plans for developing authority:
- Create such compelling content that the viral traffic you receive is profitable without search rankings
- Optimize your PR to get links out of your placements
- Run events that can break even and focus on social engagement of the participants
- Use your well known and expert employees and executives to create content for big publications, organizations and events
The core of every example is that it includes engaging in valuable activities if you were to void all search benefits. You want to build valuable assets that can be scaled independent of your search rankings but also position yourself to benefit from search. If you develop world class thought leadership like this it’s nearly impossible to not get authoritative links and rankings in Google. Balsamiq is one of my favorite examples of this:
- 11 employees total and their authority was built while there were fewer
- 81 Domain Authority
- Top ranks for extremely competitive terms like “mockups” and “wireframing tool”
- Seemingly no SEO optimization done
Websites with authority
Once your website already has authority you have a choice to make:
- Optimize search engine’s ability to crawl your website and correctly rank you for your areas of expertise
- Invest in growing your authority or expanding into a larger topic niche/industry
The key to making this decision is to understand the interaction between authority and optimization. The more authority you have the larger the benefits are for fixing problems. There are many websites out there with straightforward technical problems that are worth millions of dollars in traffic if fixed. Comparatively if you have a technically SEO perfect website with little authority it’s often worth very little. This will help visualize balancing building authority and optimization:
Note that what we’re trying to do here is make sure that we aren’t losing out on areas of expertise that we deserve to be ranking for. Unfortunately, search engines are far from perfect at crawling websites so it’s your job to ensure that you aren’t causing problems. To start you want to understand the key ways websites are crawled and put into a search engine, you must understand:
- What is relevant content for the terms you want to rank
- How a search engine crawler finds and indexes every page you would want to rank
- What keywords your indexed pages target
There is a lot of depth to each of these points but you want to start by understanding how each of these components affect how your site ranks. It’s often a great idea to bring in experts if you aren’t capable of doing the deep dive inhouse but you still need to understand the basics of how these 3 components affect your site.
- Mackenzie Fogelson’s conversion checklist for content relevancy
- SEOmoz’s introduction how search engines work
- Paddy Morgan’s 11 technical SEO tools you should be using
- Dave Sottimano’s 60 minute technical audit
- Distilled U
Chris Warren is an SEO consultant in the NYC Distilled office. In his spare time Chris enjoys eating great food while talking about startups.