SEO research is much more than simply identifying keywords relevant to your company's products and services. To support a highly effective SEO campaign, research must be broader and deeper.
Keyword research is the process of shrinking the universe of relevant keywords down to a manageable set of the most effective keywords to optimize. Among the most important criteria to research:
- User's intent. The keyword phrase "benefits of life insurance" indicates an intention to learn. The keyword phrase "compare life insurance premiums" indicates an intention to purchase. The keyword phrase "life insurance" indicates no particular intention. The first keyword phrase is a superb fit for Web content designed to teach; the second keyword phrase is a superb fit for Web content designed to generate sales inquiries; the third keyword phrase is probably too vague to warrant optimization.
- Average monthly search volume from Google. Optimizing for low-volume keywords is seldom cost effective. If only a handful of people are searching for the keyword for which a company is ranking highly, that keyword will not generate enough traffic and conversions to justify the cost of optimizing it. There are, however, exceptions. If a low-volume keyword represents a good opportunity to make a $500,000 sale, a mere single conversion over a two-year period will more than pay for its inclusion in the SEO campaign.
- Current Google ranking position. How a website's content is currently performing in organic search is an important consideration. Keywords with high rankings could form the foundation of a campaign — if they are strategically sound keywords. On the other hand, if highly ranked keywords are strategically unsound — for example, having vague user intent or low search volume — existing content will need to be re-optimized or even eliminated.
- Moz Keyword Difficulty Tool. This tool provides data about how difficult it would be to rank for a given keyword. The harder it is to rank, the more costly the SEO effort. A campaign made up only of very difficult keywords could be cost-prohibitive.
- Google Search Console. This information reveals in aggregate how many impressions a website's pages receive in organic search. It is another indicator of a website's current SEO effectiveness.
- Identify low-hanging fruit. SEO campaigns take time to produce results, so identifying keywords that generate "quick wins" is vital. These keywords have, for example, extremely high user intent or are high in volume but low in difficulty.
Being in a highly specialized niche, we didn’t think SEO would help us generate leads, and we are happy to report that Straight North proved us wrong!
Before launching an SEO campaign, the condition of the company website must be assessed. Any SEO shortcomings should be addressed prior to launch. The most important areas to review:
- Content. A number of factors affect Google's ability to understand and reward a site's content, including page hierarchy, title tags, Meta description tags, H1 headline tags and body content. A comprehensive plagiarism check should also be conducted.
- Blog. A well-constructed blog makes a strong contribution to a website's authority and ranking potential. A blog analysis reviews posting frequency and quality, as well as social media optimization.
- Technical SEO. A Web developer and systems administrator must evaluate technical SEO on-site issues, including duplicate content, URL structure, internal linking structure, site speed and mobile friendliness.
Off-site SEO performance must also be assessed prior to launching a campaign. The three key areas to research:
- Backlink profile. The quality of a company's backlink profile makes or breaks most SEO campaigns. Identifying low-quality links, analyzing anchor text and identifying link reclamation opportunities are crucial. These items are high priorities for off-site SEO upon campaign launch.
- Social media strategy and execution. Social media shares assist a link-earning campaign by getting your content in front of more people; thus, the current status of a company's own social media properties and those of any off-site publishers should be evaluated, in terms of social share volume and potential. In addition, a company should have a properly set-up Google Plus business page to secure the very important "pack listings" on Google.
- Competitor research. Conducting competitor research on backlink profiles produces valuable insights on where to obtain high-quality links. In addition, a competitor social media review and analysis is extremely helpful in determining what social media results are attainable — every business sector has unique nuances.
Thorough research enables SEO strategists to construct campaigns that include all necessary work, and equally important, to prioritize tasks to gain momentum and results as quickly as possible. Shortcutting research leads to tactical gaps and slow progress and must always be avoided.