There’s a load of content out there on SEO – guides, articles, courses, videos, scams, people yelling about it on online forums, etc…
Most of it, however, is super impractical. If you want SEO results, you’ll need to do a lot of digging to figure out what’s important and what’s not.
So we wanted to take you through some of our processes in a step-by-step guide.
So without further ado, grab your popcorn, and be prepared to stick to the screen for a while, cause this is going to be a long post. Here’s everything we are going to cover:
- Get your website to run and load 2x – 5x faster
- Optimize your landing pages to rank for direct intent keywords
- Create amazing, long-form content that ranks every time
- How we get a TON of links to our website with ZERO link-building efforts
- How to improve your content’s rankings with Surfer SEO
Step 1 – Technical Optimization and On-Page SEO
Now, some of this will be a bit technical, so you might just forward this part to your tech team and skip ahead to Step 2.
If you DON’T have a tech team and want a super easy do this:
- Use WP Rocket. It optimizes a bunch of stuff on your website, making it run faster.
- Use SMUSH to compress all the images on your website. this usually helps with load speed.
If you’re a bit more tech-savvy, though, read on!
Technical SEO Basics
Sitemap.xml file. A good sitemap shows Google how to easily navigate your website and how to find all your content!
Proper website architecture. The crawl depth of any page should be reached with no more than 3 clicks from the homepage.
Serve images in next-gen format. Next-gen image formats (JPEG 2000, JPEG XR, and WebP) can be compressed a lot better than JPG or PNG images.
Remove duplicate content. Google hates duplicate content and will penalize you for it. If you have any duplicate pages, just merge them by doing a 301 redirect or delete one or the other.
Update your ‘robots.txt’ file. Hide the pages you don’t want Google to index e.g: non-public, or unimportant pages.
Optimize all your pages by best practice. There’s a bunch of general best practices that Google wants you to follow for your web pages: maintain keyword density, have an adequate number of outbound links, etc.
Advanced Technical SEO
Now, this is where this gets a bit more web-savvy. Now we focus on optimizing the website and its speed. Here’s how we do that:
Both for Mobile and PC, websites should load in under 2 or 3 seconds. While load speed isn’t a DIRECT ranking factor, it does have a very serious impact on your rankings.
After all, if your website doesn’t load for 5 seconds, a bunch of your visitors might drop off.
So, to measure website speed performance, we use Pagespeed Insights. Some of the most common issues we have seen clients facing when it comes to loading time are the following:
- Images being resized with CSS or JS. This adds extra loading time to your site.
- Images not being lazy-loaded. This allows images that are below the screen, to be loaded only when you can see the images.
- Gzip compression is not enabled. Gzip is a compression method that allows network file transfers to happen faster. In other words, your files like your HTML, CSS, and JS load faster.
Step 2 – Keyword Research
Once the website is 100% optimized, it’s time to define the SEO strategy.
The best way to get started with this is by doing keyword research.
First off, we create a keyword research sheet. This is going to be the main hub for all the content operations.
we use the sheet to:
- Prioritize content
- Keep track of the publishing process
- Get a top-down view of the web pages
And here’s what it covers:
- Target search phrase. This is the keyword we’re targeting.
- Priority. What’s the priority of this keyword?
- Status. What’s the status of the article?
- Topic cluster. The category that the blog post belongs to.
- Monthly search volume. Self-explanatory. This helps us pick a priority for the keyword.
- CPC (low & high bid). Cost per click for the keyword. Generally, unless we’re planning to run search ads, these are not mandatory. They can, however, help us figure out which of the keywords will convert better. The higher the CPC, the more likely it is for the keyword to convert well.
Now that we have the sheet, let’s talk about the “how” of keyword research.
How to do Keyword Research (Step-by-Step Guide)
There are a ton of different ways to do that.
Our favourite method, however, is as follows…
We start by listing out the top 5 SEO competitors.
The key here is SEO competitors – competing companies that have a strong SEO presence in the same niche.
Not sure who’s a good SEO competitor? We Google the top keywords that describe the product and find the top-ranking competitors.
Run them through an SEO tool, and we’ll see how well, exactly, they’re doing with their SEO.
Once we have a list of 5 competitors, we run each of them through “Organic Research”, and get a complete list of all the keywords they rank on.
Now, we’ll go through these keywords one by one and extract all the relevant ones and add them to the sheet.
Once we’ve gone through the top SEO competitors, the keyword research should be around 80%+ done.
Now to put some finishing touches on our keyword research, run our top keywords through UberSuggest and let it do its magic. It’s going to give us a bunch of keywords associated with the keywords we input.
Then we go through all the results, extract anything relevant, and the keyword research should be 90% done.
At this point, we can call it a day and move on to the next step. Chances are, over time, we’ll uncover new keywords to add to the sheet and get to that sweet 100%.
Step 3 – Create SEO Landing Pages
Now it’s time to build the right page for each of them! This step is a lot more straightforward than you’d think. First off, we create a custom landing page based on the keyword. Depending on the niche, this can be done in 2 ways:
- Create a general template landing page. Pretty much copy-paste the landing page, alter the sub-headings, paraphrase it a bit, and add relevant images to the use case. We’d go with this option if the keywords we’re targeting are very similar to the main use case.
- Create a unique landing page for each use case. We should do this if each use case is unique. In this case, we’ll need two completely new landing pages for each keyword.
Once we have a bunch of these pages ready, we optimize them for their respective keywords.
We do this by running the page content through an SEO tool.
Once the new landing pages are live, we need to pick where we want to place them on the website. And we usually add these pages to one of the website’s navigation menus.
Finally, once we have all these new landing pages up, we might be thinking “Now what? How, and when, are these pages going to rank?”
Generally, landing pages are a tad harder to rank than content. See, with content, quality plays a huge part. Write better, longer, and more informative content than the competition, and we’re going to eventually outrank them even if they have more links.
With landing pages, things aren’t as cut and dry. More often than not, we can’t just “create a better landing page.”
What determines rankings for landing page keywords are backlinks. If the competitors have 400 links on their landing pages, while ours has 40, chances are, we’re not going to outrank them.
Step 4 – Create SEO Blog Content
Now, let’s talk about the other side of the coin: content keywords, and how to create content that ranks.
As we mentioned before, these keywords aren’t direct-intent, but they can still convert pretty well. For example, in a digital marketing agency, you could rank on keywords like…
- Lead generation techniques
- SaaS marketing
- SEO content
After all, anyone looking to learn about lead gen techniques might also be willing to pay you to do it for them.
On top of this, blog post keywords are way easier to rank for than the landing pages. We can beat competition simply by creating significantly better content without turning it into a backlink war. To create good SEO content, we need to do 2 things right:
- Create a comprehensive content outline
- Get the writing part right
Here’s how each of these works…
How to Create a Content Outline for SEO
A content outline is a document that has all the info on what type of information the article should contain Usually, this includes:
- Which headers and subheaders w should use
- What’s the optimal word count
- What information, exactly, should each section of the article cover
- We can also mention the SEO optimization requirements keyword density, number of outbound links, etc…
An outline can help us get a top-down idea of what we should cover in the article.
So, how do we create an outline? Here’s a simplified step-by-step process…
- Determine the target word count.
- Create a similar header structure as the competition.
- For each header, mention what it’s about. Pro-tip – you can borrow ideas from the top 5 ranking articles.
- For each header, explain what, exactly, should the writer mention in simple words.
- Finally, we do some first-hand research on Reddit and Quora. What are the questions the target audience has around the topic? What else could we add to the article that would be super valuable for the customers?
How to Write Well
There’s a lot more to good content than giving an outline to a writer. Sure, they can hit all the right points, but if the writing is mediocre, no one’s going to stick around to read the article.
Here are some essential tips you should keep in mind for writing content:
- Write for your audience. Are you a B2B enterprise SaaS? Your blog posts should be more formal and professional. B2C, super-consumer product? Talk in a more casual, relaxed fashion. Sprinkle your content with pop culture references for bonus points!
- Avoid fluff. Every single sentence should have some sort of value conveying information, cracking a joke, etc. Avoid beating around the bush, and be as straightforward as possible.
- Keep your audience’s knowledge in mind. For example, if your audience is a bunch of rocket scientists, you don’t have to explain to them how 1+1=2.
- Use Grammarly and Hemingway. The first is like your personal pocket editor, and the latter helps make your content easier to read.
Step 5 – Metadata Optimization
Now that we have optimized the website as a whole it’s time to optimize the individual items and pages on the site. To do this we need to add metadata to all the computer files, images, web pages and so on, on the site.
Metadata is simply data about data. It means it is a description and context of the data. It helps to organize, find and understand data. Here are a few real-world examples of metadata:
These are some typical metadata elements:
- Title and description,
- Tags and categories,
- Who created and when,
- Who last modified and when,
- Who can access or update?
Every time you take a photo with today’s cameras a bunch of metadata is gathered and saved with it:
- date and time,
- camera settings,
Each book has several standard metadata on the covers and inside. This includes:
- a title,
- author name,
- publisher and copyright details,
- the description on a back,
- table of contents,
- page numbers.
A blog post
Every blog post has standard metadata fields that are usually before the first paragraph. This includes:
- published time,
Every email you send or receive has several metadata fields, many of which are hidden in the message header and not visible to you in your mail client. This metadata includes:
- date and time sent,
- sending and receiving server names and IPs,
- format (plain text of HTLM),
- anti-spam software details.
Every word processing software collects some standard metadata and enables you to add your own fields for each document. Typical fields are:
- creation date and time,
- last modification date and time,
- the number of pages.
Spreadsheets contain a few metadata fields:
- tab names,
- table names,
- column names,
- user comments.
Relational databases (the most common type of database) store and provide access to data and metadata in a structure called a data dictionary or system catalogue. It holds information about:
- data types,
- table relationships,
- and many more
All the fields you see by each file in file explorer is actually metadata. The actual data is inside those files. Metadata includes:
- file name,
- creation date and time,
- last modification date and time.
Every web page has several metadata fields:
- page title,
- page description,
Paper document files have often administrative metadata that help manage documents. This might include:
- letter for files organized alphabetically,
- access control information (“classified” for instance),
That should give you a pretty good understanding of what metadata is.
Step 6 – Interlink Your Pages
One of Google’s ranking factors is how long the visitors stick around on your website.
So, you need to encourage users reading ONE article, to read, well, the rest of them. This is done through interlinking.
The idea is that each of our web pages should be linked to and from every other relevant page on the site.
Say, an article on “how to make a resume” could link to and be linked from
- “how to include contact info on a resume,”
- “how to write a cover letter,”
- “what’s the difference between a CV and a resume,”
- and so on.
Proper interlinking alone can have a significant impact on website rankings.
So, how do we do interlinking “right?”
We pick an article we want to interlink. Let’s say, for example, an article on “business process management.”
The goal here is to find as many existing articles on the blog, where “business process management” is mentioned so that we can add a link to the article.
Firstly, we Google the keyword “business process management” we would use the following query:
site:example.com “business process management”
We’ll get a complete list of articles that mention the keyword “business process management.”
Now, all we have to do is go through each of these, and make sure that the keyword is hyperlinked to the respective article!
We also do this for all the synonyms of the keyword for this article. For example, “BPM” is an acronym for business process management, so we’d want to link this article there too.
Step 7 – Track & Improve Your Headline CTRs
Article Click through rate play a huge role in determining what ranks or not.
Let’s say our article ranks 4 with a CTR of 15%. Google benchmarks this CTR with the average CTR for the position.
If the average CTR for position 4 is 12%, Google will assume that the article, with a CTR of 15% is of high quality, and will reward you with better rankings.
On the other hand, if the average CTR is 18%, Google will assume that the article isn’t as valuable as other ranking content pieces and lower the ranking.
So, it’s important to keep track of the Click-Through Rates for all the articles, and when we see something that’s underperforming, we can test different headlines to see if they’ll improve.
Now, you’re probably wondering, how do we figure out what’s the average CTR?
Unfortunately, each search result is different, and there’s no one size fits all formula for average CTR.
Over the past few years, Google has been implementing a bunch of different types of search results – featured snippets, QAs, and a lot of other types of search results.
So, depending on how much of this clutter and the search results for a given keyword, we’ll get different average CTRs by position.
Rule of thumb, you can follow these values:
- 1st position -> ~31.73% CTR
- 2nd pos. -> ~24.71%
- 3rd pos. -> 18.66%
- 4th pos. -> 13.60%
- 5th -> 9.51%
- 6th -> 6.23%
- 7th -> 4.15%
- 8th -> 3.12%
- 9th -> 2.97%
Keep in mind these change a lot depending on the industry, PPC competitiveness, 0-click searches, etc…
Then we use a scraping tool to extract the following data from all your web pages:
- Page title
- Page URL
- Old Headline
Then we delete all the pages that aren’t meant to rank on Google. Then, we head over to Google Search Console and extract the following data for all the web pages:
- CTR (28 Day Range)
- Avg. Position
Then we add all of this data to a spreadsheet.
Now we check what the competition is doing and use that to come up with new headline ideas. Then, we put them in the Title Ideas cell for the respective keyword.
For each keyword, we come up with 4 to 5 different headlines and implement the best title for each article.
Once we implement the change, we insert the date on the Date Implemented column. This helps us keep track of progress.
Then, we wait for around 3 to 4 weeks to see what kind of impact this change is going to have on the rankings and CTR.
If the results are not satisfactory, we’ll record the respective cells’ results and implement another test for the following month. Make sure to update the Date Implemented column once again.
Step 8 – Keep Track of Rankings & Make Improvements On-The-Go
You’re never really “done” with SEO, you should always keep track of your rankings and see if there’s any room for improvement.
If you wait for an adequate time frame after publishing a post 6 months to a year and you’re still seeing next to no results, then it might be time to investigate.
Here’s what this usually looks like for us:
- Audit the content
- Is your content an adequate word count?
- Is the content well-written?
- Do the images in your article add value? E.g. no stock or irrelevant images.
- Is the content optimized for SEO? Think, keyword density, links to external websites, etc.
- Audit internal links
- Does the content link to an adequate number of your other articles or web pages?
- Is the article linked to an adequate number of your web pages or blog posts? You can check this on Search Console => Links => Internal Links. Or, if you’re using Yoast or RankMath, you can check the # of internal links a post has in the WordPress Dashboard -> Posts.
- Audit the backlinks
- Do you have as many backlinks as your competitors?
- Are your backlinks from the countries you want to rank in? If you have a bunch of links from India, but you want to rank in the US, you’d need to get more US links.
- Are your links high quality? More often than not, low DA / PA links are not that helpful.
- Did you disown low-quality or spam links?
- Audit web page
- Does the web page load too slow? Think, 4+ seconds.
- Did you enable lazy loading for the images?
- Did you compress all images on the web page?
…And that’s it.
If you have any questions, leave them in the comments.