Design Your SEO Roadmap: How to Build an SEO Strategy as a Beginner
If you’re familiar with why you need to understand and utilize SEO on your website, you may be wondering just how to go about that task. Optimizing your website isn’t something that can effectively be done without at least a little bit of planning, though. Let’s take a closer look at what a solid SEO strategy should involve so you can get to work on maximizing your website’s reach — without fumbling around.
What is an SEO Strategy?
There’s a lot of talk about SEO strategy, and what it is and what it isn’t and it’s enough to make your head spin. Before you get sucked into countless articles debating the finer points of SEO strategy, let’s take a step back and remember just what strategy is.
According to Wikipedia, strategy is “a high level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty.” Working with that definition, an SEO strategy is a plan to achieve goals (like increasing ranking or unique visitors) under the uncertain conditions of what we’ve assumed search engines are looking for and what users will actually use. SEO is, by its nature, a mix of science and art.
When you’re tackling your SEO strategy, what you should be doing is planning what steps you need to take to incorporate the information we do know about what search engines like, as well as planning to make your site friendly and interesting for your users. After all, search engines direct users to your site, but users are the ones who tell search engines how useful your site is with their behaviors. It’s a cycle that search engines are constantly refining as they get better and better and understanding what users want.
How to Create an SEO Strategy
Creating your SEO strategy can be a little intimidating but have no fears — there are countless resources to help you tackle this project. In fact, I’ll create a list of my favorites at the bottom of this article. With that, let’s jump in!
Step 1. Evaluate Your Site
First, let’s take stock of what we’ve got. User experience is the priority when it comes to optimizing a site, so let’s make sure we are working on a site that’s worth optimizing. Poor user experience triggers users to leave your site for greener pastures, and that can hurt your rankings.
Some things to consider are:
Is my site neatly organized and easy to navigate on mobile and desktop browsers?
Is the content on my site easy to view, cohesive, error-free, and informative to my visitors?
Does the appearance of my website feel clean, uncluttered, and convey my branding clearly?
Do I have a balanced mix of written content, images, and video?
Is my site free from broken links, outdated information, images that no longer load, or other obvious errors?
If you can answer all of these questions with an honest YES, then you’re ready to start planning your SEO strategy. If not, take some time to resolve these issues, and come back.
Step 2. Set S.M.A.R.T. Optimization Goals
Without goals, it is hard to track your progress. Without thoughtful goals, it’s hard to track your success. This is why I advocate S.M.A.R.T. goals for projects.
S.M.A.R.T Goals mean:
The cool thing about S.M.A.R.T. goals is that they can be as big or as small as you want. In fact, your plan of action to achieve your big goals can each be their own small S.M.A.R.T. goal.
There are a number of factors that you can consider for your goals when it comes to SEO. You may choose to set specific goals for each of these factors, or you may want to incorporate the most meaningful ones into your goal. Some of these factors include:
Organic traffic (people who find your site through a search)
Conversions (signups for newsletters, purchases, subscribers, contacts)
Impressions (how often your site shows up in searches)
Bounce rate (how many visitors land on your site and leave without exploring further than the first page)
Backlinks (how many sources link to your content)
Social media activity
Click-through rate (how many people find your site and click on it)
The best part about using these factors to set your optimization goals is that it is easy to collect data and track progress by using analytics programs. That means that, even if you’re not a data whiz (yet!), you can still view and report on your site’s traffic and keep tabs on your progress.
Step 3. Research Your Competition
Search engine optimization is a competitive process. There are only 10 links on the first page of a results page, and competition can get quite stiff for those spots. Luckily, you’re not competing for ranking with only one keyword, and your competition’s success can be a great guide for your own success. Here’s how you’re going to incorporate this information in your very own SEO plan.
Researching your keywords and finding your competition can be a bit of a circular effort. You need to have an idea of what keywords you want to use so you can find your competition, and you want to look at your competition to see what keywords they use. Oof.
Fortunately, all you need to do is take one stab at guessing your keywords to find your competition, and you can use tools like SEMrush to do the heavy lifting. I recommend checking out this detailed guide on using SEMrush for competitive analysis that 99signals has written. It covers about every step you need to know to analyze your competitors, understand their keyword use, and find gaps where you can work on building your own ranking.
You’ll also want to establish your own spreadsheet of keywords that you can keep for reference. Fortunately, SEMrush makes it easy to download your competitors’ data for your own use. Distilled discusses how to analyze and clean up your competitor’s data so it’s easier to work with — which is important if the sight of all those little boxes makes you feel faint.
Step 4. Conduct Your Own Site Audit
But wait, didn’t I just do this in step one? I hear you, but not quite. A site audit goes much deeper than just a quick check to make sure that your site looks all right on the surface. Start a list to note down things that need to be fixed, grab a cup of coffee, and take a few hours to dig through your site.
Some of the things you want to cover include:
The consistency of your URLs, page titles, and descriptions. Look for keyword usage, a consistent URL format, and mistakes that can be damaging your rankings.
Site load speeds. You’ve got 3 seconds to get your site in front of visitors. Long load times lead to high bounce rates, which means that your rankings will suffer. Use a site speed tool like Google Page Speed Insights to check out your site load time, and see what fixes are recommended. A very easy place to start is by compressing all your site images and reuploading the smaller versions.
Quality of content. Turn a critical eye on your web content, including your blog, metadata, and page copy. Is it error-free? Does it provide readers with value? If not, it’s time to make some changes.
Site structure and ease of navigation. How easy is it for someone to find your home page, regardless of where they entered your site? How about your about page, or other critical information pages? Review the structure of your site, including redirect links and broken links, and take some time to clean up the little issues.
Images and alt text. Images are a great way to attract reader attention (not to mention yet another way to rank in an image search!), but they do take work. Uncompressed images can slow site load speeds. Additionally, images without alt text are inaccessible to search engine bots and visitors who rely on screen readers. Including alt text means that search engines can index your image content — and it also means that your site is now fully accessible to people of all abilities.
If this is a little overwhelming, you can also find an SEO service to conduct your audit for you, for a fee. It can be money well spent to get a little help, however, especially if you’re just starting out.
Step 5. Fix What’s Broken
Got your list of broken things? Great! Time to start fixing those. It might be as simple as correcting or implementing a redirect, fixing a URL, or cleaning up some typos. No matter how simple these fixes may seem, leaving them for later only guarantees that they won’t be handled, and will continue to drag your site performance down.
Most importantly? Keep auditing and fixing on a regular basis.
Step 6. Up Your Content Game
I can’t say it enough — content is key! Your content is one of the heaviest factors in your site’s ranking, so don’t skimp on it. Posting exceptional content on a regular basis is a great way to help your site get noticed by search engines (after all, that’s exactly what I’m doing here!).
Schedule your content, get it written, and get it posted. I love using Trello to build my editorial calendar and plan my site content, but find a system that works for you and stick to it. Don’t have time to write content this month? Don’t forget that you always can commission content from a freelancer or invite guest posts to fill in gaps.
Step 7. Look for Backlinking Opportunities
Backlinking sometimes takes a back seat to other SEO tasks, like keywording, but it can be tremendously helpful in boosting your site’s ranking. Backlinking is when a domain that isn’t yours links to your site. This often happens because another site is linking to your content (like most of the links in this post), but you can’t just write content and sit around hoping someone will link to it.
The process of building backlinks takes time and a little bit of outreach, but it can be done. In fact, there are a variety of ways that you can build backlinks, including:
Posting listicles (people love lists, and they’ll want to share yours.)
Researching dead links and reaching out to offer your content as an alternative (Check out a guide on doing broken link outreach by Ahrefs.)
Need more ideas? Backlinko has more than 175 ways to build backlinks. Handy!
Resources to Start Your SEO Journey
Now that you have an idea of what you need to do to optimize your site, it’s time to start your journey. SEO is something anyone can learn to do successfully, but it can take time and lots of effort to get started. Whether you accomplish creating your SEO strategy in a day or a week or a month, you’re still taking steps to work smarter when it comes to your online presence.
As promised, here’s a list of a few of my favorite SEO tools:
Google Page Speed Insights: As mentioned above, this tool can help you understand how fast your site loads, and what you can do to improve your load time. It also gives you some great insight into mobile usability!
Moz Link Explorer: An overview of your site’s links and your most linked-to content, as well as data regarding backlinks to your site.
Google Keyword Planner: A handy tool that can help you come up with keyword ideas, see the search volume for keywords, and even suggested terms.
SEO Web Page Analyzer: Helpful for the auditing stage of your SEO plan, this tool scans pages for SEO issues and creates a report of what you need to fix.
SERP Simulator: See what your metadata looks like in a search engine results page.
LinkMiner: Highlights broken links in red, so you can find them on your own site… or find opportunities for some backlink outreach!
SEMrush: Detailed keyword research on any site, including your competitors.
Did I miss anything? Do you have a tip or resource to share? Feel free to share with us in the comments!