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So You Want A "Strategic" SEO Partner

One thing we hear over and over again is that companies want a strategic SEO partner, but we rarely if ever hear what exactly that means.  Usually it’s something along the lines of wanting an agency that will go beyond on-page optimization to digging up technical issues and developing recommendations accordingly. While we certainly fill this role, it’s important to consider the bigger picture.  Addressing a handful of technical issues is not a strategy.  In this article I’ll lay out the major pieces of a comprehensive strategy along with some excellent resources for further reading. From Dictionary.com: Strategy: a plan, method, or series of maneuvers or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result: a strategy for driving organic traffic and revenue. By this definition a strategy should include all of the required tactics to achieve the desired goal.  So we have to ask ourselves, "What is the goal?" Questions to Start With Why does your company have a website?  Obviously, most companies have a website to sell a service or product.  But let’s dig a little deeper.  Is the site intended to:
  • Drive leads through subscriptions to a blog or other forms of content
  • Provide information about a product or service
  • Prompt visitors to request more information
  • Drive sales of new and existing products
Whatever the primary and secondary purposes of a site, these goals should be supported throughout the site architecture, taxonomy, canonical strategy, keyword targeting and content development, link development strategy and so on.  Let’s tackle these elements one at a time.
Asian architecture

You can bet a lot of planning went into this architectural feat, and here it stands today.

Site Architecture I’m going to keep this one fairly short because Adam Audette wrote an incredibly thorough article titled  “The SEO Guide to Information Architecture” which covers the topic fully. Ideally, the site would be developed with all the goals in mind from the get go.  Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.  If your site falls into this category, a platform migration or site redesign is an excellent opportunity to remedy some fundamental problems. Committing the time and resources to a well-developed site architecture may seem like a laborious process, but it will pay dividends in the long run and stand the test of time. Taxonomy
taxonomy is a big deal

Taxonomy is kind of a big deal

Taxonomy is essentially the method of naming and classifying groups of products used throughout the site. Well-optimized site taxonomy should both make sense to the user, meaning it’s easy to determine what a user will find in each category and subcategory, and leverage highly searched terms from the category level on down to product detail pages where more long tail terms can be targeted. Most sites do a decent job of this, but keep in mind that you’re not doing yourself any favors by using “cute” names for categories and subcategories. A good example of how not to do it is using something like “/p/” to name the video section of your site, followed by “LOL” to represent the funny videos subcategory (and yes, that’s a real example).  It’s pretty tough to rank for a phrase like “funny videos” if that phrase doesn’t appear anywhere on your site.
Confusing directions don’t help Googlebot

Confusing directions don’t help Googlebot

Canonical Strategy One of the biggest mistakes I see over and over again with the use of canonicals is using canonical tags pointing to URLs outside the navigation of the site.  It’s so important to ask the question, “How do we direct our internal and external link equity to give our pages the best opportunity to rank well?” Recently I was evaluating a prospect’s site.  This particular site sold well-recognized brands of makeup and hair care products. Oddly enough, their canonical strategy eliminated their best possibility of ranking well for branded category search terms, such as  “bliss moisturizer” because that category landing page had a canonical pointing back to the primary brand landing page. Keyword Research and Targeting This may seem like kind of a “duh” topic, and there have been roughly 80 million articles written about it, but it is really important, goes hand in hand with taxonomy, and of course has a great impact on the types of terms your site will potentially rank for. Once the taxonomy has been nailed down and keyword research performed, don’t go half way with it.  One key to a good SEO strategy is using every opportunity to reinforce relevance of a page for a certain keyword, or closely related group of keywords.  This means the keyword should be reflected in the taxonomy, URL structure, page title, h1 tag, on page content, etc.   Please don’t hear me advocating for keyword stuffing, I’m just talking about smart keyword targeting. Content It’s been said the search engines rely on relevance and reputation when evaluating a site.  Well good quality, unique content is one of the primary ways to signal relevance.  A solid paragraph on at least the home page, category and subcategory pages that actually adds value for the user is generally sufficient at minimum.  Take this opportunity to both inform the reader about your product or service, and give them a call to action.  Whether you want them to complete a form or check out the next subcategory down in your site architecture let the reader know. If for whatever reason you’re unable to, or choose not to put a chunk of content on the page, be sure you’ve done everything you can, including full optimization around images and videos, to signal relevance for the targeted keyword(s) for that page. Now content and content marketing are big subjects, and I hope you’re not looking to do the minimum to get by.  There are myriad forms content can take, and unique, interesting, valuable content is more likely to be read and shared by your target audience.  Which brings us to link development. Link Development Strategy Relevance and quality are key here, because what good is a backlink profile full of nothing but low quality directories, blogs, forums and whatever else that doesn't have much to do with your product or service? Have a look at this RKG blog post for more of a nuts and bolts explanation of creating a link building strategy. Ultimately it comes down to giving people a good reason to link to your site.  Give them something of value.  Think beyond link bait.  Rand Fishkin over at SEOmoz recently talked about how content is not the only way to success in inbound marketing, and I think it’s worth real consideration. Social Media We all know social is playing an increasingly more important role in providing signals to the search engines, and considering Bing is tightly integratingbing social search results  social with SERPs, and Google is returning social content directly as SERPs, no SEO strategy is really complete without a social media element. Here you can see Bing is helpfully suggesting friends from Facebook who might offer more information for my search “snowboarding mt bachelor” (which is my home mountain by the way, shout out to Central Oregon snowboarders!). Tactics are not the focus of this article, but I do want to point out the importance of using the rel=”Author” tag.  We’ve been discussing the ramifications of this tag along with the role of Google+ around the office quite a bit lately, and it’s important because it ties into the idea of entities.  If you’re not familiar with this concept, check out this great write up of AuthorRank from A.J. Kohn over at Blind Five Year Old.  You’ll also want to spend some time reading up on entities, and a great place to start is this excellent blog post titled, “SEO for an Aspect-Driven Search Engine”. It’s also important to point out that not all social channels are created the same, and each should be approached a little differently, keeping in mind the distinct audiences and what they’re looking for from each channel.  Consider what kind of messaging is most likely to resonate with each audience, and how that message can be crafted to support your overall goals. Local If your company has brick and mortar locations, you need to be thinking about how your site architecture is supporting or blocking the search engine robots from accessing location-specific pages.  For that matter, be sure to create and optimize location-specific pages including all relevant information such as phone, address, business name (PAN), appropriate Schema.org markup, geo-location meta tags and so on. Outside of the technical on-site aspects, Google+ Local is one of the most important places to have a well-optimized presence.
RKG Google+ Local

Mmmm......thai food

As I mentioned earlier, Google is making great use of Google+ as the backbone of their approach to delivering search results, and it’s especially important for that reason. Aside from that aspect of Google+ you need to consider the power of images and Zagat and user reviews to influence purchasing decisions.  When I think about my own online shopping habits, I’m much more likely to pull the trigger on a purchase if I can see multiple views of the product and read positive reviews from other satisfied shoppers.  Google+ is a great channel for providing those reinforcing signals.
Thai Thai Google+ Local

Doesn't that food look good? Has a good Zagat score too...I think I'll try it.

Mobile The final piece of the SoLoMo acronym we all love so dearly </sarcasm>.  I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that people are using smartphones to search and even purchase online.  I’m also positive I don’t need to point out that according to our most recent Digital Marketing Report, nearly 20% of organic search and direct visits were from mobile devices in Q4 2012.  So I won’t bore you with silly statistics like that. However I will point out that a solid SEO strategy will take into account a mobile website, and to best support the overarching goals of the website, tags such as rel=”alternate” and rel=”canonical”, should be used and used correctly.  Likewise, issues like responsive design and mobile sitemaps should be addressed early in the design phase.  Too often websites tackle these mobile issues way down the line or not at all.  At that point it’s frequently a game of applying Band-Aids rather than planning strategically. While this may not be an exhaustive list of all the elements to consider, it should get the point across that a comprehensive SEO strategy involves more than writing a little content and fixing a few crawl issues.  For maximum benefit, each major element should be planned out ahead of time, being sure that each element supports the others and the overall goals.  To be fair, each of these items deserves it’s own strategy, and when implemented comprehensively, you’re sure to see your KPIs go up and to the right.  Share your thoughts below on how you would approach developing a comprehensive SEO strategy.  
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