Our SEO process
With Google’s current algorithm, gone are the days of ranking for high competition keywords or search terms within a matter of weeks (back in 2013, we were able to rank #1 for SEO Brisbane and related keywords within 3 months… and we started with a fresh domain).
While on-page, technical, and content changes can still show results fairly quickly, off-page SEO (link building) generally now takes months to show its full effect.
What this means is that if you want to experiment with new strategies or test some new tactic you found, the real results won’t show for months.
This “lag” in SEO results introduces the need to be even more strategic and deliberate when it comes to SEO, everything from content changes, interlinking, site structure changes, building links, they all need to be justifiable.
We’ve been doing SEO for quite a few years now, both for clients and now mainly just for our own digital assets.
What follows is a rough outline of the general SEO strategy we use for our own assets.
1. Keyword research
Assuming you know the market/industry you’re going after, this is fairly easy, if you have the right SEO tools.
While I say it’s fairly easy, it is, also, one of the most important aspects. Choosing the wrong keyword clusters or topics to go after can result in lost time, money, and precious organic traffic.
The easiest way to start this process is by reverse-engineering the competition.
Start with Googling your main target keyword or search term, let’s say in our case it’s “SEO Brisbane”. You then take all the competitors from the first page and find out all of the keywords they’re ranking for. You can easily do this with either SEMrush or Ahrefs.
Export all the keywords, merge them a single Google or Excel sheet, remove duplicates, sort by search volume… and that’s it. That’s a great start right there.
Next, it’s always good to categorise your keywords in 2 categories, informational and commercial. A lot of people like to add 2 more categories, navigational and transactional… But we usually merge navigational with informational, and transactional with commercial.
You can also use Ahref’s KD metric (Keyword Difficulty) to prioritise your keyword list even further.
2. On-page SEO
This is a MASSIVE part of SEO, and we can talk about it for days. But we have to simplify it somehow, so let’s talk about site structure, technical stuff, and content.
This mainly relates to the URL structure. Again, look at what works for the competition. How have they set up their pages? Do they use categories in their URLs? Are they ranking an inner page or homepage for the primary search terms?
If in doubt, mimic what the biggest and most successful competitor is doing… Though personally, we like to always rank inner pages, and leave the homepage as more of a portal to the rest of the site. We feel it gives us more flexibility when establishing topical relevance for our keyword clusters or topics.
We also don’t like to use categories in the URL anymore, we like flat URL structures where pages go maybe max 2 levels deep (this does not include this site, we’re talking about our more recent projects).
On a site-wide level, this is about having an SSL certificate, a fast site, a basic SEO plugin if you’re using WordPress, and no-indexing specific pages like tags, date archives, author archives, and maybe even category archives.
Site speed is an actual ranking factor, so make sure you have a decent web host powering the site, make use of caching (server-side) and maybe a CDN (like Cloudflare, which is free).
If you’re starting an SEO campaign on an existing site, a technical audit is one of the first things any SEO company should look into.
This is also a big one. On page-by-page level, make sure you have a proper heading structure. So try and have only 1 H1, and nest the headings correctly… so H2s go in H1s, H3s in H2s, etc. Add a few keywords in your headings, but don’t overdo it.
As for the meta-title, this one is also a ranking factor that has some weight, so make sure you have your primary keyword in there, followed by something that invokes curiosity, to improve your CTR (click-through-rate) from the SERPs.
Your meta-description doesn’t have weight when it comes ranking you in Google, but it does offer an opportunity to craft something that people will click on, thus, again, improving your CTR (which IS a ranking factor, definitely once you get into the top 5 for a few keywords) and increasing organic traffic.
Also, make sure you have plenty of rich media and structured data on the page. So we’re talking about images (don’t forget about the alt-tags), bullet points, maybe a video, etc.
And last but not least, make sure your content satisfies the search intent of the query. In other words, make sure your pages answer the question that the keyword relates to… so the users are satisfied and got what they came for!
3. Off-page SEO
This mainly related to building links, whether it’s white-hat (Google-approved methods), grey-hat, or black-hat (which is the dodgy stuff you really don’t want to be doing).
Building links is usually the main pain-point for most SEO agencies, digital marketers and web agencies. They’re hard to get, they either cost a lot of money or a lot of time.
The ideal way to build links is to actually have your own outreach team that finds link prospects (eg. sites related to your industry), reach out to them with a piece of content (either a content piece on your site they can link to, or a content piece your team can publish on the prospect’s website that includes a link back to your site), and land the link.
This is pretty much what we do. We’ve built this team, we’re doing this at scale, we don’t offer money for the links as to not violate Google’s guidelines, and we do it quite well!
If you want to do this yourself, the easiest way to quickly scrape a list of prospects is to go to your favourite SEO tool (ours is Ahrefs), and put those competitors from the first page (see our “SEO Brisbane” example) in the tool, scrape their backlinks, run the domain through an email scraper like hunter.io, load up a template in Mailshake, and let it run. <- I realise I just massively simplified this, but just Google all the tools and let yourself get lost in the rabbit hole of custom outreach SEO 🙂
The links that matter (eg. move the needle) have 3 major components: Relevance, Trust, and Authority
Relevance: Easy to get, all about the surrounding content your link is placed in. As long as it’s talking about your industry or location, you should be fine. Bonus points if the title of the content has your target keyword in it, super bonus points if it’s an industry-specific domain, epic bonus points if the article itself is ranking in the top 10 for industry-related keywords.
For our Brisbane SEO example, an SEO related article on the blog of a Brisbane-based web agency would work nicely.
Trust: Harder to get. Most people (we included) believe this has to do with having close proximity to one of Google’s seed sites in the link graph… yeah, we know, another bunch of complex terms. Basically, links from high-authority sites get you trust. Sites like EDU sites, government sites, high-authority news sites like the BBC, CNN, maybe Wired. For us in Australia, a link from abc.net.au would probably give you some decent trust.
Authority: This is about the power that a link gives you. How many backlinks or referring domains does the domain have? How good are those backlinks? Are there any backlinks going straight to the article that’s linking out to your site? <- more bonus points if that’s the case.
If you can hit all 3 components of a good link then you found a gem, as most links will only give you 1 or 2 of those (mainly relevance and authority).
4. Tracking results
You can easily track results from any SEO campaign by monitoring your traffic and events/goals in Google Analytics, check Ahrefs for an increase in ranking keywords and referring domains, and using your favourite rank tracker to track the keywords you’re going after (we use both SerpRobot and Accuranker).
How long does SEO take?
How long is a piece of string? But seriously, it depends on your current site, any past penalties, past SEO efforts, keyword difficulty, and a LOT of other factors. IF the domain is clean, aged a bit, decent content… within 3 months you can start to see decent movement.
Why is my site stuck on page 2 of Google?
Because you’re missing one of the hundreds of factors Google is looking at to rank you in the SERPS. Check your overall authority and backlink profile against your competitors, are missing any major content pieces or topics you missed that are crucial for your industry? How is your site technically? Use Ahrefs to run a quick SEO audit to find any major issues. That should get you started on the right track.
What is white-hat, grey-hat, and black-hat SEO?
White-hat: Clean SEO, following Google’s guidelines.
Grey-hat: Tactics that Google wouldn’t really approve of, but you’re not breaking the law or hurting anyone.
Black-hat: Straight up breaking the law by doing things like injecting links in hacked government websites.
Are there any guarantees with SEO?
Nope, none whatsoever, there’s always a risk. Penalties, Google algorithm updates, etc.
What are Google Algorithm updates?
Google is constantly improving its algorithm and the way it ranks websites. They push countless of these updates each year, with the bigger ones even getting their own names like Penguin, Panda, BERT, RankBrain, etc