SEO Best Practices for 2023
Traditional marketers often think of SEO in terms of outdated practices like keyword stuffing and link buying; however, the reality of modern SEO is far more nuanced. SEO is a process requiring an intimate knowledge of a given target audience in order to create content that accurately speaks to them. Further, it requires extensive testing and analysis to ensure performance continues improving over time.
This article serves as a guide to creating your own SEO campaign, consisting of all the best practices you need to follow to produce a significant ROI. The best practices you should follow are:
- Use the Hub & Spoke model, targeting no more than 4-6 hubs
- Analyze search volume and intent to select high value keywords
- Match page types to keywords based on search intent
- For each keyword, create thought leadership that answers that keyword’s search intent
- Publish at least twice weekly for the News Website Bonus
- Implement analytics for lead tracking and attribution, and to determine your most valuable content types and topics
1. Use the Hub & Spoke Model
The hub and spoke model is the most effective way to organize an SEO campaign. It consists of two elements:
- Hubs: Broad keywords that outline the areas of expertise you wish to write on. Hubs are sometimes referred to as “container keywords” and each of your spokes will contain the hub in its entirety. For each hub you target, you will create a hub page that links to each of your spokes.
- Spokes: Precise long-tail keywords, each of which contains its hub keyword in its entirety. These are what the bulk of your content will target, and each will link to, and be linked from the hub page page.
For example, if you wished to target the “nearshore outsourcing” hub keyword, potential spokes would include “nearshore outsourcing services”, “nearshore outsourcing companies”, “nearshore outsourcing benefits”, and “nearshore outsourcing company”, as shown in the image below:
SEO campaigns should target at most 4-6 hubs in order for your website to be regarded as a niche expert by Google (allowing your pages to rank more highly than those of generalist websites). Your hubs should be chosen to best represent your company’s core specialties (assuming those are where you want to focus your customer acquisition efforts). For example, a financial services firm may choose hubs such as:
- index funds
- long-term investing
- wealth management
They would then use these to choose spoke keywords based on their search intent and volume, as we discuss below.
2. Analyze Search Volume & Intent to Select High-Value Keywords
The value of keywords is measured through two criteria:
|1||Search Volume||How often searchers type in the keyword|
|2||Search Intent||The implicit problem that the searcher of the keyword is trying to solve|
One of the easiest methods to distinguish keyword volume is by using Google autocomplete.
- Type your hub keyword into Google’s search bar.
- Review the suggestions provided in the dropdown list. Keywords in this list are in order of search volume.
- Choose keywords that a potential customer at some stage of their buying journey would search, that are not so competitive your site can’t rank for them, and to which you don’t already have a page dedicated. For example, if your nearshore outsourcing firm does not provide services in Spanish, the last two keywords, “nearshore outsourcing en español“ and “nearshore outsourcing significato” would not be useful keywords to rank for.
- Repeat this process with the hub keyword plus each letter of the alphabet, as more results will pop up when you type in “nearshore outsourcing a” “nearshore outsource b” etc.
While it is the most accessible tool to measure keyword volume, Google autofill provides users with the least data on an individual keyword. For a more comprehensive keyword breakdown, strategists will need to work with more advanced tools. Below are the three most popular keyword research tools and the pros and cons of each.
Whatever tool is being used, it is key that marketers select keywords that appeal to various user search intents. This refers to the purpose with which users type in a particular keyword and varies in use case, as displayed in the graphic below.
Targeting keywords of varying search intents that nonetheless fall into your area of expertise is the primary method by which a campaign draws online visitors further down your sales funnel toward a conversion. Targeting each stage of the search intent reduces the number of potential missed leads and maximizes those eventual conversions.
Targeting Transactional Keywords
The more transactional a keyword is, the more interested its searchers are in making a purchase—and by extension, the higher the page’s conversion rate. Most transactional keywords share common phrases such as “company”, “services”, or “buy” as shown below:
|Keyword Example||“buy [product name]”
“[service type] services”
“[item name] sale/discount”
“[product] vs [competitor]”
|“best team management software”
“[service] advantages and disadvantages”
3. Match Page Types to Search Intent
Reaching a target audience means formatting your content to best address their needs and interests. While the content on a page affects this outcome, the type of page used is also important to keep track of.
The most commonly used page types in an SEO campaign include:
- Hub Page: A comprehensive page which serves to direct the reader towards various spokes using links to specialized articles.
- Landing Page: Specialized page designed to provide information on a product/service, industry, or location relevant to your company.
- Blog Post: A short article or post providing an overview of a topic while linking to more in-depth pages for further reading.
- Case Study: Real-life examples of customer experiences with a company’s product/service.
- FAQ: An informational page dedicated to answering common questions about a product or service.
- Report: A comprehensive guide to a niche subject. Approximately 1500-2500 words in length and typically more transactional in nature.
- White Paper: Highly technical paper written from an authority perspective.
Like most other elements of SEO, which page type to use is deeply affected by the user’s search intent. For example:
|Search Intent||Appropriate Page Types|
|Learn||Hub Page, FAQ, Blog Post|
|Explore||Hub Page, Blog Post, Report|
|Clarify||Blog Post, FAQ, Landing Page|
|Solve||Blog Post, Report, White Paper|
|Evaluate||Blog Post, Case Study|
|Confirm||Case Study, White Paper|
Gearing content according to both its designed intent and the user’s search intent makes it more likely to achieve the desired effect, moving the user further down your sales funnel until the point of an eventual conversion. This strategy, of course, depends on whether the content itself is accurately geared toward the reader.
4. Create Thought Leadership
While there are many approaches to content creation, thought leadership produces content that targets every search intent rather than just transactional searches. Thought leadership allows campaigns to not only capitalize on short term lead generation, but also nurture existing leads into customers longer term.
Thought leadership content differs from standard content marketing in that it seeks to build trust with the reader by providing them with insightful information. Doing so establishes the company as an authority in the eyes of the reader, making them more trustworthy and their product or service more appealing.
Thought leadership content possesses the following attributes:
- Concise: Content avoids fluff in favor of providing the reader with valuable information. Trivial writing like anecdotes or colloquialisms should be avoided at all costs.
- Skimmable: Articles should present information in the best way. Visual elements like tables, charts, graphs, and images should be used often to make the piece more visually appealing, but only in such a way that the information is accurately presented.
- Contains a Clear CTA: Content should provide readers with actionable next steps to take upon completing the article. These can include “hard” conversions (Contact Us or Learn More) or “soft” conversions (linking to further reading).
Understanding search intent is necessary to producing thought leadership content. For example, an article targeting a research-oriented keyword like “what are solar panels?” should contain information discussing the background of solar panels, how they work, and the overall advantages/disadvantages of using solar panels. By contrast, a transactional-keyword like “[company name] solar panel review” should contain information about the performance of the company’s solar panels, a suggestion on whether or not to buy, and an appropriate link to a product/service landing page.
Thought leadership has become the de facto standard for ranking highly in the last few years. Lower effort content could rank in the mid-2000s but excellence is required nowadays, along with consistent publishing.
5. Publish at least Twice Weekly
In addition to quality, marketing teams must also produce a high quantity of articles over the medium term (18-24 months); doing so proves to Google that the company is a consistent contributor to the dialogue in its industry.
On average, high-ROI SEO campaigns publish at least 2x a week continuously. When the campaign gets into year two, these publications can sometimes be replaced with changes made on the website, however year one should primarily focus on publication of new content. Around the 6-month mark of routine publication, most campaigns experience a bump in their rankings, as shown below:
To assist with regular publishing, your team should organize their content plan using an editorial calendar like the one below:
|Value Rank||Keyword||Page Type||Page Location||Content Plan|
|#1||“nearshore outsourcing”||Hub||Link from header nav under “Specialties” as “Nearshore Outsourcing”||Comprehensive descriptive page introducing searchers to how nearshore outsourcing works, expected cost savings and ROI, options for engaging, and the best way to navigate those options, with links to 8 supporting “spoke” pages in “further reading” box at bottom.|
|#2||“nearshore outsourcing company”||Service
|Linked from header nav under “Services” as “Nearshore Software Development”||Sales landing page containing a quick value statement at the top; validation logos; a How it Works diagram; and a brief deeper dive into Next Steps with CTAs|
|#3||“nearshore outsourcing services”||Service
|Included in title tag of “Nearshore Software Development” Sales LP above.||Same as above.|
|#4||“nearshore outsourcing companies”||Comparison Table Blog||Linked from header nav under “Resources” as “The Best Nearshore Outsourcing Companies of 2021”||Comparison blog with featured table comparing 5 semi-competitors to client + client along the X axis, and various categories along the Y axis, e.g. Packages, Pricing, Notable Clients, etc + a 1-5 star score. Below table, companies are described more fully, along with Pros and Cons, in dedicated sections below.|
|#5||“nearshore outsourcing benefits”||FAQ
|Linked from blog grid only as “What are the Benefits of Nearshore Outsourcing?”||List page: Immediate pros/cons list at top, followed by explanation of which companies it’s right for; companies it’s wrong for; a process diagram; and a How to Get Started section leading to a CTA.|
This calendar lays out the keyword, its page type, location, content plan, and value rank for each keyword, streamlining your team’s targeting, content creation, and publishing process.
6. Implement Analytics and Refine Your Campaign
Securing the longstanding performance of a campaign requires the ability to test its performance to identify existing strengths and weaknesses. This is a six-step process:
- Observe your existing content for variances in visitors, bounce rate, and conversion rates. This is best done through Google Analytics, with detailed instructions found in our guide to SEO Conversion Tracking.
- Identify your best and worst performing pages
- Identify elements of your strongest pages to find changes to make on your weakest ones
- Implement changes to existing pages
- Observe results and confirm positive impact
- Repeat regularly.
Often, this approach requires the implementation of a single change at a time, also called A/B Testing. This process requires patience to assess the impact of implemented changes before determining whether the change was a success or failure. Because this process consists of waiting for enough visitors to click on the page rather than a set time frame, this can be especially challenging for young campaigns that are not already getting a high amount of traffic.
Getting Help with Your SEO
As this article shows, executing a successful SEO campaign is complex and multi-dimensional. It requires an experienced team with knowledge not only of SEO best practices but also conversion optimization, UX, graphic design, and marketing analytics.
Staying up to date with the latest innovations can be overwhelming for even the most seasoned marketers. For this reason, many companies outsource their SEO campaigns to an agency that focuses solely on the discipline of SEO.
Our full-service SEO agency specializes in creating thought leadership content designed to speak to the varying search intents of your audience. Our teams handle every stage of the campaign, from keyword research to page selection to article creation, as well as conversion optimization and analytics. Feel free to contact us to discuss a future partnership.
Evan Bailyn is a bestselling author and award-winning speaker on the subjects of SEO and thought leadership. Contact Evan here.