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SEO Campaign Strategy: 2024 Guide

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Our team thought it would be helpful to explain how we create an SEO campaign for our clients.

We begin with a strategic plan: a series of activities that allow us to produce as many organic leads from Google search as possible for our clients. It includes 6 stages:

  1. Going through a Discovery process (this is 90% of the time investment)
  2. Identifying their most valuable keywords
  3. Orienting them around topical “pillars”
  4. Identifying the conversion pages needed to create an effective funnel
  5. Grouping the creation of top-of-funnel and conversion pages into discrete, time-bound projects 
  6. Setting benchmarks for each project to track progress towards goals

The final result of the strategic planning process is the creation of realistic Campaign Goals. Those might look like this:

Overall Goals

As you can see, the ultimate goal of the campaign is producing 8-12 MQLs / mo. And we know that to get there, we’ll need about 130 keyword rankings in the top 10 Google results, producing ~12,000 site visitors / month.

Now, let’s go through each of the 6 stages in detail. As we do, please note that each one overlaps with the stages before and after it, making for more of a continuum than a group of discrete projects. For example, during Discovery, you begin to identify valuable keywords, and as you identify keywords, you end up discovering more about the business. 

Stage 1: Discovery

The Discovery stage is where we learn about the company so that we can properly represent its interests and attract & convert visitors. As we begin to understand our client’s product, market size, and competition, we can also start to lightly set expectations about the KPIs we’ll eventually settle on, i.e. # of first page rankings, traffic, and MQLs. (Though we won’t have a fully clear picture of KPIs until we complete the strategic planning process.) 

Here are the categories within which our team looks for answers during Discovery, along with some typical questions we might ask our clients.

SEO Campaign Discovery Questions

Topic Questions
Corporate Goals How aggressively do you want to increase revenue versus maintain profit margin?
Are you introducing new product lines in the next year?
Product Lines What are your product lines?
What are your upsell and cross-sell pathways?
Audience & Personas What are the target audiences and key personas for each product line?
Existing Marketing Which marketing channels are you already using?
What are the KPIs you use to evaluate each c hannel, and what level of success are you seeing?
Competition  Who are the major players in your market, and how long have they been in the market?
Are your competitors actively using SEO?
Brand  What are your current brand guidelines?
How well does your brand resonate in the market?
Value Propositions  Do you have a clear value proposition, and is it clearly stated on your website?
How compelling is your value proposition to your customers?
Stakeholder Who is responsible for the overall campaign, as well as each part?
Who needs to be consulted when making decisions, and who needs to be informed of the results?
Resources What additional resources such as industry publications, articles, case studies, or client data can you share?

Understanding how our clients’ companies operate and discerning what their true business priorities are is central to all the campaign activities to follow. During Discovery, we are actively listening to our clients and aren’t afraid to ask plenty of questions. We also sometimes bring in subject matter experts from their industry to supplement our understanding of the field. 

Stage 2: Identifying Valuable Keywords

As we’ve been interviewing our client during the Discovery stage, learning about their customers’ needs and the problems their products solve, we’ve been jotting down keyword ideas. Now we want to put some data behind those ideas by looking up keyword suggestions on various tools, including Google itself. Our output from that exercise is a list of keywords organized by topic. Afterwards, we’ll take some time to make some calculated risks on lower-volume keywords, and then we’ll solidify our list.

Here are the steps we take to come up with the campaign’s keywords.

  1. Pull a broad list of keywords from SEMRush, Google Keyword Planner, or another keyword discovery tool. The list will cover as many topical areas as we think might be valuable to our client, along with basic data on competitiveness and volume. 
  2. Use what we learned during the Discovery stage to remove entire topical categories as needed, keeping only those that are highly targeted and valuable. (See example below, for a software development firm.)
  3. Within each remaining topical category, vet each keyword, remove any that do not meet our keyword vetting criteria, and add any that are missing. (See Keyword Vetting Guidelines, below.)
  4. Share the drafted list with our client for their feedback and ideas. 
  5. Revamp using our client’s feedback. 
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 until we get to a final list.
Keyword groups gathered during keyword identification, some of which get crossed out as you narrow down the most important ones for the client’s goals
Keyword groups gathered during keyword identification, some of which get crossed out as you narrow down the most important ones for the client’s goals

Keyword Vetting Criteria

Deciding on targeting a keyword means we are committed to creating the best page on the Internet at addressing the search intent behind that keyword. That is no small investment, so we must be certain the keyword is highly valuable before targeting it. The following 4 rules, now gospel at First Page Sage, ensure that is the case. 

The Four Questions of Keyword Vetting
Is the keyword transactional, i.e. would it be typed in by someone actively interested in buying what our client sells?
Does the keyword autofill in Google search in a drop-down list of 10?
Can our client’s website realistically rank for the keyword in one year?
Does their website already rank in the top 3 results for the keyword? 

1. Is the keyword transactional? 

Transactional keywords are the ones people type in when they’re ready to buy right now. They’re the lowest-hanging fruit in an SEO campaign so we target them first. Within the realm of transactional keywords, there are “A” and “B” keywords. “A” keywords are the most valuable and “B” keywords slightly less so; but both are still in the most valuable keyword category along the spectrum of search intent. Below is an illustration of the search intent spectrum with keyword examples from a senior care business.

  • “A” Transactional: Indicates a desire to buy right now (e.g. “private pay home care nyc” & “new york home care reviews”)
  • “B” Transactional: Indicates a time-sensitive problem that leads directly to buying (e.g. “care options for parents with dementia”)
Keywords for a senior care business in New York, plotted along a spectrum of transactionality from most to least transactional
Keywords for a senior care business in New York, plotted along a spectrum of transactionality from most to least transactional

2. Does the keyword autofill in Google search in a drop-down list of 10?

The keyword has “sufficient” (50+ / month) search volume if it autofills in a dropdown list of 10 on Google’s search page. If it autofills in a dropdown list of less than 10 or doesn’t contain the entire keyword, it may have low or no search volume.

Keyword Group Selection 2

After we’ve exhausted the keywords that we *know* will bring our client leads, it can be worth following a gut feeling on a keyword that appears in a dropdown list of less than 10. That changes the middle example above from a no to a maybe.

Keywords Maybe

The criteria for a “gut feeling” keyword are that (a) it’s precisely targeted to what the client sells, and (b) it’s highly transactional. For example, if our client sells a CRM for governments, the keyword in this screenshot is worth considering because of its high transactionality and potential return. Even if only ~5 searchers per month query it, it could bring about a lead that would result in a high value contract.

3. Can our client’s website realistically rank for the keyword in one year?

If our client can’t rank within a year for a given keyword, then we hold off on targeting it. Why create a page that cannot rank? It’s a better use of resources to work on that page after a year or two of building trust with Google, when there’s a real chance that publishing the best page on the Internet for that search intent could earn you the #1 spot. In the meantime, focus on keywords that can attract leads right now.

You can determine whether a website can rank for a keyword within one year by comparing your site’s “trust score” to the score of the websites currently on the first page for that keyword. The best third-party measure of Google’s internal “trust score” is Ahrefs’ domain rating, a 1-100 score that summarizes how must trust, or rankability, a website has in Google’s eyes.

To give you a sense of what a good DR is, here are some well-known brands and their domain ratings. As a rule of thumb, in many industries, a DR of 40 is good enough to rank for the majority of desirable keywords; in the most competitive industries (e.g. consumer finance, fashion, personal injury), a DR of 70 will get you there.  

Company Website Domain RatingCompanyWebsite Domain Rating
Facebook100First Page Sage76
NY Times 94Apollo Funds71
Logitech87Snuggie Blanket57
Kleiner Perkins80We Buy Ugly Houses46

Besides comparing your DR to the sites ranking on the first page for the keyword, there are two other signs that your site probably can’t rank for the keyword within a year:

  • All the sites on page 1 target the exact keyword in their title tag. While this criterion doesn’t supercede a DR comparison, it indicates that many people with good knowledge of SEO want to rank for this term. Even with a higher DR than most sites on the first page, you could fall prey to sites that have robust pillars of content around the topic and are therefore considered niche experts by Google (see next bullet). 
  • The first page is filled with “niche expert” sites that cover every angle of the topic. While some sites can outperform their trust level by publishing content pillars around a topic, others far outperform their trust level by having entire sites dedicated to just that topic. We call these types of sites “niche experts” and they are the only sites that can outrank a goliath with, say, twice their DR.

There are two instances when it’s acceptable to target keywords that you can’t rank for in a year: Hub pages and conversion pages. Both exist not necessarily to rank, but to help with another aspect of SEO—for Hub pages, that’s getting spoke pages to rank, and for conversion pages, it’s conversion traffic to leads. 

To help us understand the competitive landscape a website is in, we use 3 SEO tools: Ahrefs, SEMRush, and Google Trends. None of these tools is as helpful as the Google Search autofill feature, but they do offer a quick snapshot of the competition in an industry.

Common SEO Tools and Their Uses

AhrefsSEMRushGoogle Trends
Check your website’s and your competitor websites’ Domain Ratings to get a sense of competitiveness

Check quality and quantity of backlinks

View keyword ranking trends and movement
Estimate keyword volume, especially for benchmarking

Get keyword ideas using the magic tool

Track overall campaign performance and highlight any keyword areas that are lagging
Understand keyword search volume trends over time

Find alternative keywords to help you go deeper in your research

4. Does our client’s website already rank in the top 3 results for the keyword? 

The final criterion is simple to understand. If our client already ranks in the top 3 results for a keyword, then we don’t need to create an entirely new page to target that keyword. We will, however, still include the existing page in our update schedule to maintain its ranking and in particularly late-stage campaigns, we will sometimes try to get two first-page search results by creating a second page that provides a different response to the search intent.

If our client doesn’t rank in the top 3 results for a keyword, we then check to see if another page is already targeting that keyword. If a page exists, we’ll either revamp that page to make it the best response to the keyword’s search intent or repurpose the old page and proceed with a new page for the keyword. Our choice depends on that page’s current ranking—if a page is already ranking in the top 20 or so but not in the top 3, it likely just needs updating with current information, new graphics, and a reevaluation of how well it satisfies the search intent. 

Stage 3: Orienting Keywords Around Pillars

Once we’ve compiled a vetted list of valuable keywords, you’d think we’re ready to create content targeting the search intent behind those keywords, but there is still more preparation to do. At this point, our team organizes the keywords into topical “pillars.” 

The purpose of coming up with pillars is twofold:

  1. It establishes our client as a true expert on a specific topic
  2. It allows us to organize our content publication in a strategic way

Publishing many pages on the same topic allows our client to rank higher for all keywords on that topic and demonstrates thought leadership in that area in the minds of their prospective customers. Moreover, releasing that content all at once tends to get them leads more quickly as well, justifying their spend on the SEO project.  

We begin the pillar creation process by identifying the ways that the target audiences search for the client’s product. Let’s take the example of a CRM software company. Their audience believes that the right CRM for them is one that was built for their industry specifically. This CRM happens to be well-suited for both healthcare. Thus, a pillar around the topic of “healthcare CRM” is obvious. Their audience also searches for CRMs by functionality, such as contact list building and marketing automation. They are strong in marketing automation, so “marketing automation CRM” is another good pillar topic. 

Below are examples of pillars for both topics. Note that they’re just the topic followed by a list of carefully-vetted keywords within that topic, along with the page type that would best target that keyword.

Healthcare CRM PillarMarketing Automation Pillar
KeywordContent TypeKeywordContent Type
healthcare crm softwareLanding Pagecrm marketing softwareLanding Page
healthcare crm companiesLanding Pagemarketing automation trends 2024Trends Blog
best healthcare crmsComparison Blogtop marketing automation platforms 2024Comparison Blog
healthcare crm toolsAdvice / Listicle Blogbest crm for marketing automationAdvice / Listicle Blog
crm for hospital managementLanding Page / Case Studymarketing automation vs crmAdvice Blog
HIPAA compliant crmsBlogmarketing automation benefitsAdvice Blog
crm for doctorsLanding Pagemarketing automation crm integrationLanding Page

You may notice that the last two keywords for the healthcare pillar do not contain the phrases “crm” or “healthcare”; we do not strictly need to include the “root” keyword of a topic in all keywords. Google’s AI is able to understand which keywords relate to each other even when they don’t share words.  

You may also notice that we’re not targeting “crm software” itself. In later years of a campaign, once we’ve targeted all the keywords that cover important use cases of our client’s product, we also target the root keyword itself and its variants in the Home or About page. We typically don’t start by doing the root keyword because it’s so hard to rank for.

Stage 4: Identifying Conversion Pages for an Effective Funnel

Now that all the keyword we selected are organized into pillars, we’re ready to produce content that will fill the top of our client’s marketing funnel. However, when visitors start streaming in from SEO, we will also need to direct them to pages that will introduce them to our client’s product and build trust—conversion pages. So before beginning the content creation process, we need to identify the conversion pages we’ll need to go along with each pillar. 

To do so, imagine a member of the target audience arriving at the website on one of the pages within a pillar and going through the journey towards conversion. Ask yourself: 

  • What do they need to know about the product, how it functions, and how easy it to begin using?
  • What would build their trust in the product, moving them closer to reaching out to sales?
  • What questions aren’t answered yet that might stop them from converting?

For our CRM company, let’s imagine a prospect’s journey from their “best crm for healthcare” page. (Note: We’ve bolded the conversion pages.)

  1. The prospect will likely feel trusting of the company that has earned a top spot on the list and click through to a page that gives them more information on whether the CRM is a good fit for their needs. An industry LP would be a good fit, as we know the searcher was looking up healthcare-specific CRMs. This page must talk about the CRM’s features, pricing, and ease of implementation within the context of the healthcare industry. From here, the prospect can either convert directly via a mid-page CTA bringing them to the “Free Demo” page; go to one of several feature pages (e.g. “email marketing”) or read a case study.
  2. Taking the feature page route, on the page the prospect will want to be assured that the CRM is specifically designed to excel at that feature. From here, they can either go to a case study or convert via the “Free Demo” page.
  3. If the prospect chooses to read a case study, we want them to relate to the customer being featured in their problems, needs, and wants; and feel confident that our client has exceeded that customer’s expectations. We then went them to click the “Free Demo” CTA.

In many cases, conversion pages will double as SEO pages. However, we want to clearly distinguish between pages purposefully created for top-of-funnel / SEO purposes and pages created for mid-funnel / conversion purposes. This stage is all about imagining the prospect’s journey and thinking through exactly which pages they would want to see in order to convert. 

Stage 5: Grouping the creation of SEO pages and conversion pages into discrete, time-bound projects

Once we’ve identified all of the highest priority SEO and conversion pages for our client, it’s time to group them into discrete projects for execution. Here are two rules we always follow when doing so:

  • Each project must be within the bounds of a single content pillar and include all of that pillar’s SEO pages, conversion pages, and optimizations to existing pages.
  • Each project should be possible to complete in ~3 months, meaning it should include roughly 20 pages, 12-15 of which should be top-of-funnel content. 

A note on including optimizations to existing pages within a pillar: At the start of a campaign, there is often a need to conversion optimize some main pages such as the Home or Contact page. These pages function like conversion pages for every pillar, and should be included in the first project.

Example: 1-Year Campaign timeline for a CRM software company

Campaign Timeline 2024

Stage 6: Setting Project Benchmarks & Tracking Progress Toward Goals

Now that we’re ready to execute our SEO campaign, we just have one stage left: establishing the benchmarks by which we’ll measure the success of the campaign. We use overall traffic and competition data for each keyword in a project, sourced from SEMrush, to inform estimates of project results. Here are the 3 steps to arriving at our Campaign Goals:

  1. We start with the estimated volume of all keywords targeted to the pages in a project to determine the total available traffic for that project.
  2. We then use competition data to evaluate how much of that available traffic we can expect our client to own once all pages are completed. On average, we expect our clients to own 35-55% of total available traffic.
  3. Finally, we use our client’s current full funnel (traffic-to-MQL) conversion rate, as well as our assessment of how much we can improve their funnel with our conversion pages, to establish an expected conversion rate for that traffic and determine total monthly/quarterly leads expected. On average, we expect B2B companies to convert traffic into MQLs (not leads) at .08%–.5%; and B2C companies to convert at .4%–.8%.

Here’s how we would visualize our estimates for Project #1 for our client:

Project #1: Healthcare CRM
Post-Startup Monthly Estimate
healthcare crm software7554,000
healthcare crm companies7613,000
best healthcare crms6510,000
healthcare crm tools613,900
crm for hospital management462,600
HIPAA compliant crms42700
crm for doctors44500
Total Keyword Volume: 86,100
Share-of-traffic estimate:@40% = 39,500 traffic volume
Conversion Rate Estimate:@.08% = ~30 MQLs per month

Repeat that process for each project, and combine the results to get our rough Campaign Goals; then, compare them to the client’s own campaign expectations. If our estimates are falling short, we first look to see whether there is content we can add or tweak in order to increase results.

The final product of the Strategic SEO Plan is an executive-level summary, in table form, of the campaign’s benchmarks and deliverables. With the client’s approval, we now have a true shared understanding of our campaign’s strategy that both our team and our client can reference.

Our Goals: Build Brand Awareness, Increase Organic Traffic & MQLs
Timeline Benchmarks Steps to Achieve Benchmarks
Baseline Organic MQLs: 0-1 / month
Organic Traffic: 1,700 / month
Top 10 Keywords: 41
Top 50 Keywords: 116
  1. Create Strategic Plan
  2. Conduct SEO health report & technical website analysis
  3. Analyze top competitors
  4. Set up visitor tracking
  5. Set goals & project benchmarks
Project #1
Jul-Aug 2024
Organic MQLs: 2-6 / month
Organic Traffic: 3,500 / month
Top 10 Keywords: 81
Top 50 Keywords: 250
  1. Implement meta page titles
  2. Optimize conversion paths to key website pages, including Contact Us page
  3. Complete priority items from the SEO health report
  4. See Project 1 details
Project #2
Sep-Oct 2024
Organic MQLs: 4-8/month
Organic Traffic: 6,000/month
Top 10 Keywords: 81
Top 50 Keywords: 250
  1. Analyze traffic and conversion data for key website pages and make improvements as needed
  2. See Project 2 details
Project 3
Nov-Dec 2024
Organic MQLs: 6-10 / month
Organic Traffic: 9,000 / month
Top 10 Keywords: 105
Top 50 Keywords: 300
  1. Review previously published content for optimization opportunities
  2. See Project 3 details
Project 4
Jan-Feb 2025
Organic MQLs: 8-12+ / month
Organic Traffic: 12,000 / month
Top 10 Keywords: 130
Top 50 Keywords: 350
  1. Review previously published content for optimization opportunities
  2. Analyze traffic and conversion data for the key website pages and make improvements as needed
  3. See Project 4 details

Partnering with First Page Sage to Create Your SEO Campaign Strategy

If you’re interested in working with us to create your SEO campaign strategy, you can reach out to us here.

Evan Bailyn

Evan Bailyn is a best-selling author and award-winning speaker on the subjects of SEO and thought leadership. Contact Evan here.