SEO Marketing Strategy: A Primer
Until recently, many marketers have seen SEO as a largely technical practice. While it is true that SEO includes technical components such as mobile optimization, site speed, and schema markups, the heart of SEO is psychological. Thus, once the technical prerequisites of SEO are met, marketing teams should focus the lion’s share of their effort on (1) choosing commercially valuable keywords and organizing them into Hubs & Spokes; (2) understanding audience members’ search intent for each keyword; and (3) producing the best response on the Internet for each keyword.
In this article, we summarize the best way to approach SEO in 2023, breaking SEO marketing strategy down into the following 5 action items:
- Define SEO’s role in your marketing program
- Create customer personas and select relevant keywords
- Organize your strategy with the Hub & Spoke model
- Create the best quality content on the Internet regularly
- Track KPIs and adjust accordingly
We’ll begin with the most foundational part of an SEO strategy: deciding where it fits into your overall marketing program.
Step #1: Define SEO’s Role In Your Marketing Program
Marketers typically craft their SEO strategy according to one of the following models:
- SEO as the primary marketing focus: A campaign in which SEO is the foundation of the company’s overall marketing strategy. Secondary channels, such as e-mail and social media, are used to supplement SEO’s lead generation role by nurturing prospects.
- SEO as a supplemental channel: A campaign in which SEO is one of many marketing channels used to generate leads, nurture, and convert prospects.
In both cases, the fundamental execution of the campaign is similar—identify relevant keywords, produce content, and adjust. However, the way that content is produced changes significantly depending on which type of campaign you are planning. The table below notes a few advantages and disadvantages to consider when making your decision:
|SEO as Primary Focus||Increases overall ROI by reducing customer acquisition cost
SEO-based content does a better job of targeting search intent
|SEO campaigns take 6-12 months to gain traction
Testing keywords organically takes time and can lead to a dead end with unproductive keywords
|SEO as Supplemental Focus||Allows for investment into faster lead generation channels such as PPC
Splitting budget up in more directions allows for the testing of multiple channels
|Lower overall ROI compared to SEO-first marketing
Creating content specific to multiple channels is more expensive than an SEO-enabled modular content strategy
SEO-based marketing strategies are better at achieving long-term ROI, but a company building up online attention for a new product/service may decide to invest in paid channels that generate leads in the short term. Establishing a timeline for achieving your marketing goals will help you decide whether you’re able to base your marketing strategy purely around SEO from the start.
Along with your timeline, budgetary constraints will play a large role in this decision. Smaller companies with a reduced marketing budget may consider SEO because, in addition to offering better long-term ROI, SEO can be more affordable than most other marketing channels. On the other hand, companies with more to spend may benefit from utilizing more expensive paid advertising upfront while building their SEO campaign on the backend.
Step #2: Create Customer Personas & Select Relevant Keywords
SEO seeks to find an audience by targeting the right keywords, and connect with that audience through content. Effectively using SEO for lead generation requires understanding exactly who your audience is. This is best done by creating personas based on your existing customers—a sketch of a representative individual that helps flesh out who you will be creating content for. This persona should contain all relevant information about them, such as:
- Their job title and relevant responsibilities
- Common pain points that they are experiencing
- Their goals and how the product or service will help them attain those goals.
An example of one such persona is:
|Todd is a floor supervisor at a call center in dire need of internal communications software. He is constantly on the move between the office and the call floor addressing employee questions about various client accounts, but his movement often results in him missing requests from other employees and upper management. Todd is hoping to find a communications app that is optimized for phones or tablets — an internal communications solution he can carry around with him that integrates with the center’s existing Amazon-based call service and makes it easier for employees to message him.|
Using this persona, we can determine two things about about prospective customers in similar positions:
- They are ready to buy a product once he’s sure of a few specific details.
- They do not need general educational material about the benefits of using internal communication software.
This translates directly into the type of keywords that prospects like Todd will search: they exist on the transactional end of the search intent spectrum shown below:
At this point in his customer journey, Todd has already decided to invest in communications software and will be searching for keywords in the “evaluate”, “commit”, or “buy” categories. For example, he may already be evaluating several communication management solutions, so creating content targeting evaluation-oriented keywords would be a sound initial approach for attracting his interest. He may also be attempting to evaluate your software directly through searching keywords like “[software name] review”—keywords in the commit category. The table below shows examples of relevant keywords for each of these transactionalities:
|best internal communication platforms||[software name] review||buy [software name]|
|best internal communication strategies||[software name] vs [competitor’s software]||[software name] discount|
|best internal communication tools||does [software name] work with AWS?||[software name] best deal|
By targeting each of the keywords above, you can create content that directly speaks to Todd’s needs, increasing the likelihood that someone in his position will make a sale or reach out for more information. But by applying this analysis to each type of customer you have, you will quickly find that you have scores, if not hundreds of potential keywords to target. Organizing these keywords is best done by using the Hub & Spoke model.
Step #3: Organize Your Strategy with the Hub & Spoke Model
The Hub & Spoke model is a framework for structuring an SEO campaign based on the idea of niche expertise, or Google’s tendency to reward highly focused sites with higher rankings. In this model, there are two types of keywords:
- Hubs: 3-4 broad container keywords indicating a general area of interest, and for which a first page ranking would be highly valuable for your business
- Spokes: Any number of commercially valuable longtail keywords, each containing the hub in its entirety
The table below provides an example of two hubs and corresponding spokes:
|accounting software||best accounting software|
|accounting software for small business|
|accounting software other than quickbooks|
|online accounting||online accounting services|
|online accounting tools|
|online accounting for small businesses|
Hubs serve two purposes in this model: they both provide a page to organize all relevant pages into a central page that visitors can use for navigation, and also create a useful way to generate new keywords. Most of the pages, however, will be spokes—each targeting a keyword which must:
- Contain the full hub keyword
- Be highly searched, autocompleting within a 10-item dropdown list when typed into Google
- Have transactional search intent
- Be a keyword your site does not already rank for
- Present a reasonable chance of your site ranking for within 24 months of publishing a page
Once you’ve selected hubs and spokes, you can then combine them with your customer personas to begin creating content.
Step #4: Create the Best Quality Content on the Internet Regularly
Because Google seeks to connect visitors with the best content that answers the intent of their search query, content creation is a core part of every SEO marketing strategy. When creating content, you must:
- Address Search Intent: Content that does not address search intent will be heavily penalized by Google, and fail to rank. Any searchers who happen to click through to your site in spite of this will also quickly leave upon seeing content that is irrelevant to their concerns.
- Be Concise: In addition to providing an answer to a search query, your answer must be provided quickly. Pages that do not immediately establish that they respect their readers’ time will cause searchers to return to Google without reading further.
- Include Skimmable Elements: Avoid large blocks of text with no visual interest. Use formatting, tables, or infographics that both break up space and help explain difficult concepts to your readers.
- Be Original: Your content should contain information that is unable to be found anywhere else on the internet. This can take the form of sharing a unique perspective, discussing the findings of proprietary research, or be a new way of examining existing data.
- Provide Actionable Next Steps: Readers should never finish your article wondering what to do next. Each piece should include not just instructions on how your reader can contact your sales team, but also provide concrete advice to help readers address the reason why they turned to Google in the first place.
Finally, it is essential to publish regularly, at least twice weekly for best results. Publishing less frequently results in reduced ROI as it will take much longer before your site begins to rank for targeted keywords. Once content publishing is underway, the final step in your SEO marketing strategy is to observe its performance and adjust as necessary.
Step #5: Track KPIs and Adjust Accordingly
While creating your initial SEO marketing strategy is a largely qualitative process, you should adopt a quantitative approach to making adjustments once that strategy comes into contact with the real world. The wealth of information provided by Google Analytics and third-party SEO tools such as ahrefs or Moz can be overwhelming, but the below table outlines the top KPIs your team should track, as well as how to adjust a campaign should your campaign fail to meet its benchmarks.
|Organic Traffic||The number of visitors who reach your site through Google search.||Organic traffic will improve naturally with search rankings. Ensure content is high quality and addresses search intent.|
|Visitor to Lead Conversion Rate||The % of website visitors who take an action to indicate interest in the product, such as leaving their information for further contact or creating an account.||Ensure your content contains multiple opportunities for readers to convert, with clear inline and bottom-of-page CTAs.|
|Engagement Rate||The percentage of visitors who perform a conversion action, view a second page on your website, or remain on a page for more than 10 seconds.||Include skimmable elements in your content and establish trust with your reader by offering valuable information quickly.|
|Pipeline Velocity||The rate at which leads move through your sales pipeline.||Target more transactional keywords to attract lower-funnel leads.|
Because SEO is a long-term process, taking 4-6 months before results are seen, adjustments must be made cautiously for newer campaigns. This is particularly true of smaller campaigns, as they publish fewer pieces of new content, reducing the number of opportunities for testing changes. More established campaigns will be able to test changes more easily, because pages both rank more quickly, and the campaigns have a more established baseline against which to compare their KPIs.
Implementing an SEO Marketing Strategy
Developing and executing a successful SEO marketing strategy is no easy task. Each of the steps above is an art in and of itself, and teams at experienced SEO agencies such as ours consist of specialists dedicated to strategy, content creation, conversion optimization, web development, and graphic design.
For that reason, many companies elect to work with an experienced SEO firm such as ours. We have over 13 years of experience crafting lead-generation focused SEO campaigns for companies in complex industries ranging from Fintech to Real Estate to Healthcare. If you’d like to learn more about our services, you can reach out here.
Evan Bailyn is a bestselling author and award-winning speaker on the subjects of SEO and thought leadership. Contact Evan here.