SEO Strategy: 2024 Guide
Google’s algorithm seeks to connect searchers with high quality content that best responds to their search query. Thus, effective SEO strategy can be simply defined as providing the highest quality response to the psychological intent behind a search query in the form of a web page.
When we break down SEO strategy a bit further, we encounter two separate arts: first, understanding the searcher’s intent when they typed in the keyword, and second, crafting a fulfilling answer to that intent. Looking at SEO in this way is purer than the way SEO strategy has traditionally been defined: technically, in terms of meta tags, site speed, and backlinks. It’s also more accurate in 2023, as the technical aspects of SEO are quickly becoming automated—most CMSs are fast and secure and allow users to input the targeted keyword on the back end.
SEO strategy is also different than in previous years because of the arrival of ChatGPT, Google Bard, and other AI chatbots, as they have replaced the need to target definitional or general research keywords, and pushed marketers to provide more value to searchers in the form of original insights, research, organization of ideas, and other content that aids in high level analysis and decision-making.
In 2023, marketers will find that content is still king, but only if the content is true thought leadership that stands out from what others can create with the assistance of AI tools. Google remains a meritocracy, where only one result earns the #1 spot, and that spot will continue to be occupied by the best content on the internet that respond to the keyword’s intent.
In sum, SEO strategy today consists of 5 elements:
- Developing Customer Personas for SEO
- Understanding Search Intent and Transactionality
- Applying the Hub & Spoke Model
- Assigning appropriate Page Types to SEO Keywords
- Creating the Best SEO Content
These elements are interdependent, and executing a successful campaign requires that your team have a clear understanding of each. And because successfully executing on all 5 elements aligns your content with the philosophy that drives Google, the resulting search rankings often remain for years.
Developing Customer Personas for SEO
Successful SEO strategy depends on selecting the right audience, and the best way to do so is by creating customer personas. Personas are detailed summaries of your target audience, their goals, pain points, and other characteristics that push them towards an eventual conversion. Building detailed customer personas helps writers understand what points to emphasize and minimize in their content. A B2B customer persona includes job titles, responsibilities, superiors, and performance metrics. A B2C customer persona includes shopping histories, pain points, and relevant demographic information.
As an example, consider the two personas below:
|Kevin is a mid-level software engineer at an Enterprise-level firm. He is evaluated based on the quality of his programs and how well they are tailored to their client’s needs. Kevin has too much to do and not enough time to do it. He is looking for solutions to make his day run more smoothly. Kevin would greatly benefit from a project management software to ensure that all his daily responsibilities are being met.||Emily sees herself as a responsible consumer. When she is unfamiliar with a topic or product, she does her best to research it before making a final purchase. She responds positively when she believes that a product or service is specially tailored to her preferences.|
The more detail included in a customer persona, the easier it will be to tailor your SEO strategy. A precise character profile provides content strategists with insights into the type of keywords the customer may be searching for, leading into our next topic of discussion; search intent.
Understanding Search Intent and Transactionality
Search intent refers to the reason a user searches a keyword, both express and implied. Search intent exists as a spectrum (depicted in the image below) of purposes, ranging from research-oriented keywords focused on developing a reader’s understanding of a particular topic to transaction-oriented keywords which reflect a desire to buy or purchase a product.
From an SEO standpoint, your personas are particularly important, as the keywords you target will be influenced by them. For example, Kevin from the B2B example is quite busy and therefore likely to want to quickly evaluate project management software, placing him further on the transactional end of the spectrum and more responsive to keywords such as:
- “best project management software”
- “[insert product name] review”
- “project management software ranked”
By contrast, the B2C example with Emily notes that she’s much more interested than Kevin in doing preliminary research on a product to verify that it’s up to her standards before committing. This type of customer would respond to more research oriented keywords such as:
- “what does an air purifier do?”
- “do i need an air purifier?”
- “air purifier vs humidifier”
Targeting keywords that align with your searcher’s needs ensures they are satisfied with their search results, presenting more opportunities for conversions.
Applying the Hub & Spoke Model
The Hub & Spoke model of SEO is an efficient way to organize the keywords used in a campaign for easy linking and to create a direct path down a customer’s conversion funnel. It consists of a single short hub keyword, also known as a container keyword, which expands into long-tail keywords known as spokes. An example of a hub keyword with its spoke keywords is shown below.
|Hub Keyword||Spoke Keywords|
|project management software||how does project management software work?
(Search Intent: Clarify)
|project management software offline mode
(Search Intent: Solve)
|best budget project management software
(Search Intent: Evaluate)
Hubs serve the purpose of both:
- Organizing written materials into one central page by which spoke articles are linked
- Projecting the course of the campaign, which strategists can lean into or deviate from depending on results
It is important to note when implementing this model in your strategy, spokes must always contain the hub keyword. For example, “‘project management software” is included in all of the spokes shown above. There are 5 rules to follow when selecting spokes:
- Each spoke keyword must contain every word in its hub’s keyword phrase
- Each spoke keyword must autocomplete within a ten-item dropdown list in the Google search box (or be vetted for high search volume using an SEO tool)
- The search intent of each spoke must be transactional
- Your site must not already rank for those keywords
- Your site must have a realistic chance of ranking for each spoke keyword within 24 months of publishing a page
After selecting spoke keywords following the above rules, the next step of SEO strategy is assigning each keyword and appropriate page type.
Assigning Appropriate Page Types for SEO Keywords
Page type refers to the layout, contents, and structure of a page. Depending on the search intent a page exists for, certain page types may fit your objective better than others (see the table below).
|Search Intent||Page Type|
|Evaluate||Comparison Blog Article|
|Solve||Problem & Solution Blog Article|
|Learn||Most “learn” topics are too far from the point of conversion to justify targeting in an SEO campaign|
B2B companies are more likely to use landing pages that fall on the solve to commit region of the spectrum since their audience consists of professionals searching for solutions to niche problems. By contrast, B2C companies will primarily publish a more stratified mix of extremely transactional product pages supported by research-oriented blog articles.
Blog articles are an exception to the spectrum, as they can target nearly every search intent. For example, a blog can contain information that answers the search query while also presenting a call to action. Similarly, B2C customers may find their way toward transactional page types like a product page.
Creating the Best SEO Content
The best page on the Internet for a given keyword is the one that best fulfills the search intent of the target audience. You fulfill search intent both by choosing the right page to receive the searcher but also by writing in a way that answers both the questions they’ve expressly asked and the ones they didn’t realize they had.
Beyond the creative skill required to execute on the above, here are the 3 core elements of excellent SEO content:
Once search intent has been established, articles should focus on immediately providing readers with their desired information. The searcher’s answer should ideally be included in the introduction in a condensed form, allowing the remainder of the piece to flesh the topic out further in the rest of the article. For example:
|A proposed blog article targets the keyword “mid-market vs enterprise”.
The article should begin with a brief introduction differentiating mid-market and enterprise companies, and include a corresponding comparison table comparing relevant factors such as number of employees and annual revenue.
The introduction should then conclude by inviting the reader to continue reading for an in-depth analysis of those factors, and insights into their impact on the companies in varying industries.
Providing value early on quickly establishes trust with the reader, making them more likely to:
- Return to the site later
- Subscribe to the email list
- Fill out a contact form
- Make a purchase
The remainder of the content should present valuable information, avoiding figure-of-speech phrases, anecdotes, or other conversational approaches that detract from quickly getting to the point. The only exception is when a customer persona mandates a conversational tone (a relatively common occurrence in B2C).
Skimmability refers not only to how easily readers can read the article, but more importantly how quickly they can identify important or relevant information. Writers can improve skimmability through the following techniques:
- Reduce paragraph length to 4-6 sentences max
- Separate subject matter with multiple headers to quickly direct the reader’s attention
- Use bulleted or numbered lists to break up the page where applicable
Many readers are unwilling to read an entire page. As a result, each section of an article should be written to stand alone, giving the reader the answers they need to gain a quick understanding of the content.
A great way to test the skimmability of a piece is to use the “scroll test.” Start at the top of the page and (without reading anything) slowly but steadily scroll down. Take note of where your eyes are drawn and (more importantly) where they glaze over. Once you’ve identified the latter, start looking at ways to improve that section by breaking up text or introducing lists, tables, or images.
Visual elements such as tables, graphs, and images make information more digestible by breaking up long text and helps keep the reader’s eyes moving. Visual elements should be used with an intended purpose explained in the chart below.
|Table||Best used when articles are covering a broad topic that covers many facets of categories (i.e. comparing multiple computer security programs according to price, features, reviews, etc.)|
|Graph||Ideal for quantitative findings covering one or multiple topics in greater detail (e.g. the performance of a software over time, or a comparison of different funds in a particular year)|
|Image||Visual representations used to illustrate or summarize the key takeaways of surrounding text.|
Visual elements should only be included if they provide value for the reader. It might be tempting to include a relevant image next to a header to break up the page, but pictures should serve as a way to illustrate the content further. A stock image used only for its formatting value will signal to the reader that your content offers little value.
Executing Your SEO Strategy
Marrying the human-centric parts of SEO such as search intent with the technical aspects is a difficult task. Marketers must also know how to measure SEO results, tracking KPIs such as SERPs, organic traffic, and conversions to verify if their strategy is successful. Taken together, building an in-house team that is capable of executing on every aspect of SEO is a challenge for many companies.
For that reason, many companies outsource their SEO efforts to an experienced partner. Our full-service SEO agency specializes in creating SEO strategies to target complex B2B markets, and handles every step of the process from keyword selection, to content production, to analytics and reporting. Contact us if you’d like to learn more about our services.