This post provides a short “how to” guide for professional services firms on how to be more successful with search engine optimization.
In an article I wrote late last year, I made the following statement, “It’s only quality content, if Google says it is.” The reasons for this are many, but the story in short is this:
- Google is the central node on the world’s information network.
- Its search engine is the greatest tool in the history of the world to connect clients’ problems with your solutions.
- This makes it the most prominent channel there is for thought leadership marketers.
- Its use in our daily lives is changing our decision-making processes by altering how we perceive expertise.
In short, if your firm cares about thought leadership, you better care about getting found online for the problems you know how to solve — you better care about search.
But, of course, SEO has become one of the most noisy topics in existence. If you’re like me, you literally receive 2-3 inquiries each week from someone asking you to “outsource some SEO work” to them with the promise of “1st page results.” While there might have been a time when you could just hire one of these “SEOs” to do some technical wizardry and forget about it, that time has long since passed.
By and large, SEO is no longer a technical endeavor. These days, SEO simply requires a commitment from senior members in the marketing team to understand a handful of fundamentals and make sure they’re diligently applied with frequency and regularity.
The foundation of modern search engine optimization is, of course, high quality content. Despite that, we see way too many firms with exceptional thought leadership (think published books and industry articles) that simply aren’t getting their fair share of search. This article is really for those folks. It’s not intended to be an exhaustive explanation of how to develop thought leadership. Nor, is it a technical explanation of all the inner workings of Google. In fact, we’re purposefully leaving out much of the rationale for why these things are important — if you’re interested in that, watch our SEO Webinar or spend a few weeks reading through the MOZ blog. Rather, it’s designed as a step-by-step “how to” guide for firms with high quality thought leadership who feel like they’re simply not getting their fair share of search traffic for concepts they’d like to own.
The 6 steps at a glance:
- Develop a List of Big Topics
- Develop a Content Strategy
- Build a Keyword List
- Search Optimize All Content
- Create Internal Links
- Build External Links
#1 – Develop a List of Big Topics
If you’d like to get found online, it’s important that you start at the beginning. What are the macro problems you know how to solve that you’d like to get found for? Don’t confuse this exercise with developing a keyword list — that will come later. In almost every instance imaginable, keywords should never drive strategy. Rather, identify 3-4 big ideas that you’d really like to be known for — things like organizational design, leadership development, etc. Ideally these topics can then be framed as a client’s problem statement — how do I develop the right organizational structure? how do I cultivate the next generation of leaders? Don’t worry too much about language just yet (how someone might search for this concept). Rather, just focus on the intent.
#2 – Develop a Content Strategy
Your content strategy should spell out the specific pieces of content you expect to develop underlying those big ideas. Ideally, it includes some combination of original primary research, a mix of short- and longer-form content, and a handful of case stories you will use to demonstrate the impact of your work. Your strategy should outline who’s going to do what by when and be documented as an editorial calendar that defines what you hope to publish by when. Ideally, your content strategy provides a list of headlines for articles you’re going to publish. You’re probably not a publisher so things don’t need to be set in stone. But, you shouldn’t give yourself too much leeway either. For each big topic you’d like to own, your content strategy should enable you to self-publish 3k+ words of original, search-indexable content per month.
Other useful content:
#3 – Build a Keyword List
Now, is the time to start thinking about keyword lists. Make a list of potential search phrases that you might use to find those macro topics and the articles that underly them. Simply think like a searcher. If I had this question, how might I search for it? From there, you can use a combination of free tools (Google “Auto-Suggest” and “Searches Related To” and Google Keyword Planner) or paid tools (we like KeywordTool.io) to identify how people tend to search for these topics and which phrases appear to be most or least competitive based on how expensive they’d be to “buy” via Google AdWords.
Other useful content:
#4 – Search Optimize All Content Along Those Lines
The next step is simply to search optimize all the content you self-publish using this list of potential keyword phrases. The important step here is to take the time to optimize all the key elements of each page individually. Take the time to “triangulate” around the concept underlying each article by providing independent Page Titles, URLs and Headlines for each one.
Other useful content:
Note: we purposefully skipped over what might appear to be the hardest part — actually producing the content itself. But, as I said earlier, this post was intended for firms that are already steady producers of high quality content, but just feel they’re not getting their fair share of search traffic for one reason or another.
#5 – Identify Critical Content and Build Internal Links
Revisit the existing content on your site and the content you plan to develop within your planned content strategy. Then, ask yourself which content from this list is most important? From this moment forward, make it your mission to look for ways to point to these content assets from elsewhere in your site. Whenever you write a short-form article on this topic, see if there’s some way to naturally embed a link to those important content assets within the body of the page. Don’t do it robotically. Do it in a way that helps the reader. But, also do it using the natural language of the article wherever possible. Use the “anchor text” of the link to provide a short snippet of information about what that other content asset is really about. Google will use this information to understand that other article. And, it will recognize that content assets that you point to more frequently within your site you deem to be more important than others.
#6 – Build External Links Pointing to those Same Assets
Here’s where those external SEO consultants have paid their way over the years — building “back links” to your site. And, here’s where you have to be careful. Yes, you’d love it if lots of high quality websites linked to your content because it would confer a lot of “search engine street cred” on what you just wrote.
But, not all links are created equal. Comment stuffing does you next to no good. So, if you’re paying one of those “SEOs” to post comments on other high quality sites to link to your articles, save your money. Also, publishing lots of links from low quality websites doesn’t do you a whole lot of good either.
Rather, what you’d really like to do is get external articles published on high quality sites that point back to your site in one way or another. So, dial back to step 2 (your content strategy) and ask yourself, could any of these articles be published elsewhere? Could we identify an industry trade journal or two that might be interested in an external submission on these topics? Reach out (either directly or through a PR professional) to the editor and see if you can get an article placed (before you publish it on your own site, obviously).
Then, when you write look for ways to link back to content on your site (while operating within the editorial guidelines of the publication). Whenever possible, make the first organic text link within that article point back to your site (again, as long as you’re operating within the expectations of the publisher — a lot of sites will frown upon this because you’re pulling their audience away from them. But you can always ask).
My hope is that this article (like our SEO webinar) will provide you with some practical advice to earn your fair share of search traffic. I’ve said this before (and I’m sure I’ll say it again), as a marketing medium Google is the closest thing a professional services firm has to SuperBowl advertising. So, you better do everything you can to make the most of it.