In one year, my company helped one client increase organic search traffic by 1,762% (from 1,392 to 25,922 monthly visits).
How SEO has evolved (while also staying the same)
SEO used to be easy.
Throw some black keywords on a black background, buy some links, and call it a day.
In the aftermath, many have blamed Google directly for “changing the rules,” claiming they give big brands preferential treatment. Which, in fairness, they kinda do.
But there’s a good reason.
Since day 1, search engines have attempted to provide people with the most accurate, high-quality results available to searchers through a complex variety of methods. Today, they’re even using sophisticated techniques like machine learning, or low level artificial intelligence, with RankBrain.
So while the methods have evolved, the goals and principles are still largely the same.
Your goal then, should be to build a sought-after brand that’s recognized as an authority expert on specific topics.
That way regardless of algorithm changes or whatever SEO hacks are en vogue today, your organic search traffic will continue to thrive for years (plural) to come.
How to build a link generating machine
SEO is pretty simple once you break it all down (and after addressing the technical stuff).
You really have only have two objectives:
1. Build domain expertise on specific subjects around the problems (not just products or services) your brand solves.
2. Increase the amount of people who recognize you as a trusted authority on said topics.
So how do you do those things?
1. Create the most unique or best-in-class content about related, unbranded topics.
2. Get more people to see, like, share, or link to this stuff.
The thing that makes #2 so difficult, is the lack of #1. In other words, generating links or social shares to branded pages about your company is insanely difficult. Because nobody (outside of you) care all that much about what it has to say.
However, creating interesting unbranded content, helpful tools, or campaigns that address felt needs, makes #2 exponentially easier.
Here’s how to replicate their success.
Start by identifying specific opportunities
What’s the point? Topics can be rehashed. But your angle is the unique spin that breathes new life into it.
The key is to somehow connect it back to those recurring problems or gaps in a customer’s life.
You get this stuff, unsurprisingly, from actually speaking with customers.
For example, when we first worked with Picmonic, their flagship product helped students deal with:
- “Mountains of material”
- “Regurgitating facts unhelpful”
- “Keep up with the evolution of medical tests”
Based on those answers (along with a few others), we took a look at the primary benefits and outcomes the product delivered and were able to quickly come up with a few categories or content themes to work with.
For example, a few of the most popular were:
- FAQ about specific standardized medical tests
- “Life hacking” for productivity, studying, etc.
- Proprietary research information or visitor data that other competitors can’t access
Awesome. Now you know which areas to dive deeper.
Time to open up one of my new favorite tools, Moz Keyword Explorer, to identify the best potential content opportunities based on a range of factors:
- Volume: A (very) rough range of the number of people looking for this on a monthly basis.
- Competition: The strength of websites already ranking for the top results.
- Relevancy/Intent: Does this line up with what people are actually searching for?
- Requirements: What you’re going to need in-house (and a preview of how long it might take to create).
- Possible format (with examples): Model your content after successful content that already exists.
Creating skyscraper content, ebooks, infographics and calculators has been well covered (and would require a few additional blog posts in addition to this).
So instead, let’s skip over to the next critical piece that’s often missed (or ignored): promotion.
Un-sucking your link building strategy
It can take anywhere from six to eight touches to generate a sales lead.
To make matters worse, at least half of your visitors come through multiple channels using multiple devices over the span of multiple days before they become a customer.
That means if you want to generate interest in something online, you gotta do it many times in many different places. (That whole reach and frequency bit from decades ago.)
A random tweet sent out during off-hours, or a few haphazard link building tactics like throwing up some directory links isn’t enough. Not for all the time and effort it’s going to take to actually create your campaign in the first place.
Instead, it should be a series of activities that work together and build off of each other. The best model to follow is one that combines earned, owned and paid media activities (which is another advertising framework that’s been around for awhile).
This BuzzStream post is an excellent starting point, but here’s a few other examples for how one campaign now easily nets you 10 decent tactics that will build brand awareness, site traffic, social shares, and a few backlinks along the way.
1. Internal website linking: Don’t neglect your existing website traffic. Good internal linking and CTA’s on popular pages (and paths) are an easy win.
2. Email campaigns: Duh!
3. Social publishing: Don’t just tweet; give social it’s own content creation and publishing schedule too.
4. Non-sucky press release distribution: Written for, you know, the actual press first and links second.
5. Non-sucky, relevant directories: While not the most elegant in the world, this ‘low-hanging fruit’ still has a place (think: niche-specific infographic directories or even something on Slideshare.)
6. Low-level content syndication: Look for sites that willingly accept guest content, and write a few variations of different topics and angles that you’ve covered with your new campaign.
7. Scaled outreach: Search for bloggers and journalists who’ve already written or published content on the same topics, and scale your outreach to them.
8. High-level content distribution: Custom pitches to pre-identified journalists at upper levels.
9. Social Distribution: Basic Twitter and Facebook ad campaigns to new audiences who’ve previously shown interest in similar content.
10. Retargeting: Target previous website visitors and/or specific groups of people (even journalists).
Perform one or two of these activities to start moving the needle. Or, do all of them over the course of a few weeks, and increase your exposure. You have to pull out all the stops in today’s world where you’re competing with over two million daily blog posts.
SEO has evolved tremendously over the past few years.
And yet when you get right down to the underlying objective search engines are trying to accomplish, things haven’t changed that much at all.
SEO tactics commonly come and go, being overused, exposed, or dying out almost as quickly as they become a “best practice.”
But the good news, is that as long as you continue working away at becoming a recognized expert on topics that matter to your potential customers, your brand should continue to thrive for years to come (no matter which farm animal algorithm is up next).