4 Personal tenets of organic growth acceleration (we don’t call it SEO)
1. Just as the brand is infused into the voice of all marketing materials. The brand should be fused into SEO. Both should flow into the DNA of the site.
2. Every project, product, and piece of content must exist for 2+ reasons. For example, there is never a project that is “just for SEO.” Never a piece of content that is “just for SEO.” Never a widget that is just for product/users that also can’t support SEO.
3. Technical SEO can only be as good the content that supports it. Good content will win but will be limited by poor technical SEO.
4. Ethos of testing and tracking. The web isn’t even in middle school yet. Everything we do is a test. Therefore, everything we do that can be tracked is tracked. We can learn from everything we do if we benchmark everything.
Prior to kicking off a client/partner relationship:
- Audit each property (before even writing a proposal) for the unique editorial and technical opportunities that the property and the team can benefit most from as early in the timeline as possible.
- This isn’t a “canned” SEO audit, it’s an organic growth audit aimed at identifying the biggest and lowest hanging fruit via looking at how the site, content and marketing can work together to seize opportunity whether it’s technical, content, marketing/outreach driven or all three. Because of this, the exact program/direction that we decide to pursue is a hybrid of items that I have assessed as well as the unique goals and KPIs that brand stakeholders have deemed priority. Every site is different so the first things that I do are aimed at driving the unique benefit of that particular brand.
Who we work with:
- Product, Editorial, Dev/Engineering, Marketing, UX (even ad sales depending on the brand).
How we like to work:
We like to systematize the human efforts that we think work best for users and search engines or platforms.. we call it “organic scaling.” For example, we might train and provide editorial guidelines to a team or contributors to support our most successful methodologies. To that end, I will likely quickly move to build those guidelines into CMS functionality to make those efforts even more efficient for writers.
In this example, we’re not talking about very helpful off the shelf SEO CMS plugins like Yoast or All-in-One SEO Pack, we’re talking about functionality that supports the very unique goals of your product, editorial direction and brand vision (not just SEO). Beyond this, we might be working with the CTO to discuss developing products/software that may automate those guidelines completely (after we’ve proven, the need and effectiveness via organic usage) to make sure those best practices in content occur 99.9% of the time. In effect, we can reduce that resource tax on writers to ensure that their creative efforts are the focus vs. having them riddled with a checklist of 25 SEO tactics every time they publish.
So what does it mean to build the SEO & the brand into the DNA of the site?
A recent client suggested they needed support evolving their taxonomy. How many nodes? What would the categories be? What would the naming conventions be? What content strategy would support that evolved taxonomy? And how will it all be good for SEO?
I met with team members about the goals of the brand and the type of content being submitted and or produced. During that time, I also did a deep competitive analysis from an SEO and brand POV. I was able to glean that this brand was essentially the emotional side of WebMD. After all, their content is mostly personal stories from patients or the family members of patients in which they detail their experience in overcoming challenges with their health and society.
With the above in mind I reviewed the taxonomy of WebMD. That taxonomy is clinical, some example nodes are: Facts, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment. Those are accurate nodes for WebMD and they’re great for SEO but they wouldn’t work for this brand.
For this client, we pitched a taxonomy that would map emotionally to their readers and the content that was drawing users to the brand. This taxonomy would be good for SEO (not as strong as WebMDs) but after working with product, marketing and editorial to further refine this concept we all agreed that we we wanted to put the brand voice and the user’s concerns over “pure SEO” and therefore build the SEO into the brand and the DNA of the site via this very nuanced yet “brand true” SEO friendly taxonomy. I’m happy to provide more details about this and other topics when we talk.
My Approach to Project Prioritization:
Most SEO driven projects don’t and can’t deliver immediate benefit. Most of the time multiple projects work together to drive synergistic benefit. E.g. Enhanced internal linking and and accelerated optimized content development combined).
My prioritization methodology (I created this for SEO prioritization efficiency across teams at my last in-house role):
- Immediate Hard Issue (IHS) — Issue(s) with the property that can be corrected and will have a high probability of recouping lost traffic or greatly accelerating growth within 1–3 months.
2. Long Term Soft Issue (LTS) — Optimizations/products that can be implemented that will not deliver traffic today but will help us avoid negative algorithmic impact or will slowly recoup losses. Examples might be: Prioritizing a UX change that we know will decrease an increase in bounce rate from last year. Page speed reduction. Prioritizing the release of AMP pages.
3. House Cleaning Issue (HSI) — Ensuring that we’re buttoned up for best practices, decreasing the number of error pages. In some cases these issues could be IHS but because we’re auditing a property for its unique needs (before we start), we determine which bucket to place these in.
Above all, I think it’s imperative that I understand and consider the value of other products and company efforts outside of SEO/content. If there are resource constraints and we are placed in a “this project or that project scenario” then we need to factor in the global value to the company for each project and prioritize from there.
Finally — Just because it’s a “best practice” doesn’t mean it will deliver benefit. Good to do but maybe we save it for a rainy day after we pick our big low-hanging fruit.