The goal here today is not to cover every single point in an internal SEO plan, but to provide you a reasonable framework to work from. Using these points and fine tuning to your unique situation, will help you create a detailed plan which will be successful.
No program will function without domain expertise. There, I said it. You need the talent. You cannot trust this to outsourcing. Allowing the entire SEO program for your online business to rest in the hands of a third party is akin to hitching a ride home from the party when you don’t know who the driver is and if they are drunk or sober. Sure, there are some obvious cues you can watch for, but in the end, is this a risk you are willing to run? The stakes are a bit high for my taste.
If you do nothing else internally, ensure the domain expertise around SEO resides in your organization. This will allow you to ensure all downstream items reach the correct levels to meet your own corporate goals. While you might hire an agency to do the work, and they have a contract to meet – even with specific goals – the agency’s first loyalty is to its own existence. Being profitable ensures continual existence. Thus, it’s clear their first goals will be to maximize their profits.
Lest the agency world feel like ripping off hate mail to me, calm down. This is not meant to imply that agencies don’t care about their clients. Today, I think, most established agencies do genuinely care. They simply need to keep in mind the reality that they, too, run a business. For your own plans, this means their focus is often split. An internal group’s focus in on one thing – the company’s goals above all else.
Having internal domain expertise also ensures any work suggested by an agency passes the smoke test. Some agencies simply recycle work (or common items) between jobs. Internal expertise can keep on top of changes and trends to ensure the work suggested is realistic. And if all that aren’t reason enough to develop this expertise internally, consider that someone will at least need to manage the agency relationship, and that someone better be able to speak the language the agency uses, or your money is lost.
SEO integration plan
Consider the last time you had a truly blank slate to work from. A clearly defined plan was easy to come by back in those days, right? From theory to execution, you could map each step of the plan, integrate all facets cleanly and from there, you simply build to plan.
Now think of your daily slog. Optimization requires resources. Resources require justification. “How much is the ROI if we implement the H1 tags?” While tools exist today to help you track such minute details, it’s doubtful many actually are.
With more teams tasked with bringing optimization best practices to an already-existing product, it’s critical to have a well thought out integration plan. There will always be a level of pain, but minimizing this pain is in everyone’s best interest. If you take the time to carefully plan and explain the work items and their expected impacts, you can more easily sell the plan. Be ready to slice and dice to fit other requirements and plans, but if you show up with a plan, you’ll be taken seriously. Remember, this is an “integration” plan, not an “seo at all cost” plan. Know your place, plan the work, work the audience, drive for results.
Speaking of results, what are you tracking today? Given the advances in our ability to deeply track pretty much anything around search optimization (or any other discipline), there is no reason at all to skip this. Don’t be content with toeing the company line on baseline metrics, either. Sure, the company is really only concerned about conversions. Great KPI. Vital, even.
Just keep in mind that other things should matter such as time on site, pages consumed, internal path mapping, cross-overs with other disciplines (think paid search conversion data & keyword research) and so on. Internal to your own program, you should be concerned with many factors which will help you build the entire picture of the ecosystem you live in. While you may not share this data outside your own group, it’s vital to your ability to make the right decisions. Metrics matter; dig deep.
I’m not going to cover this in detail. This is the SEO 101, 201 and 301 stuff. Sure, you’ve got the plan down to cover the basic on page items, but how have you integrated social media into the equation? Do you have a defined internal link building strategy? Is your business development group on board and signing contracts that help, rather than hinder, further success around SEO? Do your content creators understand how to integrate keyword research into the content planning cycle?
If you start looking around, you’ll quickly discover there are very few areas in today’s business environment that do not influence SEO in some manner. Make a list specific to your situation and start filling in the groups with actual names. Ensure those people are in on the key conversations and that they sign off on and support your efforts within their own groups.
Repeat this with me: A website is not a newspaper.
How users consume online is very different compared to how they consume content in printed formats. Too many times businesses try to adhere to outdated methods and practices when creating content. You should have editorial guidelines, don’t get me wrong. These guidelines help form the basis of many products online, thus impacting credibility. But be careful to update them and review these guidelines frequently.
You might discover new problems and issues to tackle. For example, how does the world of 140 character limits work with grammatically correct best practices?
Make sure you ask these questions and come to some level of agreement around an answer. I’m not suggesting you’ll reach a consensus here, but you’ll at least have the right folks talking about the right things. After that, well, that’s what the Executives are there for – to help settle the big questions.
CMS – Content Management System
Get this right or go home. Well, not quite. You can be successful with a less-than-optimized CMS, but having a well executed, search friendly CMS will help form the basis of your program. Having a usable system enables all kinds of upstream benefits to exist. Content creation and management becomes easier. When needed, redirects can be easily implemented, preserving past value.
While most off-the-shelf CMS have limits, there are some good starting points to work from. WordPress might not scale for some. Windows vs. Linux is another question. Regardless, be sure when the time comes to purchase, modify or upgrade a CMS, you have a seat at the table. Your input doesn’t need to solve every problem, but you should lend guidance around what the final product should look like. The final website, that is. By clearly defining the scenarios, you enable your CMS team to build or modify in the right direction.
Templates, rich media and more
Now we’re getting to the nuts and bolts of things. Making sure your templates are properly optimized – or individual pages if you operate at that level – is critical to checking of the SEO 101 items. Titles, descriptions, keywords, H-tags, alt-tags, content placement, navigational elements and more need to be accounted for. Create the check list with best practices and have the designers/developers confirm each item is accounted for. Then go check it yourself. This does not mean you don’t trust your teammates, but their job isn’t SEO, yours is.
When using rich media, be thoughtful. Keep it well integrated, but keep the best content out of the rich elements. Follow the usual best practices and don’t fall into the trap of trying to make things too slick. A good user experience isn’t just about movies and video. A good UI takes into consideration more than the latest whiz-bang, slick-looking interfaces. There is a place for this experience, but it’s not as a content wrapper.
Cover the other usual suspects like sitemaps and robots.txt management as well. Don’t take these for granted or it’ll bite you hard in the future.
If you create an roadmap based on these 7 items, you’ll cover most of the ground needed to build and implement a sound SEO strategy.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.