5 ways to set the stage for a successful SEO engagement
Tackling these items from the outset gives yourself a springboard into an effective SEO engagement with clients.
So you’ve won a new SEO client – hooray!
Before you officially get the partnership kicked off, there’s a lot of ground to cover to help you set the stage for success and make a great first impression.
As SEOs know, every website has two areas that need focused analysis before you kick off an SEO program: content and back-end setup.
This article will tackle five initiatives my team undertakes right after the contract is signed to find and address those critical fixes and ensure we’re setting up our client for success. They are:
- Audit existing content for opportunities to update.
- Assess the website to prioritize technical optimizations.
- Deliver a keyword research list – well in advance of kickoff.
- Map keywords to site pages.
- Set up a tracker that works for both sides.
Let’s dig into each initiative.
1. Audit existing content for opportunities to update
How many times have you had a client eager to launch into building new content without considering optimizing what’s already on their website? (In my experience, it’s quite common.)
You can add immediate value by encouraging new clients to assign equal resources to updating their old content on top of creating net-new material.
Of course, the optimal frequency of content updates depends on the topic. The three main considerations when assessing topic-related updates:
- Is the topic evergreen? If the answer is a resounding yes – let’s say it’s an article on tax regulations that haven’t changed since the 1990s – the information can stay relevant for a long time. You still should schedule optimizations for evergreen pages, but those won’t be as intensive or frequent.
- Does the query call for super-fresh content? The more dynamic the topic, the more regularly you have to check and update it. For example, content involving social and political events must be updated regularly to show up high in the SERPs.
- Does Google consider the topic “your money or your life” (YMYL)? Google discusses YMYL topics (think: financial or medical advice) in its Search Quality Rater guidelines and holds webpages that contain them to a higher standard. These will need extra attention to make sure they convey actual, updated value to the reader.
Use a simple matrix of potential search volume (high, medium, low) and effort required to update the content (high, medium, low) to give your client a prioritized list of opportunities to gain traction by revisiting what’s already on their site.
2. Assess the website to prioritize technical optimizations
Marketers should have a good eye for reputable visuals. Websites that look like they were built 10 years ago and don’t lead the user through any thought-out journey should draw extra-critical analysis.
These are the fundamentals to get before you pour effort into content.
Some factors to examine after the contract is signed:
- Code that jives with spiders: If search engine spiders struggle to crawl your code, you’re already curtailing your growth. Make sure coding is clear and organized.
- XML sitemaps: Sitemaps are table stakes for SEOs; they lay out pages, images, and videos in a way that helps search engines navigate a site’s content.
- Server maintenance: Server diagnostic reports are great sources of insight on high-priority errors that need attention.
- The content management system: Make sure you know the answers to major CMS questions: Can you update content easily? Are there bugs or red flags? Are plug-ins current and compatible?
- Mobile usability: Websites in every vertical – even B2B – draw a heavy dose of mobile traffic. Responsiveness for both desktop and mobile devices is a must.
- Robots.txt: This is one of our favorite features. Robots.txt signals spiders where they don’t have to crawl, which conserves resources on services and points bots indirectly to the content that matters.
- Site speed: Slow-loading websites lead to poor user experiences and high bounce rates – and are a big factor in Google’s algorithm. What does Google Search Console say are the highest-opportunity areas of improvement?
- 301 redirects: 301s pre-empt error pages by redirecting old or null pages to newer, more relevant content. This can improve user experience.
- Full URLs: URL shortcuts can lead to crawl errors. Ensure you use the complete URL, including https://, for internal links.
- Canonical tags: These tags provide protection against getting dinged for duplicate content. They direct search engines to the URL you’d like to appear in the SERPs.
- The design: Just as marketers can sniff out old or outdated site designs, users are conditioned to keep up with web trends and might be pre-conditioned to bounce if you haven’t shown your site much design love.
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3. Deliver a keyword research list at least two weeks before kickoff
The keyword research list is the most important single document in an entire account as it sets the framework for targeting and helps align goals with the client. This living document should be updated consistently throughout the client engagement.
The sheet is simple. Add headings for:
- Keyword Category.
- Current Rank.
- Current Ranking Page.
This gives you and the client an actual baseline of performance and a tool to connect and align our campaigns.
Deliver it to the client well in advance of the kickoff and ask for prompt feedback.
The goal should be to incorporate the feedback and build out a longer list, with ideas for how to rank, to discuss during kickoff.
4. Build a keyword-to-webpage mapping document
Content and keywords need good strategic direction to reach their potential.
While you’re developing the target keyword list, map those keywords to current pages for optimization.
This helps you stay organized on important early projects like title tags and meta description optimization. It also ensures you are aligned on the SEO goals of each page, including the queries they’re intended to address.
5. Set up a project tracker that works for both sides
Whether it’s on Asana, Trello, Monday, or a Google Sheet, it's a good practice to establish a central reference for tracking all projects, including timelines, priorities, owners, and collaborators.
Basic functions should include:
- The ability to grant different permissions (e.g., edit, view, etc.)
- 24/7 access for all parties.
- The ability to add comments and notes for each task.
- Roll-up and zoom-in capabilities to track progress at scale and by initiative.
Before kickoff, make sure you know the client’s preference for the platform and have a list of collaborators so you can build a skeleton to present as a starting point.
Working toward a successful SEO engagement
This might sound like a lot of work to commit to before the client has paid a dollar for the engagement. The reality is that it is work your team will need to do anyway.
Tackling it preemptively gives you a springboard into an effective engagement and will give the client a clear signal that you’re ready and willing to move the needle for their business.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
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