Search Engine Optimization is one of the more shapeless marketing terms we get to wrestle with these days.
It’s not that people don’t understand SEO, okay maybe it kind of is, it’s that the very nature of SEO seems to shift with each new pronouncement from Google.
One thing is eternally clear, however (for today) – showing up, preferably towards the top of page one, when someone with a need goes looking for answer, product, or solution is a determining factor in the success and growth of just about every business.
In fact, SEO has in my view risen from the ranks of technical tactic to the status of full blow marketing and growth channel.
Today, it’s important to consider SEO as an option in parallel with other established lead channels such as Public Relations, Advertising, and Referral Generation.
However, as we make this consideration, it’s not enough to simply decide to add SEO practices to the mix, you must also consider when, where and how SEO can deliver the greatest impact.
In that regard it is most certainly not a one size fits all bag of tricks.
SEO for growth is as much about strategy and mindset as it is about technical wizardry. And, it’s about hierarchy and patience and consistency. You can’t achieve the greatest results possible without laying a firm foundation and integration SEO practices with social media and content – it’s all connected.
To get the most from any SEO practice it’s essential that you understand the context in which SEO can most effectively be employed.
In the past, I’ve written that I believe there are three stages of growth – traction, expansion, and optimization. I further believe that you must align the proper tactics with each of these stages, and this most certainly includes SEO tactics
In the traction stage, you’re still trying to find that perfect match of ideal customer and market message. Your product or service is likely evolving, and it’s a pretty good bet that you don’t have sufficient content or domain authority to easily rank your content no matter how much optimization you perform.
That’s your job at this stage. Create your editorial calendar and go to work on creating, at least, one piece of epic content per week.
I know, a term like epic content is both worthless and scary sounding, but know this – the days of thinly written, 500-word restatement of the obvious ranking for your precious keywords are over.
Take a look at the analysis of my content below from BuzzSumo and note the dramatic increase in average number of shares for longer form content.
The good news is that if you create truly useful content, you can start to use it in your lead capture and lead conversion efforts even as you begin to impact organic traffic numbers.
In the expansion stage, you’ve likely found some things that work. Your value proposition is getting easier to explain, and your content efforts are starting to pay dividends.
Expansion is all about sustainability and increased growth rate. It’s about retaining customers and finding ways to leverage relationships to do more.
The primary tool for expansion SEO is link building. Here again, I’ve used another one of those scary SEO tools. Link building in the traditional old school SEO way of thinking was all about amassing links from pretty much anywhere as a way to show good old Google that lots of people liked your content.
Today, link building has a lot more in common with networking and the quality of your backlinks is more important than the quantity.
Once again, content plays a role. One of the best ways to acquire high-quality, relevant backlinks is to take your epic content and start offering it to others. In some ways, this could be great advice for someone just getting started, but I do think you need some of your best content on your site.
Researching and finding places that accept guest posts is a great place to start. Don’t forget high authority local sites like Chambers of Commerce, Industry Organizations, and local government training sites.
Obviously, you want high domain authority sites to accept your content but start small and work your way up.
The conversion stage is, of course, where the money is. During this stage, you want to take advantage of your content and link building efforts and start leveraging the assets you are building.
During this stage, the term Domain Authority will start to get very interesting.
Domain Authority is the term used by SEO folks to give a point value to the ranking factors behind any domain. There are countless elements that go into constructing this algorithm, but suffice it to say if you can achieve a domain authority even approaching 50 on a scale of 100, you will have established a marketing asset that is likely to serve your business for many years.
Here’s a good description of Domain Authority from MOZ.
Since domain authority is made up of many variables, it is extremely hard to influence unnaturally and for that reason, a link from a DA 60 site is far better than one from DA 10.
As the result above shows, a link from Entrepreneur would be very valuable
One of the most important ways to impact our DA is to acquire links from sites with higher DA. Now that you have a solid foundation of content and have established yourself as a reliable guest blog contributor, you can begin to run campaigns targeted to a list of higher DA sites.
Don’t forget that most magazines and high traffic publishing websites are looking for content, and you might be surprised how easy it is to get a guest spot or even regular contributing gig for a high profile online site.
This is also the stage where you should think about your place to invite guest contributors to your site. You can usually find individuals that already publish on other sites using a tool like BuzzSumo.
In many cases these guest contributors are also more than happy to promote the fact that they are published on your site, leading to more social shares and possibly even links.
Don’t forget to mine your social networks for potential contributors as well as any local strategic partners. You know, your banker, lawyer, and accountant might think it’s awesome that you invited them to share their thoughts on your blog.
Now, the reason I call this the conversion phase of SEO is that once you start receiving traffic, you go to work on making that traffic pay – that is the point, let’s not forget.
One highly indexed, shared, and linked to blog post can turn into a lead generation gold mine with a few simple conversion tactics.
Take the time to learn about building Facebook Audiences and you’ll discover that you can effectively “pixel” visitors to your one or two winning posts so you can continue to market to them on Facebook or even build what Facebook calls “lookalike” audiences so you can expand to reach an even wider net to drive to your site.
Of course, once you start getting traffic to certain posts, even one or two, you have the foundation to build content upgrades that allow you to capture highly targeted leads by offering a video or checklist to accompany the post in exchange for an email.
With the right content, we’ve seen conversion rates as high as 40% – meaning 40% of the people visiting the page took the offer for the upgrade and gave us their email address. (My current favorite for all manner of Lead forms is Thrive Leads)
Since you’ve read this far, you might be thinking that I’m not even talking about SEO at this point – and that is precisely the point.
You can’t have an effective SEO approach without understanding how to integrate your SEO channel with your overall approach to marketing and growth.
John Jantsch is the co-author of SEO for Growth – The Ultimate Guide for Marketers, Web Designers, and Entrepreneurs.