Welcome to part ten in this ten part SEO series. The ten parts of the SEO process we will be covering are:
- Keyword Research & Selection
- Competition Analysis
- Site Structure
- Content Optimization
- Link Building
- Social Media
- Statistics Analysis
- Conversion Optimization
- Keeping It Up
Sustaining Search Rankings and Increasing Site Conversions
Over the past three months, the WebmasterRadio.FM show Webcology and WebProNews have run a joint series of radio shows with corresponding articles on the ten basic steps or stages shared by most effective SEO campaigns. Today, we cover the last section (but certainly not final points) in a round-up article aptly named, “Keeping It Up”.
If the initial object of search engine optimization is to attract website traffic, the long-term objectives are to retain and convert that traffic and new traffic into repeating business. As all analytic webmasters know, the bulk of site traffic tends to come from search engine referrals. Retaining strong search rankings is essential to sustaining strong traffic, increasing sales and thus expanding your business.
Even after a website has established itself with its visitors and has a strong conversion record, search engines will continue to provide the vast majority of all new site traffic. If the SEO has done his or her work properly, blogs, social media and paid-search ads should also be driving new and repeat visitors.
Under normal circumstances, sustaining strong search engine rankings, while hard work, is fairly straight forward. That doesn’t mean it is easy by any extent but search marketing maintenance is not necessarily rocket science either. There is a never ending series of regular, methodical tasks to plan and work through. Depending on the size and scope of the website one is working on, a number of decisions should be made in order to prioritize work to most effectively use one’s time.
Generally, when we do the “final” touches on the initial phases of a client campaign, we wait a short period of seven to ten days before worrying too much about where pages or documents in the site are ranking. During that time, there are a number of tasks we perform to help boost the site’s performance, many of which have already been covered in the previous articles and radio segments that make up this series.
Post-SEO: Day 1, Whew! The initial phase is 99.9% done
Let’s pick up the story from the moment Metamend’s head SEO, Jade Carter, signs-off on the completion an initial project. All augmented or freshly created files have been uploaded to the host server, are live to the web and presumably being actively spidered. While most of Jade’s staff have already moved the bulk of their attentions to the next project, Jade still has a bunch of things to do before assigning the long-term life of the file to one of his account managers.
The first critical step is to perform a final “doh!-check” to ensure everything is working properly. Getting a site posted properly can be more complicated than one might think. At this point every minute counts as we can expect search-spiders to visit the site fairly quickly after changes are made. “Doh!-checks” are among of the most important parts of his job and can only be conducted with 100% certainty when all files are live.
As with all busy search marketing agencies, Metamend’s SEO staff will see hundreds of files cross their monitors each week and, as previous parts of this series show, frequently perform several different task-sets each day. Clients often use their own in-house web-teams to implement SEO recommendations or upload new files. With larger clients, it can take a few days or even weeks to see changes implemented, time during which any number of issues can arise. Mistakes can happen but since we work in a professional best-practices environment, mistakes should never see the backlight of day.
Jade scans each page to make sure all our recommendations or hands-on changes have carried over to the live-site. Running through all links, he checks to see if the site looks and acts the way he expects it to.
Search engine optimization and marketing has often been described as a mix of art and science. When reviewing the on-page work of his staff, Jade needs to think using of both sides of his brain. His first priorities are technical. Jade has to verify the website is functioning correctly and is, in fact, search spider-friendly. He then needs to turn his mind to marketing to make sure the website is user-friendly and accessible.
Thinking like a techie, he needs to inspect the site structure, and link-paths while planning the continuance of link building efforts. Moments later, Jade shifts mental gears and thinks like a marketer, checking if fresh and optimized content files appear on the pages they are supposed to appear on and if the on-page layout is attractive and compelling. He also needs to look into any social media marketing and paid-search marketing campaigns to map out staff work time and assign long-term tasks appropriately. Assuming everything is found working according to plan, Jade is able to do the final “doh!-check” sign-off before moving his focus to post SEO management and metrics.
Post-SEO: Day 2 – Day 7, The Garden is Seeded, now we add water and watch
(Please see the other articles in the series and listen to corresponding Webcology podcasts for information on any specific steps or techniques)
The biggest bulk of the heady, heavy work is done! Manually working through each file in a website takes a lot of time and energy at the beginning of a contract. It is bulk work that can be all encompassing for days at a time. That’s why SEO/SEM firms often charge a large up-front fee along with slightly smaller monthly fees. Over the coming months, an enormous amount of work will continue with focus on link building, social media, and ppc management. As with the initial SEO phase, much of the research, budgeting and data entry; the heavy lifting, is done in the first week.
The day after an optimized site and PPC campaign go live, the analytics begin to kick in. This is when things get intellectually interesting as statistics analysis forms the foundations for future planning and improvements. Most web analytic and monitoring software we use begin collecting data immediately after installation but it takes a few days for truly informative metrics to emerge.
In the initial week, software suites such as Enquisite Pro, Click Tracks, Google Analytics, and soon Yahoo’s newly purchased suite IndexTools need to be tweaked, trained and tutored in order to get the best overviews of website traffic and unique page performance. The PPC monitoring and click compliance software suite, PPC Assurance begins working immediately to record details of PPC driven traffic.
The first week does give search marketers a fairly good idea of how their PPC campaigns will generally fare. A lot of tweaking and testing can go into the phrasing of winning PPC headlines and ad-copy through-out the life of the campaign but in the first week, SEMs get a sense of how the present competition will act. Running in conjunction with PPC Assurance, the dashboards of the PPC networks (Google and Yahoo) provide very good analytic information, providing enough data to run a global advertising campaign from your desktop or laptop computer.
A critical note on pay-per-click management, it’s necessary. Frequent checking and the use of alerts are important to monitor bid-rates and the cost of every click. Diligent PPC monitoring is essential through-out the life of the search marketing contract.
Post SEO: Day 8 to ∞, In Which SEO and SEM Become Website Marketing
SEO and SEM turn into website marketing when numerous tools are used in conjunction to improve website traffic and increase web page conversions. With the deployment of optimized content and a blog, pay per click advertising and social media marketing, the pillars of the campaign are set in motion.
Some pages are expected to perform better than others. Similarly, some pages will perform better than expected. Some pages will not perform well at all, including ones you initially had high hopes for. Getting a true grip on how each page in a website or facet of the overall website marketing campaign is performing is like examining each tree in a woodlot. Compared to the intensity of the initial hands-on SEO phase, the work of Keeping It Up (to sustain search rankings and improve conversions) is much more mental than manual.
Analytics play an enormous role in long term search marketing management. From basic ranking reports to local search results in specific cities to eye-tracking studies and mouse-tracking technologies; search marketers rely on data generated by website visitors. Examining the data shows search marketers which pages or files are working and which require improvement.
The first thing SEOs look at is simple, organic page and site rankings across the major search engines under target keyword phrases. Though ranking reports provide the most basic information, the vast majority of search engine referrals come from first page placements and of those, the greatest numbers come from placements above the fold in the Top 1 – 5 spots. Placements on the second and third pages of results can be worked on and improved, moving them upwards in search results.
A problem with basic ranking reports is search engine placements often differ from region to region and city to city. In many circumstances, websites with local relevance will place better in their respective regions. Quite often, people from different places use different words to describe the same things. This is where the Enquisite Pro toolset is particularly helpful as it generates an increasingly granular view of search traffic and keyword usage down to the micro-level of zip and postal codes. Knowing how unique pages rank in specific cities, and which keyword phrases to target in different places helps improve conversions by allowing webmasters to tailor specific promotions to specific locations.
Use of other search marketing tools to drive traffic and improve rankings starts to take an important role in website marketing. Blog posts relating to well selling products in a specific region or city might be written and distributed to relevant publications with links back to pages that require a boost or support in the rankings. A well thought through social media campaign could attract visitors to a landing page that re-directs them to a regionally specific landing page based on IP address or their own social media settings.
As time moves forward, analytics packages begin to flush out a clear view of how website visitors move through the various pages in the site. When navigation patterns become clear, the process of conversion optimization begins. Briefly, conversion optimization is the art of prompting website visitors to take pre-planned actions such as clicking a link, buying a product or requesting information.
As analytics and user-tracking begin to paint a picture of how web visitors move through a website, search marketers can improve pages in the site to best meet the actions of the visitors and improve chances of conversion. Phrases such as “time on page”, “bounce rate”, “referral page”, “entry and exit points”, capture the attention of web marketing analysts trying to figure out the very best way to make and remake web pages to increase conversions. For anyone who simply needs to know the language of search marketing analytics, the Interactive Advertising Bureau publishes a 29-page glossary of Interactive Advertising Terms.
Good use of analytics allows search marketers to keep track of dozens of site-critical factors, giving them a easy overview of web-traffic patterns and ways to increase them. Getting an easy overview is pretty important for seasoned search marketers. They are often responsible for several files at the same time.
Working on improving a website and bettering site conversions brings the welcome benefit of working to increase page and overall site rankings. The introduction of improved content, RSS feeds and (hopefully) higher volumes of web traffic create a stronger reputation in search databases. Additional traffic and incoming links are drawn by a blog, social media marketing and link building efforts.
As weeks move into months, the progress and prosperity of the website should be well established and the marketing campaign(s) fine tuned. Barring unforeseen circumstances and assuming best practices have been followed all the way through, the majority of a search marketer’s working time is likely spent on continuing to update the blog, link building and social media marketing. And on it goes …
About the author:
Jim Hedger is a veteran SEO, a good friend, and reporter for Webmaster Radio.