Many people often get confused between strategy vs tactics, so what’s the difference? Essentially, strategy deals with the Why and tactics deal with the How. This is fundamental if you’re looking at an SEO strategy for 2021. Strategy is the planning phase, and tactics are the action steps needed to carry out that plan. It’s also important to note, though, that strategy doesn’t just happen at the beginning before the tactics are conceived. Strategy happens both before and after the initial tactics are drawn up…with new tactics being deployed to keep in sync with the evolving strategy.
If we use the example of digital marketing, it is effectively a tactic towards the greater strategic goal of a larger business growth strategy. Sure, it has a diverse number of options within that tactic, but it is for all intents and purposes a broad tool within a digital marketer’s tool kit. What this means is that you need to be flexible when considering those differing options, and you need to adapt the strategy to establish which options are best suited to help achieve a business’s targets through the digital marketing tactic.
For instance, out of that strategy there might evolve a new tactic of SEO. However, something as integral and intricate as SEO requires its own strategy because implementing SEO without any guidelines, roadmap or even a content strategy is like a ship leaving port without a destination in mind. It’s just not going to get you anywhere!
Tactics without strategy can win the battle, but they almost certainly won’t win the war. With a proper strategic initiative everything comes together. Without one, all of those individual tactics are working separately and will not come together to get you where you want to be.
Now we’re going to look at some specifics for your SEO strategy for 2021. Firstly, we’ll start off with an SEO audit.
- SEO Audit
An SEO audit (or site audit) crawls all of the pages it finds on your website, then provides an overall SEO health score. You can use this health score to monitor how your site’s overall performance is doing in relation to your competitors etc. It will give you a number of key performance indices often displayed in dashboard form, from where you can drill down into a number of varied data points to see how your website is scoring in relation to a benchmark. For example, it may use data charts to visualise your score, it will flag all possible SEO issues that need fixing and will prioritise which issues need more urgent attention in order to help drive those rankings higher. While an SEO audit isn’t strictly part of the SEO strategy – I believe it’s best practice to start there so you have a benchmark with which to use as a platform for the right type of strategy that’s required.
- Write a List of Content Topics
While keywords are still considered to be at the core of a good SEO strategy for 2021, they are no longer the all-important first step. To achieve organic growth through not only increasing your SEO rankings but, critically, matching a user’s search intent – you need to focus first on a list of topics you want your content to address.
It’s a good idea to write a list of words, terms or phrases that reflect your product or service offering. Then, use a keyword research tool (such as Ahrefs, SEMrush or Google) to nut out your exact keywords and determine their individual search volumes, keyword difficulty, estimated traffic and clicks expected etc. With their link to your associated product or service, these keywords are more likely to be shorter term variants. These are not what you’ll use in your blog post, but will create the ‘stems’ of what you’ll refine further in the process below.
- Write a list of long-tail keywords
Based on the above list of stem (or seed) terms, use the chosen keyword tool to identify 5-10 long-tail keywords that drill further into the initial content topic keyword. It’s worth noting that even though long-tail keywords have relatively low search volume levels, you can usually rank for them faster.
Let’s say, for example, that you work for a financial planning company. Financial planning itself as a topic is highly competitive and covers a broad area. However, if you were to write frequent blog posts around wealth management, you might choose to write a post about the following:
- Why would you put your house in a trust?
- When is the best time for me to retire?
Your content strategy needs to be mapped out to cover a whole range of sub-topics around a given topic area. Your research into long-tail keywords needs to reflect this broader approach to satisfy the varied number of ways a user might try to type in their query, so you can try to match their ‘search intent’. Ultimately, this helps businesses attract users who have varying interests and pose varying queries – which creates more opportunities for them to find you in the SERPs rankings, being more targeted with what your business offers.
Utilise your long-tail keywords to create service pages or blog posts that explain the specific topics within the stems you’ve identified. All up, your collection of long-tail keywords creates a cluster around each topic. Google’s search engine algorithm relies on the links between clusters to connect users with the information they’re looking for.
If you base it on the following paradigm: the more hyper-relevant (or specific) your content is, the more targeted this will be to match the needs of your audience…and the more likely you’ll convert this traffic into leads. It’s also how Google determines value in the websites it crawls; the pages that dive deeper into the core meaning of a general topic are identified as being the best answer to a user’s query and will most likely rank higher.
- Build a Page for Each Topic
As is often the way with anything to do with SEO, when you’re trying to rank websites in search engines, trying to get one page to rank for a handful of keywords can be extremely hard. However, this is the true litmus test.
Use the stem topics you wrote down to create a webpage or post that provides an overarching viewpoint of the topic using the long-tail keywords you researched for each cluster in step three. These foundational pages can essentially be a table of contents, where you’re describing the main topic and informing the audience of subtopics that you’ll expand on in future posts.
Moreover, the number of topics that you created stem pages for should align with your business needs, such as the number of products and offerings you have. This will make it much easier for your potential leads / customers to find you in search engines regardless of which keywords they enter.
- Set Up a Blog
This is essential for a solid SEO strategy for 2021. Writing and posting a frequent blog can be a great way to rank for keywords and create engagement within your site’s users and other online communities. This is because, essentially, each blog post is a new webpage and another chance to rank in SERPs. If your business does not already have a blog, you should ideally create one.
Before you write each blog post and expand on your stem topics, you should also consider three things:
- Don’t repeat your long-tail keyword more than three or four times within the blog post, as Google doesn’t consider exact keyword matches as often as it used to. In fact, if you repeat it too many times this can be a red flag to search engines that you’re keyword stuffing to gain rankings, and they’ll penalise your site for this.
- Secondly, always link out to the stem page you first created for your topics. You can do this in the form of tags in your content management system (CMS), or as simple anchor text in the main body of the article.
- Once you publish each blog post, you should link to it within the parent stem page that supports the subtopic. By connecting both the stem and the cluster like this, you’re informing Google that there’s a relationship between the long-tail keyword and the broader topic you’re trying to rank for.
- Establish a Consistent Blog Posting Schedule
For every blog post or webpage you create, they don’t necessarily need to belong to a topic cluster. Additional value can be found in writing about linked topics that your audience cares about to build authority with Google’s algorithms.
With that in mind, make it a point to blog at least once a month. More frequently is good, too…but so many of my clients don’t have the time to write a new blog each week. It’s worth noting that you’re writing these blogs primarily for your audience – not for search engines – so research your target market well and write about things that they are interested in.
It may be helpful to create a content strategy to keep the consistency going and to focus on your business goals.
- Create a Plan for Link Building
Creating topic clusters is a good way to establish a foundation in SEO, but it’s not the only way to get your website content to rank higher after you’ve created it.
While on-page SEO is critical to any decent SEO strategy for 2021, link building is the number one objective of off-page SEO. Link building is the process of gaining inbound links (also known as backlinks) to your website from other websites and sources on the internet. Generally speaking, those sites with more ‘authority’ (aka Domain Authority or Domain Rating) that link back to your content have a higher significant impact on your own rankings.
It’s a good idea to think of all the numerous ways you can try to attract backlinks. You could, for example, start by sharing links with local businesses in exchange for links to their own sites, or maybe you could write a few blog posts and share them on different social media platforms. You can also approach other bloggers for ‘guest blogging’ opportunities that you can link back to your website. Don’t fall into the trap of merely getting your friends and family to link any of their online platforms back to your site; the more natural and relevant (while being authoritative) these inbound links are to your own website, the better.
- Compress Media Files Prior To Uploading Them to your Site
It may seem trivial…but it’s an important step in the SEO process, especially when it comes to mobile optimisation and page speed.
As your website grows with the addition of new blogs or webpages, you’ll undoubtedly have more images, videos and other media supporting your content. These visual assets will help to keep your visitors interested, but remember that these files can be very large in file size. Since page speed is a crucial ranking factor, it is important to monitor the size of each media file you upload to your site.
The larger the file size, the more difficult it is for an internet browser to render your website – therefore, it takes longer. It is especially hard for mobile browsers to load these images, as the bandwidth on the devices is noticeably smaller. The smaller the file size, the faster your website will load, but can you compress images and still keep their quality?
Here’s where the use of a compression tool (e.g. JPEG Optimizer, JPEG.io, Compressor.io etc) to reduce file sizes can help before uploading images, videos, and gifs. You can also choose to compress your media yourself, keeping files in the kilobytes (KB) range is a good rule of thumb (i.e. under 1MB where possible).
- Keep Up-to-date On The Ever-evolving World of SEO & Best Practices
Just like with any marketing, the search engine landscape is continuously changing. Staying on top of current trends and best practices is a critical strategy in itself, and there are multiple online resources that can help you do so. Here are a few resources to check out:
- Monitor and Track The Success of Your Content
SEO demands a lot of time and effort – especially since it’s probably the single most evolving area of online marketing that I can think of in my over 23 years of working in the industry. Because of this, you’ll want to know if your strategy works. It’s important to keep track of your metrics to understand the success of the overarching process…and identify any areas for improvement.
Monitoring organic traffic has never been easier and you can use whichever web analytics tool you prefer. Alternatively, you can even create your own dashboard using Excel or Google Sheets.