Understanding the Variables that Impact Your SEO Strategy
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I’ve been talking a lot about variables lately. In my recent post, Common Myths About SEO, I talked about how SEO is not fast and it is not a guarantee. And that is mostly because of the number of variables that come into play for any given SEO strategy.
By my estimation, there are six categories of variables in SEO that you should be paying attention to, whether you are setting up a site, considering hiring an SEO expert or evaluating your current strategy. Those categories include budget and resources, your SEO team, content, partnerships, infrastructure and the tools you are using.
When you have a deep understanding of the variables that impact SEO, you can tweak and manipulate all these factors as needed to create a strategy that's unique to your site, and your business goals.
Here's a closer look at the variables that impact your search strategy:
Budget and Resources
Marketing teams have a lot of different divisions: SEO, PPC, content, data analysis, social, content marketing, website development, etc. Sometimes the budget just gets spread too thin. If you aren't seeing the results you want from your search efforts, you may want to take a look and see if you're allocating adequate resources for success.
Some companies will spend a lot on paid marketing or paid ads. This type of investment drives short-term results, and that's the kind of results that tend to impress CMOs and CEOs the most. But the reality of SEO is that it's a long-term investment. If you're not investing in SEO because you are prioritizing quick returns, you likely won't be seeing any results on the organic side at all.
If you want to know more about the importance of long-term SEO strategy, check out When CRO and SEO Collide.
Your SEO Team
Another variable to consider is how well your SEO team or consultant can do their job, and how well they coordinate with the rest of your marketing efforts.
When it comes to hiring for your SEO team, there's a range of options that can have varying results depending on their experience level, whether they are in-house or a consultant. You will most likely get the best quality from a consultant, as they typically have the most experience handling a variety of complex situations. (As a former SEO consultant, I admit I'm a little biased. I now work full-time for PieSync as their Head of SEO.)
Another thing to keep in mind with your SEO team is that the person is basically going to be on a lot of other teams, too. Search engine optimization is heavily integrated with web development (engineering), product marketing, content, and business development. To be successful, you need someone who is capable of working with all these teams. They should understand how the different components of an online marketing strategy work, and be able to get buy-in for their vision from a wide range of stakeholders.
Content is awesome, and I think it is one of the most undervalued variables in SEO. As a consultant, I would often tell my clients that investing in good content is a great way to get ahead of the competition.
A good content strategy provides free, actionable information to potential customers. It is a longer-term investment. The point is to provide free information that is valuable to the customer. This builds trust and brand recognition so that when people go to buy something, they think of your product.
It's important to think of content as a variable in SEO because there are a lot of different approaches you can take that will impact your results. You have to understand what questions customers are asking related to your product.
Partnerships & Link Acquisition
Does anyone remember what search was like before Google? It was terrible. When Google developed a system to identify which websites would best answer search queries, it was a total game-changer. A big part of this system is an algorithm that looks at how many other pages link to your site, and it also can check the quality of those pages.
Maximizing these high-quality backlinks is still a very important step in boosting your organic search. The process of doing this usually involves having your SEO consultant or team doing the necessary research to identify potential partners, then having your business development team reach out to them to create co-marketing opportunities via newsletters, blog posts, guest content, and mentions. It can be tempting to go the easy route here, but I highly recommend you don't resort to buying low-quality links or other shady SEO practices. Using partnerships and link acquisitions in your search strategy should really be based on knowing you have a high-quality product or service, and building relationships so that other people will help you share that message.
If you want to know more about this important factor of SEO, I'd suggest reading Understanding the Three Pillars of SEO and Hiring a Link Building Agency? Here's How to Vet Them.
When working on your SEO strategy, it's very important that the structure of your website is easy for customers to use and optimized for SEO. Sometimes companies focus on fixing the internal platform, and not enough time thinking about how the structure of the site impacts marketing. When working with clients I would set a condition of needing to work with a dedicated developer, because that factor could really boost the success of the SEO strategy.
Infrastructure refers to a set of "behind-the-scenes" elements that impact your SEO. If your site doesn't load quickly, users will navigate away. Google sees this as a bounce or exit and will ding your search rankings for it. Things like meta tags, navigability and web assets will also have an impact here.
Last year I wrote a blog post about the 4 Key Things I Do For Companies as an SEO consultant, and #1 was to conduct an SEO technical audit. Building a strategy for SEO is like building a house – you need to have a solid foundation. The foundation of your SEO strategy is your infrastructure, which helps you optimize for the most efficient communication with search engines. I recommend clicking over to read the post for more information.
Unfortunately, you can't snap your fingers and create a great SEO strategy. Every aspect of search optimization – including technical audits, content, partnerships, and reporting, can really benefit from using the right tools. Sometimes they are free, sometimes they are an investment. But which tools you choose are a really important variable in your strategy.
There are a lot of cheap tools out there, and they are usually fine for small companies. But if you are a big company you will need enterprise-level tools. Small tools will not work if you have millions of pages across 20 countries. So don't be a cheapskate when it comes to tools! For example, Ahrefs is a great tool but for enterprise clients I use BrightEdge. It can handle millions of pages and millions of keywords looking at user behavior across the world. Having the right tools and knowing how to use them will help you get the right insights.
If you want to know more about tools, I wrote a four-part series on my favorite ones:
- Level Up Your Reporting Process
- The Best Apps for Brand Building, Partnership & Links
- Tools for Conducting an SEO Technical Audit
- Apps To Step Up Your Content Strategy
Putting It All Together
With so many variables, how do you know what is having the most impact? To solve that, you really need to work with an experienced SEO professional. Because there are so many variables, no one can really guarantee results with SEO. (If someone does try to give you a guarantee, it is probably a scam. Don't fall for it.)
Personally, I have a system of identifying and tracking KPIs and diligently following data on traffic and revenue. Because SEO is so data-driven, there are a lot of ways we can look at numbers to evaluate what is working and what isn't. It's complicated, but that's why you should vet and hire someone with deep experience working on complex projects that account for all these variables.
It’s helpful to understand this wide range of variables, because otherwise, it would be easy to look at your search rankings and draw random conclusions, like “It worked because of our content strategy.” Maybe it did, but maybe it worked because of the links you acquired. Or maybe you are killing it with content, but something breaks on your site that impacts the infrastructure.
What variables have you focused on with your SEO strategy? Let me know in the comments.