Search engines have been evolving since their inception and so has the concept of an SEO strategy.
Google continues to develop, enhance, and improve its search engine and in return, the rest of us evolve, too.
As marketers, we’re always coming up with new ways to get into a customer’s head. These new ways are put into action through a well-defined SEO strategy.
Search Engine Optimization is now the cornerstone of good marketing. A perfect blend of organic and paid marketing masked in high-quality content.
And in this article, we’ll take a comprehensive look at SEO strategy in 2021.
Let’s dive right in.
Table of Contents
What is SEO?
SEO is the quintessential process of optimizing different aspects of your website to increase its position in the SERPs.
What Makes SEO so Important?
To begin with, let’s say you’ve made an absolutely stunning website and launched it.
Even if it truly is one of the best looking and most user-friendly websites out there—what’s the point if no one visits it?
You have to make sure that potential customers are visiting your site. Otherwise, all the time and money invested in designing, developing, and launching it will consequently go to waste.
Ideally, you want your website to be displayed on the first SERP (Search Engine Results Page) for several keywords relevant to your business.
And for that, you need excessive (but white-hat) link building, unique and valuable content, an engaging social media presence, and traditional media. All of these working simultaneously, in unison, is how you boost your organic rankings.
And it can all be done through proper SEO.
The word ‘proper’ is there to emphasize the fact that you should follow SEO best practices. The days of keyword stuffing and forceful secondary and “LSI keywords” are gone.
Which is why if you’re not doing it right, then somebody else probably is. In today’s competitive world, that’s the equivalent of taking an arrow to the knee.
The SEO Recipe
Sun Tzu in his eternal wisdom said, “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
This brilliant excerpt from The Art of War is just as relevant in SEO, as well. Because, to have a successful SEO plan, you need a well-established SEO strategy.
An SEO strategy is a well-researched, analyzed, and deployable set of SEO tactics built and designed to generate highly-targeted organic traffic to your website.
There is no set of rules for an SEO strategy.
It is an ongoing process that’s constantly being modified and amended. It’s affected by digital trends, campaign data, changes in algorithm, and other variables.
However, it can be summarized into six brief, cyclical steps.
1. Target Keyword Research & Competitive Research
Despite the constant evolution of Google’s algorithm, it’s safe to say that keywords will always play a vital role in SEO.
Before anything, you need to conduct extensive keyword research to establish an approach for your website, service, or product.
There are many keyword research tools, like keywordtool.io, that let you search for keywords based on specific search terms. Additionally, they provide a ton of data on other keywords relevant to your industry or service.
Once you have a set of related keywords, you have to dig out your target keywords. These keywords tend to have high organic CTRs (click-through rates).
To dig out target keywords:
- Try searching for a keyword and see if it brings up ads. If it does, it usually means that it has a higher commercial intent.
- Use SEO software, like SEMrush, to extrapolate the volume of searches for that keyword. Keep in mind that high volume does not technically indicate high success. Always check the click percentage of the keyword.
- Calculate the CTR using this tool to confirm the validity of your target keyword.
Ideally, you want to target keywords that are relevant to your business, have high search volume, and low competition (how difficult it would be to rank for that keyword).
After you have a keyword, you need to check how (and what) your competitors are doing with it. BuzzSumo is a great tool for this task. It helps you find high-performing content for your target keywords. This allows you to analyze content assets that resonated with your audience. From there, you can create similar or better content.
You can use several SEO metrics, like Alexa rating, indexed content, domain age, page rank, domain authority, inbound links, social media following, etc., to gauge the competition and move on accordingly.
2. Reporting and Goal Setting
With tools like Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Ahrefs, and SEMrush, you can gather a lot of information. You can check your site’s current traffic information, like common keyword phrases, popular content, bounce rates, backlinks, and more.
This will help you understand where your website currently stands and how extensive your SEO efforts should be. Analyzing and understanding trends will help you determine where to start your SEO strategy.
This will inadvertently help develop goals and objectives for your SEO strategy. A goal, for example, can be, ‘reach 100,000 organic monthly visitors in 6 months.’
Developing these goals and communicating them to your team will build the foundation of your SEO strategy. At this point, you will know what to aim for and how to achieve it. Furthermore, it’s always best to use the SMART method when setting goals.
Moving on, you should build a plan that includes all the things you’re going to do and a timeline for completion. For example, include things like the kind of content you can use and its frequency, different forms of optimization, etc.
3. Content Creation
There is no magical solution when it comes to SEO. Anyone claiming to ‘boost SEO rankings in one month’ is making unrealistic claims. For one, SEO is a long-term undertaking. Secondly, the key to SEO is good content.
Your website is graded by Google when its bots crawl through all the text on your site. That is why every SEO emphasizes the importance of alt-text for images. If there is no alt-text for images, according to Google, you have no images.
However, just having raw text on your site isn’t good either. Google’s guidelines dictate that if your content doesn’t provide value to the consumer, it’s not going to rank.
That’s where the need for high-quality, binge-worthy, and unique content built on user-intent comes from.
User-intent is the evolution of relevance.
Relevance was all about creating content that complements your website and your product or service. While that’s a good start, it severely limits your horizons. And at times, it might not be what your customer wants.
User-intent is all about finding out what your target audience wants and frequently searches for. You then develop content based on that so your audience gets exactly what they want.
Another thing to consider is the frequency of publishing. Finding the balance between the quality of content and publishing frequency is key to quality content creation. A Databox survey that included over 100 experts in the industry has shown that most experts publish new content on their websites at least once a week.
4. On-page Optimization
Contrary to popular belief, curating and publishing content is just half the battle. An effective SEO strategy requires proper optimization to be recognized by search engines.
You optimize your website by focusing on two main aspects search engines consider when evaluating your site:
- On-Page SEO – Optimizing all factors of your website (which you can change) that have an effect on search engine results.
- Off-Page SEO – Increasing your website’s authoritative standing through external factors.
On-page SEO includes several variables that can have different levels of impact. It includes things like proper title tags, meta tags, meta descriptions, H-tags, keywords, alt-data, internal links, great content, and more.
The most common tool used for on-page SEO is Yoast, which is a WordPress plugin. There are also other plugins for different website builders. However, if you don’t have access to any SEO tool, you will have to manually optimize your site.
5. Off-page Optimization
Off-page optimization is all about improving your page rank using external factors. The primary driver for off-page SEO is backlinks, as in, when another website links back to your website. The more authority that website has and the more relevant the anchor text is, the stronger the backlink.
Backlinks can be natural, manual, and self-created. However, self-created backlinks are technically part of black-hat SEO tactics.
Additionally, there are non-link-related off-page optimization tactics, as well. They include leveraging social media marketing and influencer marketing. You can also guest blog on high DA/DR sites or you can opt for linked and unlinked brand mentions.
6. Evaluation, Analysis, and Reporting
The last step, which may be considered one of the most important, is self-assessment.
All your efforts need to be evaluated to check how well you’re doing. This includes checking whether your website is ranking, whether your content is ranking, and more.
Then, you analyze that evaluation. If you’re ranking, then why is that so? Or if you’re not ranking, then what are you not doing? This analysis will help you realize all the right and wrong things you’re doing. This will help focus on efforts that help you rank.
Finally, you develop reports of the analysis to create a historical record. You can then compare previous and current results to check the effectiveness of your optimization efforts.
You can then repeat the entire process, again and again, to further streamline the process.
It’s important to mention that, though many tools can help you accomplish this, possibly the best way to analyze your website’s SEO efforts is with Google Search Console.
Elements of a Good SEO Strategy
As we’ve discussed, there are many things that go into search engine optimization. A good SEO strategy will be even more extensive.
via Single Grain
The image above summarizes all the possible elements of a good SEO strategy. You don’t necessarily need all of them—it’s all about understanding what’s best for your site.
Here are some short descriptions of the key elements.
- Website Architecture – You need to have a good-looking, responsive, and fast website. All the good content in the world can’t save you if you offer a poor user experience.
- Keyword Strategies – It’s best to have a well-defined keyword strategy. This includes finding relevant targeted keywords that you can and should rank for.
- Content Strategy – Having a good content strategy is imperative for SEO. Developing good content and promoting it helps you get the traffic you need to rank. It is also a great way to build high-quality and natural backlinks.
- Content Creation – It’s imperative to have a steady flow of content being created. More importantly, it needs to be high-quality, based on user intent, in-depth, and unique.
- Link Building Strategy – Doing constant competitive link research and backlink audits help you understand how you can create better links.
- Mini Optimizations – This is another form of optimization you can do across your site. It includes things like URL, mobile, and security certificate optimization, among other things.
- Directory Presence – Being present on online directories like Trustpilot and Sitejabber is essential. It legitimizes your website while also providing links and reviews.
If you can properly take care of these elements, you are already putting in a decent amount of effort into your SEO strategy. If you’re starting out, you can consider these elements as a starting point.
The Cost of a Good SEO Strategy
A good SEO strategy will have several costs along the way, starting with an SEO audit.
There are three levels of SEO audits and the required level depends on your organization’s size.
- The Free SEO Audit: This can be done through free audit sites.
- The Basic-Paid SEO Audit: Ranging from $500 to $2,600, this provides a more detailed audit than free ones. It’s usually limited to 10-30 pages and doesn’t include things like backlink reports, keyword research, competitive analysis, etc.
- The Detailed-Paid SEO Audit: Ranging from $2,600 to $20,000, these audits are the most advanced ones out there, sweeping every single aspect of your website. These audits provide detailed reports with vigorous testing results and (usually) extremely helpful advice.
The cost of the audit depends on things like marketing objectives, target audience, competition, website DA/DR, etc.
After the audit, you know exactly which areas need more attention.
Depending on your SEO strategy, you can take one of the following approaches:
Hourly: According to Moz, the cost of SEO per hour ranges from $76 to $200.
Monthly Retainer: These retainers range from $250 to $10,000+, depending on the factors and the agency/marketing consultant you opt for.
In-House SEO: You can buy subscriptions for different SEO tools for up to $200 and have existing employees learn and use it. If you hire an SEO specialist, it can cost between $30,000 to $80,000, depending on the expertise.
SEO Success Stories
To further solidify the importance of a good SEO strategy, let’s take a look at some success stories.
1. Growth Pro
Growth Pro is a Malaysian SEO company that found its roots in the early 2000s. The company recently shared a case study where they boosted a client’s search traffic by 2000%. This was done through a well-crafted SEO content writing strategy.
After an audit, Growth Pro realized that their client had a non-existent content strategy. Their articles and blog were all over the place, lacked proper research, and were low quality.
There was no sign of any competitive analysis or keyword identification. The site literally had no on-page optimization.
Furthermore, there was no keyword research involved and no backlinking or internal linking. Lastly, there was severe internal cannibalization because their articles used the same keywords.
What They Did
Growth Pro began by migrating the site from a local hosting company to a renowned international one. This was done to boost the speed and performance of the website. They also implemented a CDN (Content Delivery Network) that caches site images and content.
Furthermore, they recognized and rectified issues with sitemaps, site structures, .htaccess file, and mobile-usability.
From there, they did individual keyword research for markets in the US, UK, Australia, and Canada, since the client’s target market included those international markets.
After analysis, they developed a detailed and customized content strategy. Starting with a content calendar and competitor analysis, they identified target keywords and created fresh content based on them. Meanwhile, they also fixed existing content that had cannibalization issues.
Using optimization tools, they started to identify and fill keyword gaps. They synced the content with user-intent while creating valuable links. Constant on-page optimization, updating existing articles, and relaunching articles were also part of the process.
Finally, they focused on building a lot of valuable backlinks. Working on getting international citations, they worked on garnering backlinks for high-level content. Meanwhile, a link audit was done to get rid of any backlinks from unwanted websites.
The client’s website started appearing on the first SERP in just a matter of months. The company successfully indexed over 5,000 keywords.
Across all target markets, the client’s website saw a 2000% boost in organic search traffic. The number of new visitors also increased by 85.3%.
Most of the traffic came from the top-tier target markets. Additionally, there was also a 5.1% increase in the site CTR (click-through rate).
2. Rank Tree
Rank Tree is a content marketing and SEO agency that was founded in 2014. The founder, Hunter Branch, recently shared a case study where his company increased a client’s traffic by 600%. This was accomplished over 24 months by developing a custom SEO strategy
The client in question was already getting a solid 20,000 visitors per month from search. They were ranking for a few high-profile keywords while getting a couple of hundred email subscribers each month.
The client knew what content to develop and how to do it. However, the content wasn’t optimized and there weren’t nearly enough links generated through it.
What They Did
Rank Tree started by implementing a comprehensive site and content audit. After analyzing all the content on the site, they found that only 10 of the blog posts received consistent traffic. For that reason, they unpublished 90% of the client’s blog.
They then kicked off the process of revamping, optimizing, and republishing existing content. Additionally, blogs that didn’t have much SEO potential were revamped but left drafted for future use.
From there, an ongoing link-building outreach program was set up. The major tactic used was to reach out to sites that already linked to or had published similar content.
Moving on, they designed a content strategy so that consistent SEO-driven content could be published on the site. By targeting a certain set of keywords, the focus was on user-intent and content optimization.
Finally, an internal linking strategy was implemented. It included adding at least 10 internal links per blog. The anchor text was always a target keyword, a variation of it, or a secondary long-tail keyword of the linked-to post.
In over 24-months, the client’s website’s organic traffic increased by 600%. Considering that the site already had 20,000 visitors per month, that’s huge.
The blog now receives over 140,000 visitors every month despite there being fewer posts on it than before.
Other Case Studies
There are plenty of other SEO case studies you can learn and take inspiration from. For example, Robbie Richards posted this case study detailing a 6-step process that generated more than 150,000 visits.
Another example is Brian Dean’s case study explaining how he increased organic traffic by 652% in 7 days. He goes into immense detail on the Skyscraper Technique and how to use it.
However, despite all these case studies, they might not work for you. The key is not to know these SEO tactics but how to use them. You might be using the right tactics in the wrong way.
SEO strategies need to be customized to an extent according to your industry, niche, and business objectives. While the tactics remain the same, it’s about knowing what to use and when. It’s equally as important to set up your goals for your SEO strategy and to do that, you need to look at some metrics.
A recent Databox survey asked experts which metrics from GSC they use to set up their numeric goals, and most of them considered clicks to be the number one factor.
Keep Clear of Shortcuts
Just like there are things that boost your SEO, there are tactics that are counter-productive to your SEO efforts.
These tactics are usually shortcuts, that used to work, but were essentially ban-hammered through Google’s updated search engine algorithm.
Remember the black-hat SEO tactics mentioned above? Hollywood set a certain sense of good and evil with hat colors in the golden days. SEO tactics are explained in a similar manner.
So, What’s With the Hats?
- White Hat SEO – The Good
- Black Hat SEO – The Bad
- Negative SEO – The Ugly
- Grey Hat SEO – The Unknown
White Hat SEO is SEO that adheres to Google’s webmaster guidelines to the fullest.
It is the right way to do SEO and is used by industry leaders who understand that SEO requires consistent, strategic, and organic efforts.
Black Hat SEO is the culmination of tactics that go completely against Google’s webmaster guidelines.
It’s only a matter of time before Google catches on to domains carrying out such tactics since they update their algorithm around 500-600 times a year. Therefore, once you’re caught, you can be blacklisted and all your efforts will be wasted. While Black Hat SEO efforts require little to no time or money to provide results, it is extremely risky and should be avoided.
Negative SEO is the dirty tactic of using Black and Grey hat SEO tactics on competitor sites in efforts to harm their rankings, usually through bad links, (false) negative reviews, negative content, hacking, etc.
In other words, you’re actually spending time and effort trying to damage your competitor’s position in the SERPs – so you can move up. For the love of all things digital marketing, avoid doing anything like this.
Not to mention, you’ll eventually be caught and banished from the Internet.
Grey Hat SEO includes tactics that are in the grey area of Google webmaster guidelines.
This means that they are not directly addressed by the guidelines, but are ethically, morally, or professionally questionable. A great example of Grey Hat SEO is clickbait.
Falling in the middle of Black and White hat SEO, these tactics are risky and it is generally better to avoid them.
Helpful SEO Tools for Your SEO Strategy
Conceptualizing and executing an SEO strategy is hard and can be time-consuming. You will need a set of SEO tools to help you work faster, more efficiently, and more accurately.
Here’s a list of free (and paid) SEO tools you can and should use.
The following are solid free and paid tools you can use for keywords.
- For keyword research, you can use a tool like KWfinder.com.
- To find your target keyword, use Soovle.
- For calculating CTR: Use this calculator from Moz.
The following are solid free and paid tools you can use for SEO audits.
- SEOptimer is a free site audit tool.
- SEOquake is a Google Chrome extension.
- SiteChecker is a web-tool.
- SEMrush (Complete SEO tool)
- Ahrefs (Complete SEO tool)
- MozPro (complete SEO tool)
SEO Trends Research
The following are great tools you can use for finding good topics to build content on.
- Use Google Trends to extrapolate the trends around your keyword, industry, and business.
- Utilize Google Analytics for site traffic information.
- Use Exploding Topics to find trending topics before they peak.
Other (Free) Tools
Here are some other free tools that could be a part of your SEO stack:
- Check how mobile-friendly your website is by using this.
- To check the loading speed of your website, use Google PageSpeed Insights or GTmetrix.
- Display useful keyword info on SERPs by using this.
- To check your Domain Authority, use this.
- Check the uniqueness of your headlines with this.
- To check what your webpage will look like on Google’s results, use the SERP simulator.
- Find broken links on your website with the LinkMiner Google Chrome extension.
- For over 100 different SEO tools, use smallSEOtools.
Changing Algorithms and Trends
If you focus on Google’s algorithm history, you’ll see that they have slowly moved towards the uniqueness of content.
Keep in mind – Google’s sole purpose is to provide the most relevant and best results for a user’s search query.
Meanwhile, Google also continues to penalize sites that try to boost rankings through questionable practices. By questionable I mean in terms of what Google considers questionable.
The Prominent Trends of 2021 and Beyond
SEO trends change every year or they just simply evolve. Here are some of the major SEO trends for 2021:
- Structured Data Markup: Google is continuously trying to help sites that provide data in structured form rank better. That is why structured data markup helps set you up for better search results. Appearing in knowledge graphs, featured snippets, and carousels, etc. are much easier in this case.
- Evolution of Featured Snippets: While featured snippets have been here for a while, they are subject to massive change. This is especially so after the Genius lawsuit, which had the question is Google is a monopoly. Featured snippets are becoming more accurate with their references which means better reach and links. (UPDATE: The page ranking in a featured snippet now only shows up one time on the first page. Previously, the page showed up once in the featured position and another time in the spot that it ranked (1-10). Now, if a page ranks in the featured spot, it is pushed to the top of page two.)
- The Video Boom and 2D Animation: According to Cisco, 80% of all online traffic will be video traffic by 2021. With streaming giants like YouTube, Twitch, and Facebook leading the way, live video and real-time marketing have become one of the most important avenues of online marketing. Additionally, there’s also a massive demand for 2D animated explainer videos, considering that they’re a better alternative to written content and live video at times.
- Authoritative & In-Depth Content: High-quality, binge-worthy, and entertaining content based on actionable user-intent is gradually becoming the norm.
- Content Globalization: The need to stand out above others has increased the value of content around the world. However, the world is vast and is home to hundreds of languages, and not everyone is a native English speaker. In fact, Mandarin has the highest number of native speakers in the world. Therefore, it’s important to make your content accessible in different languages, opening it up to a wider audience.
Outsourcing SEO Services
It’s hard to take all of this information in and even harder to make it practical. Even if you’re already trying to do it, you might not be seeing the results you want.
It’s not necessary to do everything in-house. It may be smarter and more efficient to outsource work to experts.
A dedicated SEO and/or content marketing agency can help you achieve the ROI you want.
Effective agencies can help you devise an SEO strategy based on your goals, your website, and your niche.
Finding the Right Agency
Unfortunately, with so many self-proclaimed professionals, a new ‘award-winning agency’ popping up every day, and sketchy firms guaranteeing first page spots – setting out to find the right SEO agency can be a daunting task.
To make it less of a chore, here are some things to consider when you’re on the hunt for an SEO firm:
- How well is their website doing? (Check their rankings, their domain rating, and other factors)
- Are they able to explain technical aspects of SEO in ways that truly make sense?
- Do they have a substantial amount of social proof backing their claims?
- Can they show you case studies or screenshots of improvements they’ve made for other businesses/clients?
- Are they passionate about what they do and do they truly have expert-level knowledge?
- Do they have a blog? If yes, then how detailed is it and does it provide real value?
- Are they offering pre-built packages or making any kind of guarantees?
If the first six points check out and the answer to the last question is ‘no’ – awesome.
If not – run, and don’t look back. Move on to the next option.
The Top SEO Agencies in 2021
Finding the right agency is hard but finding even a few potential ones can be challenging. Therefore, let me make it easier for you.
Here are my top five SEO agency recommendations for you to team up with for your marketing efforts. If there was ever a sure-shot way at significantly improving your rankings – it’s with one of these agencies on your team.
- Siege Media – Siege is one of the leading content marketing agencies in the world. They specialize in SEO and have helped plenty of big brands improve their online presence. However, they might not be ideal for small businesses since their rates are relatively high.
- The Product Company – The Product Company is a growth agency founded by Josh Fechter, one of the top growth marketers in the world. They provide consultation, marketing, and content creation services that help SaaS agencies and marketing firms rank and drive traffic.
- Assertive Media – Assertive is one of the UK’s leading SEO agencies. They specialize in SEO but also offer PPC and social media marketing services. They pride themselves on being completely transparent with their SEO campaigns.
- Path Interactive – The New York City-based agency specializes in SEO and search marketing. They also provide digital marketing, social, and web services. They are known for their superior communication network and they utilize technology platforms for maximum efficiency.
- Go Fish Digital – The US-based agency is a dedicated SEO firm. They also provide website design & development, paid advertising, and online reputation management services. Go Fish is best for small businesses looking to get an all-in-one agency on their side.
Staying on the Front Lines
To stay up-to-date on the ever-evolving world of search engines, here are some of my favorite SEO’s to follow.
- Brian Dean, founder of Backlinko.
- Rand Fishkin, founder of SparkToro.
- Cyrus Shepard founder of Zyppy SEO.
- Ross Hudgens, founder of Siege Media.
- Aleyda Solis, international SEO consultant.
- Britney Muller, senior SEO scientist at Moz.
- Wil Reynolds, founder of Seer Interactive.
- Michael King, founder of iPullRank.
- Robbie Richards, marketing director, and blogger.
You can find tons of resourceful material on all-thing SEO from these folks. These SEO’s are constantly analyzing Google and evaluating algorithm changes. You can find updates, tips, and best practices in several blogs and videos on their sites.
Developing Unique Content That Complements SEO
It might seem hard to develop unique user-intent-based content, but it’s a simple process if you know what to do.
On that note, here are 6 content marketing ground rules to keep in mind:
- Avoid marketing your services, always try to market your solution.
- Power your ideas with fact-based data and build around clearly defined goals.
- Always prioritize the user experience, design, and the value provided.
- Utilize the power of social proof to the fullest.
- Always optimize for search engines but always create for humans.
- Put extra resources into promoting your content.
If you develop content based on these 6 rules while executing an excellent SEO strategy, you can then expect your content to rank in the SERPs.
SEO into the Future
At the end of the day, SEO is about optimizing according to Google’s guidelines. And Google’s guidelines are about improving the user experience and making browsing and searching more convenient.
As long as you try your best to provide value to your audience, you’re good to go. After that, it’s about making sure you’ve got the technical aspects right.
The future of SEO can’t be predicted, but one thing is certain: Whatever changes materialize, user-intent will remain the number one defining factor.
Furthermore, a well-planned and executed SEO strategy will be the catalyst for high organic traffic and massive growth.
Once set up with content SEO, you should also start focusing on technical SEO, which includes HTML, search console, robots.txt, and local SEO optimization.
In the end, always make sure you’re putting in enough effort towards SEO, and then focus on things like brand affinity and SEM.