Creating a Remarkable SEO Strategy from Scratch

seo strategy leannewong
May 27, 2018 Leanne Wong 29 Comments

Bonus Content: Download my free SEO Strategy Workbook and put into action all the search engine optimisation strategies listed here.

One of the greatest military minds was Frederick the Great who against overwhelming odds, led the Prussian army to victory at the Battle of Leuthen. By outsmarting his enemies and using clever maneuvers, he was able to decisively defeat a much larger Austrian army.

SEO is kind of like that, when you’re starting out and looking to establish an online presence amidst the big players in your industry.

To outrank your competitors, you have to outsmart them.

Having a good SEO strategy is the first step to achieving that.

Related: 13 Actionable Tips to Create A Killer Content Strategy

How to rank in Google now: Search Engine Ranking Factors

Nobody actually knows how Google ranks pages. There are over 200 ranking factors and unless you’ve cracked the search engine algorithm, we are all in the game of guessing how to please the big G.

The SEO industry is also a little crazy. There are tons of Google algorithm updates every year and many experts in the industry still find it challenging to keep up with rapid changes in SEO.

But the truth is – what really drives rankings in organic search still remains the same as 10 years ago: Links and Content.

Here’s what Andrey Lipattsev, search quality strategist at Google said,

the first two most important ranking signals are content and links pointing to your site, in no particular order.

Check out this study done by Ahrefs which shows the correlating factors to rank well on Google.

ranking factors study

Clearly, backlinks are still the #1 driving factor behind rankings.

Backlinks or inbound links are hyperlinks from someone else’s website that point to yours. Think of them as a vote of confidence, the more backlinks you have, the higher your trustworthiness and authority.

Google serves up pages that it knows will best answer a search query. The more credible your site is, the more likely you will fit this criteria. That’s why it’s so valuable (and expensive) to get a link placement on high authority sites like Forbes.

But what’s changed is that Google is getting smarter.

With the Hummingbird algorithm, it changed the way Google parsed queries. Google learnt to use semantic context. It could understand search intent, phrases, similar themes and related topics.

Remember that Google’s goal is to match a query to an answer. And the Hummingbird update just gave it a new way to rank pages.

This means Google started to focus on topics.

Thus began the marketing rush, Content is King. Because Google no longer just looks at pages by “voting mechanism” via backlinks, but also at the actual content on the page.

With that, let’s get started on what makes a good SEO strategy.

#1. The Golden Circle: What is a Good SEO Strategy?

A good SEO strategy is an actionable plan that clearly tells you what to optimize, when, how and why.

We often get caught up in ‘how-to’ guides, ‘one plan to rule them all’ blueprints and more list formulas. But in this section, I want to cover the purpose that drives SEO activities.

For this, we’ll look into Simon Sinek’s powerful TED talk on “Start with Why

seo start with why leanne

Why: purpose – usually mapped with a business goal that helps your bottom line

How: concept, technique or process to fulfill that purpose

What: actionable steps, specific activities under the technique

Alright, we’ve come up with a fancy circle and wrapped our favourite subject in it. Now lets see some actual examples. 😉

Example 1:  e-Commerce business + technical SEO

You have an e-commerce business running on HTTP and are looking to migrate over to HTTPS. Your business priority is to prepare for a site migration.

Why: successfully migrate to a more secure website. Accomplish this with minimum technical errors and traffic losses.

How: Technical SEO

What: 301 redirects, website audit and crawls, broken link checks, URL mapping, indexation and search console checks.

The role of SEO is technical focused, performing smart redirects and minimise traffic losses. Link building and reporting on domain authority of various inbound links wouldn’t be as relevant for this occasion.

Example 2:  SaaS startup + content + authority SEO

But if you are a SaaS startup with non-existent search visibility, your business priority is to generate brand awareness.

Why: generate leads and conversions for relevant keyword queries. Attract the right traffic and contribute to my business bottom line.

How: content and off-page SEO

What: keyword research, competitive analysis, content optimisation, guest posting, broken link building.

The role of SEO here focuses on content and authority building. You’ll want to invest in a good copywriting team, conduct competitive research and start building an online presence.

#2 Minimum Viable SEO

I know what you’re thinking – sure Leanne it’s easy to come up with strategies and fantasize about dozens of SEO activities but what if I don’t have the time to work on SEO?

Then this section is just for you! I’ve laid out a path for you that requires 1 hour a day to get some solid SEO work done.

First, get your website set up on Google Webmaster Tools

(i) Sign up for Google Webmaster Tools

  • add your website to search console
  • add a sitemap and robots.txt file
  • if you’re running on WordPress, install Yoast plugin and connect with Google Webmaster from there.
  • check your search console for any warnings and errors

(ii) Sign up for a Google Analytics account

  • follow these steps and add your website property
  • if you’re running on WordPress, install Monster Insights plugin and add your Google Analytics tracking code

Further Reading: How to Install Google Analytics in WordPress for Beginners 

#3. Content Strategy Framework

In this content strategy framework, we’ll be looking at (i) traffic potential instead of rankings and (ii) topic clusters instead of keywords.

But we all know that keyword research is the first step in any SEO strategy, so why not focus on keywords?

After all, the biggest mistake you can make is to write about a topic nobody is searching for.

No search volume = no demand.

But is monthly search volume of a keyword enough to base your entire content strategy on?

Nope. I’ll show you why.

Keyword selection based on traffic potential

Remember our goal to rank on Google is to get relevant traffic, and to do so we need clicks.

The estimated CTR is 30% for a page ranking on position #1. Followed by 15% and 10% for position #2 and #3.

That is how much search traffic you’ll get if you rank on the first page of Google. The above statistic is from a study by AWR, which looked at the organic CTR (click through rate) coming from over 1.5M keywords.

For example, I want to write about “Singapore chicken rice” and it has 480 monthly searches.

ahrefs-serps-position-example-seo

So these numbers look pretty bleak. But actually, the full traffic of those ranking pages are actually waaaay MORE than those numbers alone.

Because a page can rank for many, many, many keywords.

The best way to do this research is with Ahrefs Keyword Explorer tool:

ahrefs keyword explorer singapore

As you can see, the sethlui.com page ranks for over 247 other keywords, and thebestsingapore.com page ranks for 155 other keywords too.

This is a super important takeaway – Don’t make content strategy decisions based on the search volume of a single keyword.

To build your content, find out what other keywords the top ranking pages ranks for and create topics clusters. Don’t worry, we’ll dive deeper into this in the next section.

On Ahrefs, you can simply click on the keywords column and be directed to the organic keywords ranking report:

ahrefs organic keywords

From here we know sethlui.com page also ranks for these related keywords: “purvis street chicken rice”, “best hainanese chicken rice in singapore”, etc.

This gives us some insight into what keyword topics are proven to work and what users are searching for. Armed with this huge list of long-tail keywords and sub topic ideas, we can supercharge our content strategy by building topic clusters.

Topic Clustering Strategy

Have you ever written a ton of blog posts but found that traffic was staggering? Don’t lose hope yet.

I’ll show you how to gain traction on Google by creating pillar pages. Trust me, it will massively reduce the amount of time spent optimising and trying to rank for individual pages.

We’ll look at how to optimise content for semantic search, by building a semantic relationship between content pages for SEO.

I got the idea of topic clusters from Hubspot, which used the concept of clusters and pillar pages to organise content.

Simply put, pillar pages are your ‘trophy’ pages that you want Google to take notice of. The topic cluster pages are the cheerleaders that all point to the trophy page.

A topic cluster is an SEO strategy that focuses on topics instead of keywords. The result improves site architecture and helps Google understand related content and ultimately boost your search visibility.

How to create a topic cluster?

For example if you want to own the term, “presentation skills”

Step 1: Create big topics for your pillar pages

  • presentation design
  • visual strategy
  • corporate communication

Big topics are HUGE pieces of content, also known as pillar pages. (e.g, ‘The Ultimate Guide to Presentation Design‘).

Ask yourself if this pillar page can answer every possible question when someone searches for X keyword.

General rule of thumb – each pillar page should be able to umbrella at least 10-20 smaller posts.

Step 2: Create an umbrella of cluster topics from your pillar page. 

  • presentation design 
    • creative presentation ideas
    • presentation design hacks
    • startup presentation templates
  • visual strategy
    • brand and identity design
    • infographics & data visualisation
    • colour theory
  • corporate communication 
    • persuasive negotiation
    • effective business storytelling
    • sales training course

Cluster topics are your long-tail keywords and smaller posts under the umbrella of your big main topic (pillar page). These smaller posts literally ‘cluster’ around your main pillar page by internal links.

Step 3: Link all cluster topics to the pillar page

This chain of clusters tells search engine your content pages are related to each other.

There’s a technical phrase for this – Internal Linking.

An internal link is a hyperlink from a page in your website to another page.

The more internal links a page has, the higher it will rank. So if your product page gets linked to the most from other pages on your site, that product page will perform better in SERPs.

By linking all individual topic clusters to your big pillar page, it boosts the strength of that pillar page.

Also, search engines can easily scan all your site content and understand that there is a semantic relationship between the pages’ content. 

Now you can start taking action! Use these tactics to start building your own topic clusters.

In an ideal world, backlinks will come to you naturally. Because if you’ve got bangin’ amazing great content that everybody just can’t resist sharing, then you wouldn’t have to break a sweat building inbound links manually.

But that just doesn’t happen. Even if it does, it doesn’t happen every time you publish a new piece of content.

Content needs to be deliberately promoted to get in out in the world.

Remember: even if you were to create the greatest piece of content anyone has ever seen, if there isn’t a way of getting it in front of people then it would be useless.

Backlinks are an important ranking factor on Google, if not the most important.

But it’s also the most challenging, especially when you don’t yet have a large social clout.

How to add value when you have nothing to offer

Often times we try to build that ‘perfect’ backlink and get advice like “make an infographic”, “create a viral post/video”, “create great content”.

What I get frustrated about is that if you are a business with very low influence, even if i manage to publish jaw-dropping content, it can be quite a struggle to get it in front of people.

With that in mind, I’d like to share 3 methods I found most effective when you’re just starting out.

Ego bait: Promote other people’s content

One of the most effective ways of encouraging people to share your content is by promoting their content and adding value to it.

(a) Reach out to everyone you’ve mentioned in your article and featured their work. Send them a “great job, thanks for writing this amazing content, I absolutely love you” note of appreciation.

(b) Write a roundup post and find at least 5 influential bloggers in your niche. Give a short writeup about their articles which you’ve selected, and add your own take on it.

Make sure to also link to their respective blogs. Then, contact them individually through email, and mention them in a tweet about your blog.

The key here is to not ask for a backlink, but to focus on promoting their content and build a relationship.

Ask yourself, “why would anyone benefit from sharing my content?”

Start off small and look for bloggers, smaller editorial sites and micro influencers who are in similar position as you.

Chances are they’d be very happy if you shared their content. This way you’ve built a relationship and got your blog noticed in a subtle way.

This method reaches out to people who linked to existing articles on the same topic you’re writing about.

How to do it:
1. Search in google for your topic
2. See who ranks at the top 10 positions
3. Look up who’s linking to them – Moz Site Explorer (Free), Ahrefs (Paid)

To convince these people to link to you after they’ve already reached out to your competitors, you need to get creative.

Here are 2 simple ways.

(a) Check if the top ranking pages have outdated content. The opportunity here is to create an article with new and updated information and reach out to those who’s linking to the outdated content to check yours out.

(b) Offer a better, more in-depth coverage of the topic. Reach out to people who’ve linked to your competitors and say you wrote a similar article as XYZ which missed out on this and that.

The piggyback method relies on cold email and treads on the line of being desperate. But it can have big rewards if you’re successful because you’d be getting strong backlinks who have contributed to your competitors’ ranking success.

Now before you press send on that outreach mail – If you don’t have a very good reason to reach out to someone, don’t reach out to them. 🙂

A very good reason to reach out to someone is when that reason has their direct interest.

  • If their content is outdated, and you can provide a recent updated replacement, then that’s good for them.
  • If their content is linking out to another article which no longer exists (broken page), then you can introduce your article as a replacement – again good for them.

Some examples of bad outreach reasons are:

  • “hey you, I read that your article featured my competitor’s blog, could you link to mine too, because its similar”
  • “hi there, I read your article and would appreciate it if you could link to my blog too please”

Bad outreach is when you are desperate, and trust me – the person on the receiving side can feel it too.

Keep it cool and keep it short.

Product review / Testimonial

Testimonial link building is a win-win scenario. Not only does the product company get a nice customer review, you get a backlink from a reputable website in return.

Think of the products or services you’ve been using and have enjoyed.

Some ideas you can try:

  • Website: WordPress theme, plugin, product add-ons, web hosting
  • Software products: Marketing tools, productivity tools, finance tools,
  • Physical products which you blog about: camera, equipment, fashion

The list is endless.

Make sure your review is honest and relevant to your readers!

Final Tip: Keep at it.

Building a presence when you’re just starting out can be very frustrating, but keep at it.

Work on the simple tasks you can do today (like planning out your strategy on paper) and get your first backlink. Focus on small wins and you’ll steadily build a solid strategy that brings results.

I hope this has been helpful to some of you out there and I would love to hear your feedback. Oh, and sharing this to your social following would be a great help 😉

29 People reacted on this

  1. Great post! This is packed full of so much valuable SEO information! I really appreaciate your time spent writing this!! Google’s a beast, its tough to stay on its head and rank! 🙂

    1. Thanks Erin, glad that you found it helpful 🙂 Ditto, there’s plenty more content coming up soon. You’ll love it, my friend!

    1. You’re the best, Laura! Thanks. Feel free to share with me how these SEO strategies have been working for you 🙂

    1. That’s awesome, Kayla! Glad to hear these SEO strategies have been helpful for you. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions along the way, my dear!

  2. Great post. What are the recommended word counts for an in-depth pillar page and it’s cluster pages?

    Does cluster page need to be massive too? What’s the recommended minimum word counts for cluster pages?

    1. Hi YuYu! Aim for at least 800-1,500 words for every article 🙂 Usually I write an outline for the article first and get my sub-headings (h2, h3, h4) on the draft. This gives me a nice skeleton to work with, then i’d spend 1-2 hours just beefing it up. Don’t worry too much about the nitty gritty details like sentence structure and logic, just get as much ideas on the first draft.

      You’ll soon find your word.doc reach up to 2,000 words effortlessly. Best of luck, friend!

  3. I have seriously been needing a post like this! I am in marketing and I understand the idea behind SEO, but then I get into what it actually is and try to implement it for myself and I have NO IDEA what I’m doing and am totally lost! This strategy post is amazing, thank you so much for the great tips! 🙂

    XXOO Sunny
    http://heysunnyjess.com/

    1. Hi Sunny! I’m so glad this SEO Strategy guide was helpful for you. Indeed, SEO can get a bit tricky and confusing with the myriad of steps to implement and misinformation out there. The key to conquering SEO is really patience. Keep at it, my friend! Let me know if you have any questions along the way. 🙂

    1. No problem, Stephanie! Glad that article helped clarify some SEO concepts for you, my dear. Feel free to drop me a message if you need help along the way.

  4. What a great post! Thanks so much Leanne. I took copious notes while reading this and will definitely be putting more time aside to consider Pillar Page strategy and topic clusters. SEO has always felt intimidating but you have broken it down so well I feel more confident to tackle it now.

    1. You’re awesome, Eimear. I’m really glad you’re finding these SEO strategies helpful! Indeed, SEO can be a beast to conquer, but patience and a smart process can make all the difference. Let me know how you’re doing with the topic cluster strategy and feel free to drop me a message if you have any questions! Cheers.

  5. Enjoyed reading your article!

    Some great and clear examples on how to get some traction in SEO land.

    Shared your post on our Twitter Account at @Orangewave_nl 👊🏻👍🏻

    Best regards,

    Ramon Tonnaer

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