To present 4 simple steps to improve your search ranking (i.e. Search Engine Optimisation or SEO) I am going to oversimplify the complexities of good quality white-hat SEO.  However, many businesses I speak to have previously failed to grasp the simplicity underlying good SEO – so it’s valuable to understand these key steps before rolling out SEO activity or talking to an agency to assist with SEO.

  1. Understand your audience – Identify how people are searching to answer needs, where your products or services are a good fit
  2. Understand your competitors – Understand how your competitors are appearing in these search results (and what they’re doing to get there)
  3. Generate content – Optimise your website and shared content to fit with your audience’s search behaviour
  4. Distribute content – Ensure search engines see your site as relevant and popular

I’ll expand on these steps in a little more detail below, but each step could easily form the content of a blog article in itself.  These are described as simple steps because you can take simple actions or be as detailed as you like.  This is intended as a framework to guide these actions.

Step 1: Understand your audience

Identify how people are searching to answer needs, where your products or services are a good fit.  This means having a solid understanding of your customers (why they bought and why they are loyal to your brand) as well as your prospects (what their needs are, how they evaluate and purchase and where they are in the buying cycle).  Breaking your audience down into segments, where specific messages and content will provide value, is enormously important.  Without this you’ll never be able to capitalise on volumes of relevant searches, or maximise engagement and audience participation in distributing your content via social networks.

Step 2: Understand your competitors

Understand how your competitors are appearing in relevant search results (and what they’re doing to get there).  There are plenty of low-cost tools out there to pick apart your competitors’ websites and marketing efforts – identifying how they are optimising messages and content types to deliver SEO value.  Using such tools in conjunction with others, to identify search volumes vs. number of sites answering specific search requests, provides extremely valuable market insight.  From this point you can quickly identify where there are niches of unanswered audience demand.

You can always compete head-to-head with competitors on high-volume, highly relevant search terms.  However, as Google’s algorithms become more sophisticated, it is increasingly valuable to explore the long-tail search terms, and wider topics of interest, that can draw relevant traffic to your site.

Step 3: Generate content

Optimise your website and shared content to fit with your audience’s search behaviour.  This is a massive topic in itself, but put simply the preceding two steps should provide you with insight into what topics, keywords and content types are most relevant to your audience.  Generating content that will achieve cut-through in competitive markets, and engagement (especially sharing) is central to a good SEO campaign.

Content can reside on your website – from copy on the web pages to PDFs or other downloads – or entirely off site (delivering links back into your site).  Traditionally much emphasis was placed in link-building (content that sits off-site and links back to the website).  More recently this has been surpassed by the relevance of content achieving high levels of social engagement and sharing.

Step 4: Distribute content

Ensure search engines see your site as relevant and popular.  This includes the distribution of content yourself, the propensity of your audience to share your content and the simple (but technical) task of presenting a site map, product listings, open-graph (social) tagging in a way that can be easily understood by search engines.

Content is only as effective as its reach.  Search engines take content reach into account and recently social sharing of content has become one of the most influential factors in search engine ranking.  This stands to reason – Google seeks to grasp a very human view of what constitutes a relevant search result, so what better way than to determine how people respond to the content affiliated with a particular site (how they share it and what the sentiment is)?

Influencing audiences on social networks is a whole topic in itself, but this needs to be taken into account when developing content.  This will determine the type of content, the messaging and how you seed this into each social network.

Beyond social networks there are content hubs where your audience will go to seek expert opinion and relevant information.  Understanding what these are, what performs best on each of these and how to use these to reach your audience in the most effective manner is another critical aspect of effective content distribution.  And again, search engines are smart enough to know what value to place on each of these locations and content that is distributed across these.

For all content that is distributed, it’s important to remember that it should be unique (i.e. not identical to content on your site) and have links back to your website and social media presence to produce the greatest effect on search ranking (i.e. improve SEO).

Was that really 4 simple steps to improve your search ranking (SEO)?

SEO can be a simple or as complex as you like.  It’s amazing the difference that just 4 hours of basic research and tuning can sometimes achieve.  Typically though, it’s best to start by mapping out an ongoing plan for SEO that works through each of these simple steps and repeats the process with regularity (as each aspect will change over time).  Making changes to search ranking for specific terms may be more beneficial than others, so test and learn.  Using Google Analytics (or other analytics platforms) to identify the revenue impact from each keyword or topic is an important extension of any SEO project, as is bringing this insight into the broader digital marketing strategy.

Most importantly, businesses should invest in training or partnerships to deliver SEO.  Taking SEO in-house can work in larger organisations, over long time-frames, but most businesses will see better return on investment from outsourcing SEO to a freelancer or agency.