This summer, I’m starting one of the most ambitious projects of my life: coaching my son Joseph’s under-10 basketball team. At that age, it’s all fundamentals. Like SEO, there are thousands of sites that teach you how to coach, but not one that gets Joseph’s team from 22 points down to win the game. If they can get the fundamentals and a few good moves down, they’ll win easily. The same is true for SEO. There are three key aspects of the game to grasp: content, on-site and off-site. Here’s how to step up and coach for the win.
No matter how good your team, SEO has become commercially competitive. Content is the foundation of the game. Without sugarcoating it, you’ll need a lot of content to do well in SEO. Like basketball, practice makes perfect. So what makes great content?
The first step is having a variety of on-point topics to work into your website content. Topics can change, but they help you organize your content. All content must be original (no plagiarizing), relatable and entertaining for the products and services you are selling. Aim to rank one keyword per page. Search engines have robots that help match people’s searches to your articles, so ensure topics, titles, keywords and content read well for both robots and readers.
Keywords are the points everything is scored on. Nearly everything you or your team will do is keyword-related. Keywords should connect to your page titles. For example, the keyword “free throws” works well for a page on “How to hit 10 free throws in a row.” Keywords are also used to link back to your site. Aim to rank on 1-20 keywords at any time. Use a free tool like Google Search Analyzer or Keywords Everywhere, and build a keyword list that shows how many local searches are available and how competitive they are. Copy the keyword data into a spreadsheet, and next to their monthly volumes, rank them as high, medium or low competition. As we start to attack keywords, we work out what it will take to own them based on this data.
On-site is everything you do to the structure of your site, the SEO code and the written content. Most CMS platforms come “search engine optimized,” but what does that really mean? WordPress’s Yoast plugin covers a lot of what an SEO expert will do for you here. For platforms without a built-in SEO option, you’ll need more resources — popular tools like SEMrush or Moz can do the trick.
• Design For Structure: The design of your website is critical. Most people focus on the design from a visual perspective, but not many designers think about SEO. Designers should touch base with the SEO team or do some research on optimizing web layouts for SEO so the obvious elements are structured into most template pages. Screaming Frog and Google Page Speed Insights are tools we use to help identify and close gaps.
• SEO Geeks: At some point, you’re likely to go into advanced mode, no matter what platform your site is built on. Now someone on your team or agency must be an SEO geek, a technical wizard. Help guide the SEO geeks by ensuring they are aligned with your commercial business outcomes. Otherwise, you may have great SEO, but it will never convert into real business.
• Site Speed: The last mandatory on-site point is speed. Google rewards fast sites with better search rankings. You can test your page load times with a free tool like Chrome’s Developer Tools or Google’s PageSpeed.
Off-site is everything that happens outside of your site to drive traffic. The work you do on content and on-site is about equally important to quality backlinks alone. At some point, when your on-site and content are humming along, backlinks become the whole game. Backlinks come in a few flavors, and all scores are out of 100. You can check backlink scores using a tool like Google PageRank for Chrome. For off-site overall, remember this: Traffic builds traffic. Getting 100 backlinks that have only a 1-10 score is like getting one good profile backlink, so balance effort with results.
• Free-ish: The smaller the referring site, the lower the score number. You can get free links from small blogs, magazines, directories and social traffic, and scores will likely sit around 1-10. But you’ll need a ton of these, even for low-competition keywords.
• Paid: A whole industry has popped up around backlink sales. This is pay-for-play in SEO. We recommend avoiding it, as there’s a risk of being deranked — Google is constantly on the lookout for fake link sources, so this could hurt your long-term gains.
• Profile: News media (pretty much any outlet that appears in the “news” tab of Google) has ranks of 60+. Government websites (.gov) and schools (.edu) also have great quality scores.
Overall, SEO is a cost vs. results game. Starting out, put in the resources to get on-site right first, and then shift focus off-site. As you ramp up, it will be backlinks followed by content leading the charge, with an occasional eye on-site. While it isn’t immediate, neither is the drop-off. Once you have solid rankings, you can maintain visitors well below paid advertising costs and other paid channels. Don’t get stuck on one move, though, as it’s like your best player: If they are off, injured or drafted, it is much harder to score.
So, how will my under-10s go this season? Luckily we aren’t playing the Chicago Bulls from the 1990s, and likely neither are you. Every business is matched into a vertical where you might start at the bottom of the ladder, but you are in the right league. Today, SEO is a team sport, and coaching is a critical part of the game. So get a good handle on the key fundamentals, content, on-site and off-site, and you’ll be able to resource right and improve fast.