Search Engine Optimisation: What Does the First Three Months of a Project Look Like?
A search engine optimisation (SEO) project can be evaluated by many metrics, but the overarching goal is to improve the organic search presence of a website. That will result in attracting a higher volume of relevant search traffic, leading to increased brand awareness, more leads and improved business development.
Setting up a strong SEO foundation is critical to the long term success of a project.
SEO is a discipline that can take a number of months to start bearing results, depending on the state of a website at the outset of a project. I’ve worked with some clients that had a great SEO foundation and were already ranking well for some relevant keywords, and for some clients that had never heard of SEO, let alone implemented it!
Regardless of this, the first three months are commonly spent on the following key areas.
Common technical issues that I encounter at the start of a project include:
- Pages without, with duplicate or with poor meta titles and descriptions. These are the headers and descriptions that Google displays in search results.
- Pages with a low text-HTML ratio. This is when a page has a lot of (sometimes unnecessary) code and not much text. Fixing this can help speed up page load time and provide a better user experience.
- Images with no alt-attributes. This is the description that shows if an image doesn’t load. Alt-text tells Google what the picture is and is an important accessibility option for users if an image doesn’t load.
- Broken links. These are links to pages that no longer exist. These create a bad user experience as your website can appear outdated.
- One or no internal links. This means that the page will be hard to find for a user.
- Pages that need three or more clicks to be reached. These pages are buried in the website and not many users will find them.
- Non-descriptive anchor text. For example, when linking to a contact page the link says ‘click here’ instead of ‘contact us’. This impacts SEO and user experience.
- Large image files that slow down the website loading time. Users will give up if your site takes too long to load.
- Websites that have not been optimised for mobile. About 50% of traffic comes from mobile. If your site is not optimised, users will have a bad experience and your keyword rankings may suffer.
It’s vital to address these issues early on so that the foundations of SEO are in place before the focus turns to content and link building.
I set up or request access to tools including Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Google Tag Manager and Bing Webmaster Tools. This means I can start collecting data straight away and set up benchmarks by which to measure my work.
Google Tag Manager enables conversion tracking on a website. This can include phone calls, emails, downloads, form completions and where users abandon filling out a form. This is a key metric in any SEO project and also provides valuable insight into the value of the work.
For example, in month three of a recent project I was able to show that as well as organic traffic being the top channel with 60% of users, it also accounted for 80% of conversions. This suggests that I am targeting the right audience through SEO as those users convert more often that others.
Keyword research informs the content strategy for a business. I conduct keyword research by auditing the current list of terms that a website ranks for in search results, talking with a client to understand their desired target audience (including sector and location), researching competitor keywords, and considering volume, relevance, and intent.
Intent is especially important and usually appears in long tail keywords.
For example, ‘facilities management’ might have a high monthly search volume but is so broad that the person typing it in could be after any number of results. The search term ‘school facilities management in Brighton’ is much more niche so will have a low volume, but there’s a clear intent in that search, so appearing high in that search might be much more valuable.
Link building is generating more backlinks to a website – links from other websites to your own. Though this really kicks in after the first three months of a project, I do carry out an audit and start to list a website on business directories early on.
Directories provide valuable backlinks and are also used by things like Google and Apple Maps, so are another signal to search engines about a business.
What Happens After the First Three Months?
Once strong SEO foundations are in place, the focus switches to content and link building.
Content can include optimising existing web pages, making recommendations for new pages (such as services or locations) and creating a blog calendar. Blogs are a great way to target keywords while also providing users with helpful content that answers their questions and / or solves a problem.
Google is really pushing websites to create helpful, insightful and unique content, and blogs are the best way to address this. But these have to be well written and engaging, so ensure you have content experts involved as well as your SEO team (ideally these will be within the same agency).
Link building can include further business directory listings, PR, and competitor research to identify backlinks they have that would be beneficial to gain.
I also continue to monitor a site on an ongoing basis and address technical issues as and when they arise.
To see what an SEO project looks like after one year, read my SEO case study with Business Moves Group. The project won a silver award at the 2022 CIPR PRide awards in the ‘Best Integrated Campaign’ category.
A version of this blog was originally published by Magenta Associates.