Back in the day, when I was a youngin’, my teacher suggested that before writing papers or giving presentations, we research topics extensively, make note cards, and basically plan out the project in its entirety. (It was really less of a suggestion and more of a demand reinforced by a grade, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Although it seemed tedious at the time, I quickly realized that it became a longer, messier project without. If you were born before 1990 you probably remember searching through pages of content: paper pages, in books, in libraries. Well, with the invention of the Internet, we’ve got the world at our fingertips. Translation: there’s no excuse not to do your research.
SEO is no different than any other project. Before you make proposals to your client, be sure you’ve done your research. No one wants to look silly in front of a client, any more than they did a class full of peers.
A few questions your client might ask include:
- Who links to our competitors?
- Why do we want this site to link to us?
- What terms should we target?
- How are we currently ranking for this term?
- How hard will this term be to rank for?
These aren’t answers you can make up on the spot, so it pays to prepare in advance and to understand the tools that are available to help you gather the information you need to answer any SEO questions. SEOmoz tools are a fabulously useful source of information , and the best part is all of the tools discussed below are free!
Let’s talk about how we can answer these questions, shall we?
Who links to our competitors?
This is a great question. If your client isn’t asking – then you should be asking yourself. If a site is relevant to your competitors, then it is probably relevant to you. Also, if a site is willing to link to your competitors, then it is probably willing to link to you! Do you see where I’m going with this?
Find out which sites are linking to your competitors with the open site explorer. Simply, insert your competitor’s URL and bada-bing, a list of linking sites. This is a great place to start your link building.
Why do we want this site to link to us?
Generally, the more inbound links the better but not always. Think of it as being guilty by association. You don’t necessarily want spammy sites or bad directories linking to your high quality site.
So, you’ve got a list of sites that link to your competitors. Take it one step further and weed out the bad apples. Use the Check PageRank tool to see how search engines rank the site. Then, use the term extractor to find out which of your target terms this site is optimized for. Obviously, sites optimized for your target terms are valuable, combine that with a high page rank and you have struck gold.
What terms should we target?
As you probably already know, choosing terms to optimize for is easier said than done. Sometimes it helps to know what you’re already optimized for. Check out the term extractor to see how much of your work is already done. If none of your descriptive keywords come up, then you’ve got problems. The plus side is, you can use the same tool to check what competitors’ sites are optimized for. Then, you can use the Google keyword tool to find related terms.
How are we currently ranking for this term?
Once you’ve optimized your content you can check how well you rank for each keyword using the term target. You just type in the page’s URL and the targeted keyword. Pretty handy gadget, right?
How hard will it be to rank for this keyword?
Again, in many cases your client may not think to ask this. In fact, the client may offer you a million keyword suggestions that are nearly impossible to rank for. That’s why it’s important that you are able to answer this question even when it isn’t asked.
There is a tool for this but it isn’t free, so we’ll talk about that at a later date. At Hanapin Marketing, we list out silos of keywords and then use the aforementioned Google keyword tool to find the number of searches each query receives per month, and divide that number by the number of current Google results cued by that query. The fact of the matter is you don’t want to try to rank for a keyword that has a lot of competition and very few searches. While some may be easier to rank for, you also have to decide which terms will “flow”.
Content stuffing aside, you will probably try to use this word often, so you don’t want to choose some awkward phrase like “big white fluffy Easter egg rabbit” instead of “Easter rabbit” just because its easier to rank for.
Hopefully you find these tools to be uber helpful in planning and analyzing your SEO strategy and performance, and, of course, for making you sound more intelligent in conversation. Give them a try and let me know what you think!
Amy is an Account Executive at Hanapin Marketing, a search engine marketing firm focused on generating results through PPC and SEO.