SEO consultants often have a misconception that they are “Google wizards” who study and understand the dark arts of the secret Google algorithm. As fun as that sounds it’s pretty far from the truth. Realistically SEO is a multi-disciplinary process that relies on a lot of testing and trial and error.
Due to this multi-disciplinary nature we’ll review why working with a full-service SEO agency is the best ( if not only ) approach for a businesses who wants to get ahead in SEO.
What is full service SEO?
An agency that offers full service SEO will approach their projects through the 5 main pillars of SEO:
- Technical SEO – best practices for indexation
- Design SEO – improves bounce rates
- Development SEO – page speed & mobile optimizations
- Content SEO – keyword research & high quality content publishing
- Linkbuilding – increasing your domain strength through backlinks
I will not make the bold claim that each one is absolutely essential – of course there are low competition industries where you can succeed without linkbuilding or without a fully optimized frontend. But for competitive sectors where you’re going up against strong SEO talent, having a full service strategy gives you a much higher chance of success.
The difficult task of running an SEO campaign is that it takes buy-in from multiple areas, your developers, designers, content writers & SEO strategists need to work hand in glove to implement recommendations. Too often we see an SEO consultants audit recommendations go to waste, because certain aspects of their technical plan are too difficult to implement or the brand team is too attached to a certain design.
This is why we recommend working with a team that can offer recommendations and implement them as well. A team with an SEO trained developer will have a realistic understanding of what’s possible with certain CMSs and what needs to be redesigned to implement a fix.
Common Mistakes of Single Approach SEO
Google analyzes websites from multiple angles, and while it’s true that content quality & linkbuilding are all individually important factors. One cannot outperform another.
Relying on linkbuilding only: an uninformed article or a poorly organized service page, cannot be pushed to a top 5 position through link building alone. A business my spend thousands of dollars trying to prop up their pages through links, but eventually high bounce rates on poor content will prevent your page from staying in the top page.
Relying on ‘content is king’: while a true statement and a guiding light for most SEOs, even great content can be buried on a blog with poor internal linking, or low domain strength. In this case quality content is going too waste because Google isn’t seeing enough link signals to truly evaluate it.
Ignoring ‘article design’: this is something we regularly see with content heavy approaches to SEO. A team will spend thousands of dollars on the best writers and well researched content. However… the final article is 4,000 words of a wall of text. Their content is great, but it bores users to death – these days most users are looking for quick answers and scan through articles instead of reading. Article design is just as important as the content – create quotation blocks, table of contents, useful headers and illustrations and animations to break apart the article and allow users to find answers to their questions quickly.
What is Technical SEO
While technical SEO can be a broad term and different agencies may package different items under this banner. At AUQ we consider technical SEO to be related to indexation issues & crawlability. This is generally related to:
- Redirect errors
- Multiple 404 errors
- Robots.txt configuration
- Internal linking and identifying orphan pages
- Img alt tags
These issues can generally show themselves through a thorough screaming frog crawl and an analysis of Search Console errors. Our goal is to identify issues that prevent Google from being able to find, access and index your content.
What is Content SEO
Content SEO is crucial to a successful SEO campaign, if I had to pick one discipline to focus my energy, time & budget it would be content. At a very high level it’s two things:
- Keyword research
- Content writing ( articles & conversion pages )
However these 2 aspects can become complicated quickly the deeper you get into it.
Your approach to keyword research will generally depend on the level of competition in your industry, and how strong your domain is. For businesses like startups who have a brand new domain with few backlinks we generally recommend focusing on low competition & high value keywords, these might be terms that have low search volume, but are very niche specific to your audience.
The best way to find great keywords is to identify terms with high CPCs ( high CPCs mean there is a high probability of a sale ) but where the competitors have generally lower domain rankings, or lack exact match content. You can spot a lack of exact match content when the top results for a keyword don’t mention it in the title. These are generally golden opportunities.
Once your domain is made stronger through linkbuilding you’ll be able to go after tougher competition but for the first 6 months we generally recommend easier terms so you can start building some traffic.
Content writing is the continuation of this research strategy and from our experience this heavily depends on hiring high quality writers. We recommend working with experts in individual niches who can add their own experience and subject matter knowledge into the article. There are many generalist writers who can crank out SEO content, but the best & most insightful content usually comes field experts. That’s why we put an extra emphasis on finding and hiring writers from your industry.
You can do this by reviewing candidates previous pieces or proactively reaching out to writers who’s work you’ve seen published. Our favorite method is to choose the keywords we want to rank for, and then poach writers with top ranking articles in Google.
What is Design SEO
Design SEO is an often overlooked feature by SEO consultants, as it generally requires a background in UX design which is a separate profession alltogether. Design SEO’s main goal is to lower bounce rates on any landing page that may receive traffic from Google. At AUQ we strongly believe in behavioral SEO signals.
For example: lets say your site ranks 4th for “best ticket platform”, your team achieved this ranking through strong linkbuilding campaigns and high quality content. However, the page itself is poorly designed – it’s a giant wall of text and users eyes glaze over as soon as they see it. The users bounce back to the SERPS and click on your competitor in position 5.
At AUQ we believe Google can trace these click behaviors and if enough users are bouncing back to the SERPS, you will eventually start sliding down the results.
The factors that can affect these bounce rates are:
- Answering keyword questions quickly
- Visible conversion elements
- Mobile friendliness
- Font selection
- Above the fold content
To address these issues we recommend close collaboration between seo managers, designers and content writers. There needs to be constant communication of how to pull out content into specific highlights, conversion banners or quote blocks to make your content interesting and engaging to read, and drive further exploration.
What is Development SEO
Development SEO is often confused with technical SEO, however at AUQ we believe they serve different functions. While technical SEO focuses on indexability and making sure your website is discoverable. Development SEO focuses mostly on aspects of the user experience:
- Mobile experience
- Page loading speed
The ultimate goal is to achieve higher scores than the competition in both sets of tools. We highly recommend benchmarking your site against competitors as opposed to trying to hit a certain score, as some high scores may be unrealistic for certain industries.
For example: photo gallery or ecomm websites will have a hard time achieving high pagespeed scores due to their high resolution images, and sacrificing image quality for pagespeed may not be the best option for your users.
Development SEO projects are generally highly technical and require a development team to understand Google’s grading systems and the methods and strategies used to optimize for them.
What is E-A-T SEO
EAT SEO is closely tied to content SEO as it’s main goal is to prove to users that your content is trustworthy. EAT stands for E-A-T- stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.
How does Google evaluate this? Well they have a massive PDF: Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines. This document breaks down how Google’s human workers evaluate websites, which is then used to model the AI algorithm.
Our team reviews this document as it changes and updates, and we use it to create design recommendations such as:
- Hire popular industry experts with visible online profiles
- Create author pages for your team and writers
- Monitor your online reputation on 3rd party websites
- Create trust signals on your article pages
- Utilize award pages
- Site your sources
In our experience the biggest takeaway is working with high quality authors that are known across the web, they may have a popular industry blog or twitter account, or they may be featured as a speaker in your industries expos. When recruiting writing talent for our clients we spend the first month evaluating potential authors for these EAT signals as well as their writing ability.
What is Off Page SEO: Linkbuilding
We consider linkbuilding to be about 33% of Google’s algorithm and weight it with significant importance. The general idea is the more sites that link to yours, the more trustworthy you seem to Google. However links are evaluated by 2 metrics:
- Relevancy: How relevant is this link to your business. A dog food blog linking to a shoe retailer is not very useful, but the same dog food blog linking to a pet store is a much stronger signal.
- Strength: In broad terms the strength of a links is generally measured by the strength of the page it lives on, and not by the strength of the domain.
Do not be fooled by publishers offering links on their 80DA domains, especially when their site has 10,000+ pages, since that 80DA domain will be extremely diluted by their number of pages and your link may essentially be worthless.
Our process for finding links involves measuring page level strength, meaning we expect that all our links exist on pages that rank at least in position 50 for keywords relevant to our clients.
The final and most important step of SEO is the analysis your team uses to evaluate and optimize your campaigns. In broad strokes we tend to divide our analytics into 3 sectors:
Traffic & Conversion Analysis: This is the bottom line of your campaign’s and website’s success. Your goals might come down to sales, traffic or form fills but this will always be reflected in your Google Analytics account. We work with our clients to create necessary scripts to properly track goals, conversions and events within their Google Analytics properties. We’re also big fans of automating our reports by linking Google Analytics with Data Studio – this allows our clients to view hand selected real time results in their custom made Data Studio dashboard.
Keyword Analysis: This is pretty straightforward, we select a number of low funnel and high funnel keywords that we believe to be “most critical” for our clients business, and we track them from the beginning of the campaign till the end. We generally recommend choosing less than 50 keywords for this, otherwise it gets unruly and hard to focus. Our preferred tool for this is Ahrefs.
Almost Ranker Analysis: This is one of the secret weapons in our arsenal, we love optimizing our content after it’s been published. So every month we review the pages and keywords that are ranking in position 7 – 30, generally these are prime targets for optimizations. We might re-write an article, or add content or video to a landing page to help it get the last few rankings it needs to start driving traffic. It’s much easier to push a page from 15 to 3 than it is to create a brand new piece of content.
Technical Analysis: Our technical reports are focused on search console errors – majority of these errors are fixed during the first stage of a campaign during the technical audit. However we recommend keeping an eye on these errors, especially in larger sites as Google regularly changes the priorities of their algorithm and might flag new errors. Additionally user changes might delete certain pages and creating errors like 404 pages with dead links.