How to Research to Optimize Your SEO Opportunities
Know Your Audience to Know Your Opportunities
SEO (search engine optimization) has been around long enough to become a staple of digital marketing. While much has changed, rest assured the core principles remain the same. At the heart of SEO is the content you create for your audience. It is important that you write for your visitors, in natural language, and not for search engine spiders — the audience is always first.
Knowing about your audience, the language they use, and what they are seeking is the key research you need to do to assure your content meets the searchers' intent. When someone uses a search engine they are looking for answers. Knowing what questions they might ask and what content best answers these questions is the insight gained from doing your homework.
What Are the Opportunities?
The search engine results page (SERP) has undergone some big changes in the last 10 years. No longer just a list of website links, there are now images, videos, FAQs, product listings, recipes, and the list goes on.
Don’t look at SEO as an overwhelming optimization effort required to rank well, rather look at this as an opportunity to format your content to meet the needs of your audience — do your research to learn what type of result is most likely to entice someone to click on SERP listing.
If you do a search on “motorcycle backpack” you will see the variety of results I mentioned, but if you look at the different types you will notice different websites are ranking for images, videos, webpages, or answering one of Google’s “People also ask” questions — each of these are opportunities for you to rank.
Do Your Research
Completing some competitive analysis and keyword research should be among the first steps you address, but there’s no order to doing so. Competition often informs keyword research, and keywords often indicate search competitors.
But don’t stop with keywords, take a look at the suggested searches you see when you first start typing in the search box, are there terms or phrases there you didn’t consider, this is like the search engine doing some of your research for you, providing you with commonly searched phrases related to your keyword.
Also, look at the “People also ask” questions on the results page, do you have the expertise and content to answer any of the questions being asked. This is a commonly overlooked opportunity, people are looking for answers, so why not structure your content to provide the answers to those questions.
Look at the people who are ranking well for your target words, someone must be ranking well for these terms already, so check out what they’re doing. Do they structure their content in a particular format, how much content do they have, do they use a lot of imagery, have videos, step-by-step how-tos, see what is doing well, and think about how your content can deliver similarly.
Competitive analysis and keyword research feed each other, so start with whichever you like, then go back and inform your old research with the findings of the other report. Or do them at the same time. However, you choose to do it, get the research done!
Optimize Everything – or At Least These 4 Things
The devil is in the details when it comes to ranking well, this means ensuring you optimize everything – and not just for a keyword, but for the answer to the questions of your audience. Here are the areas you want to make sure you pay attention to first.
Your page title should lead with your target keyword if it is natural, but also include related keywords, it should connect the search term/phrase to your content. And don’t forget your brand, always at the end so that searchers know they are getting quality content from a trusted source.
Although the Meta Description is not a factor in rankings anymore, it is your opportunity to convince a searcher to click on your link. The page title should intuitively connect the search query to your page, and the meta description should be why the searcher wants to get the answer to their question from you.
Headlines & Hierarchy
Proper Semantic HTML structure is important, both for your audience and search engine spiders, so ensuring your content emphasizes the keyword and phrases your content is focused on is really important. Use headlines to give a clear indication of the topic, sub-heads to organize underlying themes, bolded and italicized text to provide emphasis, and bulleted lists to provide a summary of the topic.
Just having your keyword on the page isn’t enough, you need to provide the right structure for your audience to scan and read while directing search engine spiders to points of emphasis on the topic.
Depending on the study, 18-35% of all clicks on a search results page are on images, so make sure you optimize your images and don’t miss out on this opportunity. The particular things you want to pay attention to are:
- Filename - use your target keyword in the filename, and also related terms, keep it under 50 characters though, and don’t repeat the keyword multiple times.
- Alt Text - the alt text is what will show on the page if the image does not load, or will be read to the visually impaired through a screen reader, it should be about the subject of the image and include your keyword if possible.
- Caption - people are more likely to read the caption on an image than the text on the page itself, so this is a great opportunity to address their questions and optimize your page.
These image attribute optimizations are a great way to incorporate terms and phrases related to your primary keyword, for example, if you are optimizing for “motorcycle backpacks”, having a filename of roll-top-motorcycle-backpack.jpg incorporates a particular style, alt text that is “A great waterproof backpack for motorcyclists” on a product image highlights a feature, both great optimizations.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
An SEO program is never done in the traditional sense. It’s a cycle, not a once-and-done process. The length of certain parts of the cycle can increase if a Website doesn’t change that often, but SEO should become part of the routine maintenance and updating schedule. Each step in the SEO process informs the others. Be prepared to go back and make adjustments along the way. The end result of an SEO program is a sum of its parts, and the path you take to get there is up to you.