The recipe for a winning SEO strategy

Here’s the harsh truth: there is no secret magic formula to developing an SEO strategy that always delivers. But there are reliable steps your business can follow to improve performance.
Someone once asked me “Where’s the button on a Facebook post that makes it go viral?”.
If only digital marketing were that simple.
There are so many factors at play, particularly when it comes to SEO, that there really is no fool-proof formula (and no secret button either, I’m afraid).
The reality is that any SEO strategy you use should be based very much on your niche and what you're trying to achieve. When there are businesses trying to boost e-commerce sales, working to sell a product or service, striving to become an authority and thought leader, and everything else, it’s clear there’s no one magic formula that will work for everyone.
But don’t leave just yet. I do have some good news for you. Although there’s no winning formula, there are still a few simple and reliable steps that every business can follow to build a winning SEO strategy.
Below, I’ll walk you through the steps we take at Tangent to design client strategies. These will boost visibility and awareness, and drive traffic in the right direction.

Step 1. Marketplace analysis

The first step is marketplace analysis. After all, why start from scratch when we have so much data available at our fingertips? This data can help us build upon pre-existing levels of success.
Marketplace analysis is essentially a form of competitor analysis. It allows us to research the SEO strategies that our competitors are using, and leverage the performance data to our advantage.
It answers questions such as:
  • Who am I competing with in terms of SEO?
  • What’s working for others in my industry?
  • What’s ineffective, or inefficient from a financial or time perspective?
  • What are they missing, and where can I find opportunities?
  • Where do I currently stand in the grand scheme of things?
As part of this SEO audit, it’s important to assess core web vitals and user experience factors. This helps to get a feel of where clients are standing benchmark-wise and how they could leverage competitor efforts.

Step 2: Keyword research

Keyword research ties in closely with our first step of conducting market analysis. We’re looking at what keywords competitors currently ‘own’ and what opportunities exist there; a ‘content gap analysis’.
Using a tool like SEMrush or Ahrefs, you could look at what keywords your competitor domains are ranking for and where there are gaps within that could create opportunities for you to dominate.

Branded Vs Non-Branded searches

If you're a large, well-known brand, the strategy may be a bit different. If you're getting a lot of branded search traffic, your priority should be twofold; making the most of the branded traffic your receiving, while also developing more visibility in the longer tail of broad terms for your niche.

Building content clusters

From there, start to build out content clusters and topic clusters, thinking about what keywords work together. If a user is searching for one keyword, what others might help them on their journey? How can we bring ideas together to build positive experiences? That brings us to our next point.

Step 3: Understand search intent

Here, we start to look at keywords beyond their role as search terms. We can see them more as a way of understanding what our users want. Delve deeper into search intent – into why users are searching and into what sort of content they want to see at this specific point in their purchasing journey.
I’ve gone into much more detail about this in my post on optimising for search intent. Essentially though, what we’re looking to do here is differentiate between research, solution, and brand-based intent.
  • Research intent: Users searching for information
  • Solution intent: Users wanting to resolve a problem
  • Brand intent: Users trying to find a specific brand
Incorporating search intent into your SEO strategy isn’t just about connecting with the right people at the right time or giving them what they want.
It also means being proactive about maximising SERPs visibility at a time when Google is all over the idea of context, semantics, and user intent.
Google has long been interested in meaning, and it seems to be a huge priority in the latest changes being rolled out to the ranking algorithm. It’s even bringing search intent into the core of its products.
If you’re familiar with Google Maps and Local Finder, they’re fantastic examples. They’re essentially the same thing. But Google recognises that those who use Maps to get the information they need typically have a different intent than those who use Local Finder. There’s a different algorithm for each, which will show up different results for the same search. It’s actually pretty interesting.

Step 4: Content plan

Based on what we’ve learnt about search intent, we can build two types of optimised content.
  1. Pillar content: This type of content is optimised to meet the needs of research intent users. It covers high-level topics broadly and comprehensively, providing a basic level, evergreen introduction to an entire subject area. The aim is to satisfy the user’s need for knowledge and help them educate themselves.
  2. Cluster content: This type of content is optimised to meet the needs of solution and brand intent users. It covers very reactive, detailed, and granular subjects in a high level of detail. That can include mentioning specific brands, products, and services to help influence the decision-making process.

Step 5: Optimising for your click-through rate

The final step I’d take to help clients develop a winning SEO strategy is to ensure they’re not overlooking the ‘everyday’ on-site SEO aspects that most of us will think about when we hear the term ‘SEO’.
The most important aspects to consider here are:
  • On-page signals: Elements like adding keywords to titles, landing pages, and meta descriptions
  • Link signals: Think about linking domains, quantity, link position on the page, and anchor text
  • Review signals: Make sure that, for products, you’re using customer reviews and star ratings, and these are optimised for high visibility

Next up: Conversion rate optimisation

Once these five steps have been completed, you need to turn your focus to UX and conversation rate optimisation. That’s a huge topic but to get the ball rolling, I recommend reading my guide to four things that are harming your conversion rate.
P.S. Over the next few months, we’re going to dig deeper into SEO strategy, bust some myths and answer common questions. If there’s a topic you’re curious about, feel free to drop us a line.