Whether you are an SEO head looking after a range of clients or lucky employee in a company to be charged with ‘doing SEO’ you’ll face the same issue. Where do you start?
Before we get going I’m going to repeat the same mantra that I tell all my clients – SEO is only a part of Internet Marketing. It’s often seen as one of the most exciting parts because (remarkably) it still has an air of mystery about it. I’ll cheerfully tell anyone I meet that SEO is not mysterious; in fact if you know where to look for the right information it’s really quite logical and straightforward.
Another popular misconception is that ‘doing good SEO’ requires brutally expensive software that only the very best in the industry can either afford or understand. The fact is that almost all standard SEO practice can be explored for free. The reality is that while almost everything can be done for free, using the right software makes things a lot easier. More than that; an astute choice of software also makes SEO much swifter and much less of a grind.
Whether you are looking after a whole roster of clients or providing an SEO function within a team as an employee the biggest challenge you may face is efficiency. It’s imperative as an SEO professional to offer fantastic value to your clients. As an employee you hopefully wish to do the same for your employer.
From now on I’m going to only refer to clients, because I think I’ve established that the needs are the same whether you are an employee working on one site, or a free spirit working with lots of clients.
My ‘go to’ software for kickstarting any SEO project is SEMrush. The pedants among you might pipe up and telling me that because SEMrush is browser based it’s not software. But there’s no easy way to cushion this blow – you’re wrong.
I have been using SEMrush for years. At first it formed a part of my initial research, but as more features have been added over the years I find I’m able to do pretty much all of my initial research in SEMrush. In the interests of clarity I’ve been fortunate enough to be in touch with the team behind SEMrush for years, and have had free access to some features (but I’m not being paid to write this article). But this doesn’t colour my opinions at all. The world of SEO software is incredibly competitive. If a better option for fulfilling any of my clients’ needs comes along it is only right that I serious consider it. The truth of the matter is that in my experience SEMrush are ahead of the vast majority of their competitors. But this blog post is not just some big love-in with no justification.
Let’s get back on topic. I want to show you why I use SEMrush to kick-start every SEO campaign. The following list of tasks doesn’t have to be carried out in the exact order shown, it’s just how I like to manage a new project. I was going to add as a caveat that before going to SEMrush to start a new project you should make sure you have access to your client’s Analytics and Search Console profiles. But having thought through the list below I reckon you could get away without being granted any access to anything. In fact, there’s a little freebie extra hint about how this process could be used to reverse engineer your clients’ competitor rankings. Obvious your clients’ competitors won’t grant you access to their Analytics and Search Console. But not having access won’t hold you back much, thanks to SEMrush.
SEO kickstart campaign plan
1. Create a new project in SEMrush.
SEMrush will give you most of what you need for any research without creating a project. But it won’t save the research data by default. By creating a project for your, er, project you’ll be able to not only dig up some useful research, SEMrush will automatically keep an eye on anything that changes with your project. This is useful for the obvious facets like rank tracking, but is also a boon for making sure on-site SEO work is heading in the right direction.
2. Site audit
On-site SEO is important. Very important. I’ve had clients where simply getting the on-site SEO as perfect as possible was the big game changer in terms of ranking and relevant traffic. It’s not always so easy, but upping your on-site SEO game can be the marginal gain that gets your client ahead of their competitors.
In my experience clients’ competitors rarely have a strong on-site SEO game because technical SEO is tricky. Allegedly. Although there are tools like Screaming Frog that dig deeper than SEMrush with regards to on-site SEO they can (in my opinion) go into more detail that is strictly needed when starting a new SEO project.
The SEMrush site audit picks up a lot of the really common on-site errors that are usually quite easy to resolve. The audit reports also look pretty and contains plenty of useful advice for fixing each type of issue that it uncovers.
3. Keyword research
Keyword research is crucial to any new SEO campaign because ranking for keywords that nobody is searching for is pointless. On the flip side trying to rank for keywords that have high search volumes but are incredibly competitive can also be a frustrating endeavour. In an ideal world your SEO campaign would have an unlimited budget and you would be able to thrash anyone. But in reality every campaign has limited resources. The wise SEO-head looks for ways to maximise the results according to the resource the client has dedicated to the project. One of the ways we do this is to find high traffic keywords / phrases that have low competition. It’s not always possible, but if you can find an opportunity this method can be a virtual Golden Goose for your client. This is where SEO can really prove itself – with actionable business intelligence.
Having stated earlier how important it is to create a project to store info, this part of the kickstart campaign isn’t assigned to a project. But this type of keyword research doesn’t need to happen very often, so the lack of project storage doesn’t trouble me. In the past I’ve blogged at length about my keyword research process. I would start in the Adwords Keyword Planner, do some manipulation in Google Sheets then shove the best looking keywords into the SEMrush KDT (keyword difficulty tool). This process would reveal the target keywords with the most traffic and which of those keywords would be easiest to rank for. Times have changed. For the better.
Now SEMrush has a function called the ‘Keyword Magic Tool’. In short you enter a keyword, choose your target market run a search. The results table shows which keywords related to your ‘seed’ keyword have the most traffic, the least Adwords / PPC competition and which will be easiest to rank for. Happy days.
4. Position tracking
Believe it or not high rankings are not the only aim in the SEO game. In fact they can be a bit of a red herring. The quality of traffic is almost always more important than the volume of the traffic. When choosing which keywords to try and rank your client for it’s crucial that you choose keywords most likely to result in the visitor you deliver to your client doing what they want them to. With that caveat in place, by all means start tracking the results for the keywords you are trying to rank for.
One of the aspects of the SEMrush position tracker that I really like is how easy it is to track multiple locations and devices for the same set of keywords within a single project. Unlike some of the other trackers I have used SEMrush will also allow tracking at a very focussed level. So for local SEO you can track rankings per town.
If you are going to be tracking rankings, and I can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t, then start tracking them as early on in your client relationship as possible. Ultimately the only thing that will matter to your client is that their SEO project increases their profits, but rank reports can be really useful to show when rankings starting moving in the right direction.
Personally I track a ton of keywords for each client. SEMrush are quite generous with the number of keywords they allow users to track. So I like to track a lot in the name of gathering as much intelligence as possible.
5. Backlink Audit
Even if you are the first SEO-head that your new client has hired it doesn’t mean there aren’t a few skeletons in the backlink closet. If your new client proudly tells you that they hired some random company who took the money and ran then you might want to start your project with a backlink audit. If you find a ton of stinking horrible toxic backlinks then the SEMrush backlink audit makes compiling a disavow list very simple. Although I would only countenance going down the disavow path in severe circumstances.
On a more positive note if a backlink audit turns up some very strong backlinks of a particular type it’s a fair indication that it could be worth your while looking to develop more links of a similar type.
SEO kickstart conclusion
I have demonstrated here how using just one bit of software you can very quickly get up to speed with any new SEO project. There’s a lot more functionality on SEMrush that will help you in the long term, but this post is all about getting up and running as quickly as possible.
- You will learn if there are serious errors that will make your client’s site difficult to rank from a technical SEO perspective
- You will learn which keywords will be profitable to focus on initially
- You will discover where your client site ranks for each of the keywords you will initially target
- You will find out of there are any toxic backlinks that need attending to
So in conclusion, the steps listed above will check your client’s house is in order and give you a strong direction for future work. Easily.
As a next step I would recommend using SEMrush for some serious analysis of every competitor who ranks above your client. But that’s a post for another time.