If SEO were a one-size-fits-all game, I’d be out of a job. And you wouldn’t be reading this article.
The reality is, everything from your sales infrastructure and product positioning to growth stage and budget impacts how you should use Google to connect with your customers.
If you want search engine optimization to work, you need a completely customized approach.
What I mean by “customized SEO”:
I don’t mean “reinventing the wheel.” There are tried and tested strategies that work across the board, like creating high-quality, keyword-optimized content and building quality backlinks.
But telling you to “build backlinks” and “create content” doesn’t give you any information.
- How many backlinks do I need?
- Where do I get them?
- What kind of content should I prioritize?
- Which keywords should I target?
- How can I make the most of my budget for this kind of stuff?
That’s where things get complicated. Because the answers to these questions all depend on your unique business, industry, and goals.
To get the highest positive impact from your SEO efforts, you need to figure out:
- relevant keywords and topics for your business
- the types of keywords and topics you have to focus on
- where your competitors are failing, succeeding, and leaving gaps
- which tactics won’t work for your business in particular
- which activities deserve priority (given your limited resources)
Once you map everything out, I guarantee it’ll look completely different from every competitor’s SEO strategy.
That’s the beauty of a customized roadmap — you can use it to create a competitive advantage on search engines.
Elements of an effective SEO strategy
Most customized SEO strategies start with technical SEO. This involves optimizing the technical aspects of your website to make it easier for humans to use and Google to crawl.
Technical SEO includes:
- Improving your website’s Core Web Vitals
- Creating a logical and user-friendly site architecture
- Using responsive (mobile-friendly) design
- Creating and submitting your XML sitemap to Google
- Using canonical tags to avoid duplicate content
There are some differences from one industry to the next.
- When it comes to ecommerce technical SEO, product page optimization, schema markup, and site speed are table stakes.
- SaaS technical SEO requires you to simplify navigation against a complex information architecture and demonstrate your product’s features on-screen.
But, ultimately, it all boils down to making your website accessible to Google and improving its functionality for your site visitors.
Content marketing and SEO are ~technically~ separate things, but they go hand-in-hand.
Google is a people-first platform, so your SEO strategy largely revolves around how you can meet your customers’ search intent. Since this reflects their broader needs and interests, addressing those topics in your content kills two birds with one stone.
From an SEO standpoint, content marketing involves:
- Compiling your marketing and product data to determine the best content topics for your audience
- Deciding which formats make the most sense (blog posts, videos, infographics, …)
- Conducting keyword research to find words and phrases that reflect customers’ search intent
- Structuring your content plan with pillar pages and topic clusters to build authority on those topics
- Writing/optimizing your content based on those insights
When you determine which topics to cover, you’ll account for search volume, competition, and the customer journey.
That way, you tackle topics that are accessible (not too competitive), but still get your brand in front of your target audience at different stages of their buying cycle.
Off-page SEO = link building.
Backlinks are one of Google’s main signals to determine your site’s authority (and whether you deserve to rank).
Broadly, off-page SEO involves the following activities:
- Building relationships with authors and website owners
- Writing guest posts on those sites, linking back to your content
- Creating and distributing quality, keyword-rich content that earns backlinks naturally
- Reviewing your link building metrics to improve your strategy over time
Depending on the nature of your business, your custom SEO strategy will involve lots of different tactics beyond the basics.
A SaaS company might go after system integrations and certifications to get tons of backlinks from a huge company like Salesforce or G2 Crowd. An ecommerce site would partner with micro-influencers.
Local business SEO applies specifically to location-based businesses. When someone looks up your store or restaurant on Google Maps, you want that to be the first result.
Local SEO is important if:
- You own a brick-and-mortar store, shop, or restaurant
- You run a local service-based business (like plumbing)
- You have an online business with physical locations
- Your online business gets organic traffic from local sources (e.g., TripAdvisor or Yelp)
A customized SEO strategy for a local business might include local citation building, finding location-specific long-tail keywords, and optimizing your Google My Business profile.
Creating a customized SEO strategy for your business
Start with 3 audits
Before you can even think about SEO strategy or tactics, you need to understand the current state of your website and business.
To do that, you need to audit three critical areas:
Your website’s overall health
To conduct a technical audit, you have a few options:
- Screaming Frog is the tried and true option for crawling your website and finding broken links, duplicate content, missing metadata, and anything else that’s wrong with your site.
- Sitebulb is an alternative to Screaming Frog that provides more data visualization options on top of basic crawls.
- Ahrefs and Semrush also have site audit tools that give you a full-on diagnosis.
I personally like Ahrefs the best.
It’s got the most accurate data of any keyword research tool. And working in the same interface for all your SEO tasks makes you 10x more productive.
It gives you an overview section, where you can get a bird’s-eye view of your on-page SEO status.
You can also see all the errors you need to fix. Plus, it flags new ones.
You can get more granular by looking at each page’s performance (you can also break it down by link).
And you can bulk export everything to send to the rest of your digital marketing team.
Next, use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to assess your site’s performance according to Core Web Vitals. It tells you everything you need to know about your web and mobile interfaces.
It also gives you actionable suggestions for web and mobile optimization.
Your existing content
Next, you need to understand your website’s content and how it ranks.
Ahrefs‘ Site Explorer is the best tool for this job. It gives you data on every single ranking page on your website, including organic traffic numbers, backlinks, search engine rankings, and organic traffic per keyword.
I also like to use Surfer SEO for my individual web pages. It gives you an in-depth report on how well-optimized your content is for a specific keyword.
Beyond optimization, look for gaps in your current content strategy.
- Which pages aren’t performing as well on search engines?
- Which products or services aren’t getting enough traffic?
- Which content doesn’t convert like you expected it to?
You can find this data in Google Analytics. Often, quick fixes make all the difference here.
Your competitors’ content
You are obviously not your competitors. And focusing your SEO efforts on the same things just means you’ll fight them for a limited number of organic positions.
Looking into your competitors’ SEO strategy and content gaps gives you an excellent barometer for what you should be doing to win.
- Find out which topics they cover but you don’t
- Identify the websites linking to them but not to you.
Look at competitors’ backlink profiles and identify specific opportunities using the Ahrefs Link Intersect tool.
And see which types of content they rank for that you haven’t produced with the Content Gap tool.
The results are viable considerations for your SEO campaign.
Uncover your areas of weakness
After auditing your on-page SEO and examining your content’s performance on search engine result pages, it should be pretty clear what your biggest SEO challenges are.
- Glaring technical fixes, like slow page speeds, duplicate content, 404s, and missing meta tags
- Revenue-generating pages that aren’t optimized for SEO (or conversions)
- Topics your customer base seems to care about that your competitors already rank for
- Pages that get traffic but don’t rank well for your target keywords
Beyond your audit results, pay attention to mistakes you might be making. The most common ones I see when working with our clients here at Linkflow are:
- Poorly positioned UI elements (killing your conversions) or otherwise bad UX
- A beautiful but clunky website (loads too slow)
- Tons of similar content that cannibalizes each other
- Only publishing top-of-funnel (Awareness stage) content
- Ranking commercial content for informational intent keywords (and vice versa)
Consider whether you’re doing marketing “just to do marketing” or genuinely focused on your customers. The less effort you put into researching them, the more likely it is you’re falling into several of these pitfalls.
Assess the competition
During your audit, you’ve already got the ball rolling on this. Now’s your time to start looking at their entire online presence.
Pretend you’re a PI. Dive into everything.
- Go down the rabbit hole with Link Intersect and Content Gap analyses.
- Look at their websites. What makes them good? Where do they suck?
- Where do they focus their content marketing efforts (e.g., lead gen vs. demand gen)?
- What types of marketing do they prioritize (video, affiliates, topic clusters)?
- What keywords do they rank for?
- What keywords should they be ranking for that you can take advantage of first?
I would also get an idea of their backlink profile. Do they get tons of links from random spammy sites like this?
Or are they mostly from reputable sites like this?
This is how you know what you’re up against and how heavily you need to prioritize links from certain high-DA sites.
Prioritize SEO tactics
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither is a killer SEO strategy.
Here’s my 5-step process for prioritizing tactics:
- Identify quick wins you can fix without much effort, like redirecting broken pages, fixing poor page titles, and adding keywords to your meta descriptions.
- Focus on the bigger issues, like making your site usable and optimizing your bottom-of-funnel content for conversions. The biggest challenge is balancing UX and SEO. You want both.
- Find the low-hanging fruit of keyword opportunities: targeting long-tail keywords, expanding high-performing content for more traffic, optimizing pages that are ranking on page 2 or 3, and consolidating cannibalized pages into one ~glorious~ piece of content.
- Create a content calendar. Align with sales, CS, and product, then publish different kinds of high-quality content where customer insights and SEO goals overlap.
- Build out a link building plan focused on the “money” pages. Or, do what everyone else does and outsource link building entirely.
Benefits of a custom approach
If you’ve already done the work to ID them, you can focus the whole first month of your custom SEO strategy on low-hanging fruit.
And yes…it can bring immediate results.
Something as little as a meta title or H1 tag tweak can take you from the second or third page of Google results to the first.
A customized SEO strategy is kind of like a workout regimen.
When you start, you’ll notice some results right away (they’re arguably what makes it feel “worth it”). But the real transformation takes time and a consistent effort to maintain.
Building a strong foundation with technical SEO and a strategic content plan means you won’t have to rely on paid ads and PR campaigns as much in the future.
And, as you build authority, future content, product releases, and promotions will start ranking with incrementally less effort.
Manage spend efficiently
Dominating search engines can be really expensive.
A local SEO campaign for a small business might cost as little as $500 to $1,000 per month, but most companies pay somewhere between $2,500 and $7,500.
If you throw link building services in there, you can add on another $2,500 to $5,000.
And if you want to bring SEO in-house, you’re looking at six figures per year as a starting point.
More doesn’t always equal better when you’re investing in search engine rankings, though. Especially if you’re investing in things that won’t help your business or leaving a glaring issue unfixed.
What’s great about working with an agency on a custom SEO strategy is they can play to your strengths, weaknesses, and resources. They’ll help you prioritize high-impact activities so you achieve the highest possible ROI from your campaign.
Target each stage of the sales funnel
Since it’s based on your current business goals and what you uncover in your research, a custom SEO strategy leaves flexibility for any mix of top, middle, and bottom-of-funnel content.
Let’s say you’re developing a GTM strategy for a product launch. You can focus your next quarter’s SEO efforts on content that builds awareness and captures leads.
If, however, your main problem is conversions, you can focus your strategy on the bottom of the funnel.
What differentiates your SEO strategy from others?
B2B vs. B2C
B2B and B2C SEO share lots of the same characteristics. But, since the customer journey is a lot different when you’re selling to another business versus an individual consumer, you have to focus on different types of content.
B2B SEO requires you to nurture leads throughout the sales pipeline. From Awareness through Decision, you need to provide different types of content that meet each buyer’s needs.
Sales cycles generally last several months, and most B2B decision-makers use the internet to make their decisions (not sales reps), so you 100% need content for every stage.
In the case of SaaS SEO (or any recurring revenue model), you’re also worried about retention. That means investing in high-quality content that helps customers extract more value from their subscriptions and reduce churn.
For ecommerce and DTC brands, there’s a heavy focus on structured data. Your customers will use Google’s SERPs to make their purchasing decisions, so you need to provide the right information to get them off Google and onto your product page.
Local vs. national vs. international
What works for SEO in the United States likely won’t work for you if you’re targeting another country with a different language, culture, or competition level.
And this isn’t just about translating your website to another language (though that matters). You also need to tailor your content and SEO strategy to local search habits and cultural nuances.
There’s also a weird middle ground some companies find themselves in: they need localized landing pages, but they’re not a local business.
This happens for:
- Major retailers with brick-and-mortar stores in multiple locations in addition to an ecommerce presence
- Online businesses that target specific regions of the country or world
- Physical stores with one location that ship globally or want to expand their online sales reach
- Restaurant chains (like McDonald’s or Starbucks) with multiple locations in a single town
In these cases, both national and local SEO principles apply.
Startup vs. established company
Besides the obvious technical foundation, SEO for startups generally requires a heavy emphasis on demand gen in the beginning. That’s how you make people discover your product.
But, budgets are limited. At the startup level, you can’t afford to focus too heavily on the wrong topics. You need to lean into your customers’ and sales team’s input and learn on the fly.
Enterprise companies need a more diversified approach because they have hundreds of search engine competitors trying to steal their traffic from all angles.
But, with “unlimited” resources, a lot of large organizations fall into the trap of “doing SEO” instead of having it support a business objective.
There are a few obvious signs of this, like a company publishing a bunch of ChatGPT articles or disproportionately laying off 80% of their marketing team.
But it can also manifest in more subtle ways. You might find yourself publishing SEO content around a certain topic because your CMO saw a competitor do it, even though it doesn’t have much to do with your product.
Complicated sales processes
The longer and more intricate your sales process is, the more different SEO touchpoints you’ll need to have.
It’s rare for a customer to hear about an enterprise software product or service once and immediately convert.
As they research their options, they’ll type things into Google.
- Questions about business problems (your product can solve)
- Information about that specific tool
- Product-specific keywords like “X Integration” and “Benefits of X”
- Case studies and white papers (please, for the love of God, don’t gate these)
Map out your sales cycle before executing your SEO strategy. That’ll help you identify what type of content to create/use and when. Plus, it’ll double as a sales enablement tool.
Have you ever logged onto a company’s website, read their copy, and thought, “What on God’s green Earth do they DO?!?!?!?”
Marketers say to “avoid jargon,” which I think is kind of lazy advice. It’s fine to use words your audience does.
But you have to be clear enough in your content that a buyer can understand what your company sells, what it does, and who it helps. This especially applies to a newer company (sure, Oracle can get away with “Unlock Your Company’s Potential”).
Again, this is persona-based.
This is what we designed our roadmap to do…
Every time we onboard a new client, the first step in our process is an SEO roadmap.
We design our roadmap around the general principles above, with the main goal being to define the most impactful SEO content and link building strategies for you specifically.
That’s the basis for your customized SEO plan.
It’s a lot easier than doing it yourself. I promise.