With this post, I hope to help you avoid one of the most frustrating, unnecessary and costly SEO mistakes of all: planning.
It’s such a simple step that many business owners or startups miss entirely.
Most successful businesses follow a simple principle; identify a market or a need then create a company around that need.
A successful website should follow those exact same principles.
DO NOT build your website and make it pretty and functional, and then approach an SEO Agency to optimise it for search engines, rank your site and attract a ton of significant traffic.
When that happens, any professional SEO will hang their head and tell you that it would have been better to plan the website structure and content first, then to build the website.
Why? Because your SEO girl or guy will have to start undoing parts of the site, cramming new components into it and working around problems – that takes valuable time and money to do. Time better spent on creating more content or building links to your site.
Think of it like building a house. You wouldn’t get a builder and a decorator in without first considering where each room should go, where the sunlight comes from or having an architect design where the walls should go.
A successful website is no different – get the SEO architecture correct before you make it functional and pretty. That approach saves a lot of time in the long run and provides a solid foundation to work on page optimisation, work on your content plan and focus on external linking.
The New Website SEO Process
Start with your market. Get deep into your potential customers’ search habits. What do they search for? How much volume is there? What’s the intent behind each search query?
Finding Keywords for Your Site
There are some tools to help understand what your potential customers search Google for.
* The Google Ads Keyword Planner is free (you’ll need a Google Ads account though) and provides an insight into Google’s massive database of search trends and volumes in your market and in your location (very important!).
Add an initial keyword, and the Keyword Planner will suggest similar terms you might want to consider adding to your keyword target list, along with volumes and trends.
* Google Predictive Search: Start typing into the Google Search bar. Google automatically begins to predict what your query might be.
That data is harvested from millions of queries, suggesting those which are regularly searched.
If Google suggests the query as an auto-complete, there’s some search volume. It may not be much, it may be a ton, but there’s some.
It’s a thankless task, manually going through the alphabet to test different queries, but can be a goldmine for building an excellent keyword list.
* Keyword Mining Tools: There are some systems which can save you some manual labour, though they may not provide as detailed information as Google Predictive Search.
Ubersuggest is pretty neat. Enter a search term, and it’ll return a heap of similar words you might consider adding to your keyword list. This combines results from both the Google Ads Keyword Planner and Google Predictive Search, though I’ve found using both natively a little more complete and reliable. You can even download to a CSV file and pull it into a spreadsheet.
The Yoast keyword tool is free and works pretty well too, though I have some (untested) concerns over UK specific data being as full and accurate as the US data. It works similarly to Ubersuggest.
Check your Google Search Console Data. It’s free and is your view into what your site (if you have one) already ranks for.
Search Console will show you how many times your pages showed organically for a particular keyword, your average position and how many clicks you got. It’s a wonderful source of keywords which you could rank quickly and easily for.
If you’re running a Google Ads campaign, you’re already paying for a ton of insight that’s way more valuable than any of these tools.
Head to the Search Terms report in your Search or Google Shopping campaigns. You’ll see data about the specific queries that showed your ads, attracted clicks and, most importantly, made you sales (you’ll need eCommerce conversion tracking in place for that data).
Whichever tool or data source you use (maybe some different ones), create yourself a neat spreadsheet of all of the keywords you might want to rank for, including search volume data if you have it.
About Keyword Search Volumes
Each search query (or keyword) will have more or less search volume in real life.
Don’t believe everything the Google Ads Keyword Planner tells you. It lies like a sunken ship. Use the data as a guide to compare terms, rather than as an absolute statement of fact.
The higher volume keywords will typically have more competition and be tougher to rank for, whereas the more specific, long-tail search terms can often be small niches of profitable traffic which are (comparatively) easier to rank for.
Consider Search Intent
Depending on what your site is selling, your customers’ search behaviour could be very different.
Complex, expensive purchases like a safari holiday, a big budget CRM system or a new car have long search cycles, starting with research queries through to desire queries and eventually to action queries when they’re ready to buy.
Understanding the Keyword Intent Funnel
Let’s take the example of an eCommerce store selling tiles. Floor tiles, wall tiles, bathroom or kitchen tiles. You get the idea.
This is a big project that starts weeks or months ahead of final purchase.
Customers start their Search journey here with
* Bathroom decorating ideas
* Kitchen trends
* Kitchen colour schemes
* Bathroom design ideas
There’s a lot of inspiration to be gained, pictures to looks at, Pinterest boards to scan through.
This traffic is still useful to your site but isn’t really to convert into a sale. Nowhere near. But it does start to help that customer build a relationship with your brand.
Then on to slightly higher intent keywords
* Wall Tiles
* Floor tiles
* Kitchen Tiles
* Bathroom Tiles
* Kitchen wall tiles
* Bathroom wall tiles
We’re likely to still be in a research and inspiration phase here, and while conversions do come from these terms, the conversion rate is low.
If you can rank for these keywords, there’s a significant volume and therefore still a lot of sales to be made.
This is where the good stuff starts. The high intent, “desire” keywords
* Kitchen quarry tiles
* Large grey kitchen wall tiles
* Slate floor tiles
* Ceramic tiles 150 x 150
These queries are much more specific. The customer is inspired, they know more about what they want to buy, and they’re close to a purchase.
The conversion rate is higher on these keywords, though individually, the search volume is lower.
Where the action happens
* Your brand or website name
* Brands of tiles
* Brands of tiles with colours
* Ranges of tiles within a specific brand
* Specific colours and sizes and materials
These queries represent customers that have been inspired, completed their research, looked through endless Pinterest boards and know precisely what they want. They’re ready to buy if you have the supply.
These keywords have much lower volume but the highest level intent. You definitely want to rank for this stuff!
Organise Your Keywords
In the big spreadsheet of keywords from your research, group keywords together into common themes.
You’re going to have keywords which are very similar to one another. That’s OK. One page can be optimised for a group of related keywords.
You should begin to see a structure emerging as you organise the keywords into groups;
* High intent and low intent
* High volume, medium volume, and low volume
This process will start to dictate what pages you’re going to need for your website and how those pages relate to one another.
Create a Sitemap From Your Keyword Research
There are a bunch of tools for creating flowcharts and organisation charts. Personally, I end up using something simple like Google Slides. It’s not the perfect tool for the job and not as good as Lucidchart, but it’s quick, free and will work for most projects – for larger sites, you’ll need a much more robust tool.
You should end up with a plan, laying out the hierarchy of your home page, the primary pages below that, then on to the more specific pages below that.
Each layer relates to the layer above and below and creates a clear relationship between your pages and data.
Each page in this hierarchy has one or more associated terms that you’d like it to rank for.
Page Link Architecture
So, now you have your sitemap. A list of all of the pages you’re going to need for your website. You can give this to your web design agency to follow as they’re building your shiny new site.
Your web designer should deliver your site, ready for you to start the on-page optimisation process.
Focusing first on what your customers are searching for and building a site with pages which match those searches will give you a solid foundation on which to build your SEO strategy and organic rankings.
This is nowhere near the end of the SEO journey and is only one part of improving your rankings. You’ll need to complete on-page optimisation, sitemap optimisation, create some excellent content and earn your site some external links to really start ranking.
Planning your site isn’t everything, but everything depends on it.