How to Create an Effective SEO Strategy In 2020
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How to Create an Effective SEO Strategy In 2020

Brian Dean

by Brian Dean · Updated Jan. 16, 2020

How to Create an Effective SEO Strategy

In this post you’re going to learn exactly how to create and implement an effective SEO strategy, step-by-step.

In fact, this approach has helped me grow my website to 197,696 organic visitors every month:

Backlinko – Monthly organic visitors

So if you’re looking to get higher Google rankings, this new guide is for you.

What Is an SEO Strategy?

An SEO strategy (also referred to as “SEO approach” or “search engine optimization strategy”) is the process of planning, outlining and implementing steps designed to improve search engine rankings.

In other words: an SEO strategy is the process that you follow when you want to get more organic traffic.

With that, here are the steps to create an SEO strategy in 2020:

Step #1: Create a List of Keywords

Everything in search engine optimization revolves around keywords.

Which is why keyword research is usually the first step of any legit SEO strategy.

You can easily find keywords that your target customer searches for using Google Suggest.

Start typing a keyword into Google’s search field, and it will populate a list of suggestions:

Google search suggestions

These usually make awesome keywords for SEO because they come straight from Google.

So you know that people are actually searching for them.

Plus, longer keywords (known as “long tail keywords”) tend to be less competitive than “short tail” terms.

Long tail keywords

So even though long tails have relatively low search volume levels, you can usually rank for them faster.

I recommend typing a few different keywords into Google until you have a list of about 10 keywords.

If you want to check out the search volume and competition levels for those terms, you can use a keyword tool like SEMrush or Ubersuggest.

SEMrush and Ubersuggest

If you want to dive deeper into keyword research, you can check out this video.

Once you have 10 keywords jotted down, you’re ready for step #2 of this SEO strategy.

Step #2: Analyze Google’s First Page

OK, so you found a handful of keywords.

Now it’s time to see what’s already working for those keywords.

To do that, just type one of the keywords that you found into Google.

"Paleo desserts" – SERPs – Top

Scan the top 10 results:

And jot down any patterns that you notice.

For example, the SERPs for “SEO Tools” is PACKED with lists of tools:

SEO Tools – List post highlights

So if you wanted to cover that topic on your site, you’d want to note that the first page results are made up mostly of list posts.

And you’d probably want to publish a list post on your blog.

Then, move onto step #3…

Step #3: Create Something Different or Better

Now it’s time to create some super high-quality content.

When it comes to SEO content, you’ve got two options:

Option #1: You can create something different.

Option #2: You can create something better.

Different

Sometimes you want to create something bigger and better than what’s out there.

(aka The Skyscraper Technique)

But sometimes you’re better off with content that’s completely different.

Why?

Because it helps your content STAND OUT.

For example:

A few months ago I sat down to write a piece of content optimized around: “Mobile SEO”.

And I noticed Google’s first page was littered with list posts, like: “X Ways to Mobile Optimize Your Site.”

Existing mobile SEO content

Now:

I could have created a bigger list post like: “150 Ways to Mobile Optimize Your Site”.

But that wouldn’t make any sense.

Instead, I created something totally different.

Specifically, I published an ultimate guide to mobile optimization.

Mobile SEO Guide – Post

And because my content stood out, it got a ton of shares:

Mobile SEO Guide – Shares

Comments:

Mobile SEO Guide – Comments

And most important of all, backlinks:

Mobile SEO Guide – Backlinks

Better

All you need to do here is publish content that’s 10x better than what’s out there.

For example:

A while back I noticed that most content about “SEO tools” only listed 10-20 tools.

And I knew that publishing another list of 20 tools wouldn’t work.

So I decided to create a list of 188 SEO tools.

SEO Tools post

That post now ranks in the top 3 for the keyword “SEO Tools”:

SEO Tools – Backlinko SERPs

Step #4: Add a Hook

If you want to improve your search engine rankings in 2020, you need to get backlinks.

In fact, according to a recent study by Stone Temple Consulting that was published on the Moz blog, links are still strongly correlated with first page Google rankings.

Quadratic mean spearman correlation

Which means they’re still a key Google ranking factor.

The question is: how do you do it

Well, you need to figure out why people link to specific pieces of content in your industry.

(“The Hook”)

Then, include that “Hook” in your content.

Last year I noticed more and more bloggers writing about voice search.

Bloggers writing about voice search

I noticed something else too:

When people wrote about voice search, they linked to content that featured stats and data:

Voice search writing linked to content featuring stats and data

So I decided to do a voice search study that was PACKED with stats:

"Voice Search SEO study" – Post

To date, this single post has racked up 848 backlinks:

Voice Search SEO study – Post backlinks

And 90%+ of these backlinks cite a specific stat from my post:

Backlinks cite specific stats from post

That said:

Data is just one type of “Hook” that you can use to build links to your content.

Another Hook that’s working well right now is Ultimate Guides.

When you publish an ultimate guide, your guide itself is The Hook.

I’ll explain with an example…

A few years back I published Link Building: The Definitive Guide.

Link Building Post

It was (and still is) the most complete guide to link building out there.

Here’s where things get interesting…

Every now and again a blogger will mention “link building” in a post.

But they don’t have room to cover the entire topic.

So they link to my guide as a way for their readers to learn more:

Bloggers link out to my guide

Very cool.

Step #5: Optimize For On-Page SEO

This step is all about keyword-optimizing your content for SEO.

There’s a lot more to on-page SEO than I could cover in a single post.

So if you want to learn more about optimizing your content for SEO, this video may help.

That said, here are three on-page SEO techniques that I recommend focusing on in 2020.

Internal Linking

Yup, internal linking still works.

But you have to do it right.

Specifically, you want to link FROM high-authority web pages TO pages that need authority.

High authority pages

(And use keyword-rich anchor text in your internal links)

For example, I published Google Search Console: The Definitive Guide earlier this year.

Google Search Console – Post

So I found a page on my site with a ton of authority…

Google Ranking Factors – Post

…and linked from that page to my new guide.

"Google Ranking Factors" post – Link to guide

Simple.

Short, Keyword-Rich URLs

Our analysis of 1 million Google search results found something that surprised a lot of people:

When it comes to search engine optimization, short URLs crush long URLs.

Short URLs are better than longer URLs

That’s why I make my URLs either just my keyword…

SEO Checklist – URL

… Or my target keyword plus one more word:

Backlinks Guide – URL

Either way works.

Semantic SEO

Finally, I optimize my content for Semantic SEO.

In other words:

I find words that are related to my target keyword.

Then, I use those terms in my content.

Here are the deets:

First, pop your keyword into Google Images.

Enter keyword into Google Images

And Google will give you words and phrases they consider closely-related to that topic:

Google Images – Related terms

Second, type the same keyword into normal Google search. And scroll down to the “Searches related to…” section.

Searches related to "SEO audit"

Finally, sprinkle some of those terms into your content:

And you’re set.

Step #6: Optimize For Search Intent

In other words: The Skyscraper Technique 2.0.

I’ll show you how this works with a quick example.

A few years ago I wrote a post about getting more traffic to your site.

Increase Website Traffic post – Older

It did OK.

But it never cracked the top 5 for my target keyword (“increase website traffic”).

And when I analyzed Google’s first page, I realized why:

My page didn’t satisfy search intent for that keyword.

I’ll explain…

Most of the content ranking for “increase website traffic” listed bite-sized traffic tips.

"Increase Website Traffic" – Existing content

But my post gave them a high-level process.

Backlinko – Increase website traffic post – High-level process

This wasn’t the user experience search engine visitors wanted. So I rewrote my content to match this keyword’s Search Intent.

Specifically, I turned my process into a list post:

Increase Website traffic is now a list post

And now that my content matches Search Intent, it ranks in the top 3 for my target keyword:

"increase website traffic" SERPs

Which led to a 70.43% boost in search engine traffic compared to the old version of the post:

Increase Website Traffic – Organic traffic boost

That said:

You can (and should) publish content with Search Intent in mind right out of the gate.

In fact, that’s what I did with my recent post: The Ultimate SEO Audit.

SEO Site Audit – Post

I saw that most of the content ranking for “SEO Audit” listed out non-technical steps.

SEO Audit – Existing content – Non-technical steps

So I included simple strategies that anyone could use:

SEO Audit – Strategy examples

I even emphasized the fact that my audit was non-technical.

SEO Site Audit – Non-technical emphasis

(This hooks people so they don’t bounce back to the search results)

And this Search Intent optimization (and my site’s Domain Authority) helped my post crack the first page of Google within a month.

"SEO Audit" – SERPs

Step #7: Make Your Content Look Awesome

Design might be the most underrated part of content marketing.

You can have the best content ever written.

But if it looks like this…

Bad website

…it’s not gonna work.

That’s why I invest a ton of time and money into content design.

For example, you’ve probably seen one of my definitive guides:

Google RankBrain SEO – Post

These guides are designed and coded 100% from scratch using WordPress.

(Which makes them super expensive to make)

That said:

Great content design doesn’t have to break the bank.

In fact, here are 4 types of visual content that are super easy to pull off.

Graphs and Charts

These work so well that I try to include at least one chart in every post.

Include at least one chart in every post

Why?

Because they make hard data easy to understand.

For example, take this stat from my mobile SEO guide.

Stat as text

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time picturing 27.8 billion anything.

So I had our designer create a nice chart.

Stat as graphic

As a bonus, people will sometimes use your chart in a blog post… and link back to you:

Graphic used by site with link

Screenshots and Pictures

You might have noticed that I use LOTS of screenshots in every post.

In fact, this single post has 78 screenshots:

SEO Checklist post – Screenshots

To be clear:

I don’t use screenshots just for the sake of using screenshots.

I only use them if it helps someone implement a specific step.

For example, these screenshots make the 2 steps from this guide dead-simple to follow:

Easy to follow steps using screenshots

That said:

Screenshots only make sense when you describe something technical.

What if you’re in a non-technical niche… like fitness?

Well, pictures serve the same purpose.

For example, my friend Steve Kamb at Nerd Fitness uses pictures to show you how to do exercises the right way:

Picture used to demonstrate an exercise

Blog Post Banners

Unlike graphs and screenshots, blog post banners serve no practical purpose.

They just look cool 🙂

Depending on the post, I either use a right-aligned 220×200 image…

Square post image example

…or a giant banner at the top of the post:

Banner post image example

Graphics and Visualizations

Graphics and visualizations are kind of like charts.

But instead of visualizing data, they visualize concepts.

To be clear:

These DON’T have to be fancy.

For example, in this post I explain how all 4 versions of your site should redirect to the same URL:

Visualization redirect example

This isn’t rocket science.

But it’s hard to picture this idea in your mind.

So our designer made a simple visual that makes this concept easy to understand.

Redirect visualization

Now it’s time to actively build links to your content.

Specifically, we’re going to tap into 3 link building strategies that are working GREAT right now.

Broken Link Building

Here’s where you find a broken link on someone’s site…

…and offer your content as a replacement.

For example, this is an outreach email that I sent to a blogger in the marketing niche:

Outreach email to blogger

(Note how specific I am. I don’t say “Please consider linking to me in a blog post”. I have a specific place on a specific page where my link makes sense)

And because I helped the person out BEFORE asking for anything, they were happy to add my link:

Blogger – Happy to add Brian's link

Competitor Analysis

This strategy is old school.

But it still works.

First, find a site that’s ranking for a keyword you want to rank for.

For example, I’m trying to rank for the keyword “SEO Audit”.

So I grab this result from the first page…

SEO Audit SERPs with Ahrefs highlight

…and look at their backlinks.

Ahrefs – Page backlinks

I can see that this page has links from 160 domains:

Ahrefs page – Referring domains

So I should be able to get at least a handful of the same links they have.

To do that, I go one-by-one through their backlinks.

Go through backlinks – Ahrefs

And find pages where my link would add value.

For example, this post mentions the Ahrefs content by name:

Post mentioning Ahrefs' content by name

There’s no reason to link to my post there. So I moved onto the next opportunity on the list.

And I came across this post:

Good candidate post

This time, the link to Ahrefs is part of a big list of resources.

Link to Ahrefs – Part of a resource list

A list that would be even BETTER and more complete with a link to my SEO audit post.

Evangelist Method

This strategy is less about links… and more about getting your content in front of the right people.

(Specifically: people that run blogs in your niche)

I’ll explain how this strategy works with an example…

A while back I wanted to promote a new Skyscraper Technique case study.

So I used BuzzSumo to see who recently shared content about The Skyscraper Technique.

BuzzSumo – Recent Skyscraper Technique shares

And emailed everyone a variation of this template:

Outreach template

And when they replied “sure, I’ll check it out”, I sent them a link to the post:

Outreach template reply

(Note how I DON’T ask for a share. This is a Judo move that makes your outreach stand out)

Which led to dozens of shares to my brand post:

Resultant shares of template use

Step #9: Improve and Update Your Content

This is working amazingly well right now.

You might have read about the time that I used The Content Relaunch to boost my organic traffic by 260.7%:

Content relaunch post

And I’m happy to tell you that this approach still works.

For example, last year I relaunched this list of SEO techniques.

SEO Techniques – Post

But I didn’t just re-post the same content and call it “new”.

Instead, I went through and removed old screenshots and images:

Removed screenshots

Added new strategies:

Added new strategies

And deleted strategies that didn’t work anymore:

Deleted old strategies

The result?

An 62.60% organic traffic boost to that page:

Organic traffic increase result

Now I’d Like To Hear From You

There you have it:

My 9-step SEO strategy for 2020.

Now I’d like to hear from you…

Which strategy from today’s post are you ready to try first?

Are you going to update and relaunch older content?

Or maybe you want to try Broken Link Building.

Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below right now.

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