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A 10-Step SEO Plan to Rank Higher in 2020

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By Matt Cayless - SEO Director

Posted on October, 16, 2019

Today we’re going to show you how to implement a simple but effective SEO plan for 2020.

In fact, we recently used these exact steps to increase our number of ranking keywords by 64%.

Before we start, we should point out that this is a non-technical action plan. 

So, if you’re not super technical, you’ll love the simple steps included in this guide. 

Let’s get started. 

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Step One: Research Your Topics

Nowadays, unless you have a high domain authority or you’re willing to commit intensive time and resources to your SEO efforts, the online landscape is too competitive to optimise your website for individual keywords (short-tail keywords).

In order to get round this, instead you need to create core topics for your website, which will be complemented by subtopics you are able to rank for.

(Or, alternatively, our SEO consultants will be able to assist you in this endeavour.) 

To do this, begin by preparing a list of overarching topics relevant to your business. 

Let’s use a fictitious social media advertising agency as an example. A list of topics that are relevant to your business might include: 

  • Facebook marketing,
  • Facebook lead generation, and
  • Facebook advertising agency.

Then, head over to Google’s Keyword Planner to find out the search volume for each topic or short-tail keyword. 

seo plan keyword planner

While, if you have a relevant, strong domain and a decent budget, you could dive straight in and optimise your website for a highly competitive term like “Facebook marketing”. 

However, it’s often easier to start with less competitive clusters of subtopics which surround your core, competitive topics (we’ll cover this in more detail in step two).

Armed with the search volume and competition for your list of topics, your next step is to whittle down the list to around 10 or 15 topics.

When deciding which topics to keep, consider whether they are valuable to your business goals, relevant to your customers and how competitive the terms are. You can use a tool like Ahrefs to quickly find out how difficult it might be to rank for a specific keyword.  

seo plan 2020 keyword research

Next, organise the list into order of priority. 

Do this by taking into account the search volume and the searchers’ intent (is it a buy term or an informational query?), and also make a judgement call on the importance of the term to your business goals. 

Once you’ve completed this step, you will have a list of 10 to 15 highly important topics (often called pillars) which will form the basis of your SEO plan. 

Step Two: Create a Long-Tail Keyword Plan Based on Pillars

Next, you need to break down your content pillars into smaller subtopics and long-tail keywords, which you can then optimise your website and web pages to rank for. 

In step one, we identified “Facebook content strategy” as a core pillar of the SEO strategy. 

Now, use a keyword research tool to uncover long-tail keywords that can be used to create a content plan to complement the core pillar. 

keyword research for long tail keywords

However, by conducting in-depth keyword research using a tool like Moz or Ahrefs, you can uncover some juicy long-tails with low search competition and decent search volume, which you can realistically rank highly for. 

For each topic or cluster, create a list of subtopics or long-tail keywords that are less competitive. 

Sticking with “Facebook content strategy” as an example pillar topic for our SEO plan. By conducting keyword research around this search term, we can find tons of ideas for long-tail keywords, subtopics could include:

  • Facebook content strategy example,
  • Facebook content strategy {year}, and
  • Facebook posting strategy.

You now have a list of subtopics and content ideas for your blog posts, which support your core (but too competitive) topics. 

The subtopics act as a large web of entry points into your website, which lead the user from highly specific and relevant long-tail keywords to your core topic landing pages. 

Step Three: Create Pages for Each Topic or Pillar

Now comes the fun part. You can start to build pages based on the research conducted in steps one and two. 

Your website needs to have an overview page for each of the core topics identified in step one. We’ll call these your pillar pages

seo plan 2020

The pillar pages need to (briefly) introduce each of the subtopics discovered in step two and mention the long-tail keywords. 

For instance, a pillar page on “Facebook marketing” would have an overview of “Facebook strategies”, “Facebook marketing plan” and any other subtopics you’ve uncovered. 

It goes without saying that the pages should be well presented, include images and be correctly optimised for on-page SEO (which we’ll cover in more detail later). 

Step Four: Create a Blog

While the pillar pages form a fundamental part of your SEO strategy, they are quite unlikely to rank highly on their own.  

Luckily, you can use your blog to create articles targeting the long-tail keywords from step two. 

If the long-tails are aimed at low-competition search terms, you’re much more likely to rank highly, creating a network of pages which do rank in the SERPs to act as entry points for users. 

Create a piece of content for each long-tail keyword identified in step two and optimise the blog correctly for the target keyword (the URL, the meta data, the alt tags, the image file names, etc.). 

It’s very important to link to the pillar page from the blog and make sure you link back from the pillar page to the blog post. 

This tells Google that the pages are interconnected and there’s a relationship between the topic and subtopic. 

Step Five: Create a Blogging Schedule (and Stick to It)

If you’re busy, this is arguably the hardest part of your SEO plan. However, in order to develop your website authority, you need to commit to publishing blogs on a regular basis. 

For some companies, that might be once per week; for others, that might only be every two weeks (and that’s okay, too). Create an achievable schedule for posting blog posts and stick to it. 

There’s no need to rush content out the door for the sake of it. You’re writing for your website visitors, as well as for the Google bots, so it’s important to ensure that the quality remains high. 

Every time you publish a post, make sure it is relevant to your readers, meets your business goals and is valuable. 

In other words, don’t publish generic filler for the sake of putting words on a page. 

Step Six: Decide on a Link-Building Strategy

Creating content based on topics and subtopics is the first piece of the puzzle. But, great content alone won’t be enough to rank highly. 

It’s the promotion, especially for less established domains, which is as, if not more, important and studies have shown a key factor in high rankings is the outreach and promotion of content is to earn trusted and relevant backlinks. 

High quality, relevant backlinks improve your domain authority and, in turn, will typically make it much easier to get higher rankings. 

According to Moz, “Domain Authority is calculated by evaluating multiple factors, including linking root domains and the number of total links, into a single DA score.”

domain authority calculator

If you want to increase your domain authority, Moz also recommends three core tasks:

  1. Acquire more high-authority links
  2. Get less spammy links
  3. Obtain more traffic-driving links

That might sound simple, but increasing your domain authority is a long and concerted process. 

There are lots of ways you can build links to your website and specific pages on your website. We’re going to dive into two methods that are worked well in 2019 (and are likely to continue to be successful in 2020): broken link building and competitive analysis. 

Skyscraper Technique

The Skyscraper Technique is a simple, but effective way to build links. Briefly, all you need to do is find an existing piece of popular content, create a similar, but superior article and then reproduce the backlinks. 

Step one: Google the keyword your wish to rank for and analyse the content in the top 10 search results;

Step two: From the results in step one, select a piece of content which is relevant and valuable to your customers and confirm it has a lot of backlinks;

Step three: Research and write a piece of content which is 10X the original piece; 

Step four: Contact the people or companies linking to the original piece and ask them nicely to link to yours.. 

While this may sound overly simplistic, it’s not. In fact, many well known marketers have published excellent results using the same technique. For instance, Brian Dean reports that the Skyscraper technique doubled his organic traffic in just two weeks. 

Competitive Analysis

Head to Google and see which pages are ranking for a keyword that you’d also like to rank for. For example, Hootsuite ranks for the highly competitive search term “Facebook advertising”. 

Then head to your SEO tool of choice (e.g. Ahrefs or SEMRush) and input that URL to find out who is linking to the page. Using Ahrefs, I can see that Practical Ecommerce links to Hootsuite:

seo competitive analysis 2020

When I visit the article on Practical Ecommerce, I can see that Hootsuite is mentioned at the end, in a list of resources:

seo plan competitive analysis

Ask yourself whether your article would be a valuable addition. If the answer is a truthful yes, then reach out to the website owner and politely mention that your article may be a good addition.

Network

As you become active on social media or on your blog, gradually you’ll have the opportunity to work with people in your industry. If you get invited to guest post or be interviewed, jump at the chance. It’s often these experiences that turn into backlinks down the line.

Original studies

It may sound complicated, but a great way to get backlinks is to publish an original study. This can be as simple as collecting, analysing and writing about survey results.

Infographics

People love to use infographics. If you can create a valuable infographic and it gets used on another website, you’ve earned yourself a backlink.

Link externally

When you link from a blog to another website, consider letting that website know. You don’t need to ask for a link in return, but use the opportunity to build a relationship

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Step Seven: On-Page Optimisation

Steps one to six have been primarily concerned with creating an overarching SEO plan. However, on-page SEO is as important as ever. 

When you’re creating your pillar pages or your blog articles, you must optimise them for on-page SEO. We cover that in more detail in our guide to conducting a mobile SEO audit, but make sure each and every article follows these best practices:

  • Title tag: Include your keyword as close as possible to the beginning of your title tag.
  • Page URL: Keep your URL short and make sure it includes the target keyword.
  • Media: Include a minimum of one multimedia type (video, audio, images and lists) in every blog and make sure it is optimised.
  • Outbound links: Use outbound links to link to two or more authority websites that are relevant. 
  • Keyword: In the first 100 words, add your target keyword. 
  • H1 tag: Ensure your target keyword is included in the H1 tag.
  • Page speed: Check your page speed using the Google PageSpeed Insights tool and resolve any issues. 
  • Modifiers: To help you rank for long-tail keywords, consider adding any relevant modifiers like “2020”, “best”, “guide” and “review”. 
  • Length: Create long-from content that is ideally at least 1500 words. Make sure the content is engaging and valuable. 
  • Internal links: Add at least two or three internal links, some of which are close to the top of the article. 
  • H2 or H3 tag: In one of your H2 or H3 headings, add your target keyword (but don’t stuff them!).  
  • Alt tags and file names: Include your keyword in image file names and alt tags.
  • Compress media: Use tools like TinyPNG to compress images, but check the quality is retained. 

Step Eight: Optimise for User Intent

Unfortunately, it’s no longer enough to optimise your content for search terms. If you want to rank highly, you also need to optimise for user intent. 

To understand user intent for your target keyword, input it into Google and review the page one listings. 

Let’s use “How to create a Facebook page” as an example. 

seo plan user intent

Clearly, Facebook ranks highly for this search term, but after it comes a series of step-by-step guides. By reviewing these pages, it’s clear that the users’ intent is for a simple how-to guide. 

If you create a long-form article that covers Facebook pages at a high level, that’s not going to meet the user intent. Instead, consider how you can create a step-by-step guide that is a cut above the rest.

When creating content, it’s important to ensure it is 10X what’s already published by the competition. This might mean adding adding additional media (video, images or illustrations), a better user experience or extra trusted sources or interviews.

Step Nine: Increase Brand Authority

A study by SEMRush shows the importance of brand authority as a ranking factor. But, what is brand authority and how do you increase it? 

Brand authority is made up of three distinct factors: 

  • Expertise: Your expert knowledge and the value you can provide on your expert topic. 
  • Authority: How well established your business is, online and in your industry as a whole. 
  • Trustworthiness: Do your customers and peers trust you? Are your content, services and products seen as trustworthy and high quality?

And, your brand authority can be measured by looking at series of signals about your business. 

For instance, if you observe lots of branded search queries, for example, ‘Adidas trainers’, it is a good indicator that your business is well-established and should also deserve to rank well for the term “trainers”. 

Similarly, any branded anchor texts and backlinks will also show your website is trusted and hint to Google the terms your brand is an authority on.

brand authority

Another, often overlooked, ranking factor for brand authority is social signals. Social mentions improve your brand authority, generate trust from customers, and, therefore, improve your brand authority. 

Step Ten: Optimise for Google Features

To improve user experience, Google has moved towards answering the users search query right on the search results page. It’s Google’s way of serving the most valuable information as quick as possible. 

Google does this with SERP features, which, according to Moz “is any result on a Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP) that is not a traditional organic result.”

While this good news for users as the information is readily available, it also means that valuable page one real estate is taken up by SERP features and with questions being answered on the SERPs, users are less likely to click through. 

seo plan people also ask

Let’s look at how it works in practice. When you search for “Facebook advertising”, on page one, you will see paid adverts, a FAQs section, a featured snippet, a map of businesses, and so on. 

It’s not until about half way down the page that you’ll find the number one organic page. With many places above the fold taken up by SERP features, in an ideal world, you need to make your website is chosen for the SERP feature e.g. the featured snippet. 

While it is hard to do, you’ll already need to be ranking on the first page, it is possible and can be done by following the detailed steps in this guide.

 And, the traffic and trust you’ll earn as a direct by-product is highly valuable to your business.

Now It’s Over to You

That’s our 10-step SEO plan for ranking higher in 2020. 

We’d love to hear from you. 

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Which of the 10 steps are you going to focus on first in your SEO plan?

Do you need to revisit your keyword research to create pillars and subtopics?

Or maybe you need to focus on link building? 

Either way, leave a comment to let us know.

Matt Cayless is the Director of SEO at Bubblegum Search. He is an expert in Search Engine Optimisation having worked on campaigns for some of the world’s biggest brands and has a passion for helping businesses grow online. When he’s not chasing the Google algorithm he can be found training for his next marathon. Follow him on Twitter

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