Overall, search engines are getting better every day at understanding what the searcher wants. When approaching your SEO strategy, you should approach every decision with the user in mind. First, establish the foundation of your SEO (ranking and crawling) so search engines can find your content and serve it to the user. Then, focus on improving your site’s technical infrastructure (speed, accessibility, mobile, etc) to improve the user experience on your site. Finally, write content to solve for users’ intent. The days of forcing your way to the top of a search result with keyword stuffing are over. It’s the decade of the searcher. 


Offer a reward for customers who buy something from you and show that they checked in at your business on Foursquare using their mobile device. When they do this, they’re telling everyone in their network that they’ve done business with you. Each month, reward the person who gave you the greatest exposure by offering a discount, and asking for their email address.
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This was all free information I found online in less than an hour, that gives me some great ideas for content, partnerships and potential tools to build into my site to be relevant and useful to my target audience. Of course this is just some quick loose data, so I'll emphasize again: be careful where your data comes from (try to validate when possible), and think about how to use your data wisely.
I completely agree that defintion of a target audience isa great first step, but would ask if adding in competitors to the analysis (mentioned here as a later step) helps draw out who your target audience would be via comparisons, i.e. showing who you are an who you are not - would be very interested to hear opinions on how this tactic can be used within the overall step in coordination with targeted keyword discovery.
For example, let’s say I have a health site. I have several types of articles on health, drug information, and information on types of diseases and conditions. My angle on the site is that I’m targeting seniors. If I find out seniors are primarily interested in information on prescription drug plans and cheap blood pressure medication, then I know that I want to provide information specifically on those things. This allows me to hone in on that market’s needs and de-prioritize or bypass other content.

Laura,Great post.  This touches something I wish more SEOs practiced: conversion optimization. I think most SEOs think of what they do as a service for, instead of a partnership with clients.  The end result should never be raw traffic, but value obtained through targeted, CONVERTING traffic.You make excellent points about market research, product input, content creation, and other functions many SEOs and SEMs neglect.More and more SEO providers focus only on assembly line basics and worn out techniques instead of challenging themsleves to learn product marketing, usability, and conversion optimization.Your advice on market research is extremely valuable.Great start to a promising series.  I look forward to more!
Calculating the CTR of two different ads is easy – predicting how they’ll perform over the long term is much harder without running a lengthy A/B test. Perry Marshall's SplitTester tool allows you to enter numerical CTR data to predict the ongoing performance of the two ads. Great for estimating statistical significance if you don’t have enough time for a full A/B test.
Do you have an older list that you suspect has mostly decayed? Create an engaging opt-in message and send it to your old list encouraging contacts who wish to re-opt-in -- promising to remove all contacts who don't respond. Though it might seem counterintuitive to remove folks from your email lists in order to grow them, emailing only engaged contacts could improve your deliverability and increase the odds of your email getting shared with those outside your current contacts database.
Really its just a matter of getting creative - grab a cup of caffeine and think for a minute about what resources you have to try to get some insight on your visitors (or target markets) and their needs before you dive in.  Think about how much time it might take you (or what the cost of the reports would be if you are going to buy some market research reports), and tack that onto your billing as an optional service.
I am happy to also ask for a plug for my family’s apparel website in the opener of said post if you think this post suggestion is a good idea. Shameless I know…..LOL! But hey maybe it will get your fans to keep submitting ideas. There might be something here to channel your fan base to get us to help your business. Think it over…..You really have reached Malcolm Gladwell Tribe status. And have done a great job with that. At this point whatever you asked the tribe to do they would deliver for you.
Don’t read everything at once. There is a lot of great information in here, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed after reading through all of the content in one sitting. Instead, take incremental steps. For example, if you want to find out where or how to ask people for their emails on your site, read the content in chapter 2. Implement it, then come back later for the next steps.
I completely agree that defintion of a target audience isa great first step, but would ask if adding in competitors to the analysis (mentioned here as a later step) helps draw out who your target audience would be via comparisons, i.e. showing who you are an who you are not - would be very interested to hear opinions on how this tactic can be used within the overall step in coordination with targeted keyword discovery.
I consulted a few years ago before Yahoo and CNET and my clients were all small businesses, even friends' sites.  No matter the size of the project, you can still try to get some insight into your target audiences and what they need or want.  I mentioned in a previous comment I used Search once to determine sentiment on a site vs. it's competitors by searching for a feature the site and its competitors all had, along with "like", "love", "hate", "wish", etc.  I also took note of who the people were who said those things and where they were talking (forums, twitter, etc).  It's a hacked manual approach and although not nearly as quality as a good market research report, at least I have a llittle bit of insight before going out to make site recommendations based solely on tags & links.  If you're recommending the site build things that people want (and fix or remove things that they dont), you're more likely to gain links and traffic naturally.
Do you have an older list that you suspect has mostly decayed? Create an engaging opt-in message and send it to your old list encouraging contacts who wish to re-opt-in -- promising to remove all contacts who don't respond. Though it might seem counterintuitive to remove folks from your email lists in order to grow them, emailing only engaged contacts could improve your deliverability and increase the odds of your email getting shared with those outside your current contacts database.
Brian. You talk about how all these variables matter in getting this article to rank #1 for “list building” and how competitors have way more links than you, but then you also consider your DA and your PA together, you have almost the highest score out of the top 10 rankings; and when you consider you are more topical authority, then that explains why Hugpages (all purpose site) is not ranking higher. Maybe its not all as complicated as you suggest.
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