Panning for Gold in Long-term SEO Projects

by Impression

Ben Garry, Content Specialist at Impression, explains what techniques digital marketers can use to identify new opportunities for clients where you feel you might have exhausted all avenues.

SEO is rightfully sold in long-term packages, but maintaining the success of a site over the long-term is a unique challenge. I’ve had to face that challenge many times throughout my career at Impression. I’ve been learning SEO here since 2016, and first progressed to account management with some of our existing clients with whom I had built relationships.

It quickly became apparent that growing a site that has already been the focus of a good SEO strategy is a lot harder than growing a site that hasn’t been worked on before. I’ve seen success with a few different techniques while working on these accounts that I want to share here.

How to identify good opportunities

The key to a long-term SEO strategy is knowing where to focus. Once the obvious work has been completed you need to identify where you can add value. There are three questions that I find helpful. You can use them individually or combine them:

  1. Where are revenue and/or leads coming from?
  2. Where are competitors still outperforming you?
  3. Where can you see big traffic gains with small ranking improvements?

Focusing on revenue

In theory, the easiest way to provide value is to double down on the pages that will make the business money. It sounds obvious, but long-term SEO strategies can easily go down rabbit holes with focuses that don’t matter financially.

If you find yourself getting lost, refocus by checking in with Analytics and the client’s stakeholders, and finding out which pages are making the site tick and which products or services the client cares about at that moment in time.

Competitor insights

While revenue and conversions should always be used as a reality check, they won’t necessarily give you the ranking insights you need. Regular competitor benchmarking will show you where you can make up ground and what you’re missing.

If you have access to Ahrefs, you might find this Sheets template I put together useful as a way to identify opportunity quickly. It aggregates your data and provides a competitive opportunity score for each unique keyword.

The key to a successful competitor analysis is to look for sites with which you should be competing. Find the sites in your niche with similar business models and see what they’re doing well, then prioritise your efforts based on keywords for which you’re already in touching distance. Pages that are already ranking well can see big lifts from gains of one or two positions.

Competitor analysis is also useful for showing you pages that you could create, though be careful to stick to what the business can actually offer. I prefer to focus first on keywords that are already in touching distance, then gaps that your site doesn’t address at all, then anything else of value.

Keyword opportunity analysis

The method with which I have seen the most success for legacy accounts is an opportunity analysis. The trick is to prioritise keywords based on rank, search volume, and difficulty (if available). My colleague Helen made a template that will calculate an opportunity score for you if you import data from Ahrefs and Search Console.

Whether you use that template or do this on your own, you need to identify sweet spots where rankings are around positions seven to 15, search volume is good for your niche, and difficulty is low. These are the keywords that need small nudges to see big rewards. As part of your analysis, note down target landing pages and any obvious on-page issues you spot.

Optimising for your keyword targets

Whichever method you used to find your keyword opportunities, the optimisation process is the same. However, optimising long-term accounts is not the same as your first pass at an unoptimised site. The following tips assume that your pages already have the basics in place, like optimised metadata, a good heading structure, and high-quality, targeted copy.

1. Keyword positioning

My first tip is the most old school, but I’m recommending it because I’ve seen it work. Just last week I rewrote a service page’s opening paragraph to focus on its primary keyword rather than the brand, and the page went from position five to holding the featured snippet.

Google is trying to emulate human readers in its rankings and we’re fundamentally quite simple. We see the things mentioned first in a text as the most important, which means it’s a good idea to get your target keywords in early, showing humans and Google what the page is all about.

2. Featured snippet opportunities

Always look for featured snippets showing for your target keywords and optimise for them by answering their search intent with a clear, self-contained, non-branded paragraph that’s 30-60 words long.

If your primary keyword is dominated by a snippet, you need to win that snippet to maximise your rankings. I’ve also seen this approach lead to improvements even without winning the snippet, as you’re still doing a better job of meeting the intent of the target query.

3. Structured data

Incorporate any appropriate structured data you can into the page. Many informational and service pages can make use of how-to or FAQ schema, which can improve the visual aspect of your search result and help you win featured snippets and voice answers (often one and the same, but not always).

Away from informational content, there are dozens of structured data options related to specific niches and search intents. I don’t have the space to go into them here, but I recommend having a look. If you’re not comfortable writing the code yourself, I like this generator.

4. Anchor text and internal links

Finally, away from the page itself, rankings may be low because the landing page isn’t signposted clearly enough. When I was working on a different service page for the same client I mentioned in point one, we saw an overnight improvement from page four to page one just by adding a link to the page in the main menu.

Menu links are powerful because they appear on every page, but I recommend looking for opportunities to link to your focus page from elsewhere, especially from relevant informational content, which helps Google understand the topics on your site. Kevin Indig has some writing work on internal links that goes into far more depth than I can here.

From opportunity to action

There’s no silver bullet for growth in a long-term strategy. Just like panning for gold, it can be a long process. But, if you know where to look and you commit some time, you’re much more likely to succeed.

There’s more that you can do to find opportunities and optimise the pages than I can detail in this article. However, the principles of looking for value and paying attention to the detail in optimisation are a great starting point.