Your SEO strategy should never start with keyword research.

I teach SEO to a lot of people. Either in my role as an actual teacher for a university, within the organization I work for or as an advisor for a venture capital firm. I've found that while SEO has changed a lot over the years, much of what I teach is just my repeating a few simple things that have always worked and will always work.

They revolve around strategy.

Talking about SEO strategy is nothing new. Every agency out there will tout the amazing strategy they'll build for you and most companies will tell you they have some sort of SEO strategy but I would counter that people are mixing up tactics and strategy.

Let's take a step back though. What do I mean?

SEO is a lot of work

The way I generally frame my SEO class for university is that SEO is hard. I think anyone who has done it for any length of time would agree with that. On-page SEO, content creation, link building and all that can take huge amounts of time and effort and can be an insane amount of work, even for a whole team of people.

Which is why I spend the majority of the class talking about research rather than all the above.

The research before the research

The morning of the whole day class is focused on understanding who your customer is what they want. Not just your "customer" but who is your best customer? Are there a subset of customers that give you recurring revenue or a one time purchase? Do you have a life time value calculation you use? What do you know about these great customers? Can you email them some questions or a survey? Make sure you understand them and how they found you.

Then we go into competitors. Who are they? Do they have a massive SEO budget you'll be up against? Are there weaknesses you can use against them? Maybe you can re-frame or reposition your company so you don't seem like a competitor.

If you don't properly do your research, you'll be spending thousands of hours on something that could lead to nothing, when if you do your research you may need to do far less work and get huge returns.

Basically what I'm saying, is if your SEO strategy starts with keyword research, you may have failed before you even began.

The keyword research needs to be informed by your customers and competition. Just trying to find long tail keywords without understanding the context of why they are being typed in is asking for disaster.

Then finally, the keyword research

After the students have done all that research work we finally get into the standard keyword research. This research is now going to be very different than if they had started with it. They wont just be typing keywords related to what they do, instead they'll be using the word choices their customers will lean towards and that competitors haven't touched.

Next I make sure they understand the context of the keyword being typed into Google. Where is the person? Why did they type in this keyword? What are they trying to accomplish? Are they just trying to answer some homework or are curious about something? If so, do you really want to work towards getting this person who likely wont buy anything?

At this point you'll have a simple list of keywords. It wont seem like much in excel but trust me, that list is far more powerful than the one made by the majority of agencies or companies. It is informed by competitive research, customer research and it understands the context of the person typing in the query. Then and only then should you get into the actual tactics.

These tactics include putting together a content strategy, making on-page changes to your site and ultimately having a link building strategy to support them.

In Short

SEO is far too much work to jump in headfirst without doing your due diligence.

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