The SEO Playbook

Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke once mused that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.


When it comes to the internet, you’ve got to admit he was onto something. Take out your smartphone and within seconds you can access practically any piece of information that’s ever been recorded. You can influence people and objects on the other side of the planet. You can find the answer to almost any question you can think of.

That last one is especially important. Say you’re craving a slice of chocolate cake, simply ask Google. Before you know it you’ll be power-walking your way to a top-rated bakery near you.

 

From a business perspective, the internet and its search engines are both a blessing and curse. Sure, an almost unlimited supply of potential customers can learn about your products from anywhere. But they can also learn about your competitors’ products. And when you’re asking a question like “Where’s the best chocolate cake near me?”, the first result will have the biggest impact.

 

Replace “chocolate cake” with your product or service, and you’ll see why Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is so important. Thankfully, SEO isn’t a mysterious arcane art only accessible to a privileged few — no matter what your local SEO Guru-Wizard-Ninja might tell you. With the right fundamentals in place, any business can improve its ranking and get their brand name in front of more hungry customers.

 

In this SEO Marketing Playbook, we’ll share everything you need to know to rank higher, reach more customers, and make Google’s algorithm work for you.

1. What is SEO

That last one is especially important. Say you’re craving a slice of chocolate cake, simply ask Google. Before you know it you’ll be power-walking your way to a top-rated bakery near you.

 

From a business perspective, the internet and its search engines are both a blessing and curse. Sure, an almost unlimited supply of potential customers can learn about your products from anywhere. But they can also learn about your competitors’ products. And when you’re asking a question like “Where’s the best chocolate cake near me?”, the first result will have the biggest impact.

The benefits of SEO

Investing in SEO offers a number of key business benefits. According to research by Zero Limit Web, the first five results of any Google search account for two thirds of all clicks. Optimizing your site and content to appear on that sought-after first page of results, and then climb into that top 5, can help you tap into that large, previously inaccessible, pool of potential customers.

 

From a perspective of attracting new customers, investing in SEO can reduce the cost of customer acquisition by nearly 90% compared to traditional digital advertising. This is primarily due to the low cost of optimizing your website, along with the cumulative long-term impact of SEO techniques like blogging and pillar pages.

 

When paired with an Inbound Content Marketing strategy, SEO can help businesses nurture prospects across their buyer’s journey and improve lead generation by 54%. By optimizing content for search terms that fit into potential customers’ Awareness, Consideration, and Decision stages, no matter what questions are asked, your brand will have the right answers, in the right place, at the right time.

 

A lesser-known benefit of SEO is its impact on attracting and retaining high-performing talent. By applying SEO principles to your recruitment strategy, your company’s vacancies will be more likely to reach the top tier of job seekers.

A brief history of SEO

For as long as there have been online search engines, businesses have been trying to rank higher and to be seen by more people. But way back in the 90s, when sites like Ask Jeeves, Alta Vista, and Yahoo! dominated the search space, navigating the SEO landscape was a lot like roaming through the Wild West. There were very few rules or guidelines in place for companies to follow. And with the algorithm being in its infancy, there were many ways to game the system and come out on top.

 

This was the age of Black Hat SEO, where companies could exploit the algorithm to ensure their website ranked highly, even if that website offered terrible UX for any user that clicked through. Common Black Hat SEO techniques include keyword stuffing, hiding links, duplicating content, and using link farms to create the illusion of domain authority.

 

Over the 2010s, Google rolled out a number of pivotal algorithm updates that started penalizing websites for using Black Hat SEO techniques, and rewarding websites for high quality content. This trend has largely continued over the last few years, with an ever-greater focus on moving well-researched, well-written, and valuable content to the top of the search page.

The state of SEO today

SEO continues to evolve to this day, often driven by changes in how Google presents its search results. For example, instead of only listing links to external websites, Google often includes relevant content from those sites in its results page. This means many users find the answers they’re looking for without even having to leave Google, which in turn means traditional SEO metrics like web traffic and click rates are less reliable indicators of your content’s effectiveness and success. 

 

But as with most things in life, change is constant — we can either adapt to it, or get left behind. For ongoing SEO success, businesses should regularly update their strategy and approach to simultaneously offer users valuable content, while keeping sight of their business goals. 

 

If you’re wondering how to do this, here’s a tip: write for humans, not machines. That way your content will be “future-proof,” as every change to the algorithm is made to give users more valuable, more authentic, and more human content. It’s better to be on the right side of SEO history.

 

And as you’ll see in later sections, Draft can help you do just that.

2. Local SEO

About 5 billion people around the world use the internet. But just because someone’s online, it doesn’t mean there’s value in them visiting your website. If you run a brick-and-mortar store in San Diego, for instance, you’ll be more interested in traffic from people who live in the SoCal area, rather than downtown Kolkata. 

 

This is where Local SEO comes in handy.

 

Local SEO refers to the subset of SEO practices that boost online visibility for businesses in specific geographic areas. This is especially relevant for businesses with physical locations, that offer in-person services, or that deliver their products in certain areas.

 

If you’ve ever Googled a phrase like “cafe near me,” you’ve seen Local SEO in action. The list of cafes that appears — along with their contact details, website, location, reviews, and more — is a showcase of all businesses in the area with a local search-optimized web presence.

How do you rank for physical locations and geographies?

There are a few proven ways to generate search engine value for specific physical locations and geographies. 

 

Having a Google Business Profile arguably has the biggest impact on Local SEO. This effectively spoon-feeds Google all the details they need in order to verify that your business is genuine and operates in a local region. Once set up, encourage as many customers as possible to leave a review on your Google Business Profile. As long as they’re real, Google will use these to verify that your business is authentic, and then reward you with a higher ranking and more local visibility.

 

Another Local SEO tactic is to ensure your business details appear consistently and correctly across all relevant platforms and major directories — specifically your name, address, and phone number. If Google sees the same details on your Google Business Profile that it does on sites like Trip Advisor, Foursquare, and Neustar Localeze, then you’re more likely to be a preferred local search result. 

 

For more tips on maximizing your Local Business SEO, visit this comprehensive resource from HubSpot.

Can Local SEO help gain market share in a new geography?

Taking a Local SEO approach to new regions and markets is an effective strategy, as long as all your details are accurate and you have content on your website that’s been localized for your target regions. For multinational companies looking to gain the benefits of local SEO, having a dedicated page, section, or version of your site for each unique geography is a good idea. This creates the necessary room for localized terms, references, and contact details, without irrelevant content muddying the SEO waters. 

 

When developing Local SEO in new markets, it pays to “think globally, act locally.” For example, ensure that every touchpoint and interaction is relevant to your users and customers at their local level, while retaining a core global brand identity.

3. SEO tools

Understanding SEO is only half the battle. To improve your website’s ranking and compete with all the other businesses out there, you’ll need a few SEO tools.

 

An SEO tool is any program or service that helps you optimize your site and content more effectively. Broadly speaking, SEO tools either analyze your website performance or give you external data from across the internet to inform your optimization efforts. 

 

Common types of SEO tools include:

Keyword research tools

If you want to show up in your customers’ search results, you first need to know what terms they’re searching for. This is where a keyword research tool can help.

 

These nifty programs take any topic, such as a customer pain point or product category, and reveal specific keywords that people around the internet are using within that category. The best keyword research tools offer useful data for each keyword, including search volume, difficulty score, click-to-search ratio, and differences in performance across search platforms. 

 

Our favorite keyword research tools:

SEO analysis tools

When working to improve SEO, it’s important to measure the impact of any changes you make. Analysis tools make this possible, as you can compare website or content performance before and after your adjustments.

 

SEO analysis tools either scan a website for issues that may be negatively affecting its SEO, by “crawling” all its content and checking for any issues, or provide ongoing SEO monitoring to identify changes in key SEO performance areas. Such areas include page response time, mobile responsiveness, keyword density, and domain authority.

 

Our favorite SEO analysis tools include:

Content marketing tools

SEO and content marketing go hand in hand. As such, many tools geared towards planning and structuring inbound content on your website, like blog posts, landing pages, and ebooks, will have a positive impact on its SEO.

 

The Draft Brief Builder is a content marketing tool with significant SEO impact. By guiding users through the content brief creation process, the tool standardizes all content briefs and ensures all key SEO bases are covered. You can also see real-time search results for your chosen keywords, so you can take inspiration from — and improve upon — the current top-performing web pages and content structure.

 

Draft is most effective when used in conjunction with the tools outlined above. Once you know how well your site is currently performing and which keywords to rank for, Draft can help you execute on your SEO strategy with consistently world-class content.

 

To learn more about Draft and how you can boost your company’s SEO with high quality content on demand, click here.

 

HubSpot’s SEO Marketing Software also offers a comprehensive suite of content planning and management tools that facilitate a focused and results-driven content strategy. These all geared towards building authority around key topics, optimizing content to maximize SEO impact, and seeing results in detailed SEO reports.

The state of SEO today

SEO continues to evolve to this day, often driven by changes in how Google presents its search results. For example, instead of only listing links to external websites, Google often includes relevant content from those sites in its results page. This means many users find the answers they’re looking for without even having to leave Google, which in turn means traditional SEO metrics like web traffic and click rates are less reliable indicators of your content’s effectiveness and success. 

 

But as with most things in life, change is constant — we can either adapt to it, or get left behind. For ongoing SEO success, businesses should regularly update their strategy and approach to simultaneously offer users valuable content, while keeping sight of their business goals. 

 

If you’re wondering how to do this, here’s a tip: write for humans, not machines. That way your content will be “future-proof,” as every change to the algorithm is made to give users more valuable, more authentic, and more human content. It’s better to be on the right side of SEO history.

 

And as you’ll see in later sections, Draft can help you do just that.

4. SEO techniques

As any failed home chef knows: it’s one thing to have the ingredients, but quite another to know how to use them. If SEO tools are your ingredients, SEO techniques are the recipes needed to create culinary SEO magic. They are the tactics that bring your SEO strategy to life. 

Effective SEO techniques include:

SEO audit

An SEO audit is a diagnostic exercise to determine how well a website is ranking for relevant search terms and keywords. This is often part of a broader website audit that includes other areas of website performance, such as conversions and user experience.

 

SEO audits are valuable because they alert you to unseen problems that may be affecting organic traffic to your site. An audit also offers direction for further SEO activity, providing the insight and data needed to make meaningful improvements and, as a result, rank better in organic search results.

 

To conduct an SEO audit, consider using a tool like the Moz SEO Audit Tool or SEO Site Checkup. Make a note of any areas that are flagged as problematic and create a game plan to tackle them one by one. Some issues might be a quick fix, like adding alt text to images, while others need to be part of a longer-term optimization strategy, like strengthening web copy and creating pillar content. Request content from Draft’s writers to speed up content creation for your SEO plan.

 

And remember that Google regularly updates its search algorithm, so it’s good practice to run an SEO audit at least every 6 months (depending on the size of your site and frequency of changes).

Off-page SEO

Off-page SEO refers to any optimization activity that isn’t made on your website, such as backlinks from third-party sites, PR content, content published on social media platforms, and off-site reviews.

 

Off-page SEO activity is important because it shows search engines that your website is part of the broader internet community and ecosystem. This demonstrates authority within your industry or niche, which in turn means your content is more likely to be valuable, informative and useful for people searching the web.

 

To excel at off-page SEO, take measures to link to your website from reputable third-party locations around the internet. This could mean writing a guest article for an industry blog, taking part in a topical podcast, investing in social media activity and community management, and so much more.

 

Local SEO activities like creating a Google Business Profile are another effective off-page SEO technique. To learn more about off-page SEO, visit this detailed guide from SEMRush.

Content optimization

Publishing and optimizing content on your website is an effective on-page SEO technique that creates significant value over time.

By writing about topics related to your products or services, you have the opportunity to include all the keywords and keyphrases that will attract prospective customers to your site. But as we mentioned above, this is best achieved when your content is written for humans, and not (only) the machines that crawl and index the web.

To optimize your content for SEO, we suggest conducting a comprehensive content audit that analyzes all existing content on your website. If there are certain topics or product areas that aren’t receiving much love, you can add them to your content calendar or roadmap. Just make sure to conduct keyword research to validate your intuition, so you know which terms and phrases to include when writing.

If you’re unsure what to write about or what people are searching for, consider using tools like Draft’s Article Idea Generator.

Topic clusters and pillar pages

While keywords are undeniably important, writing at length about a certain topic is far more valuable in the eyes of most search engines. This is why a “topic cluster” approach to content is most effective for SEO. 

 

As the name implies, a topic cluster is a cluster of articles on a given topic. These are typically linked to a more detailed resource page, known as a “pillar page.” This structure is perfect for addressing all kinds of related questions a customer may have, while additionally providing healthy internal linking between the different content levels. 

 

For more information on topic clusters and pillar pages, visit this HubSpot resource.

5. Ecommerce SEO

SEO plays a crucial role in the success of any e-commerce website. This is due to a key characteristic of the e-commerce experience: customers are empowered to self-serve and purchase products without needing a rep or sales agent. When working properly, an e-commerce website is a self-sustaining system where customers arrive, find the products they need, pay, and leave as happy customers. 

 

This self-serve model is inherently more scalable than traditional commerce, as there’s almost no limit on the number of customers who can purchase simultaneously. Whereas cashiers and salespeople can only deal with one or two customers at a time. If you’re selling software or a replicable digital product, your only constraints are the traffic limitations of your web hosting provider and, more likely, the number of people finding and clicking through to your site.

 

And how do you maximize organic traffic? You guessed it: SEO. 

 

E-commerce SEO boosts the discoverability of your products and services. When optimizing an e-commerce website for search engines, you’ll need to do everything outlined in previous sections, but with a few differences.

Product titles and descriptions

Product pages are the bread and butter of a great e-commerce SEO. These pages will often be the ones to rank for product-related keywords, which makes it vital for product titles and descriptions to be optimized for search.

 

A good product description will include all the necessary information about the product such as what it is, what benefits it offers, how much it costs, its features and benefits. The product title should also clearly describe the product and include relevant high-search-volume keywords, as much as possible.



Draft’s content writers can help you scale your product descriptions, whether you sell tens, hundreds, or thousands of products.

Meta descriptions

A meta description is the short summary of a web page that displays under the link in any Google search result. Search algorithms use these descriptions to determine what a page is about and how relevant it is for any given web search.

 

While every web page should have a meta description, these little blurbs are especially important for e-commerce SEO. Like product descriptions, e-commerce meta descriptions should be optimized with the right information and keywords.

Navigating the seasonality of e-commerce

Seasonality affects e-commerce sites far more than your average business website. According to Retail Drive, e-commerce retailers see 50 to 100 percent more revenue on Black Friday and Cyber Monday and around Christmas than during non-holiday periods. With so much riding on these seasonal spikes in e-commerce activity, in-depth preparation for these high-volume periods is what separates the winners from the rest. 

 

SEO is a fundamental piece of this preparation. Ranking for a highly competitive keyword like “Black Friday Clothing Sale” or “Cyber Monday Laptop Deals” takes time, so related SEO efforts should be underway months in advance.

 

To rank for these and other seasonal terms, it helps to have dedicated pages, collections, or areas of the site dedicated to the holiday or other special event. This builds authority around the relevant holiday theme, while providing an additional opportunity for internal linking between product and collection pages.

The value of a content partner that understands e-commerce

The content of an e-commerce website is pivotal to its long-term success. But for sites with hundreds, or even thousands, of products, writing high-quality search-optimized copy for each product page can be a daunting task. 

 

By enlisting the services of a content partner that understands the intricacies of e-commerce SEO, it’s possible to fast-track the production of perfectly optimized page content across your entire site. This means quicker results, better visibility, and higher ranking for seasonal and niche-related keywords.

 

At Draft, our expert writers have ample experience crafting search-optimized product descriptions and meta descriptions for high-performing e-commerce websites. 

6. Work with an SEO partner

Optimizing a website and content to maximize organic search visibility can be a full-time job. As such, there are many agencies and service providers out there that can take care of all things SEO for you. But given the different types of SEO partners that are available, it pays to know which are best suited for your needs — and whether you need that extra help in the first place.

 

What kind of SEO should you work with? An SEO agency will be responsible for analyzing, optimizing, and monitoring the search visibility of your website to drive organic traffic. Other valuable SEO partners include those who assist in executing your SEO strategy, such as a content creation partner like Draft.

 

Here are some signs you could use extra help from an SEO agency or a third party:

You don’t have time for SEO

When you’re running a business, SEO can feel like less of a priority than other core business activities like working on leads, brand development, and delivering high quality products and services to your customers. Working with an SEO partner means you can focus on growing your business, while resting easy knowing your website and its SEO are in capable hands.

You’ve hit an SEO plateau

If you’re actively working on SEO but organic traffic to your site has started to stagnate, working with an SEO partner will help. An expert third-party perspective will likely shed light on problem areas you weren’t aware of, and provide a clear path forward to get organic traffic back on track.

Costs are too high with little return on investment

If you’re throwing money at SEO but aren’t seeing the traffic, conversions, or return that you expect, then it’s a sign something’s wrong. Working with a partner can help you refine your SEO investment, avoiding wasteful expenditure and prioritizing spend on high-impact areas.

You’re falling behind your competitors

The better your competitors’ SEO, the worse your website traffic will perform. So if you’re seeing a drop in website performance while other companies in your niche are thriving, working with an expert partner will help you up your SEO game and regain your competitive edge.

You need local or regional expertise

Google rewards websites that are useful, accurate, and authentic. When entering a new geography or market, working with an SEO partner that’s familiar with the region’s cultural intricacies will help you speak to genuine needs and attract more traffic and customers. This is especially important for content, so look for a versatile content creation partner like Draft that can deliver locally relevant messaging across many topics.

You’re making a big change to your website

Any big change to your website will have an impact on your SEO. So if there’s a rebrand, redesign, or rebuild on the horizon, working with an SEO agency can minimize any negative impact and avoid unwanted surprises.

7. Blogging for SEO

Blogging is an effective content marketing tactic that offers amazing SEO benefits. Put simply, blogging involves publishing articles regularly to the blog section of a company’s website, which users can access freely. 

 

In addition to sharing news and updates, blogging is an opportunity to engage with topics your customers may find interesting. By offering insightful and informative content relevant to all stages of your customer’s buyer’s journey, your blog can serve as a powerful marketing and sales tool — attracting leads 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

 

Posting regular blog content also shows search engines that your website is alive and well, which indicates that it’s more likely to offer valuable, up-to-date information to web users and, consequently, will rank better in search results.

 

Blogging is a great way to rank for the topics and keywords related to your product offering, as well as those related to customer pain points and aspirations. This is because writing about a topic at length with detailed examples and explanations will naturally include valuable long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords are keywords and keyphrases that are more specific than regular keywords and may have less search volume. However, ranking for several long-tail keywords over time adds up to meaningful organic traffic. 

 

Another SEO benefit of blogging is that it provides plenty of room for internal linking. Whenever a product or service is mentioned in an article, that text can be hyperlinked to the relevant solution page on your website. Similarly, from product pages you can link to articles on your blog that expand upon relevant benefits or use cases.

 

Investing in a high-quality blog will also increase the likelihood of external sites linking back to your website. These types of backlinks are SEO gold, showing both search algorithms and potential customers that your business is a domain expert and thought leader. 

 

One of the best ways to build a high-quality blog, with content that’s worth reading and sharing, is to use an expert content creation partner like Draft. Draft only works with the top 1% of writing applicants and vets them thoroughly. Draft’s writers have ample experience writing SEO content for blogs. To learn more about Draft and sign up for a risk-free trial, click here.

8. Website SEO

In addition to blogging, content optimization, keywords, and the other SEO techniques described in previous sections, there are a few other ways to optimize your website for SEO. These are called technical SEO and refer to anything you can tweak “under the hood” to improve your website’s organic search visibility.

Here are some technical SEO tips:

Improve page load speed

The quicker a web page loads, the better the user experience. This factors into search performance, as the algorithm gives preference to websites offering users a valuable experience. Effective ways to reduce page load speed include compressing file sizes, using fewer plugins, cleaning up your code, and using geographically distributed Content Delivery Networks (CDNs). For more tips on optimizing page load speed, visit this HubSpot article.

Ensure your site is mobile responsive

Over 50% of all web traffic takes place on a mobile device. But if your website isn’t optimized for mobile, it’s more likely to distort and damage the design, content, and overall user experience. This is why search algorithms take mobile responsiveness into account, favoring websites that offer a great mobile experience. To see how mobile responsive your website is, Google has developed this Mobile-Friendly Test tool.

Create and submit an XML sitemap

Your sitemap is like the blueprint of your website, showing every page and how they relate to one another. They are especially important for SEO, as search engines use them to navigate and categorize all your web pages, as well as to better identify when new pages are added to the mix. Creating and submitting an XML sitemap is a fairly simple process, made easier with tools like the TechnicalSEO Sitemap Generator and Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider Tool

 

These tips only scratch the surface of technical SEO techniques that can boost your website rankings. 

9. SEO for startups

SEO for startups is essential. That said, it can be daunting when you’re competing for search visibility with larger companies that have a more established web presence.

 

Ultimately, the smaller you are, the harder it is to build authority and rank for competitive keywords. But it’s not impossible. With the right SEO strategy, even smaller businesses and startups can compete with large enterprise heavyweights.

 

Here are some SEO tips for startups:

Get the fundamentals right

It’s hard to win a race when you’re not even at the starting line. And if you don’t have the fundamentals in place to get your website appearing in search results, that’s what’s happening. With so many SEO tools and resources available today, every startup should at least have their website set up so that it’s visible to search engines. Google Search Console is one of the best SEO tools for startups, as it’ll help you identify issues and fix potential problems in a simple, intuitive step-by-step process.

Post content more frequently

The more content you post, the faster you’ll see SEO benefits from your blogging efforts. This means posting a new blog post at least once a week, but ideally even more frequently than that. We recommend posting 2–4 times per week to achieve SEO growth. Consider visiting competitor blogs to see how often they post new content and then use that as a baseline to improve upon. You might even get some ideas for new blog posts while you’re there!

For help accelerating your blog production, check our Draft’s writer marketplace. We vet and manage writers so you can focus on your business. 

Scale your SEO investment as you grow

With so many SEO tools, services, and partners available, startups should carefully consider which investments are worth the money. For instance, it makes no sense to shell out for the most expensive enterprise package of an SEO platform if your needs are fully met by a lower pricing tier. Almost every SaaS product has tiered pricing for exactly that reason, so you can scale your SEO investment as your needs evolve. There are also plenty of great free SEO tools out there, so take full advantage of them wherever possible.

10. Achieve SEO success with Draft

While high quality content is the cornerstone of successful SEO, producing consistently great content can be challenging. In addition to running and growing a business or department, you somehow also need to be a writer and thought leader.

 

Luckily, Draft is here to help.

 

Our SEO Content Writing services can help you turn on the tap of high-quality, search-optimized content with ease. Your business can benefit from our pool of vetted, qualified professional writers, who are on hand to write any types of content your brand needs: from blog posts and web copy, to social media posts, email newsletters, video scripts, and more. 

 

You can rest assured that every piece of content you receive is optimized for Google and other search engines. And collaborating with writers on any (free) revisions is a breeze with in-app messaging. 

 

Our usage-based model means you only pay for the words you receive, and you can scale up or down as needed. We also offer a risk-free money-back guarantee, so you can judge our content yourself without losing a cent. If you cancel before using 4,000 words, you won’t be charged.

 

Learn more about Draft and how our expert writers can help you achieve SEO success.