How to drive incremental gains for long-term SEO

SEO is a long-term game: to deliver consistent results, it’s important to create strategies that focus on continuous month-on-month improvements. Having managed accounts at Impression since 2016, the greatest challenge I’ve faced is driving incremental gains for clients who have been with us for a number of years, particularly when their site already adheres to most SEO best practices.

At the start of most client-agency relationships, it’s relatively easy to deliver growth in the short-term by identifying and fixing pre-existing technical, content, and off-page issues. Once you’ve ticked off all the items on your initial checklist, however, it can soon become more challenging to work out which areas to spend your time on (and which actions have the potential to move the needle).

Over the years, I’ve picked up a handful of techniques for identifying new opportunities and implementing small changes that add up to impressive results over an extended period of time. The purpose of this article is to share some of these ideas, beginning with tips for opportunity analysis and then moving on to discuss how you can take advantage of the opportunities you’ve identified.

Opportunity analysis

In order to understand which areas of SEO to focus on, you first need to identify where you can add the most value. I’ve found that the best way to approach opportunity analysis is first to ask yourself the following questions:

1) Where could I see large traffic gains through small ranking improvements?

Look for keywords that are on the cusp of the first page in organic search (often between positions 7-15). Pushing these rankings up by just a few positions could help you to make it onto page one, resulting in a significant uplift in organic traffic. If you have access to Ahrefs and Google Search Console, my colleague Helen has put together a Sheets template to help you find opportunity keywords using exports from these platforms.

2) Are there areas where competitors are still outperforming my site?

Use competitor insights to guide your SEO strategy for long-standing clients. A quick competitor gap analysis will highlight a range of keywords where competitors are outranking you, which enables you to identify important queries to target in your content. We’ve created a Sheets template that does this for you using Ahrefs exports, assigning each keyword with a competitive opportunity score to assist your decision making.

How to optimise for your target keywords

Once you’ve identified the keyword rankings you’d like to improve, it’s time to decide which tactics you’ll use to achieve your aims. The techniques below assume that you’ve already covered all of the SEO fundamentals, including optimised metadata, organised heading structures, and high-quality, keyword-targeted copy on each page.

1) Target featured snippets

Whether you’re writing new content or optimising existing posts, try to target featured snippets. You can do this by manually checking the SERPs for the keywords you're targeting or using a keyword research tool with a built-in SERP features function. When you’re preparing to write a piece of content, highlight the featured-snippet keywords in your notes to keep them in mind as you write.

The primary benefit of obtaining a featured snippet is that your page will usually be positioned above all of the other listings in the most prominent location at the top of the results. To optimise your content for featured snippets, simply provide clear, self-contained, non-branded answers to the relevant queries (and try to keep your paragraphs to around 30-60 words long).

2) Structured data

Structured data is useful for letting Google know what a page is about. There are various types that you can add to your informational content, including HowTo and FAQPage schema. Adding these forms of structured data to existing posts has helped me to obtain featured snippets and improve the way my clients’ pages are presented in search results, increasing the number of users who click through and, in turn, overall organic traffic.

3) Keyword positioning

If you’ve already included your target keywords in the metadata and copy of a page, consider how they’re positioned throughout the text as well. Just as humans focus on the opening words of a text when reading, Google often looks to the beginning of a page to find out what it’s about – try frontloading your target keywords and monitoring the effect on rankings.

Granted, this is a relatively old school suggestion, but I’ve seen it work for a whole range of clients in many different industries. Last week I rewrote the opening paragraph of a service page to focus on its primary keyword rather than the brand, and the page went from position five to holding the featured snippet.

From opportunity to action

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for growth in a long-term strategy, but the tools and techniques outlined above should help you to achieve incremental gains through an iterative process of opportunity analysis, action, and monitoring results. Whichever optimisation techniques you end up using along the way, remember that half of the battle is to keep identifying and taking advantage of new opportunities.

Article written by Ben Garry, content specialist, Impression


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