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The Scorecard Approach: How to improve SEO performance without waiting for months

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    How do you improve SEO performance when there are so many factors that can make a big difference to how effective it is? Because the answer to this question isn’t always clear, companies spend a lot of time, and huge amounts of money each year, to improve and optimize their SEO.

    Unfortunately, when a lot of companies get started on their SEO, they spend far too much time focusing on the minutiae instead of making meaningful changes. This can set them back months, costing them both money and customers.

    But by using a scorecard to measure and track the areas that contribute to improved SEO performance, we have been able to prioritize actions that drive meaningful growth in trials and demos for our clients.

    By not focusing on vanity metrics like search volume or traffic, we are able to regularly improve ROI for our client’s investment in SEO.

    In this article, we’ll cover:

    • The common pitfalls companies fall into when approaching their SEO
    • Why we take a different approach to most agencies and in house teams
    • How we drive improve ROI on SEO for our clients with an SEO scorecard

    Struggling to get results from your SEO? Schedule a Free SaaS Scale Session to find out how we can help you to hit the ground running.

    Tripping at the first hurdle

    One of the first things any company or agency will do when they approach their SEO strategy is to conduct an initial audit on the existing performance.

    This is an important step, as it allows you to gauge where you are, and make key decisions about what can be improved.

    But an issue our clients have come up against in the past when running it in house or with a different agency, is that this audit often takes four to six weeks before any meaningful data has been collected or presented.

    This is because the audit being done is an in-depth technical analysis, covering as much detail as possible. They will analyze every web page, every piece of content, and everything in between.

    SEO takes time…right?

    This approach might be thorough, but six weeks is an absurd amount of time to spend not taking any action, and it sets the whole strategy back unnecessarily. It’s also, unfortunately, largely redundant.

    Massive audits like this are rarely looked at by clients, because this amount of data tends to be overwhelming, and difficult to consume. This means you’ll often find yourself six weeks into the project, and without much progress to show for that time/money investment

    The root cause of this is that SaaS marketers accept the common myth that SEO takes months before you see any meaningful improvements in performance or conversion.

    When you buy into that narrative, six weeks doesn’t seem that big a deal.

    But, luckily, the narrative is false.

    You can see solid returns on your SEO strategy within just a few weeks. We have an entire article about how to make early SEO wins happen in that time frame.

    Once you understand that, you can see how six weeks on just the initial audits is simply too long, and could prove to be very costly in the long run.

    Vanity metrics like keyword ranking and domain authority harm your ability to drive improvements in search performance.

    Another big mistake companies make when trying to improve their SEO is prioritizing vanity metrics over everything else.

    Putting too much focus on keyword rankings, domain authority, low quality traffic, etc. can give you a very skewed view of how you’re doing. Especially if you focus on keywords that aren’t specifically relevant to your business.

    Paying too much attention to metrics like that often causes SaaS marketers to take the wrong strategy: going after the broadest terms with the highest search volume, and focusing on the top of the funnel.

    This can feel like a solid approach, but it’s rarely where you should be spending your time and energy.

    There is a massive amount of competition and conversion rates on this kind of content tend to be depressingly low. This is a very inefficient approach.

    By ignoring long-tail keywords, and the rest of the funnel, you will ultimately be left with a vague SEO strategy that won’t pay off in the long run.

    This isn’t to say that search volume and relevance isn’t important, it’s just that you should instead focus on keyword intent. Then you can create copy and content that directly addresses your customers’ pain points, and build a strategy around what they actually want to achieve.

    By helping build awareness and solving your visitor’s pain points with content, they’re a lot more likely to convert into paying customers for your SaaS.

    How to build a scorecard into your SEO program and drive impressive results from SEO

    At Powered by Search, instead of trying to capture as much data as possible, or focus on vanity metrics, we only focus on the things that provide meaningful and measurable results.

    Not only does this speed up the process, but it also makes it easier for us to create a long-term strategy that works.

    Our strategy comes in four parts and it has allowed us to  avoid these pitfalls, and get impressive results for our clients:

    1. Measure progress with scorecards, not to-do lists
    2. Setup a scoring system that identifies strategic opportunities
    3. Prioritize high impact actions
    4. Invest in compounding improvements in performance

    1. Measure progress with scorecards, not to-do lists

    Instead of carrying out a 4-6 week audit covering every nook and cranny at the start, or overanalyzing vanity metrics, we use an SEO scorecard to make it quick and easy to measure SEO.

    This scorecard covers the key areas for driving SEO improvement, and allows us to track progress and performance over time by grading how the site is performing in each of those categories.

    Improve SEO performance with a scorecard

    Improve SEO performance with a scorecard

    On-page SEO

    The first category is all about looking at the elements on your existing pages, and analyzing how well they’re optimized for SEO. This includes things like your content, BOFU keywords, and linking structure.

    This is important because your on-page SEO has a direct impact on how well search engines will be able to identify relevant information, and show your pages to the right audience.

    These are the checks we carry out and examples of the kinds of questions we ask for each:

    • Bottom-funnel keyword mapping – How well do your current feature pages generate traffic from commercial terms, and how do you compare to competitors?
    • Bottom-funnel keyword gaps – Are there any relevant keywords that your competitors target that you don’t?
    • On-page optimization and content depth – Do your title tags, headings, and content target the right commercial terms, and how well do you rank?
    • Internal linking structure – How well do you structure the links between your own pages?Where are the obvious opportunities for improving internal linking?
    • Content refreshing – Are there any pages that rank between third and fifteenth that could be refreshed to improve ranking?
    • Content deindexing & consolidation – Are there any pieces of content that generate minimal traffic and conversion that could be removed or consolidated to free up crawl budget?

    Content Marketing Strategy

    Then we look at the current content strategy, and evaluate what content can be added to improve your site’s SEO.

    If a company already has content on its site, we look at how it’s performing, and whether there are any areas  for improvement.

    If a site hasn’t invested in content strategy previously, we focus on how we can implement our SaaS authority architecture to improve the likelihood that good fit prospects turn into trial and demo signups. .

    It’s important to do this because you want to cover the needs of people at different stages of the funnel to maximize your chances of being seen by your target customers.

    These are the types of content we check for:

    • Round-up buying guides
    • Direct comparison pages
    • Alternative pages
    • Integration pages
    • FAQ sections on pages

    If the site already has solution-aware content, we will also check the internal linking structure to see if there is sufficient internal linking between these pages and your problem-aware and problem-unaware content to help drive buyers along the awareness journey and also to help Google better index the site.

    Technical SEO

    When we start working on a client’s site, there will often be  major technical issues that could be having a negative impact on the site’s SEO.

    This is important because if a search engine detects these issues during a crawl, it will harm their ability to rank for terms that will generate leads for the business.

    Some of the technical SEO checks we carry out are:

    • Internal error pages – Are there any internal errors (404, 400, etc) or broken links across the site?
    • Indexability – Are search engines able to easily add the right pages to its index?
    • Redirects – Do redirects go to the right pages, and are they setup as 301 redirects (best practice for SEO)?
    • Keyword cannibalization – Are you damaging your SEO by having different content that ranks for the same search terms?

    UX

    Having a good user experience isn’t just great for your website visitors, it’s also great for SEO. Search engines take into consideration how easy your site is to navigate. Having great UX is critical to achieving strong SEO performance.

    Some of the UX checks we carry out in the Scorecard:

    • CRO – Are pages following conversion rate optimization best practices?
    • SaaS Authority blog structure – Is the content following the standards outlined in this article?
    • Page speed – Are your current pages loading fast enough, measured using Google’s Search Console?

    Backlink profile

    We know that Google looks at backlinks as a vote of confidence in a site’s content. Backlinks from high quality website indicate authoritative content, backlinks from low quality websites tend to matter less – but they’re still important.

    Our scorecard looks at the quality and quantity of backlinks pointing to the website, in particular to key landing pages, and measures it in relation to the competition.

    This is important because backlinks allow you to compete for the core commercial terms in your industry, and you should be focusing on establishing authority to outrank your competition.

    2. Setup a scoring system that identifies strategic opportunities

    Not all SEO work is equally beneficial or easy. Our scorecards use a scoring system that combines impact, effort and initial grade (how a client is performing already) to identify strategic opportunities for SEO.

    From this we can then create an initial roadmap that will quickly allow us to improve the site’s SEO.

    Impact & effort

    The impact score represents how much difference any given check is likely to have on the site’s SEO performance.

    When filling in the scorecard, we give each area a score of Low, Medium, or High, depending on how much impact we think it is likely to have.

    Similarly, the effort score represents how much effort is required to fix any issues and improve the grade, also scored using Low, Medium, and High.

    For example, fixing pages to follow CRO best practices would have a High impact on SEO because of the user experience boost, but because it doesn’t require too much work, it would be marked as Low effort.

    Grades

    As well as scoring each check by impact and effort, we also give letter grades (similar to school grades) each time we run through the scorecard, to represent how well our client is doing on each point.

    This not only makes it easy to see how our clients are performing at a glance for anyone in the client’s company, but it also makes it easier to track improvements every time we run through it.

    • A – The site meets the criteria, and there’s not much else you need to do
    • B – The site is close, but there is still room for improvement
    • C – The site isn’t meeting expectations, and a lot of work is required to improve
    • N/A – This check doesn’t apply to your site/company

    Note: We will often use plus and minus grades to make it even clearer (A-, C+, etc), and we also highlight the grades with green, yellow, or red, to make it even easier to visualize how well the site is performing.

    Prioritize high impact actions

    Generally, running through this scorecard will unearth a lot of opportunities to improve SEO investments that our clients are making.

    So it’s important to create a plan of action that outlines the improvements we’re going to focus on. This will likely be a combination of quick wins, and a long-term content creation strategy.

    Quick wins

    These things can be done quickly off the back of running through the SEO scorecard that will make a big impact with minimal effort.

    These actions tend to be marked with a ‘Low’ effort score on the scorecard.

    It’s easy to overlook these things in favor of the bigger SEO strategy, but we’ve carried out these changes for our clients and seen some really impressive results, so they’re worth spending time on.

    Here are some examples of these quick wins:

    • De-indexing blog posts that aren’t relevant to search intent
    • Adding internal links to features and benefits pages on relevant blog posts
    • Create competitor comparison pages
    • Add depth to features and benefits pages

    For an in-depth look at these quick wins, take a look at our blog post here

    Content roadmap & creation

    Beyond the quick wins, we’ll prioritize the rest of the changes and create a long-term SEO strategy.

    To do this, we use the impact, effort, and grades from the scorecard, along with the SaaS authority architecture and the buyer awareness matrix to decide the best approach for the near and long-term.

    We go into this in more detail in our long-term SEO playbook article.

    Invest in compounding improvements in performance

    It’s important to continue to review your SEO health and performance on a regular basis.,

    Our SEO Scorecard is an easy way to track progress and reflect on the improvements made so far.

    Because SEO performance gains tend to compound over time, running through the scorecard on a quarterly basis makes a lot of sense. This not only keeps companies on track, but it also makes it easy to keep stakeholders informed of any improvements made.

    In closing

    It’s easy to get swept up by all the blogs and tweets about vanity metrics, and the perception that SEO is a super-slow process, but as you’ve read here, the reality is vastly different.

    By utilizing the SEO Scorecard, you can quickly start making improvements, and get a clear view of how you are progressing. You can also ensure your content strategy is working in parallel with your SEO priorities, and you’re addressing issues proactively.

    If you fill in the scorecard, create your strategy, and repeat every quarter, you’ll be in a great position to continuously improve how your site ranks on search engines.

    Schedule a Free SaaS Scale Session to learn how we can help you create your content plan, and measure your SEO performance