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Insights From Competitor SEO - FirstPrinciples

THE
Ultimate Guide to

Keyword & Content Strategy

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Insights From Competitor SEO

CHAPTER 1

Insights From Competitor SEO

Identify Your Competitors

This is obviously the first thing you need to do; find, identify, and categorize your competitors. For this, Google should be sufficient. All you need to do is to type in your company name or product and that should display a bunch of companies with similar products, study them and analyze which ones are really counted as your competition. You can also use Ahrefs or Keyword Spy for the same.

It’s only when you have categorized your competitors that you will be able to benefit from them.

Tertiary-Competition

Tertiary Competition

These are the ones whose businesses are tangentially related to yours, and you can utilize them when you plan to expand your product catalog. These are basically related products and services that you might add to your business later on. To state an example, if you sell jewelry, a tertiary competitor may sell gems and stones.

Secondary-Competition

Secondary Competition

These are the competitors who sell something similar but to a different audience, or they may offer a high- or low-end version of your product. If you’re selling Rolls Royce, a secondary competitor might be selling Hyundai.

Primary-Competition

Primary Competition

These are the ones you should be most concerned about and at the same time where you can gather a sea of information from. These are your direct competitors as they are also either targeting the same audience or have a similar product — or maybe both.

Keeping things organized in a proper datasheet with details like name of store, location, mission statement (if they have one), product offering, strengths and weaknesses of their business, and category of competition, might come in handy when designing and drawing out benefits from your competitor research.

Check Your Competitor’s Website and Identify Their Market Positioning

Now that you know who your competition is, you need to analyze their websites and check the user experience. By identifying your competitor’s positioning strategy, you’ll start to get a feel for your market’s demands and expectations.

Suggestions for competitor Analysis:

To gather as much information as possible, make sure you

  • sign up for their newsletter.
  • subscribe to and follow their blog.
  • follow them on social media.
  • purchase one of their products.
  • put an item in your cart and abandon the checkout process.

To start, you need to take a close look at the following items:

  1. How strong is their brand?
  2. Is SEO a serious part of your competitor’s strategy?
  3. What are the keywords they are looking to win?
  4. What is their content strategy?
  5. Does the audience want to read their content?
  6. Who is providing them with backlinks?

How Strong is Their Brand?

The brand is a key part of winning at SEO for SaaS Companies. For your visitors to inherently trust your content, you need to have some name recognition. The trust brings along higher conversions and lower churn rates as well. Below are a few ways you can check the trust.

30 Second Method: Domain Authority/Domain Ranking

“Developed by the SEO software company Moz, domain authority is a search engine ranking score that predicts a website’s ability to rank on search engine results pages or SERPs. Domain authority ranges from a score of 1 to 100. The higher your score, the better your website will rank”

You can get an approximate idea of the Domain Authority by using this free website or check Domain Ranking using Ahrefs.com on their free tool here. I concede that this is not the most ACCURATE method of understanding a competitor’s brand; but, it gives you a general idea.

To be clear, this only applies to SaaS Companies.

Below are a few examples:
Domain-Rating-table

The above is a tough market to break into! While Grammarly is the industry leader, the others are Industry recognized tools. If I was going to build a writing software without high 7 figures in the bank, I would think twice 🙂

2 Hour Method: Check Larger Factors

Check Software Rating Sites

As quantitative measures, aggregate the number of reviews and average review rating and as a qualitative measure, read the reviews and pick up the themes of pros and cons.

Most reviews on sites are curated by the respective company and will probably just shed a positive light. With that said, it will give you at least some idea about what’s working for your competitors and what’s not.

Below are the sites that you need to check out

  • G2Crowd.com
  • Capterra.com
  • TrustPilot.com
Check Search By Brand Name

Keeping an eye on how strong your competitor’s brand name is, is one of the most important practices in Competitor Research.

For this, you can use the following websites:

  • Ahrefs
  • SEMrush
  • UberSuggest

All you need to do is enter your competitor’s website and analyze the report that’s generated. There you can go ahead and check their “UR, i.e., URL Rating” and “Organic Search Volume”

Check Article/Guest Posts Mention

Here you’ll be checking the Backlinks of your competitor, the link type(Dofollow, Nofollow, Redirect, etc) and also the source of the backlink – whether it’s from a famous blogger or a software website. To analyze this, you’ll again need the help of Ahrefs. You can also check the Referring Domains that will display all the unique domains that have a minimum one link to your competitor’s website.

Is Your Competitor Serious and Successful at SEO?

The answer to these questions is a pretty simple Yes and No. Seriousness and Success are two different things. A competitor could be investing a ton in SEO but really not seeing results. It’s best to delineate the two and see where your competitors stand as leveraging SEO as a potential channel.

Checking Competitor SEO Seriousness

The best way to see if the client is Serious about SEO is to check the depth, length, and frequency of content that the client is publishing. Let’s take the example of the companies above.

Checking Competitor SEO Seriousness

It’s clear the SEO is not a key growth channel for Shoprunner.com or GoFundMe.com while it is a key strategic channel for Grammarly.com and ProWritingAid.com

Checking Competitor SEO Success

Within Ahrefs.com, check out the Organic Keywords. A competitor investing in SEO will be ranking for several keywords beyond their brand name. You want to understand the non-branded organic traffic that the competitor drives.

Below are two examples (Proposify.com & Pandadoc.com); they are driving traffic through intent-driven keywords.

Below is one example (Evest.com); it’s clear that SEO is not a key focus of their SEO Strategy. Most people searching for them already know them and the traffic volume is pretty nominal as well.

Evest.com: SEO is not a key part of their strategy

Proposify.com: SEO is a Key Part of Their Strategy

Proposify.com: SEO is a Key Part of Their Strategy

CHAPTER 2

Keyword Research Strategy

  • Transactional – This type of keywords is used for conversions because the person searching is most likely ready to buy, for example, “workers management software”. These pages should focus on the main keyword in your page elements (Title, URL, H1, H2, and the content as well) and also links to rank. These pages lead the visitor to either sign up for a free trial or to click on a call to action.

  • Information – These keywords help the potential future customers who like to research before buying a product or signing up for a service. For example, “How to hire workers for a cleaning business”. These keywords are mostly used with “how-to” or “what is”.

How can you get keywords for your SaaS website?

Think like a user

Do you know where you can get most of the keywords from?
By Brainstorming. Yes.

All you need to do is try to get into a user’s shoes and think, what would be your choice of words to search for your product?

Know your product in and out and try to describe it in plain English.

  • What does your product do?
  • Who is your product for?
  • What features does your product offer?
  • How would you describe your product to others?

This will give you a good head start.

Gap Analysis

With gap analysis you can get an idea of where exactly your content is lacking and the keywords your content should focus on. For this you will need to check 2 things:

Missing Content

This needs to be done manually. You can understand what content is missing on your website through:

  1. Spying on your competitor – Check what all topics they have covered on their website and try to curate a better piece if you already haven’t.
  2. Brainstorm – As already discussed, you can brainstorm to find ideas focussing on your product, you can pair keywords and content ideas and check whether you’ve content that aligns with the resultant topic. You might notice here that you don’t have any content for some of the content /keyword ideas. That’s a gap.
Find Relevant Topics

Ask yourself, what topics are relevant to your SaaS product? “SEO Software” or “Scheduling Software” or whatever type of software you are selling.

Competitive Analysis

You can get a lot of inputs from your competitors, not just keywords. All you need to do is analyze your competitor’s website, both using a tool (Ahrefs or UberSuggest) or manually. Check their blogs and analyze what they write about and what keywords they are ranking for.

Finding Your Seed Keywords

Seed keywords are the foundation of the actual keywords. They are more like the initial stage of finding specific phrases or queries to target with the content.

Google Auto Suggest

Probably the easiest way, Google’s Auto-suggest. Simply start typing your product category into the search box and you will get a list of queries Google suggests.

Google Auto Suggest

Evaluating a keyword

Now that you’ve spent time in preparing a list of keywords, you will now want to know if these keywords will be profitable and helpful in driving potential traffic to your website. The ideal keywords for SaaS are the ones that:

  • Have a high search volume
  • Have high Cost Per Click : If yes, this means they are profitable and people are willing to pay so that their website can rank well using these keywords.
  • Low competition : Although it’s difficult to find a keyword that has a high volume and a low competition as well, these keywords will be, no doubt, challenging to rank for but they will help your website rank.
Things to remember for SaaS SEO

Some keywords might have less than 20 searches per month. Many companies tend to ignore them, but these keywords (with commercial intent) might deliver additional 2-3 leads for your SaaS services.

The above data can be obtained on either of the following tools:

Keyword Research Tools

The keyword research tools we’ve mentioned are:

  • Google Keyword Planner
  • Google Search
  • Ahrefs
  • Ubersuggest
  • SEMrush

CHAPTER 3

Content Audit and Strategy

Content Audit

Using the data from Web Quality Audit we can analyze performance of content to enhance, remove, merge or update pages in order to increase quality traffic.

What is a Content Audit and Why Is It Important?

It is the qualitative assessment and analysis of all the content on your company’s website, be it infographics, podcast, blogs, or any other type of resource and shape your content strategy accordingly. It gives you insights into content marketing strategy, the performance of your content and points out any gaps that you might need to work on.

But before you set out on this tiresome and time-consuming journey, you need to have a content inventory in place – a list of all the content that has been published over time.
If performed properly, a content audit can help you understand:

  • Which content pieces are performing best?
  • What topics is your audience most interested in?
  • Which content is worth keeping?
  • Which buyer personas and buying stages need more content?
  • Which content has high impressions, but low conversions?
  • Which content to remove or repurpose?
  • Ideas for future content.
  • Different ways to enhance organic search performance.
How to Conduct a Content Audit?

Since this process is the most time-consuming one (it can take weeks or even months), only a few companies opt for it but once completed, and once the results are put into practice, it turns out to be worth your time.

The first thing you need to do is decide on the size and scope of your audit. A content audit is a painful process, and it’s vital for you to decide the amount of content you want to audit – for the past year, the past 2 years, or maybe more.

Assuming you’ve decided on the above, here are the next steps you need to follow:

Creating a Content Inventory

Before analyzing your content, you need to create a content inventory, preferably a spreadsheet, with links to all the web content you want to audit.

You can either do this step manually (in case the URLs > 100 then it’s a bad idea) or using a crawling tool like ScreamingFrog (crawls 500 links on a site for free). ScreamingFrog works great for websites that have great internal linking, otherwise, it might not even crawl some of your webpages.

You can also use a sitemap generator (this will also crawl up to 500 pages), you can update the URLs on a spreadsheet. Disclaimer: This process is time-consuming.

Identify and gather Content Categories

With your audit you need to provide a map of all the attributes, you want to track, across your entire content library so you can check where the holes are. Here’s a list of metrics you can choose from:

For SEO (most of it is autogenerated by ScreamingFrog):

  • Page Title
  • Length of title (in chr)
  • Target Keyword
  • Ranking for the Main Keyword
  • Meta Description
  • Page Headings
  • Inbound Links
  • Images Present
  • Image ALT Tags
  • Date Last Updated
  • Page Visits (measure for at least three months, if possible)
  • Comments
  • Linking Root Domains – Using Ahrefs
  • Broken Link – Using GSC and Ahrefs
  • Bounce Rate – Using Google Analytics
  • Average Time on Page – Using Google Analytics

For content marketing and strategy purposes you can assemble the following:

  • Word Count
  • Category (article, blog post, landing page, infographic, etc)
  • Content State (out-of-date, evergreen, etc)
  • Assigned Tags or Categories
  • Author
  • Number of Comments
  • Social Shares
  • Call to Action
  • Sales Funnel Stage
  • Conversion Data
  • Page Visits (measure for at least three months, if possible)
  • Comments
  • Additional Notes as Needed

Here’s a list of metrics we track for a content audit:

Here’s a list of metrics we track for a content audit:

You can download the Content Audit template here.

Analyze Content Performance

The next step will be to analyze your content performance

  • What content is performing well?
  • What content isn’t?
  • Can you repurpose any of these?

Include key content KPIs in your audit in order to see what themes, and content types are resonating with your target audience.

When tracking the metrics like social shares, organic traffic, conversion, etc, align your findings around engagement, performance, and content score. This will help you come up with better content marketing and development strategies in the future.

Gap Analysis

For this you will need to check 2 things:

Missing Content

This needs to be done manually. You can understand what content is missing on your website through:

  1. Spying on your competitor – Check what all topics they have covered on their website and try to curate a better piece if you already haven’t.
  2. Brainstorm – As already discussed, you can brainstorm to find ideas focussing on your product, you can pair keywords and content ideas and check whether you’ve content that aligns with the resultant topic. You might notice here that you don’t have any content for some of the content /keyword ideas. That’s a gap.
Performance of Your Content

Check whether the content you’ve published is actually performing well or not. If it isn’t, try to see if there’s any way you can repurpose it, like convert a podcast into a blog or a blog into an infographic or whatever you find suitable.

Apart from the amount of traffic your content gets, you need to consider the other 2 factors:

  • Search rankings
  • Organic traffic

If a page is ranking in positions #5-10, it won’t get much traffic. However, if with some extra effort, it can rank in the top 3 of the search engine results, then it’s worth the time. If not, then it’s not worth the effort.

One way of checking the worth of the content idea is the search volume of its’ target keyword – a keyword with 1000+ searches a month is worth your time but one with 20 searches per month, not really.

Curate a New Content Strategy

Upon tracking the above-mentioned metrics, you will be able to get a clearer idea of what your buyer/visitor persona is like and what your readers are most interested in. Using this data, we will be able to understand “What content should you publish?

From the above findings, prioritize the content that you found to be of your visitors’ interest. If your users want to read that piece of content, then it has the potential to generate a ton of new traffic, and hence should be assigned the highest priority to be created or edited soon.

Content Development

Now that you’re done with the audit part and have curated a content strategy as well, it’s time to start working on the content

Where can you get content ideas?
Consider Your Buyer’s Journey

For an effective SaaS content marketing plan, analyze your customer’s buyer’s journey and try to write content for each stage. The different stages of a buyer’s journey are:

  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Conversion
  • Retention

Once you outline the unique purchase funnel customers go through, you can use content to guide them through each stage.

  • Awareness
  • In this phase, you need to create content that targets the top keywords (that you’ve shortlisted) and promote engaging, and educational content to create awareness amongst your future potential customers. It targets people who are facing issues that your software can solve.

  • Consideration
  • Now that your customers are aware of your software, you aim to win their trust by engaging them with your brand. You can do this by offering them free trials and encouraging them to use the software. In this phase, you are nurturing them using Newsletters or Email Subscriptions.

  • Conversion
  • When the customers have successfully used your free trial products, they know it’s pros, and convincing them to convert is easier. In this phase, you can focus your content on the more valuable tools present within the software.

  • Retention
  • Now that the customers are converted into buyers, you need to retain them by creating content that educates them, gives them unique information, and provide guides on how they can benefit the most out of your software.

The types of content you can include are:

  • Blog posts
  • Webinars
  • Articles
  • Comprehensive guides
  • Videos
  • Email newsletters
Consider Your Buyer’s Journey
  • For content topic ideas, SaaS companies can check competitor websites, and relevant discussion forums as well. Follow your buyer personas, and analyze their queries and write relevant content addressing them.
  • While writing content, avoid any sort of grammatical or spelling errors (You can use Grammarly for this). Try to write a properly formatted content with over 300 words per page.
  • Make sure that you include the targeted keywords in the first and last few sentences of the content.
  • Make sure you are using the keywords properly and avoid stuffing them unnecessarily.
  • Make the content as relevant as possible. Try to solve the problems you think your users might be suffering from.
  • The targeted keyword in the <title> of a web page should be preferably closer to the beginning. Throughout the content, the keywords must appear naturally.
How often should you publish?

The rule here is simple, you can publish as often as you can, without affecting the quality of the content. You wouldn’t want to publish content that no one will read. So, yes, quality is very important when it comes to content.

You can publish 2-4 blogs or 1-2 articles per week and try to publish at least an ebook quarterly.

Content Marketing Strategy Tools

With your content marketing strategy in place, you’re going to need tools to make it all run smoothly. There are plenty of great options out there, but here are a few of our favorite content marketing tools.

SEO + Research
Ahrefs – For tracking links and keyword research.

Content Creation + Hosting
Quip – Our favorite tool for collaborative writing.
WordPress – The best content management system for most SaaS blogs.

10x content

A content that is 10 times better than the highest-ranking results for a given keyword(s)

  • We should have great UI and UX on all devices
  • It has high quality, interesting, and useful content
  • Create an emotional response
  • Solves a problem or successfully answers a question
  • Provides comprehensive, accurate and exceptional information
  • Although it takes a lot of time to create such a piece of content, in the end it stands out
5x content

The content produced by most companies and individuals is mostly below 10x. Well produced ebook usually falls under 5x content considering the amount of time it takes and

  • Targets the pain points of the customers and tries to solve their problems.
  • It provides a fairly comprehensive answer to their problems.

Working on an ebook does take a lot of time but this piece of content is worth the effort.

2x content

It lies somewhere between a blog post and an ebook. These are usually just long blog posts and tend to drive a great amount of traffic to the website and rank for many keywords.This kind of content can be created consistently and also ranks well.

Where should you place your content?

Now that you’ve successfully developed a 10x or 5x or 2x content for your website, you would want to place it, somewhere it’s easily accessible to the users. For SaaS companies, they can put their content either:

  • In the resource section
  • On your blog

You can decide the location of your content by analyzing the role it plays in your conversion funnel. 10x content is mostly placed on your homepage or in the top navigation or a place where it’s easily accessible to your customers.

As for a 5x content, it is mostly placed within a Learning or Resource section or you can share this content with your visitors via email (Once they subscribe).

For a 2x content, you can place it in your blog, but here you need to play smart and show your customers the best and useful content first. You can also have a blog link in the top navigation or a Most Popular Content widget in the sidebar.

Driving traffic to your content

  • Internal linking: Link all the relevant pieces of content on your website. This will not only help your customers but also search engines to contextualize your website and it will effectively reduce the bounce rate.
  • Content Saturation: Keep on updating your on-site content.
  • Content-Length and Depth: Since longer posts rank better try having blog posts of minimum 500 words and articles of minimum 1200 words
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Insights From Competitor SEO

Who said spying is bad? Your competitors are like a goldmine of information that can help you analyze and judge every aspect of your SEO strategy and how you can get the most out of the SEO. They can help you boost your website’s organic traffic. Here’s a brief overview (you can download the competitor analysis template here) of the pointers you need to focus on:

  • Understanding Landscape at Keyword Level
  • Who their top three competitors are?
  • Their Site Architecture
  • Backlinking Analysis
  • Social Media
  • Content Gap
  • Backlinks Profile Breakdown
    • And what are the types of links
    • How did they get them?

With a thorough competitor analysis, you get to know:

  • What strategies work and what doesn’t in your industry?
  • Your competitors’ weaknesses, and capitalize on them.
  • Your competitors’ strengths, and replicate them.
  • The overall SERP in your industry.
  • What SEO tasks need to be prioritized?
Identify Your Competitors

Identify Your Competitors

This is obviously the first thing you need to do; find, identify, and categorize your competitors. For this, Google should be sufficient. All you need to do is to type in your company name or product and that should display a bunch of companies with similar products, study them and analyze which ones are really counted as your competition. You can also use Ahrefs or Keyword Spy for the same.

It’s only when you have categorized your competitors that you will be able to benefit from them.

Tertiary-Competition

Tertiary Competition

These are the ones whose businesses are tangentially related to yours, and you can utilize them when you plan to expand your product catalog. These are basically related products and services that you might add to your business later on. To state an example, if you sell jewelry, a tertiary competitor may sell gems and stones.

Secondary-Competition

Secondary Competition

These are the competitors who sell something similar but to a different audience, or they may offer a high- or low-end version of your product. If you’re selling Rolls Royce, a secondary competitor might be selling Hyundai.

Primary-Competition

Primary Competition

These are the ones you should be most concerned about and at the same time where you can gather a sea of information from. These are your direct competitors as they are also either targeting the same audience or have a similar product — or maybe both.

Keeping things organized in a proper datasheet with details like name of store, location, mission statement (if they have one), product offering, strengths and weaknesses of their business, and category of competition, might come in handy when designing and drawing out benefits from your competitor research.

Check Your Competitor’s Website and Identify Their Market Positioning

Check Your Competitor’s Website and Identify Their Market Positioning

Now that you know who your competition is, you need to analyze their websites and check the user experience. By identifying your competitor’s positioning strategy, you’ll start to get a feel for your market’s demands and expectations.

Suggestions for competitor Analysis:

To gather as much information as possible, make sure you

  • sign up for their newsletter.
  • subscribe to and follow their blog.
  • follow them on social media.
  • purchase one of their products.
  • put an item in your cart and abandon the checkout process.

To start, you need to take a close look at the following items:

  1. How strong is their brand?
  2. Is SEO a serious part of your competitor’s strategy?
  3. What are the keywords they are looking to win?
  4. What is their content strategy?
  5. Does the audience want to read their content?
  6. Who is providing them with backlinks?
How Strong is Their Brand?

How Strong is Their Brand?

The brand is a key part of winning at SEO for SaaS Companies. For your visitors to inherently trust your content, you need to have some name recognition. The trust brings along higher conversions and lower churn rates as well. Below are a few ways you can check the trust.

30 Second Method: Domain Authority/Domain Ranking

30 Second Method: Domain Authority/Domain Ranking

“Developed by the SEO software company Moz, domain authority is a search engine ranking score that predicts a website’s ability to rank on search engine results pages or SERPs. Domain authority ranges from a score of 1 to 100. The higher your score, the better your website will rank”

You can get an approximate idea of the Domain Authority by using this free website or check Domain Ranking using Ahrefs.com on their free tool here. I concede that this is not the most ACCURATE method of understanding a competitor’s brand; but, it gives you a general idea.

To be clear, this only applies to SaaS Companies.

Below are a few examples:
Domain-Rating-table

The above is a tough market to break into! While Grammarly is the industry leader, the others are Industry recognized tools. If I was going to build a writing software without high 7 figures in the bank, I would think twice 🙂

2 Hour Method: Check Larger Factors

2 Hour Method: Check Larger Factors

Check Software Rating Sites

As quantitative measures, aggregate the number of reviews and average review rating and as a qualitative measure, read the reviews and pick up the themes of pros and cons.

Most reviews on sites are curated by the respective company and will probably just shed a positive light. With that said, it will give you at least some idea about what’s working for your competitors and what’s not.

Below are the sites that you need to check out

  • G2Crowd.com
  • Capterra.com
  • TrustPilot.com
Check Search By Brand Name

Keeping an eye on how strong your competitor’s brand name is, is one of the most important practices in Competitor Research.

For this, you can use the following websites:

  • Ahrefs
  • SEMrush
  • UberSuggest

All you need to do is enter your competitor’s website and analyze the report that’s generated. There you can go ahead and check their “UR, i.e., URL Rating” and “Organic Search Volume”

Check Article/Guest Posts Mention

Here you’ll be checking the Backlinks of your competitor, the link type(Dofollow, Nofollow, Redirect, etc) and also the source of the backlink – whether it’s from a famous blogger or a software website. To analyze this, you’ll again need the help of Ahrefs. You can also check the Referring Domains that will display all the unique domains that have a minimum one link to your competitor’s website.

Is Your Competitor Serious and Successful at SEO?

Is Your Competitor Serious and Successful at SEO?

The answer to these questions is a pretty simple Yes and No. Seriousness and Success are two different things. A competitor could be investing a ton in SEO but really not seeing results. It’s best to delineate the two and see where your competitors stand as leveraging SEO as a potential channel.

Checking Competitor SEO Seriousness

Checking Competitor SEO Seriousness

The best way to see if the client is Serious about SEO is to check the depth, length, and frequency of content that the client is publishing. Let’s take the example of the companies above.

Checking Competitor SEO Seriousness

It’s clear the SEO is not a key growth channel for Shoprunner.com or GoFundMe.com while it is a key strategic channel for Grammarly.com and ProWritingAid.com

Checking Competitor SEO Success

Checking Competitor SEO Success

Within Ahrefs.com, check out the Organic Keywords. A competitor investing in SEO will be ranking for several keywords beyond their brand name. You want to understand the non-branded organic traffic that the competitor drives.

Below are two examples (Proposify.com & Pandadoc.com); they are driving traffic through intent-driven keywords.

Below is one example (Evest.com); it’s clear that SEO is not a key focus of their SEO Strategy. Most people searching for them already know them and the traffic volume is pretty nominal as well.

Evest.com: SEO is not a key part of their strategy

Proposify.com: SEO is a Key Part of Their Strategy

Proposify.com: SEO is a Key Part of Their Strategy

Chapter 2

Keyword Research Strategy

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