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Not every SEO project is the same but there is enough similarity between them to let you into an outline of the SEO process that might unfold for your business.

First Contact: Quick SEO Appraisals

The first approach to a client often happens through a face to face or online networking meeting. I’ll usually sit down with the business owner and give them a quick appraisal of where their website sits. If we can’t meet face to face, I’ll often send a snapshot of some basic data that I capture with various SEO Tools I use.

Another approach is to email some data and an invitation to talk – sometimes that’s in the form of a short video appraisal. Example:

Here we look at the potential client’s site in isolation then compare that with  the top ranking page for a key search in their market. An example of a recent speculative appraisal was for a probate solicitors in London.

I’ll set the browser to simulate a search from somewhere in the potential client’s area and I’ll compare them with the top couple of organic results,  an ads contender’s landing page, the top result in the local pack results, and another random candidate, showing up above them.

Onboarding for The SEO Process

If your interest is caught and you decide to take the conversation further and engage us, we start the onboarding process. Here we try to understand your business and what your goals are. We’ll query what marketing strategies are already in use or have been used in the past. We will try to unpick who the target audience for the website are, and what the ideal customer looks like.

The Keyword Research Process

That series of conversations so far and the data gathering followed by another careful read of the website helps us to glean ideas for starting keyword research in your market.

Keyword seeds used to kick off keyword research.

A recent research project involved a warehousing and order fulfilment company. This is an area I know virtually nothing about. So the series of conversations was essential to gaining some understanding of the work they do and the benefits they offer their clients. Below is the starting list (or seeds) for my initial keyword research.

These “seeds” set me off querying keywords in SEMrush and in live Google searches. The brackets indicate where I discovered that Google doesn’t necessarily see phrases like “distribution solution” in the same way as the business owner!

The first trawl for keywords results in a (sometimes huge) collection of csv files to join together into a single spreadsheet.

A typical collection of downloaded csv files with keyword candidates to be compiled into a master list.

There is a lot of data attached to those keywords which is important. Because there can often be dozens of separate starting points with only subtly different angles, it’s important to root out duplicates and clearly irrelevant data.

Spreadsheets have a few useful tools for discarding duplicates. More important is the relevance of the keywords and the results Google serves up to the business I’m working with. This takes significant time and often involves double checking live search results to determine if a particular term is relevant to the business goals. The final spreadsheet of keyword data ends up something like THIS…

Initial compilation of keyword candidates to be sense checked by business owner.

The data is returned to the client to scan just the keyword column to make sure that the topic ideas are suitable for the business. I ask you to identify and mark in red text which phrases don’t seem like your ideal customer searching for your services or products. A more important aspect is for the business owner to give me a heads up on what’s missing. I will still not be that familiar with your business and am unlikely to stop learning for a long time.

Usually I will need to do a second round of research;

The Google Keyword Planner start page.digging into Google’s Keyword Planner, auto suggest and even Ubersuggest if necessary. This helps build up a bigger list of potentially useful keywords to go after.

Not all of the keywords will be targeted in the website’s copy. Some are just too tough to go after, without real investment, and are dominated by big brands, even for local searches. We look for alternatives that have a reasonable volume but lower competition as a way to build out your website.

Finally we’ll have a conversation to finalise the working list with the business owner.

Keyword Mapping Process

I then use my experience and judgement to group keywords together into topical clusters. These groups of very closely related keywords are then mapped to the existing or planned pages of the website.

This process usually takes place on a version of the spreadsheet that’s uploaded to a shared Google sheet where we can all see the data.

This example is the keyword data for a pretty much invisible website which had no SEO input before being put up by the business owner…

Keywords being mapped to individual pages for a business coaching client.

For most pages I will pick out a primary keyword and a secondary for the page to focus around. Here the homepage is focussed on the brand name and the core activity which is business coaching. The other keywords that are listed for the page are related phrases that may be helpful in several ways:

  • diversifying the wording of the page to make it more reader friendly
  • providing jumping off points to other pages on the website to build up internal linking
  • ability to rank for longer tail searches as well as the main terms (these are more complex, lower monthly search volume phrases that often come from someone ready to take action or spend money)

I have found it also helps to have a visual version of this mapping. To help visualise the mapping I also prepare a “mind map” of the website layout with target keywords added in the form of notes.

Which looks like this for our business coach example:

A site map of the website structure to help clients visualise the keyword mapping process.


Or for a legal website with a lot more diverse range of services, it may look something like this.


Site map graphic for visualising the structure of a legal services business in the north west of England

This draft is discussed and finessed – target keywords are often changed as we learn more about the buyer intent of the keywords we are looking at. This involves a lot of looking at actual search results in an anonymised browser, with the browser’s location attached to locations relevant to your clients when they search.

The SEO Audit Process

Once the target keywords are agreed, the website is audited against those keywords and many other related ones using a variety of tools and manual inspection. The audit will also involve looking at the performance of at least 4 competitors in the audit. Two competitors are usually chosen by you from your perspective of being in the business every day and coming up against competitors in real life. The other two will be chosen by me from the previous data and repeated searches.

This is to get a broad picture of what the new or refreshed website is facing and just what marketing will be needed to show up in search against those competitors. If necessary, Google Analytics, Search Console, Google Tag Manager are installed to get more realistic data than is provided by the third party SEO tools. It is remarkable how many important business websites still have no measurement software installed.

The audit results are then presented to you, initially by email and then with a face to face meeting to discuss what the considerable amount of information actually means for future marketing investment.

Copywriting Before Building the Website: The Key to Success

Once the audit results are explained, understood and agreed; copy needs to be written. I recommend that before you get your website built or revamped you get your text content written and gather together all your branding, photos and graphics.
It’s always better to do this part before setting designers and developers loose. That way, your website is designed and built to suit your branding and messaging rather than squeezing content into someone’s design.

I prepare copywriting guidance for the business owner or (preferably) your copywriter, to develop the words for the website. This is an incredibly important part of our SEO process. I have found after years of experience that investing in a copywriter to put the words together is far more effective than you as a business owners trying to write your own copy at the same time as running your business. The process is quicker and always yields better results.

Our copywriting guidance looks something like this and is compiled by one of our SEO tools scanning the top 10 results for the focus keywords, analysing the content and revealing any pattern that the top ranking results exhibit. It also reveals another set of keywords that can be useful in strengthening your copy. These are semantically relate phrases… sorry about the jargon, but these are phrases that seem to crop up in winning content even though they don’t seem to be as topical as the keywords we’ve mentioned previously. These can be incorporated in your own copy – again, if they are actually relevant.

Example Copywriter Guidance – Scroll fest coming!

Mental health counselling: SEO Template for new content


Target keywords: mental health counselling near me, mental health counselling lytham

Page title

Mental Health Counselling Near Lytham: Overcome Challenges

Meta description

Feel anxious and want to avoid engaging with friends and family? You are not alone. Overcome these personal challenges with confidential support from Unbounded Therapy


Totally Confidential Mental Health Counselling Near Lytham


Focus on creating more informative content. Recommended text length: 560

Add at least one of your target keywords: mental health counselling near me, mental health counseling lytham

Enrich your text with the following semantically related words: mental health phone counselling, accredited mental health counseling programs, accredited mental health counseling programs online, mental health group therapy, counselling for mental health, counselling mental health, mental health and therapy, mental health counseling specialties, therapy for mental health problems, online mental health counseling programs, mental health counseling services, benefits of counselling for mental health, mental health counseling services near me, solution focused therapy in mental health, common mental health problems counselling, panic attacks, person centred, common mental health, mental health support, mental health, free talking therapies, lytham st annes, online counselling, advice and support, counselling and psychotherapy, counselling services, physical health, face to face, online sessions, years experience, offer counselling

Make sure that your text is easy to read with the Flesch-Kincaid readability test. The readability score should be: 51

Try to acquire backlinks from the following domains: rwtprimarycare.nhs.uk, livingwithsma.org.uk, spotify.com, healthyntu.blog, thats.tv, therapy-directory.org.uk, internalfamilysystemstraining.co.uk, intently.co, penrithbs.co.uk, hypnotherapy-directory.org.uk, nearer.com, applebymedicalpractice.co.uk, myopeninghours.co.uk, cumberland.gov.uk, joinheard.com, tntcode.com, familylives.org.uk, lifecoach-directory.org.uk

Analyzed top-10-ranking rivals for your target keywords


mental health counseling lytham

  1. https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/town/lytham-st-annes
  2. https://www.bacp.co.uk/search/Therapists?LocationQuery=lytham-st-annes
  3. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/counselling/eng/lytham-saint-annes
  4. https://www.fyldeprivategp.com/counselling
  5. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/counselling/eng/lytham-saint-annes?category=depression
  6. https://www.lythamstannespcn.co.uk/self-referral-to-wellbeing-team
  7. https://www.therapycounselling.org/counselling/lytham-st-annes
  8. https://www.elementstherapy.org.uk/
  9. https://www.openmindslytham.com/
  10. https://psychologist-lancashire.co.uk/


mental health counselling near me

  1. https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/city/carlisle
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/counselling/eng/carlisle
  3. https://www.carlislecounselling.co.uk/
  4. https://www.carlislehealthcare.co.uk/mental-health
  5. https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/talking-therapy-and-counselling/how-to-find-a-therapist/
  6. https://pactherapy.org/
  7. https://psychologycumbria.co.uk/
  8. http://www.mindlinecumbria.org/resources/local-services-and-support.aspx
  9. https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/
  10. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/counselling/


See how competitors write about targeted keywords:


mental health counseling lytham

  1. https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/town/lytham-st-annes

Scraped Content of the result: Counselling Directory   Counselling in Lytham St Annes, FY8   All Counsellors and Therapists comply with our policy .   208 results within 15 miles   Preston PR4 & Lytham FY8   Anne Millne-Riley   Verified Professional   Every professional displayed on Counselling Directory has been …

(The rest of the example content has been removed for brevity.)

The writer will then use their conversations with you and this guidance, to write copy in a way that will appeal to your ideal customers. After the first draft, I check the copy drafts for SEO effectiveness and often I will make edits. The copy is always returned to the copywriter to make it readable to humans again after I have sometimes “butchered” it!

Copy is then sent off to you, the client, for approval. If necessary, up to two redrafts will be undertaken to get it into publishable form.

Design work, then website build should ideally take place at this point. Ideally we get all the copy written before sending it to the design and building team to produce the website itself.

That’s the initial research and planning phase of the SEO completed to ensure that page content has the best chance of showing up when people search for your offerings. From here, the SEO workflow or process looks at external aspects of promoting your business.

Off-Page SEO to Promote Your Website

While the work you’ve put in so far may be top class, nobody is going to come to your website in a hurry unless you work equally hard with the off page aspects of SEO. What we’ve done so far, looks after the on page factors that improve the SEO value of your website content.

Essentially, the off-page SEO tactics we adopt, on your behalf, are all about making enough noise, grabbing enough attention and building trust; to persuade search engines that your website is a useful, trustworthy and valuable enough resource to feature in search results. It is very rare that even the best website content on its own will bring a flood of visitors.

The starting point for most businesses is their social media accounts for promotion of their online presence and this is important. It’s only in a few instances that social media promotion alone will boost visits from well targeted visitors. Of particular note is Tik Tok which seems to be making serious inroads into local search for certain age groups and markets.

The wider your business needs to cast its net, the more work needs to be done to raise your profile high enough to rank in the important searches that drive online commerce.

Building Local Prominence

Where your business needs a local presence this is the starting point for you. For shops or facilities who need a customer to find them and walk through the door or call them to get a service arranged, local SEO is an important approach to follow.
It’s not just the one man bands or businesses for whom this is important.

Larger businesses with premises in multiple locations also need to pay attention to local SEO best practices. It’s no accident that big names like Argos, Currys or Boots often dominate some specifically local searches.

In Cumbria, a January 2024 study into the relative visibility of accountancy practices around the old county of Cumbria (now split into two entities, Cumberland in the north and west with Westmoreland & Furness taking up the south and east) revealed some glaring weaknesses and vulnerabilities. A few well known accountancy firms have worked hard on the local SEO of their different branches. They perform well across the whole area. The majority of accountancy practices have however failed badly and are outranked by very ordinary, poorly optimised businesses from as far away as Totnes and Carmarthen for the two high volume specifically local searches that we investigated. The study overview is here.

An Aside:

The easiest way of starting to build local prominence starts with developing a set of business listings or citations. The key thing here is to ensure consistency across the whole of your set of listings.

I collate all of your business’ local data. The most essential details here, are what’s called “NAPw” data. This is the business Name, Address, Phone and website URL. Our local SEO process also gathers data including business registration details, VAT, startup date, business categories, additional contact data, services, products, social media profiles and accepted payment methods. This makes setting up local citations and business listings simpler and more coherent.

We also create a set of short, medium and long descriptions to use on the different listing profiles, depending on the space that is set aside on each of these websites.

Finally we’ll collect some of your images and graphics to complete the listings. Usually we will be able to prefill most of the information and send it to you to complete the missing details and check for accuracy.

Local SEO data gathering form for citation building

Remarkably we have found some businesses actually operating under an incorrect address in the real world! This is a great tool for uncovering inconsistencies that may be harming your business.

Another Aside:

Key Citations

The most important listings to secure are your Google Business Profile (GBP)and your Bing Places listing. These are the primary data sources to give credibility to your business as a genuine local entity. If your business has people coming to your premises or office then these are relevant to you.

Why should you bother with listings?
Firstly they provide another point where your brand can be discovered by a searcher and come to you. Backlinks are another reason. A new website is very unlikely to have any backlinks. Backlinks are still a key factor in giving your website some authority. They act like a vote of confidence from a trusted website. More trusted backlinks gives you more trust and raises you up.

If you operate a service business such as window cleaning, painting and decorating or similar where you take your service to the customer; this is also relevant to you. Google will ask you to hide your address to prevent people coming to you and finding no-one to serve them! This is referred to as being a “service area business”.

Following years of dubious tactics with these local listings and Google’s own tardiness in dealing with those dodgy practices, getting these important listings verified and accepted by the 2 major search engines has become more problematical.

Even the most trustworthy businesses trying to set up a new listing are finding themselves faced with a video verification process – clearly run by some flavour of A.I. that is frankly, a real pain in the “arris”!

For that reason it may actually be more time efficient to tackle the second tier of local listings first.

Second Tier Citations

As a general rule of thumb, more citations than your competitors is the rule and it’s a safe tactic. These are websites where Google and Bing in particular expect to find your footprint.

There is evidence (Darren Shaw 2024) that establishing a footprint here is a trust sign that will make it more likely that your request for verification of the major listings above will be accepted.

The data that we’ve gathered in the earlier stages comes into its own here when we set up listings on your behalf. If you are looking for a simple baseline for citations then aim for an absolute minimum of 35 listings. The DIY approach is easy enough to do, but you will find it tedious, repetitious and error prone. Several listing sites have their individual quirks that take some getting used to and can frustrate you if you are not prepared to take the time to go through their processes.

For these tier 2 listings we rarely advise taking the paid option. Several are very keen to monetise their previously free listing service, which is understandable given the years of free exposure they have worked on. If you are tempted then Central Index is probably worthwhile paying for at £6 per month. They control all the local “newspaper” business directories now.

Scoot is another one which has a fairly good selection of higher value directories that it feeds (If memory serves me right, this service comes in at £12 per month). (In researching this article I have discovered that Scoot now owns Central Index!)

Once we’ve got most of your tier 2 listings completed and filled out all the details, our workflow now goes back to the top tier GBP and Bing listings.

Tier Three Citations

That might sound like a diminutive term. However in some industries these listing sites can be game changers for a small business. Many professions have niche related directories. Lawyers and solicitors might subscribe to LawFirms.co.uk. A building firm might go for Checkatrade.com or MyBuilder.com. These directories can send well targeted traffic to your website as well as passing some of their authority to yours. They also have that added factor of being relevant to your industry.

Backlink Attraction

Building, or preferably, attracting backlinks to the content on your website from another website is still an important method of promotion. We approach this in a number of ways. At a local level we encourage other websites in the area to link to you. We don’t pay much attention to statistics like Domain Authority that a lot of emails bang on about. What we are looking for here is links from locally relevant websites. Obviously this isn’t simply a matter of asking nicely… and your buddy giving you a link if you give him one!

There isn’t a huge amount of benefit in this kind of reciprocal linking. It’s mildly helpful. Better, is to have some valuable content on your website that would be useful to visitors to your potential link donor’s visitors, without competing with their offer. This kind of link building demands trust. Are you beginning to notice that that word crops up most of the way through this process?

For Giraffe Network members… remember the local backlink talk?

There is much more to the whole link attraction strategy – but space and time mean we have to leave just that one example for you. Suffice to say that we can also approach link building specialists with websites that they control where they can offer a link for a fee. These can be OK as links but strictly speaking “buying” backlinks is against Google’s terms of service.

More effective, is using an agency on your behalf who specialise in negotiating links with website owners who they don’t have control of. This demands a real exchange of value for both parties, that goes beyond the mere transactional. It can be hard work finding a willing partner.

The third option brings the highest cost. We do the outreach directly on your behalf, but I would have to say the second option is probably the most efficient and cost effective as link specialists have the whole prospecting and outreach process dialled in to their daily activities.

Local Brand Authority Approach

This is our possibly unique in Cumbria, simple digital multimedia and PR service to link your brand with the areas near you and beyond. This can work quickly and can be long lasting.

 Local Brand Authority content still ranking after 3 years and has now helped raise business website into prominence

Check the date – 3 (?) years after that Digital Journal piece was published – our client is showing strongly for this particular search, though he was invisible in Penrith for anything other than their brand name before that.

This works because we are able to get a content piece published about your business in the form of newsy style articles, blogs, podcast, slideshow, infographic and video which carry backlinks to your website. More importantly these media can surface your brand in places you’ve never been seen in before. Strategically, we tend to work on areas within your local catchment and then we can build your presence out from there.

Full Digital PR

Bringing in journalist trained writers to conceive a story, preferably with some original data, to pitch to larger media outlets can be very powerful. The focus is on getting a much more in-depth article written in more targeted media than the previous service. The stories are then pitched to media titles or journalist contacts where there is a good chance of gaining a backlink. Backlinks from these kinds of media carry much more weight than the previous service. Again they increase the level of trust given to you as the search engines know you have to work to gain enough trust from the media title for it to be added.

Even a simple brand mention in these titles can be quite powerful. We are able to work with some well-known local PR people in Carlisle and we also have some less well known contacts outside of the city who have access to a more diverse range of titles to give this service even greater potential.

Research Based Digital PR

A research based piece (like my deep dive in to accountants’ positioning in the county – but more interesting) is sometimes able to attract genuine journalistic interest. The strategy is to feed the journalist an interesting enough synopsis of the findings of your research. Just enough to pique a reader’s interest: almost forcing the journalist to link to your website for their visitor to find out more.

This tends to be a much more expensive process but is something we can help you set up. The carrot here, is that sometimes your business can attract backlinks that really do change the game.

The original piece of research I carried out looked at the visibility of accountants for what are the two most important local “near me” searches: accountants near me” and “tax accountant near me.

I set the browser to search from Carlisle Centre and Kingstown, Penrith, Cockermouth, Whitehaven, Barrow and Kendal. Every accountancy practise was logged, key data was gathered for each of the Cumbria based practices and their out of county competitors. I ignored the directories and the results from accountancy tools that were occupying much of the space.

The results would worry me if I had an accountancy practice.

A comparison of the standing of accountancy practices in search results for two of the most impactful searches with local intent.

Which one’s you Ms Accountant?

A snippet of the results show the results for anonymised accountancy practices in searches carried out from the centre of Carlisle. While town centre accountants fare quite well on the first page of results for these searches there are some real anomalies.

Company ID 1 is a business that no longer exists in the town centre! It just happens that their old office (now abandoned and occupied by another financial firm) is about 50 metres from the point of search, but their Google Business Profile hasn’t been deactivated. A remarkable situation that none of Carlisl’s accountants have chosen to tackle.

What is of interest to me but hasn’t caught the interest of a journalist yet is the number of out of county businesses pushing more local businesses down the rankings (where the dead bodies are hidden)!

This particular slide was used in a networking meeting where I was going to challenge our accountant member to work out which Company ID was his practice… and as luck would have it – he didn’t show up on the morning.

He has now been teased by other means and the response is warmer 😉

What gets Measured Can be Improved:

Measuring and Identifying SEO Progress
During the audit process I will usually set up a local dashboard where all you’re the relevant marketing data can be monitored.

Here’s an example of the front page of that dashboard, which carries links to:

  • rank tracking, local search grids that show how your visibility varies across an area,
  • a citation tracker to keep track of your listings,
  • a citation builder where you can keep track of any listing campaigns we carry out for you,
  • reputation manager for monitoring and chasing reviews,
  • a GBP audit function that will help you keep abreast of the effectiveness of your GBP and finally
  • a Local Search Audit section that attempts to give an overview of your off-page SEO and also some insights into the technical SEO factors that may be affecting your visibility. 
Local SEO marketing dashboard

Below is an example of the rank tracking function for a client we work with.


Local rank tracker using the Bright Local platform to understand changes in desktop, mobile and maps searches.

When the website is published we can set up reporting dashboards for Google Analytics and other Google measurements. These can be customised to whatever detail you need, to report data the way you want it.

Here’s a simple summary dashboard covering Google Analytics only.

A simple Google Analytics dashboard constructed in Looker Studio for a client who only wants basic data


A charity client we support, needed much more granular data from analytics, as many of their audience come from other countries.


Page 1 SEO Basics

Page 1 SEO Basics

Page 2 Demographic Data

Page 2 Demographic data and more


An ecommerce client’s dashboard combines data from Google Analytics, Google Ads and Google Business profile: as they also operate a local shop.

ecommerce clint's dashboard combining Analytics, Google Ads and Google Business Profile data
Summing Up the SEO Process

The process of SEO within a digital marketing strategy can be a long and drawn out affair, but to achieve success for your business you will need to follow the stages in a strategic manner.

Some results can come quickly, others take time to show up. Additionally, your competitors are unlikely to sit still when they notice your business suddenly popping up in searches they used to dominate.

SEO is a continuous process due to changes in search engine algorithms and your competitors’ efforts. Whatever your target market or geography search engine optimisation is an effective tool that requires at least as much investment as a beautifully designed website.