Barry Adams will be speaking at the next brightonSEO on the 22nd of April 2016
Often when I meet with clients, they express confusion about what constitutes good SEO. Most marketers know about the basics of Search Engine Optimisation: having a high quality website with optimised pages, focusing on specific keywords.
However, beyond those basics, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what to do on an ongoing basis. On-site optimisation alone is not enough to get your website to dominate Google, so what needs to be done next?
The answer for this is best explained as part of a wider framework for SEO. There are various different models for SEO, and the one that I like and use as the foundation for my work is the Three Pillars approach.
Within this framework, Search Engine Optimisation consists of three separate pillars that build on one another and amplify the impact of the underlying pillar(s). These three pillars are:
- Technology: the foundational pillar, a website’s technological underpinnings affect how well the site can be crawled and indexed by search engines.
- Relevance: the middle pillar, this is about ensuring your website’s content and navigation align with what users might search for.
- Authority: the top pillar, this is what impacts a website’s rank in search results the most – the trust and leadership of a website within its industry.
I’ve written a more in-depth explanation of my Three Pillars framework for State of Digital here.
The first pillar, Technology, is usually handled by your web developers. They need to ensure your website is fully search engine friendly, and there are no obstacles for search engines to crawl and index all your content. SEO consultants can help with this by performing SEO site audits and provide guidance for implementing technological fixes.
When it comes to ongoing SEO, the main pillars to focus on are Relevance and Authority. Too often optimising the content of a website (Relevance) is seen as a one-off activity, a ‘set-and-forget’ tactic that will quickly achieve top rankings in Google. This perception is entirely wrong.
On-site optimisation strengthens the Relevance signal for Google and other search engines. It is not the sole driver of good rankings, as there could be thousands of competing webpages that are relevant for the same keywords that you’re targeting, and Google needs to have a very good reason to rank you above them.
The main metrics Google use to rank websites highly are best summarised as Authority: the combined signals of trust and leadership that make you the best and most reliable website to rank for that keyword.
This Authority signal is primarily built on links. Your website needs a good amount of links from other trusted websites. The more links from other websites that point to your site, and the higher the quality of those links, the greater your perceived Authority is in the eyes of Google.
This is why a good content strategy drives so much value as a SEO tactic. Before I can explain, it’s first important to understand what I mean with ‘content strategy’.
Summarised, a content strategy is a plan for the creation, publication, promotion, and maintenance of online content in service of your company’s brand. This content will primarily reside on your own website, though it can also be published on other sites (examples are press releases and guest articles).
A good content strategy is developed according to a proven framework. I’m a fan of Lee Odden’s approach as outlined in his Optimize book, which puts your target audience firmly in the centre of your content strategy and enables the development of content focused on addressing your clients’ needs and requirements.
When developing a content strategy, understanding your target audience is absolutely crucial. Who are your intended readers, and what do you want them to do with your content?
In the context of SEO, it can be the case that your content’s target audience doesn’t overlap perfectly with your business’s client demographic. There are many industries where a business’s main clients have little to no online presence themselves, and will very rarely read and share content online. So writing content for this audience is futile.
If this is the case, your content strategy needs to target an alternative audience, one that is active online and that can help you gain traction on social media and blogs with your content. It might even be necessary to focus your content on your peers and competitors – get them talking about your content online, either by writing articles that add great value to the entire industry or by publishing contrary or controversial opinions that inspire debate (something I’m prone to do on occasion).
Impact on SEO
Looking at the value of a well-executed content strategy for SEO, we see that it straddles two of the three pillars: Relevance and Authority.
By publishing optimised content on your own website you will increase the Relevance of your site for your targeted keywords. Additionally, you are sending signals to Google that your site is up to date and active – Google prefers ranking recently active websites over sites that appear to be dormant for a long time.
Secondly, your content (if it’s good enough) will earn you links and mentions across the web. If you write great articles, people will share it on social media and link to it from their own blogs and websites. This will boost your site’s Authority, which in turn translates to higher rankings in search results.
Note that great content needs to be promoted to enable its link-earning potential. Content won’t be discovered if it’s left to accrue dust on your website – you need to shout about it using social media, outreach, email marketing, and paid channels. If you get your content seen by the right people, the changes of acquiring new links are vastly improved.
The value of content as a SEO tactic is so strong that nowadays I often refuse to work with clients that don’t invest in a content strategy. Doing ongoing SEO for a website that has no content strategy is like trying to race a car that doesn’t have an engine; you’re not going anywhere in a hurry.
A content strategy really is the engine of your SEO. It affects so many different SEO signals that without it you’re really handicapped and are unlikely to succeed at all. So if you’re uncertain about what to do on an ongoing basis to improve your site’s SEO, a content strategy is the answer.
As an added bonus, you’ll find that a great content strategy has many positive effects on almost all your other digital channels – especially on social media and email marketing. That makes it an even more invaluable aspect of your online marketing efforts. It’s really a no-brainer; if you want to succeed online, you will need great content. And lots of it.