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Strategy

The Three Main Elements of SEO

PostFunnel's introduction to the wily ways of SEO, and why each is so important

Matt Duczeminski
December 29 2018

Whether you opt for the organic or paid advertising route, you’ll want to invest in optimizing your website for search engine visibility. You don’t necessarily need to go all in on content marketing to see better results; even minor tweaks to your site can enhance your organic visibility, improve user experience, and ultimately increase the value potential customers get from your brand.

Focusing on search engine optimization just makes good business sense:

Over 70,000 searches are conducted on Google every second. No matter your industry, someone (or more likely, many someones) on Earth is conducting a search related to your product or service this very second.

A 2018 study by HubSpot found that 61% of marketers say improving SEO and organic visibility is the top priority for their inbound marketing initiatives. If you’re not part of that 61%, you’re falling behind the competition. Optimizing your site for search engine visibility isn’t just a suggestion. By today’s standards, it’s a necessity.

With that in mind, let’s dig into the three most important aspects of search engine optimization.

On-Site SEO

On-site search engine optimization is the process of optimizing the overt, user-facing aspects of your website (and its individual web pages). If your on-site optimization is off, your efforts in other areas won’t make much of a difference.

There are a number of factors that enhance on-site search engine optimization. Let’s go over some of the most important ones.

Content Quality

This should be a no-brainer. The quality of your site’s content is paramount to the success of your SEO initiatives. The days of creating mediocre content and gaming the system to rank highly on Google are long gone. In fact, Google makes this crystal clear in its webmaster guidelines:

The best way to optimize your content for search engine purposes is to not focus on SEO. Your main concern lies in the value you’re providing visitors. Focus your energy on creating quality content, and you’ll increase the organic visibility of your website.

If you’re just getting started in developing content for SEO purposes, check out marketing guru Neil Patel’s in-depth post on the subject.

Use of Keywords

Be strategic when placing keywords into your content.

As SEO wizard Brian Dean notes, “Without keywords, there’s no such thing as SEO.”

Determining the right keywords to slip into your content is a multi-step process, but the outcome will yield major visibility for your site. The process boils down to the following steps:

  1. Brainstorm potential keywords and phrases that relate to your brand and industry
  2. Conduct keyword research to determine the monthly search volume of each term and look into the competition you’ll face when trying to rank for them
  3. Begin creating content for the keywords you’ve determined to be most valuable (typically, the ones with high search volume and low to medium competition)

Brian Dean provides a deeper dive into keyword research and optimization.

Page Titles

Typically, page titles are the first thing your audience – and search engines – see on your web pages. Essentially, each of your page titles should give a concise idea of what the page is about. This may include the main keyword from the post, and should also clue the reader in as to what they can expect from the content.

Get creative with titles, so that when your page appears in a list of results for a specific term, the searcher zones in on your title above the rest. For more on crafting the perfect page title, check out this guide from Yoast.

URLs

Your web page URLs are important for SEO purposes for two main reasons:

  1. As with page titles, URLs give visitors and search engines a clear indication of the content.
  2. URLs showcase your site’s hierarchical structure.

When defining your URLs, use a modified version of the page’s title in the URL. For example, here’s the URL for our article titled “What Do Your Consumers Really Want To See On Your Social Channels?”:

https://postfunnel.com/consumers-really-want-see-social-channels/

Your URL should be as short as possible while still being descriptive enough for both search engines and your audience to grasp the main concept at a quick glance. Even though the URL isn’t a complete sentence, it should be pretty easy to decipher.

We’ll hand it off to Rand Fishkin for more on optimizing page titles for SEO purposes.

Page Structure

Part functionality, part aesthetics, the structure and design of your individual web pages play a huge role in SEO.

From a functional standpoint, the outline of your pages must allow for their easy navigation. The most important aspects are your page’s headings, subheadings, bullet points, and other such contextual clues that inform search engines what each page is about. Of course, this also makes it easy for your audience to find the exact information they’re looking for.

While the page’s aesthetics don’t technically matter all that much in terms of how search engines view your site, they should still satisfy your end user. Obviously, you want visitors to enjoy engaging with your site. For SEO purposes, the length of time your visitors stick around on your pages tells search engines how valuable your site is in the first place.

For some tips on what to do – and not to do – to enhance your site’s overall design, check out this post from PageCloud.

Technical SEO

The technical aspects of SEO refer to the “hidden” sides of the equation. They’re supposed to be invisible to users, and if any of these aspects are overtly noticeable, it probably means something’s gone wrong.

Site Hierarchy

Your site’s hierarchy is an essential part of making your site navigable for search engines and users. Site hierarchy refers to the structural relationship of each of your site’s pages to one another. Your site is made up of different “tiers,” with each tier including different pages.

Here’s an example of a site hierarchy:

Source

If the above graphic were for an ecommerce site, the smallest circles would represent individual product pages, the slightly larger circles specific product category pages, and the next tier broad product category pages. The website’s homepage would be at the top.

A proper site hierarchy allows users to pare down their browsing until they get to the exact page they need. The more logical the path, the easier it will be for both search engines and your visitors to navigate the page.

For more on developing a proper site hierarchy, head over to Neil Patel’s blog.

Site Indexing

Site indexing is the process search engine algorithms go through when assessing your site and its individual pages.

If the pages on your site aren’t denoted as indexed, Google will ignore it. It doesn’t matter how great or how optimized your content is; it’s essentially invisible to search engine algorithms.

There are certain times you’ll actually want to hide your pages from Google and other search engines, such as:

  • You know the page isn’t optimized yet
  • You’ve created a separate, updated version of an old page – but still want to keep the old page hidden online
  • A specific page isn’t meant to be viewed by the general public

This is where the robots.txt file of your site comes in. Within this file is a list of each of your website’s pages:Source

As you can see, this is a long list of pages tagged “disallow.” This means the owner of the site (in this case, Amazon) doesn’t want these pages to be crawled or listed by search engines.

Mobile Optimization

What would once score bonus points from an SEO perspective is now 100% expected from search engine algorithms. Google’s algorithms now consult the mobile version of your website before checking the desktop version when grading its overall value.

Luckily, Google has a tool to help determine your site’s mobile functionality.

Some of the main factors to consider for mobile:

  • Using larger fonts and navigational buttons
  • Compressing images
  • Avoiding the use of Flash
  • Minimizing the amount of on-site popups

Visitors may not take notice when everything is well and good, but they certainly will when things go wrong. Remember: a high bounce rate doesn’t look good in the eyes of the search engine gods; don’t give visitors reason to leave your site.

Check out Brian Dean’s guide to mobile optimization here.

Site Speed

What do you do when a site takes more than a few seconds to load?

While the average site load time typically hovers around seven seconds, most users start to grow antsy around the three-second mark. If your site takes much longer than that to fully load, you run a high risk of losing your visitor.

Since 2010, Google has counted site speed as a ranking factor for desktops, and earlier this year, they introduced it as a major ranking factor for mobile.

Search Engine Watch provides some powerful advice for optimizing site speed – along with a helpful checklist.

Broken Links

If site links bring visitors to a dead end, it’ll reflect negatively on your site and brand as a whole.

Every single link on your site must be accurate and fully functional. This means:

  • Ensuring the URL doesn’t contain a typo or other such error
  • Verifying that external pages still exist
  • Using the correct URLs

Say you link to an external blog post on an influencer’s site, but they decide to completely revamp the page you’ve linked to. While the link isn’t dead, it points to an irrelevant page. Even this may lead to a penalty from search engine algorithms.

Monitoring and fixing dead links is an ongoing process. Check out SEOPressor’s tips on how to stay abreast of the situation.

Off-Site SEO

There’s also a lot you can do for SEO purposes even away from your website. Here’s what you can do off-site to enhance your search engine visibility.

Link Building

Link building is the process of getting other sites to link to your web pages, increasing your overall visibility.

Your goal is to get respectable and well-trafficked websites to link to your own pages. Links on non-reputable and/or irrelevant sites is cause for penalization.

When search engines see that a reputable site (one with high domain authority) linked to your page, it “understands” that this reputable site holds your site in high regard and deems your content valuable.

The main principles of link building are:

  • Creating the best content on a given topic that you possibly can
  • Using tools like Moz’s Link Explorer to find sites that are relevant to your niche, and contacting them about including a link to your content within their blog posts, or Linkio, to know how many backlinks you need and what anchor text to use
  • Refraining from buying link placement on popular sites to try to game the search engine’s algorithms

We’ll again refer to SEO guru Brian Dean on this one.

Reputation Building

The goal of creating valuable content and earning links on sites with high domain authority is not only to gain visibility, but also to showcase your brand’s value.

But building your brand’s online reputation requires more than a few well-placed links to your site on more popular sites. It also involves ensuring that the vast majority of your brand mentions across the web are positive.

A few examples:

  • Positive reviews on third-party sites, such as Yelp or Amazon
  • Mentions of your product/service/brand in roundup blog posts (e.g., “The X Best Customer Retention Blogs on the Web”)
  • Ensuring that your own media is cohesive and well-maintained

Reputation building doesn’t just occur online. It encompasses everything your brand does as a service provider and the overall value you bring to customers.

Rand Fishkin provides a few tips to increase your brand’s reputation on- and offline, which will ultimately lead to an increase in your search engine rankings.

Wrapping Up

A lot goes into optimizing your website for search engine visibility. SEO is a long-game process. You’re not going to rank #1 on Google overnight – the system isn’t set up that way. Nonetheless, consideration of how you can optimize your online presence using smart SEO practices is absolutely a worthwhile exercise.

No need to wait for the new year – we’ll let you get started right away.

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Matt Duczeminski

Matt is a professional writer specializing in helping entrepreneurs improve relationships with their customers. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Sarah, and he'd probably get a lot more work done if his cat would stop bothering him.

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