3 Keys To SEO Success: Usability, Relevance and Authority
Posted in SEO on February 11, 2013 by Matt Bitzer
It's been so long since we last contributed to the ever-expanding knowledge base that is the web that you probably assumed Blue Magnet had been the victim of a very localized 2012 Mayan apocalypse. Not so, my fellow digital denizens. Fortunately, 2013 has jump-started us into another great year. So much so, in fact, that we've had to put the blog on hold while we manage the growth of our company--a welcome change, indeed, but I'm sorry to say it has come at the expense of our own blog contributions. In other words, we're preachin' but not practicin'.
Nevertheless, we're back and ready to dive right in with a topic almost as legendary and mysterious as the Maya themselves: SEO. Specifically, I'd like to explore the core areas compose a given business's search engine optimization efforts.
Those outside of the search industry typically associate SEO with keywords...and only keywords. Their understanding of SEO is somewhere along the lines of optimization circa 1997, where simply stuffing your content with keywords alone may have bought you top rankings in Altavista or Hotbot. But in our brave new online world, keywords alone do not an effective SEO campaign make. The way I see it, there are 3 keys to setting your website up for SEO success: building great site usability, creating relevant content and establishing your site as a trusted authority.
The Search Engine Raison d'Être
In order to understand the core components of SEO, you have to first understand the purpose of a search engine. Like any major business, the end goal of the major search engines is to make money through a sustainable business model. As you've probably figured by now, the model of choice for the search engines is advertising. Just like the newspaper biz, search engines thrive on advertising revenue. And the way you sell more advertising is by having a large, targeted audience viewing your product. Google has just that. The more users Google gets to adopt its products (like Google Search, YouTube, Google+, Google Maps and all their other products), the more consumer eyes are on Google.com--the perfect place to present targeted Google Adwords PPC campaigns.
How Do Search Engines Build An Audience?
This isn't the Field of Dreams, so building it does not necessarily mean they will come. Search engines create an audience by providing a valuable service to consumers: delivering relevant websites based on a search query. If search engines provided crappy results users would simply turn to other channels to find information on the web (see: social media). That's why it's in the search engines' best interest to provide customers with the most relevant information from the most trusted authorities on that subject. Search Engine Optimization is really just about making sure your website is providing the search engines (and ultimately the searching public) with the most relevant and trusted website content.
We Have The Same Goals!
This is great news! Our goal of providing relevant, trusted information to our visitors is the same goal that the search engines have. In the end it's all about helping the customer find the information they need. When Google sees businesses providing this information on their websites, it rewards them by ranking them higher in the search results. It's so elegant in its simplicity, and best of all, everybody wins! And it makes sense. Why would Google or Bing promote a site that uses spammy keyword techniques, has little relevant information to your search and is part of a sketchy link network? Promoting a site like that is a good way to drive users to other search engines--one which would hopefully offer better results.
The 3 Pillars of SEO
Once you understand the search engine's goals, it becomes clear that SEO is more than just keyword and link building; instead, it's about improving the usabilty of your site, the relevance of its textual content to the searcher, and the level of authority your site has within its industry. Ultimately, both you and the search engines want to create a better user experience (which means more conversions). And, although there are MANY, MANY ever-changing factors that determine how search engines like Google and Bing rank your website for given keywords, for the most part those individual criteria all tend to fit nicely into these 3 high level categories:
I'll break it down even more so you can get a better understanding of what I mean for each category. In addition, we'll explore a few good examples of the SEO work done for each.
Site Architecture (for Usability)
Site architecture, as the name suggests, is the foundation of your SEO--it's about creating a user-friendly website. Any good SEO professional will tell you that before you even dive into writing optimized content or building links, you need to ensure that your actual website is built in a user-friendly way. After all, what good is it sending thousands of visitors to your site if the site's webpages offer such poor usability that those same visitors leave your site in frustration? Overall, site architecture is about designing and coding your website in a way that benefits your visitors. The easier it is for your customers to find, access and navigate your site, the better you'll rank in the search engines.
Site architecture is one of the more technical aspects of SEO and includes things like:
This list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to optimizing your website's architecture, but it's crucial to understand that not all optimization is in plain view. Some of the magic takes place behind the curtain. And while it's not nearly as visible or glamorous or understood by all clients, it's imperative to the success of your SEO campaign nonetheless.
Content Optimization (for Relevance)
This is what most people think of when they think SEO. Whereas site architecture focuses on the usability of your site, content optimization deals with the relevance of your site to the searcher. How relevant is your page content to the keyword query of your visitor?
While keyword optimization can be an important part of site architecture (ie, for naming files and organization), much of your keyword research will take shape in the content optimization section of SEO. It's the meat of the campaign and comprises the (mostly) visible content on the page. Making your site more relevant to searchers through Content Optimization can be done in the following ways:
Relationship Building (for Trust)
It's great if your site is user friendly and the on-page content is optimized to the gills, but if those were the only factors that determined search rankings, there would be a tremendous amount of unscrupulous nogoodniks that could easily game the system. This is because the site owner has complete control over the site architecture and the content on the site. However, the one thing that the site owner doesn't control is the public's trust in their site.
The search engines needed a way to establish trust online. Which sites should be considered an authority in their industry? And how do search engines assign a value on authority? Enter link building and social media. Google and Bing decided that the best way to determine the trustworthiness of your site is by evaluating it based on the company you keep. Which sites link to yours? Who shares your links on social media? These social cues are indicators to the search engines that your content is a trusted source of information. It's also why search engine optimization can take so long to impact your site. Trust isn't something you earn overnight; you become an authority through consistent leadership over time within a given field.
With that in mind, here are some ways that the search engines establish trust:
Making The Web A Better Place To Search
The good news is that you and the search engines are both working towards the same goal! So build your site with usability, relevance and trust in mind and watch your site climb the search rankings. These lists are by no means exhaustive, but they should give you an idea of why SEO is such a time-intensive undertaking any why the search engines promote sites that benefit their users. By improving your site content and how your users find information on your web pages, not only will you see an increase in traffic to your site, but you'll also see an increase in those visitors converting to paying customers!