At the end of the day, to move the needle in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) you need two things:
That may seem like an oversimplification, and it is in a way. Let me explain.
It has been long established, and even admitted by Google, that links and content are the main factors in determining search rankings. This makes sense when you think about it - search engines exist to connect searchers to the answers to their questions through website pages, products, and services. A dynamic phonebook/encyclopedia if you will.
Searchers are looking for information, products and services, and Google aims to serve the best, most authoritative and popular content at the top of a search result to ensure searchers continue to use their platform.
This is where good content is key. When it is informative, relevant and authoritative, the searcher gets what they are after right away which promotes repeat uses and incentivises Google to rank your content highly.
It should be no surprise that backlinks are an important factor.
Backlinks serve as a “vote” that the page they link back to is trustworthy enough to be cited on the referring page. It allows Google to understand which pages are the authority in a niche. More votes = more authority = higher rankings. While there are shady ways to take advantage of this in the short run, Google eventually will ignore these so called ‘black hat links’.
Luckily, we have the Penguin Update to combat link building spam. Image.
The Penguin Update launched by Google in 2012 to limit the effect of black hat link building. Websites found to be violating Google’s terms of service by using black hat links were penalised by having their sites removed from Google’s database so they would never appear in search results – several high profile cases like that of J.C. Penny and Interflora found to be using these techniques shows that Google isn’t afraid of penalising even huge, international brands. This means that SEOs need to focus on creating and promoting content that attains backlinks naturally to prevent any penalties.
What About Technical SEO!
We love technical SEO.
Going ‘under the hood’ to optimise a myriad of inconsistencies or missing data is vital to ensuring your website can be crawled and indexed by Google efficiently. After all, writing amazing content that can’t be crawled due to a misplaced noindex tag isn’t going to get you anywhere.
But great technical implementation is table stakes. Everyone is trying to make their website fast and mobile friendly, ensuring it has an SSL certificate and is free from 301 chains or loops. However, If the technical details are all in order and a website isn’t performing as it should in search, the issue lies elsewhere.
So, while technical SEO audits are among the first activities undertaken when looking at a new website, their main purpose is to bring the website up to speed to align with other top performers in search.
As SEOs we like to optimise (it’s in the job description) but can easily over-obsess about technical best practices. Are there one too many keywords in this title tag? How many more internal links will this page need? Do I need to fix that page SemRush says has a low text-to-HTML ratio?
The list of possible “one-percenter” optimisations is almost endless, and each agency will have their own spin on exactly what to prioritise based on their own experience. While important, they should not play second fiddle to the two main drivers of leads and business enquiries in organic search – content and links.
No matter how many technical SEO updates you make, content is going to factor heavily into your ongoing SEO campaign. It is the basis for search engine rankings, so no content = no (relevant) rankings.
“Just write great content” is a bit of a cliché and the most commonly stated feedback from Google when algorithms change. Since algorithm changes can tank your rankings, future proof your SEO efforts by writing superb content tailored to the user’s intent rather than over optimising for specific keywords.
The cornerstone of your content creation, keywords, form the basis of topics to cover. This shouldn’t be confused with the black hat ‘keyword stuffing’ techniques of old. There’s no need to analyse pages for keyword density either – the right ratio of keywords to text is the one that is most natural to normal language use.
Good content will of course mention the keyword, but should explore the topic and use semantic SEO to future-proof rankings.
Knowing who you are trying to target makes focusing on your goal of enhancing business performance through SEO that much easier. When creating content, we always start with a clear goal - identifying the strategy behind the content piece in line with the “Five Key Questions”:
Who: is being targeted? What personas does the content need to appeal to in order to draw them in and make sure that the traffic that it brings is the right kind audience?
Why: is this piece being created? What is its purpose and how does it fit into SEO goals? Where does it fit into the marketing funnel?
What: is being created? Think about the target audience/personas that the piece is meant to speak to and how they consume content and what their interests or pain points are – is it a video, a blog post, custom research?
How: is the content going to be amplified to ensure it can get the views it needs to facilitate sharing and earning backlinks that will enhance it’s position in Google which will raise its rankings and drive further traffic to the website.
When: will the post be released? Is it around specific events, seasonal trends or current affairs? Or is it going to be an evergreen piece that audiences will find and engage with at any point in time?
Knowing the answers to these questions prevents our content from going off on tangents and ensures that we aren’t creating content “for the sake of it” We know who we are creating for and which keywords they will use to try and engage with it. Content that is targeted will rank better for longer-tail keywords to help our audience find information or move along the conversion funnel.
Content that has a point, a goal, and a takeaway that is tangible and relevant to the target audience will help with SEO priority #2: backlinks.
There is a strong correlation between links and rankings. All else being equal with your content or technical optimisation, links will drive your website to the top of search results. This is why black hat link purchasing from Private Blog Networks (PBNs) is such big business – it’s easy to buy links with optimised anchor text and make your search rankings, and therefore traffic and sales, soar.
For those (wisely) unwilling to choose this high risk, high reward strategy in a post-Penguin update world, the focus should be directed at developing good content that automatically ranks well alongside an outreach strategy to get more visibility across your content – both with the aim of attracting links.
Backlinko ran a comprehensive study which found longer form content gains more links than shorter posts. Google doesn’t use length a ranking factor. But longer posts contain more text and so can utilise a higher word count to:
Leverage semantic SEO better
Convey more comprehensive, thorough and useful information and;
Attain more backlinks due to the above.
Longer form content that thoroughly covers a topic can be a useful research tool for bloggers, writers and other content creators. Creating engaging content will deliver brand awareness and encourage more content creators to link back to your website.
Great content that is targeted to your audience and specifically addresses their interests, needs and will lead to higher rankings and attract backlinks naturally. Your audience will want to associate with and refer to content that bring their readers value so they will share it and link to it in their own content, expanding the reach of your audience even further.
The additional traffic and links this content gains naturally will improve the rankings of your website, furthering the reach of it. Consumers (and search engines!) are wise to links that look unnatural, and these dodgy practices can negatively affect your brand awareness and lead to your website being removed from Google.
Trusting in the tried and tested content and links strategy de-complicates the SEO process and ensures that you brands organic traffic grows to reach more prospects.