Your Guide to Healthy SEO
Ben Travis, Former Marketing Manager, and
Albert Wavering, Former Digital Analyst
A framework to address long-term SEO at different levels.
Search drives the web -- roughly two-thirds of website visitors originate from organic search. This search traffic represents a tremendous opportunity to present your product or service to customers who are actively looking for a solution to a problem or an answer to a question. This highly motivated behavior means that search is often a website's highest converting source of traffic.
But all too often, when we want to improve our site SEO, we fall prey to “quick-fixes”, just as we do when we’re enticed by fad diets. As with our physical health, lasting improvement in our SEO should be approached as a lifestyle adjustment: it starts with a fundamental change in our mindset; we then move on to basics, like eating a balanced diet, which lays the foundation for a healthy system; once we establish our diet, we begin doing some aerobics several times a week; from there, we start lifting and gaining muscle. As with health, we can try to cheat the system with shortcuts, but search engines are vigilant in policing — if you start doping, you will get penalized by Google.
So, how do we, dare we say, make SEO great again? In this article, we’ll cover a framework to address long-term SEO at different levels — starting with a change in our mindset, moving on to basic standards that every site should adhere to, and finishing with proactive SEO strategies that require additional investment.
Brand & Content Strategy
As Lewis Carroll said, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. Content and brand strategy establish a clear direction, voice, and tone to guide all of your site’s communication. They form the scaffolding that ensures your content is built around your organization's core idea(s), and that consistency helps bolster your site’s reputation as a reliable source. Building up your credibility around a specific topic is something search engines value a great deal.
With solid brand and content strategies established, the next logical step is consistently creating high-quality content. It requires expert, authoritative, and trustworthy information. Content should be comprehensive and current to reinforce your website as a reliable and reputable source on a certain topic. Short answers don’t cut it anymore. That’s why knowledge graph panels exist — if your content’s value can be replaced by a box on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP), it could soon be obsolete.
Old-school SEO focused on keywords. New-school SEO focuses on high click-through rates, “long clicks”, freshness, and amplification...which are all signals that users are successfully finding the answers they’re looking for in your content. Your content can target any audience, but if it doesn’t sufficiently deliver the information that audience is seeking, you’re out of luck. Marketers call the behavior of bouncing into and out of multiple search results pogo-sticking, and it’s a behavior that indicates to search engines that you’re not doing a very good job providing relevant content for that search query.
It’s not that keyword text doesn’t matter, but starting with a focused content strategy will help you identify audiences and topics that should guide your keyword selection. Keywords grafted onto your content without a strategy may be effective — at first — but they are destined to wither in their artificial environment. The real key to using the right words on your site is identifying the core ideas that will catalyze those words in the first place. Yes, search engines match on text, among many other things, but search engines are also smarter than ever.
Stepping it up to the next level means regularly updating and creating new, high-quality content. This principle applies doubly to anything related to topics like medicine, law, or finance. Anyone can do the content equivalent of a juice cleanse for a week, but do you have the discipline and resources to hold on to a balanced diet for a month? A year? Shifting the mindset of an organization to focus on consistently creating great content is difficult, but it’s necessary to keep information relevant.
Examples of high-quality content to convey expertise:
WWF - Animal Pages (Giant Panda)
WHHA - Historical Articles (Comfort in My Retirement)
Viget - Blog Posts (Color Contrast for Better Readability)
Design & Development
If a balanced diet is the building block for a healthy body, strong design and development is the foundation for a satisfied user base.
Information Architecture allows people and search engines to better understand the content structure on a site. By researching and organizing information in an intuitive manner, you’ll be rewarded with greater user engagement and satisfaction. Unfortunately, many websites contain relevant information for search users but lack the right structure and navigation to present it in an intuitive fashion, which ultimately sends users right back to SERPs.
Responsive Design provides a high quality user experience on any screen. At Viget, responsive design has been standard on all projects for some time, but if you’re stuck with a desktop-only site, log into your web analytics for a reality check. Mobile-friendliness is a powerful aspect of SEO, and you could unknowingly be missing out on droves of mobile search users — the recommended way to solve this issue is through responsive design. Search engines don’t joke around with this issue, and all new Google search features are now created with a mobile-first mindset. Coincidence? I think not.
On-page SEO best practices allow us to communicate with search engines in a language that they can understand. Fortunately, search engines and researchers have compiled checklists (yes, we also have our own checklist at Viget) based on common markup and important ranking factors. If we know how to talk to them, search engines can give us the freedom to customize much of the content that appears on SERPs, from titles to descriptions to search boxes to knowledge graph panels. We can also provide more information about each piece of content to let search engines know its relative priority, as well as additional information on other media like images, video, and audio files.
Site speed, from the front end to the back end, is an often overlooked area of web development that also has SEO implications. In an era of video bloat, widespread ads, and hefty plugins, mobile users and the 89% of the world’s population without access to fixed broadband internet are often forgotten. Quick loading and light page size improves the user experience by getting people the information they are looking for faster and is one of the ranking factors search engines consider. This is why site speed should be a concern of savvy SEOs, developers, and UX designers. Whether it’s investing in a faster web server, creating a site in React, or switching to HTTPS, making your site load more quickly improves your chances of showing up on page one.
Not everyone needs to look like an athlete, but some professions demand it. Whether we like it or not, SEO isn’t simply “plug n’ play”, and it won’t automatically look after itself. You’d be surprised, however, at the ROI you can achieve with a few hours of focused outreach every month. In a strange twist, Google is smart enough to figure out the main topic you’re writing about, but you need to do some work to share it with others to get some social proof. This social proof (in the form of links and social media discussion) serves as a signal to Google that your content is authoritative and useful. So how do you generate this social proof? Use owned channels, which include your own email lists, social profiles, and personal contacts, to spread the content to the right people. Start by identifying people who write about similar topics or have shared content that is similar to yours, and get in touch. They might be willing to share your content with their audience.
Organic search is a powerful channel for getting new customers, but SEO isn’t a one-time investment, and it won’t magically fix your marketing challenges. Effective SEO necessitates a lifestyle change that requires ongoing attention. Once you get into the habit of thinking about SEO, you’ll start to see it in everything you publish online. As for next steps, decide how much time you want to invest in SEO and start developing a content strategy that's both relevant and authoritative.
Here’s a quick recap:
- Brand & Content Strategy
- Figure out your audience and message
- Provide valuable information rooted in your initial strategy
- Create high-quality content on a recurring basis
- Design & Development
- Establish intuitive information architecture
- Build a website that looks great on all screens
- Follow an on-site SEO checklist
- Minimize site load time
- Reach out to others to get social proof in the form of links and conversation about your content
- Focused Outreach
This article is just a start. For more reading, check out some of our favorite SEO experts below: