I remember when I left for college in 1998 — I was traveling from Salt Lake City to Dallas, and all I had was one giant map with my route highlighted and off I went.
Back then, you didn't have that handy voice telling you to turn left or take this coming exit. If you were wondering which exit to take, you had to (hopefully pullover) open up your map, find where you thought you were, and find the turn you had to make. You had to vigilantly watch the road signs to know if you were heading in the right direction.
The world of SEO, which is still very young and experimental, is not so different from these days of maps and road signs. Simply put, the work of SEO is a lot like starting on a road trip and then monitoring the road signs to ensure you are on the right path.
All successful road trips start with preparation and planning.
We've all heard the question, “When will I reach my goal?”
Whether it’s rankings, traffic, or conversions, we all have a destination in mind when we do SEO work. Or at least we should — after all, every road trip starts with a destination in mind.
To determine your destination, begin by asking the question, “What am I trying to do?” Ask yourself, “Where do I want this to end up in 3 months? 6 months? Or a year or more down the path?” Answering these questions will guide strategic planning and provide the framework to evaluate whether you have the means to get to your destination.
In this first part, we’ll look at the things you’ll need to consider before you even start your journey.
Technical Considerations: Your Website’s Chassis
No one is thinking about the chassis of their car or truck when driving down the road. Hopefully, they don’t have to. But with SEO, not considering the frame that holds your website together can lead to big losses down the road. Like a car’s chassis, all the most important elements of your SEO efforts will either be supported or fall apart depending on the strength or weakness of your website’s chassis.
Here are a few things you’ll want to consider when evaluating the strength of your website:
- Are nofollow tags preventing Google spiders from crawling your site?
- Have you secured your site properly via HTTPS standards?
- Are title tags optimized?
- Are you using H1 and H2 designations properly?
Making these technical fixes and optimizations is a necessary practice to ensure your website can reach the destination you have in mind.
Keyword Research: The Road Map to Your Destination
No road trip should be considered without properly mapping out which roads to take and which to avoid. A good road map will help you visualize where you are heading so you can follow the signs along the way to reach your destination. This is where keyword research comes in — keyword research serves as the map for your SEO road trip.
Keyword research is the process of identifying the terms and phrases people enter into search engines to find relevant websites and pages. Keyword research is a core SEO practice because it helps you understand how and why people come to your website, how your competitors attract visitors, and generally how often your audience searches online.
Keyword research is an investment in understanding what search engines think your customers are looking for. It doesn’t matter if you think moving in a straight line is the quickest way to reach your destination if there is a mountain separating you and your goal. Keyword research helps you plot the optimal path to your destination. If you are new to this idea, consider working through our keyword research guide.
Content: The Engine That Moves Your Website
Content plays a significant role in helping you reach your SEO destination. Content is the engine that drives your website, serving visitors and search engines alike.
Like an engine, content has many different parts and they all work together. Content plays many different roles on your website, including:
- Providing information.
- Supporting navigation.
- Influencing the decision process.
- Communicating your message and ideals.
All these parts working together push your website forward, helping you reach your destination, even in ways you weren’t expecting.
A complete content strategy includes content that supports visitors at each stage of the buyer's journey: awareness, consideration, and decision-making.
Backlinks: Fuel That Powers Your Website
Backlinks remain an important part of competing in search because links are a vote of authority online.
Your content plays a huge part in your linkability because most websites don’t carry the branding needed to earn links purely on the merit of their brand name or products and services.
Most sites need to produce content that is linkable to earn backlinks. Linkable content is typically top-funnel content that targets the discovery stage, but these pages can pass equity through your site by internally linking to mid-funnel, and bottom-funnel pages.
You can have the best-looking chassis (technically optimized site) and a high-performance engine (high-quality content) and still get nowhere without fuel (links) to propel your car (website). Without links, you’ll never reach your SEO destination.
Links are essential to SEO success and you should spend some time learning how you are linking internally and who is linking to you externally.
Now that the car is reliable, the roadmap has been laid out, the engine is humming, and your gas tank is full, your SEO journey can begin.