There are 3 main pillars of SEO, content, links and technical. But where should YOU be focusing your time to get the most value from your SEO efforts?
It’s different for every website, but most fall within certain categories, so in this post, I’m hopefully going to shed some light on where the best place to focus if you’re in these certain positions.
So I’m going to break this down into 4 sections. I’m going to cover where you should focus if you have a brand new website, or if you are trying to break into a really competitive market, if you have an eCom store, and if you have a large user-generated content site (think G2, Pinterest).
So, let’s get into it.
A Brand New Site
So, I’m going to assume you have just bought a domain and have some initial content up to answer this. There are of course a lot of variables, for example, if you’re a local business the plan will be different.
You will be up against bigger sites, there is no doubt about it. It’s not easy to start a new site, but it can be done.
So content-wise we need to be making sure we’re properly covering the topic at hand, this means going above and beyond what is currently out there. We aren’t in a position where we can rely upon our overall domain strength (I talk about domain metrics here).
Without content we need to stay pretty niched down, at least to begin with. If you’re building a new site, it’s far easier to start small and build out, than it is to build large, to begin with.
We’re playing catch up, so generating a lot of *good* content should be the highest priority. The rest of your SEO will be much easier if you start with great content, Brian Dean has written a great post on 10X content here:
Good links always help, and links are never more important than when you’re first starting. Before we get into specific tactics, you should focus on sorting all of your foundational links first. Foundational links are those every business should have, so think Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
If you’re a legitimate business you should have those, although they aren’t what you’d call “needle movers” they go a long way to creating trust around your brand which is important when you get more into link building.
At this point, nobody really knows your brand, and it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to go all out building links to just your most important pages just yet.
*Building links to your most important pages is always a good idea, but when first starting out I always like to build up my overall domains strength before I just blast links at my most financially important pages.*
Always start with quality, a great way to get some great PR style links is to create a story around your market and pitch it to relevant journalists. You can also create unique data to pitch a story from that, the easiest (lowest barrier to entry) would be to start with HARO.
Doing these methods you’re going to be getting strong brand focused links that are going to make your SEO life a whole lot easier down the road.
To rank on Google (or any other search engine for that matter!) you need to have a technically sound website, which means it’s not horrendously slow, and it can be crawled and indexed.
However, with a new website, a lot of the “problems” where you’d need a technical expert aren’t something you need to worry about just yet.
At this stage, I’d recommend doing a SiteBulb crawl and fixing and “major” SEO issues.
Other than that, there are better uses of your time at this stage.
Established Site Looking To Break Into A Competitive Space
At this point, you’re starting to get a bit of traffic for more long-tail keywords, but you want to take the next step in ranking for the seed terms. We’re going to assume you have a somewhat large site with 200+ indexed pages with content that is aligned with your market. IE it’s not a generalist website.
More content is usually better (not always), but at this point, we have a lot of useful content for our market. And it doesn’t make as much sense to keep pushing out content for the sake of adding content.
We are however going to want to revisit our content clusters, have we built content around our seed term with supporting content interlinked? This should have been the plan from the beginning, you should have a proper hierarchy within your content. What that means it the content you have built to rank for your seed term has the most internal links pointing towards it.
If you’d like to learn more about clusters, Hubspot has a good write up here:
Providing you have covered the topic well and in-depth, and you have a proper internal linking structure. Backlinks are what is going to be stopping you from progressing further and ranking for more competitive keywords.
At this point typically we would be creating linkable assets so we can continue adding content (ideally we always want to be adding content, but not just for the sake of it), but also continue to build the websites overall authority through getting relevant links.
Stats posts, data studies, how-to guides are all great examples of linkable assets that build links over time and are great for internal links.
Digital PR is another great way to build up the domain strength in a relatively short time frame.
Want to find out more about linkable assets? Here is a great post by Ahrefs:
Again we aren’t dealing with a very large site, so as long as the site has been set up correctly typically this isn’t going to be something we put a lot of effort into. Obviously, we do need to check it as we do with all our sites.
We want to make sure that the site is crawlable, indexable, has proper architecture, and isn’t overly slow.
Product Heavy Ecommerce Store
Aren’t all eCommerce sites product heavy? Well yes, they kind of are. But what a lot of eCommerce sites have in common is a real lack of any other type of content. In this case, there are certain things we’d recommend doing.
Ecommerce stores usually struggle when it comes to creating content that captures readers attention further up the buying funnel. For example, it makes sense from a business standpoint to target what sells the most products, so you’d target the product keywords first.
Naturally, a lot of businesses never stop approaching SEO in this way, and before you know it you have a site with 100’s of product pages and very little content outside of product descriptions.
With this in mind, we’d be putting a lot of effort into creating content around the top-level categories. For example, if you were selling camera’s, it might make sense to write a guide about taking the perfect portrait photo. Not only is it a great way to add internal links to our product pages, think camera’s, lenses, tripods etc.
But it will be a great way for us to get links! But more on that next.
Creating content further up the funnel allows us to build other assets which can be used to target them later, such as email lists, social followings, etc.
Unless you have a very unique/revolutionary product, this is another aspect where eCommerce sites tend to struggle. Who wants to link to a product page where there is no real benefit to them?
Unless you want to start paying for links (there are pros and cons to this), it’s unlikely (not impossible) that any genuine site is going to link to your product page. So we can get around this by creating our useful content as we mentioned above.
I know I keep going on about the linkable assets, but think about it from a website owners point of view, what would you rather link to? A camera, or a post about how to take a good portrait photo? Sure sometimes it would make sense to link to a camera, but in that case, you’re competing with whoever just happens to be ranking number 1 at that given time.
Here is a great study on how much more the top results grow in referring domains compared to the rest of page 1:
*This is also why we like to build linkable assets that rank*
Something we haven’t really put a lot of effort into so far, but that does change here. There can be a lot of issues with eCommerce stores, with a lot of products there can be issues with cannibalisation, duplicate content, and sitemap issues.
If we have a lot of similar products to a certain degree cannibalisation can’t really be helped, but it can be minimised. We can and should be setting canonical tags to the main page we want to rank.
There is also an issue with variants, no, not the Alligator type!
Going back to our camera examples, does it make sense to index different size lenses? Yes, it does.
Does it make sense to index whether you want to have a lens with a case? Probably not. So we need to properly look into what makes sense for your business in this case.
URL structure is another area where things can get a bit messy, below is a bad example of what to do:
Although far from the worst you’ll see, it doesn’t make it easy to share or even link to.
Here is a better example:
Try to keep the URL structure clean and built it in a way that allows you to expand your product range without creating long complex URLs.
Am I cheating? Did I just write a guide on where to focus and then include a site where I’ve just said everything is the focus? Kind of.
Large user-generated content site
So for this section, we as an agency don’t have a lot of experience. So we decided to ask somebody who does. Kevin Indig (Currently Organic Growth @ Shopify).
Previously worked at G2, and was there when they had a great deal of growth.
Kevin Indig - Organic Growth @ Shopify
So we asked him:
Richard: Whilst you worked at G2, did you have a particular area that you as a company decided to focus your SEO efforts?
Kevin: Technical SEO for the main site, content marketing for the learn hub. Technical SEO had the most profound impact, especially internal linking, content moderation and optimization, and title optimization.
Richard: Was there a particular aspect of the G2 project that was particularly successful? And if so what?
Kevin: Category page optimization, especially with content and titles. We also set up our own share of voice score, which was really helpful.
Richard: And finally, if you had a time machine, other than buying a winning lottery ticket. Was there anything you would have done differently whilst at G2?
Kevin: I would have invested in monitoring certain metrics related to technical SEO and SEO performance.
If you’d like to learn more about Kevin do yourself a favour and follow him on Twitter.
What does this tell us? Well naturally a site like G2 is going to benefit more from a technical improvement than any link building campaign. Currently, they’re sitting at 56K LRDs!