In my 10 years of doing SEO as a full time job I've always looked for ways to describe and categorize everything in the search world as simply as possible.
I've discovered many different ways to break down SEO that are more easily digestible for clients, agencies, partners, family and friends who ask me "What is SEO?".
When I describe a successful SEO campaign I always end up lumping everything into 2 main categories that can be broken down further once they're both fully understood.
In this article I'm going to show you the main 2 categories to a good SEO campaign and dive into how they work, and why.
Here's the first category for performing well in search:
1. Fix things that are broken.
To begin with, you're working with robots.
They may not be the kind you think about like Johnny Five rolling around on tracks and talking to us, but like him they're very interested in "input". The thing is, they can only read things that are structured a certain way.
Let's pretend for a moment that all websites are books and tucked away in a giant library. The library is the Web at large.
Now to really make this an accurate metaphor let's destroy that library by knocking all the books off the shelves and tearing out the pages - many of which are now lost forever - mixing everything up and wrecking the organizational system. Let's go a couple of steps further by confusing the authors of all the books and disconnecting any cross references between them.
Hopefully by now you understand that the web is a giant mess.
Luckily, our friendly robot Google is here to make the web easy to understand and search despite the fact it's such a mess.
So how does this relate to us and what can we do about it?
For this first part all we need to worry about is taking our own little slice of the web, our website, the one book in the whole library that we care about, and cleaning it up to make it easy for the robot to read.
We'll clean up our book so the robot can not only read it, but also understand what it's about. We'll put the pages back in order, stick a good title on it and reassign the author appropriately.
Just like in this library metaphor, we'll fix the issues on our website so Google can finally access, crawl and understand it.
This literally means repairing all of the technical issues keeping Google from being able to fully access our website. The more repaired and organized our site is the more Google immediately begins to trust us.
This "fixing broken things" process includes:
Addressing 404 errors on the site by either repairing the links or creating 301 redirects to more relevant pages
Canonicalizing URLs so either www or non-www URLs load the site, not both. (Usually do the same with IP addresses)
Shortening long Title tags that have been truncated by Google, add appropriate keywords to them relevant to their page, etc.
Creating the proper hierarchy of headings on the page in order; H1, H2, H3, H4, etc.
Creating an updated XML Sitemap file and robots.txt file so Google can immediately see what it should and shouldn't index
Of course many other technical issues we don't have time to cover in this article.
In most SEO cases clients begin to see results immediately after we clean up and organize their site and address a majority of their technical issues.
Keep in mind though, this is only half of the equation. The other half requires you to:
2. Produce new things.
Now that we've got our one little book in this giant, messy library (our own website) in order, the next best thing we can do for this disheveled library is begin producing new, clean, relevant stuff.
This typically translates into creating fresh content for the site and in an organized way. We like to look at a few other books that are in great shape in this messy library of ours. You know, the ones that keep getting rented from the library? (AKA showing up first in the Google search results for your target keywords!) We like to find out what these books have in them that makes them so popular.
Once we have some creative ideas we begin producing. Most of our production includes content like:
Site landing pages
Deeper detail pages (Think product/service/solution detail pages)
Thought leadership content (Evergreen like blog articles but stored higher in the navigation)
Linkable tools and assets
And many more based on your industry and capabilities.
This is when Google really gets hungry for what you have and rewards you for your efforts.
Just like Johnny Five tearing through books Google get's used to being fed content from you on a frequent basis and wants more. We like to feed Google relevant blog articles that discuss diverse angles of topics in our clients' respective industries.
This usually leads to searchers discovering the blog content and coming into the site. Once there, they see the opportunity for getting more input of their own. Usually, visitors will click around and look at more blog articles, pages of content, or in some really useful cases they'll download a report, white paper or ebook and read through it.
Obviously at this point you can see the benefit to us as marketers and our clients as businesses; they exchange their email address for content and literally give you permission to send them more content!
Before you know it you've taken up so much equity in people's minds that when it's time to make a buying decision for something in your industry they simply can't help but to associate the decision to you, someone they trust.
What helps that trust factor even more? When someone specifically recommends you by name.
How does that work on the web? With hyperlinks.
Think about if several of the books in this messy, broken library linked to a single, beautifully organized book sitting neatly on a shelf. Do you think this robot would be intrigued and trust that book more than some of the others, torn apart and tossed at the bottom of a pile? You betcha.
This means we need to get some hyperlinks pointing into our site. We need to get other sites that are in the same industry as us to link to our site, and users of social networks in our industry sharing our posts and content, interacting with our social networks and site, etc.
The more of this activity Google sees happening between other sites and ours, the more Google trusts our site.
At the end of the day, users want to use a site that's clean, organized, easy to access, and contains a lot of fresh new content relevant to what they're interested in.
Just like the user, Google builds trust by these two halves working out seamlessly together.
When you think about the job Google has to do, you suddenly understand the importance of cleaning up the library (Web) and producing new, clean, relevant and organized pages for Google to index (Content) and finding reasons to trust that content (Links/Social activity).
Studying SEO can be a rabbit hole just like studying the freemasons, but when you look at it through the lens of these 2 halves hopefully you see how simple it can really be.