What’s the Biggest Priority in an SEO Campaign?
There are a lot of factors that determine your search rank for various queries. If you read Moz’s comprehensive report on search ranking factors, you might be pretty intimidated. There are onsite factors, like title tags and domain features, ongoing factors, like the provision of new content and new links, and offsite factors, such as guest posts and social shares. All of these things together culminate in your visibility in search results.
For a marketer with a limited budget, limited resources, or a limited attention span (or some blend of the three), this is both intimidating and frustrating. It might be impossible for you to dedicate full and proper attention to every area of SEO, but you still want to see the best possible results for your brand. So if you could only choose one thing to do, what would it be? What’s the most important priority in getting a site ranked?
The Most Important Factors for Ranking
There are simply too many small factors active here for me to be comprehensive and list them all. Instead, I’m going to sketch out the most important factors for building higher ranks:
- “High level” onsite factors. When I say “high level,” I’m referring to the fact that these can and should be done immediately to any site. Your first job is to make sure your site works on all devices (optimized for mobile, fully functional and indexable by Google, and including a sitemap). Then, you’ll want to make sure each of your pages is full with content, including a title tag and meta description that’s appropriate for it.
- “Low level” onsite factors. “Low level” here refers to adjustments and tweaks that generally improve your site’s appearance and performance, but aren’t as important or universal as “high level” onsite factors. These include things like adding a layer of security to your site, optimizing your speed, including microformatting, and multimedia forms of content.
- Ongoing content. Your ongoing content campaign serves many roles, including adding more pages for Google to index, supplanting more keywords relevant to your industry on your site, and making your site seem more authoritative. These include written, visual, and other forms of content, usually on a blog or similar section of your site.
- Inbound links. These are links on external sites pointing to your domain. The more you have, and the higher quality sources are linking to your material, the higher you’re likely to rank. It’s possible to build these links manually, either in guest blog posts or in forum comments, or you can use content promotion to earn those links more naturally. In any case, you need these links if you want to rank.
- Social shares. Social shares are secondary indicators to Google, and can’t influence your rank much directly. However, they can get more attention for your content and earn you more links, both of which can increase your ranks.
- Local citations. Though often billed for local businesses only, local SEO can be beneficial for any business, and local citations (listings in third party directories) greatly influence those rankings.
- Local reviews. Like local citations, the number and quality of your local reviews influence your position in local searches.
The Biggest “One and Done” Priority
First, I’ll address your biggest priority from the outset—getting your high level onsite factors in order. These include, but are not limited to:
- Ensuring your site can be seen and indexed by Google.
- Optimizing your site for mobile devices.
- Creating an intuitive sitemap, and making it available to Google.
- Adding complete, unique, high-quality content for all your pages.
- Adding unique, descriptive title tags and meta descriptions to all your pages.
- Ensuring your URL structures are descriptive and as simple as possible.
This is your highest priority, because as you can see, if you don’t accomplish this, Google might not even be able to see your site (let alone include you in its future ranks). Without these tasks accomplished, you have virtually no hope of ranking. Fortunately, though there is an ongoing management component for new pages or other changes, this is a one-and-done deal. Once you get your site to a good “foundation” point, this priority can be considered complete.
The Biggest Ongoing Priority
Once all your high level onsite changes are complete, your next biggest priority is the ongoing component—content. Ongoing content is more important than any other ongoing strategy not just because it continually builds up your core site and adds more content to index, but also because it influences other ranking factors. For example, more content means more inbound links, more social shares, and maybe even more positive local reviews. A good enough content strategy can theoretically replace most of the other individual tactics you’d have to use—just keep your focus on quality over quantity.
I know it’s cheating to list two biggest priorities, especially since one of those priorities also consists of many smaller tasks and tactics. Still, this is what is most important for an ongoing SEO strategy. Without a solid foundation on your domain, you won’t see much progress from your ongoing content. Without ongoing content, your optimized domain will never generate momentum on its own. But with a solid foundation and ongoing content strategy in place, you should start to see meaningful results. The other stuff—manual link building, social optimization, local citation building, etc.—can wait until you have more time or resources to dedicate.
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