The 4 SEO Elements that Really Matter

According to NASA, there are 2 1/2 million moving parts in a space shuttle. Let’s pretend for a moment that a single NASA engineer was responsible for designing, building and maintaining all of those parts on the shuttle. Now let’s imagine that you had to fly on the shuttle by yourself into space. Doesn’t inspire many feelings of confidence does it?

Earlier this month, a list of Google’s 200 Ranking Factors was released. Having this list at our disposal means that we should modify our websites to be optimized for all 200 of these search engine factors, right? Probably not. As you know, trying to be a master of everything means that you will really be a master of none. If one person designed and built the space shuttle alone it would more than likely crash and burn. In the same way, if you tried to master and implement all 200 Google Ranking Factors into your website it would likely crash and burn.

The Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle (often known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity) states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In other words, you can reap 80% of the results from 20% of the inputs. So in regard to SEO, it would be better worth our while to focus on a smaller amount of the factors and optimize and maximize those “inputs” in an effort to gain better results. Not too mention, for most businesses, if they were to attempt to focus on 200 things it would result in analysis paralysis rather than increased website traffic.

We know what you’re thinking, we’ll just pick 20% of the 200 SEO factors and focus on those. However, the truth is in this instance we are only going to focus on 2% or 4 SEO elements that really matter but we will put 20% of our SEO efforts on these 4 things. Obviously it’s important to acknowledge that in a competitive niche it may be important to optimize for more than just 4 elements but for most websites there is just no need to obsess about getting all 200 elements correct with your SEO.

SEO today requires attention on these 4 things

  1. On-Page Optimization
  2. Quality, Human-focused Content
  3. Trusted Authoritative Backlinks
  4. Great UX (User-Experience) Design

We realize these are only 4 things (out of 200!) but these are a big piece of the SEO puzzle and remember, we are talking about exercising the 80/20 principle. Let’s break these 4 search engine factors down.

SEO Element 1 – On-Page Optimization

On-Page Optimization is a broad area and includes many items and typically leads to many questions. Do meta tags matter? Should I use keywords? Does site speed effect rankings? Does it matter if my keyword is in the title? Does the title need to be in an H1 tag?

The answers to all of these questions is a resounding yes. That being the case, it’s pretty obvious that on-page optimization is critically important so let’s move on to defining what on-page optimization even is.

On-page optimization is everything you can do directly within your own website to improve its search engine rankings.

There are many on-page optimization tactics you can incorporate on your website including:

  1. Simple & clean URL structure
  2. Content written for humans, not robots
  3. Thoughtfully integrated keywords
  4. Properly utilized body tags (H1, H2, H3, p…)
  5. Image optimization (Alt tags and file name)
  6. Use of internal links
  7. Fast loading website (clean code)

On-page optimization is cost-for-entry in the SEO game. This is what signals to the search engines that your site is ready to be crawled and allows it to be indexed and eventually ranked. On-page optimization is like telling the engines that your site is available and open for business.

On-page optimization may seem easy but it still requires technical expertise and a smart keyword strategy to be sure that you are positioning yourself for the best exposure and results.

SEO Element 2 – Quality, human-focused content

We’ve all heard the old adage, content is king. The truth is, this is true. However, this doesn’t mean that you can just throw a bunch of content into a site and expect it to perform well. The popularity of things like content marketing these days make it more and more challenging to have content that resonates with users. Content is everywhere and everyone is competing for the attention of the same users. Your content needs to be better than your competitors in order to rise above them. Even though everybody is doing it, here’s the good news – most people aren’t doing it well. So don’t give up, don’t wait, get started now.

Here are some tips for creating great content:

  1. Keep it relevant. Write valuable content that your users find useful, informative and relevant to their needs. For more information on how to do this, Google offers a valuable course that may be worth checking out.
  2. Keep it regular. The more frequently you publish content, the more frequently the search bots will stop by. And the more they crawl your site the more information they’ll collect.
  3. Keep it lengthy. Content that is too short (under 200 or so words) will not rank as high as longer content and could face a bigger challenge to garner the needed traffic.
  4. Keep it in the family. Linking to other relevant internal pages with the site. This technique is a great, easy way to boost SEO traffic especially if you are writing blog posts.

The moral is that content does impact SEO and you should take care to make sure your content is working hard for you.

SEO Element 3 – Trusted Authoritative Backlinks

It used to be that you could link to your site from any other site and it would boost your site’s rankings. You may remember the times of, “I’ll post a link to your website if you post a link to mine”. Sadly, that tactic is still used (or should we say misused) today along with some other offenders such as spammy blog comments, low-quality web directories or links from foreign language sites. Do not participate in these silly little SEO games.

Trusted authoritative links on the other hand, are still useful and even required for effective website search engine rankings.

Here are a few characteristics that make up trusted authoritative links:

  1. The linking website itself has existing traffic & authority.
  2. The page on the website where the link is located is relevant.
  3. The link is located in a prominent position.
  4. The anchor text is not spammy.

So, what’s the best way to get good quality backlinks? By focusing primarily on item #2 above (Creating high-quality, human-focused content).

SEO Element 4 – Great UX (User-Experience) Design

SEO used to be primarily about words only – text content, links, keywords, descriptions and so on. Design was rarely a part of the equation. However, this is no longer the case and having an effective UX Design as part of your overall website strategy is increasingly vital and more important.

Here are some UX elements that effect SEO and should be considered and implemented in your site strategy, design and development:

  1. Ensure that your site is scannable and easy-to-read by formatting your website content appropriately.
  2. Make sure that your content loads fast. Like under 5 seconds fast. Unfortunately content doesn’t have a chance to work if nobody stays on your site long enough to read it.
  3. Make your site Mobile-friendly. Thanks to “Mobilegeddon”, content on your website will now be penalized if it is not mobile-friendly.
  4. Keep users captive. Google pays attention to “dwell time” (how long people spend on your site) so be sure to provide them with a beautifully designed website that they want to stay on.

So what’s the final take-away? What really matters when it comes to SEO?

Even though there are 200 elements that Google gives us to fiddle with, and even though they change their algorithm on an ongoing basis, and even though they tend to lack transparency when it comes to disclosing what things they do pay attention to – you can still win at SEO by focusing on the above mentioned elements. All it takes is consistency, focused attention and patience.


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