Introducing the Four Pillars of SEO: A Framework to Create an Effective SEO Strategy
SEO as a digital marketing channel has grown hugely over the past 15 years. From its black-hat beginnings of dubious link acquisition and keyword stuffing, SEO has now evolved into a fully-fledged, user-centric digital marketing channel.
However, SEO still remains a fairly misunderstood discipline. Marketing managers and business owners know they should be doing it, but everyone has different interpretations of how you actually ‘do’ SEO.
This article sets out Digirank’s 4 pillar SEO framework for marketing managers and digital marketing professionals. Follow it, and it will help you to create and execute a successful SEO strategy. You will need to tailor each pillar to your website, in order to create an SEO strategy that is relevant to your business.
If you’re looking for specific ideas to optimise your site with the latest tools and techniques, this piece is not for you. What this article will do is make it easier to focus your ideas, collate them into a manageable framework and ensure that your website has a strong search basis.
How Digirank developed the four SEO pillars
As a key player in Bristol’s SEO scene since 2009, Digirank has watched SEO mature from a tantrum-filled toddler into a fully functional, self-dependant adult.
Through the years, we’ve worked through thick and thin to maintain strong SEO results for our clients. We’ve tried new things, adopted new strategies – some were a success, and others less so!
Our experience has allowed us to develop this fool-proof framework by which you can optimise your website successfully. The structure is based around 4 pillars.
A few things to remember before diving into our 4 pillar SEO framework:
- Generally, what is good for users is good for SEO. A search engine’s mission is to serve users the most relevant, highest quality answer to their search query. This can be achieved through content as well as user experience. You may have the best answer to their query, but if your site takes 10 seconds to load, your website will not rank highly.
- SEO is an ongoing activity. This means you need to take a long-term approach to your SEO strategy. It’s not a quick fix. Done properly and with patience, SEO constantly offers new opportunities such as increased brand awareness, more search rankings and good quality, relevant traffic to your site.
- SEO isn’t a siloed channel. Best practice SEO needs to run through all your digital marketing. So train your digital marketing team, your copywriters (and anyone with access to the website) to consider SEO best practice in all their work. You should also encourage collaboration between your online and offline marketing resource.
- You need your developers on board. Achieving strong SEO results relies on a developer executing changes and keeping search at the forefront of the site from a technical perspective. If you don’t have in-house development resource, get a retainer contract from your development agency.
Whether you’re looking for a B2B lead generation SEO strategy, or an ecommerce SEO strategy, our framework will help.
Now, let’s get looking at those SEO pillars.
SEO Pillar 1 – Search Strategy
Simply put, pillar number one ensures your website provides relevant information and answers your users’ transactional and informational queries. In order to make sure your website does this, you need to find out what your users are looking for.
Some might refer to this stage as “keyword research.” At Digirank, we feel this name undermines the task. That’s because you should be looking for more than just keywords with search volume. You need to try and understand more than what a user is typing into the search box, but what they actually want and need. We refer to this as the user intent. So, ask yourself:
- What intent does a user’s search term suggest?
- What do they expect to see and in what format?
- How can your website effectively answer that intent?
As digital marketers we’re lucky to have access to a range of free tools that provide data to help you with this research. A few of our favourites include:
- Google autocomplete
- Google Ads keyword planner
And your research shouldn’t stop at these tools. You should also take a human approach. Read around your topics, and look at what discussions are taking place and questions users are asking on platforms such as Twitter, Reddit, and Quora.
You should also consider:
- What questions your competitors are answering?
- What offline data can feed into your research?
- What questions your customers are asking when they call?
Remember – if your audience is asking anything offline, chances are they’re asking it online as well.
Once you’ve found all your opportunities (no matter how niche your subject, you should always end up with a huge spreadsheet), try to group them into intent.
Make sure your content matches user search intent
Google breaks search intent into 4 main moments:
- I want to know
- I want to go
- I want to do
- I want to buy
You should group your research into subjects/topics as well as intent-based moments.
Once you have done this, you’ll be in a position to think about how your site can best answer all the questions you know your audience is asking. This is likely to be a combination of landing pages, long form content and media content (for example, videos and interactive pages).
Bear in mind that this needs to be an ongoing task, and it should be worked into your marketing plan. Most companies we work with aren’t able to satisfy all the search opportunities with just a few landing pages. However, we satisfy these opportunities through ongoing site development, expanding the website with new landing pages, new site sections and content campaigns. It’s important to grow your site in a logical, user friendly way.
Optimise your content for SEO
Now you have a list of what users want to know and a plan of how you’re going to provide it, you can ‘optimise’ your website. To do this, you need to ensure that your target search terms run through your website. For example, your site’s:
- title tags
- meta description
- image alt tags
- header tags
- on-site copy
- internal linking
- structured data
For more information on onsite optimisation, Google sets out on-page optimisation in its SEO starter guide.
SEO Pillar 2 – Technical SEO
In a search engine’s quest to give users the best answer to a query, it first looks at how a site answers a query (see above). Then, it looks at how easy it is for a user and for its search bots to access and read that answer.
This means if a site is too slow, or the user keeps hitting dead ends (broken links for example), the site will be held back in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
That’s why technical SEO is so important, and why you need to look at your website through the eyes of both a bot crawler and a user. In this section, we’ll look at how Google’s crawlers’ access and appraise your site.
How SEO crawling bots appraise your website
Crawling is a key element you should consider when running a technical SEO audit. Gary Ille from Google Webmaster Central Blog, explains that: “crawling is the entry point for sites into Google’s search results.”
The key thing to takeaway is that Google’s crawl budget for your site is not unlimited. The crawl budget is the ‘number of URLs Googlebot can and wants to crawl’. So – you should never assume that Google wants to crawl your entire site. And, crucially, the less your site is crawled, the less likely a search engine is to discover and appreciate all of your content.
This should leave you asking, “how do I make Google crawl my site more frequently and include more pages?”
Our SEO expert, Tom Spooner talks about crawl budget in more detail below:
Essentially you can encourage Google to crawl your site more by taking care of its technical SEO health.
Some quick fixes include:
- Fixing broken links
- Offering a quick server response time
- Improving your site speed
- Checking for any error pages (4XX, 3XX, 5XX)
- Revisiting your site architecture
- Checking for redirect loops
- Checking for duplicate pages (especially in faceted navigation)
- Checking for hacked pages
- Making sure your site is secure and on https
At Digirank, we recommend running regular technical SEO health checks on your website. For more dynamic sites such as content/news-heavy sites or ecommerce sites, we’d recommend running an audit every month (or more frequently if you have the required resource). For sites that change less frequently, we’d recommend running them every quarter.You may also wish to run a technical health audit after an algorithm update. Doing this means you can see the results through the eyes of Google in light of the latest update.
How to check your website’s technical health
To check how technically healthy your site is, run your site through a suite of tools (we are firm believers that no single tool does everything perfectly, so use a combination). The tools we recommend include:
- Search Console
- Broken Link Check
Once you have the results, work through the errors with your developer.
For more information on technical SEO, Moz has an excellent help section here.
SEO Pillar 3 – Backlinks
Backlinks are one of the most notorious and misunderstood SEO ranking factors. They also have a complicated history.
A brief history of SEO and backlinks
Over the last 10 years, Google has consistently made it clear to SEOs that quality and quantity of backlinks impact site rankings. Think of each backlink as a vote that helps a website rise up the SERPS. However, years ago SEOs started to take this very literally and set about building huge numbers of links to help their websites rank.
Over time, this became a war of links. The strategy was: get more links than your competitors to get to that top spot. A strategy that worked, back then!
So, SEOs turned to link farms (websites that exist only to link to other sites – and normally for a charge), and black hat SEO started to thrive.
However, this manipulation resulted in lower quality results showing in the SERPs. This meant pretty much any page could rank, regardless of the quality of information.
In an effort to combat this, Google released numerous algorithm updates – namely Penguin & Panda. Suddenly the links from low-quality sites no longer counted, and sites that had relied on this SEO tactic dropped in the SERPs. Finally, the days of black hat SEO ceased.
Earning links in 2019 and beyond
Fast forward to today and backlinks take a completely different form. In today’s landscape, backlinks are still important to SEO, but they need to be natural and good quality. In a nutshell, link earning has replaced link building.
To earn links, you should create a long-term backlink strategy. This strategy is likely to span your online and offline marketing plans.
Create link-worthy content, real-world relationships, solid partnerships and good online press coverage and you’ll earn the good quality, natural links that Google is looking for.
So, rally your online and offline marketing & PR resource to help you on your quest for links. Remember, a team effort works best.
SEO Pillar 4 – User Experience for SEO
Last, but definitely not least, is User Experience (UX).
Why is user experience important for SEO? Well, as Google and other search engines have transformed SEO into a user-centric digital marketing channel, this pillar has risen in importance.
User Experience and SEO
Whether search engines use analytics data to rank websites is hugely debated in the SEO world. However, we do know that Google uses other means to collect user engagement data about websites, and this means that UX is an SEO ranking factor.
To give you a simple example: Google tracks when users click on a search result and immediately click on the back button. Google’s algorithms will assume that this result is not relevant and potentially rank it lower the next time.
Improving your website’s UX
The key to improving UX on a website is to look at your website from a user perspective. Put yourself in their shoes. If you feel too close to your website and your service offering, try user testing to find out where users are stumbling on the site journey.
When you go through this process, consider your website journey. While you assess each page, ask yourself:
- What journey do you want a user to take?
- Do you want them to read more content?
- Do you want them to read about you?
- Do you want them to get in touch?
- Do you want them to make a purchase?
When you have identified this, create logical journeys and send users down seamless funnels.
Pillars 1 & 2 feed into this fourth pillar significantly. For example, by creating relevant, high quality and unique content (as per Pillar 1) you will improve user experience.
Assess your analytics data for user engagement on your content and make changes if necessary. Look at:
- Which pages have a low time on page?
- Which pages have a high exit rate?
- Is there anything you can do to improve these pages?
By building a site that loads quickly and offers a seamless technical experience (as per Pillar 2), users won’t be turned away.
Overall, all 4 of the SEO pillars should work together to create a robust and successful SEO strategy. While you shouldn’t expect to see results instantly, once you have cracked SEO, you will reap rewards for years to come.
Digirank, your Bristol based SEO agency
So, welcome to the world of SEO. We hope this guide has helped you to better understand search marketing, as well as showing you how you can create an SEO strategy for your business.
If you would like any help working within our framework or creating a strategy, our team of SEO experts in Bristol would love to hear from you.
At Digirank, we’ve created effective and successful search strategies for both local Bristol business, and those who operate nationally. Whether your in-house team needs expert support, or you need an external team to optimise and grow your site, we have the skillset and experience you need.
Get in touch on 0117 923 2021 or send us an email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.