Usability-first Search Engine Optimization

The 3 Pillars of SEO or: How I Learned to Stop Riding the Algorithm

A little information can be a dangerous thing.

Ranking factor lists; Tweets from Matt Cutts; the latest Google Update, etc. With context, all indispensable information. Without context—and without a well rounded Web background, the SEO novice can easily get lost in a world of bogus advice and exaggerated benefits.
Chasing Google Algorithm
Before we continue: this isn’t an actionable check list or pioneering how-to guide. This is a reality check for those who approach SEO purely from a signals perspective.

Post Panda and Penguin, the well informed are finally catching on: playing SEO without a big-boy/gal Web toolbox is hit and miss at best. Today, SEO isn’t just a game of links, keywords, and implementing an inventory of current search engine signals. Sure, there are tactics and technicalities, but without at least a familiarity with the core elements of web usability, content development, and PR, you’ll be doing lots of swimming upstream—or trying to—as you likely get pushed down by the current for your troubles. Even as a purely technical SEO, the more familiar you are with adjacent specialities, the better you’ll be able to spot potential search visibility opportunities and weaknesses in each project you work on.

So before you think about the latest structured data vocabulary or algorithm update, first make sure your overall web visibility game is in check.

The 3 Pillars of SEO

3 pillars of SEO

You’ve heard it time and again: content, usability, PR, all cornerstones of SEO. But are you residing inside the boundaries of acceptable quality just enough to stay out of the penalty box? Don’t let penalty and filter obsession lead you down a path of mediocrity.

1. Content Development

As an SEO, you can’t expect to be a master in all things Web, and this really holds true for content, because good content takes a lot of time, effort, and experience. But content that answers the needs of your target visitors is intertwined with every layer of web visibility, so even if the content team’s department is down the hall—or on the other side of the globe—acquaint yourself with the basics, at the very least. After all, nothing has more effect on rankings and conversions than content.

  • Content strategy: Beyond just planning your next blog post or link bait idea, content strategy weaves words into good UX, and structures your site according to user intent and better engagement.
  • Copywriting: Some SEOs think that copywriting means haphazardly flicking keywords in between paragraphs of fluff. If you’re going to write, edit, or evaluate web content, get to know the basic principles of writing for the Web. Don’t forget, not all of your clients can afford next-level content, so spotting weaknesses in copy will allow you pick and choose what needs rewriting.

2. Web Usability

Before SEOs lapped them up as mere search engine relevance signals, internal links, descriptive anchor text, and user-friendly URLs were devices for people, not rankings. If you want to get the most out of on-page SEO signals, see them through the eyes of users people first. This matters more now than it ever did before, because these days, if you aren’t doing it right, the chances are pretty good that some of your competitors are. If you choose to on-page SEO a site with users as an afterthought, it will show—to your visitors, and to Google.

Web Usability consists of a few biggies worth pursuing thoroughly:
Sometimes the only difference between the fundamentals on-page SEO and IA is a matter of jargon and context.

  • Information architecture: A lot of on-page SEO is an extension of intelligent information design, an efficient and natural path to better rankings and conversions.
  • Web Standards: You can always rely on the principles of Web Standards to develop or improve the performance of a website. You know, accessibility, semantic/structured HTML, and up-to-date best development practices.

When you think about it, pretty much everything Web is an extension of usability.

3. Public relations

Trust and authority are huge with search engines. But, in these turbulent times of penalties and filters, watch where you go looking for them.

  • Backlinks: Can you imagine what the Web would look like today if even half of the effort put into “Link-building” had gone into building marketable sites? Effective UX and high-impact content attracts attention, and helps rankings. Cheesy attempts at creating seemingly natural linking patterns is pathetic. Unless you prefer to churn and burn websites, leave the unwarranted press releases and link wheel spam at the door. By all means, make connections, find people willing to vouch for your content, but start with anything but content value, and you might as well throw in the towel.
  • Social media: Social media can be huge for a business, but only if you have a concrete plan for engaging your peers, influencers, or customers. If social isn’t for you, get someone on your team who gets it, because a one-way transmission or ghost town social media profile can only hurt a brand. Find your target audience, allow people to communicate with you or your brand, develop relationships, and share ideas; if your doing it right, your content marketing is taken care of.

You don’t need to know how to farm to be a great chef, but, again: the more you know about adjacent disciplines, the better your work and results will be. This is especially true of SEO, because the lines of web visibility disciplines become more blurred every day.

SEO Cowboy riding into sunset

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with keeping track of every one of Google’s algorithm updates, as long as you continue to think for yourself, and keep things in perspective, instead of relying on flavour of the month SEO techniques for success.

About matt

Matthew Edward is the founder of Springboard SEO, a usability-first search engine optimization company in Montreal.

  • Simple and to the point still all about people and creating something that will create a reason for them to continue to move to the next step whatever that may be…(Thank you)

  • Thanks for taking the time to comment, Pete. Thanks back atcha!