SEO can be complicated – in many cases, overcomplicated. It’s easy to get lost in the SEO rabbit hole, spending significant time with minimal results.
This article will help you cut through the noise and focus on the four key pillars of SEO that will help you improve visibility in 2024 and beyond.
The four pillars of SEO
The four key areas of SEO that site owners need to consider are:
- Technical SEO: How well your content can be crawled and indexed.
- Content: Having the most relevant and best answers to a prospect’s question.
- On-site SEO: The optimization of your content and HTML.
- Off-site SEO: Building authority to boost trust and rankings.
By procedurally working through these four SEO pillars, you can improve your visibility, traffic and engagement from organic search.
1. Technical SEO
Technical SEO can seem a little daunting. But need it to make sure search engines can read your content and explore your site.
Much of this will be taken care of by the content management system you use, and Google’s Search Console can help you understand the technical makeup of your site.
The main areas to consider here are:
- Crawl: Can a search engine explore your site?
- Indexing: Is it clear which pages the search engine should index?
- Mobile: Does your site provide a solid mobile experience?
- Speed: Do your webpages load fast on mobile, desktop and beyond?
- Technology: Is your website search engine-friendly?
- Hierarchy: Is the content organized to help categorization?
If you are a small business using WordPress (or a similar CMS) for your website, technical SEO should be something you can check off your list pretty quickly. If you have a large, bespoke website with millions of pages, technical SEO becomes much more important (and troublesome).
In 2024 and beyond, much of what is “technical SEO” is actually part of your website and CMS. The key is to collaborate with a developer who grasps SEO principles and builds you a website that is SEO-friendly and properly configured. Doing this should get you most of the way toward effective SEO.
Note: If you are a small or micro business, don’t obsess over this too much or feel you have to perfect everything. We still see lots of sites that are essentially doing everything wrong and rank well, so just do your best!
2. On-site SEO
Once your technical SEO is in a good place, you need to optimize the content on your site.
The first job here is to ensure your site is structured in a way that helps Google understand the relevance of every page. Think of your website as a filing cabinet. The website is the cabinet, the sections are drawers, and the pages are folders within those drawers.
You should be able to draw this structure on the back of a napkin and understand how everything relates.
- Team Member A
- Team Member B
- Case Studies
- Case Study A
- Case Study B
- About Us
You get the picture – and so, hopefully, does Google. By structuring your site like this, you provide context for a page before Google has even examined the page itself and set the scene for the page itself to be optimized.
With a sensible structure in place, you can now optimize the individual pages.
The main areas to focus on here are:
- Keyword research: Understand the language of your target audience.
- Descriptive URLs: Ensure each URL is simple and descriptive.
- Page titles: Use keywords naturally within the page title.
- Meta descriptions: Craft meta descriptions like they were ad copy to improve click-through rates.
- Content optimization: Sensibly use keywords and variations in your page copy.
- User experience (UX): Ensure your site is a joy to use and navigate.
- Strong calls to action: Make it easy for your users to know what to do next.
- Structured data markup: Help Google understand your content.
If you have taken the time to structure your site correctly, then the on-page optimization is fairly simple to layer over. If it helps, put your list of pages in a spreadsheet and detail the keyword you want to optimize each page for.
Plenty of tools will assess how well a page is optimized for a given term that can aid you in the nuts and bolts of the optimization.
Don’t think of this as a one-time job, either. Once the site is indexed, you can gather much more information from Google Search Console on what keywords each page ranks for and refine your optimization at a page-by-page level.
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Content is king. That’s the saying, right?
It’s true in a way. Your website is just a wrapper for your content.
Your content tells prospects what you do, where you do it, who you have done it for and why someone should use your business.
And if you’re smart, your content should also go beyond these obvious brochure-type elements and help your prospective customers achieve their goals.
For service businesses, we can loosely break your content down into four categories:
- Business Information. Who you are and why people should care.
- Service content. What you do and where you do it.
- Credibility content. Why a prospect should engage with your business.
- Marketing content. Content that helps position you as an expert and puts your business in front of prospects earlier in the buying cycle.
SEO is important for each type of content in different ways. SEO is often forgotten about when it comes to credibility content like case studies and reviews, but in an E-E-A-T world, this is a lost opportunity.
For example, I recently renovated a Victorian-era house in the UK. The house is 140 years old, falling apart, and known as The Money Pit!
Finding good people to help with this project was difficult, and it was those with good testimonials and case studies that we ended up:
- Finding via localized search results.
- Using due to the clear examples of relevant experience and expertise.
E-E-A-T may seem like another painful SEO acronym to work around, but in reality, E-E-A-T just represents what we, as consumers, want.
Adjusting your thinking to demonstrate your E-E-A-T in your content will only help you rank more highly, get more visitors and convert those clicks into customers!
Further still, ensure you optimize your marketing content, including case studies, portfolio entries and testimonials – not just the obvious service pages.
For larger businesses, a solid content marketing and SEO strategy is also the most scalable way to promote your business to a wide audience.
This generally has the best ROI, as there is no cost per click – so you are scaling your marketing without directly scaling your costs.
Layer in some remarketing and other ads that build on this first organic touch, and you can be onto a winning mix of tactics.
Ensure your SEO tactics align with your overall SEO strategy. We still see too many paint-by-numbers approaches to SEO, where local businesses are paying agencies or using generative AI tools to pump out blog posts that will never rank.
Create content that helps your customers either find you or choose you and focus on optimizing that.
Dig deeper: What is helpful content, according to Google
4. Off-site authority building
Eventually, all SEO rivers run to this one spot: authority building.
Building your authority, historically, was all about link building, a much abused and maligned SEO practice by 2024.
Authority is still crucial to developing strong organic rankings and is part of the E-E-A-T approach. However, this can be the hardest part of SEO to get right.
The best way I have ever seen to describe the right link-building mindset was penned by the late, great Eric Ward: “Connect what should be connected.”
This philosophy is beautiful in its simplicity and corrects the “more, more, more” mentality of historic link building. We only want links from relevant sources.
Often, this means that to scale our link building efforts beyond the obvious tactics, we need to create something that deserves links. You have links where it makes sense for you to have links. Simple.
Wikipedia has millions of links, yet I am pretty sure they have never done any link building. This is because they have reams of useful content that gets linked. These are real, natural links that enrich the linking page, provide further context and serve as the real connective tissue of this hyperlinked world we live in.
This kind of natural link should be the backbone of your link-building efforts. This may mean you have to revisit the content on your site and create something of value first, but if you can nail that, you are halfway home.
Any safe, scalable link building strategy should be built on this mindset.
SEO becomes more manageable when broken down into four core pillars.
- Technical SEO ensures search engines can properly crawl and index your site.
- Optimizing on-page elements provides helpful cues to search engines regarding relevance and hierarchy.
- Investing time and resources into useful content that answers your customers’ questions and establishes your expertise lays the groundwork for rankings.
- Taking a strategic yet authentic approach to external authority building cements your site’s place as a trusted resource on relevant topics.
Make sure to establish clear SEO goals and track your performance KPIs to continually improve on these four pillars.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.