Search engine optimization (SEO) is a complicated strategy with many moving parts, made even more complicated by the fact that Google doesn’t publish the true nature or exact mechanisms of its ranking algorithm. Instead, we rely on a number of “best practices” and fundamentals we’ve learned to be successful through trial and error and collaboration over the years. Some of these fundamentals are more obvious than others, and some marketers jump straight into the game with ongoing strategies like content marketing and offsite optimization without making sure all these foundational best practices are in place.
The Most Missed SEO Fundamentals
If you want to be successful in SEO, you must first build a foundation of onsite optimization and general best practices. These are some of the most commonly neglected SEO fundamentals out there, so make sure you aren’t neglecting them:
- A keyword strategy. For starters, you will need a good keyword strategy, as it’s going to dictate the course of your campaign. Lately, we’ve seen a decline in keyword prioritization, which is admittedly appropriate; thanks to Google’s Hummingbird update, semantic search has taken precedence over older, keyword-based optimization tactics. However, keywords are still relevant, and you still need a strategic basis to guide your campaign. If nothing else, keywords should help you define your niche and select the topics for your ongoing content campaign, as well as helping you measure your ultimate results.
- An intuitive site navigation (and URL structure). You’ll also need to structure your site in a way that’s SEO friendly. For most sites, that means listing all your pages in categories and subcategories, giving both search engines and users more tools to understand how your site is laid out. These should be both intuitive and descriptive, so there’s no question where each page belongs. Correspondingly, you will need a breadcrumbs-influenced URL structure that concisely informs users where they are on your site (and how to get back should they need to).
- HTML and XML sitemaps. Extending from your site navigation and URL structure, you’ll need to include both an HTML and XML sitemap for your site (and keep them updated regularly). Your HTML sitemap will reside on your site directly, while your XML sitemap should be uploaded to Google through Webmaster Tools. This will help Google index your site faster, more efficiently, and more accurately as well.
- Unique content for every page of your site. At this point in the history of SEO, this should go without saying, but we’re consistently surprised at the number of brands still neglecting onsite content. If a topic deserves a page on your site, it deserves at least 300 words of intelligently written, concise content that describes that topic. All of it should be unique, so don’t cheap out by copying content from other pages of your site or writing fluff.
- Unique titles and descriptions for each page of your site. Furthermore, every page of your site should have a concise, uniquely descriptive title tag and a meta description that fleshes out that page’s function. You can check for inconsistencies or redundancies in Google Search Console, but this should be one of your first steps in optimizing your onsite pages. Also keep in mind that these entries are what users will see when they encounter your business in SERPs, so you’ll also want to optimize them for click-through rates.
- Optimizing your images. Optimizing images for SEO isn’t complicated, but it’s still often neglected due to its perceived difficulty and lack of significance. It doesn’t take much; make sure your images are properly formatted and sized appropriately, then title them in a way that describes their content and provide alt tags that further describe what’s happening in the scene. This won’t necessarily increase your domain authority, but it’s a simple step that can get your site featured in more image searches.
- Building backlinks. Though not related to onsite optimization (like most of these fundamentals), we want to mention link building because it’s commonly neglected due to the perceived risk involved. Make no mistake; you need backlinks if you’re going to rank in search engines, and building them manually (carefully following best practices) is the best way to get them.
These seven fundamentals will prime your campaign for long-term results; without them, you may not be able to get off the ground even if you commit to best practices like ongoing content and social media marketing. You’ll note that a number of these are qualitative in nature; your keyword strategy will differ from all your other competitors’, and your onsite content will demand differentiation as well. While there’s no one right way to go about implementing these fundamentals, they do demand your attention and thorough development, so prioritize them.