With all the hot topics in SEO these days, it's easy for newcomers to miss out on the basics, or for those more experienced to forget about them. As long as there is a need for search engine optimization, the core elements will always be Relevance and Authority, and it's important for us to understand what these mean.

Understanding Relevance and Authority

Relevance at its most basic level, involves the quality of your content for the topic you are looking to target, and how well-optimized (or search engine friendly) it is. This is also referred to as content optimization or "on-page optimization". There are a lot of techniques for creating quality content and for on-page optimization, but for now you just need know that Relevance is based on content.

Authority involves how many sites are linking to your content. Search engines see links as editorial votes for a site, and to them, when one site links to another site, it's essentially saying "Yeah, I vouch for that site. It's cool." (Other factors can include the quality of the sites linking to yours and whether those sites are on the same or similar topics, but all you need to remember is that Authority is based on inbound links.)

While each search engine may place a different emphasis on these elements in their ranking algorithm, every single search engine bases their rankings on some combination of Relevance (content) and Authority (links).

Incomplete SEO Will Fail

Some lean in favor of building links and say, "forget content". ("Links are King!") Others lean in favor of optimizing content and say, "forget links". ("Content is King!") Well, the truth is it's impossible to have an effective search engine optimization strategy without tightly integrating both content creation/optimization and link building. If either core element is left out, your website will not even come close to reaching its potential for rankings, traffic, and sales.

Take a look at water: It's a unique entity made up of elements Hydrogen and Oxygen, in perfect combination. However if one of these elements is missing, it isn't water. Water only exists when both elements are there. SEO works the same way: You need both Relevance and Authority for a website to achieve the best possible rankings. Unfortunately, a lot of people these days are trying to optimize sites and are forgetting one or the other of these core elements. What they're doing isn't SEO.

Why doesn't it work when one of these is missing?

A site can have 1 million links, but if it doesn't contain any quality content on the topic you want to rank for, or you do but the search engine can't reach it, it probably won't rank well. In this situation, this site has a High Authority (Links) but Low Relevance (Content) as far as the search engine is concerned.

Conversely, a site can have amazing content that is perfectly optimized, but if it only has a few inbound links, it probably won't rank well. This kind of site has a High Relevance, but Low Authority.

However if you have a site that has great topical content, that is well-optimized (in other words, search engines can reach it easily), and you build strong inbound links from other sites, it will have both High Relevance and High Authority, and it will rank. It might take some time, but it will rank.

There definitely are exceptions here and there - we've all seen them - but these are the general principles at the core of search engine optimization, and they work.

At this point, if you're newer to SEO, you're probably asking, "How do I create great optimized content? How do I build strong inbound links?" I'd love to answer those questions here, but the answers could fill up several books.

Obviously there are many other nuances and factors that go into improving rankings, but it's important for all of us, whether experienced or newbie, to understand Relevance and Authority first, and build our SEO strategies from there. 
June 2, 2008

Scott is the CEO and founder of Red Sand Marketing, a San Diego SEO and web design firm. A dynamic mix of marketer, designer, and developer, he thrives on all aspects of internet marketing and web development. Having been involved in search engine optimization and web design since 1996, he and his team consistently achieve top search engine rankings for clients in competitive markets, and have won multiple web design awards along the way.


"Content is King" isn't actually related to SEO, or PC-oriented web development per se; "Content is king" is a universal buzzword where content is usually taken to mean professionally prepared material such as books, movies, sports events, or music. The race is supposedly to determine which organization or alliance will dominate in providing content to users, ideally in advanced multimedia formats.

@SEO Ranter: The SEO industry/community has definitely adopted and repurposed the phrase, and in this context it has it's own specific application. Anyone who spends time in SEO forums or blogs, will hear "Content is King" / "Links are King" chanted back and forth, much like two groups of fans going back and forth at a hockey game. That's what I was referring to, and to how some have an unbalanced approach to SEO, where they should instead be integrating their efforts for maximum effect.

Excellent article Scott. Sadly, marketers often treat Authority as if it were a commodity. I wish I had a buck for every email I've received over the years that said "How much will you charge me get me 100 authority links?" My answer is always the same: "I can't get you any links. Your content has to earn them. Any link I can get you that isn't based on earning it via content value is useless.


A while back Stoney posted that, wait for it... "content is dead!" It was said that community was the new king. While I argued at the time and still do to the most degree I think you have hit the nail right on the head. Links or community in this instance won't do much good without the content and vice versa.

I pointed out that the community was build around good content. But quite rightly with more emphasis going to off site optimization by the major engines links and community are now as important as ever.

If "content is king" then I am very sure that "community is queen" and had better be wooed.

Well, for me its Fresh Content is King. You can have lots of great content but if you don't freshen it up you will find your search rankings will have gone stale.

"it's important for all of us, whether experienced or newbie, to understand Relevance and Authority first"

Falling more into the newbie category myself, this really helped break down the basics, show me what's at the very core of SEO. I've always been a fan of the balanced approach, being raised with phrases like "everything in moderation." The concept can definitely be applied to just about every aspect of life, and as you point out, even in SEO.

@Robert: "If "content is king" then I am very sure that "community is queen" and had better be wooed." Nice! I like that. :)

@ Rachel, Thanks.

As said, "everything in moderation". In this case I believe that one won't work without the other.

This is a great topic, density is no longer that relevant, but key word relevancy is king to you're online marketing.

directory submission is key relevancy is king to you're online marketing.

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Search Engine Guide > Scott Allen > SEO is a Fusion of Relevance and Authority