If there was a Holy Trinity of SEO I would say it would have to be copywriting, usability and links. These three things make up the bulk of any SEO campaign and also hold the most influence as to how a site will rank. But there is one important part of SEO that is actually more important than this Trinity, and that is Keyword Research. Without this, any SEO campaign, even "Textbook SEO," is basically a game of pin the tail on the online donkey!

The Holy Trinity of SEO

Copywriting: Content is king, right? Or at least it used to be. And perhaps still is. Actually it's not sheer content that's so important as the quality of that content. Search engines could care less about how many pages your site has, what they do care about is the quality of the content on your site, and what others think of your content as well.

From a user perspective, the quality of the content is important because that is what is used to convert your visitors from searchers to customers. But from a search engine perspective, the content needs to convey a message regarding what your page is about. The focus or theme of your page is based on specific keywords that you are targeting. I suppose 'wandering' content can still be good, but it rarely is and is often not focused enough to convert. Content for SEO purposes needs to stay on topic, and more importantly it needs to stay on focus for predetermined keywords and phrases.

Usability: For some SEOs, usability is a fairly new concept. Probably because it has more to do with marketing than it does with getting top search engine rankings. But now search engines, in their endless effort to become more human-like (and therefore provide results that more humans find accurate) have begun taking usability into consideration.

Obviously the search engines don't know what colors your site uses or whether you use calls to action--both important usability elements. What search engines do know is when your site has broken internal or external links, has coding errors that prevent them from "reading" your page properly, uses contextual linking between your pages, is quick to download, and links out to other authoritative resources on related topics. Search engines are also able to determine if users click to your site and quickly return to search again, but the accuracy of this type of data is suspect.

Regardless, the more usable your site is, and the more relevant and informative and helpful the content is, the better your site will be able to attract natural links, which may be the most important of the three in terms of search engines, but not necessarily in conversions.

Links: Links tell the search engines what others think about your site or specific pages in your site. Much like content, sheer numbers of links are not what matters, but the quality of those links. Where are the links coming from, how authoritative are the links and what are they telling the visitor and the search engine that the linked-to page is about?

If you think you have the absolute best site online for your industry, but no links, then what you think may not have any bearing on reality. Your site is only as good as others think it to be. If a tree falls in the woods and there is not one there to here it... The same principle applies with links. If you've got great content, but there is no other sites linking to it, do you really have that great of a site? You won't know until you get exposure, get people to discover your site and therefore, if it is really good, many will link to it as well. That discovery process can take time, but nothing worthwhile never really happens overnight.

The Holy Grail of SEO

Keyword Research: Keyword research is the map to a strong performing optimization campaign. You may have the best website and even the ability to convert a great number of your visitors who arrive, but in terms of natural search engine placement, keyword research is what drives the campaign in the right direction.

You may know what keywords you want to rank for, but do you know what keywords your target audience uses? Those can often be two different things. Not only do you need to know what keywords your target audience is using but you also need to have an understanding of what keywords are actually achievable in the short, mid, and long-term. This will help you to plan your optimization campaign accordingly without getting any unrealistic expectations.

Bottom line is even if you have good copy, excellent usability and lots of links, going after the wrong keywords will not only waste precious time and financial resources, but it will simply prevent your site, and therefore your business, from performing as well as it should.

The Wholly Textbook of SEO

On-Page Optimization: How important is on-page optimization? Well, it certainly has its purpose and its place in the total optimization campaign but many are debating the value of textbook SEOwithin the big picture.

In some cases on-page optimization is just as important as links and copy. In other cases it's largely insignificant. It just depends on what part of the page we're talking about. Title tags and page headings and optimized content are of greatest importance. Clean code is also good to have. "Optimizing" meta tags and alt attributes are of significantly less importance.

Some might argue that the lesser aspects of on-page SEO add up to "baby steps" toward the goal. Others might make the point that the time involved is not worth the minimal boost they otherwise might provide. But the real question, for me at least, is how much tweaking can you do to a page to get it "just right?" Assuming you go through the on-page optimization process in the beginning, can you continue to tweak it forever or at some point are you just running in circles and taking time away from other things that will provide a bigger return, such as links?

In the big picture, on-page optimization is very important, but probably not as important as we would want it to be. With all the other factors that search engines consider, and assuming you start with a well optimized page, I think the ongoing effort into tweaking a page should encompass only a small fraction of the total time spent working on the things that can make a difference, if not in search rankings, but in improving conversions as well.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

September 11, 2006

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.

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