Effective SEO strategy: The 5 pillars of success
When it comes to search engine optimisation, almost everything has been said already. Many people have presented a variety of “tried-and-tested” SEO tips and tricks in articles, books, and videos, as well as at conferences. We know how search engine algorithms work from a theoretical perspective and we know what to do in order to improve the ranking of websites, as well as their traffic.
However, theory isn’t enough to succeed in organic SEO.
The key to effective results lies in the implementation of theoretical knowledge into practice in the right way at the right time. This is what a well-set-up SEO strategy can help us achieve.
In the following parts of this article, we will go through everything that needs to be considered before designing a suitable strategy. We will focus on the pillars that specific SEO activities should be based on during strategic planning.
Get a comprehensive overview
An SEO strategy is composed of an activity plan that includes and addresses the most important website issues from an SEO perspective. The aim of these activities is to improve the website’s search rankings for specific keywords, thus boosting organic traffic.
A plan like this needs to be tailor-made for every website. This is because each website is unique in its own way, with a unique combination of issues.
A good SEO strategy should go hand in hand with realistic goals (KPIs) that are used to evaluate the results of the strategy as a whole, while also serving as a reference point that you can use to continuously estimate whether the goals are achievable or not.
Before you try to select suitable SEO activities for your project, as well as setting a suitable time schedule and sequence of steps, you first need to acquire enough input data.
You can acquire this data in the following way:
1. An in-depth audit of the current state of the website
Even if you only want to prepare a short-term activity plan that brings you the desired effect, you need to know the current state of the website in regard to its technical aspects and its content. This important information can be provided by an in-depth SEO audit, which maps the most severe technical and content-related website issues.
In the technical part of the audit, you should focus on the following aspects, among others:
- The structure and suitability of the settings used for the existing URL addresses on the website
- The website’s SSL certificate and security
- A correct redirect setting between URL addresses with duplicates
- Correct canonicalisation settings throughout the website
- Using hreflang if the website has several language variations
- Correct technical settings for pagination
- An up-to-date and well-set-up Sitemap.xml file
- Browsing settings done using the Robots.txt file
- Internal links on the website
- The loading speed of various content types on the audited domain
- Displaying the website on mobile devices
- The correct settings for 404 error pages
- Structured data
In the content-focused part of the process, the audit should analyse, among other things, the following elements of your website:
- The logical structuring of all landing pages, as well as the content published on specific key landing pages
- Titles (title tags)
- Headlines (h1 tags)
- Meta descriptions
- Images and their alt descriptions
- Duplicate content published on the website
Conducting an in-depth audit on the website for which you want to create a suitable strategy will give you an overview of both its strong points and its weaknesses, allowing you to better design and target individual activities.
You could also take a look at the state of the domain’s backlink portfolio and the structure of its internal links. A comprehensive SEO strategy should also focus on shortcomings in this area.
An extra tip:
Don’t forget to do a comprehensive keyword analysis. If you want to evaluate the suitability of the website content from an SEO perspective, you first need an overview of what exactly people search for in search engines and in what form.
2. The phase of your project/website
The second factor that you should consider when designing your SEO strategy is the phase that the website in question is in. But how can you get this key piece of information?
All you need to do is answer these basic questions:
- Is this a new website for an unknown brand?
- Is this a new website for an established brand?
- Is this a website that has been online for a longer time?
- Is this a brand that is established in both the online and offline markets, people are very familiar with it, and the website has been online for a longer time?
- Is this a website for an international corporation?
The answers to all these questions will help you get a better estimate of how freely you will be able to design SEO activities and how quickly your recommendations will be implemented. This means that you will be able to fine-tune your goals to make them more precise.
From our experience, the newer, smaller and less known a website/brand is, the more freedom and fewer limitations you have when designing an SEO strategy. However, you also need to expect to have a limited budget and the fact that it will take longer for SEO activities to yield real results in the form of organic traffic.
On the other hand, the more established a brand is on the market, the faster your activities will yield organic results. The advantage of this situation is that you usually have a bigger budget at your disposal, but the implementation of your recommendations typically takes longer. This is because implementation is subject to a multi-level approval process.
The identification of the phase your project is currently in is closely connected with the following item on the list – the development of organic traffic.
3. The development of organic traffic to the website.
Another thing you should look at before drafting your SEO action plan is how organic traffic to the website has developed over time (this step is only relevant to websites that are already established on the online market).
Logically, brand new websites do not have any data on organic traffic. Therefore, the optimisation strategy for a completely new website cannot make use of this data as a source of information.
Another limitation lies in the diversity of factors that can impact the resulting organic traffic. These are not necessarily connected to the value or quality of the website (seasonal fluctuations in search traffic, a trend of overall decline for targeted keywords, etc.).
Despite these limitations, we recommend taking a look at long-term data (the recommended time period is at least 12–16 months). The data and graphs can easily be generated using Ahrefs.com.
We’ve prepared simple instructions on how to generate the needed graph:
- Log in to your account at Ahrefs.com.
- In the top bar, select the Site Explorer section.
- Enter the domain of your project and select the domain/* or *.domain/* option (depending on whether the project also focuses on subdomains or not).
- Press enter or click the magnifying glass.
- In the selection menu under Ahrefs Rank/UR/DR, select “Organic search”.
- This will display a graph that will give you an overview of the estimated development of organic traffic.
We recommend focusing on two different time periods – “all time” and “one year”.
For the sake of clarity, here are three basic scenarios that you can encounter (although in reality there are countless different scenarios).
An organic traffic curve with regular long-term growth
If the website has a curve indicating regular long-term growth, it’s more likely that the website is well set up from a technical perspective and the results of your SEO activities may show more quickly and easily. You can adjust your expected goals and activities accordingly.
In this case, you can focus on on-page elements, create high-quality content, and even feel free to target more competitive short tail keywords.
An organic traffic curve with regular long-term decline
When it comes to achieving the goals of an SEO strategy, this situation is perhaps the most difficult. If the website is experiencing regular and long-term declines in organic traffic and its search engine ranking, this indicates that the website has long had an unaddressed issue with SEO or the quality of the products and services offered.
It is usually caused by a combination of not one, but several recurring long-term issues.
Stopping and reversing this development is very time-consuming. It requires a comprehensive approach and website analysis, not just from the perspective of technical and content-related SEO elements, but also the quality of the content and services offered. Other important aspects include the way content is presented to users and the question of whether the website can satisfy the intent hidden behind the specific keywords used to drive traffic from Google.
Unfortunately, in situations like this, it usually isn’t enough to just improve a couple of website elements. The website needs to be fixed from the ground up.
This is why you need to primarily focus on analysing the website itself, go beyond an in-depth SEO audit and consider aspects like the website’s design, UX, conversion path, how the website communicates with its target group, and whether the business model itself is in line with visitors’ expectations, etc.
The first results usually appear later than in the previous case (typically after 6 months). However, if significant technical and content-related issues are removed, the growth of organic traffic tends to be swift.
A stagnating organic traffic curve
If organic traffic to a website is showing long-term stagnation, we find ourselves somewhere between the two situations mentioned in the previous two points. Stagnation can have several different causes.
For instance, the website might have a high value according to Google, but it fails to add new content in the long term, so it has already reached its maximum potential. In this case, the situation is similar to the long-term growth case. Results can be achieved more easily and quickly.
However, if new content is regularly added to the website, but this content fails to drive traffic and make its way to the top 10 search engine results, you should adopt activities from our tips for websites experiencing long-term decline.
An extra tip:
If your analysis of organic traffic development showed a steep drop, read the following article to help you with diagnostics – A steep drop in organic traffic: How to identify the cause? (+checklist).
4. Expectations and allocated budget
Before you start preparing a suitable SEO strategy, you need to consider the client’s expectations and the budget they have allocated for website optimisation. Don’t forget that the budget will very likely need to be increased due to the cost of copywriting and web development services which are necessary for implementing the planned activities.
A good SEO plan should pursue the following goals:
- Increasing organic traffic
- Improving a website’s ranking for relevant keywords
- Increasing the organic conversion rate
Unfortunately, at this point there is often a mismatch between the client’s high expectations and their low allocated budget for SEO. In cases like this, it is important to adjust either the client’s expectations or the budget.
Low-budget SEO strategies usually don’t give you the luxury of fine-tuning everything to perfection.
It’s important to select activities focusing on low-hanging fruit – those that will bring the greatest effect at the lowest cost – and purposefully apply them to a select set of landing pages. This approach will bring visible results in a relatively short time, thus giving you a better negotiating position when trying to allocate a higher budget for SEO.
You also need to keep in mind that chasing organic traffic merely to increase this metric may not always be the most effective approach.
Although at first glance increasing the conversion rate itself may not seem like a goal for SEO, the optimisation of a website’s conversion rate should be part of every client-oriented strategy. This metric talks about the relevance of traffic from search engines.
After all, no client will complain if they start achieving significantly higher sales or conversion rates, even though they have stable or even lower organic traffic.
Base your strategy on these 5 pillars
Now that you have all the information needed to create the strategy itself, it’s time to start planning it. As mentioned at the start of this article, every project/website requires an individual approach, making every SEO plan unique.
Since a single article isn’t enough to list examples of strategies for every possible situation, we’ve decided to create a list of 5 pillars that every good SEO strategy should be based on.
1. Acquiring high-quality backlinks
Links from external domains
Although Google’s algorithm has undergone significant changes over the past 10 years, backlinks still continue to play a key role in website optimisation. Getting strong backlinks to the website’s home page or a specific landing page should be a top priority in the proposed SEO strategy.
This is even more true if the domain that’s being optimised does not have a strong link portfolio yet. Luckily, there are numerous way of getting good links.
Here you can find a selection of the most popular ones:
- Linkbait (creating “bait” for backlinks)
- Guest posting
- Promoting content (social media, blogs, emails)
- PR articles
- Sharing multimedia content
- Fixing broken links and relinking brand mentions
- Getting links through original images
- Additional microsites and blogs on platforms
- Creative link-building campaigns
Our colleague Ján Andrejko did a deep dive into this topic in his article SEO in 2019: How to do link building. We recommend reading it for inspiration.
We often come across situations where link-building activities focus exclusively on the acquisition of backlinks from other domains. However, you shouldn’t forget to optimise internal links, too.
Our colleague Mikuláš Prokop focused on this topic in depth in his article Don’t underestimate internal links, it might cost you your Google ranking.
Therefore, when planning your internal link-building strategy, take the following advice on board:
- Focus on relevance – link to relevant pages that are related to the content found on the originating page if you assume that users will find them interesting. Feel free to link older pages that are closely connected to your content, as well.
- Make use of your home page – if you have content that’s vital for your client’s economic success, don’t forget to link it from the home page. This is because the home page usually has the strongest “link juice”.
- Apt anchor texts – use anchor texts that capture the content of the target page well. Feel free to use multi-word phrases that accurately describe the target page. This way, the user will know what to expect after clicking the link.
- Consider the UX too – there’s no need to overdo it with internal links. Too many internal links on one page may discourage the visitor from taking further action.
- Targeted distribution of link juice – when making internal links, use follow links, which naturally transfer link juice throughout the website, thus increasing the value of less prominent pages.
Search engines realise that internal links are created on purpose, so even using an exact match in the anchor text doesn’t have to be a disadvantage for the page, like it is in the case of external links. It is important for links to stay relevant and describe the target page content.
An extra tip:
When analysing internal links to content on your domain, don’t forget to take a look at “dead” internal links (links leading to 404 error pages). In addition to achieving a better distribution of link juice and Googlebots across the domain, you will also remove UX problems.
Find out more in the following article: Even articles have cemeteries. Make sure your website isn’t one.
2. High-quality content
If you’ve been interested in SEO longer, you’ve definitely heard the phrase “content is king”. This phrase reflects the way in which Google’s algorithm has been developing in recent years – offering the best content to Google search engine users.
But what is high-quality content? How to start making it? What principles should you follow? Do you need a lot of content? Or is a small amount enough? How often should you make and then publish content?
We will try to provide answers to all of these questions in the following sections.
What is high-quality content?
There are many correct answers to this question. Quality is determined by the field that the website itself is part of. The quality requirements for content about medical topics are higher and completely different to the quality requirements for lifestyle topics.
Because of this, we recommend reading something about the EAT and YMYL principles – E-A-T, YMYL and the beneficial purpose of websites: How does Google determine the quality of a website and its content?.
Additionally, the content quality for a specific keyword is also influenced by the intent hidden behind phrases that you want to occupy in organic search.
There are several types of search intent hidden behind keywords:
As long as your long-term SEO strategy is built around high-quality content, you won’t be negatively affected by updates to the algorithm or penalisation by Google.
Our colleague Mikuláš Prokop focused on the topic of keyword intent in depth in his article Keyword intent: What is really hidden behind keywords?. Make sure to read it if you want to learn more.
How to make high-quality content?
As mentioned above, high-quality content should reflect specific keywords that people search for. Its form should also address specific search intent hidden behind specific keywords.
But how can you get these keywords? By performing a keyword analysis, of course.
Although the answer is simple, the process of getting a comprehensive overview of specific phrases and words used in search is time-consuming (in the ballpark of dozens of hours).
If you want a guide to keyword analysis with specific steps, take a look at our blog post on the topic.
If you have already performed an analysis and you feel like you’ve gone through all the possible topics, you can also include a content gap analysis in your strategy. This topic is covered in our article titled Content gap analysis: Do a thorough analysis of your competition.
This is a relatively simple process that gives you an overview of the content that your competition focuses on but you do not.
What principles to follow when creating content and how often to publish?
This is a question our clients ask us relatively often. Our answer is always the same: as often as you’re able to produce high-quality content.
Unfortunately, not all clients can ensure that the content they publish is of the highest quality possible. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the content in question shouldn’t be published at all. It’s still better for your website to have average content than no content at all.
However, if you’re active in a strongly competitive environment, average quality will not help you retain the best ranking for long, even though you can get there using strong backlinks.
Of course, high quality usually takes more time and more money, which, unfortunately, clients sometimes fail to understand. In cases like this, it is primarily necessary to reduce the quantity of published content while retaining high output quality.
When it comes to publishing, regularity is also important.
A comprehensive SEO strategy should include an editorial calendar planned at least three months in advance, which will be used as a guide when creating new content. Such a calendar can address several types of content.
There are several formats you can use when creating your SEO strategy. Their selection should be tailored to the needs of the client.
Here you can find our selection of the most universal content sections:
- A comprehensive magazine
Of course, creativity has no limits and various segments also offer opportunities for less traditional forms of content (vlogs, podcasts, etc.). You’re only limited by your creativity and the client’s goals.
Below, you can find a list of our blog articles with additional information about website content creation:
- Why should you create website content? Take a look at specific results
- How to prepare a website for blogging?
- How to write articles with a focus on SEO
- Article copywriting: How to choose the right keywords and secure a good Google ranking? (Detailed guide)
An extra tip:
In your strategy, make sure to allocate part of your capacity and budget for content republishing. By doing so, you will keep older content relevant from a long-term perspective.
Additionally, republishing gives you a lot of other ideas for creating and promoting content on your website. Moreover, search results will show updated articles with the new publication date, which often has a significant impact on the clickthrough rate.
1. The right way to present high-quality content
Publishing high-quality content on your website is not enough nowadays, especially in highly competitive environments. The way you present it to visitors is equally important.
Because of this, every good SEO strategy should also focus on optimising the way content is presented to the target group in question.
The two main aspects that you should focus on include:
- The presentation of content on the website
- The attractiveness of your website among search results
The presentation of content on the website
Even having the best content on the entire internet can be good for nothing if it’s presented in a form that your target group doesn’t “consume”. From our own experience, we can say that texts are not always written in the right style.
There are some target groups that prefer multimedia content (videos, podcasts, etc.).
In addition to finding a suitable form for your content, it’s also important to analyse its presentation on the website. Some target groups prefer information presented in a number of short formats, while others prefer the exact opposite – long texts that tackle topics in depth.
Other things that you shouldn’t forget include the visual presentation of the website, a suitable tone of communication, and the wording of texts. If your website includes a large amount of important information, but it’s presented in the wrong way, its reach will be much lower than it potentially could be.
The attractiveness of your website among search results
Nowadays, there is a lot of competition in search results. In addition to the 10 organic search results, there are also several ads that are used to catch the attention of potential visitors.
Because of this, we should do our best to differentiate ourselves from our competition and maximise the clickthrough rate to our website. Publishing the best content that can possibly be made about a specific topic is pointless if you fail to provide people with additional motivation to click on your website when displayed among other search results leading to your competition.
But how to achieve this? By simply grabbing people’s attention.
At this point, we can make use of activities that are more or less typical for SEO:
- The optimisation of titles
- The optimisation of meta descriptions
- The optimisation of structured data for rich snippets
- Fine-tuning the clickthrough rate from search results
The clickthrough rate can be improved by using emojis in titles and meta descriptions, but this approach cannot be used for every website.
Would you like to learn more about fine-tuning the clickthrough rate from search results? Make sure to read the following articles from our blog as well:
- 11 of the most common SEO mistakes when writing titles
- Do you want more clicks from Google? Read these 7 tips on how to improve your CTR in SERP
- How to make use of position zero from an SEO perspective?
2. A perfect UX
Even if you have high-quality content and you’ve chosen a suitable way of presenting it, the battle is not over yet. If the website’s UX (user experience) isn’t designed well, it’s very likely that results won’t be optimal from an SEO perspective.
Because of this, the best possible website UX should be another pillar of your SEO strategy.
This term can serve as an umbrella for a large number of aspects that can be optimised. For instance:
- Website load speed
- Clear website navigation
- Well-functioning internal links
- The relevance of content, as well as a clear and predictable structure
- Good website responsiveness
- A suitable choice of pictures and multimedia content
- The consistency of CTA elements and their colours/visual execution
- Clear, clean, and uncluttered design
- Well-functioning search
- Easily legible content
If you want to focus your SEO strategy on improving the usability of your website, we recommend reading 5 ways of improving website usability (their pros and cons) on our blog, in which our colleague Jozef Jurík tackled the topic.
When improving the usability of certain types of website, A/B testing is a suitable tool. Our colleague Jaroslav Uram has written a detailed article that focuses on this topic in depth.
We recommend reading it – How to do A/B testing correctly?
Did you know…?
Reading speed has a direct impact on website conversion rates. This aspect should always be at the centre of your attention.
3. Perfect local SEO
The last pillar that every good SEO strategy should be based on is local SEO. Many SEO “experts” tend to underestimate this pillar when planning a suitable strategy.
Even though optimisation for local searches doesn’t take priority in every project, a good strategy shouldn’t ignore it.
Aspects that should be considered in this pillar include:
- Having a profile on Google My Business
- The correctness and optimisation of the texts and information used there
- The existence and on-page optimisation of pages for specific locations on your website
- Support for off-page parameters for specific locations
If you want to learn more about this topic, we recommend reading the article where our colleague Ján Andrejko tackled local SEO in detail – Local SEO: Where did all of Google’s organic results go?
A few final words
It’s clear that setting a suitable SEO strategy is kind of like alchemy – it needs to be carefully tailored to each project. If it’s set up correctly, it can improve not just organic traffic, but also the website’s conversion rate and performance.
So when creating your SEO strategy, make sure to stick to the following rule:
Don’t try to trick Google. Attempts to do so never end well in the long term. Rather than tricking Google, offer the search engine what it’s looking for – high-quality content meant for visitors, not Googlebot.