SEO First Approach
October 22, 2022
Since its first creation in the late 90s, SEO went from a basic web search process easily fooled by a generous amount of keywords and meta tags, to a complex and often mysterious overlord ruling over the search engine scene and granting higher rankings to a few deserving sites. The continuous quest to get on SEO’s good side is even more prevalent now that the average person spends almost 7 hours of their day online.
In our experience, SEO is usually discussed at the end of a project. While this might have been effective years ago, it is no longer the case. To fully reap the benefits of a good SEO strategy, the project should consider the various SEO principles from start to finish. But let's start with the basics of SEO.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It is the process and practices designed to improve the ranking of web pages in organic search results (i.e. results not influenced by paid advertising). As organic search is the most prominent way for people to discover and access online content, a good SEO strategy is essential for improving the quality and quantity of traffic on a website. Depending on the type of website, more traffic then translates into higher sales, increased brand awareness, etc. After all, it doesn’t matter how great your website is if you’re the only visitor.
At its most basic, SEO starts with bots that continuously crawl the web in search of web pages and all information about their contents. That information is then stored in an index, along with relevant keywords or search tags. Then, the ranking algorithm works its magic to determine how relevant the indexed content is at answering a user’s search and accordingly defines its placement on search result pages. The race toward the first spots is one which requires understanding some of the ways in which SEO is affected and maybe a few sacrifices to the digital overlord.
Types of SEO
Usually, three different types of SEO are mentioned: On-page SEO, Off-page SEO, and Technical SEO. Though they are overlapping – e.g. technical SEO is always on-page SEO – we will stick to this distinction:
- On-page SEO: these are all the practices done to improve your website for users and search engines. The first thing is creating high-quality content and visuals. That might sound obvious, but it’s important to not lose sight of the reason behind your work and that is users and providing value to them. The next important point here is using relevant keywords. The goal is to provide context to the search engines so they can understand what your page is about. In ancient SEO times, this was simply done by repeating your target keyword throughout the page. That is not the case anymore, but using your target keywords strategically is still important. For example, in the title and headline tags, as well as at the beginning and end of your written content. One additional piece of advice here is to make use of LSI keywords (Latent Semantic Indexing keywords). These are search terms related to the main keyword via their similar meaning or semantic relation. Given the complex algorithms that power search engines today, they are capable of semantics in order to understand the content at a deeper level.
- Off-page SEO: these refer to everything that happens outside of your website that helps with the SEO strategy. The most important component for this is backlinks, which are the references to your website from other websites. These are like referrals that your website gets from others. Of course, this does not mean that all backlinks are equal in the ruthless eyes of search engines. The reputability of the website linking to yours (a.k.a domain authority) as well as the overall context in which the linking is done is of importance and affects the resulting ranking. In other words, you will rank higher when other websites that are relevant and have high domain authority, are linking to your website. So choose your website friends wisely. Another component is Social Media Marketing (also known as Social Media SEO). While this does not directly affect your website ranking, it does contribute to it in a wider scope through social engagement and social shares. These help search engines determine your brand reputation and your value to the online community, which in turn are taken into account for the ranking.
- Technical SEO: this is a catch-all term for anything technical that is used to improve your website ranking. The main factors to consider for this are the ones that directly affect whether your site is found and how well it’s read. First things first, you should ensure that your website is crawlable and indexable. It sounds like a no-brainer, but if it’s not the case and your pages are not even being read or indexed you might not show up in search results at all – no one wants that. It’s also important to use HTTPS not only for visitors’ data but also because it’s a confirmed ranking factor. Another major factor is to ensure that the website loads fast enough so that it is not penalized by search engines. One way of gaining quick wins overall is to run a technical website audit using Google’s tool Lighthouse and follow their instructions to improve the performance of your website. After all, they are the SEO guys, so they know what the ranking magic is really about.
SEO comes first
When considering SEO in the context of project planning, it becomes apparent that it can and should be part of every step. From the conception phase where the website structure and content are defined, we create targeted landing pages and plan keywords for better ranking. In the design phase, we consider the amount and formats of videos, images, and text for the best experience and performance. During the development phase, we check the loading behavior and other key technical factors that directly affect SEO. That is the reason behind our SEO-first approach. This does not mean that some things cannot be optimized after the website has been created and filled with content, but rather that most of the topics have to be addressed throughout the project to make sure that great content gets a great ranking.