Introducing the SEO Hierarchy of Needs
It happens a lot.
A company calls Bruce Clay, Inc. to find out what can be done to help them build links / launch a social media campaign / [insert Internet marketing service here]. But after looking at the site it becomes apparent that the SEO foundation is just too weak to support quality search engine rankings, let alone a link building campaign.
It’s at this point that someone should explain that there’s a hierarchy that should be considered when developing an optimized Web site or marketing campaign. When deciding where to devote resources, understanding this hierarchy is an essential first step. That’s why I’ve put together a little something I like to call the SEO hierarchy of needs.
The SEO hierarchy of needs takes its cues from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a well-known diagram rooted in the field of psychology, which explains the various motivators of human behavior.
In Maslow’s version, the most basic and fundamental needs are found at the base of the pyramid, and each higher tier represents needs that can’t be realized until the needs below it are satisfied. For instance, a person isn’t expected to prioritize love and affection (the third tier) if their physical needs for food or shelter (the first tier) aren’t met.
Likewise, if fundamental site requirements — like quality content and theme-based site architecture — aren’t secure, it’s probably inappropriate to commit resources to higher SEO objectives, like link building.
So without further ado, here’s a guide for understanding the SEO hierarchy of needs.
Analytics & Web Intelligence
While website analytics implementation and analysis could be the first level of the pyramid, it’s almost better to think of it as the backdrop for all your Internet marketing efforts. Without data that tracks visitor engagement on the site, there’s no baseline from which to measure the effect of SEO efforts.
And without analytics data, it’s nearly impossible to understand if your site and online campaigns resonate with your target audience. If you have even a single live page on your Web site, it’s critical that analytics is implemented as soon as possible.
As a quick aside, this week’s SEM Synergy podcast is all about analytics. I’m interviewing three of the foremost experts in the field on the show. Avinash Kaushik, Jim Sterne and Daniel Waisberg talk about the latest developments in the strategy and practice of Web analytics. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say the information in this week’s podcast is extremely useful.
Keywords & Content
Optimizing a website’s content is an ongoing challenge for any site. But knowing where to start can also be difficult. Content is how a search engine and a human user know what your site is about, what they can expect to get from it, and where its expertise lies. It seems obvious, but the content of a site — be it text, images, video or other — needs to clearly explain who the audience is and what the subject matter is.
Competitive analysis and keyword research are important steps in developing site content. Be sure you’re targeting the relevant and trafficked keywords that relate to your site’s goals. Then develop interesting and compelling content that revolve around those keywords and goals.
Optimized Site Architecture and On-Page Elements
A site’s information architecture should support the content themes of a site. This is beneficial for both human visitors and search engine visitors. SEO Siloing is the practice of creating theme-aligned content sections of a site. Internal linking and a directory structure that reinforces theme-based sections of a site will indicate strong relevance in the search engines and make it easier for human visitors to find related content on the site.
Likewise, the on-page elements of a webpage should support the content of the site and the server configuration of the site should reflect crawl and indexing preferences. While not visible to human users, the benefactor of such efforts is primarily search engines. Search engines look at Meta data such as the page Title, Description, and other tags to determine the subject of the page. A robots.txt file indicates if any pages should be left out of the index, and an .htaccess file allows the creation of search engine friendly redirects. Be sure to help search engines understand the content of a page with Meta data and know what to crawl through proper server configuration.
Usability & Optimized Web Design
A website’s design and usability should optimize a user’s holistic experience on a site. Did visitors find what they expected when first landing on the site? Did the landing page meet their needs? Did the text and image of the site compete for attention or was their a clear hierarchy of design?
Usability, A/B and multivariate testing are helpful tools for optimizing a user’s journey through the site. You should seek to understand any obstacles to conversion, any competing calls to action and user’s preferred experience on the site. Your goals are understanding the site’s performance, its ease of use as well as the user’s recall and emotional response to the site.
With your site’s content, structure and design in peak condition, a marketer can start soliciting links and the organization can become active in online social communities. After all, before you can expect a site to develop inbound links,you have to be confident that there is content worth that attention and those links.
Link building is an essential part of SEO success and a highly valued factor of search engine rankings. It’s also resource intensive and very challenging. It can be approached by a variety of ways, including link magnets, link bait and link solicitation. But in any case, the chances of attracting quality, relevant links increase through exceptional content — be it informative, entertaining or original — and strong relationships.
When engaged in search engine optimization, social media optimization, or any form of online marketing aimed at bringing visitors to your site, remember that every tactic comes in its own time. Prioritize your efforts and then build your online marketing campaigns from the bottom on up.