The world of SEO can be intimidating for anyone who is just jumping into the game at this point. Terms like PageRank sculpting, temporal analysis of links, canonicalization, and a multitude of other esoteric terms are constantly being bantered around the industry.
For a new practitioner, it's easy to see why many people view SEO as some kind of voodoo. And truth be told, there are a lot of small details that can have profound effects on SEO, so the reputation isn't completely undeserved.
However, as much as these arcane bits of knowledge might be, the difference for some websites in ranking in the top three for a particular competitive search phrase (the art of SEO) really isn't about black magic, but more so, it's about the study of the user that you're trying to target.
The reason I say that is because ultimately the user decides what the profile of a top ranking site should be. Google, Bing, and other search engines have historically spent millions (if not billions) of dollars on trying to create the best information retrieval system for humans who are looking for information based on search phrases.
They spend an immense amount of time, energy, and resources trying to understand what these users want based on the words they type. And the more successful they are at providing those users with what they want, the more money that they make.
And so it is the users of the search engines that drive the algorithmic refinements that continue to evolve what factors are used in determining which digital asset is the best asset (web page, video, PDF document, etc.) for a particular user for a particular search.
Understanding the User Is Key
As SEO practitioners, our job is to understand the subset of these Internet users we're targeting, what keywords they're using to find what they're looking for, and what information we can provide them that will make our digital assets the best choice for those users.
Additionally, we must then be familiar with the signals that search engines use to make that determination and to ensure that the site we're optimizing is effectively sending those signals to Google and Bing. But many SEO practitioners spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on trying to send signals to the engines that they deserve to be listed for certain keyword phrases without spending enough time ensuring that the site meets the criteria of actually being one of the best resources for the users they are targeting.
The first question that any SEO practitioner should ask when targeting a particular keyword phrase, especially a competitive one, is "what information is the user looking for and does my site provide that information in way that differentiates it from all of the other websites competing for the same phrase?"
Another way to frame this is "why would a user searching for the term in question think that my site provides a superior digital experience and is the depth of the information provided sufficient enough that my site truly deserves to be in the top 10 of Google or Bing for this term?" Deserving to be ranked in the top 10 for a particular search phrase of course doesn't guarantee that you will be there, but it does makes the process of getting there much easier.
Is There a Content Strategy in Place?
The second question that needs to be answered in the optimization process is to define the ongoing content strategy. This strategy must allow for production of new and authentic content that will augment the position as an industry leader for the term(s) that are targeted.
Getting to the top of the search rankings is only half the battle. Staying there in the face of your competitors takes a persistent effort that is focused on constantly providing users with the most up to date and relevant information that satisfies their query and does so in a way that is superior to the competition. Defining an ongoing content production strategy given the resources available for the project is a key step in creating a winning foundation for your SEO campaign.
By addressing these two questions upfront in the optimization process, the rest of the SEO equation will become much clearer. Having superior content that succinctly addresses the needs of your users allows you to get links from credible sources, makes your social media activities more compelling with higher engagement levels, makes your press releases much more likely to be picked up by significant distribution, and augments your brand by providing your users with a better overall digital experience.