What is a holistic SEO strategy and how does it differ from traditional SEO?
In this article we will look at all of the components of a successful SEO strategy and discuss an holistic SEO approach that ties the components together in service of successful content marketing.
Search Engine Optimisation
While it’s true to say we build websites for a target audience of humans, most of the traffic attracted by websites in the western world comes from search engines. Google, YouTube, Bing, Yahoo in roughly that order, drive traffic to websites. It makes sense therefore to optimise content so that it ranks or ranks higher than its competion in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
Why Content Matters
It is important to understand the relationship between search engines and their customers to really get what kind of content matters.
The reason people enter a search term into a search engine is to find something. That may sound obvious but it is the job of the search engine to return content that answers those queries because if it doesn’t that user may try another search engine next time, taking a tiny slice of the advertising revenue with them.
So Google’s emphasis in building their SERPs is on providing useful third part content to their audience. Our emphasis as a marketing agency is on devising content strategies that will drive organic traffic via the search results pages to a website.
Seen from the SEO perspective, SEO is literally the art of optimising nuggets of content so that it can be found and understood easily by search engines. Seen from the page perspective, optimisation can easily become an obsessive quest for competitive keywords.
In fact SEO is far more than simple keyword analysis. The following are the areas in which SEO practices are usually focused. A holistic SEO strategy will pay attention to all of these factors.
Technical SEO is concerned with optimising the user experience from the technical perspective. Recently much of the effort devoted to technical SEO is concerned with responsive site design that renders effectively on a range of devices, and speed.
Site speed is probably the most important and overlooked usability factor in 2022. According to Google itself, across all platforms, 23% of users will abandon a page that doesn’t load within three seconds.
The sites we develop for our clients are technically optimised at launch. Technical SEO remains in the hands of our developers and our hosting services. We develop for speed and use the fastest hosting. In 2022 that means Litespeed technologies and solid site drives.
The focus of On-page SEO is concerned with what happens on the page – content layout, images, keywords, paragraphs, headings, schema markup etc.
Keyword selection at the page level is massively important and this is why so many people obsess about it.
Simplistically Google results are skewed towards large established websites that offer rich and useful content. What this means, in a nutshell, is that if I write an article here that is optimised for the same keyword as one on moz.com for example, then Moz will get the ranking. How do we compete?
One of the ways small websites compete is to optimise pages on a keyword that is less popular but still carries significant search volume. Clusters of content built around a cohesive set of keywords of this type build ranking as well as providing a richer experience for the readers.
Off page SEO is focused on events off the page. Typically, link building, email marketing and social media. These activities are designed to drive traffic to the web page. Websites don’t attract readers by magic these days, you need to generate traffic by other means.
Social Media and SEO
Social Media is an effective way of driving traffic to your website. It’s important to realise there is no direct link between the size of a social media following and the ranking in Google. Rather the connection is implicit.
In our article “How to use social media to promote your business” we made the point that if you provide great content in a timely manner and distribute links on social media then it’s likely to attract attention. This in turn generates backlinks which do directly affect the ranking.
The danger in traditional SEO is that it becomes completely keyword driven and this can result in muddled website content with no clear direction.
A content strategy helps to steer the content so that the point of the site is obvious. This plays into the concept of holistic SEO.
A holistic SEO Strategy isn’t about searching for keywords and creating backlinks, it’s about creating useful content that provides real value to a websites users and addresses the intent of the search that brought them there.
On Page and Off Page SEO follow on from a good Content strategy.
Ranking signals are the factors that inform the search engine algorithms and help determine the indelibility of a website. If it were possible to simply tick the boxes for each ranking signal then SEO would not be as challenging as it actually is.
Google sometimes appear to make sport with the industry by shrouding their algorithms in secrecy and issuing updates apparently designed to prevent SEOs from gaming the system.
For what it’s worth, these are the ranking signals that Google is happy for us to know about and that a holistic SEO strategy should be keeping an eye on.
This is the ranking signal that is currently preoccupying the industry. Backlinks are links form other sites back to your content. Don’t buy backlinks, we prefer to generate our backlinks organically by creating great content.
The Search Engine’s task is to match your content with the search query. The most obvious signal affecting relevance is the keyword and its position(s) on the page. Typically the keyword should appear in the title of the page/article, the heading, as an alt tag in an image and in the text.
Avoid keyword stuffing at all costs. It should be possible to include your keyword naturally in various places on a page. If it doesn’t sit well then think about a different keyword. Not least because anything that reads unnaturally will be off-putting to your human readers.
We’ve talked about content quality and the need to provide useful content already. Here is some detail about the ranking signals that contribute to quality.
Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness are the factors that contribute to quality rating. Add originality to this too.
Expertise is a measure of the competence of the writer/site under review. Authority determines whether this article for example is better than others that come up on the front page for similar searches. Trustworthiness is a measure of reliability and lack of bias.
This is all seen in the context of the purpose, reputation and influence of the site. These factors can be massively affected by adopting a holistic SEO strategy as content is created that serves the purpose of the site, enhances the reputation and ramps up the influence.
A commonly missed opportunity in SEO is that gained by refreshing old content. Obviously, all new content should be based on current information, but what about that article that was written two years ago? If it ranked well at the time of writing then it’s definitely worth updating.
Internal links help search engines to understand what is important on the site. Within this such things as anchor text are also important. There is some debate around how useful things like breadcrumb trails and “If you enjoyed this you might also enjoy…” lists.
My preference is to err on the side of user-friendliness. I include some links in the text of the article and others elsewhere on the page. For example in the Knowledge Base section.
This is a given. If you don’t use https and enforce it across the site, then you are missing a small ranking signal that is undeniably useful for your audience.
Depending a little on your industry, the movement to mobile in recent years has been impressive. As mobile speed is improved by the introduction of faster technology this will only increase. It is vital that your website renders well on mobile phones in particular.
Speed doesn’t carry as much weight as say Relevance or Quality but it is an opportunity to improve for almost all sites.
Lastly, local SEO is known to help rankings. This is decidedly off-page but Google MyBusiness and local directories are worthwhile if you need to figure locally. This really does depend on your business, but bricks and mortar retail businesses and car dealerships are obvious examples of businesses where somebody may search “jeep dealer near me”.
Is a Holistic SEO strategy just an extension of Marketing Activity?
This is one of the great grey areas in marketing. Marketers are not always technically proficient and techies are not always media savvy. There is certainly a crossover but the boundary is likely to be elastic depending on the marketers and web developers in an organisation.
Digital marketing is often the preserve of social media managers but as we have discussed, if social media isn’t driving traffic to your website then how is its effectiveness measured?
In our view, a successful holistic SEO strategy goes across all of the SEO and content creation efforts, ensuring that content opportunities are also SEO opportunities and vice versa.
What does a Holistic SEO Strategy Look like?
We assume for this topic that Technical SEO is in good shape. Starting from the beginning a content strategy should be devised that specifies content areas and suggests content that addresses the intent of the reader searching for it.
Don’t forget that sales rarely happen on first exposure to a brand. You should define your target audience in detail and understand their behaviour. You need to anticipate the requirements of
- casual browsers (interest)
- people building a list of candidate service or product providers (information)
- people deciding to buy (product pages).
Of the three categories of content the first two are likely to come via a search engine. So topics should be chosen that address both of those intents.
Analyse the competition in terms of the keywords, headings and structure of their content and do it better!
Post regularly and promote articles on social media at optimal times.
Review old content and update it regularly.
Attend to the detail of on page SEO.
Monitor your results using Google Analytics.
Remember your ultimate goal is to sell your goods or services to real people, so the content needs to be interesting, easy to read and informative.