SEO: Where to Start When You Need to Fix Everything

Optimizing a site for organic search can be overwhelming when you’re staring at a blank slate. Where do you start?

You could optimize any of your pages for one of the thousands of keywords your visitors search for. Or you could create new content to fill the top of the sales funnel. And what about those technical issues, or the need to acquire more links?

The good news is that there are three definitive steps when you’re getting started:

  1. Enable search bots;
  2. Send relevance signals;
  3. Amplify relevance and authority.

The steps are linear. Enable search bots before focusing on sending relevant signals. Establish the right signals before attempting to amplifying them.

1. Enable Search Bots

Search engines must know your pages exist before they can rank organically. The engines send bots to crawl the web and discover pages to store for inclusion in search results. This is known as crawling and indexing.

If your pages can’t be crawled, nothing you optimize on your site will be visible to the search engines. Therefore, enabling the crawl must be the first step in your SEO process.

Technical SEO strategies affect the number and priority of index pages, the meaning of those pages, site speed, and much more.

Not all technical issues will block your progress, however.

Stay focused on the issues that impact the ability to crawl and index, such as uncrawlable links, accidental noindex tags, and robots.txt malfunctions. Leave the hundreds of piddling items — small amounts of duplicate content and most 404 errors — in the backlog to fix later.

2. Send Relevance Signals

Once they can access your site, bots need to understand the meaning and purpose of each page.

Content relevance is the strongest organic search signal. Search engines equate searchers’ words and phrases algorithmically with indexed web pages. Using keywords — the words and phrases that real people search for — to optimize content is a big part of this step.

Keywords send relevance signals to search engines that a page is related to a query. The more signals your content can send that match what searchers expected to find, the more likely they are to purchase your products.

Keyword research identifies the words and phrases that real searchers use. All you have to do is map those keywords to the appropriate pages, and then optimize the pages’ content.

There’s also a pecking order among the thousands of pages that need to be optimized. The map that assigns keywords to pages will also tell you which pages have the most potential for organic search growth.

Pages that can be optimized for high-demand keywords would always be at the top of the optimization list. However, your business goals are key. Focus on the pages that meet those goals, such as:

  • Drive brand awareness in a particular category;
  • Drive more orders and sales;
  • Drive more profit;
  • Represent a competitive advantage.

Page templates impact contextual-relevance signals. Your templates insert content into the code that browsers render to display web pages. Some of that code — headings, metadata, and structured data — are relevance signals. Stronger signals mean better rankings.

3. Amplify Relevance and Authority

Think of relevance as a radio signal. The last step is amplifying that signal — turning up the volume. Backlinks (the links from other sites to yours) serve as that amplifier. Search engines assume pages with more links are more authoritative and thus deserve a higher ranking.

Backlinks were once the top ranking signal. They’re still important, but content relevance eked ahead in the last couple of years.

Your navigation and the other internal links also serve as authority amplifiers. Pages linked to in the header navigation get a vote of value from every other page on your site. That’s an immediate signal to search algorithms that you think those pages are the most important.

Links from other sites are the most critical, however, especially from quality sites that are topically relevant.

Unfortunately, links are somewhat tricky to acquire. Never pay sites to link to yours as it could hurt your rankings, not help.

Your best option is to provide something of value and offer it to other sites to share with their audience. It could be a buyer’s guide, a blog post, an appearance on a podcast, a desktop background — anything that you can produce that others might want. Let your keyword research lead your SEO content strategy.

Providing a valuable asset and promoting it is a form of content marketing. You could network on Twitter, use a press relations company to solicit news stories, blast it out to your Facebook or LinkedIn followers, put it in your email newsletter, and contact owners of sites directly to offer your asset and ask for a link — among other ideas. Just remember that your goal is fattening your link profile.