College consumer behavior classes love to use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as a basis for understanding consumers’ motives. The company/product that best meets the four levels (physiological, safety, love and belonging, self worth) of Maslow’s pyramid is going to be the most successful at convincing consumers to act, increasing their own bottom line. The same philosophy can also be applied to SEO; we just need to rename the four needs to correspond to the four major components of any SEO campaign.
Our SEO hierarchy of needs looks something like this:
Content–> Keyword Research–> On-site Optimization–> Link Building.
The bottom of the SEO hierarchy, the foundation that everything else rests upon, is content. In terms of on-site SEO, content refers specifically to page content (although off-site content can be anything that is public and shareable). Content is arguably the most important factor of a website’s long term SEO success. Search spiders cannot see images, graphic or your site’s design. They can only “read” your content, meaning content is what the search engines rely upon to locate sites. Your site’s content is also the driving force that will convince your traffic to convert. Without great content filling your site, any off-site SEO is essentially going to waste.
The next step up in the SEO hierarchy is your keyword research. The reason keyword research comes AFTER your content is because keywords have to be chosen on a page-by-page basis based on the content of each page. You should never pick your keywords and then write your content to fit. This often leads to keyword stuffing or spammy, low-quality content that only focuses on looking good for the search engines. The keywords you select directly impact who will see your website. Missing important keywords or targeting the wrong keywords means you won’t attract your target audience. Keep in mind when conducting your keyword research that the broader your keywords are, the more competition there is for them! Long-tail keywords might produce less traffic but they drive a more targeted visitor.
After keyword research you need to start worrying about on-site optimization. This is the actual process of taking your newly selected keywords and incorporating them into your existing website. Components to be optimized include: content, Meta tags and descriptions, H1 tags, URL structures and image tags. On-site optimization also focuses on building an internal linking structure designed to lead your visitor down a pre-determined path of conversion.
Last, but not least, comes off-site link building. What’s so great about link building is that quality inbound links can come from just about anywhere. Content marketing and social media are critical component of link building that no company can afford to ignore, but there is also online PR, directory submission, blog commenting, local SEO and many other forms of link building! Links are one of the most important ranking factors, but you don’t want to rush your link building. The search engines like to see a slow and steady approach to link building as it show a commitment to white hat SEO. It is also important to vary your link sources so it doesn’t look like you are trying to spam the search engines or trick the algorithm.
Just like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a website cannot move on to the next level without first successfully completing the one below it. SEO is a long term process that builds upon itself. It doesn’t work if you rush it!