Understanding the Four Pillars of SEO

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Laptop screen showing the four pillars of SEO

Understanding Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) requires understanding what search engines are trying to do for us. From an end-user point of view, their primary objective is to match user intent with high quality, relevant content.

In order to deliver accurate results, search engines use complex algorithms to index and classify all of the content they encounter. Those algorithms are closely guarded proprietary secrets but we do know the underlying principles that they employ. These principles form the “pillars of SEO”. By understanding these “pillars”, you’ll better understand the strategies and tactics that make SEO.

Pillar 1: Authority

Authority is everything when it comes to the internet; it’s a measure of trust. To determine the authority of your content, search engine need to determine its relevance and quality. One of the best methods for determining your authority is to examine the links that point to your content.

Let’s consider an example. Think of the website of the BBC. It’s a well-established industry leader and most people would agree that it is a world class and authoritative source of news. Now imagine that the BBC link to one of your pages. That link is like a recommendation; it carries a lot of weight. Since people trust the BBC they are more likely to trust your content as well.

We can inherit authority via backlinks from authoritative referrers

We can improve our authority by creating well-written, quality content

“Natural link building” adds to our authority too; by providing really good content people will link to us out of choice (this includes social network shares).

Hosting our website on a reputable host will also contribute to our authority

Including testimonials and certifications can also increase the trust of visitors

Pillar 2: Relevance

The second pillar is relevance. It is one measure of the quality of our content. People linking to our content can indirectly suggest that our content is relevant, however, search engine algorithms go much deeper. They use natural language learning and artificial intelligence to analyse the actual text on our pages.

Keywords have always played a big role in determining relevance and quality but the algorithms are now so advanced that natural, well-written text is actually rewarded higher than text that’s just stuffed with lots of keywords but not much credible information. Your content should:

Be well-written, with no spelling and grammar errors

Be factual and informative

Be interesting and entertaining (think creative)

Contain keywords in a natural way i.e. not forced for the sake of just using them

Focused on the reader i.e. it delivers the answers they are seeking

Only as long as it needs to be—not overly long and not too short

Pillar 3: User Experience

Our third pillar addresses the ease of use for the visitor. If you get this wrong visitors aren’t going to stay long on your site resulting in high bounce rates. Again, there are many factors to consider:

Is your content responsive? That is, does it adapt to whatever screen size your visitor is using?

Is the navigation system logical and easy to use?

Are you using sensible color schemes and easy to read fonts?

Are you using obsolete plugins like Flash, Silverlight, or Java? You should be using modern HTML5 web technologies.

Are your images optimised for fast loading?

Are your page loading times lightning fast?

Are your web forms too long? You should only collect the essential information.

Are your call to actions in prominent positions and highly visible?

Pillar 4: Site Health

Our final pillar concerns the more technical aspects of your website.

Do your pages include all the required meta data like page descriptions and image ALT “tags”?

Have you removed duplicate content or made it clear which content is to be regarded as canonical (the version you consider to be authoritative)?

Have you set up permanent redirects (“301s”) for any content that has been moved to new URLs?

Have you eliminated broken links (“404s”) and orphaned pages (pages that inaccessible because there are no links to them)?

Thinking about the four pillars of SEO is a way of naturally aligning your content and web design and development to SEO-friendly practices and a simple way of helping explain to your marketing team what this sometimes confusing beast known as SEO is all about

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Luke Chaffey
Luke Chaffey is a senior member of the KBB Digital team, and heads up the search marketing division. With a keen eye on innovation and developing digital trends, Luke regularly attends the Google Partners Masterclass, and is also a prolific writer for websites such as Yahoo, The Australian Government (Digital Business sector), Kochie’s Business Builders, Smarter.Digital, KBB Digital.

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