Question for the Expert:

Which SEO techniques have the highest ROI?

Answer from the Expert:

Compared to paid media channels, SEO is seen by some as a “free” channel. However, much work is put into achieving measurable results in the organic search space. That work equals time taken away from other projects if you’re the one in charge of the SEO efforts, or it can mean paying for man-hours if you’re managing the team/budget that’s responsible. Therefore, it is key to address the tactics that have the highest SEO ROI first–what is colloquially known as “low-hanging fruit.”

Because there are many tactics that can be used in SEO to improve rankings and gain more organic traffic, this topic is broken up into a 3-part series. The relative SEO ROI for each of these groups will be addressed to help you prioritize your projects and come away with a clear SEO strategy.

The key categories of SEO efforts this series will focus on are:

  1. User-Facing On-Page Tactics
  2. Behind-the-Scenes On-Page/site Tactics
  3. Off-Page Backlinking Tactics

Part 1: User-Facing On-Page Tactics

The tactics discussed here are grouped together due to their shared characteristic of being visible/noticeable to the user. This section has benefits for your rankings but also for user satisfaction and repeat visits. Here are the elements ranked in order of highest ROI to lowest.

1. Content

You may have heard “content is king” as a popular SEO motto. This well-known saying is still very true today. The purpose of Google organic rankings is to provide users with the content they’re searching for. Therefore, it’s in your interest to have “the best” content out there for your subject matter. Write concisely, give in-depth information, utilize keywords, organize content by one major keyword/topic per page, and group similar concepts together. This not only goes for body copy but also for:

    1. Title Tags
    2. H1s
    3. Meta Descriptions
    4. Body Copy

2. URL Structure

It’s important to utilize a clean URL structure that utilizes keywords and a hierarchy of directories that provide context to the engines about how pieces of content are related to each other. When planning your new site or a site migration that involves a URL structure change, sit down and map out the content. Visualize it as papers that go into folders that then go into specific drawers within a filing cabinet. If your business has several target audiences with content specialized to them, envision a filing cabinet for each of them. A word of caution: don’t get so caught up in organizing your content into layer after layer that your URLs become big strings of directories.

The benefit to users is that with a short and clean URL, users can gain context from the URL alone. When a link is shared, other users are more likely to click on it if they can understand the context of the page from the URL alone; it provides a level of transparency and trust.

3. Site Speed

When Google crawls your pages, it makes note of the page load time for each page. If your page is competing against another similar page from a different site that loads faster than yours, then it has one additional factor in its favor to outrank your page.

Page load time is not only noted by the engines, but also your human users. While mobile and desktop machines are getting faster, many web designers have made the move to utilizing very large images and auto-playing videos. It is recommended to keep your page load time at or under 3 seconds. There are many free tools out there to test your page speed, so don’t be shy. Try it out on each of your template types and see if there are images, JavaScript calls, or other elements that could be minified to speed up the load time. Be sure to test both the desktop and the mobile versions of your site. The increase in device share to mobile devices is very noticeable and increases every year (and more likely every day). Mobile is not to be ignored. Many SEOs advise designing for mobile first and then desktop.

4. Navigation Taxonomy

While it’s true that Google has conditioned us to use search boxes to find what we need and you may have the most amazing on-site search functionality, it’s still key to provide users with a clear navigation structure. This structure not only assists users in finding the content on your site but it also gives the engines a clear understanding of how your pages are related to each other, their hierarchy, and associated keywords.

Don’t forget breadcrumb navigation. Optimize those breadcrumbs!

5. Internal Linking

In addition to a stellar Navigation Taxonomy to provide context to users and engines, Internal Linking provides routes for both audiences to dig deeper (or higher) into a topic from the initial page they land on. When implementing an internal linking strategy, be sure to use natural language and keyword variations for your anchor text. You’re providing trails for your human users to go up or down within a specific subject, so the constant repetition of the same keyword sounds robotic and unnatural. Google frowns on this type of anchor text and rewards sites that utilize a variety of keyword variations as anchor text.

6. Custom 404 Page

This is the low man on the totem pole because it doesn’t have much impact in the way of SEO ROI. However, it can have a large impact for users not abandoning your site if you’ve forgotten to redirect an old page to a new page. If they land on a page that is not customized to help them in finding a different page on your site, they are likely to abandon the experience all together. Bounce rates are still a ranking factor. Google doesn’t want to provide search results that are useless and frustrating to users. The other part of this equation is searching your site on a regular basis for 404s and other errors and redirecting them to the best alternate URL. This will be discussed more in part 2 of this series.

 

This list of 6 on-page SEO tactics in order of priority should help you to get on your way to a healthy SEO strategy. Put your users first and most likely the engines will reward you as that is their main goal. In the following two posts to complete this series on SEO ROI, we will cover Behind-the-Scenes On-Page tactics as well as Off-Page Backlinking tactics. Stay tuned!

Until then, take a closer look at how you can measure the ROI of your SEO tactics!


Also published on Medium.