If I am ever asked to simplify what it takes to be successful in search engine optimization, I come back to two simple rules…quality, unique and resourceful content, and gaining quality links, pointing to appropriate pages of your website.
If I am allowed to go a little deeper in my explanation, I’ll get into proper site architecture, coding, internal linking, and all the other fun stuff that we get to consider on a daily basis.
There are some bloggers out there who will argue that “all you need is a bunch of links” and others, still, who say that “all you need to do is set up a WordPress website and generate a bunch of content.”
My argument is probably somewhere in the middle of this crowd.
With as complicated as search engine optimization can be at times, I believe it’s important to maintain one of the most important factors in search engine optimization…a bit of common sense.
If you were a search engine, what websites would you want to rank? If you were a search engine, and you understood that there were methods to try and “con you” (try and “manipulate” the algorithm), wouldn’t you do everything within your power to ensure that you weren’t conned? How would you go about doing that?
The search engines are pretty smart creatures. Much like human beings, they will learn from past experiences and hopefully become better for having had some bad experiences. Years ago, they may have allowed for the ranking of websites that gained link popularity merely by exchanging links with anyone willing to accept the offer. Years ago, they may have ranked websites that auto-populated themselves with nothing but regurgitated content. Years ago, they paid no mind to those who bought links and forced their way to top positions.
Today’s search engines are better than that. They, like humans, have adopted methods to protect the integrity of their search results.
So, what is the “secret” to doing well in the search engines, nowadays?
I think Matt Cutts summarizes this pretty well in a video posted on Google’s Webmaster Central YouTube profile:
In effect, what Matt is saying is that you have to start with content. If you have no content or horrible content, why on earth would anyone really want to link to your website? Certainly, you can get your mom to link from her website to yours, and you probably have a few other friends that – no matter what you publish – would be happy to extend a link your way, but the most prudent way to generate the necessary links to your website is to create something worth linking to. Common sense, right? But, all too often, common sense fails to make its way to the table when discussing search engine optimization.
This is one reason why I am often recommending that clients put a corporate blog on their domain. When I say “on their domain,” I am most often recommending that a client post to a blog that is hosted at www.sitename.com/blog with a permalink structure that looks something like www.sitename.com/blog/name-of-post or, in some cases, the posts themselves will exist at www.sitename.com/name-of-post. If you can create quality content, and promote it, you can generate some high quality links to your website. If you’re new to the idea of blogging, you might want to read my earlier post on setting up a blog for search engine optimization.
If you were to have direct access to the Google Webmaster Tools for my SEO company, you would see that our blog actually has gained many more links than any other content on our site.
Makes sense, right? Wouldn’t people naturally want to link to good content, as opposed to commercial content? Certainly, you would much rather that people link to the “pages that we want to rank highly,” but these links do certainly help. And, as for people linking to our home page, that makes sense, too. When I speak at a conference, or write for a publication such as ClickZ, it makes sense to reference my company’s home page when referencing me.
None of this link generation is possible without providing content. When I write for ClickZ, I am providing content. When I speak at Search Engine Strategies or PubCon, I am providing content. When I post to our company’s blog, I am providing content. By virtue of the content being generated, links have followed (in that order).
So, when you’re thinking about whether you should focus on content or links, I might suggest that you focus on both. But, given the priorities that we humans have in our daily lives, I would focus on content, first.