The Four Key Pillars of On-Page SEO

The guidelines and best practices for search engine optimization are constantly changing. Every time Google decides to roll out a new version of the algorithm, site owners around the world let out an audible gasp as they frantically try to catch up with what Google wants from them. If you were trying to game the system before, those “black hat” practices could definitely come back to bite you.

As cryptic and as confusing as Google’s behavior may be, if we take them at face value, we have to understand that Google is only trying to find and prioritize the best possible results for its users. We can get into all sorts of conspiracy theories — like how Google is prioritizing its own content over that of others — but that’s an entirely different discussion for another day. Instead, let’s look at four key areas where you can focus your SEO energy.

Great Content

At the end of the day, you still want to serve the end user to the best of your ability. That’s in your best interest. But the end user has to find your content in the first place, and that’s where search engine optimization can play a vital role. And believe it or not, having great content really is part of your overall SEO strategy too. You just have to understand what Google looks for in great content.

The simple question Google asks of every webpage is straightforward: Does this satisfy what the user wanted? Does it answer the question they were asking? Does it inform or entertain them in the way that they desired? If it fulfills its purpose, then it’s great content.

Another side of this is the E-A-T part of Google’s perspective. They’re looking for relevant Expertise, established Authority, and demonstrated Trustworthiness. Are you the go-to expert in your niche?

User Engagement

If a tree falls in the forest, and no one tweets about it, did it even happen?

Jokes aside, having great content on its own isn’t enough. Readers and visitors have to care about that content, and the content has to compel them to see what else you’ve been writing or creating. Do you have comments? Social shares? A high time on site and pages per visit?

Yes, Google looks at these things and these types of signals serve as ranking factors.

Mobile First

It really wasn’t all that long ago that we were told about the importance of mobile-friendly design. These days, however, being “mobile friendly” isn’t really enough. Instead, we are broadly encouraged to take a “mobile first” approach. In other words, how your site looks and performs on a mobile device is more important than how it looks and performs on a desktop computer.

Don’t use a mobile-friendly theme for your blog or, worse yet, a separate “mobile” site for your blog. If you’re not already using a responsive design for your blog, you’re already way behind the curve. You need responsive ad units too. Everything.

How do your pictures and videos look on a mobile device? What about navigation? Does your block of text look overly intimidating when it’s crunched onto a smaller, vertical display? It doesn’t matter if your site looks tremendous on a big desktop monitor if it looks like a dumpster fire on a smartphone.

Technical Optimizations

Again, this is hardly new, but it’s no less important. We’ve been talking about improving load times for years. That’s even more important now with a “mobile first” approach. Slow page load times can really hurt your SEO efforts, even if you tick all of the other boxes. Speed is very much a ranking factor. Also keep other technical considerations in mind too, like site security and accessibility.

True. If you adequately satisfy all four of these key pillars, you still might not rank for your target keywords in Google. That’s just how the cookie crumbles. But if you let any of these four fall to the wayside, or you only put in a middling, mediocre effort, all of your other SEO efforts could be for nothing.