I’ve always said that SEO is really about baby steps. While there are almost always some easy big wins when dealing with a site’s architecture, for the most part, successful SEO is a combination of hundreds of different things.
On algorithmic signals alone, there are over 200 that factor into how a page ranks. That number may or may not include local and mobile signals. Then add on top of that usability and conversion optimization, you’re easily looking at several hundred individual issues that can, and often do, effect how your site performs against your competitors.
Can you optimize for all of these signals overnight? In a week? Over the course of a month? Generally, no. It takes years. And that’s assuming all the issues are static, but they are not. They evolve, change, disappear and new issues appear on a regular basis. Some of the signals are page specific, some are site-wide, and others are entirely off the page where the SEO has little, if any control.
Look at the Whole Puzzle, Not Just the Puzzle Piece
The job of the SEO is to help you optimize your site for each of these signals, getting your site to play nice with them all as best as possible. SEOs leverage those things they do have control over, and try to influence those things they don’t [tweet], hoping that the search engines like what’s being done and rank the site according to your wishes. Visitors too are affected either positively or negatively, all of which must be factored into any change being made, or those that have been made.
Trying to look at every last minute detail of SEO is rarely advantageous for the global campaign. One can get mired in the details of getting it just right, only to find out that something else has had an effect on the rankings. Instead, a more broad-brush change somewhere else might have more of an impact.
SEO is a puzzle. Thousands of pieces that somehow fit together to make a picture. My wife, our kids and I recently spent a month working our way through a puzzle. What we found was that looking at the partially competed puzzle didn’t always give us an accurate picture of any specific piece we were looking for. Until we looked at the box–the big picture–we didn’t really know what we should be looking for amid all the possibilities.
SEOs must look at the big picture while adjusting the small pieces. Sometimes, it’s only by looking at the big picture that you really know what pieces need to be optimized.
Which Pieces Matter Most?
One of the dichotomies of SEO is striking the balance between working for rankings and working to get conversions. You need rankings to bring in traffic, but rankings that don’t produce converting traffic is fruitless. [tweet] Many businesses hire SEOs for the sole purposes of enhancing their rankings and complain if they aren’t in the top three, even if business has grown several hundred percent since the SEO took over. It’s a strange response to such remarkable growth, but it’s due to the fact that the business owner is looking at one factor while ignoring the other.
On the other hand, if the SEO got the rankings the business owner wanted, but that didn’t do anything to increase business growth, all their success won’t keep the business as a client. By and large, SEO has to deliver what the client needs (converting traffic), while also delivering what they want (rankings), regardless of how relevant their wants contribute to their bottom line.
SEO takes time; of that there is no doubt. Once you get the low-hanging fruit of SEO, what’s left is, well, everything else. It’s the SEO’s job to determine which pieces of the puzzle are going to provide the most benefit for the least amount of time. It’s easy to get caught up in the minute details. More than once I found myself focusing on something that takes a lot of time but has low benefit.
That’s an easy mistake to make. You identify a problem and seek to resolve it. Unfortunately, while you’re resolving that issue, one of more urgency remains hidden, just waiting for more research to uncover it. The key is to learn which signals provide the greatest benefit for the least amount of time involved. But every site is different. Again, once you get past the obvious, you’re left with everything else.
Which is right where the law of diminishing returns kicks in. But the problem is, when it comes to SEO, we don’t know what we don’t know, so we often work on what we do—spending our time on the known issues, putting off the unknown until that’s the only thing left.
One Puzzle Piece At a Time
It’s nearly impossible to create a perfectly optimized site in a short amount of time. But, over time, you can create a very near perfectly performing website. Of course, “performing” can mean many different things, but we all want the same thing: more business success. That may come with rankings, that may come with higher conversions, or that may come with a combo of both. Hopefully, the latter.
But SEO doesn’t happen in a day. It happens over time. It took us a month for my family to finish the puzzle together. Of course, that’s just a puzzle. SEO doesn’t come in a box, the pieces don’t always fit perfectly (they have to be tested), and you don’t tear it apart and put it back on the shelf when you’re done. But that’s because it’s never really done. It’s a pretty complicated puzzle!
There are a lot of factors that play into how a website performs and achieves a company’s goals. Knowing and understanding those factors is important, but not everything is worth equal time and consideration. Obsessing over details pays off only to the point that they will have a positive impact on achieving the desired results. It’s the big picture that is far more important. In all of your SEO expectations, keep an eye on the big picture and find the pieces that help you get there the fastest. You don’t have to have a finished puzzle to begin enjoying the results of the pieces that come together.