Insights / digital

How the SEO Food Chain Affects Your Search Ranking

In the first part of our discussion on SEO, we broke down the anatomy of a search engine results page, the appearance of different kinds of search results, some of the things search engines are and aren’t looking for, and how to begin thinking about implementing SEO into your own site. This installment will focus on defining our keyword phrases (or “thesis”) based on an understanding of the SEO food chain.

Define Your Pages, Research Keywords, and THEN Write Your Content.

One of the most common mistakes in picking content subject matter is trying to take shortcuts and think too generally about the audience who will be consuming the content.

For instance, if I am working on content for an insurance company’s website, the first round of keywords I brainstorm might look like this: insurance, home insurance, health insurance, auto insurance, life insurance, insurance company, and so forth.

What’s wrong with those keywords? The first problem is that they are aiming for the wrong spot on the food chain. That is, if you are a local insurance agent looking to rank for the very general keyword “auto insurance,” you are competing against every single insurance company, carrier, agent, broker, blog post, Wikipedia page, and social media site on the internet. Chances are slim you’ll be able to outrank all of that competition.

The second problem, which helps address the first, is the lack of a true target for your content. Are you going after insurance brokers? Customers in a specific area? Are you looking to provide auto insurance to women 25 to 54? Are you looking to provide auto insurance for men 18 to 36?

If your answer is “all of the above,” then your goal should be to create pages for each of those demographics and locations, with keywords and content to target those specific people or goals. This may mean extra work, but it’s better than casting too wide a net and letting your target audiences slip through the gaps formed by general keywords.

An Up-Close View of the SEO Food Chain

While the approach and implementation to SEO will be the same no matter where you fall in the food chain, your position among your competitors will affect how general your keywords can be.

The higher up you are in the food chain, the more general your keywords can be. It’s that simple.

Mega-sized brands and corporate sites – your GEICOs, Allstates, and Nationwides – can afford to try to outrank each other on something general like “auto insurance,” while smaller brand sites and local agents are better off trying to rank for terms relevant to their specific target audiences.

Of course, this assumes a completely vertical model. While having the appropriate keywords in place will help you get indexed and show up in search engine result pages, there are many other factors that can contribute to you getting into the top position. For now, we are going to focus on the number and quality of links that are taking users to the content on our site as an indicator of where we fall in the food chain.

In the diagram below, we take our insurance company SEO model and pull back to look at the big picture. For simplification, I have reduced an insurance company to three company levels, and reduced the number of pages to one service line, the auto insurance page. (Click/tap the image to view a larger size.)

Click or tap to view full size.

From this flow chart, we can see that the bulk of inbound links ultimately lead to the corporate site, with a gradual decrease in inbound links as we get out to the local level.

In search engine terms, having more inbound links gives the corporate site more clout, making it more likely to rank higher on the results page than the local agent pages, especially for the broader search terms. The brand and local agent pages can instead aim to rank for more targeted terms like “auto insurance in Connecticut” or “auto insurance in New Haven CT.”

WARNING – Why not just buy links?

It’s important to understand that the influence of inbound links doesn’t depend on just having a lot of links, it means having quality links from sources that search engines trust. Buying links will only work against you; once you are pegged as a bad link, you’ll be working twice as hard to get off the search engines’ blacklists.

Where do you go from here?

Clearly defining each page’s “thesis” – what the content is about – will help you rank high consistently. While your positioning may vary as time passes and new content comes on the scene, if you have solid information about a specific subject, you’ll only need to refresh your content to move it up in the ranking once again.

In our next post, I’ll be going over SEO copywriting fundamentals and how to implement them into your website.

Questions about the SEO food chain? Post them in the comments or give me a shout @ctrewski on Twitter, or call (203) 563-9943 ext. 121.

As Mason’s Director of Digital Strategies and Analytics, Ryan Winiarski believes the key to any campaign begins with defining measurable goals and setting the tracking efforts directed at attaining those goals. Working in media and marketing communications for more than 10 years, Ryan has a deep understanding of how online and offline marketing programs can be integrated.  That knowledge and understanding allows the Mason team to understand and measure the effectiveness of your advertising, public relations and total marketing spend to create high-impact campaigns that create opportunities, results and revenue giving you the most efficient return on your investment.