The most important (and overlooked) SEO strategy

When approaching a website optimization task, I usually brainstorm a range of SEO, CRO, and usability tactics which would create a force multiplier effect and take the site's ROI to a significantly higher level.

Often, though, I see that a site fails to implement the most fundamental method underlying all optimization: creating explicit resources out of the site's topics of interest. Let me explain.

A site is a collection of ideas and concepts revolving around a set of domains or topics. These concepts are treated on the site's pages (articles, blog posts) across different categories or contexts. However, unless these concepts are also resources, the site will be under-optimized. What is a resource?

A resource is a rather technical term coming from REST, a set of principles describing the architecture of the web. It means anything on the web that has an address. In the context of this article, think of it as anything that is defined on a dedicated page.

A resource should have an associated URI if another party might reasonably want to create a hypertext link to it, make or refute assertions about it, retrieve or cache a representation of it, include all or part of it by reference into another representation, annotate it, or perform other operations on it. Software developers should expect that sharing URIs across applications will be useful, even if that utility is not initially evident.

An example

Suppose you have a site about cats (hey, this is the Internet). You give the topic the reverent and eleborate treamtent it deserves, and have even defined a few terms of your own based on your years of experience. One such term is the cat rogueness factor, or CRF, which is a scientific score based on how many times per month, on average, your cat:

  1. Brings home a dead mouse
  2. Disappears without a trace for several days
  3. Pees in your guests' shoes.

This is a concept defined in your knowledge domain. You may have multiple pages revolving around CRF or mentioning it; however it remains a subordinate idea without a dedicated reference point. At most, there's a paragraph or two on some page or a passing mention in a blog post buried in the archives.

As long as that's the case, you will not be gaining full benefits in terms of traffic and links for it. It is hard to increase traffic to something which isn't addressable.

To improve the situation, turn your concept into a resource by creating a page for it. On that page, provide an in-depth treatment of the concept, including a formal definition (think about writing a Wikipedia entry). Example:

yoursite.com/cat-rogueness-quotient

(This is obviously a toy example, but the advice doesn't apply only to something you invented. If you're writing about weather systems, create a resource called /pressure-gradient or similar. But it especially applies if this concept or idea is your own intellectual capital and especially if others are already quoting you for it).

Benefits of resource-oriented thinking

When you tease out your topics, ideas, and definitions into separate pages, a number of good things will start happening. First, other sites now can start linking to these pages.

If your topics are of enough depth and value, and you give them authoritative treatment (providing in-depth discourse, involving references and citations, illustrations, etc) this is almost bound to happen. Search engines recognize authoritative resources and give them preferential treatment. Consequently, these pages will start moving up in search results for the terms they include.

Second, you will be able to vastly improve the internal organization of your site, because now you can link other pages to the new resources (and vice versa). This will improve internal SEO and will also improve user experience, allowing your readers to transition smoothly from topic to topic as they consume the content of your site. Website architecture that naturally mirrors the thematic hierarchy of your domain or topic is a good thing to strive for.

In summary

Create explicit resources out of your ideas and concepts by creating pages for them. Use these pages as reference or pivotal points for other pages that rely on them or mention them.

An added benefit is that once this better organization is in place, you may find that it actually helps you brainstorm new content, because a well-charted territory is easier to extend.

It will also put pressure on you to make your site more authoritative and high-quality, with all the benefits arising from that.

Misko the Cat
Bet his rogueness factor is pretty high, but is it a resource?

References

Representational State Transfer (REST) on Wikipedia.

Further reading

REST... it's very much like an information architecture kind of concept. (The JavaScript Jabber podcast #104, "Hypermedia APIs with Steve Klabnik")

Google, "Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide" (PDF). See especially the sections on URL structure and site hierarchy.

Credits

Photo of Misko by Dubravko Sorić.