SEO Principles, As Explained Through Road Trips

Every SEO best practice can be distilled into 3 SEO principles. We're going to explain those principles through a road trip.

SEO principles, as shown through a road trip

You can do hundreds of things to bring in more customers through search engine optimization.

  • Link building,
  • Title tag optimizations,
  • Site speed optimization,
  • Internal link optimizations, just to name a few.

The number of considerations can overwhelm even the most experienced SEOs.

I started in SEO back in 2012. Since then, I’ve taught SEO to a dozen employees and dozens of clients with varying degrees of understanding about how SEO works.

Many botched attempts to explain SEO eventually led to my favorite way to explain the principles of SEO:

Comparing SEO to a road trip.

(Yes, this may be skewed by the fact that I love road trips, but bear with me).

So imagine you’re about to start a cross-country road trip. You’re driving from California to New York. There are three big considerations to make during the drive:

  1. Directions
  2. Gas
  3. Engine maintenance

SEO can be distilled into these same considerations.

Prefer audio? Listen to our audio summary of the SEO Road Trip.

Relevancy: The Directions for Your SEO Road Trip

Picture this: you’re sitting in the driveway. Snacks are ready to go. You hit play on the first song on your road trip playlist: U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name.” You’re getting the chills as that opening guitar riff starts.

In comes the first consideration: where are you going?

You don’t need the exact address in New York. You have 40+ hours in the car to figure that out. You need to know that you’re going East and how to get to the highway. You can narrow in on the details later.

The SEO principle of Relevancy is similar.

If you launch a brand new website, the SEO benefits of figuring out your exact positioning and implementing it across the site will be nominal.

In the early stages of building your site, this might be the difference between getting nine or ten visitors to the site in month one. You’re far better off investing your limited resources in setting up the general direction you’re heading in and tweaking your directions as you learn more about your customers and your strengths.

Relevancy is all about telling search engines like Google what your site is about.

A few SEO elements that impact Relevancy

  1. “On-page SEO” factors like title tags, URL structures, header tags, website copy, and alt text.
  2. Types of blog content you write about
  3. Anchor text of links to a page on your site (both links from your own site and links from other sites)

So this brings us to SEO principle #2: Authority.

Authority: The Gas for Your SEO Road Trip

You’re about to hit the road, but you realize your gas tank is on empty.

Unless you want to get out and start pushing your car, you’ll need to put some gas in the tank.

Authority is the gas equivalent of your SEO efforts.

Authority shows search engines you’re a reputable source to send searchers to for the themes most relevant to your business.

Established news sources like CNN or The New York Times have built a reputation of being reliable sources of information. Your brand new website hasn’t.

My oversimplified recommendation is that the earlier stage your business is, the more important it is to focus on Authority. We often recommend businesses in growth mode put 80+% of their focus into Authority.

A few SEO factors that influence Authority

  1. The quality and quantity of other sites that link to your website (also known as backlinks)
  2. The depth and quality of content on your site (and whether that content matches search intent)
  3. The quality and quantity of online reviews from platforms like Google My Business, Facebook, Yelp, etc. — especially for businesses looking to attract customers within a specific city/group of cities

Ok, you’ve put some gas in the tank. You hit the highway.

You stop periodically to refuel your tank and narrow down the GPS coordinates. You’re cruising.

Now, it’s time to start thinking about engine maintenance.

Crawlability: The Engine Maintenance of SEO

Changing your oil. Refilling your engine coolant. Not to mention the larger operations like changing your timing belt.

Drive long enough and you’ll need to open the hood for engine maintenance.

Fortunately, you checked out your car before the start of the trip to ensure there weren’t any serious issues.

Crawlability is the engine maintenance of your website, often referred to as technical SEO. Crawlability is all about making it easy for users and search engines to use and navigate through your website.

The foundations of Crawability consist of ensuring your website is:

  1. Crawlable (search engines can analyze it)
  2. Indexable (allowing search engines to show your site in search engine results pages, or SERPs)
  3. Fast (see Core Web Vitals for more on improving page speed)
  4. User-friendly (i.e. you’re providing a great user experience on desktop and mobile devices)

Assuming your website meets these four baselines, Crawlability drives the most value for websites with:

  1. A lot of web pages (think ecommerce sites with 1,000+ SKUs)
  2. A lot of website visitors (20,000 visitors/month, on the low end)

Proactive engine maintenance is wise for all businesses. However, assuming you’re operating with a limited budget, early-stage businesses can often get away with putting minimal emphasis on this area beyond the above four foundational components.

A few additional components that impact Crawlability:

  1. Sitemaps
  2. Broken internal and external links
  3. Redirect chains
  4. Schema markup

In the early stages of your road trip, engine maintenance won’t be as necessary.

As you get further into the trip, periodic engine maintenance (including the larger operations like changing your timing chain) will be essential in preventing the car from breaking down on the side of the highway.

proven process cta

A Few Final Thoughts

  1. Every SEO best practice fits into one of these buckets. Some best practices will fit into multiple buckets (ex. link building impacts Relevancy and Authority).
  2. If considering a change to your website, ask yourself: “Will this improve any of the three basic SEO principles?” If the answer is “yes,” it’s safe to assume it will improve your search rankings in the long term.
  3. The most challenging part of SEO is prioritizing the highest-impact initiatives. Good SEOs will run an exhaustive site audit and fix every flagged issue. Great SEOs will run that same site audit and build an SEO strategy that prioritizes initiatives based on expected business impact.

That’s all for today. Interested in being the first to receive our future insights? Subscribe to our 1x monthly newsletter.

Interested in seeing how SEO can help your business? Contact us today to learn about our SEO consulting service and see if we’re the right team to help you with your SEO road trip.

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SEO Principles, As Explained Through Road Trips