What Aspect Of SEO Should You Be Spending Most Of Your Time On?

There are so many SEO tasks demanding your attention. How do you prioritize them?

Seems to be a common issue, as when we asked for questions a while back, we received this one:

"What aspect of SEO should you be spending most of your time on? Optimizing the title tag, getting links, creating quality content? "

So which area of SEO will give you the most bang for your buck? Link building? On-page? Social media? Ask ten different SEOs, and you'll likely get ten different answers.

Let's take a step back and start with strategy.

1. Define Your Goals

Without clear goals, it's difficult to know how to spend your time. Start by listing your goals.

Do you want to sell services or product? Do you want to increase traffic levels? Do you want to increase brand awareness? Knowing which SEO dial to twist depends very much on what goal you're trying to achieve.

Once you have your list, create a set of KPIs. KPI stands for Key Performance Indicator. KPIs will give you a set of metrics to help you decide if you're meeting, or missing, your goals.

Here are a few examples:

  • Rank top ten for keyword term x in Google
  • Increase traffic from search engines by *x* percent by *date*
  • Get 1,000 new sign ups from search visitors in March
  • Sell ten widgets per day to search visitors by next week

The most useful KPIs are specific. You either hit the target or you miss.

Your strategy will be defined by your goals. For example, if your goal is to sell ten widgets by next week using a new site, then your strategy might be to forget SEO for the meantime, and focus on PPC instead. If your goal is to get 1000 new subscribers by the end of the year, then you might spend a lot of time analyzing your demographic, determining where they hang out, and getting your name and content in front of them at every available opportunity. If your goal is to get #1 for term X, then you'll be focusing a lot on link building, using keyword term X in the link.

And so on. Your goals define your tactics.

Once you have a list of clear objectives, and a clear list of KPIs, the next step is to consider the age of your site.

2. What Type Of Site Do You Have?

New Site

One of the most important task for new sites is link building. The sites with the highest quality linkage tend to trump sites with lower quality linkage when it comes to rank.

Until you build links, then tweaking on-page aspects of SEO on a new site won't make a lot of difference in terms of rank. Get the basics right - keywords in the title tags, keyword focused content, strong internal linking, a shallow structure and good crawlability - but focus your efforts on attaining links. If that means establishing a large body of quality content first, then so be it. Others may choose to buy their way up the chain, or aggressively pursue social media opportunities.

Established Site

The opposite is true for an established site. Whilst links are always important, an established site can leverage on-page factors to a greater degree.

Once your site has built up sufficient link authority, then you may only need add a new page of content, and link it internally, in order to rank well. People running established sites may wish to focus more on producing quality, focused content, and let the linking look after itself.

3. The Five Most Important Areas Of SEO On Which To Spend Your Time

These are highly debatable, but here's my ranking:

1. Produce Remarkable, Attention Grabbing Content

Everything starts with remarkable content i.e. content worth remarking on and linking to. Do you have unique, timely content? Does you content solve a problem? Does you content provide a new insight? Does you content spark controversy? Does you content start - or contribute to - a conversation?

2. Crawlability

If your content can't be crawled, you won't rank. Ensure your site is easily accessible to both humans and search engine spiders.

3. Build Links

Google's algorithm is heavily weighted towards links. Beg, buy, or earn links, and rankings follow. Get your keywords into the link text. Building links also means building relationships with people. Spend a lot of time doing this, especially in the early stages.

4. Title Tag

It is debatable how much ranking value the title tag has, both it definitely has click-thru value. Your listing fights for attention with all the other links on page. What will make people click your link?
Learn the lessons of Adwords. Match your title tag to the keyword query. Solve a users problem. Arouse curiosity.

5. On-Page Content

Forget endless on-page tweaking. Largely a waste of time. Instead, keep a few keyword phrases in mind when writing. Use semantic variations of your terms in order to help catch long tail terms. Link your page to related pages, using keyword terms in the link.

Bonus: Watch Your Competition. Do What They Do

Download the toolbar. And keep a very close eye on your competition. Whatever they do, you need to do more of it :)


SEO used to be a technical exercise involving the isolation of specific factors that, when tweaked, lead to higher rank. It still is, to a certain extent, but much less so than it used to be. Therefore, there is little point looking at each factor in isolation.

SEO has become a lot more holistic and strategic, so by far the most important aspect is clearly outlining your goals, and defining a strategy to achieve those goals.

Good luck out there :)

Published: January 19, 2009 by A Reader in seo tips


January 19, 2009 - 3:36pm

Thanks for those really helpful tips. As a new website owner I can relate to the confusion I sometimes face trying to use these SEO tools. This post is really a lifesaver.

January 21, 2009 - 10:53am

Good tips, content is indeed the most important thing these days, you can still rank well even with very few links. My clients are always interested in links, and do help supply them, but I will always advice them that content is far more important.

I've always thought of it this way: If you have analytics installed, then Google already knows everything about your website, it knows if your content is good or not because users will simply leave if it isn't!

Great post!

January 19, 2009 - 7:35pm

Peter, thanks, another great SEO Management post. This is going to help me a lot organize my time and with client's interviews. Keep up this great work. Do you have a post or can you post about SEO interviews with clients related to contracting you to work for a site(s). How should you be prepared for the interview, what data/information should you present to the client (supposed you already know the site(s)), What information is more important to present to a client/employer? How to present this information/reports to the client: Online, excel, etc,. Thanks again.

In General, what are the most important aspects to be considered in a meeting with a client (SEO/SEM meeting), how to present the info, something like: what, how, when, where, etc.

Tom McCracken
January 19, 2009 - 8:47pm

Great post, and well-timed I think.

Keeping the basics in mind and following structure is very important. Sometimes people stray away from that and start to over-focus in one particular area, and loss what makes them good, and probably waste large amounts of time. Time is crucial nowadays!

At the beginning of every month, I go over a list of guidelines I set for my self to stay true to what (I think) makes me good, and not loose my way. Things like:

- Keep my web designs unique and amazing
- Stay up-to-date with SEO
- Go to the beach once a week


January 20, 2009 - 9:07am

Great post, thanks! It clearly shows that SEO has become a strategic issues that must involve the whole company and be understood by all employees. Its just not just good enough looking at it in isolation.

January 21, 2009 - 3:14am

as someone who launched an online business with an idea and a sense of humor, not a background in SEO, i really appreciate this information. i have asked myself this question (the title) many a time and it's great to have it answered so simply. thank you.

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