Is SEO More Than Just Keywords?

Illustration of a marketing team, with thought-bubbles thinking about various parts of SEO

Keywording is the foundation on which you build SEO success. However, it’s important to remember that there is an entire house above the foundation.

If you ever hear someone say ‘keywording is everything,’ they’re probably just exaggerating. If that were truly the case, the entire staff at Paul Teitelman SEO Consulting would be nothing but keyword experts.

But that’s not the case. We have a team full of people with (what Liam Neeson may call) very particular skills. We have keyword planners, web designers, link builders, content writers, SEO strategists, and amateur ping pong champions. Every single one of them plays a very crucial role in our overall SEO strategy. It’s a classic more than the sum of their parts situation. Everyone on our team has their individual expertise. But when they all work together, chef’s kiss, that is when SEO magic happens.

To give you an idea, here are some of the elements of a typical SEO campaign.

Website Audits

This part of the process can be done concurrently with keyword research at the start of any project.

We can’t understand the work that needs to be done until we know what we’re working with. A full site audit is often the first step in understanding where a would-be client is positioned today, and what state their web assets are in right now.

It always starts with speed, because any given site’s speed has never been more important than it is right now in the SEO world.

For years, Google confirmed that speed was a key ranking signal, but there wasn’t really a finite number to shoot for. As fast as humanly possible was the goal. But that all changed in 2020 when Google announced the Core Web Vitals. Now, we have some very clear numbers to shoot for.

The Core Web Vitals test looks at a site’s:

  1. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): How long does it take your page to fully load? When is the largest asset done rendering? Number to shoot for: 2.5 seconds.
  2. First Input Delay (FID): How much time passes after your user first interacts with a page to when the browser is actually able to begin processing those event handlers. Number to shoot for: 100 milliseconds or less.
  3. Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): How long does it take for the assets and elements to stop shifting around during the loading process? Number to shoot for: CLS of 0.1. or less.

Are these numbers difficult to reach? You freaking betcha! In fact, most sites failed the test. Screaming Frog reported that only 12% of the mobile sites they tested and 13% of desktop sites passed the Core Web Vitals test. Pretty much everyone had to rethink the way they looked at speed.

Illustration of a Gandalf-like Wizard saying ‘87% of you shall not pass’

Fortunately, our team has been obsessed with site speed for the last two years, and we’ve perfected a number of techniques that help our clients run lean and pass the tests.

The next stage of auditing your website takes a close look at your user experience (UX). Do you have any UX barriers that will slow down your site, keep users from clicking deeper, or stand in the way of them clicking a call-to-action?

Once again, Google gave us some clear guidelines on what they consider a good/bad user experience with the roll out of their Page Experience Update. They announced that they will be seeking to reward sites that are free of UX barriers such as:

  • A bad mobile experience: About 55% of all web traffic comes from mobile devices. How does your site look/function for those users?
  • Intrusive interstitial ads: If your site uses interstitial ads, can the user easily click the ad away if they’re not interested?
  • HTTP: Is your site still on outdated HTTP? Sites that aren’t on HTTPS will probably not rank.
  • Slow sites: Can your site meet the Core Web Vitals thresholds we listed above?

We take all of this information and formulate a plan.

On-Page Optimization

Armed with the information we gained from our audits, we can turn our talented team loose on the on page optimization process. This involves a few different phases.

First of all, after our team focuses on strategically choosing the right keywords for each page, we ensure those terms are being used (on both the front-end and back-end) correctly. We ensure that your search terms are seamlessly woven into your site copy, because keyword stuffing is a mortal SEO sin.

Our strategists also ensure that a good internal link structure is in place, with certain terms linking to certain pages and blogs on your site. This encourages users and Google bots to go deeper into your site.

Now it’s time to optimize your speeds. As we alluded to in the previous section, optimizing page speed is a true art and science. Our team is basically now made up of SEO surgeons that can remove absolutely anything that could be slowing your site down and holding back your rankings.

There are countless things that can slow a website down, but some of the most common are:

  • Too many assets in the back end
  • Unnecessary code on pages
  • A bulky template from a site builder
  • Media files that haven’t been compressed
  • A lower-quality hosting company

Next, our design expert will optimize your user experience. This process does more than help your search engine optimization (SEO). It also helps your conversion rate optimization (CRO). SEO and CRO are different things, but helping one can often help the other.

As we stated earlier, your user experience is now a major ranking signal for both desktop and mobile sites. If there is something on your site that’s preventing someone from clicking your CTA, there is a good chance it’s also hurting your rankings, and vice versa.

Illustration of a SEO professional and UX designer shaking hands

After Google announced the Core Web Vitals, they estimated that meeting the thresholds can help a website reduce its abandonment rate by 24% or more! Optimizing your user experience can help you boost your rankings, your traffic, as well as your leads and sales.

Of course, this exercise needs to be done on desktop and mobile sites. We have already mentioned that mobile-friendliness is a part of the user experience update. But it’s also crucial to remember that Google switched to mobile-first indexing for the entire web a few years ago, right around the same time mobile traffic overtook desktop traffic on a global basis.

Google will look at your mobile site before it looks at your desktop site. This presents a challenge because it’s hard to fit a lot of rich SEO content onto a smaller screen. The solution is NOT just to omit things on your mobile site. Because if it’s not crawlable on your mobile site, it simply doesn’t exist in the eyes of Google. If something only appears on your desktop site, it might as well still be in Draft mode.

Link Building + Off-page Optimization

We could nerd out on link building all day, but we will try to condense it all into one section.

It’s pretty safe to say that link building is one of the most misunderstood areas of SEO. There are a lot of misconceptions out there about the process of link building and there is still a considerable number of people doing it the wrong way.

We do it the right way. It’s too important not to. Your offsite SEO presence can account for anywhere from 50-70% of your total SEO value.

Here is the right way to do it.

Local Citations

We can’t talk enough about the importance of citations in local SEO, and yet, it seems like not enough people talk about it. Once again, ignoring this side of things could be like just giving away half of your SEO clout. That’s basically like gift wrapping web traffic, foot traffic, and sales for your competitors.

Illustration of a map with a ‘you are here’ marker

Moz has estimated that citations are the 5th most important ranking signal for local queries. Meanwhile, social signals like engagement on Facebook and Twitter ranked 8th, yet social networking is often perceived to be more important to SEO. It’s not.

A local citation is any time that your company’s name, address, and phone number (NAP) is published somewhere online. This could include:

  • Major Business Data Platforms: Google My Business, Facebook, Foursquare
  • Industry-Specific Niche Review Sites and Directories:, Yelp, RankMyAgent
  • Geographic/ Local Directories: Your local town’s chamber of commerce site or business directory
  • Other Sites: Newspapers, government directories, blogs

The bigger the domain that cites you, the better it is for your SEO. You want to be found on as many of these sites as possible. If you’re there and your competition is not, that’s a big win for you.

If you’re just starting out, you can find all of your competitors’ links with a tool like SEMRush’s Backlink Checker. That tool will also show you all of the websites that have published guest posts/blogs for your competition. This brings us to our next point…

Digital PR/ Guest Posting

Did someone tell you that guest posting is dead? If so, I really hope they worked for your competitors.

Google’s Matt Cutts declared guest blogging dead in 2014… Because in 2014, guest blogging really sucked. Low-quality blogs were being published on irrelevant websites in bulk. So, guest blogging in that form died and was no longer considered a viable SEO strategy.

But then, a lot of us in the industry looked at the data that showed us that the highest rankers still had lots of backlinks from guest blogs on other sites. We wondered what they were doing right.

It turns out they were doing 3 things right:

  • These were well-written blogs, often long-form
  • They were posted on high-quality sites
  • The blogs were relevant to the website’s audience

That last point is particularly important because there was no thought given to this in 2014. A blog about rain-proof tents would appear next to a blog about divorce law, and next to another one about migraine pills. Now, for that blog about tents to be respected by Google, it needs to appear on a site that should reasonably be talking about camping. Even something a bit broader (maybe a parenting website, or a consumer goods review site) is applicable, as long as there is a logical fit.

Something else became apparent looking at the success stories. You can’t get these blog opportunities with copy-and-paste pitches that are bulk-sent to a bunch of webmasters. People were clearly approaching blogs with a personalized pitch and a well-thought-out reason as to why their site should be interested in this blog.

Smart SEOs noticed all of the things above. This led to guest blogging evolving into modern Digital PR. SEO specialists are now doing a lot of the same things that PR specialists have done for years. And, damn it, it works.

Illustration of a digital PR specialist and a traditional PR specialist working at their desks

They seek out good opportunities for the clients, approach the site owners with a thoughtful and compelling pitch, and provide a quality story that deserves to be published. They are building relationships, not just links. Because if a site trusts your work, they will be far more open to publishing something for your next client, and the one after that.

Publishing Blog Content

There has been a saying in SEO for years, Content is King! Of course, in the early days, that idiom pretty much meant putting up as much content as possible, as often as you can, then sticking a bunch of keywords in where you can.

I’d like to change the phrase to Quality is Queen (or Kween for people much younger than me). Because quality content is the only type that is going to help you rank these days.

How does one achieve quality? You take content seriously and do the work. You do thorough keyword research to find out what your customers are searching for, then write high-quality blogs that provide the answers.

Yes, this is much harder than just publishing whatever, and cramming keywords wherever. But there are tools out there that can help you. For example, we recommend these SEO tools for content ideas and topic generation.

What Makes a ‘Good’ Blog?

Google tells us that blogs are assessed based on their EAT score. This stands for:

  • Expertise: Are you truly an expert on this topic?
  • Authority: What authority do you bring to the table?
  • Trustworthiness: Should a reader trust your information?

Everyone starts at zero and builds these numbers over time. You can establish your expertise by publishing consistently on one topic, as opposed to writing about a little bit of everything. You can build your authority by getting other reputable websites to quote and link to your content. You can help readers trust your information by quoting and linking your blogs to established and credible sources.

Bonus: If you happen to fall into a subsector of businesses that Google has classified as YMYL (your money your life), your EAT score is extra-important. This could include health and fitness advice, legal advice, or financial advice. These are the blogs that influence people’s health and major purchase decisions, so Google wants to make damn sure you know what you’re talking about.

Illustration of a blogger working on a magic laptop

Most of the other things we’ve discussed today will also have a direct impact on your blog’s rankability. First of all, you need an overall keyword plan, so you’re not just publishing for the sake of publishing. Each blog should target a few important keywords, without overdoing it or trying to do too much.

You also can’t have any speed or UX problems that would hinder the reader’s experience, or make them click away before the page has fully loaded. Yes, each individual page needs to meet Core Web Vitals numbers. Your blog also has to be very readable and clickable on a mobile device.

You need to take every opportunity to link keywords in your blog to other blog articles and service/product pages. Once again, this helps Google crawl your website, and encourages readers to take a deeper dive into your content. Both of those things are very good for SEO.

And finally, your blog is one of the most important parts of your digital PR strategy. A would-be publisher will take a look at your blog to make sure you are qualified to speak on this topic, while they also get a sense of your writing ability.

As you can see, it’s all connected. The SEO journey often starts with keyword research, but that’s only the beginning. The rest of the SEO team plays off each other, complements each other’s skills, and creates a complete solution.

… It takes a village.

We’re More Than Just an SEO Agency

We want to be your partners in success, not just your SEO firm. We want to unlock new traffic by helping you rank for important keywords, and help you create sustainable success over the long term.

Paul Teitelman is an SEO veteran of over 15 years. He’s also a thought-leader in the industry, whose insights are trusted by The Globe and Mail and GoDaddy.

What can he do for you? Find out how we can help you by calling 647-448-4449 or by clicking the green Connect With Paul button at the top of the page.

About the Author

Paul Teitelman - SEO Consultant

Paul is a well-respected Canadian SEO consultant and link-building expert with over 15 years of experience helping hundreds of companies rank for competitive keywords on Google. He is a Toronto-based SEO consultant who is passionate about search engine optimization and link building. Over the years, he has made a reputation for himself as a leader in the industry by consistently delivering phenomenal results to his growing client base.