The benefits of creating a purpose-driven SEO strategy

Why does your website exist? What is the function of each page? Columnist Ryan Shelley explains how an effective SEO strategy starts with defining your website's purpose.

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With more than 500 Google algorithm updates made on average each year, how can a site owner build an SEO strategy that stands the test of time?

Defining your site’s purpose and mapping out the objectives you are trying to achieve is the key to not just ranking, but creating an SEO strategy that produces actual business results.

I know this sounds elementary, but SEO is way more that just ranking for keywords. Too many site owners forget this and obsess over rankings. While rankings are important, they only tell us part of the story. Without a clearly defined purpose that states what you are trying to accomplish, how will you know if you are succeeding?

If you took the time to read the Google Search Quality Guidelines released back in November of 2015, the main task search quality evaluators are asked to perform is to figure out the site’s purpose and determine if the site actually met its intended purpose.

While the search quality evaluators don’t have direct control over site rankings, this document can still tell us a lot about how Google is trying to better understand websites and how they impact real users.

Google itself has a very clear purpose, and its former head of web spam, Matt Cutts, stated that purpose as plain as can be back in 2014: “We’re trying to return great search results for users.”

Building a purpose-driven SEO strategy

The first step in building a purpose-driven SEO strategy is to define the site’s purpose. Every other part of the strategy will stem from this purpose.

There are a ton of reasons a website could exist. Here is a list of common page purposes (note that this list is by no means comprehensive):

  • To share information about a topic.
  • To share personal or social information.
  • To express an opinion or point of view.
  • To entertain.
  • To sell products or services.
  • To allow users to post questions for other users to answer.
  • To allow users to share files or download software.

When looking at this list, it’s much easier to see that a site’s or page’s purpose can drastically change the focus of its SEO strategy. For sites that have more that one purpose — say, to sell products or services and to share information about a topic — defining the end goal of each part of your site will help point you in the right direction.

So, now that your site’s purpose has been defined, what’s next? There are hundreds of factors at play when it comes to ranking for terms that will drive the right traffic to your site.

As many in the SEO world saw back in March, Google’s Andrey Lipattsev stated in a YouTube Q&A that links, content and RankBrain are the top three ranking signals in Google’s search algorithm. When it comes to RankBrain, there are still a lot of unknowns; however, we can take some very practical actions around content and links.

Purpose-driven content

Content is the reason people visit any website. The purpose of your site will determine the type of content you need to create in order to achieve its purpose. With content being one of the main ranking factors, how well your content connects with your intended audience is key.

A majority of people searching online are asking questions. They are looking for solutions to problems, checking out latest trends, feeling bored and looking to be entertained… the list goes on and on.

When building your content for SEO, you need to think about the questions your intended users are asking and create quality, compelling and thorough answers. Understanding these questions will help give you a better idea of your target audience and the types of keywords they are using to find answers to their questions.

I strongly believe that keyword research needs to be user-focused. Just because a certain term has a lot of traffic, it doesn’t mean it’s relevant.

All keywords must point back to the site’s overall purpose. This will help contextualize your SEO strategy and help ensure that the traffic you do generate actually represents people who want to be on your site and interact with you.

When it comes to keyword research, there are a number of ways you can approach this. Instead of giving you a step-by-step process, I’d rather just share some best practices.

How to select purpose-driven keywords

When selecting purpose-driven keywords, it’s always a good idea to start with your brand. Brand focus keywords are a great way to drive traffic from those who already know a little bit about you and what you do.

After listing out all your brand focus keywords, diving deeper into your own content and the content of your competitors is a great way to find more relevant terms. Using other tools such as Google Trends, checking out profiles of prospective customers on social media channels, and even reading sites like Quora will help give you a better understanding of the types of content people are looking for.

Once you’ve narrowed down the list of relevant, purpose-based keywords, then you can run them through your research tool to determine traffic, competition and so on.

For those of you who do better with lists, here’s a breakdown:

  •  Define brand-related terms.
  •  Scan your site and competitor sites for other keywords.
  •  Look at other sites your target audience uses for additional relevant terms.
  •  Narrow down the list and run it through your preferred research tool.

If you’re not sure what keyword research tool to use, check out this comprehensive list here.

Purpose-driven link-building strategy

Backlinks have been and will continue to be an essential part of any SEO strategy. Because of the weight backlinks carry, many have used them to game the system — and as a result, link building has gotten a bad name over the years.

Google has gotten pretty good at identifying and penalizing spammy link-building practices, which has led to SEOs being very cautious and sometimes abandoning link building altogether in favor of content marketing. But, while building and earning links has gotten tougher, it should still be at the core of your search efforts. In order to succeed in search and drive relevant traffic, you must have a targeted, purpose-driven link-building strategy.

When it comes to your link strategy, not all links are created equal. A site’s authority alone shouldn’t dictate the value of that link. It has to make sense within the context of your site’s purpose. Context is key — this is where your link strategy and your content come together.

In order to earn links, you have to have a site that is actually linkworthy. What makes a site linkworthy? Eric Ward (aka Link Moses) explains it brilliantly in his post here, but I’ll give it to you in a nutshell: “Create useful content.”

Now, just creating content alone isn’t going to do the work for you, but when you outreach to relevant sites and look to build relevant links, your content has to be good. As Eric Ward says in his article, “The less useful your content, the less likely you are to ever receive a link to it.”

No matter the purpose of your site, you can create relevant, topic-based content that will encourage links. The reason many fail to reach their desired end goal is that they aren’t  willing to do the hard work.

Once you’ve created the content, promote it to relevant sites and related industries. Purpose-driven link building takes time and patience, but it’s worth it. Remember, it’s not so much the number of backlinks you can earn, but the quality of the links that actually matters.

Find your purpose and work toward it

In an increasingly competitive online world, the sites that build a strong foundation and focus on providing value to their audience are the ones that will stand the test of time.

Defining your site’s purpose and using that as a guide for building your search strategy will not only help you reach your goals, but also delight your customers and make your site more linkworthy.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Ryan Shelley
Ryan's pretty much your average guy, except for the average part. He is the owner and founder of Shelley Media Arts LLC. He is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. Ryan is active in influencing and promoting human driven SEO, personalized marketing and empathic leadership. When he's not working in the "shedquarters" you can find him hanging at the beach with his family or jamming out in the playroom with his 2 young sons. Check out SMA's blog for more great content.

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