Build an SEO Moat in 5 Easy Steps

Leeds MoatThis was my reaction when first hearing of an SEO Moat: “Like as in a moat? One of those things with water and alligators and dragons, around a castle?” Our sales executive, Stephanie, says, “Yeah, one of those.”

A Moat. Huh. This deserved some research and apparently a few people have breached the subject. It makes sense, people/companies want to ensure that the work they are doing now is not going to erode over time — or have their “territory” be taken over by competitors.

After reflecting, this is like my last presentation I gave at ConvergeSouth in Greensboro, NC. It was about how to do SEO so that your site is algorithm proof. This is not about hats or what is right and wrong in terms of morality. It’s about doing things right the first time so that you are not spending thousands of dollars in the future to get back traffic you thought was guaranteed. (Hint: Nothing is guaranteed in SEO.)

I believe that the smartest (and almost richest) man in the world gets it right in one sentence (in a Forbes video as he’s talking to Jay-Z)

“The best moat you can have is your own talent.” Warren Buffett

If you don’t want to read further (we are all busy, I understand that totally), meditate on that statement. For SEO purposes, “your talent” on a company level is the core USP (unique selling proposition) of your website. It’s about finding what you are good at, owning that, and telling others about it. Building a moat is making your website untouchable by doing things that are not replicable. Being you.

To be more specific, here are five things you can do to start forming that moat.

  1. Build an Air Tight Website I will keep saying this, your website code is your foundation. It’s the first thing any SEO will take a look at in an audit. The perfect site uses modern coding techniques such as CSS3 and HTML5. Nix the tables, get your code simplified, use alt tags on images, place javascript in files off the page. You want your site’s pages to load as fast as possible and good code is how to do that. The less is needed to crawl, the faster the search engines can find your content.
  2. Design Simple Site Structure Flat. We say that all the time, for most sites you don’t want to go beyond 3 levels, meaning all of your content should be within three clicks from any landing page. This gets tricky with major ecommerce sites, but the trick is to look at your site from a user standpoint. Can you find what you need quickly? If not, time to simplify. And if users can’t get to content quickly, neither can search engines.
  3. Specific Keyword Research Those last two are things everyone can do (but don’t ... believe me). They help dig the moat, but to really take your stance you have to know your territory. Keyword research is not about finding the head terms that have tons of traffic (cough-insurance-cough). It’s also not about long tail terms, that just happens with good content (coming soon). What you want to focus on in keyword research are those terms that perfectly describe your business. To a tee. The terms that have traffic but maybe not a giga-ton. Own those terms and make them more popular with your other marketing avenues.
  4. Link Building by Build Advocates and through those Advocates You have to link build in a way that is not replicable. The only way to do that is to build relationships. No, not sending 100 templated emails, real relationships. You want that moment when your competitor looks at your backlinks and goes “How do I replicate THAT?” The real relationships guarantee that they can’t cover the ground you already have. Alligators, all moats need them.
  5. Writers: Know, Love and Hire Them Content. It’s how you get links, build a community, and rank for long tail terms. Content is how you get that low hanging fruit. There are no magic numbers, no perfect length or number of articles per month on your blog. You don’t have to have infographics, but you might think about it if you have good data to share. A team of good writers is more important than anything else you can do long term. If I had to spend money as a business owner to ensure my success it would be an awesome team of writers and relationship builders. #Done.
Now this isn’t everything, but then again, SEO and Online Marketing are not the same process for everyone. I know we all hate hearing best practices ... we want concrete answers. But for a blog post being read by a few different people, this will have to suffice. Your answers and processes are your own, that is what fills the moat with the dragons after all.

Kate Morris

Kate Morris

Kate joined us after a year running her own search marketing consultancy in Austin, Texas. She brings with her a wealth of experience having worked in-house and agency-side in SEO and PPC. Kateh264 // A native Texan by birth, Kate got her BBA...   read more

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  1. Marten

    (Hint: Nothing in guaranteed in SEO.)

    Nothing IS


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  2. Brill post. Also, brill site name... Not that I'm biased in any way...

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  3. Nice post and good thoughts. I've been building moats for years and didn't even realize they were moats. I still can't believe how many sites don't simplify their code or update to modern standards, but that will be their own fault when their moat dries up. I'll be sure to keep mine full of alligators, dragons, and other sharp edges that will keep the competition back.

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  4. One question that has been bugging me, especially now that I have simplified my new website navigation - simplified it to one page (scrolling) - How do I target a few keywords on that one page without them competing for dominance over that one page?

    In reality my moat will be built around my contracting website when it is built instead of this portfolio/cv site.

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    • Kate Morris

      What are the terms you want to target? If they are not almost the same words, you might have simplified too much. You can target similar words to one page by building links with varying anchor text and having the text on the page, but only if those terms are really targeted by the page. Just depends on the words. :)

  5. Great Article! I have been looking for someone who could distill this idea into an easy to follow and understand formula.

    Thanks again!

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  6. building a moat, I like the concept, whether or not I will be able to achieve it remains to be seen!

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