So what the heck is going on with search engines lately? Previously, life was so easy. You made sure your carefully chosen keywords were properly integrated in your content and that they showed up in the right places in your WordPress website. Plugins like Yoast can help you do just that, and make sure you are all set for optimized titles, URL’s, keyword density and so on. With these basics in place it was time to work on a better PageRank than your competitors. And a topranking website was well on its way!
But the magic of Google is getting smarter. Think of semantic word combinations, the new and ultimate #0 position and the introduction of Rankbrain. And PageRank seems to be dead. So what can you do as a marketer with a limited budget?
At the latest Content Marketing World conference there was a lot of attention for SEO. And rightly so! As search engines are still the main traffic driver for many content marketing initiatives.
Wisedom came from Rand Fishkin (better known as the “Wizard of Moz), Andy Crestodina (author of Content Chemistry) and Arnie Kuenn (author of Accelerate!). The SEO tips that caught my eye are summarized in this blog. Real SEO basics such as keyword selection and the technical constraints of your site aren’t discussed.
Tip 1: Produce the best ever page on a specific topic
Is your aim to rank a first position on a particular keyword combination? Then create the best page ever made on the web about that specific topic. But be aware. Go for it if your site can compete in terms of authority with the current top 20 positions. That’s when you make a chance to score with the most informative and complete version.
As a starting point for creating the best page, aim to answer all relevant questions. And be complete. Pages with more than 2,000 words have a positive correlation with a top 10 position. Also the use of relevant visuals to support your textual knowledge is valued by Google. Furthermore, making other sites link to yours is much easier when you have the best page on the subject. This off course contributes to the authority of both your page and your domain.
Tip 2: Check your Domain Authority to replace PageRank
Search engine marketing is like any other sport you want to win. So look for areas where you have a good chance to win the match, before you start the battle for a top 10 position. Suppose you want to rank for the term “annuity payments” and in the top 10 are all well optimized pages with a domain authority of 50 and above. When your site has an authority of 28, you are starting a match you might not win yet. But when the top 10 search results for “annuity repayment schedule” ranks moderately optimized sites with an authority of 30, you have great opportunities.
Although Google stopped publishing your PageRank, authority of your domain and the page continues to be of great importance to your chances in the top results. So getting links originating from sites with a high authority remains a top priority. Domain and Page Authority can for example easily be identified by using the MOZ toolbar.
Tip 3: Win the #0 position
What’s even better than ranking a number 1 position? Exactly, the zero position! Although Google urges not to scrape content from other sites, Google itself is getting more and more content from other sites. Definitions, flights, sports scores, weather, flight tickets … They often appear above the search results, its content scraped and re-organized by Google. And these #0 positions hijack an increasing part of search traffic. A popular way to get the # 0 position is to be the best answer query: What is XYZ? There you create a page for like discussed in tip 1. Please note that your site must perform very well already in Google to make a chance on the #0 position.
Tip 4: Enrich your results with Google snippets
The #0 position is actually a Google snippet. Snippets are enrichments of your search results, Google supplements. Consider showing a picture, ratings, or additional site links in your search results. This can result in a more attractive representation in search results, and therefor is a way to win more clicks. Do you want a chance to enrich your results with these snippets? Then look how to structure your content at Schema.org and use the “Google Structured Data Tester” to see if Google interprets your site properly. Google however does not follow Schema.org completely, as YouTube (and sometimes Vimeo) are now the only way to obtain a video snippet.
For WordPress site owners there are some awesome plugins to optimally use Google snippets, like; WP SEO Structured Data Schema.
Tip 5: Twitter is Google’s new favorite social platform. Twitter, really?
According to Rand Fishkin, Twitter is Google’s new favorite social platform. 6.5 percent of the top 10 results is a currently a Tweet. Not something you can optimize a page for, but when preparing your tweets, you can keep it in mind. A nice blog about the topic can be found here.
Tip 6: Put all your content in one main domain (domain authority)
We probably all know the trick to start a new initiative on a subdomain. For example, you place a blog on http://blog.website.com to take advantage of the domain authority of the main site. Many HubSpot customers use this technique. Yet the SEO advice from both Andy and Edge is to use a sub-folder on your main domain, so something like http://website.com/blog for optimal results. Rand has recently even devoted a White Board Friday on this topic.
Tip 7: Revise existing content based on the score
Often, existing non-optimized pages on your site represent the best low-hanging fruit. Optimize these first before you continue to create (even more) new content. The best way to start is to look at what keyword combinations you current site scores a position between 11 and 30. These are the pages that still need an extra push to get into the top 10.
“The best way to hide a dead body is page 2 of Google search results”
You can discover on which keywords you rank between the 11 and 30 scores using your Google Analytics account. For this go to: Acquisition -> Webmaster Tools -> Queries and retrieve them using a query (based on visitors who clicked on them in the past, based on an adequate period).
Tip 8: Review existing pages based on content
Pages that aren’t found yet, can also potentially be turned into great landing pages for relevant keyword combinations you haven’t optimized for. In addition to using common sense when creating a keyword plan, some interesting tools like SEMRush.com and KeywordTool.io can help you in uncovering potentially interesting keyword combinations to start optimizing.
Tip 9: Start using semantic keywords
Google is obviously getting smarter. Where we previously looked at keyword density, this ratio has now become an indication of keyword spam. The use of often repeated keywords is more likely to be punished than rewarded. Of course you should integrate certain keywords in the title, text, and H1 tags, but looking at the actual content you should start using semantic keywords. For example, is your page about shoes, then semantically related words such as for example pumps, high heels, footgear, flip flops and boots. You get the picture.
There are several tools that can help you find related semantic terms such as the “related topics” functionality in MOZ Pro and the Open Calais tagging tool from Thomson Reuters. The Google AdWords tool will give you some suggestions as well, here you can find is a good blog on the topic by Andy.
Tip 10: Make internal linking a priority
When you just invested your time in a new webpage, finished it by adding internal links. Look within your site which pages are most relevant and use text links to connect them. This way you can affect ‘Page Authority’ in an effective way. Did you lose the big picture of your site? And are you missing a search box? Let Google find the relevant pages by searching the keywords on your own domain using Advanced Search.
For WordPress there are some internal linking plugins available, like “SEO Auto Linker”,
Tip 11: Check whether you (still) meet the Google Guidelines
Are you serious about reassessing the optimization of the content on your website? And do you have a spare weekend available? Take the time to read the Google guideline for content quality. You’ll discover the differences of what Google categorizes as high quality ranking, moderate and bad content. But you’ll also find all the ins and outs on for instance mobile content. The full document is freely available and can be downloaded here.
Tip 12: Work on your network as a blogger
You can increase the authority of your domain by making relevant external domains (preferably with high authority) link to you. But how do you get them to do just that? The exchange of irrelevant links you want to avoid. This so-called link spamming is in fact punished. So, it’s time to invest in your network. In this regard social media like LinkedIn can have an important role in your SEO strategy after all.
You can get your content spread over the web using several tactics, for instance by external speaking opportunities or by blogging on external sites. An external blog usually provides a bloggers profile in which you can link to your own site. Sometimes it makes sense to include links to your content. But also provide your own site as a stage for others, by networking this way you will be referred more frequently. Notice for instance how this blog refers to content of Andy and Rand on their sites, after their speaking opportunity at Content Marketing World.
Tip 13: Bold opinions and research data to get the most links
Another way to get links is to optimize your content for it. For example, as indicated in Tip 1: “Produce the best ever page on a specific topic“, of these, Wikipedia is obviously a very good example. But research has shown that content with firm opinions and hard research data get the most mentions. So by using your own market research with striking results or writing bold blogs you can boost your domain authority.
Tip 14: Use “no follow” in a pro-active way
Webmasters can integrate a “no follow” command in their HTML. This way you tell Google not to index a specific page. Your first reaction will probably be: but I want Google to index all the content on my website! However, pages with a very low duration or a very high bounce rate can have a negative impact on your domain score in Google. Therefore, you can consider to get these page out of the search results in a pro-active way.
Tip 15: Start preparing for Rankbrain
And I saved the best tip for last, namely the one you cannot do anything with. Here it is: Prepare for Rankbrain. Rankbrain is the artificial intelligence that Google uses to interpret more complex queries. It aims to give a “human gut feeling” about the intend of a more complex search. In addition, the technology makes use of machine learning. This kind of technology will become increasingly important in the future. And if you do not quite understand how that works, you do not have to doubt yourself. Google itself does not quite know how it really works. As indeed, it is self-learning.
“Google does not fully understand Rankbrain”
But the essence of Rankbrain is again setting the searcher central stage and providing the best answer to the question possible. So when you are the best answer, your chances to be found will grow.
Summing up these SEO tips, SEO does not really become so much more complex, but rather simpler. Because Google is becoming even more intelligent, it distinguishes really good written content from content written for search engines. Actually this is good news for both searchers and all marketing professionals with a passion for great content. Our job as content marketers does not change significantly, we should just be making the best content possible!