The underpinnings of SEO are seldom shared in such depth and while there are hundreds of blogs scratching the surface on search engine optimization, today’s post reveals the depths of SEO and the strategies and tactics required to assess, enter and conquer a competitive keyword or market, depending on your resolve, skill-set or budget.
These ten proven search engine optimization tips are base on straightforward SEO techniques that anyone can put to use today to distinguish their website in search engines. These strategies work regardless of the market or the keywords and produce consistent results when applied.
This is a long article, so buckle up, grab an espresso or your favorite beverage and prepare to take a sneak-peek behind the framework of how world class SEO campaigns are strategically conceived, implemented and structured.
10 Progressive Steps to Structure Your Campaign
To keep a consistent flow of information, we have broken the article into segments.
1. Sizing up your market
2. Sizing up your top 3 competitors
3. Deciding which keywords to target
4. Setting up your website
5. Building out your content
6. Deciding which pages need links or on page SEO to rank
7. Determining which pages need links and how many
8. Link velocity and anchor text diversity
9. Scaling the SERPs
10. What to focus on once you are ranked
#1 – Sizing up your market
You have to pick your battles wisely and there is nothing more frustrating than trying to walk in a market teething with seasoned veterans and trying to snatch the pebble from their hand “like Grasshopper on a bad 1970’s rerun of Kung Fu”. The obvious result is defeat without discipline.
In order to compete on that level, you require a minimum of three things to conquer a competitive vertical (1) enough content on your website to create the appropriate signals of relevance and (2) enough internal or deep links from other websites (to offset the competitors who are in that space) and (3) enough time or trust to create authority which can buffer and augment and imbue your website exponentially with “ranking credit” just in case you need to cash it in.
Ranking credit in this sense implies the ability to inherently appear in the SERPs (search engine result pages) with minimal effort, minimal backlinks (if any) as a result of the layers of topical relevance your website has acquired over time due to the internal resources housed within its pages.
If you have a 1000 page website, you will not have to try as hard to rank for any keyword which constitutes the threshold of authority your website exceeds by default. We tend to assess this in metrics such as (a) competing pages (b) the ability to appear in the SERPs for competitive keywords as a result of simply publishing a new page.
As your authority grows, you can use internal links to (1) shift page rank or link-flow to new pages and (2) rank with a fraction of backlinks to a landing page as a result of the layered continuity bubbling up within the site that ranks page A from a citation/link from Page B with specific anchor text.
The secret to leveraging this type of inherent “ranking credit” is to minimize noise within a website and only link when required from relevant pages to relevant pages (limiting the internal or outbound links from a page while procuring relevant internal and deep links from other websites).
If your website does not have the clout to compete in an arena, then your first objective is to either create that clout, or target a less competitive variation of the key phrase, get ranked for that keyword and then leverage that ranked page to rank 5 more pages in the site.
By systematically creating a tiered site you can rank a page then provide leverage (to equally as competitive or slightly more competitive keywords) and then rinse and repeat this layering process until you devour the market (keyword by keyword or in clusters to save time).
While most attempts to jump into a competitive vertical online market unprepared experience minimal results in search engines; the fact is, you have to earn your spot and jumping in a market without a backup plan (enough content and /or links to scale the relevance thresholds) is an exercise in futility.
Similarly, not defending being flanked from a competitor or group of competitors from getting lazy with content, linking or syndication can also result in vacillations or demotion in the SERPs (you have to stay busy and scale accordingly).
#2 – Sizing up your top 3 competitors
Regardless of how many people you think you are competing with, you are really only competing with the top 3 websites / competitors that occupy the target keyword above the fold on page one in search engines. In a recent video talking about new SEO tools, this topic came up between myself and Matt Da Cruz from Domain Web Studio and Matt coined the phrase and refers to this as “the Traffic Band” and rightly so.
This is the only place that matters from the standpoint of SEO and this is where conversions for keywords occur (above the fold in the top 3 positions). While top 10 rankings are nice, there is nothing like a #1, 2 or 3 position for a keyword.
While attempting to dissect the range of variables that catapulted competitors ranking in those prime positions can stem from a unique array of circumstances, i.e. domain age and authority, backlinks, internal links, a social media barrage based on the / query deserves freshness algorithm; regardless of the cause, you still have to offset one or a number of potential aggregate ranking factors to exceed their position and push their website aside.
There are various tools such as Market Samurai or The Last Keyword Tool that allow you to assess the concentration of links, on page relevance i.e. title tags, URL structure, page rank average, number or percentage of supporting internal pages or the aggregate number of backlinks to a page or website.
Once you assess the mean of the primary ranking factors responsible for creating the relevance signal or support system, you can scale to exceed it systematically.
#3 – Deciding which keywords to target
This stage of SEO is what separates the rookies from the pros. Rookies want it all, but they just don’t know how to get it, so they often walk into a market with blind expectation and grossly underestimate the amount of time, budget or amount of work required to appear as an authority for that keyword.
If you want to rank for a primary keyword (the one word apex of a market), you are looking at 1 to 2 years to build enough authority, content and links to get ranked. For a competitive two word keyword combination you can spend 6-12 months (depending on the market and how seasoned the competitors are) and how often they publish content and / or are leveraged with strong backlinks.
If they understand site architecture or have dedicated ample time to theming their website or developed substantial deep links to critical pages over time, then you can consider this a battle and should prepare yourself for a fight (as you topple one page in their site – another could appear to stave your ascent).
One metric we use are separating keywords into stages or species by default such as (1) low hanging fruit (under 50K competing pages in “phrase match” in Google) which you can rank for with a properly structured blog and slight on page optimization (2) more competitive mid tail keywords that range from 100K competing pages to 300K competing pages in “phrase match” in a Google search and (3) competitive keywords from 500K competing pages up to 200,000,000 competing pages.
Based on the type of website you build and the characteristics of your on page and off page SEO strategy greatly determines which types of keywords gain traction and how that traction aids in ranking other related pages.
Our suggestion is to start with the low hanging fruit keywords with high search volume and low competing pages, then work your way up the keyword food chain over time. This method has proven itself time and time again since the point of entry for any keyword depends on your existing “SEO Ceiling” the top range of keywords your website ranks for currently.
For example, if your website can rank for keywords with 1,000,000 competing pages in phrase match in Google for a relevant traffic-bearing keyword, then you can easily target a less competitive keyword based on the overlap in semantic structure from the perspective of natural language to rank for other keyword variations, synonyms and / or prefix or suffix based keyword modifiers (surrounding contextual keywords that augment intent).
This tactic also allows you to enter a market segment or niche based on the authority your website has, hence depending on your tact and how thorough your on page optimization is, you can scale on multiple keyword fronts simultaneously (based on budget, staff or resources).
#4 – Setting up your website
This is where you can win the battle before even stepping on the field. Website site architecture based on the tiered structures of keywords in their inherent hierarchy as discussed earlier in the summary of species is a process of mapping out where each keyword fits in the information flow and site structure.
For example, your most competitive keywords, you should try to integrate them into your primary navigation so they can be reinforced from every page in the website.
You can determine which pages feed other site segments through using a modified variation of navigation suppression or server side includes which pull from topically aligned categories, manufactures, makes, models or topics.
For example if you look at the website as tiers and your root folder being the first tier or what we call flat (as in flat site architecture) such as mydomain.com/pagename.html you only want the most competitive keyword/landing pages in this tier or portion of the website.
The reason why your most competitive pages should be here is because the root folder houses the strongest ranking factor by default and every subfolder you add after that i.e. mydomain.com/category1/category2/pagename.html weakens the ability for that page to rank (without adding additional link weight, internal links or external inbound links to that page).
The second tier would be your category pages which in turn would link to your tier 3 model pages or for topical content your supporting articles (which serve as the base to rank more competitive tier 2 and tier 1 keyword objectives.
This layering process becomes critical for co-occurrence (the number of instances a keyword exists within a website) as well as the internal linking from within the navigation (while diminished in comparison to a contextual link, it still represents a portion of link-flow and counts as a vote for the page from the anchor text / link in the navigation) which can provide ranking factor by default from every page in your website.
But rather than trying to go back and fix a leaky bucket or broken wagon, build it properly from the start or consider augmenting your website with a hybrid system such as WordPress, Drupal, Joomla or Expression Engine which provide more granular control over pages, dynamic includes, widgets, footers, primary navigation, URL structure, meta data and internal linking.
#5 – Building out your content
Building out your content is simple when you understand (a) the purpose of each page and (b) how structured themed content aged over time transforms into your own virtual cornucopia of dynamic ranking factor which can be channeled at will from selective linking.
Here is the premise of content development for SEO purposes:
1. Start with your primary most competitive keywords and then create an exact match page in the root to serve as the catch all or primary landing page.
2. Ensure that that page is linked to other laterally equivalent pages you with to rank by affinity from this pooling effect of page rank and link flow which you will build from your tier 2 and tier 3 pages via contextual internal links, secondary navigation, or sitemaps.
3. After your primary landing pages are set up using exact match URLs in the root folder, and then set up your Tier 2 category (subfolder) landing pages.
4. Once those tier2 pages exist, link all of your variations for that category from that page and link down to your tier 3 product or supporting pages to reciprocate link flow.
5. For your supporting product pages (if ecommerce) or supporting articles pages (blog or CMS) these are typically a few hops from the root and rightly so. Since you do not want your supporting content to outrank your primary landing pages adding content further from the root and linking to the preferred landing page from those pages sorts the site architecture and algorithmic hierarchy to a search engine and it sees this structure as ideal (to promote your primary landing pages).
6. Also note, for more competitive keywords, you may require multiple shingles (supporting instances or pages to link to the primary keyword). This is why you can mirror your site architecture by creating a page in the root i.e. mydomain.com/competitive-keyword-landing-page.html and then link to it from mydomain.com/blog/keyword-rich-category/competitive-keyword-supporting-article.html
7. Drip your supporting articles daily and each one of those pages when indexed can sprout long-tail or mid-tail rankings, page rank and authority over time to feed other semantically aligned pages or preferred landing pages.
8. Once you create new content, make sure to syndicate or ping your new posts to expedite indexation. You can use an RSS aggregator like Pingler to increase the chances of each page getting indexed and rankings faster as a result.
9. Any time you create a new post, make sure the contextual links are linking to other related posts, you can either use plugins to do this (if you use a content management system) or if you must edit pages manually, you can always ask Google which pages are topically aligned using site:yourdomain.com keyword (replace yourdomain with your website and keyword with the keyword to inspect in a Google search). From the top 10 results returned, link 9 of them (using the keyword inspected) to the preferred landing page – from a contextual / editorial link from those pages.
Editorial implying in a sentence surrounded by other supporting modifiers or topical keywords. This will have more impact than a link from your primary navigation, breadcrumb navigation, a link on the sidebar or footer of the website.
10. Keep scaling your content until your website has enough pages to support the primary keyword. For competitive keywords, this may require several hundred pages or in some cases thousands of internal links and thousands of links from other websites. Less competitive keywords may require anywhere between 5-20 supporting articles to rank your primary landing pages. Either way, the more pages you have, the more Page Rank and ranking factor your website can develop.
The tipping point varies based on the market, the phrase and the competition; yet if you are constantly creating stellar content, your website can push itself higher with fewer inbound links from other websites.
#6 – Deciding which pages need links or on page SEO
This will become clear over time once rankings start to appear on the horizon, however, why wait when you know that the pages with the most competitive keywords will require augmentation while your internal pages gain enough strength to sprout authority.
The rule of thumb here is as your website ages it can rank higher with less links and virtually rank itself, however in order to get stronger you need content. That content over time will produce the foundation (like the base of a pyramid) allowing your website to scale higher and higher for more competitive keywords through the collective vectors of content contained in the pages.
If you have 50 pages of content or a 50 page website, you will have to work harder than a themed website with 500 pages of content – however, once you cross the tipping point, your website can rank other pages and those pages other pages and so on.
During this process of chrysalis from new website to authority site, you should build links to category pages or preferred landing pages that are trying to rank for mid tail or competitive keywords starting at 300,000 competing pages or above “in phrase match”.
Anything below that threshold you can rank for from your own site architecture and supporting articles (once you find the appropriate velocity for content syndication and internal links).
#7 – Determining how many links a page needs
For this, we use Domain Web Studio which has the ability to determine the volume and range of links required on a keyword by keyword basis.
You can even assess financial and conversion data to determine profitability based on search volume and potential conversions to determine if the keyword warrants the appropriate budget from the perspective of ROI.
#8 – Link velocity and anchor text diversity
Link velocity is the rate in which you gain or lose links. Based on the rate, your website can rise quickly or if excessive can trigger an algorithmic filter (if your website gains an obscene amount of inbound links with the same anchor text, from the same IP block or from some form of automation).
Try starting with a moderate link velocity in the first few months (7-10 links per keyword) and focus on more keyword variations, then over time, you can increase the concentration or frequency of those links. If you rush this phase, you could end up sandboxed (with a temporary ranking penalty for pushing the envelope too hard).
Also, be sure to vary your anchor text in the backlinks and add diversity to your link trajectory. If you are going to build links, mix up the anchor text so there is no discernible pattern. While most would argue, once you get link flow to the page, the combination of link equity from the on page SEO and the newly validated inbound link flow will create a corresponding signal to search engines which will elevate that page in the search engine result pages.
#9 – Scaling the SERPs
This is where you get to observe the fruits of your labors if you have properly implemented the previous stages. Considerations such as tracking keyword performance through analytics, bounce rate, engagement time and referrer sources for each key phrase will help you in the last and most critical step.
#10 – What to focus on once you are ranked
This is as important as facilitating the entire ranking conquest. Ranking a lackluster webpage or allowing a non performing page to remain unchanged is a waste of brand equity. Just as you wouldn’t pay to create billboard then forget to add your phone number, a website address or call to action, each page in your website can funnel visitors looking for very specific solutions to their circumstance.
Make sure each page that has traffic has a clear call to action, one simple yet prominent conversion objective and don’t be afraid to split test variations with Google Website Optimizer or other platforms that allow you to perform multivariate or straight forward A/B split testing where you can pit one version of a page against another to find out which to eliminate from lackluster response.
So there you have it, SEO from A-Z and what you need to dig deeper below the surface to get ranked. Also, if you enjoyed this, here are some other white papers we have written based on some of the topics covered above.