When dealing with numerous inquiries about search engine optimization on a daily basis. You hear some questions so often, you just have to write about them to serve as a resource guide.
Surprisingly, the propensity for prospects to view organic SEO like a vending machine, where you simply put your money in and the keywords shoot right to the top (past thousands or millions of competing pages who were already in line) is not an entirely accurate assessment.
Not that it cannot happen, depending on the keywords, the industry, the search volume or the conditions in the market. However, rather than jump to theoretical conclusions, it’s better to be safe than sorry and work within guidelines that transform your pages from the inside out into something that search engines simply cannot ignore as a relevant top 10 result. Quality, relevance and volume is the key to high rankings.
Granted there are no absolutes in optimization, each site in fact requires a different combination of on-page and off-page elements to unlock its full potential. Our role as specialists is to test each variable until we can determine which variable works best for the site in question and then make refinements to correlate to the strategy throughout the site as a whole.
For some keywords, they rise right to the top 10 like a rocket, depending on the core phrase and how it resonates with information on your pages. Other keywords and pages crawl to the top 10 results over months as the rate of ascent to the top varies for each page and keyword.
The key is, knowing where to start and how to assess which phrases are more in line with your overall campaign and how to mobilize your sites authority to serve a common goal. There is nothing like seeing a page break lose in the search engine result pages and leave its previous stalled out position (in the hundreds) and make an ascent to the top 70, the top 40, the top 20 then the top 10.
Variables that are known to impact this phenomenon are:
- How many pages does the site feature about the topic? (5, 10, 20 or more)
- How frequent are the keywords used in proper context?
- Are the pages are linked and if so, with what anchor text (text in the link)
- Is the site architecture optimized or an afterthought (navigation and internal link weight matter)
- Does each page and the site have enough internal links and inbound links from other pages to stand out?
The key to on page and off page search engine optimization is understanding the synergy that occurs every time you make a change to a site, every time you add a page or add a link (both within your site and to it from other sites).
Sculpting your pages into a useful resource is the by far the most effective method, which can all be done from simply adding a CMS (content management system) such as a Word Press blog and adding themed articles and publishing content frequently.
From there, if your quality is exceedingly popular with your target audience, it will gain its own links, raise your relevance score and serve to invigorate the rest of your pages which may be a bit stale. If you need to elevate that content in search engines, then each page you add on the topic is one more page working on your behalf.
Those who expect to bend the rules and game the system are better off focusing on quality and original content, a natural link profile (build or augmented over time) and traffic from communities or social media to add the proper balance of on page, off page and click through popularity needed to toggle a high ranking position.
Lets Ask Mr. Owl
One commercial that sticks with me from the 70’s is the Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop commercial with the boy asking Mr. Owl, “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie roll tootsie pop?”
Much in the same way, SEO and the top 10 fall into this category. Each site is unique and no two are alike, therefore the link threshold, the on page factors and the amount of links required all depend.
There are however strategies that employ solid fundamentals of how search engines assess the content and quality of your pages. This is the starting point for most and it revolves around links and a major contributor in the process.
When optimizing a site organically, you can target more terms simultaneously, but if you push too hard with one term or series of keywords, you may in fact find yourself 100 positions back. Search engines do not favor overly aggressive tendencies, so moderation, strategy and a combination of tactics is the best solution to ensure success for an optimization campaign.
Although I may have embellished a bit, the gist is clear.
So, “how many links does it take to get to the top 10?” It depends, for some 3 for others 300. Just like Mr. Owl who when perplexed by the question went right into heuristic conclusion and tested his theory, since each conclusion is based on the method, he was in fact correct.
The best way to find out is initiate an SEO campaign, select an attainable group of keywords and move on multiple fronts simultaneously. Keywords can be moving targets, just as you move toward them, they recede back, until something unique occurs (you close the gap of relevance and appear as a top ranking result).