Search engine optimization has extensively transformed in the past couple of years, particularly on how the practice is progressively moving towards real-world marketing metrics.
While more complex factors are being constantly integrated to an algorithm that’s seemingly close to fully understanding how the real world works – it’s still, very much, plausible to simplify processes for SEO.
Mainly by focusing on what many of us already know – Google’s top/core ranking factors:
And also to some extent, by interpreting information coming from Google’s engineers:
I won’t delve into too much detail on how Google actually works, but if in case you’re interested, below are some further readings on it:
But before I move on with the strategies, I just like to point out that the strategies I’m going to share below are purely based on the methods we tested and implemented on some of our clients’ sites.
1. Develop key landing pages into content assets
Let’s start off with content. Everyone in this industry knows it’s one of the key parts of SEO success, if not the most (“content is king” as they say).
As Paul Haahr characterized, “a satisfying amount of high quality content” is one of the top 3 signals they use to determine high quality pages. The site’s other main content can influence the performance of its deeper pages in terms of search rankings.
And thinking about it, most sites that have a high number of highly-linkable main content have stronger domain authority (seeing that link equity from several high value pages can be funneled deeper down the architecture of the site).
Note: Some studies also show that having a higher overall link authority strongly correlates with better search visibility (see here, here, and here).
That’s one reason why some few-page-websites manage do really well in search results (ex: Backlinko and WebsiteSetup.org to give a few examples).
So aside from building more support pages (blogs, etc…) to serve as content layers to bring organic traffic a step closer to your transactional pages, it’s also important to ensure your key landing pages’ competitiveness – by aiming them to be 10x better than what the competition have (see 10x content and skyscraper technique).
Another point to consider is that there’s also this misconception that great content always equates to long-form content – which is not entirely true in some cases. The real goal is to provide the “right content”. Content that actually provides value to your users. And as Rand briefly shares what makes up the right content:
- Serves visitors’ intent by answering their questions and helping them complete their goals
- Delivers an easy, pleasurable, accessible experience on every device and every browser
- Gets the right information and experience to visitors FAST
- Does all of the above better than any of the competitors in the space
TL;DR: Build more or significantly improve the quality of your site’s main content.
2. Mixed signals for Off-Page Optimization
The link graph is just one part of the entirety of off-site optimization (but definitely a huge chunk). And it’s obvious that links are still very vital in achieving SEO success (based on so many studies).
So I tried testing a few weeks ago on this very domain to see if it’s possible to rank without links. Just solely relying on the site’s domain authority (which turned DA 50 a month ago) and the existing pool of high quality main content this site already have.
With that amount DA, it can be somehow easier to pick low to medium competition keywords that you can rank for without promotion/links. So I chose a more competitive keyword to test on, which brings me to creating a link building services page (which I haven’t done yet in this blog’s 5 years of existence).
The result: it didn’t do that well, I think – as it stands on Page 3 of Google search for the query ever since I published the page. But thinking more about how it got to the 3rd page, without links, and competing with 68 million other pages for that query. I think that still means a lot.
So what if I go on and build a few links pointing to that page (which is not that hard as I’ve included a linkable component to that page)? That’s something I’m saving for a future post, so we’ll all have to wait and see what’s next (and special shout out to Brian Dean and Jon Cooper, for helping me out with this particular case study).
But for now, this is by some means a strong indication of how important links really are, especially for the more competitive search queries.
This area of search optimization is very much in line with two of the three characteristics of a high quality page that Paul Haahr explained on his presentation: “The website has a good reputation for the topic of the page” and “The page and website are expert, authoritative, and trustworthy for the topic of the page”.
We can easily distinguish links as the best element to define pages/sites’ reputation in its space. But as I’ve mentioned earlier, links are just one part. Knowing that there are other signals that Google can use to determine authority/popularity/trust/expertise, such as:
- Positive commentary from both linked and unlinked brand mentions
- Local citations (for better entity recognition)
- Social shares and influence on different social platforms
- Relationships (through multiple linking, collaboration, and associating your brand with other entities in your industry).
TL;DR: Don’t just focus on link building. Focus on strengthening your reputation – through content-driven links, social sharing, generating authentic reviews from your local/business listings, and building mutually beneficial relationships.
Pro tip: Branded links!
3. Optimizing in the Age of RankBrain
RankBrain is Google’s machine-learning AI that primarily handles complex & ambiguous search queries, in which it interpret searches and display results that might not have the exact words that were searched for – through mathematical entities called vectors.
More about RankBrain:
Apart from having a robust content asset portfolio, solid link profile, and sound technical structure/performance for your site (which are all really enough to succeed in search), there are still other optimization techniques that you’ll have to consider to ensure survival in the world of search that has RankBrain in it.
Improving Organic Search CTR
Despite the popular belief of SERP CTR as a ranking signal, it is still indefinite and unconfirmed if it’s really being used by Google as part of their ranking factors (at the moment).
Although, there are a lot of correlation studies that slightly show that it can impact a page’s search rankings:
Plus, there’s also this, from Paul Haahr’s presentation:
Next time I hear a Googler say “we don’t use query/click data in rankings,” I’m pointing to https://t.co/qETZpGEbm9 pic.twitter.com/m9DO3cBVXb
— Rand Fishkin (@randfish) March 17, 2016
Now that we have those out of the way, let’s move on with the things you can implement to improve your organic search listings’ click-through rate:
1. Optimize your key pages’ Title Tags and Meta Descriptions – which normally should include the keyword(s) you’re aiming to rank for, brand name, and your page’s unique value proposition. I highly recommend reading Ross Hudgens’ comprehensive piece on how to effectively test your title tags’ CTR.
2. Improve your organic search listings’ prominence through structured data markups (for rich snippets, reviews, breadcrumbs and sitelinks). Learn more about it here.
3. Continuously update your content, as well as its timestamp (whenever appropriate) – given that searchers tend to click more on recent posts from the search results.
4. Increasing search volume and SERP CTR using social ads and display marketing as advised by Larry Kim.
Note: Improving your SERP CTR is just the first step, as it’s also imperative to ensure that your organic traffic stays within your page (optimizing for long click and dwell time). If you’re doing you’re content right (like we’ve discussed on the first part of this post), then this shouldn’t be an issue.
The key is to provide content (10x content) that will actually match the query and the intent of the searcher. Also, including related links within your content can also help make your site visitors stay longer on your site.
Optimize for Google’s Quick Answer Box
Another way to also optimize your pages’ for better long-click is to try and optimize for Google’s Answer Box.
Even if you don’t get into the results’ instant rich answers for a query, you still get to improve the user activity on your pages by putting a section where you can briefly and directly answer the query.
And this is something that we’ve actually implemented across some of our clients’ key landing pages, where we’ve included a section within the content that’s aimed to optimize for both Google Answer Boxes and users who prefer to find the answers quickly (“as Answer Box is triggered by patterns of text, semi-structured data, and specific understanding”, as stated by AJ Kohn)::
For a more extensive resource, check out Richard Baxter’s guide on how to optimize for Google’s Quick Answer Box.
Optimize Unstructured Data
This slide deck by AJ Kohn from SearchFest probably illustrates almost everything you need to know to survive and thrive in a RankBrain-era SEO. And this can also be very instrumental to how you can further improve your content creation process.
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