Let’s face it, ranking for a key term in Google can mean all the difference between your phone and email inbox lighting up with sales and enquiries, or the deafening sound of crickets going off in the distance.
It goes without saying that the Holy Grail for any small business owner trading on the web, is to hit Google’s first page for those big money terms.
But how is that possible?
There are so many factors that you need to take into consideration before you jump in and start hacking away at Google with visions of cash and traffic.
Such as –
- Is this a commercially viable term?
- Will this keyword really have a positive impact?
- What’s the competition like?
- How quickly could I rank for this term?
…and so on, and so on.
I want to share with you, the process that I follow as best practice, when I’m wanting to improve my rankings for a set phrase or keyword.
But before getting into this, I want to cover some of the most common mistakes I see site owners making when trying to target key phrases and hopefully, prevent you from making the same, costly mistakes.
Mistake #1 – Trying to approach this like it’s still 2008
Years ago, ranking for a certain term or phrase meant doing the following –
- Going to the Google keyword planner
- Identifying a keyword that has a lot of search volume
- Creating a page that has the keyword in the title, the meta description tag, header tags, the URL, in every instance of every image, and fussing about over keyword density (typically this meant performing stupid rituals like ensuring the keyword was at the beginning of the content, in the middle, at the end and as well as that – highlighting, bolding and underlining that keyword like there was no tomorrow.
- Then of course, linking back to that page using the target phrase or keyword as anchor text, over and over and over again until you turned blue in the face.
Seriously, this doesn’t work anymore. Don’t waste your time with this approach.
Mistake #2 – Building a page that targets just ONE keyword
This might sound unusual and probably goes against most SEO advice that you’ve either read or been told – but when it comes to ranking for a particular keyword, you shouldn’t be trying to do so by building out a page that focuses on just one term.
I know that sounds crazy, but hear me out.
Take a look at the following screenshot. This is a search I performed at the time of publishing this article, where I searched for “outdoor bbq settings” in Google.
So you’re probably thinking – yeah, so what?
Here’s something to think about – Not one of those results has that EXACT phrase in the title, the URL or the description tag.
Interesting isn’t it?
Not one of the results shows an exact match anywhere for the term ‘outdoor bbq settings’.
They all list variations or synonyms of the term – “outdoor furniture settings”, “bbq table settings”, “outdoor furniture” etc
Now of course this is just one example, and I’m sure other results might show otherwise, but this tells us something very important.
It tells us that –
- Google is getting smarter at showing a broader set of results based upon “word relationships” (often referred to as LSI)
- Overall page “theme” or “subject matter” is regarded as highly relevant
- Gone are the days of building out heavily optimised pages that focus on a single phrase
Now of course, there will be exceptions to the rule, but it’s worth noting.
Mistake #3 – Over optimising
This touches on my previous point where I mentioned, trying to rank a heavily optimised page for a specific term, by creating a page that –
- Has the keyword as the actual page name (eg some-keyword-here.html)
- Has the keyword stuffed in the title tag
- Has the keyword stuffed in the meta description tag
- Has the keyword stuffed throughout the content – often in ways that make the content unreadable
- Has every image, and other tag stuffed with the term too
Pages like this are often stuffed full of useless content that reads …“Our blue widgets are the best blue widgets in Sydney. We sell blue widgets directly to customers that are interested in buying blue widgets, because our prices for blue widgets are very competitive”.
Over optimising is just downright horrible. Don’t do that.
Mistake #4 – Over optimising your anchor text
This is a strategy that almost every SEO consultant, professional and freelancer abused years ago, and it essentially involves continuously linking back to the page you’ve created using the same money term (or anchor text), over and over and over again.
So for instance, if you’re trying to rank a page for the term “blue widgets”, you would blast links all over the place using that text (blue widgets) as the clickable link.
Needless to say, this strategy resulted in Google taking heavy action on those intentionally trying to manipulate the search results – and for many, it ended badly with thousands of sites being penalised and many deindexed completely. This update was known as Penguin and was released April 24, 2012.
It goes without saying that a lot’s changed since then, and the idea of continually linking back to the same page as mentioned is most likely going to end with a penalty.
Mistake #5 – Trying to improve the performance of your website one keyword at a time
I talk about this as part of the SEO training I provide here at SEO Point.
Many site owners have this belief that they must create one page per keyword. So for example, they might have a list of 12 keywords they want to target, so they’ll go about creating 12 pages. This really isn’t ideal, and infact, it makes absolutely no sense to try and rank your site, one keyword at a time.
Its like eating a bowl of rice, one grain at a time.
I’ll show you a much better strategy in just a moment.
Mistake #6 – Turning your site into a collection of landing pages
I’ve worked with many site owners that have quite literally built dozens and dozens of landing pages, all with the intent of trying to rank them one keyword at a time.
They’ll have their main pages like home, contact, FAQ and privacy – and the rest will be nothing but landing pages. Almost the entire site will consist of keyword focused landing pages. They’ll have no content that provides any sort of value.
They’ll just have dozens of keyword stuffed landing pages.
This could be, quite possibly the quickest way to lose your mind.
Mistake #7 – Providing no value
When site owners start building out landing pages, usually the quality of content falls off a cliff.
In a lot of cases, they’ll create a “landing page template”, then go about making small edits in order to change the page just enough to accommodate the target keyword.
This results in near identical pages, all stuffed with useless thin (near duplicate) content. Infact this is very common amongst small business owners that want to target suburbs.
Getting your page to the first page in Google is one thing, but keeping it there is another. Unless you’re providing value, then chances are, it won’t be long until that page is buried deep, back in page 10 of Google.
You must provide value.
Mistake #8 – Checking your rankings every 5 minutes
This isn’t really a “mistake” but it is madness that I often see.
This is essentially a site owner that checks their rankings every 5 minutes, every day, 24/7.
Needless to say, once you become fixated on single terms, you’ll start doing stupid things like this – just to “see where you’re at”.
Again, a great way to lose your mind.
Ranking for key terms in Google – let’s do this properly
Now that we’ve covered the “donts”, let’s now take a look at the “should do’s”
Before getting started here, there are two things I want to touch on.
1. Firstly, change your way of thinking
Nothing’s going to change if you keep approaching SEO with the same mindset as you have for the last decade.
You’ve got to change your way of thinking from – keywords, keywords, keywords, links, links, links – to providing valuable content on pages that actually serve a purpose.
Okay, keywords and links still matter, but it needs to be done differently.
2. Secondly, avoid black hat shortcuts
I probably didn’t need to mention this, but wanted to. If you’re tempted to buy into link schemes, or build out a private blog network, or take some kind of shortcut, then seriously, save yourself the drama and give it a miss. That stuff will only lead to you crying yourself to sleep at night.
Having said that, let’s get into it.
Step 1. Keyword research
I know this topic has been done to death, but hear me out.
You should have some idea of which keyword or phrase you’re wanting to target. There’s really no need to spend hours on the Google Keyword planner. Just choose a term and jump in. You probably already have a good idea of what term you’re wanting to target anyway.
Now this isn’t going to be your usual “do some keyword research, throw some magic fairy dust in the air, blah blah blah” type tutorial. We’re going to be doing a few things differently here, in order to get a listing of keywords that have the strongest relationship to that of our main target keyword.
In order to do this, I’m going to perform a search within Google – for this example, I’m going to search for ‘seo pricing’ because this is the term I want to target.
Now what we’re looking for here, are words or phrases that Google have highlighted in BOLD.
Why? Because Google is telling us, they’re highly relevant to our search.
Let’s have a look…
So after performing that search we’ve got –
- prices, pricing, price /SEO
- SEO cost, cost of SEO
- pricing guide
- price list
- cost per month
These are all great, highly related terms that we can now make a note of to use within our “themed page”.
Create a short listing of these terms and save it in a notepad file.
Step 2. Competitive insights
Before you do anything, you’ll need to have a look at what type of content is already performing on the first page in Google for your target term.
It always makes sense to do this, because it will give us great insights towards what type of content is popular (and performing) You don’t want to invest days or weeks creating something that isn’t going to perform on it’s own (long term).
For instance, (again referencing ‘seo pricing’) if the first 5 results on the first page of Google are a downloadable ‘SEO pricing chart’ then it would make sense to reverse engineer each site and figure out why those pages are doing so well. Of course it might also be worthwhile doing likewise and creating a downloadable pricing chart too.
Of course this is just an example – but my point is, it’s always worth taking note of what type of content is already performing.
Honestly, I could write an entire article just on this one step alone, but in an effort to shorten my point, you’ll want to –
- assess the types of content that is performing well for your target term
- reverse engineer each piece of content and look for
- a) total amount of backlinks
- b) social shares and
- c) visitor engagement (comments etc)
- use that content as guidance, and inspiration and work towards replicating something similar (do not copy!)
There are two great tools you can use to do this –
You may even want to look at SEMrush too, because you can enter in each URL and see what other keywords that one piece of content is performing for too (which will give you more relevant terms)
If you’d like to learn more about this strategy, I teach this in detail within our SEO training community.
In any case, it doesn’t take long to get a good idea of what types of content are on the first page. Once you’ve done that, you can look at replicating that content and improving upon it.
NOTE – Sometimes you might find that many of the pages you look at, have thin crappy content. If that’s the case, then that’s a good thing. Beating them shouldn’t be difficult with great content and some smart inter/back linking.
Step 3. Building our actual page
There’s a few key areas of this section that are pretty important, so I want to break them down into individual sections. This should make it easier for you to follow and implement
Before you start, you need to think about your page in it’s most basic form.
You should be thinking about –
- the overall nature of the page (layout etc)
- where the page will reside on your site (which category or subcategory)
- the type of content you intend on having on that page, and lastly …
- thinking in advance about your proposed meta data markup (title tags, description tags etc)
Now, chances are, you’ve probably read elsewhere that you should –
- put the keyword at the beginning of the content, in the middle, at the end
- highlight and bold the keyword
- be sure to use the keyword at least 5 times
- keep your keyword density to no more than 2%
- hold your breath, dance in a circle and count to ten
….blah blah blah.
Forget about all that nonsense.
What you need to be thinking about is providing value. At this point, all you should be thinking about is the person sitting at the other end – that is, actual visitors to the page.
You should not be thinking about “keywords” or any other SEO metrics.
You must provide value.
Creating natural content
Every time I see someone offering “SEO optimised articles” I cringe. This stuff is absolute rubbish. It’s usually a 500 word article that reads like it was written by a giraffe on an etch-a-sketch.
There should be no such thing as an “SEO optimised article”.
Instead, you’ll simply want to create a page that reads naturally. I really don’t know how to say it – just create natural content, that is written naturally and reads naturally.
So no keyword stuffing, or blatent “over optimisation”.
If you create a compelling piece of content, you will implementing SEO without even knowing it, because you’ll be using natural language, and using keyword variations as I mentioned above – NATURALLY.
NOTE – Content length and depth is important here also. You’ll want to make sure the page you’ve created has “depth”, in that it’s not just a flat 500 word boring article.
Implementing smart meta data markup and SEO love
Okay, so once you’ve completed your page, and you’ve created something of brilliance, the next step is to think about how best to implement the keyword research you performed earlier.
This is where you can get a bit sexy with SEO.
So at this stage, I’d be thinking about –
- my page name (or the URL itself)
- which category or subcategory it will hang off
- my title tag
- my meta description tag
I would also be thinking about ensuring that my page included instances of keyword variations within image file names, and header tags also. (without over doing it!)
So for example sake, if we’re wanting to focus on ‘seo pricing’ I might do something like this…
- Title tag – SEO Pricing Comparison Chart – Rates & Cost Calculator
- Meta description tag – What does SEO cost? How much should you pay? What is the average price for SEO? Download this free SEO pricing calculator to find out.
And here’s how my snippet might look within Google’s search results.
Of course I would also ensure that any images I used within the content itself were keyword rich.
And that’s it.
That’s all I would do.
Step 4. Interlink from key pages
The next step involves “interlinking” from within your own site on key pages.
This is something that most people not only don’t do, but don’t even know about.
You’ll want to link to the page you’ve just created using (again) variations of the terms you found earlier when performing keyword research.
So, again, referencing our example, ‘seo pricing’, you’ll want to search your site and find key phrases that you’ve used elsewhere and point those at your newly created page.
Here’s a quick scribble I did that demonstrates how it works.
Now before you go crazy and start linking back from every single page on your site using your exact term, there are a few key pointers I’ll share with you.
They are –
Don’t overdo it
It’s easy to start going bezerk and linking back from as many pages as possible in an effort to trying and get quicker rankings. Don’t do that.
Link back from pages with power
I’ve tested this and seen very positive results when linking back from pages that have acquired a LOT of inbound links. Which means, you’re essentially passing over some of that link equity to the newly created target page. The best thing to do is look at pages on your site that have acquired links, and leverage that link equity to your advantage.
Diversify your anchor text
Really “mix up” the anchor text. Instead of just using ‘seo pricing’ on it’s own, I might use –
- pricing guide for SEO
- the cost of SEO
- click here to see my SEO pricing chart
- examples of how much SEO costs
- SEO rates
- SEO pricing guide
- click here
…and so on.
You want to help Google understand the exact nature of the page – what it’s about and how it’s relevant to your target term.
Do not just link back using the target term over and over and over.
Keep the interlinking as natural as possible
Again, keep the interlinking as natural as possible. Don’t overdo it.
Step 5. Reverse engineer your competitors
Of course, in order to see the performance of our page really move in Google, we’ll need to acquire highly relevant links from trustworthy sites.
To do this, we’ll reverse engineer the actual pages that are already performing in Google for the phrase we originally searched for.
So for ‘seo pricing’ we’ll be reverse engineering –
…and so on.
I might reverse engineer the first page in Google only, or I might go deeper and look at the second page also. It’s worth noting that many sites will rank not because they have a lot of links to the actual page, but moreso because they have strong domain authority. This is why it might take a bit more “digging around” to find the opportunities we need.
However, once we reverse engineer these URLS, this will tell us EXACTLY what links are pointing to those pages, the anchor text they’re using, and which sites are actually linking to them.
This is invaluable information, because it will help us replicate those links, which should see our site move up in the rankings.
To get this information, we’ll be using a tool called Ahrefs.
With Ahrefs, we can enter in the full URL of the pages that are currently ranking for our target term.
We can then view the links pointing at this URL by single domain.
We’re only interested in viewing “per domain”, because there’s no need to view hundreds of links that may be coming from different pages on the same site. See below.
Then of course, we would export this list to an excel spreadsheet, where we would keep the following attributes –
- Domain rating – because we’ll want to focus on getting links from sites with the most power
- Referring page URL – because we want the page that has linked to them
- Link URL – we’ll keep this simply for references purposes
- Link anchor – we’ll keep this because we’ll want to emulate a natural link pattern
Once you’ve reverse engineered all of the first page in Google (or the second page if you wish) you’ll gather all of this information up and put it into a master spreadsheet, which you would then start working your way through in an effort to get good links.
Step 6. Perform outreach
Okay, the final part in this process involves “outreach”.
Outreach for those that have never heard of this expression, simply means reaching out to other site owners and –
- letting them know about you
- offering to help
- asking them to link to you
Outreach is often done wrong.
I often see site owners simply sending emails that read …
“Hi, can you please link to me?”
I can tell you, if you’re approaching outreach like this, you’re going to struggle.
However in this case, we’ve reverse engineered the pages that are already linking to sites that are ranking on the first page of Google – so a good start would certainly be there. Of course, this applies to links that you weren’t able to manually replicate in the previous step.
So for instance, if you’ve found a site that has linked to a page that is on the first page of Google for your target term, it would be in your best interest to reach out to them and ask them to link to you also.
- They’ve already demonstrated their willingness to link
- You should have created a really compelling piece of 10x content that they would be more than happy to link to
This is where it revisits my points made in step 3, about creating a really solid piece of outstanding content.
If you’re performing outreach and asking people to link to crappy 500 word boring keyword stuffed articles, then you’re bound to fail.
So, if you follow the spreadsheet you exported from Ahrefs, you’ll find perfect outreach opportunities that you can leverage to get high quality relevant links.
Also, don’t just perform outreach to those in the spreadsheet. Reach out to the big players in your space and say, “Hey, we’ve just created this page here – would this be of interest to you? If so, we’d love it if you would consider linking to it as an additional resource for your readers”
The bottom line is this…
For effective outreach, you need to have created something that would be considered a “linkable asset” – that is, something that other site owners can’t wait to link to or share. This is why it’s extremely important (as I said above) that when you’re creating your page/content that you’re not thinking about keywords and other SEO metrics, but instead – REAL PEOPLE.
Because it’s real people that will link and share your content, not bots.
The days of simply building out thin pages, optimised for single keywords are over.
Google is showing that it’s getting much, much smarter when it comes to how it ranks pages. If you want my honest opinion, you’re best off just creating pages with natural content, as opposed to creating manipulative pages that “look” natural.
Honestly, its much less stressful.
Of course, with a “little” bit of tweaking, you can build out natural pages that capture more search traffic by including the methods shown in this article.
What do you think?
Do you do anything differently? I’d love to hear what your thoughts are so post a comment below.
I reply to everyone, so let’s hear it.