Digital marketers know the pains and gains of search engine optimization (SEO). We always hear questions along the lines of “why aren’t we ranking for our target keyword yet?” or “when will we rank for this keyword?” Any SEO guru knows that it always ‘depends,’ and there’s not truly a rhyme or reason behind predictions. What we do know is the proven strategy behind climbing to the top of the SERP. And that starts with the quality and relevance of your content.
When you explain SEO best practices and what needs to be done to see increased rankings, the stakeholder just might not buy it. Our seemingly insignificant but vital on-page SEO techniques are commonly kicked to the curb as a non-priority, even though 82% of people who implemented an SEO strategy in 2019 found it to be effective.
After reading, you’ll confidently be able to make the case for the importance of on-page SEO techniques to your team, why they matter, and which elements to focus on first.
HOW TO APPROACH KEYWORD RESEARCH & OPTIMIZATION
SELECTING A KEYWORD
One of the most common rookie mistakes in SEO is rushing to your SEO tool and quickly pulling a keyword that fits in with a content piece or website page’s existing title after writing the copy and without any further research. This is a waste of time and backward! The purpose behind content marketing and SEO is to write about what ranks (AKA what people are interested in and searching for). You may feel confident that your keyword gets a substantial amount of monthly traffic — yet 92.42% of keywords get ten monthly searches or less.
The keyword research process is daunting. Here are some critical elements to consider when conducting keyword research for new and existing content.
- Search Volume: Depending on how strong of a domain authority score your company holds and how many existing rankings you own, you’ll want to target keywords under specific search volumes. Generally speaking, a higher search volume means a more difficult time ranking for that keyword. Too low of a search volume may get you on the first page but won’t bring in the amount of organic traffic (from your relevant audience) you hoped for. You’ll want to balance this factor along with keyword difficulty, relevancy, and search intent.
- Keyword Difficulty (KD): Depending on which SEO tool you’re using, there are various definitions for this. Ahrefs (we use this!) ranks keyword difficulty on a scale from 0–100 (0 being extremely easy and 100 being extremely difficult). Similarly to search volume, higher domain authority score sites have a greater chance of ranking for high-difficulty keywords. Reaching the top of the SERP for a high-difficulty keyword is a great opportunity, as it will be more difficult for others to soar past your site and push you to the bottom.
- Search Intent & Relevancy: Keyword and search intent research should be done before planning out your next content. Doing so will tell you exactly what people searching your target keyword are looking for and in what format. Take the keyword ‘talent acquisition solutions’, for example. When someone searches this on Google, are they looking for a blog with hiring solution suggestions? A list of top talent acquisition companies? Do they want this info in a quick snippet? A video? A downloadable guide? Generating a list of your target keywords and doing a deep-dive analysis of what the SERP results for those terms look like before planning next quarter’s content will help you achieve suitable, relevant keyword rankings — ultimately impacting your page conversions!
HOW TO OPTIMIZE FOR YOUR KEYWORD
Once you choose your target keyword and any additional focus keywords, you’ll need to put it in the right places:
- Slug: Place the keyword toward the beginning of the slug, and keep it short — shorter URLs tend to rank better than long URLs!
- Title: If it’s what users are searching for, you’ll want to make that clear in the title! Try to put it closer to the beginning.
- Copy: The general rule of thumb is to include your keyword once per every 200 words. You don’t want to accidentally fall under the keyword stuffing trap. Don’t forget; Google understands synonyms, so be sure to work those through your content as well!
- SEO Title: Most website builders and content marketing tools give you the option to create a unique SEO title that differs from the actual content’s title. For a positive UX, you’ll want to make sure the keyword appears at the beginning of the title and that it doesn’t exceed 60 characters (this will cut off your title).
- Meta Description: Similarly to the SEO title, you’ll want to make sure you place the keyword at the beginning of the meta. Ensure the meta accurately describes what the user will get from your content! After all, 43% of people that click on a Google result do so solely based on the meta description.
- Image Alt-Text: Important, but too commonly forgotten, is image alt-text. Not only does updating alt-text improve the UX, but it also makes an immense impact on SEO. Accurately describe what appears in your images using your target keyword and additional keywords.
Take it From Our Client Victory: After conducting detailed search intent research and creating and re-optimizing existing content based on our findings, we experienced a rapid jump in their ranking positions for those target keywords (less than two weeks!), substantial movement in organic traffic for the keywords, and eventually saw significant gains across the board for additional keywords! Taking the time to do the research makes an immense difference.
THE TRUTH BEHIND INTERNAL LINKING
WHAT IS INTERNAL LINKING?
Internal linking is an SEO strategy in which you link relevant, high-performing pages and content to other internal content. Doing this essentially tells Google which of your pages are important and will increase your ranking potential for those pages.
HOW SHOULD YOU GO ABOUT INTERNALLY LINKING YOUR CONTENT?
Think of all of your website content as one interconnected spider web. In order for Google spiders to crawl your content, all of your pages need to be connected in a way that makes sense. While your hierarchical nav bar and website footer are a given, it’s crucial to add internal hyperlinks throughout the body text itself where it’s relevant. This drastically increases your chances of improved rankings and accounts for a cohesive UX.
So, what anchor text should be internally linked? Our go-to strategy is to revisit our highest-performing content and take a look at the target keywords for those pages. Now, head to your other pages, locate those same target keywords (or synonyms/other relevant terminology) or find places to add them in where it makes the most sense, and hyperlink that text back to those high-performing pages. Other pieces of text to interlink are CTAs and statements that mention something provided on one of your other pages.
Take it From Our Client Victory: After conducting search intent research for a client, we chose to construct a pillar page for a specific keyphrase. After strategically internal linking to and from the pillar and providing an enriched user experience, we jumped from not ranking to being on the first page in just a week. This page has slowly crept its way up the first page of the SERP ever since!
EXTERNAL LINKING FOR A RANKING BOOST
WHAT IS EXTERNAL (OUTBOUND) LINKING?
External linking is the process of hyperlinking a piece of text to another domain’s website.
WON’T THAT WORK IN FAVOR OF THAT COMPANY’S WEBSITE INSTEAD OF MINE?
No. External linking is known to be one of the most prominent SEO ranking factors out there. While gaining a lot of high-authority backlinks will positively impact the site being linked to, it will additionally boost your authority score and make your site very attractive to the SERPs. Linking to other sites also increases your chance of winning reliable and relevant backlinks. The average page in the first position on the Google SERP has over 35K backlinks. When choosing external links to add to your content, try to avoid direct competitors when possible. At the end of the day, it’s a win-win for both parties.
WHAT SHOULD BE EXTERNALLY LINKED?
Similarly to internal linking, you should be strategic about what gets externally linked. Here’s where to add anchor text to outbound links:
- Cited sources (research, data, studies, etc.)
- Descriptive keywords that are relevant to another site’s content
- People mentions (to their LinkedIn profile, author page, etc. to establish thought leadership)
Take it From Our Client Victory: After working out a consistent external linking plan for new content that focused on relevant, non-competitive, high-authority domains, we quickly reached the first two pages of the SERP after publishing. Not to mention, we slowly saw an increase in our visibility through a greater number of attained backlinks.
THE “DEAL BREAKER” OF YOUR SEO PERFORMANCE
Imagine an extremely dated website with little-to-no links, plain text, and if any imagery, a blurry, small thumbnail. They still exist, and there’s a reason you likely never see them. Simply put, websites that lack any sort of visual experience do not rank! Adding imagery, graphs & charts, videos, embedded podcasts, and beyond are all great ways to improve your site performance and make yourself a known friend of Google SERPs. In fact, video content is 5x more likely to drive an on-page conversion than plain content. And, content with at least one image ranks higher than pages without an image. By keeping things visually appealing, you also pose the opportunity to rank for a featured snippet, image pack, Google image results, and beyond.
YOUR FRIENDLY ALT-TEXT REMINDER
Want to ensure that your beautiful content ranks for the right keywords? Don’t let alt-text slip your mind — be sure to include your target keywords in each multimedia’s alt-text tag! This is easy to do in most modern-day website builders.
Take it From Our Client Victory: One of the Branch’s fastest-growing clients created an article that includes a clean and engaging infographic. The keyword chosen for that page remains one of their top-performing keywords in terms of rank and organic traffic and has remained on the first page for over one year (since publishing)!
YOUR NEXT STEPS
These on-page SEO techniques will give you a leg up on the SEO SERPs; however, you’ll need to go beyond the steps above to see an even more powerful impact. Remember, content is king. Push out fresh and timely content that answers users’ questions and gives them what they’re looking for. Repurpose your older content and make it better. Update the content to fit the target keyword’s latest intent, make sure the information is relevant, and whip up new and improved visuals to make your page even more engaging. Set a schedule for running an on-page SEO audit for your site to keep tabs on what needs to change. Are rankings dropping? Are conversions down on a particular page? Is your target keyword no longer relevant? After putting this information together, present it to your team and identify your SEO gaps. Voila, you’ve made the case for on-page SEO tactics.
SEO is easier said than done. The list of vital components of your strategy doesn’t end here! Working through the complexities of on-page and technical SEO and refining your strategy takes a lot of time, focus, and energy. But, there’s light at the end of the SEO tunnel — the Branch comes with passionate and knowledgeable SEO subject matter experts (SMEs) that work alongside our clients to continually drive their SEO performance through the roof. Get in touch with us today to chat about all things SEO and how we can help you establish your on-brand organic presence — fast.
This article was originally published on the Red Branch Media blog and was writing by Jen Mohorek.