One of the greatest military minds was Frederick the Great who against overwhelming odds, led the Prussian army to victory at the Battle of Leuthen. By outsmarting his enemies and using clever maneuvers, he was able to decisively defeat a much larger Austrian army.
SEO is kind of like that, when you’re starting out and looking to establish an online presence amidst the big players in your industry.
To outrank your competitors, you have to outsmart them.
Having a good SEO strategy is the first step to achieving that.
- Search Engine Ranking Factors
- The Golden Circle: What is a good SEO strategy
- Minimum Viable SEO
- Get your website set up on Google Webmaster Tools
- Content Strategy Framework
- Keyword Selection based on Traffic Potential
- Topic Clustering: Optimise Content for Semantic Search
- Link Building Strategy: Build your First Relationship
- Ego bait: Promote other people’s content
- Piggyback on your competitors backlinks
- Testimonials and Reviews
How to rank in Google now: Search Engine Ranking Factors
Nobody actually knows how Google ranks pages. There are over 200 ranking factors and unless you’ve cracked the search engine algorithm, we are all in the game of guessing how to please the big G.
The SEO industry is also a little crazy. There are tons of Google algorithm updates every year and many experts in the industry still find it challenging to keep up with rapid changes in SEO.
But the truth is – what really drives rankings in organic search still remains the same as 10 years ago: Links and Content.
Here’s what Andrey Lipattsev, search quality strategist at Google said,
the first two most important ranking signals are content and links pointing to your site, in no particular order.
Check out this study done by Ahrefs which shows the correlating factors to rank well on Google.
Clearly, backlinks are still the #1 driving factor behind rankings.
Backlinks or inbound links are hyperlinks from someone else’s website that point to yours. Think of them as a vote of confidence, the more backlinks you have, the higher your trustworthiness and authority.
Google serves up pages that it knows will best answer a search query. The more credible your site is, the more likely you will fit this criteria. That’s why it’s so valuable (and expensive) to get a link placement on high authority sites like Forbes.
But what’s changed is that Google is getting smarter.
With the Hummingbird algorithm, it changed the way Google parsed queries. Google learnt to use semantic context. It could understand search intent, phrases, similar themes and related topics.
Remember that Google’s goal is to match a query to an answer. And the Hummingbird update just gave it a new way to rank pages.
This means Google started to focus on topics.
Thus began the marketing rush, Content is King. Because Google no longer just looks at pages by “voting mechanism” via backlinks, but also at the actual content on the page.
With that, let’s get started on what makes a good SEO strategy.
#1. The Golden Circle: What is a Good SEO Strategy?
A good SEO strategy is an actionable plan that clearly tells you what to optimize, when, how and why.
We often get caught up in ‘how-to’ guides, ‘one plan to rule them all’ blueprints and more list formulas. But in this section, I want to cover the purpose that drives SEO activities.
For this, we’ll look into Simon Sinek’s powerful TED talk on “Start with Why”
Why: purpose – usually mapped with a business goal that helps your bottom line
How: concept, technique or process to fulfill that purpose
What: actionable steps, specific activities under the technique
Alright, we’ve come up with a fancy circle and wrapped our favourite subject in it. Now lets see some actual examples. 😉
Example 1: e-Commerce business + technical SEO
You have an e-commerce business running on HTTP and are looking to migrate over to HTTPS. Your business priority is to prepare for a site migration.
Why: successfully migrate to a more secure website. Accomplish this with minimum technical errors and traffic losses.
How: Technical SEO
What: 301 redirects, website audit and crawls, broken link checks, URL mapping, indexation and search console checks.
The role of SEO is technical focused, performing smart redirects and minimise traffic losses. Link building and reporting on domain authority of various inbound links wouldn’t be as relevant for this occasion.
Example 2: SaaS startup + content + authority SEO
But if you are a SaaS startup with non-existent search visibility, your business priority is to generate brand awareness.
Why: generate leads and conversions for relevant keyword queries. Attract the right traffic and contribute to my business bottom line.
How: content and off-page SEO
What: keyword research, competitive analysis, content optimisation, guest posting, broken link building.
The role of SEO here focuses on content and authority building. You’ll want to invest in a good copywriting team, conduct competitive research and start building an online presence.
#2 Minimum Viable SEO
I know what you’re thinking – sure Leanne it’s easy to come up with strategies and fantasize about dozens of SEO activities but what if I don’t have the time to work on SEO?
Then this section is just for you! I’ve laid out a path for you that requires 1 hour a day to get some solid SEO work done.
First, get your website set up on Google Webmaster Tools
(i) Sign up for Google Webmaster Tools
- add your website to search console
- add a sitemap and robots.txt file
- if you’re running on WordPress, install Yoast plugin and connect with Google Webmaster from there.
- check your search console for any warnings and errors
(ii) Sign up for a Google Analytics account
- follow these steps and add your website property
- if you’re running on WordPress, install Monster Insights plugin and add your Google Analytics tracking code
Further Reading: How to Install Google Analytics in WordPress for Beginners
#3. Content Strategy Framework
In this content strategy framework, we’ll be looking at (i) traffic potential instead of rankings and (ii) topic clusters instead of keywords.
But we all know that keyword research is the first step in any SEO strategy, so why not focus on keywords?
After all, the biggest mistake you can make is to write about a topic nobody is searching for.
No search volume = no demand.
But is monthly search volume of a keyword enough to base your entire content strategy on?
Nope. I’ll show you why.
Keyword selection based on traffic potential
Remember our goal to rank on Google is to get relevant traffic, and to do so we need clicks.
The estimated CTR is 30% for a page ranking on position #1. Followed by 15% and 10% for position #2 and #3.
That is how much search traffic you’ll get if you rank on the first page of Google. The above statistic is from a study by AWR, which looked at the organic CTR (click through rate) coming from over 1.5M keywords.
For example, I want to write about “Singapore chicken rice” and it has 480 monthly searches.
So these numbers look pretty bleak. But actually, the full traffic of those ranking pages are actually waaaay MORE than those numbers alone.
Because a page can rank for many, many, many keywords.
The best way to do this research is with Ahrefs Keyword Explorer tool:
As you can see, the sethlui.com page ranks for over 247 other keywords, and thebestsingapore.com page ranks for 155 other keywords too.
This is a super important takeaway – Don’t make content strategy decisions based on the search volume of a single keyword.
To build your content, find out what other keywords the top ranking pages ranks for and create topics clusters. Don’t worry, we’ll dive deeper into this in the next section.
On Ahrefs, you can simply click on the keywords column and be directed to the organic keywords ranking report:
From here we know sethlui.com page also ranks for these related keywords: “purvis street chicken rice”, “best hainanese chicken rice in singapore”, etc.
This gives us some insight into what keyword topics are proven to work and what users are searching for. Armed with this huge list of long-tail keywords and sub topic ideas, we can supercharge our content strategy by building topic clusters.
Topic Clustering Strategy
Have you ever written a ton of blog posts but found that traffic was staggering? Don’t lose hope yet.
I’ll show you how to gain traction on Google by creating pillar pages. Trust me, it will massively reduce the amount of time spent optimising and trying to rank for individual pages.
We’ll look at how to optimise content for semantic search, by building a semantic relationship between content pages for SEO.
Simply put, pillar pages are your ‘trophy’ pages that you want Google to take notice of. The topic cluster pages are the cheerleaders that all point to the trophy page.
A topic cluster is an SEO strategy that focuses on topics instead of keywords. The result improves site architecture and helps Google understand related content and ultimately boost your search visibility.
How to create a topic cluster?
For example if you want to own the term, “presentation skills”
Step 1: Create big topics for your pillar pages
- presentation design
- visual strategy
- corporate communication
Big topics are HUGE pieces of content, also known as pillar pages. (e.g, ‘The Ultimate Guide to Presentation Design‘).
Ask yourself if this pillar page can answer every possible question when someone searches for X keyword.
General rule of thumb – each pillar page should be able to umbrella at least 10-20 smaller posts.
Step 2: Create an umbrella of cluster topics from your pillar page.
- presentation design
- creative presentation ideas
- presentation design hacks
- startup presentation templates
- visual strategy
- brand and identity design
- infographics & data visualisation
- colour theory
- corporate communication
- persuasive negotiation
- effective business storytelling
- sales training course
Cluster topics are your long-tail keywords and smaller posts under the umbrella of your big main topic (pillar page). These smaller posts literally ‘cluster’ around your main pillar page by internal links.
Step 3: Link all cluster topics to the pillar page
This chain of clusters tells search engine your content pages are related to each other.
There’s a technical phrase for this – Internal Linking.
An internal link is a hyperlink from a page in your website to another page.
The more internal links a page has, the higher it will rank. So if your product page gets linked to the most from other pages on your site, that product page will perform better in SERPs.
By linking all individual topic clusters to your big pillar page, it boosts the strength of that pillar page.
Also, search engines can easily scan all your site content and understand that there is a semantic relationship between the pages’ content.
Want to learn more? Check out my SEO course for bloggers and entrepreneurs, SEO Demystified. Semantic search is one of the core concepts I teach in the course as well! I’ve put my heart and soul into this one, and would love to see you there.
#4. Link building strategy: building relationships
In an ideal world, backlinks will come to you naturally. Because if you’ve got bangin’ amazing great content that everybody just can’t resist sharing, then you wouldn’t have to break a sweat building inbound links manually.
But that just doesn’t happen. Even if it does, it doesn’t happen every time you publish a new piece of content.
Content needs to be deliberately promoted to get in out in the world.
Remember: even if you were to create the greatest piece of content anyone has ever seen, if there isn’t a way of getting it in front of people then it would be useless.
Backlinks are an important ranking factor on Google, if not the most important.
But it’s also the most challenging, especially when you don’t yet have a large social clout.
How to add value when you have nothing to offer
Often times we try to build that ‘perfect’ backlink and get advice like “make an infographic”, “create a viral post/video”, “create great content”.
What I get frustrated about is that if you are a business with very low influence, even if i manage to publish jaw-dropping content, it can be quite a struggle to get it in front of people.
With that in mind, I’d like to share 3 methods I found most effective when you’re just starting out.
Ego bait: Promote other people’s content
One of the most effective ways of encouraging people to share your content is by promoting their content and adding value to it.
(a) Reach out to everyone you’ve mentioned in your article and featured their work. Send them a “great job, thanks for writing this amazing content, I absolutely love you” note of appreciation.
(b) Write a roundup post and find at least 5 influential bloggers in your niche. Give a short writeup about their articles which you’ve selected, and add your own take on it.
Make sure to also link to their respective blogs. Then, contact them individually through email, and mention them in a tweet about your blog.
The key here is to not ask for a backlink, but to focus on promoting their content and build a relationship.
Ask yourself, “why would anyone benefit from sharing my content?”
Start off small and look for bloggers, smaller editorial sites and micro influencers who are in similar position as you.
Chances are they’d be very happy if you shared their content. This way you’ve built a relationship and got your blog noticed in a subtle way.
Piggyback on your competitors backlinks
This method reaches out to people who linked to existing articles on the same topic you’re writing about.
To convince these people to link to you after they’ve already reached out to your competitors, you need to get creative.
Here are 2 simple ways.
(a) Check if the top ranking pages have outdated content. The opportunity here is to create an article with new and updated information and reach out to those who’s linking to the outdated content to check yours out.
(b) Offer a better, more in-depth coverage of the topic. Reach out to people who’ve linked to your competitors and say you wrote a similar article as XYZ which missed out on this and that.
The piggyback method relies on cold email and treads on the line of being desperate. But it can have big rewards if you’re successful because you’d be getting strong backlinks who have contributed to your competitors’ ranking success.
Now before you press send on that outreach mail – If you don’t have a very good reason to reach out to someone, don’t reach out to them. 🙂
A very good reason to reach out to someone is when that reason has their direct interest.
- If their content is outdated, and you can provide a recent updated replacement, then that’s good for them.
- If their content is linking out to another article which no longer exists (broken page), then you can introduce your article as a replacement – again good for them.
Some examples of bad outreach reasons are:
- “hey you, I read that your article featured my competitor’s blog, could you link to mine too, because its similar”
- “hi there, I read your article and would appreciate it if you could link to my blog too please”
Bad outreach is when you are desperate, and trust me – the person on the receiving side can feel it too.
Keep it cool and keep it short.
Product review / Testimonial
Testimonial link building is a win-win scenario. Not only does the product company get a nice customer review, you get a backlink from a reputable website in return.
Think of the products or services you’ve been using and have enjoyed.
Some ideas you can try:
- Website: WordPress theme, plugin, product add-ons, web hosting
- Software products: Marketing tools, productivity tools, finance tools,
- Physical products which you blog about: camera, equipment, fashion
The list is endless.
Final Tip: Keep at it.
Building a presence when you’re just starting out can be very frustrating, but keep at it.
Work on the simple tasks you can do today (like planning out your strategy on paper) and get your first backlink. Focus on small wins and you’ll steadily build a solid strategy that brings results.
I hope this has been helpful to some of you out there and I would love to hear your feedback. Oh, and sharing this to your social following would be a great help 😉