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SEO 101

How to Rank a Keyword: The Guide That Actually Tells You How!

If you do business online (who doesn’t?), then optimizing your site for search is crucial. Organic search results are an excellent place to advertise to potential buyers and reach new clients.

Unfortunately, a lot of misinformation exists about how to improve your website and build links to it. The following guide covers key points you should address on your website, and the link building methods you can use to drive your rankings higher, increasing the traffic you receive from organic search.

Sound on page SEO builds a solid foundation for your search marketing efforts. Failing to optimize the key areas we are going to cover below will greatly reduce the effectiveness of your link building efforts, costing you time and money.

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Key On Page SEO Factors

Unless you work in SEO, many of you will not have time to optimize every single factor of your website, so we are going to touch on the key areas that you must improve to gain higher rankings.

Site Speed

Recently Google received a patent on their site speed ranking algorithm but industry professionals have known it is an important factor for quite some time now. When you are developing a website, the speed of your pages should be a key consideration. Recent coding improvements allow you to have a visually appealing site that still loads quickly so there is no reason for a slow site. If you are hiring a web designer, make sure they take load time into consideration when building your site.The bottom line is a slow site is a low ranking site.

Site Navigation

The navigation of your website is very important for users and for search engines. A proper internal linking structure will allow users to easily reach pages and should lead them to take the desired action for you website. Aside from helping users, the internal links of your site will provide search engines with a hierarchy of your website. If you sell construction services you may have a services page that links to specific services, a very simple example of a hierarchy. Remember, the more important a page is, the fewer clicks it should be from the home page of your site.

Page Titles & Meta Descriptions

Every page on your website should be unique and should have a purpose. The purpose, message, or keyword of each page should be conveyed by the page title. The meta description is a short summary of what the page is about and should boost click-through rates. I like to search my target keyword and read the ad copy for the terms. This gives you several good ideas for page titles and meta descriptions, most of the time they have been tested and optimized. Send your competitors a thank you card for testing and sharing the best variations with you! (Just to clarify you should not copy their ads, just use them to point you in the right direction.)

Meta Keywords

For some reason people still add meta Keywords to pages. They never help you rank and are now used by Bing to look for spam pages. Don’t waste your time adding meta keywords.

Creating Content

The ability for your website to rank all starts with on page SEO. Before you begin building your website, you should decide on 1-2 keywords that will be targeted on each page of your website. While the old practice of mentioning specific variations of the keyword repeatedly are not necessary, you do need to include your primary keyword in the page title, at least one heading and URL if possible. The body content should have variations of your keywords (known as LSI keywords) and should make mention of terms associated with the context of your page.

Simply put, if your target keyword is “buy a helmet”, you want to have that term in the title, heading, and url. In the body you should talk about what type of helmets you have, what the helmets are for, and so on. This allows Google to understand your content based on context. If you have enough unique helmets, you could make a page for each specific type of helmet. Do not make a page unless you have enough content to warrant it, as thin pages won’t rank very often. Each page of your site should be the Wikipedia of your keyword.

Alt Text for Images

Most websites have several images, but people often forget to optimize them. Adding alt text to all the images on your site will help Google understand what the image and page is about. While keyword stuffing is a waste of time, including your keyword on at least one image on each page has been correlated with higher search rankings. This is a simple fix, just make sure you add alt text to your images.

If you already have a website or you want to judge just how optimized your pages are, here are some quick questions you should ask yourself about each page you’re working on.

  • Does my site load quickly?
  • Is my keyword in page title?
  • Is my keyword in the URL?
  • Does each page have a unique meta description?
  • Is my keyword in the h1, h2, and h3 headings?
  • Did I include the keyword in a least one image Alt Text?
  • Does my page have rich media or videos?
  • Are keyword variations in the body content?
  • Have I linked out to relevant and authoritative external sources?
  • Does the page have 500+ words of unique and valuable content?
  • Are there a ton of grammatical or spelling errors on the page?
  • Did I include name, address, and phone (NAP) for geo-targeted keyword pages?
  • Is my page easy to share socially?

Once you have your on page SEO dialed in, the real work begins. Regardless of what you may hear, link building is still one of the most important factors in determining how well a page performs in the SERPs so below I am going to share 5 techniques that will help your site rank higher.

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5 Effective Link Building Strategies

Before we get started I want to stress that using a combination on link building methods will always yield better results than a single strategy. Google likes to see a diverse link profile that appears natural so lets play their game.

Guest Posting

Guest posting has recently been in the limelight as another passing fad among link builders. If you create a bunch of low quality, useless articles and share them on low authority sites, you are wasting your time. Guest posting should only be done on sites that you would post to if SEO did not exist. Is it likely you will get referral traffic from the site you are guest posting on? If not, find another site. Posting on high quality sites provides a much greater booster in SEO value as well. Aside from getting a link from an authority site, you will also likely get links from people who pick up parts of the content and link back to you or the guest post. Either way, you get added SEO value without added work.

Outreach Link Building

There is nothing new or sexy about this method, but it works. Coming up with a list of sites to reach out to can be difficult, but this is how I do it.

  1. Run a back link analysis of your top 5 competitor sites.
  2. Eliminate links with a page authority below 20.
  3. Eliminate any no-follow links (unless they are likely to provide significant referral traffic).
  4. Export your list and sort from highest page authority to lowest and work your way down the list of sites looking for ways to get a link. Finding the link to your competitor and improving the content they used to get that link is the best way to get your own link. You can also look for broken links to competitor sites and offer a new piece of similar content for the site owner to link to.
  5. Send a quick email to the site owner and tell them what you have to offer.
  6. Repeat until you have gone through the entire list, then find sites ranking 5-10 for your keyword and repeat steps 1-4.

Social Link Building

This is a lot like traditional outreach link building, except you are going to find link opportunities from social media. I have mentioned this technique before, but it is worth repeating. Here is how to find people who will likely link to your site.

  1. Curate content closely related to your niche and share it via social networks.
  2. Monitor user engagement and identify content that was heavily shared, liked, re-tweeted, etc.
  3. Create a new piece of content closely related but better than what you shared.
  4. Contact everyone who engaged with the curated piece and let them know you have something they would love.
  5. Relax while your new piece of content is being shared, liked, and linked to.

Directory Submissions

Before you leave the page or a nasty comment, I am not talking about the old school method of blasting your site out to a billion and nine directories. There are a few directories that are still valuable to submit your site to but remember, quality over quantity is the key. Here are some worthwhile directories to get you started.

  1. Best of the Web
  2. Yahoo Directory
  3. DMOZ (they have seen a recent loss in listings)
  4. Business.com
  5. Exact Seek

When you are looking for directories worth submitting to you should look for sites that are human edited, have been around for a while, and are trusted. If you are looking for local directories, here is a list of the top 50 from HubSpot.

Blog Commenting

You are probably thinking that this method is straight from 08, and it kind of is. The difference is that you are going to comment only on sites closely related to your site. You should leave comments that add to the conversation and encourage interaction from the writer. Actively participating with writers will allow you to build a relationship with them and it can even set the stage for you to guest post or contribute to their site. The second benefit of blog commenting is no-follow links. Since the other methods we cover are do-follow links, the no followed links will help to round out a natural link profile. Forum participation can also be used instead of blog commenting, just make your posts quality and build relationships with active members.

There are literally hundreds of link building techniques that can be used effectively. The specifics of your niche will determine what is most effective for you. Regardless of your niche, high quality links from authority pages will drive your site higher in the SERPs. If you are completely new to link building and want to master the craft, I suggest setting up a few test sites and trying the methods above as well as others you run across. Testing is the best way to see what works so do it early and often.

See That Wasn’t So Bad Now Was It?

If you follow my advice you can rank your website and gain organic traffic. Since organic traffic converts as nearly 15% as compared to the industry average of just under 3% for outbound marketing, it is a strategy that everyone doing business online should implement. Remember if you don’t try anything, you are never going to rank – why not go for broke?

What are you waiting for? Touch up your site and go build some links!

I hope this guide has helped you and don’t forget to share it with your friends! If you have any questions or comments please feel free to share them below.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com and thelinkbuildingexpert.co.uk.

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Travis Bliffen

SEO Consultant at Stellar SEO
Travis Bliffen is the senior link builder and founder of Stellar SEO , a St Louis based search marketing agency specializing in local search optimization. Mr. Bliffen has been featured on several websites and enjoys guest posting about various marketing tactics. If you’re reading this Matt Cutts, I would never violate your terms of service…..
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59 thoughts on “How to Rank a Keyword: The Guide That Actually Tells You How!

  1. A good breakdown of some of the first steps to an SEO campaign. Something that doesn’t get mentioned all the time is the difference between organic search rankings and local search.

    For many small businesses, I highly recommend spending some time optimizing local search- specifically in citation building. In that vein, I’ve compiled a google docs spreadsheet of some of the top 60 or so local directories businesses should attempt to get listed with.

    Take a look if you like: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AsHKwEEkBvWUdEhPN09sdHJDem5qWFpYVTJORmxMY3c&usp=sharing

  2. Not a bad start to link building…. Add in some high pr web2.0 and start purchasing expired domains if you want to have more control over your links

    1. Steve,

      I had a section about tiered links and building a blog network but it was removed at the urging of the editor. I am with you on web 2.0s. I use them to protect my money sites.

  3. I would agree that Directory submission is still a relevant link building tactic (as long as you are doing it the right way). Avoid spammy directories that are filled with ads. Directory submission is still effective as part of a well rounded link building campaign.

    1. Yes, I would be careful to call it link building, however, because that certainly isn’t the goal here.
      The goal is to build up your business’s Name, Address, and Phone information (the “citation”) into the various directories in order to increase your business’s prominence in a “Places” search.
      Using directories for link building is,more times than not, a spammy practice.

    1. Social bookmarking is not a very effective method of link building anymore. You would be better to spend your time with a guest post, outreach link building, or even participating in forums.

      The exception is video SEO though. You can rank Youtube videos with social bookmarks.

      1. can we do the video syndication in SB site ? will it help in term of ranking and traffic

  4. Thanks a lot for the post..I really like your points about outreach link building.I am a bit confused about this

    “Is taking part in community forums really a link building strategy”

    cause having your link in forum signature is against Google guidelines.. and it is not more likely a idea that i can use as a link building strategy.

    1. In regards to forum participation I was actually talking about dropping the occasional link to a page specific to a topic on the forum. The link from the forum itself may not be all that valuable but you can meet people who may want to link to your content.

      Having a ton of forum signature links is not the plan for forum link building.

    2. Having a link in a forum signature is not against Google quality guidelines. Having a keyword-optimized do-follow link in a forum post or signature is, however, against Google quality guidelines.

      As Travis said, part of this is because Google does expect things like signature links (as long as they aren’t spammy and kw-optimized) here and there across the Internet. It is just an organic footprint that forms part of our natural interaction online. Such as this comment, for example.

  5. It depends on the page title, meta description and content of the landing page play important role in ranking a keyword on search engines.
    Its really helpful. Thanks Travis Bliffen for this blog

  6. Well said, but some link building Strategies not working today in SEO like Guest blogging, directory submission, these type of work called spam SEO technique, So if you have any other link building strategies please share with us! Thanks

  7. Thanks for awesome guide for SEO :) I guess Matt Cutts has declared that guest posting will be considered as blackhat way to build links. How about building links by means of Infographic eh?

    1. Matt Cutts also denounced any practice aimed at manipulating the search results. If I could not manipulate the results for clients to improve their rankings; what would they pay me for? SEO without the intent to boost rankings is little more than content marketing.

    1. Yes,

      As I mentioned above though, you should post on sites that are likely to driver referral traffic to your site as well. Avoid low quality sites and limit the number of guest post links.

    1. I can see your point. E-commerce SEO is different than for standard sites. Some of the tips work for e-comm, and some do not. Unique product descriptions and alt text go a long way on e-commerce sites.

      1. Regarding content quantity on individual product pages and category pages, what would be a rough guideline to use for an e-commerce Site?

  8. Hi Travis,

    Well, it feels nice to see ‘Site Speed’ and ‘Site Navigation’ listed up there. Because, I’ve been working on those factors for a while now. I’ve been putting lots of efforts towards improving my blogs’ loading speed. And regarding navigation, I’ve cleaned up a lot of clutter and has made it real simple! :)

    Glad to know that I’ve been taking care of on page SEO aspects. But link building and social link aspects needs some more attention, I think. And you’ve shared some good tips to get the ball rolling!

    It was a good read. Thanks to Kingged.com, due to which, I landed on this post. And yes, Im going to King it there :)

    Arun

    1. Arun

      Glad you enjoyed the post and you have been spending your time wisely to improve your site speed and navigation. Don’t forget to look over your internal linking structures as well. You may find some quick wins there as well.

  9. These are usually the common things we do to improve the site or keyword rankings of a particular website. Others doesn’t really work anymore for link building the you suggested but keep analyzing which work in your SEO campaign and keep it going.

  10. Since Mr. Matt Cutts says guest blogging isn’t recommended for link building, in practice some of webmaster try to get baclkink from relevant forum by post some tips and then linkback into their site’s. This also should consider as blackhat way?

    1. Any strategy that you abuse can be considered black hat. The key is to make good choices when building links and avoid keyword rich signatures as discussed in the comments above.

  11. Not sure who is more clueless here, the writer of this article or people commenting. SEJ you lost it, go home. And the fact that the editor censored this article is outrageous. Why would they cut the part saying how you should have your network of sites…?
    Blog commenting? WTF—Ever heard that most of these are no-follow anyway?

    1. Hi Nenad, Thanks for your feedback. We decided to publish this article because we feel that these types of articles spur discussion which are beneficial to everyone. Regarding linkbuilding, the author states that it is to build community, not to get links, which can be a great way to get new users to your site, after they read your insightful comment. Thanks for reading!

    2. I appreciate your feedback and I want to remind you that this article is directed towards someone looking to get started in SEO, not someone on an expert level.

      In regards to blog commenting, I stand firmly behind my statement that it is effective when used correctly. As I mentioned above, blog comments are a good way to become known in a community, meet blog & website owners for guest posting or resource link opportunities in the future, and guess what else, people visit your site from good comments. Traffic is the name of the game; right?

      You may also be aware that many in the industry believe that no-follow links still pass a limited amount of link juice to websites and as part of an overall plan, can offer diversity to your anchors, do-follow & no-follow ratios and that does include the limited number of sites that offer do-follow comments.

      I invite you to contact me and tell me how you would rank a website and we can have a complete discussion about strategies.

      On a final note, I checked out your G+ page and see you follow the work of Matt Woodward, one of the “tiered link building” advocates. Does he not advocate the use of blog comments funnel link juice and force index of lower tier sites?

      Thanks,

      Travis

      P.S. If blog commenting is a complete waste of time; why did you leave one?

    3. Nenad, such class. “you lost it, go home?” Ever thought of actually being a professional when it came to leaving comments somewhere? Or do you treat every site as if it were a YouTube comments section.

  12. Valuable SEO info. Very good! I’d like to add to the link-building technique two things to consider:
    1, Especially in case of new websites, I try to build links gradually. Even if you have a team of 50 link-building professionals who build quality links manually, it is unnatural for a new website or one that hasn’t gotten a single backlink in months, to suddenly receive 300 backlinks in a week from 300 different domains.
    2. Keep your backlinking process an ongoing one. Your competitors will, for sure! If you got a decent amount of quality backlinks and achieved decent SERPs for good, short and long-tail keywords, you need to keep an eye on them. It’s like watering a plant. If it has grown, you still need to water it to keep it from fading.

    1. Very good points. You want to make all of your link building look as natural as possible. Continue link building is a good way to safeguard your rankings and avoid being overtaken by a competitor.

      Thanks for the input!

  13. Informative article! I have recently started learning more about SEO and I had no idea about the meta keywords. I thought they would contribute to the SEO process but according to this article, they have no impact towards your SEO ranking.

    1. Thank you and I am glad you liked it. That is correct, meta keywords are useless now. If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask.

  14. I do all the steps above but untill now i get no result from google, my site is 2 weeks old and i am using keyword tool to check keyword competition, can someone tell me how many days it will takes for google to raNK my site

    1. Daniel, I believe it’s normal to expect to see results after 2 – 3 months. But that just gives you plenty of time to keep working on the tools provided.

  15. In my case, the situation is a bit different, this article is written for initiators or for whom are ready to start SEO of his/her new site.
    According to Matt Cutts, He declared that Guest blogging or posting is now useless because of over time its become more and more spammmy.
    And you write about blog commenting (The difference is that you are going to comment only on sites closely related to your site. You should leave comments that add to the conversation and encourage interaction from the writer) after read this, what I understand, that I will never get relevant and targeted traffic. Isn’t it?

  16. Travis that is an awesome guide. Believe or not I have been writing the same methodology in my proposal to clients for SEO. I resist on Blog commenting but I know it has little effectiveness in it if done properly. Sharing on my Social Network (y)

  17. very informative, i’ve recently started doing SEO for my website. is it true that article writing is not considered a good source for link building any more !? and can you advice on lead generation also for real estate. Thanks!

    1. If by article writing you are referring to submit an article to sites like Ezine articles to syndicate a single article across several sites for the purpose of link building, they are not useful and Google has said so themselves.

      In regards to lead gen for real estate, you should just follow SEO best practices, setup a PPC strategy and make use of landing pages. Don’t forget to split test landing pages for maximum results.

  18. Truly an awesome article Travis. SEOs are thinking that links building is now dead, But you prove that it is still alive with your article. Thanks for Sharing.

  19. Totally agreed with all the factors that you have mentioned. These are the sure-fire ways to increase site’s ranking whether it is old or new.

    In the current situation of SEO, I believe (and of course most of us do) the company needs a well managed team for specific tasks that has been mentioned in the above article, like, for link building, content development, technical and social factors. But first of all, the team leader should be well aware of the importance of inbound marketing and the need of budget for branding.

    1. Agreed, having people specialize in each field will improve effectiveness and reduce wasted time jumping between multiple tasks.

  20. Travis,

    Great post.

    I didn’t see much in your post about having videos from other sites sending traffic over to your site, or about the quality of sourcing sites on your content to other sites. How much does that matter?

    Also, are all your thoughts on aiming PPC to your sites, content, videos, and even other peoples sites.

    Jason Waite

    1. I am not sure I understand exactly what you are asking. If you are asking if using videos for referral purposes in useful, that answer is yes. I am not sure what you mean about “sourcing sites on your content” but if you would like to clarify, I would be happy to answer.

      In regards to PPC, it is a great way to test keywords for SEO and of course great for instant traffic. It can be expensive though depending on your niche. I would not pay to advertise another persons site though.

  21. Create good user friendly content which addressing concerns of visitor of your website. During creation of content you must take care of quality and uniqueness of content.

    Follow the best practices prescribed by web master central for design & layout, quality content and other technical guidelines for making high quality website.

    If the website is new get involved in creating community around your topic, start making contribution in forum and blogs in positive manner.

    The best way to earn great links is to creating such content which addresses the problem what user usually encounter. By doing this people appreciate such articles/content and it makes your credibility.

  22. Nice guide for seo,

    Thank you very much for sharing.

    Just a suggestion,

    There is new link building strategy Info Graphic Submissions, which is in trend now days. I have been reading a lot about this info graphic submission lately and its pretty cool, i think you should add this in your link building strategy list.