What does it take to rank #1 in Google for a set of competitive keywords? In this article, I’ll lay out the exact methodology you can use to dominate many niches in the search engine rankings. SEO is a billion dollar industry and many online businesses live and die by organic search. It’s time you claim your piece of the pie.
Some industries are going to be more difficult to rank for than others and you’re always going to have to think creatively to get an edge over the other players in your field. However, the steps I outline below will help put you on the right track and give you a general plan of action. Read through it and diligently execute. I guarantee that in 6 months you’ll already be ahead of 90% of your competition.
So without further adieu, here’s your game plan to complete search engine domination.
1. Choose a niche – what do you like?
Many marketers run to the money in lucrative (and extremely competitive) industries like insurance, education, and finance. If you think you have what it takes to come out on top then by all means go for it. Otherwise it might be a good idea to narrow your focus and concentrate on an under-served market. There is plenty of money to be made in every legitimate niche imaginable. Just put in the hard work, sweat, and tears necessary for success into your project and you’ll reap the benefits of your labor 6 months down the line. Delayed gratification my friends… It’s just a matter of having direction, drive, and a little patience.
So with that said, some of the questions I ask myself when choosing a topic or niche include:
- Am I passionate about it?
- Do I know enough about it?
- Is it worth my time and effort? (monetary and personal satisfaction)
- What can I do differently that will give me a competitive edge?
Example: In this article, we’ll use basket weaving as an example. I don’t care much for the topic but I think it’s a good industry to use to get my points across.
2. Keyword research – keywords are everything
In SEO, keyword research is probably the one thing you cannot afford to mess up. Your sites can rank #1 in Google for terms that you think are best, but if no one is actually using them in their search queries you’re out of luck.
Make sure you don’t skimp out on this crucial step. Invest in the best keyword research tools available and spend time to learn the language of your potential customers.
I recommend scoping out competitor sites, reading industry blogs and forums, and scanning trade magazines for additional keyword ideas. You can never do enough research especially if you plan on domination.
Some of the keyword tools I use for SEO include Wordtracker, Keyword Discovery, Wordze, and the MSN Keyword Intelligence plugin for Excel 2007. Search for your top keywords using your tool of choice to determine which have the highest search frequency – taking into consideration variations and plural/singular forms.
Example: For our basket weaving example, we first need to learn more about the field to understand what people are searching for in the engines. A quick look at the basket weaving Wikipedia page gives us a plethora of useful information to get us started. For example, we now know that basket weaving is also called “basket making”, “basketry”, and “basketmaking”. We also know the different types of basketry including coiled, plaiting, twining, wicker, and splint. There’s Native American basket weaving, Indian, yada yada yada. You get the point.
After all of this research, we now have the background information necessary to create a core keyword list:
- basket weaving
- basket weaver
- basket weavers
- basket making
Which of these do we use to optimize our site?
Pop all of the selected keywords into a tool like Keyword Discovery and determine the relative search frequencies for each.
- basket weaving – 1474
- basket making – 466
- basketry – 452
- basket weavers – 82
- basketmaking – 67
- basket weaver – 32
- basketweavers – 25
- basketweaver – 5
- basetweaving – 0
Ok great. So from that simple analysis it’s clear that “basket weaving” is by far the best keyword to optimize for. There are other factors to take into consideration when selecting keywords including the level of competition, regional language preferences, current keyword referrals, and site focus/purpose. For the sake of space and time we won’t go into those here but just know that there’s more to keyword selection than relative search frequency.
So there you have it. We have our main keyword: “basket weaving”.
3. Buy a domain – do it right the first time
Buying a domain name is kind of like getting a tattoo. It’s permanent and you can’t change it later on without leaving scars and going through a painful process. A domain name is the foundation of your site and will greatly affect whether or not you will see success in the search engine rankings.
Below are some of the main guidelines I use when choosing a domain name.
- Don’t use hypens in your domain name. They are horrible for branding and are often associated with spam.
- If at all possible, register the .com version of your desired domain name. If you cannot, a keyword-rich .net or .org is still advantageous. Avoid other spammy TLD’s like .info, and .biz.
- Make sure that your main keyword is included in your domain. This will not only give you a boost in rankings but many other sites will use your domain name in their link anchor text. This alone can get your site ranking pretty highly.
Example: Many of the good .com domains are taken these days so you either have to buy up a quality exact match domain (everything can be bought at a price) or think creatively to come up with a brandable name (like Google, Yahoo, Ebay, etc.).
The optimal domain name in our case is basketweaving.com. Since it is clearly not available, we look to the other TLD’s (.net and .org). These are taken as well. So what do we do?
Our solution in this case is to keep basketweaving in the domain and add a unique keyword to the end of the phrase to make it catchy and brandable. For example, basketweavingzone.com, basketweavingparty.com, and basketweaving411.com work well. I’m feeling pretty festive today so how about we pick basketweavingparty.com
4. Set up the site – build it to last
Now that we have chosen an appropriate domain name, the next step is to set up the site. This process will heavily depend on the type of site you plan on creating. Some of your options are a blog, an ecommerce site, a landing page, an article site, and a social networking forum. Regardless of what it is you plan on, it’s important to set the site up in a search engine friendly manner.
Below are some of the most important considerations to have in mind:
* Use text over images whenever possible (especially for navigaton)
* Always include a sitemap (both HTML and XML)
* Use Flash sparingly
* Use search engine friendly URLs (with keywords)
* Cookies over session ID’s
* Avoid duplicate content on your own site and around the web
* Always use 301 redirects when moving pages or changing URLs – this will preserve link equity.
There are many more considerations for optimal site architecture but that could be a whole new book on its own. If you’re serious about optimizing your site for search engines I recommend you study SEO best practices or consult with an expert.
Example: Ok, back to our basket weaving example. (Are you tired of it yet?) Let’s plan on using the free WordPress software to host a blog / resource site. WordPress is extremely versatile and I recommend it to anyone looking to publish content on the web. Most of the SEO limitations can be solved by downloading free plugins.
5. Create authority articles – prove that you’re worthy
At this point we have a fully functioning site that is structurally optimized for search engines. Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. We still have to add unique content not only for search engines to index but for real human beings to read, enjoy, and find value in. This is probably the most difficult step that many webmasters will get hung up on. In order to stand out from the crowd, you must be remarkable (as Seth Godin puts it). Demonstrate your knowledge of the industry and strive to improve the lives of your target audience. This could come in the form of detailed how-to guides (like this one), a resource list linking out to the top content in your industry, a great tool that helps users find what they need, or anything else that tickles your readers’ fancies. Market research is key here and social media is a great way to obtain that information (we’ll discuss this later). You can always outsource this aspect to experienced copywriters but I suggest you at least make an effort especially if you plan on niche domination.
Example: BasketWeavingParty.com is good to go. Now we just need some quality content.
Here are some of the ideas that come to mind.
* a complete guide on how to basket weave for the newbie just starting out
* a history article on how basket weaving first started
* in depth reviews of the best basket weaving supplies
* interviews of the top basket weavers in the world
* a break down of the individual basket weaving techniques
6. Optimize your tags – feed the search engines what they want
Like I mentioned in the previous step, content is extremely important and without it no one would visit a site. However, a key component of maximizing search engine traffic is to optimize on-page tags and attributes. Continue your keyword research and create a list of the top relevant keywords people are searching for. Using this list, optimize the tags on your pages including: title tags, header tags, link anchor text, image alt text, page copy, and meta descriptions. If you’re descriptive while using the right keywords, search engines will love your site and searchers will be able to find what they need more easily. Don’t ignore this important component. Authority content is important but it’s not complete without proper optimization.
Example: Say we’ve created a great piece on basket weaving that is unrivaled anywhere on the Internet. You can maximize search engine traffic to the article by optimizing tags for the most important and relevant keywords. For example, an effective title tag (usually the most weighted attribute by search engines) might look like this: Basket Weaving & Basketry 101 – The Ultimate Guide on Making Baskets for Beginning Basket Weavers
As you can see, the most important keywords are towards the beginning of the title and and the tag incorporates all of the more significant variations. The page is more likely to rank for a variety of search keywords and therefore bring in much more relevant traffic to the site.
7. Foundational Links
Many times authority content will promote itself but that doesn’t mean we won’t give it a little push of our own. Links are the currency of the web and are a significant factor in the search engine ranking algorithms (especially Google). It’s important to build foundational links that will help to stabilize rankings. Foundational links come from directories – both general and niche-specific and related resource pages that are considered authority sites in the industry. You can usually pay to be included in the directories and ask/pay other webmasters to list a link to your site for you.
The general directories that I try to be included in for all of my sites are dmoz, Yahoo Directory, Business.com, Best of the Web, Joe Ant, GoGuides, and Web World Index. I also find niche directories and resource sites that I can obtain links from as well.
Example: We’ll submit basketweavingparty.com to all of the general directories listed above using slightly different descriptions and link anchor text whenever possible. We can also find many potential link partners by performing various searches on Google like “basket weaving directory” and “basket weaving”.
8. Social Media & Relationships – connect with the influencers
In the new Internet, social relationships are absolutely huge. A positive testimonial from a satisfied customer or reader is worth 10 times more than any self promotional marketing method that you do. Knowing this, it’s important to cultivate relationships with bloggers, webmasters, enthusiasts, and other influential people in your given industry. Stay active on social media sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, del.cio.us, Twitter, and niche forums and communicate with interested parties portraying yourself as a leading authority. It takes a major effort but in the end, it’s definitely worth it for your business.
Example: To portray to others that we are a major authority in the basket weaving niche, we will actively participate in forums by answering questions, vote up related stories on social media sites offering up our own insights, and build relationships with basket weaving influencers who are followed by many people.
9. Multimedia – the wave of the future
The web is shifting away from textual content and more towards multimedia and video. You can stay on top of this trend by utilizing video sites like YouTube, Google Video, and Revver to upload interesting and valuable content for your niche. The good thing about videos is that they require 100% of your audience’s attention. People usually can’t multitask and do something else while watching. Videos by nature engage the senses and require the audience to drop everything and pay attention. A very powerful marketing tool if you ask me…
Example: How about we create some basket weaving videos, post them on YouTube and embed them on our own site? Not only is this cheap to do but I imagine that it would get the attention of some people who have never cared (or never will care) about basket weaving. Simply put, multimedia expands the potential of the site and that’s all a part of building authority – for people and for search engines.
10. Link Bait / Creative Marketing
Along the same lines as creating videos, link baiting is an effective method to gain attention and increase search engine rankings. The main goal of a link bait piece is to get key influencers to link to the site.
Some of my favorite link bait ideas are below:
- Top X lists
- Widgets that users can put on their sites
- Appealing to the vanity of the top influencers
- Relating your industry to what’s hot (e.g. How X is like Paris Hilton)
- Stirring up controversy
- A funny video that goes viral
- Using social media to spread ideas fast and gain links
- Hot girls always get attention
Example: Some link bait ideas for basket weaving include articles like Why Angelina Jolie Loves Basket Weaving and Top 5 Reasons Why Basket Weaving is the Hottest New Career of 2009. Taking a humorous position might help increase exposure to the general masses.
11. Buy, buy, buy
A effective way of solidifying an authoritative position is to buy links, reviews, and advertising. The more people that are exposed to your brand and message, the more likely they are to associate you as an authority.
Buy links under the radar on relevant sites, get reviews on the top blogs in your niche to get people talking about your site, and purchase advertising spots to get your name out there. If you have the budget, I also suggest you bid #1 on Adwords for your top keywords (even if you’re the #1 organic listing). Like I said, this will help establish your site as the leading authority.
12. Value Add – Long term
There’s always things you can do to market your site and the journey doesn’t end after you’ve hit the number 1 position on Google. Stay sharp and be competitive no matter where you’re at. Someone might read this article 2 years down the line and come after you…
This article is guest blogged by Gyutae Park of Winning the Web, an Internet marketing blog sharing tips on SEO, blogging, guerilla marketing, social media, and other creative methods to build exposure for your sites. Be sure to check it out.
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our weekly newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!