Premise: The point of this case study is to show you my strategy for getting rankings and traffic for competitive terms when I first started this blog. As we all know, when you are first starting any online project, be it a blog, niche site or freelance engagement, much of your time is spent creating content. And while you are sure to include all the right keywords and make sure your title tags are just right, it doesn’t necessarily leave a ton of time for the marketing stuff.
We’re all busy people, and our lives shouldn’t be spent building backlink after backlink just to move up a spot or two in search results. I think we can all agree when starting out, there are much better ways to spend our time. The less effort and time we need spend with mundane tasks like link building, the more time we will have for creating epic shit, and building our foundation.
So with that I present this case study on how to increase Google ranking for highly competitive keywords with absolutely zero link building, quick and simple.
First, The Results
So before I get to the “how” stuff, I want to share with you what you can achieve with the steps I provide later in the case study. Some might say I’m stupid for giving away the keywords I try to rank for, but I have two things to say about that: 1. While this case study shows how to rank for keywords, keyword optimization was not a priority for this beforehand, more a happy occurence. 2. I feel you all can learn more from the sharing of this, and to me that’s more important.
*Disclosure: Rankings shown here are, as any, subject to have changed since posting
My “Oath” post popped up towards the top of page one for “modern SEO” within just a few days of posting and remains there to this day.
My tutorial on outreach consistently stays within the top five results for “SEO outreach”. This has been steady for several months since published.
This is a post I brought over from a previous blog, and it has performed well on the first page regardless of the blog it was on.
While I could go on with more examples, I think you get the point. First page ranking in days, zero links. So now that we’ve looked at the results, let’s break down how to increase Google ranking without links.
How To Increase Google Ranking
Site speed is a factor that is too often overlooked in terms of how to increase Google ranking. Especially in the WordPress world we live in, often times we are looking for the next best plugin or a sick new theme to put us over the edge. But what tends to happen is these things can really bog down our sites.
There are three things I have done for this site in particular, as well as several other projects I am working on, to dramatically increase site speed. By implementing at least the first two, which you can do for free on any WordPress site, you should absolutely see a significant decrease in site load time, and a dramatic increase in overall site performance.
WP SuperCache is a simple free plugin you can install via WordPress to take care of browser caching. In simple terms, what this does for your website is it creates static files of your webpages and serves them to users instead of the much heavier WordPress php.
I’m sure you can see where the speed comes from here. WP SuperCache has a ton of cool settings to mess with and add on plugins (I’m currently running the Minify add on) but I’d go with all the recommended settings to start with and see how things go.
If you end up having to make a change to one of these files, the easiest way around the cache is to simply rename the file you are modifying and you’re good to go.
First off let me mention that the Genesis WP platform is not necessary for this to work, however the principal behind why I run on Genesis holds true. To ensure your WordPress blog runs as smoothly and fast as possible, it is important to have light, clean code. Genesis does this for me, but many other themes and platforms (Thesis anyone?) do as well.
On the other side of things, there are a ton of really awesome looking themes out there, but if they are coded by someone merely for the “visual” effect, they may not be coded in the proper fashion and can really bog down your site. It’s important to look into code cleanliness before purchasing and installing a new theme, always.
Ah yes, my favorite topic ever. If you haven’t set Google Authorship up on your blog yet, what are you waiting for? While it’s tough to see the actual return on this when starting a site from scratch. I’ve personally seen client blogs with only 20-25 posts get a 20% bump in traffic in the weeks post authorship implementation.
Authorship attribution is one of the first things I did on SteamLoft. And with the supposed coming of “AuthorRank” I can only imagine this will have a huge role to play to improve my Google ranking. For a complete guide to Google Authorship, view my guide here.
Traffic Day 1 via Social Channels
With this one I’ll say, the specific source isn’t important. What is important is driving real traffic on day one. As soon as I publish a blog post I either have a friend share my article on Inbound.org, or share it myself. I then will not only do my normal link tweets and Facebook shares, but will promote the link to my Inbound.org listing.
The important thing is to find one or several social channels specific to your niche that can help drive traffic on the first day. Another way this is possible is to pay for exposure on StumbleUpon. As long as it drive quality traffic for those first few crucial days, it’ll help.
Social Signals via Sharing
Retweets, Plus ones, Likes, Shares, Pins, you name it. These things matter. I’ve found out here that the more social signals I can show in a small amount of time after publishing, the better I will rank. And if you’re already sharing content and driving traffic, why not provide a way for these folks to share it right?
To do this on SteamLoft, I use the plugin Digg Digg. It can be conformed in a number of different layouts, and I’ve found that the scrolling side panel works best in terms of interaction. From the Inbound.org traffic alone I can typically get 30 or so retweets, along with similar numbers for likes etc.
A word of caution on this. While it is possible to provide buttons for every social network under the sun, I would choose a few that you want to focus on, to get real penetration. For me, the two I mainly want to focus on are retweets and Googl+ plus ones.
Long Form Content
I read a case study from I believe Neil Patel a while back on the number of words on a page in relation to where it ranks. As this section suggests, what he found was a great percentage of the first page results across a broad range of keywords were over one thousand words.
I kept that in mind when I was beginning to create content for this blog and looking to improve my Google ranking, as I found that blogs I had started before had a hard time gaining search traffic with the 450 word or so articles I had been writing. Low and behold I found, the longer my pieces were, the better they ranked and the more traffic they drove.
Now you might say this contradicts usability and readability standards (though I could show you some studies that would surprise you) but I think the risk reward of this will pay off, and if your content is truly epic and thorough, it will be just fine.
After recent Google algorithm updates, I have been super sensitive to the idea of keyword stuffing. For the last year or so I had been hyper focused on low keyword density, and with little Google interference I might add, but also little results.
I think the key here is diversity of placement and how you use your keywords/what surrounds them. I may push the envelope here soon with a new article, to see what that can stir up, but for now the formula above has proven pretty successful.
Internal Link Structure (minimal navigation, sidebar link, etc.)
So internal linking and site architecture has been a big topic of modern SEO. But what I’m really getting at with this one is lack of internal linking. “Donor” pages and “hero” pages and all that jazz are fine in theory, but what I’ve done here has proven contrary.
I’ve seen several sites literally fall of the face of the earth for prominent keywords with recent algorithm updates. And almost always the one thing in common between them is sitewide navigation. Say you have a thousand pages, and you have a sitewide nav link to one of your main pages using your “big daddy” keyword. What you now have is 1,000 exact match internal links to one page on your site. Do you really think Google will appreciate that?
With this in mind, one of my themes for this blog has been minimal internal linking, getting by with necessities. Bare bones navigation was the framework, and in terms of internal content links, I only link to other pages when absolutely relevant, such as my Google Authorship reference above. Never exact match, never excessive.
Part 2 Coming Soon
Unfortunately there are a few other pieces I want to discuss but would like to grab some more data before sharing. These topics will most likely include: RSS/Ping Updates, Outbound linking, and comments and discussion.