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This article was published on September 11, 2016

5 SEO secrets you’ll be surprised you didn’t know​

5 SEO secrets you’ll be surprised you didn’t know​ Image by: Shutterstock
John Rampton
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John Rampton

John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor, online marketing guru and startup enthusiast. He is founder of the online productivity company Ca John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor, online marketing guru and startup enthusiast. He is founder of the online productivity company Calendar.

Getting your site to rank in Google can be a tough slog. It requires knowledge of current ranking factors, as well as the time and ability to optimize your content for those factors.

Any SEO hacks or “secrets” you can figure out can also go a long toward helping you. While Google doesn’t generally let us in on high-level SEO secrets, there are some strategies we know – both from the research and from Google themselves – about ways to boost rankings.

This post will look at five SEO “secrets” you may not have thought of that can help get your content ranking sooner than you might think.

You need to create content for people who can give you links

Link building isn’t dead. Not by a long shot.

While many old-school SEOs believe that link building techniques are now largely ineffective (or at least less effective than they once were), links are still critical to getting high rankings. In fact, on their list of the top nine ranking factors, Moz gives domain-level links the top spot.

I (and other marketers) have talked a lot about the concept of link earning, rather than link building. The basic idea is that by creating totally unique, stellar content, you’ll naturally earn links that will improve your rankings.

While I stand behind this, here’s the catch: you also need to create content specifically for the purpose of attracting links from bloggers, journalists, and online marketers. 

When you write content that gets your audience excited, you’re more likely to accumulate social shares and links. But if you’re after links, you need to create content for people who are actually able to give you links. 

Think about what bloggers and journalists typically link to in their posts, and write content specifically for that purpose. Some examples of content could be:

  • Original surveys or research
  • Lists of industry data or statistics
  • Expert interviews
  • Industry infographics
  • Prediction posts
  • Controversial posts

As a blogger or content-producer yourself, what types of content do you usually rely on when writing a piece of content? Create content that you yourself would link to, and you’re on the right track.

We know Google’s top 3 ranking factors: Optimize for them

SEO isn’t an exact science. Unfortunately, Google hasn’t given us a comprehensive list of ranking factors. Considering that Google has around 200 major ranking factors, and as many as 10,000 sub-signals, we can’t possibly know every single aspect of their algorithm.

However, it just so happens that we do now know Google’s top three rankings factors. Understanding the importance of these three factors lets us focus on strategies and activities that are most likely to boost our rankings.

So, what are these three factors? Links, content and RankBrain. We’ve already talked a bit about links, and we’ll cover content below.

That leaves RankBrain. According to Search Engine Land, RankBrain is Google’s “machine-learning artificial intelligence system that’s used to help process its search results.”

Basically, it’s one of the key ways Google sorts through pages to determine which ones best suit a query. In fact, in an interview with Bloomberg, Greg Corrado, a senior research scientist with Google, stated that RankBrain is the third most important ranking factor.

But how does one optimize for RankBrain?

Gary Illyes, an analyst at Google, shares the secret sauce for optimizing for RankBrain, and it’s easier than you might think: “If you try to write like a machine then RankBrain will just get confused and probably just pushes you back. But if you have a content site, try to read out some of your articles or whatever you wrote, and ask people whether it sounds natural. If it sounds conversational, if it sounds like natural language that we would use in your day to day life, then sure, you are optimized for RankBrain.”

Featured snippets will actually send more traffic to your site, not less

As you likely already know, featured snippets are Google’s attempt to feature direct answers to questions, right within the search results.

If Google determines that your page provides the best answer to a particular question, they’ll show a summary of your answer, along with your URL and page title.

Unfortunately, some website owners and marketers are hesitant to optimize for featured snippets. They believe that by having their content show up in a featured snippet, they’re sacrificing traffic (since users will get what they need without ever clicking through).

However, according to research by Stone Temple Consulting, getting featured snippets for your content actually seems to increase site traffic – perhaps by as much as 20 to 30 percent plus.

When optimizing for featured snippets, try to focus on more complex questions, if possible. If your snippet provides a one or two-word answer to a very simple question, users will be less likely to click-through to your site, negating any benefit you might otherwise have had.

Including related topics and words in your content will boost your rankings

I mentioned above that one of Google’s top two ranking factors is content – but what does that mean exactly?

Well, we know there are a number of factors that can increase the chances of your content ranking. According to my friends at Searchmetrics’ 2015 Ranking Factors study, some of the areas that correlate with high rankings include:

  • Using your keyword(s) in your description and text body
  • Using the appropriate reading level for your audience
  • Using your keywords(s) in your internal and external links

None of these will come as a surprise to you. However, Searchmetrics made another interesting discovery you may not know about: they found that top-ranking pages contained a 53 percent proportion of relevant terms.

“Relevant terms” are simply words and phrases that are closely related to your primary keyword or topic. For instance, if I were writing an article about how to cook a turkey, I might also write about Thanksgiving, side-dishes or how to host a family event.

Instead of just focusing on your primary keyword, make sure you use your usual keyword tools and strategies to find related words and phrases. Not only will this improve the quality of your content, it will also help boost your rankings.

Getting top rankings isn’t all it’s cracked up to be… if you’re not meeting user intent

I wish this weren’t a “secret,” but unfortunately I still see many marketers missing the boat on this one. Getting a page to rank highly in the SERPs is great, but only if it matches user intent.

Here’s why: A page that doesn’t meet the needs and expectations of users will never achieve strong user signals. Because it’s not answering the right questions or providing the right information, users will quickly abandon your page in search of a more useful one.

As users abandon your page, your bounce rates will increase and your time on site will decrease. Within a short period of time, Google will realize that your page is missing the mark, and your rankings will drop.

Don’t want this to happen to you? One of the best ways to make sure you’re matching user intent is to analyze the SERPs. Run a search for your keywords, and look at which pages are currently ranking for those words.

In the example above, a search for “ladies watches” provided a clear picture of user intent. The Adwords ad, Google product listing ads, and top three organic results are all shopping-related. For this keyword, it’s clear that people who are using this term are looking to buy a new watch.

This quick research would tell me that writing a blog post about “ladies watches” would be likely to get me ranking (or at least keep me ranking).

All this to say: choose your keywords carefully, and keep user intent as your primary goal!

Final thoughts

While the strategies above may not be “secrets” to everyone, they’re strategies many website owners aren’t utilizing. Implementing them may be just what you need to leapfrog your competitors in the search engine results.

What SEO “secrets” do you use to get your content ranking? Share below!

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