How to Really Rank in Google SERPs

by Jason Acidre on April 30, 2014 · 43 comments · Content, Search, Social


Ranking in Google’s search results has been a lot more challenging these days, compared to how SEO was typically done a decade ago.

Over the years, Google has gradually integrated several advanced factors/metrics – mainly to fight web spam – and also to make the web search experience more relevant and useful to people worldwide.

Brief backstory:

This study was almost 2 years in the making. Ever since I started this blog, I’ve always wanted to rank for the search term “SEO blog Philippines”.

I knew that it wasn’t that hard to rank for that keyword (back in 2011), knowing that no one will really search and optimize for that (and I would only expect low conversions for that term).

But I’ve thought of reserving a campaign specifically for that term (and a bunch of other closely related key phrases) that’d be a more fit for a more meaningful experiment.

That’s one reason why I didn’t build any link using the exact same term for the anchor texts (even one link to my blog’s homepage) in the past. Because I knew that something new will always come out that’d be worth testing.

anchors

Eventually, that time came, when I was first introduced to the concept of “co-occurrence and co-citation” – as cited by Rand Fishkin and Bill Slawski in late 2012.

I became obsessed with the idea and just had that feeling that I have to play with it no matter what.

I didn’t rank for that exact keyword for the past 4 years of blogging (even on the 2nd to the 5th page of the search results, you won’t see my blog there before). But now, it seems that Google already understands how my blog perfectly matches the keyword.

seo blog

So in this post, I’ll walk you through the methods I’ve implemented over the past several months to rank for a search term that I haven’t optimized using traditional on-site optimization and link building techniques.

Co-Occurrence

As described by Haris Bacic on SEJ:

Co-occurrence refers to the association of some particular phrases – or more specifically, important keywords – that come in close proximity to each other. This close proximity of important keywords develops an association and relation that are understandable by Google as an important search engine factor.

co-occurrence

As soon as I was introduced to this potential factor that Google might use in the future, I started to incorporate this concept to most of my content efforts (as well as on my artificial link building activities).

I first used it on my site’s thematic internal linking, and then on some of my guest blogging activities (like from this one on Moz):

gp2

Entity Optimization

If you want search engines to better understand what your brand is about, it’s imperative to let people know who you are as well.

The consistency in the usage of the strings of nouns that would reflect the identity of your brand from your writings is a crucial step in optimizing for relevance nowadays.

In my case, I heavily emphasized who am I on my writings and from the exposure I’m getting from other websites to let people know that:

  • I am from the Philippines.
  • I write about SEO, link building and marketing.
  • I run a company called Xight Interactive.
  • Jason Acidre is the blogger
  • Kaiserthesage is the blog

These made it easier for search engines to understand who I was (which is a very important factor that allows brands to rank for generic terms).

brand relevance

Authority Signals

Links used to be the primary indicator of being an authority over the web (or in Google’s eyes perhaps) back in the days.

But now that search has evolved in so many ways, there have been a lot more other signals that Google can use to determine how authoritative a site/brand/entity really is.  These signals may include:

  • What other people authentically say about the brand (through brand mentions, linked or unlinked, they all matter). Simon Penson wrote an extensive case study on how valuable brand mentions are in today’s SEO.
  • Traffic behavior and site’s usage data – which reflects how useful/relevant the site’s content to its visitors based on consumption.
  • The site’s domain authority, which relates to the high quality incoming links directing to the site and high quality pages it has (links are still very important in my opinion).
  • Social signals, though it isn’t directly being used by search algorithms, its byproducts can certainly impact the site’s performance in terms of demonstrating authority (such as getting more link opportunities, brand mentions, and better traffic acquisition that can improve the site’s usage data). AJ Kohn wrote a great piece on the mathematical reason why social matters in SEO, I highly suggest reading it.

As to how I’ve built authority signals for the past couple of years, I’ll be sharing them on the next part.

Brand Optimization through building Social Influence

Much of what we do, say and think is influenced by other people. As defined on Wikipedia:

Social influence occurs when one’s emotions, opinions, or behaviors are affected by others.

People often follow the crowd. But in order to influence and lead, you have to try new things on your own.

For instance, most people would rather choose to buy a product online with several reviews, than the other version of the product with no reviews.

reviews

But the thing is, if you go and choose the other product with no reviews, you get a different perspective that not many have tried yet, which most of the time allows people to get new ideas (or for example, being the first one to make a review of that product, right?).

Thought-leadership is what mostly separates a winner from the other brands that target the same market.

Apparently, the best way to lead, influence and communicate compelling ideas is through the content you produce and share to your target audience.

Personally, my content efforts for the past few years focused on offering unique value that people won’t see elsewhere. I believe that’s the one element that unexpectedly hooks and compels people to sharing them.

And in order to do that consistently:

content advice

When people take action after getting your advice, you are able to influence them in some way (which makes you even more remarkable for them).

Start producing better content ideas!

 

Another efficient way to grow your influence throughout the web is through the conversations you make.

Being able to communicate the ideals you believe in (or the unique value your brand can provide) can take you a long way (whether it’s through commenting on other people’s works or participating on various social networks).

Again, AJ Kohn explained it best on how vital blog commenting is in the web’s content ecosystem:

A small amount of creators are responsible for the vast majority of the content we consume. They have a limited amount of attention yet wield a lot of influence through their ability to reference sites, products, brands or content in the content they produce.

Creators hangout in (aka devote their attention to) the comments section of their content and that of others. Thus, memorable blog comments that provoke creator curiosity (and clicks) build your authority and improve your chances of gaining a mention or link in their content in the future.

Earning better links and brand mentions

When you stand out as a content publisher (or even as a service provider) in your space, it’s going to be a lot easier to get natural links and mentions that would really impact your site’s search visibility.

Given that I’ve focused on writing useful guides – with somehow unique ideas that I thought were really worth sharing – getting opportunities to market my brand turned out to be not that difficult as contrast to what I’ve expected. Such as:

Getting listed as a resource:

resources

Getting interview opportunities:

interview

Getting links/mentions through group interviews:

group interviews

Getting coverage:

coverage

Getting invited to become a content contributor:

gp2

Getting my posts used as a reference:

reference

AMA:

ama

I’m sure that there’s a lot more, but the key takeaway is that how people would normally describe you as a brand would most likely be the same as to how search engines will be able to identify you. And that’s why optimizing for humans (branding) is the way to go in this era of search.

If you liked this post, you can subscribe to my feed and follow me on Twitter @jasonacidre.

Jason Acidre

Jason Acidre is Co-Founder and CEO of Xight Interactive, marketing consultant for Affilorama and Traffic Travis, and also the sole author of this SEO blog. You can follow him on Twitter @jasonacidre and on Google+.

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