5 Search Engine Optimization Strategies to Rank for Highly Competitive Keywords

by Jason Acidre on September 20, 2011 · 75 comments · Content, Search

WarSearch engine optimization is quite similar to a relationship, marriage or driving a car perhaps (sorry for the failed correlations) – let’s just say that it’s a two-way system, where one process cannot survive and would not work effectively without the other (on-page = content and off-page = links).

Apparently, search engine traffic is still the best form of traffic out there, as visitors generated through search engines have higher chances of converting, knowing that they are in search of the information that your site/webpage is providing.

Gunning for highly competitive keywords is a tough task these days, given that there have been so many changes in the search landscape, like personalized and localized search results, which makes it harder to make your site’s important pages to show up prominently on SERPs for exact match search terms.

However, there are still other methods that you can use to make your site’s pages visible through search engines and here are some of them:

Content + Content-based Link Building

Create high quality content that strictly pertains to your target keyword and use content and discussion-based link building methods to develop the natural popularity of your content. This method is the most common way in achieving higher search rankings for your targeted keywords, seeing as the content that you’ll be creating is very relevant to your targeted search phrase and it’s easier to build and attract high-value links directing to it compared to your homepage.

Though, in this age of online marketing, the best way to utilize this technique efficiently is through providing highly resourceful content, since having a content that’s very useful to its target audience have higher success rate when presented in requesting links from other related websites and also have higher chances of getting socially shared.

In creating your content:     

  • Include your target keyword(s) on your headline, page title and URL slug.
  • Analyze your competitors’ similar content and try to offer a more extensive copy to enhance your chances of outranking their content on search results as well as in getting more citations from other websites.
  • Focus on creating evergreen and comprehensive tutorials to scale the content’s linkability.
  • Include an unexpected hook within the body of the content. Always try to exceed your readers’ expectations may it be through the rarity/usefulness of the information that you are providing and/or the comprehensiveness of the content.
  • Draft an outline before actually writing the content to assure the coherence of your content’s information structure.
  • Identify your content’s target audience (is it for beginners, enthusiasts, consumers, journalists or influencers?) and tailor the approach of the content to target your main prospect(s).
  • Use strong call to actions to make the most out of your page visitors, as you can refer them to your product/landing pages or make them subscribe to your list on this section.

In marketing your content:

There are many ways to market and promote your content through link acquisition that can be derived from community discussions and externally distributed content, since these types of links have higher click-through rate (CTR) from users, which can make your links more valuable in an SEO standpoint. Here are several methods that you can use in building links to your high-utility content:    

  • Link to your content through your externally distributed materials such as guest blog posts, press releases, interviews and/or free report/ebook.
  • Acquire links from site’s that are already linking to your competitors’ similar content, since you’ll have higher chances of obtaining a link from them based on the competitiveness of your content and their history of linking to the same type of content. You can find similar pages to your content through Google Search (using your content’s title or its targeted long-tail keywords), and then use Yahoo Site Explorer or Open Site Explorer to track their links.
  • Get in touch with content curators in your industry and suggest your article for their next roundup. You can use queries like “{keyword} roundup post or {keyword} mashup” on Google Search in finding curated posts in your niche.
  • Use the broken link building technique to find thematic resources/links pages that might be hosting broken links in it and might as well be interested in linking to your content. Contact the site’s webmaster and notify them about the broken link and then ask if they are open for suggestions (then offer your link as an alternative/replacement for the defunct link).
Using Google to find resources pages:
broken link search
Using Check My Links Chrome Plugin to track broken links:
broken link sample
  • Use your content as a resource when contributing on posted questions on Q&A sites like Quora, Yahoo Answers and Aardvark.Q&A sites
  • Promote your content through relevant discussions on blog comments. Here’s a great sample – a comment by Nick Leroy on one of my most recent blog posts:blog comment sample
  • Link to your content from your contributions on relevant forum thread discussions.
forum post
Bonus Tip: Let the on-page process deal with the keywords, whereas your links will only have to serve as a channel that passes “popularity” to your content. In this way, you are able to vary your links’ anchors and have more chances of getting referred visitors through clicks, particularly if you’re using highly descriptive anchor texts for them (Google sees more value in links that have high CTR, in my opinion).
I’ve been stressing the abovementioned procedures these past few months, so you can also check out some of my older posts related to this:

Content + Strong Internal Linking

This strategy is relatively similar to the first one, wherein the first step also necessitates the creation of a content that’s centered to its targeted search term and should also be of high quality. However, this method’s succeeding process will fully rely on the internal pages of your site as its support in terms of linking. There are several methods to this and here are some of them:

1. Track your site’s strong internal pages and contextually link them to the page you want to optimize. You can simply determine the strength of your inner pages through the use of page-level metrics such as PageRank, MozRank, Page Authority, page’s traffic performance (its ability to generate organic traffic and percentage of bounce rate) as well as the relevance of the page title of the content. (I usually use Traffic Travis Pro for this task).

Traffic Travis Pro

2. Track inner pages that are sending out massive social signals and link them to your important landing pages. Recent changes on algorithms are mostly based on social data, as these have been a more accurate metric in distinguishing high quality content on the web, given that people/users are more likely to share valuable content to their networks. This approach is also a good resolution in terms of limiting the tendency of resorting to spammy techniques, as you are able to pass through the social popularity with the use of a front-end content that supports your not-so-interesting page(s).

social signals
3. Build new pages/posts that will contextually link and support your landing/product pages. You can create high quality pages that have high potentials of going viral and attracting links, which will internally link to the page that you are trying to optimize in order to boost its search rankings. It’s also best to keep the support pages that you’ll create topically relevant to the links’ destination page you are aiming to rank higher on SERPs. (This post is a good sample of this method, if you’ve noticed that I’ve linked to some of my strong inner and older pages/posts).

Content + Social Signals

Social media has been one of the most constructive breakthroughs in this age of marketing, seeing that it has empowered consumers’ freedom to speak and express their own opinions. Search engines are now turning most of its enhancements based on the authenticity of this side of the web.

Basically, signals from social networks are capable of influencing a content’s prominence on search results, particularly if many people are sharing it. In creating a content that’s focused on targeting social media users, it mostly comes down to two major factors – the content’s ability to draw/attract attention and the relationships that the author/organization has that will help move the content.

There are several types of viral content that can attract social sharing:

  • Entertaining – like publishing humorous images and/or a list of fun facts related to your industry
  • Controversial/News – groundbreaking events in your industry, works well especially if you get to be first to cover or create the story, as other news sites or industry blogs might use your content as a resource.
  • Free/Useful – like free web-based tools that people would really share such as tools, games or apps.
  • Rich media content – design-centered content such as data visualizations or infographics, slide presentations and videos.
  • Crowdsourced or Group Interviews – doing surveys on industry influencers and publishing their answers in a written format hosted within your domain, as they can all share the content through their own networks, which can often multiply the effect of social sharing.

With the content being published is not enough to make it go viral, and the real key to making a successful viral content relies on how you can market it. That’s why building connections within your industry is so important as these relationships will help you move your content across the social media sphere and reach more of your target audience.

The authority of those who will share your content is also a big factor, not just on how search engines will give value to your content, but also on how they can amplify the chances of giving more exposure to the content. Below are several methods on how you can efficiently promote your content through social media:

  • Make it easier for readers to share your content by making your social buttons very visible or by leveraging it in your content’s call to action, as social proof can somehow entice visitors in reading as well as in sharing your content.
  • Engage industry influencers through your content by linking out to them (ex. interviews, statement citations, or citing their work(s) as a resource). Notify them once you have published the content.
  • Join reach multiplier sites like Triberr or Tweetfeed and build a solid network.
  • Use paid social media advertisements from Stumbleupon ads, Facebook ads, Sponsored Tweets or Buysellads.
  • If you have mentioned brands within your content, you can also share your post’s link to their Facebook fanpage.
  • Syndicate social sharing within your personal network on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc.
The more people sharing your content and the more it reaches people in your industry, is the more you are gaining in terms of brand recognition and higher linkability. For more a more in-depth guide on how to market your content through social networking sites, you can check out my old post about social signals.

It’s also important to monitor the people who are sharing your content, especially the influential ones, since this can help initiate conversations and definitely a good way to engage them, which can intensify your site’s marketing processes in the long run.

You can use tools like Topsy to track your content’s performance on Twitter and you can also filter the results to only show the influential users who have shared your content:

influential sharers on topsy

Ranking with Heavy Resources Page

I’ve been studying this process for a long time now, even before the rich snippets for list pages were launched. In this section of this post, I’ll be just sharing some of its results and my views about it.

Using your resources pages to rank for highly competitive keywords is actually easy (in some cases) and also advantageous, as the page is primarily built to provide information to users, especially for search engine visitors.

Not so long ago, I tried testing my blogs’ own SEO strategies resources page, and there were some things that I realized why it would naturally rank – even without the need of too many incoming links directing to it – by just basing on how I have optimized the page for search.

Side Note: The page is consistently ranking on position #1 – #5 for the keyword “SEO strategies” and it only has 13 incoming links.

  • I included the keywords on the page title, headline and URL.
  • The resource page is hosting highly relevant links pointing to my other resourceful articles.
  • Most of my posts are also linking back to the resource page within the body of the content, with several anchor texts variations.
  • The resource page is being continuously updated every time there’s a new blog entry that’s suitable to be included on that list.
  • The page title is numbered, which often increases the chances of getting clicks from searchers.SEO strategies SERP
  • The page’s search engine listing has high CTR (8%).SEO strategies webmaster tools
  • The page has low bounce rate (48%) and has high activity from search engine traffic.seo strategies analytics
  • The page has the ability to make visitors stay longer on the site, as they click-through the links listed on the page.

In my opinion, the more people are clicking through this page from search engine result pages and the more people are really getting the information that they want from the resources page, is the more that this page will consistently climb up and secure its position for its targeted keyword.

Build Domain Authority through Branding

In nature, when search engines see that your site is genuinely an authority on its field, they are more likely to reward your web pages’ with higher search rankings as they know how valuable your content is.

With that said, Google has certainly thought of using brand data in determining high quality and authority websites and with their algorithms’ advancements, it will definitely be capable of measuring the value of a site based on:

  • Brand mentions from social networks/shares and content from other websites.
  • Branded anchor text links
  • Volume of brand search

brand search

In this case, building up your brand rather than your keywords can be the most sustainable way to do online marketing, as it is the area of your business that separates it from its competitors. A strong brand presence can also withstand the constant changes occurring on the search industry.

Here some tips on brand development:

  • Use link baits or highly-linkable content to leverage your site’s landing pages’ search rankings, to develop domain authority and to disseminate brand signals.
  • Focus on building links that use your brand name (brand, product, person’s name, etc…) as anchor texts.
  • Build a strong community by engaging influencers in your industry as well as their followers.
  • Include your site’s brand name on your pages’ titles, so whenever people share or link to your content, the brand is attached to it.
  • Build great content/service/product and grow your connections continuously, as these are the biggest factors that can shape a remarkable brand over the web.
If you liked this post, you can subscribe to my feed and follow me on Twitter @jasonacidre.
Image Credit: BoneKrishna

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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