Catering to search engines can be frustrating, especially if your usual tricks and strategies have stopped working. Fortunately, there are some strategies that many business owners don’t know about – meaning you can get the competitive edge.
Implementing these techniques could be just what’s needed to tip you over the edge and get your rankings back on track.
1. Optimize your menu items for SEO
Most business owners and marketers know that internal links are important for SEO. However, some forget that your menu items are actually just glorified links. Having a clear and simple navigational structure will help with usability as well as spreading link equity throughout your site.
According to Jason McGovern, optimizing your navigational structure can have a huge impact on rankings. Speaking of internal linking, he writes, “I think it tends to be overlooked as an SEO tactic because many SEOs simply believe it’s not an issue anymore because sites today have such complex navigation menus. That said, even today I have been able to drive significant results for clients purely on the back of optimizing internal navigation structures.”
2. Use Google’s preferred word count
While Google hasn’t actually given us an ideal word count to aim for, several studies have shown a strong correlation between high rankings and longer content. According to Neil Patel’s research, the highest-ranking pages are at least 2,000 words long. According to my friends at Searchmetrics, top-ranking content starts somewhere around 1,200 words. When in doubt, go longer; just remember that quality always trumps quantity.
3. Google knows you by the neighborhoods you link out to
Internal links are important, as are inbound links to your site. However, what many business owners forget is that who you link out to is also important. Linking to authoritative sources is not only great for establishing credibility for your content, it suggests to Google that you know what you’re talking about – and this is great for SEO. Just be sure you’re linking out to useful, preferably high-ranking sites.
Use the free Moz Checker tool to make sure you’re linking to sites that will help your rankings, not hurt them.
4. Offer researchers a platform for finding participants
This is a technique I’ve seldom seen used, but it can be highly effective when done right. University researchers are always looking for participants for their studies, but often struggle with reaching their target audience.
Offer to promote their study to your audience, and often they’ll be glad to give you a much-coveted .edu link back to your site! To find studies being conducted in your niche, try simple Google searches like [your keyword] research study or even just [keyword] study, or visit the announcements or news sections of university departmental websites.
5. Look for mentions… and ask for the link
Not every one who mentions your site or product is going to include a link back to your site. The good news is that most SEOs agree these mentions (known as non-linked citations or implied links) do help boost your SEO to an extent.
But since we know that actual links are the ideal, here’s what you can do: Set up a Google Alert for brand name, product names, etc. As soon as you see a mention, send a brief email and ask for a link to your site.
You’ll be surprised at how many bloggers and journalists are happy to oblige! I’ve been able to secure links to my payments blog from CNN, ABC and CNBC by just asking. Here are a few other tips for asking for links in my content marketing guide.
6. Promote a ridiculously outrageous offer
How much are links customers to you? Are they worth the cost of giving away some product at 90% off? Or of holding a crazy 3 for the price of 1 promotion?
Promoting a ridiculously good offer is sure to generate some hype surrounding your business; and as we know, hype is often great for getting traffic and links. Just be sure you can actually afford to give away your stuff at cost or even at a loss, and that those links are worth it to you!
7. Use descriptive words in your image file name
You probably already know you should use your chosen keywords in your alt image tags (where appropriate). What you may not know is that you should also be using them in your image file names. Google has gotten pretty sophisticated, but they still can’t discern the subject of your image without a little help.
Google has made the importance of descriptive file names clear in their image publishing guidelines: “Try to make your filename a good description of the subject matter of the image. For example, my-new-black-kitten.jpg is a lot more informative than IMG00023.JPG. Descriptive filenames can also be useful to users: If we’re unable to find suitable text in the page on which we found the image, we’ll use the filename as the image’s snippet in our search results.”
8. Go beyond basic keyword research
Basic keyword research might look something like this: go to Google’s Keyword Planner and find 2-3 keywords you can incorporate into a particular piece of content. However, since Google introduced latent semantic indexing (LSI) into its system, this type of basic research is no longer enough.
A better approach is to use your research to find a broad theme to cover, as well as relevant subtopics. Also be sure to use a variety of proof and relevant terms, which show Google you’re doing a great job of covering the topic. For more on this, check out my post “The 5 Components of a Modern Keyword-Based Strategy.”
9. Your analytics are already telling you how to improve your SEO
According to Searchmetrics’ most recent ranking report, the importance of user signals can’t be overstated (emphasis mine): “User signals such as the click-through rate (the click rate of search results, also CTR), time on site, as well as the bounce rate (visitors who enter a site then leave, usually by clicking back to the search results) are amongst the most important ranking factors for search engines. This is because the direct analysis of users reactions to the search results allows an accurate insight as to whether the user was happy with the result.”
10. Big words can actually hurt you
Some business owners think that by using big words and complicated sentences they’ll impress their audience. However, research has shown that the highest-ranking pages actually have a slightly lower reading complexity than other pages. To see how your content ranks, you can use free tools like the Text Readability Consensus Calculator. I’ve found that the highest-ranking pages have a reading level of around 76 – so this is a great benchmark to keep in mind.