Trying to HOTH the SERPs into submission without a solid keyword strategy in place is like playing blindfolded golf with a sledgehammer. You’ll hit something – not necessarily the ball and rarely in the right direction.
In the wake of this year’s Google updates, many of you have asked us for feedback with your keyword strategies. Accordingly, we’ve created this resource to help you improve your swing and get that ball in the hole more frequently.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Keyword research is a nuanced skillset comprised of equal parts art and science.
Accordingly, If you’re not confident in your abilities yet, there are some fantastic resources waiting for your consumption. If words like ‘longtail’ and ‘commercial intent’ don’t play a central role in your understanding of SEO, you’ll want to read these ASAP.
- KWR101: SEO Moz Beginners Guide
Covers: keyword value, longtail theory, commercial intent, keyword mining tools and methods
- KWR201: ViperChill Keyword Research
Covers 101 topics in further depth plus advanced tools and methods.
- Recommended KW Discovery Tools
Google Keyword Tool — Every SEOs Starting Point. Free.
Serp IQ – Awesome keyword discovery, competition assessment, and on-site auditing tool. Freemium with 7-day free trial.
The Rules of Sane
As a rule of thumb, we encourage SEOs to go for “easy wins*” over epic conquests. We’d rather rank an achievable term like “human resources management software” in a few months than embark on multi-year quest for a diffused head term like “HR.”
- You’ll rank faster,
- With less links,
- For terms with higher intent, yielding more conversions on your site (and more money in your pocket).
Conversely, let’s consider the downsides of conquesting for short-tail, head terms.
- You front-load all of your risk for an illusive, lottery-sized pay off in the end. By contrast, pursuing long tails allows you to steadily build traffic to your site, generating real-time ROI, which can be reinvested in more real-time growth. If a ranking will take over a year to achieve, you should expect to go through 2+ Google updates in that time. Who knows if your early efforts will even carry weight by the end?
- Over reliance on non-diversified, short tail rankings is a recipe for bankruptcy. The nature of SEO is that all rankings are not permanent. You may rank at the top for 3 months or 3 years, but you should expect your reign for any 1 term to come to an end sooner or later. When that happens, make sure you have diversified traffic sources, including a variety of organic keywords you can fall back on. Disproportionate focus on short-tail terms over long-tail ones puts you in an all-or-nothing game that you’re going to lose.
- The math just isn’t in your favor. Google keyword tool showing you 50,000 monthly searches for your pet term? Party! Right? Not quite. Even at position 5 for that term, with a click through rate less than 5%, your best hope is 2,500 monthly visits to your site. Alternatively, if you pursue 25 terms with 2,000 monthly searches each and achieve an average ranking of 3 for each one, you’d see 4,900 monthly visitors to your site. In short, 2,500 less targeted, centralized-risk visitors or 4,900 more targeted, diversified-risk visitors. Which would you rather have?
*Not all “easy wins” are truly easy per se, but they have a solid chance of yielding ROI. Conquests, not so much.
How to Find Easy Wins
- Use SEMRush (freemium) to find keywords that you’re already ranking for and improve those rankings. Pushing your page 2 rankings to page 1 can be an easy, low cost way to increase valuable organic traffic to your site. (Tip: While you’re in SEM Rush, spy on your competitors’ terms!)
- Don’t have an SEM Rush account? No problem. Check your analytics. Keywords that haven’t been intentionally optimized, but already produce a trickle of traffic are likely ripe for an easy SERP boost. (Tip: Investigate conversion rates in addition to traffic volumes to ensure that you’re investing in the most worthwhile terms).
- Of course, use the Google Keyword tool. Sort by monthly searches and make sure to pay attention to terms well under 5,000 searches per month. Keep in mind that low search volumes are not synonymous with “ease of ranking.” You can use tools like SEO Quake and Open Site Explorer to manually investigate sites that are currently ranking for your terms. Alternatively, expedite the process with SerpIQ, an awesome, streamlined competitive research tool.
Now that you have a solid list of viable keywords, let’s get ready to…
WAIT! Before You Begin New Campaigns
Before you go on a link building/on-site optimizing extravaganza, there are a few things you should do before actually implementing your keyword strategy in 2013.
In 2012, Google declared all-out war against all types of over optimization. If your title tags (and other on-site elements) are stuffed or your anchor distribution is weighted too heavily on commercial terms, you run a much higher risk of your site being penalized.
Conducting an audit of your onsite and offsite SEO is important before beginning any new campaigns.
First, check your analytics for any previous penalizations and try to match them to dates from Google’s update history. Small dips are inevitable, but landslides suggest that you should pay particular attention to changes introduced by that update.
No landslides? Great. Proceed to Go and collect $200. Time to check your site for over optimization.
Look closely for anything that could be considered “stuffing.” In particular, inspect for the following:
- All title tags unique.
- No more than 2 commercial keywords per title.
- Natural anchor text distribution (checked via Ahrefs or Open Site Explorer – both freemium and awesome). We recommend that naked anchors (e.g. example.com, www.example.com, http://www.example.com, etc.) make up at least 40% of your anchor profile. We prefer 50%, just to play it safe. Likewise, if you’re not getting natural anchors already (i.e. click here, more info, learn more, etc.) consider throwing those in as well.
- Aim for an anchor profile where no term comprises 30% or more. Yes, this includes branded and 1-word anchors. More is no longer better with anchor text optimization.
- Additionally, avoid stuffing locations for multi-location businesses in ways that aren’t helpful to users.
- Lastly, meta keyword/description stuffing. Stay classy. Don’t do it.
“Oh crap, I’m totally over optimized.”
No worries. The HOTH is particularly well equipped to remedy this (as are many other link building products/services).
- Don’t have enough naked anchors? Run campaigns with naked anchors until you do. Despite popular belief, this is far from worthless. These days Google cares just as much about the quality of the link (e.g. uniqueness, relevance of content, authority of site, etc.) as it does about the specific anchors — arguably more. Plus, Google is pretty good at figuring out what terms to rank your pages for based on the keywords in your titles, the commercial anchor texts that do link to you and your internal link structure.
- Still worried that Google won’t know what to rank your pages for? Don’t be. Just build internal links to your target pages with desired keyword anchors. Ideally these should be in-content links throughout the site.
“Seriously though. Does all this on-site stuff matter? Isn’t it all about links?”
As a link building company, it would be too easy to say “yes, it’s all about links,” but at this point, it’s not. The on-site stuff does matter.
After detailed analysis of hundreds of HOTH campaigns, there is almost always something wrong with on-site SEO where rankings have struggled. Accordingly, it’s safe to say that on-site optimization is more important than ever.
Some additional issues to consider
- Canonicalization (Resource)
- Duplicate content throughout the site (Resource | Copyscape)
- Internal linking
- Blank pages
- Duplicate titles
- Making sure your target keywords are used in titles, h1s, and elsewhere in content
Developing a sound keyword strategy and auditing your site, as we’ve detailed above, can literally be the difference between thousands of dollars wasted and fully realized ROI.
Ready. Set. HOTH.
(aka. What to do at the HOTH Order Screen)
All steps completed? Great. Now you’re ready to start submitting orders to rank your URLs for your target keywords.
With The HOTH, we let you target up to 3 URLs with 5 keyphrases for each order. We want you to submit a diverse set of keywords including naked and naturalized terms.
You can be as aggressive as you’d like, but we recommend submitting 50% naked and naturalized terms. Likewise, we recommend changing your anchors monthly to keep your link profile healthy, natural and diverse.
Questions? Leave them in the comments and don’t forget to subscribe (see red box below)!
Note: These guidelines are good for any type of link building you do. It’s just that this is our blog, so… you know…