This post will show you specifically how to rank on the first page without dirtying your hands in link building.
We’re going to optimize pages the same way popular wikis like HowStuffWorks, Wikipedia, and About do. We’ll also see how a BuzzFeed/WhatCulture style article can rank first page just as easily.
This is aimed at small sites and blogs but can be applied to larger sites as well. Rankings and organic traffic will take anywhere from 1-2 months to improve for smaller sites. Because we carry little authority, our content is going to carry most of our weight.
By following these instructions you’ll be capturing anywhere from 800-3,500 monthly unique visitors from organic search per post.
This is a scalable strategy. The majority of my traffic is based on this strategy, which I adopted simply from looking at what Wikipedia and other popular sites in first positions do with their content and keywords. Here are my traffic sources:
As a small blog it’s great to have a steady source of organic traffic coming in. Ideally, I want to build up my subscriber base but organic search optimization is favorable.
Let’s take a look at the anatomy of my two top ranking posts. You’ll see everything from my keyword groups and rankings, to my optimization plan and actionable takeaways.
First page rankings on Google for “Make Money Social Media”
- make money social media: 1st page, 1st spot
- make money with social media: 1st page, 1st spot
- social media make money: 1st page, 2nd spot
- make money social networks: 1st page, 5th spot
- make money social: 1st page, 8th spot
Keyword Planning with Ad Groups
Prepositions in keyword phrases
- Zero link building (only a couple manual internal links from other onsite articles; rest are default categories/tags/archives/etc.)
- Over 2,500 words
- 8 images
- About 100 social shares
- Optimized H2s
First and foremost, you need to be comfortable with Google’s keyword planner. It’s going to be our foundation.
Decide on a popular term such as make money. Narrow down to a niche of the popular term such as make money social media. This is still pretty general, since we could narrow further down to make money facebook advertising or make money twitter advertising. However, those are basically floor terms; we can’t narrow down much further than that.
If you look at sites like About, you’ll notice there are pages that capture general search terms, such as make money social media, and then have internal links to these floor terms; make money with facebook advertising.
Perform a due diligence check on our middle term / primary term – make money social media – by looking through both the Ad Group and Keyword Group terms. This gives us an ballpark estimate of future traffic returns for ranking on the first page of Google. We can also validate our main term with auto-complete:
Look for low competition keywords with anywhere from 200 – 3,000 avg. monthly searches. For example, list of social networks has low comp and 1,600 AMS. The keywords should align with your main content and this one does. I optimize for that phrase in one of my H2s and in the content it entails:
Every H2 section in the article Tips to Make Money With Social Media is targeting low comp keywords that match the criteria above. See if you can figure out what some of the others are.
This is exactly what About, Wikipedia, and others do. Look at all of their H2s and see how they interlink to floor keywords. It’s a tree hierarchy. They don’t stuff; they just organize. The more middle and floor terms you include, the more “small fries” you can rank for. Ranking for enough small fries (90-3k AMS) allows you to capture stable organic traffic.
This should go without saying, but make your content genuine. As you saw above, the average time on page was nearly 4 minutes. This signal is 100% influenced by your content.
Wikipedia entries inevitably evolve into longform pieces by adding on middle and floor terms. I can use this article as my epicenter to create articles for the floor and middle terms I mentioned. This would be a strong next step to expand into the niches of making money on different social media platforms. I’ve begun building a series of floor terms as well, such as social media marketing statistics and social media hacking guide.
But this sounds like a lot of monotonous keyword research and writing. 2,500 words? That’s too much for me.
If you’re more into the Buzzfeed and WhatCulture style of articles, you can still rank first page on Google without any link building or crazy budget spending.
First page rankings on Google for “Songs to Wake Up to”
Plural vs. Singular
- songs to wake you up in the morning: 1st page, 4th spot
- music to wake you up: 1st page, 4th spot
- songs to wake up to: 1st page, 5th spot
- best songs to wake up to: 1st page, 6th spot
- wake up songs: 1st page, 10th spot
Most Common Verbs and Adjectives
Keyword Planning With Ad-Groups
- Zero link building
- 800 words
- 10 YouTube videos
- Only used primary keyword twice
As you can see above, this post wasn’t pulling in traffic for the first few months and didn’t start ranking first page until January. This happens to be my very first post so part of the initial problem was simply developing my blog.
As a greenhorn back then, I only targeted a primary term. That’s it, just one term; songs to wake you up.
With only 6 social shares and a corny header image, this post was purely a write-up of some of my favorite songs; nothing more nothing less.
I can’t say with certainty which organic ranking factor was at play here, but with the data I do have it seems to be majorly on average time spent on page (4:25) and basic on page optimization for the primary term. What’s interesting about this post is how the plural – songs – ranked first page while song fluctuated between the 10th and 11th spots.
An interesting but unfortunate event shows the sheer brute force and power of domain authority. If you search for songs to wake up to you’ll see a Huffington Post article sitting snugly in the first position on the first page. This article doesn’t even have 100 words. It’s just a list of 21 videos with nothing to be said. It’s basically a playlist disguised as an article.
But here’s where the power of domain let’s it rank above posts that actually put coherent thoughts into the reasons why they recommend these songs. The only optimization this post has is in the title and meta description: songs to help you wake up morning. The authority and reach of Huffpo allows it to garner over 15,000 social signals which also surely accounts for a first position spot.
As a temporary form of “compensation” this HuffPo article links to all of the other first page articles on Google (basically it’s prey) that are about songs to wake up to.
This is basically HuffPo saying, “Sorry we’re stealing your traffic with our less-than-sub-par playlist. Here’s a temporary link.”
Since HuffPo entered the Fray I created two other posts that are fashioned in the same manner as my original. These target songs to help you sleep and songs to focus and write to. Both were published many weeks ago but they’ve both recently started picking up steam and are following the same path of traffic increase as my original.
This strategy is also scalable. Lists are a played-out article structure, but they’re also one of the easiest and stable methods to stand out in feeds and tell people what value your article offers. Then there are clickbait headlines which try to give you just a taste of the value – if you want all the cake you have to click through. Finally, there are the more “normal” headlines; news and opinion style headlines; a creative but literal explanation of what the content offers. Content such as infographics empower this last headline style. For example; How Much Do Americans Spend On Cars? [Infographic] tells us both the subject and the content format in just 8 words.
Page Ranking and Google Factor Wrap Up
If you looked at the deviations in keyword positions on the first page for the examples above, you may have noticed a few interesting things.
Prepositions and adjectives play a big role in rankings. They are factors Google clearly considers as a signal that satisfies your search. Unfortunately, Google’s ranking algorithm cannot distinguish whose fried chicken recipe is the best.
If I write a genuine article that’s optimized for “Best Friend Chicken Recipe” and you do the same thing but for “Southern Fried Chicken Recipe” Google will rank my recipe as the “best” because I’m optimized for it. Additionally, a longform piece of all my fried chicken recipes that internally link to more specific recipes, such as my own “Southern Fried Chicken Recipe” will allow me to compete for both the “best” and “southern”.
This is the micro fight.
It becomes a macro fight when a top dog like About or HuffPo comes in with their poorly optimized articles and outranks us for the most generic terms, pulling in the majority of traffic; taking our pie. Many view this as greed; an unfair super-power of the highest authority sites; slap together some photos, gifs, videos and insta-rank for keywords.
Competing is futile, especially without link building. Instead, we just need to continue expanding our tree hierarchy and targeting keyword groups the top dogs have either put off, or neglected for a few years. Then we internally link our primary term articles with our floor term articles. It’s a long, ongoing process and I surely have the work cut out for me. But now I have the insight to how organic search optimization works for the small fries.
It’s time for you to start ranking on the first page
I recognize there’s a lot of room to expand on, but this should be plenty of information to help you capture first page rankings on Google for a variety of keywords without having to build links. The labor is in research and writing but that’s to be expected.
I will continue experimenting with these strategies and publish new findings and tactics to help increase page rankings in a natural, organic way. If you have any tips or suggestions, please feel free to share below or shoot me an email.