For this roundup post I asked Sujan Patel, Sean Si, Neville Medhora, Ana Hofman, Bill Slawski, Jayson DeMers, Ron Sela and other experts to share their best SEO practices to dominate the coming year.
You're thinking that this is the simplest and probably the most effective SEO formula: "Great Content + Backlinks = Higher Ranking"
But in this roundup post, I asked the participants if they could forget about cliche answers and share some of their SEO hacks with the SEMrush readers.
Sujan Patel - Co-founder of WebProfits
The only way to reliably build links is to create amazing content, but the standard for 'amazing content' gets higher and higher every year. The way people will make their content stand out enough to earn links will be to incorporate design and formatting directly into the content.
For example, we committed a lot of time and resources to this piece on employee management for a client. The design is essential to the article - it brings the content to life. We see significantly higher Optin rates, share numbers, and backlinks to this type of content than we do for regular long-form blog posts... even ones with custom design images throughout.
If you don't have the resources to create something like that, small improvements to the format is sometimes all it takes. We wrote a guide to Snapchat marketing where all we did was add a clickable table of contents. That caused our average time on page to skyrocket and bounce rate to plummet, and only took about 5 minutes to add.
Sean Si - CEO and Founder of SEO Hacker and Qeryz
One overlooked SEO Hack? Easy - crawl budget. It's a technical SEO hack but a lot of people neglect this. When you allow search engines to crawl and index MASSIVE pages in your site, it consumes the crawl budget that you are given. Google cannot infinitely crawl all pages of your site everyday, you know?
So put a noindex/nofollow tag on pages that you don't really need to appear in the search engine results page such as your /tags/ section or your checkout page. It's not so hard. One visit to your robots.txt file should do the trick.
Danny Donchev - Founder at Fortunelords.com
Where to invest your SEO efforts?
Influencer marketing exploded in 2016 and will become even more popular in the coming years. Why? Because Google crushed shady SEO tactics. For example, Penguin is running in real-time.
The other main reason - it is effective. This is the easiest way to get backlinks, traffic, and exposure naturally without any risk to be penalized by Google.
Smart Content marketing
As you probably know content marketing is the thing but quite a few use it effectively.
Every piece of content you create should have a purpose.
For example, it could be an article for your target keyword you want to rank or a long tail variation of your main keyword which supports your top content.
Your content MUST be engaging or your visitors will bounce. UX is an extremely important ranking factor. The average time people spend on your content and your bounce rate numbers must be better than your competitors or your rankings will tank.
A few tips how to create engaging content:
- Strive to create 10x content
- Include images and videos
- Use many relevant outbound links (open in a new window)
Bonus content marketing tip:
I call it Content Resurrection.
Even epic content gets old. That's why you should revisit your best articles over a period of several months and update them if they are out of date. Google love fresh content and will give you a boost when you refresh your content with new data. We also tend to skip on content which is old and prefer fresh information.
Are you mobile friendly? Because Google will penalize you if you are not.
Your website speed is a huge SEO factor. Use quality hosting and CDN. Check your website speed with GTmetrix and Google's PageSpeed Insights
SSL - Google will roll out major changes to the way non-https sites are handled in Chrome in January. Make sure to switch to HTTPS before Google Chrome start to show a security warning for HTTP pages when a user visits them.
Dmitry Dragilev - Growth guy, blogger at CriminallyProlific, founder of JustReachOut.io
My advice: focus on topic depth vs. backlinks.
Accumulating a lot of backlinks in order to rank high in Google has become a bit of an "old school" practice. Getting to rank on Google very seldom has to do with the quantity of links anymore, it depends much more on topical depth of your content. My old friends at MarketMuse (covered here on SEMRush) ran a phenomenal study analyzing 9M+ words of content where they outlined a great example of Magnifymoney.com with 1.5K backlinks outranking getrickslowly.org with 31K backlinks because their topical depth coverage is much better.
I'll leave you with a quote from Brian Dean: We discovered that content rated as “topically relevant” (via MarketMuse) significantly outperformed content that didn’t cover a topic in-depth.
David Schneider - Founder at Ninja Outreach
Everyone should have had their websites optimized for mobile already. Google has already repeated how mobile friendliness now adds to a site's SEO score.
I also believe influencer marketing, social selling, and the like could become even bigger SEO link juice goldmines. Nothing beats getting links via expert roundups, especially since not only can you linkback to those expert's high authority sites, you also get recognition from the expert's high quality and active following.
This can really bump your SEO game up real quick and as more and more people get wind of that (especially with an influencer outreach tool like ours making the job easier for most marketers).
As for upcoming trends, I see an incoming rush for Virtual Reality (VR), There are actually existing VR coverage for things like that VR coverage that the New York times did of the war on Syria, or that VR coverage chronicling that music festival, etc. It won't be long before users start wanting more of this stuff and it could be one frontier for SEOs to explore, get noticed, and start ranking for while it's fresh, before more and more competition comes swarming.
Gael Breton - Founder at Authority Hacker
Alright, I'm going to make some enemies here, but one thing I learned: You need a ton of very specific content to get good search traffic in Google. Specific is the new epic content.
What does that mean in practice? It means that I see sites with lots of short pages about related but specific topics do better in Google than sites with very long content these days.
We kind of foresaw this in our beginning of the year experiment on short content and saw confirmation of it throughout the year on all 3 big sites we worked on. We reduced the word counts from 2000+ to 800 - 1000 words, we doubled the publishing frequency and broke down topics between several pages and saw organic growth almost 2x. To cope with the new publishing frequency we also refined our content outsourcing processes and skills
On top of that new content strategy we also refined our keyword tool selection when it comes to keyword research pick low comp keywords for our content, we almost exclusively relied on KD because we had so much content to produce, looking at every SERP manually was just not realistic.
We did get a couple of miss and tools are clearly not as good as the human eye at this point but overall I'd say over 60% of the content we produced in the first part of the year now ranks on page 1 of Google across all our sites. Overall the hit rate was good and we managed to publish 2x more with the same budget by going for short specific content vs long "epic" content everyone is raving about these days.
Mandy McEwen - Founder at Mod Girl Marketing
Well, Google has also been proven wrong, time and time again. From my own personal success of utilizing social signals to increase rankings, my company’s success with our clientele, my colleague's success, and other SEO marketers I collaborate with - all of us have seen that Google is flat-out lying to us when it comes to social signals impacting rankings.
So, how can you leverage the power of social media to improve your SEO?
Produce quality, SEO-friendly content.
Use tools like Buzzsumo to find authority social accounts in your industry.
Compliment their brand, their content, and ask them to take a peek at your latest content and if they like it, ask them to share it with their audience.
Make sure in their social post they include the naked URL to your content.
Think quality over quantity here. It’s much more powerful to have a share from 5 quality Twitter accounts than it is from 50 low-quality accounts.
This also works well for Facebook and Google+. Leverage the power of social media and watch your rankings soar!
Neville Medhora - Founder at KopywritingKourse
I still think the formula for high rankings is:
Good Content + People Linking To It = High Rankings.
It seems there's a lot of "how to" articles out there, but the next generation of articles will include generators that do the work for you.
I do this with articles like my Business Idea Generator and Email List Ideas Generator. On those posts instead of just giving the formula out, I took them a step further and allowed users to auto-generate the content.
I think this will be a great way to differentiate your articles.
Mike Brown - Founder at TheBloggingBuddha
We have all heard that "content is king" and everyone should know by now that without the right distribution of anchor texts and backlinks your site is not going to rank in a competitive niche. I agree that your site obviously needs to have content and you need to be generating backlinks through whatever method works best for you but what I think most SEO's or even individual website owners overlook is the importance of on-page technical SEO, this includes page and site structure.
The more competitive your niche, the more perfect your onsite optimization needs to be. Having a fully optimized site starts off with the foundation your website is built on.
Since I work strictly with WordPress going with something like the Genesis Framework and a child theme would be ideal. Using this type of framework ensure your site is fully mobile responsive, optimized for portable devices and is taking advantage of Schema markup.
The leading search engine, Google, has announced that they are moving away from desktop-centered indexing to mobile centered which means they will be giving priority to how your website loads and functions on mobile versus desktop, this is a significant shift in their algorithm.
Over optimization of keywords on your site is also detrimental. Whatever keyword you are targeting be sure to understand and use LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) when creating content.
Your site should also consist of evergreen "pillar articles" supported in a pyramid structure by smaller laser focused blog posts supporting your H2's. Structuring and interlinking your site strategically will have a tremendous effect on several search engine ranking factors.
I have seen web pages jump from the second or third result in the SERP's to page one after onsite technical SEO was optimized.
The correct way to approach SEO is with onsite technical optimization of each piece of content followed by the overall structuring of that content to push emphasis to the pages you are trying to rank. Then build backlinks!
Ron Sela - Profit Driven Marketer at Ron Sela
The most recent ranking studies show that getting your website higher on the SERP involves more factors rooted upon relevancy than previously exposed. The pages which contain the most relevant content to each query are now appearing higher in the search results.
It is the product of content relevance now being pinpointed as a key factor in the SEO process. These are big news, which can dominate or destroy your efforts.
Once you have someone click on your site, usability becomes your most vital factor. Better user experience is essential for moving up in the search rankings. Your content should be quickly found by website visitors from organic search. Average time spent on your site is also a major ranking determinant.To achieve these goals make sure that your site is mobile friendly.
Content must be appropriate in length and appealing in structure.
Extensively promoting your content is coming full circle back to relevance. There should not be any confusion about the content, information, or purpose of your website, before or after each click.
The promotion of your content should always be based upon the user’s intent, this will make your SEO process simpler, and will grasp each user for the average allotted time, and hopefully more.
Jason Quey - Founder at Storyteller Marketer and Cofounders With Class
If you are wanting to outrank your competitors, there are two routes to take:
1. Brian Dean’s method - Start by creating true 10x content. Brian aims to shoot for the top keywords and get everything underneath. He then, follows up using manual outreach and a ton of link acquisition.
2. Alternatively, you can find the long tail (Dan Shure's preferred method). Find phrases that are 3-5 words long. They might only get 10-100 searches/month according to Adwords.
But you’ll get more traffic than you realize because:
1. There are tons of keywords you’ll rank for.
2. The keyword tool doesn’t give all information of exact search.
Whichever route you pursue, once you've created the 10x content, reach out to get influencers to share their views. In doing so, not only will they often help promote the article, if you target the right influencers, sometimes you can get a natural link from them when they blog about your topic.
Here's an example of how I did this with a guide on Instagram Marketing:
1. Write your article.
2. Reach out to influencers known for your topic. You can either Google for articles or try a search like "top [topic] bloggers to follow."
3. Once the post is finished, show the article to the influencers.
4. If you want to take your game up another notch, simply provide the influencers something that they value, like traffic to their site.
John Rampton - Founder at Due
Syndication takes the credibility of the site you’re syndicating it too and transfers all the link juice and credibility (as well as social proof) over to your website. Syndication is a great way as well to gain a lot more visibility for the same amount of work!
Over the past year, we’ve taken our content from good to amazing. Really focusing on recruiting the best authors that write amazing content. Syndication will help you to acquire some of the best content out there as they know that you push out their content onto other publications. Your content will rank more as it has double the link juice pointing to it as well as a lot more traction to it!
It’s also a great way to get free and amazing content for your site if you don’t have time to publish regularly. You’ll be giving away a few links but overall it’s well worth it for scaling out your content and making your site very active.
John Doherty - Founder at Credo
Pay special attention to your on page SEO as it relates to semantically related keywords around your main keyword term.
When Google rolled out the Hummingbird algorithm a few years ago, they started taking related keywords into account for rankings for head terms. So if you optimize for [red oranges], listing out other fruits and colors would help your optimization for your main keyword.
This approach is commonly called optimizing your TF-IDF scores, and while it is not a new tactic it has become much more effective and necessary in recent years.
Dan Shure - Owner at Evolving SEO
Want a fast way to find high opportunity content ideas?
Put a high traffic network into SEMrush and strategically set filters to unearth topics you can write articles about, and rank them.
For example - working with a site targeted at moms?
1. Put 'pinterest.com' in SEMrush2. Go to 'organic research'3. Try setting your filters like this:
These filters surface pages in Pinterest with the word 'baby' that rank really well but have low competition.
Google will usually rather rank an article vs just a Pinterest board - so that's your opportunity to write something and rank.
I found how to make a quilt out of baby clothes':
Which has lots of old content ranking, another sign of a content opportunity gap. This is an opportunity!
Ana Hofman - Consultant at TrafficGenerationCafe.com
"Content is king." I cringe every time I hear that well-worn cliché-ridden phrase...
Its true content is the reality of SEO. However, content, in and of itself, does NOTHING for your business (or your SEO, for that matter). It just sits right where you left it - on your site - like a good ol' dog... and if you want it to fetch you traffic, sales, and, yes!, backlinks, you'll actually have to take it a few steps further.
If content is the reality of SEO, then content repurposing is the new reality of content.
Content repurposing is what puts your message in every format and on every platform your audience is looking for it - right NOW.
It builds brand awareness, your subject authority and expertise.
It makes your content much more linkable and much more likable search engine terms. In other words, content repurposing does what content alone fails to do: it gives your content the much-needed legs to go to where your customers are and bring them back to your site in the form of traffic and sales.
And that's what I call 'Content Boomerang.' Write less, repurpose more!
Robert Kramers - Owner at Found
If I tell you my SEO hack is 'Broken Links’, you’d reply with a ‘ho hum’, right? Broken Links are becoming the ‘content is king’ of link-building methods. We know that it’s a useful technique, and we know how it works. So what’s next? Enter Broken Inbound Link Building.
Turns out, Broken Link Building is more than just long nights sending bulk outreach and crossing your fingers. It's time to revolutionize our approach! Here’s how it works:
Step 1? Check your site for Broken Inbound Links. Establishing links is hard work. Like, really hard. So don’t let those links go to waste. Jump into AHREFs, run your site through the Site Explorer, and select ‘Backlinks’ -> ‘Broken’.
Easy, right? Grab those URLs, set up some 301 redirects, and jump into Step 2. This is where the magic happens, and what makes this hack so invaluable: If your site has Broken Inbound Links, then so will your competitors.
Check your top 10, 15 or even 20 competitors for Broken Inbound Links, and then reach out to the linking sites and offer your content as a replacement. So there you have it! An SEO Hack that sees you leveraging the work your competitors have already done in landing links to give you a one-up on them. Simple!
Richard Conway - Founder at Pure SEO
SEO is going to see a further shift towards user focussed factors. Many SEO people expose the overused soundbite “content is king”, however, in our view this is not correct; the “customer is king”. If you think about it, the only reason people keep coming back to Google is they are served results that are relevant to them.
If all aspects of your content, UI and marketing have a core customer focus you are unlikely to go wrong. Focussing on dwell time, user experience, quality relevant information, mobile experience and user journeys would be a good start!
The other SEO tactic that is going to be really important is ‘barnacle SEO’. This relates to attaching yourself to someone or a something with a large relevant audience and hoping to leverage that audience. In order to do this effectively it needs to be done systematically; identify your targets (think industry mavens, social influencers, and potential partners).
Work out an engagement strategy that is win-win for you both. Measure which strategies provide the most benefit, refine and continue. One really good example of a barnacle SEO strategy I implemented for Pure SEO was getting an invite to spend a week
Measure which strategies provide the most benefit, refine and continue. One really good example of a barnacle SEO strategy I implemented for Pure SEO was getting an invite to spend a week with Sir Richard Branson on his private island, this got organic links from every major newspaper in New Zealand and most of the major marketing magazines.
Bill Slawski - Founder at SEO by the Sea
Google is trying to better understand the semantic meanings of words by looking at how they appear in knowledge bases on the web, and understanding the properties associated with them from those knowledge bases, and also looking at the words that tend to co-occur on pages that rank highly for those words as query terms.
This helps Google understand the contexts of words and the meanings they are being used for on pages on the Web. When you use a keyword, you can use associated properties from knowledge bases, and use co-occurring words from pages that are highly ranked, to have those pages rank for the right meanings and the right contexts.
Slavcho Panov - Project Manager & SEO at WebsiteDesign
Rather than spend a large budget for link building, better spend your money to support a cause close to your industry, free training or creating an event. Then just distribute pressrelease for the upcoming event and here is natural, good links to your website and brand mentions in the media.
Jayson DeMers - Founder & CEO at AudienceBloom
Winning at SEO is all about knowing the right tools to use for the right situations. Whether you're conducting keyword research, launching a content marketing campaign, or trying to track your ROI, you need to know which tools will give you easy, intuitive, and accurate insights.
That's why I published "The Top 30 Online Marketing Tools I Couldn't Live Without" Hint: SEMrush is #14 on my list!
Lamar Hull - Founder of Organic Clicks
Voice and mobile will continue to dominate how and where users decide to spend their time in the search engines. Optimizing for semantic language and understanding the context of keywords will be key versus just optimizing content for keywords themselves. Having a solid mobile foundation will be important when trying to outrank your competitors that think what they are doing now is just enough.
AMP designs are a great start as in a recent Google conference, a Google rep stated AMP designs will have a ton of leverage in the mobile SERPs. With Accelerated Mobile Pages, Google loves speed and so should you! There are some restrictions with AMP, so make sure you consider some of the following. Google has to detect the AMP version of your content, therefore you will need to modify the original content version with a canonical tag for AMP pages.
Schema mark-up is a requirement for your content to have the opportunity to appear in the Google Search news carousel, so implementing Schema is still a vital step in the online marketing process and will continue to be a needed strategy to better communicate with the search engines and increase CTR.
Michael Wahlgren - Founder of Pineberry
After more than ten years of working with SEO it has become clear to me that the best practices in SEO change very little from year to year. I see no reason why this would differ; great content and backlinks will still be the most powerful tools in your kit.
Having said this, I believe that one important trend, at least in the Nordic countries, will be the increasing real-time aspect of SEO. Google’s algorithms react much faster to your changes, two recent examples being the last Penguin update and the date bug. Besides reacting fast, Google is also more forgiving than it has been in the past.
If you make change in your SEO and your rankings drop you can now more easily undo the damage by simply reversing the change. In the past Google has been more prone to hold a grudge and reclaiming your hard-earned ranking could be a lengthy process.
This change in the algorithm’s behavior creates the opportunity for more experimental SEO. The risk of testing is mitigated by the ease of reversing the changes done. Hence, one way to dominate SEO is to increase your experiments and observe the results. One example is trying a more aggressive link profile in the wake of the more forgiving Penguin. More experimenting will make your SEO better and more fun!
Jon Haver - Founder at Authoority Website Income
The best SEO practices to dominate will be the same as they have been for the last few years... The person with the best/most useful content that can generate the highest quality links will win! There is plenty of other "stuff" we need to worry about like AMP, https, mobile pop-up etc but in the end if you can focus on having the best quality/quantity of content and links you will beat your competition.
To provide a more useful/actionable recommendation, I highly suggest looking at underperforming but related posts on your site and then combining them into a single MONSTER post. To continue to cut through the noise you need to do something exceptional and combining multiple posts into a single MASSIVE post can really help you do that.
Andy Crestodina - Strategic Director at Orbit Media
Internal linking is a secret weapon for search optimizers. Yes, links from other website increase your total ranking potential, but authority flows through the links on your website as well.
You can create them quickly anytime at no cost. You get exact control over anchor text. You can lower your bounce rate and increase dwell time (which are search ranking factors) by pulling your visitors deeper into your site.
So create these links next time you post something:
Link from the new post to a related post with a good CTA.
Link to the new post from an older post with good authority. Use the target phrase as the anchor text
Link from authoritative posts to your product or service pages
It takes very little time and can make a big difference. That’s what a good hack is all about.
Gary Morris - Founder at Grafted-In Software & Design LLC
I'm certain some of the most competent SEO experts have allowed the most rewarding business opportunities to fall right through their hands.
We often fail to see that websites, with all the data and glorified images, are representations of ideas. Ideas that belong to people. The real challenge for online marketing experts in the year to come is forcing you to get involved in the human element of web data.
Strategic partnerships are already available that can easily triple your monthly retainers and provide explosive growth for your clients and you. You just have to connect the dots.
Providing value in your market depends on finding connections nobody else is looking for. We know that Google rewards backlinks that are more niche relative. Well, the market does the same thing when you pair complementary businesses together to provide more value for readers, and consequently the businesses they represent.
SEMrush has some great tools like the main organic competitor's section. Just because they have similar keyword rankings does not always mean they are direct competitors.
Let me give you just one example. We have a client that is in the real-estate niche. Focusing on a specific type of real-estate purchases. We made a move this year to look more for long-term strategic partnerships rather than one-off guest post. We wanted a more robust backlink profile that would benefit both parties long term.
Through our research (using SEMrush), we were able to find personal bloggers who have built up large brands around helping others with home make-overs in the exact same sub-niche.
We were able to reach out and secure some links on their homepage. Offering a percentage of every sale that came by way of their site. Setting them up almost as an affiliate.
They both have already seen nearly 100% revenue growth over the past two months and we plan on replicating the same process with other websites for this brand. Look for bloggers with no end product and help create one or hand them an existing one that fits with their brand.
Make this year the best year yet by adding a ton of value to your clients and finding great working partnerships online and off.
Nick Eubanks - Founder at SEO auv
My best tactic is to blow out LSI keywords to build rich content pages covering a widespread of concepts related to target topics. I call this the "bigfoot strategy" (or creating pages with large keyword footprints).
Zac Johnson - Entrepreneur and Blogger at ZacJohnson.com
1 - Create Better Content than the Competition
This one is a given. There are currently over a billion active sites on the internet today. The last thing we need is more content. What we do need, is better content.
Check out the search results and see who is ranking for your target keywords. Analyze their content and then creation something even better, with more text, resources, images and video.
When possible, throw some original shareable content into the mix (like infographics) to make it even easier for others to share your content. You can see an example of how I've done this (both with content and infographic) in my make money blogging article.
2 - Focus on Your Guest Blogging Efforts
No matter what anyone says, guest blogging is still one of the best ways to get quality backlinks for your site while also reaching new audiences in the process.
When you guest post on other sites, be sure to follow these best practices, while also always using your real name, profile picture and offering quality content that further exemplifies your expertise and brand. Spend more time on getting writing opportunities on much larger sites, than trying to simply write for a bunch of smaller ones. This will help with your time management, reach, and ROI in the long run.
3 - Rely on the Content and Sharing of Experts
This article is a perfect example of my third recommendation for seeing SEO results... which is to start creating expert roundups of your own.
The reason why these are great for SEO, social shares, and traffic, is that you are reaching out to a bunch of industry experts who already have a following and brand in place. It also makes for an easy way to create a 10,000+ word article simply by using the feedback from others you've interviewed.
For a more in-depth guide on this process and to see other examples in different niche markets, check out my expert roundup guide.
Implement each of these methods into your website or blog and you should see higher rankings, social shares and traffic across the board.
Tor Refsland - CEO at Time Management Chef
If Google domination is your goal, there is one specific thing that you want to focus on that will set you apart for your competitors.
Are you ready?
Incorporate high-quality at everything that you do in your business, and decide that your content will be so good, that it will be REALLY hard for the influencers to ignore you.
Here are a few areas where you should sprinkle your quality fairy dust on:
1. Good keywords research
This should be kind of given. But few people actually know how to do this right, and then they start whining about why their content isn´t ranked on the first page of Google.
Yeah, and only decide to compete for the keywords where you have a chance of winning. And when you have decided, you´ll go ALL-IN!
2. Quality content
Yes, here´s another bullet point that should be no surprise. But let´s face it. How many times do we really read content that we are thinking, "Holy cow, that was CRAZY good!" ?
That being said, quality content in itself is not enough. You might be thinking, "Tor, what do you mean?" Bear with me for a bit.
Let´s say you came over a high-quality article about how to knit mittens for your cat.The article was really well-written and funny. But you didn´t complete reading the article. Why? Because you might dislike knitting and cats.
However, if you are reading a well-written article on how to use SEO to rank on top on Google (like this article), you might actually...
read the whole article...
So when you dish out high-quality content, focus on your readers.
And guess what? That´s the real secret behind getting blog posts to go viral.
3. Build good relationships with the top dogs
This can open awesome opportunities that would normally be out of our reach (and perhaps even too hard for you to imagine would be possible).
And you might be thinking, "Tor, that sounds cool and all that. But do those tips REALLY work?"
A good question, indeed.
That´s how I got 1800+ organic backlinks to my website in less than 2 years (without PBN or begging for a single link). Yeah, and I got several posts ranked on first page of Google."