When I ask people about their SEO strategy I usually get some answer about keywords.
And yes, keywords matter…but they shouldn’t be your first concern.
Because the question, especially for websites without a strong SEO presence, isn’t “can my site rank for this keyword?”
It’s “can my site even rank?”
Let’s help you turn that answer into a “yes.” 🙂
Google’s 3 Most Important Ranking Signals
In 2016, Andrey Lipattsev, one of Google’s Search Quality Senior Strategists, told the SEO community in an interview that Google’s top two ranking factors are links and content.
Since Lipattsev didn’t tell us whether links or content are more important, let’s assume they’re weighted the same.
Given that we know Google confirmed RankBrain as their 3rd most important ranking signal (reported here by SearchEngineWatch), the list of important ranking factors looks like this:
- Links + Content
We know each of these factors is made up of tons of subfactors. Links are complicated enough (dofollow vs. nofollow, domain authority, amount of other links on the page, links going to that specific page, how relevant a link is, anchor text, etc.) and “content” is even more nebulous.
But it’s a start.
How to Write Content that Ranks in Google
Since you know links, content, and RankBrain are Google’s most important factors, it makes sense to write content to optimize for those three factors if you want to get search traffic to your website.
Let’s look at each in turn.
A link (commonly called a backlink) is a hyperlink from someone else’s website to your website.
The phrase for getting links to a specific website or blog post is called “link building.”
Google weights links from relevant sites more heavily than links from random sites, so you should focus your link-building efforts there.
Write content that appeals to other industry bloggers.
In the beginning, you’ll need to ask them for a link. Once you’ve become more established, you can expect those links to come more organically.
But nobody will link to your content if it’s no good, which brings me to:
“Content” here generally means “quality of content.”
But “quality” is another subjective, nebulous term, so can I offer a suggestion?
Let’s talk about the completeness of content.
In other words, let’s look at the search results for “how to eat healthy.”
Do you notice how many of the search results contain a number?
“Eight tips for healthy eating”
“7 tips for clean eating”
“How to Eat Healthy: 25 Ways to Eat Healthier Every Day”
And so on.
This makes it easy for you to identify the common elements of each post.
Why do you want to do this?
Because Google has likely learned that this common element is a core piece of information that will answer the underlying question behind “how to eat healthy.”
Now imagine that you create a piece of content that’s more complete or comprehensive than any of those.
You include those common elements and then some. Say each page in the search results has 1 unique tip and you include them all on your post.
33 tips for healthy eating, or something like that.
Now you have to most complete and comprehensive post on the topic. And therefore, you have the best chance of satisfying a searcher who wants to know “how to eat healthy.”
Still doubting me? Here’s a case study from Moz.
But does this mean you need longer content? Not necessarily.
Length is a vanity metric — it doesn’t matter if people aren’t satisfied with the content.
Which brings us to RankBrain.
RankBrain is Google’s AI that helps Google learn how satisfied a user is with the search results.
RankBrain looks at things like:
- How fast does this site load?
- How many people “bounce” back to the search results?
- Of those people, how many of them click on another search result?
- How long do people stay on this page?
In other words, RankBrain has two major functions:
- RankBrain looks at the user experience of your website;
- RankBrain understands the user satisfaction of your content
If your content is no good (or not relevant), RankBrain will drop you like a stone for that keyword (or topic).
If you really want to nerd out on the details and learn how to optimize for RankBrain, my teacher Brain Dean has an excellent guide on his website, Backlinko.
Funny story about Brain and RankBrain, actually.
Brian says he published a blog post called “How to Get High Quality Backlinks,” and Google was actually ranking him for the keyword “how to get high.”
Obviously, two different topics. But same keyword.
That said, RankBrain quickly figured out that people who wanted to get high weren’t looking for SEO advice, and he dropped into the underworld for that search term.
I don’t think Brain especially wanted that traffic anyway. RankBrain cut out what would have been noise.
But what about Keywords?
No, seriously, keywords are less important than you think. Write about topics, not keywords.
Tell me about healthy eating, not “healthy eating.” Google will figure it out, promise.
That’s not to say you should throw keywords entirely out the window. You can still make it easy for Google to learn what your page is about. But I want you to make that mindset shift from “keywords” to “topics.”
Conclusion: How to Rank in Google
The content that ranks in Google — especially for competitive topics — gets a lot of links from other, trust websites, is comprehensive, and satisfies people both as an experience and as a source of relevant information.