The Definitive Guide to SEO Strategy in 2018

The Definitive Guide to
SEO Strategy in 2018

With 2018 upon us, it’s time, once again, for us entrepreneurs and search engine professionals to glimpse into our crystal balls and create our SEO strategies for the coming year.

But the world of SEO is changing…

Every day, Google optimizes and refines their formula for ranking content and, at this point, it’s hard to keep up with the constant algorithmic additions, subtractions, and alterations.

Luckily, developing a tried and true SEO strategy is not rocket science.

You simply need to identify the most important factors that affect your website’s search ranking (both positively and negatively) and then optimize your site and strategy accordingly.

In this “Mega Guide” I will be laying out a proven and easy to understand strategy that will help you dominate the search engine game in 2018, skyrocket your website to the first page of Google, and ultimately, increase your revenue by leaps and bounds.

But before we get started, I want to make something understood.

This guide is not about “Theories” or “Predictions”.

This isn’t another 1,200 word filler article designed to get your click and leave you hanging.

This guide is the culmination of everything that I learned about SEO in 2017 and everything that the data predicts for 2018.

You won’t find any vague SEOisms or unfounded hypotheses in the following sections and sentences — just raw data and proven techniques.

If you follow the steps that I’m about to show you, 2018 will be the year that you finally break through and master the SEO game.

Table of Contents

CHAPTER 01

Content & Context

CHAPTER 02

Backlinks to Your Website

CHAPTER 03

RankBrain

CHAPTER 04

User Experience

CHAPTER 05

Security and Authentication

CHAPTER 06

Social Presence

CHAPTER 07

On-Page Optimization

What Factors Does Google Consider and
How Can You Optimize For Them?

1

Content & Context

In a recent interview, Google’s Andre Lipattsev revealed that the three most important factors that Google uses to determine a website’s ranking are (in descending order):

I will be touching on all of these factors over the course of this guide, but for now, I want to focus on content.

Because, not only is content the most important factor in creating an effective SEO strategy, it’s also the most difficult.

At this point in the SEO game, Google doesn’t just want “Good” content.

You can no longer hire freelancers from Bangkok to write 500 word “Craptent” and expect to be ranked on the first page.

Google wants to see that you are creating high quality content that covers your chosen topic in great depth and detail.

Luckily, creating this high quality content (according to Google’s standards) can be boiled down to two simple factors.

How Long Should my Content Be?

Unlike most SEO related issues,, the answer to this question is fairly cut and dry.

All content that you create should be at least 1,800 – 2,000 words, if not more.

Simply put, Google knows that most bloggers and companies cannot completely cover important topics in fewer than 2,000 words and many studies have shown a direct correlation between the length of a piece of content and its rankings.

Although there are plenty of shorter articles that rank #1 for their respective keyword, these pieces of content are the exception, not the rule (and they are typically published by high traffic websites like Forbes and Entrepreneur)

The bottom line?

Write content that is at least 2,000 words if you want to win at the game of SEO in 2018.

What Should My Content Include?

Google no longer responds to short, half assed articles that are stuffed with keywords and clearly created to manipulate search rankings.

Instead, Google’s algorithm has evolved to the point that it now pays attention to the context of the keywords that you are using.

Let me give you an example to illustrate what I mean.

Let’s say that you wanted to target the keyword “Become more productive” and get your article to the first page of the search results.

Instead of simply stuffing your article with the keyword in question (like you could have done back in 2008), you must create content that effectively covers the entire topic and its related topics in depth.

When Google’s bots crawl your article, they aren’t just looking for the keyword “Become more productive”.

They are looking for that keyword and every secondary and tertiary keyword associated with it!

So, if you wanted to outrank the current leader’s for the keyword “Become more productive”, you need to create an article that discusses and includes keywords related to:

  • Career
  • Entrepreneurship
  • School
  • Work
  • Pomodoro technique
  • Four hour work week
  • Much much more

So how do you find the secondary and tertiary keywords to include in your content?

Easy… Google does it for you.

When you scroll to the bottom of any SERP, you will see a section at the bottom of the page detailing queries related to your original search.

In the case of our example, we have:

You can also use Google’s auto suggestion feature to find inspiration for secondary key phrases.

Although other marketers recommend using paid tools and tactics to find the most relevant keywords, I personally feel that Google provides you with everything that you need to create epic first page worthy content.

The Great Debate: Quality vs. Quantity Backlinks

Ever since Google rolled out their initial Penguin update and its proceeding versions, there has been a massive debate raging among SEOs and internet marketers.

Is it better to generate more high quality backlinks or simply more backlinks.

Before I go any further into this conversation, we need to define what we mean by quality and quantity backlinks.

  • Quality Backlink: Any backlink with a Domain Authority (DA) of 60 or more
  • Quantity Backlink: Any backlink with a Domain Authority (DA) of 40 or less

When I use the phrase “Quantity backlinks” I am not referring to crappy backlinks from spammy websites promoting viagra, fat loss pills, and “This one weird trick…”

I’m simply referring to backlinks from less authoritative websites.

So what’s better? Quality or quantity?

The simple answer is… Neither

When you look at the data, you will quickly realize that both sides of this argument have equally valid points.

On the one hand, it’s very clear that the authority of a linking domain does have a profound effect on your position within Google.

It’s equally clear that the number of backlinks have a profound effect on your position within Google.

So what in the world does this mean for you?

It means that you should shift your focus away from the quality vs. quantity debate and shift your focus towards the relevance of your backlink.

In the same way that Google’s bots look for secondary and tertiary keyphrases inside of your content, they are also looking at the context of the backlinks that you build.

For example, let’s say that you run a blog about content marketing and you are debating between pursuing two different backlinks.

The first comes from a general news site with a DA of 75.

The second comes from a top content marketing blog with a DA of 55.

Which one should you choose?

While there is no clear cut formula to help you answer this question, it’s become abundantly clear over the past year and a half or so that Google places a higher premium on the relevance of your backlinks than the “quality” of your backlinks.

Exactly how much of a premium is still up for debate, however from my own personal experience, I would recommend pursuing highly relevant backlinks (quality or quantity) 80% of the time and pursuing high quality but less relevant backlinks (think Forbes, Huffington Post, and other generalist websites) the other 20%.

Link building is a highly debated and incredibly nuanced topic and it extends far beyond this scope of this article.

However, I’ve put together a massive link building guide detailing the exact strategy I used to take OutreachMama from $0 – $93k/month in under a year.

Click here to learn everything that you need to know about backlink strategies, accelerate your SEO success and become a link building Jedi.

3

RankBrain

If you’re already proficient at SEO and have followed the steps outlined above, you should be able to get at least a few pieces of your content on the first page of Google for your target keyword.

Once you’ve accomplished this goal, you will come face-to-face with the third most important factor that Google considers when ranking content.

RankBrain.

What is RankBrain and How Does it Work?

After an unassuming launch in early 2015, Google’s machine learning tool known as “RankBrain” took the world of search engine optimization by storm and quickly became one of the most important factors that Google considers when determining the position of a website or blog post.

But what in the world is RankBrain and how does it work?

At the simplest levels, RankBrain is “An artificial intelligence program used to help Google process search queries”.

While this definition might conjure up the mental image of an Ex Machina type universe, their system is much more innocuous and simple than it sounds.

RankBrain simply measures and records how users interact and respond to search results and then changes the ranking of those results accordingly.

Here’s how it works:
Let’s say that you’ve decided that you are finally ready to get back into shape and sculpt that Greek God (or goddess) physique that you’ve always dreamed of.

It’s been a few years since you last set foot in a gym and you aren’t really sure where to start your journey.

So, you whip out your handy dandy iPhone and search “Workout programs to gain muscle”

After quickly perusing through the SERPs, you notice one article that looks particularly juicy so you click on it and get ready to take notes.

As soon as the website loads, you are blown away.

This article is the best darned thing since sliced bread!

You devour every word and keep the tab open so that you can use it as a reference later in the day.

If RankBrain notices that you and several other users are spending a significant amount of time on that article, it will take note and likely give that article a bump up the search engine ladder.

Conversely, let’s imagine that you input the same query except this time, you click on a different result.

Unfortunately for you (and the owner of this piece of content), the second article that you clicked on isn’t just bad… It downright sucks.

So you quickly bounce from that website and return to the previous article.

RankBrain will take note of this bounce and, if the trend is constant across several users, it will decrease the ranking of that content.

From these quick examples, you can clearly see that RankBrain is focused on two factors…

  1. Dwell Time (a.k.a. Average Time on Page)
  2. Click Through Rate (or CTR)

Understanding the Factors that Influence RankBrain
(and how you can optimize for them)

Now that you understand the basics of RankBrain and the factors that it takes into consideration, let’s discuss an even more important topic…

How you can optimize for these factors.

Since the dwell time of your article is based almost entirely on the quality of your content (which I’ve already discussed), I’m not going to waste any of your precious time talking about that factor here.

Instead, I want to focus on becoming what Brian Dean of Backlink.io refers to as “CTR Ninja”.

Mastering the CTR of Your Search Engine Results

Once you have landed a piece of content on the first page of Google, the battle has only just begun.

Now you must begin the process of optimizing your SEO meta data to compete with the other 7.5 organic search results.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how amazing your content is or how many backlinks it might have, if you haven’t taken the time to optimize the SEO meta data and ensure that people are actually clicking through to your site you will lose the SEO game.

Period.

So how do you increase the click through rate on Google?

The same way that you would increase the click through rate on your blog, Facebook page, or advertisement.

  1. Identify the solution that your audience is after
  2. Clearly outline the solution in the title of your article
  3. Reiterate the solution that you are offering in the meta description of your article.

Take a look at these two examples to see what I mean.

Both of these examples were pulled from the same search query “Advanced SEO”.

Both pieces of content come from reputable sources and both of them provide value to their readers.

However…

The first example from Neil’s website ranks #2 on the SERP and the second example ranks #9!

So what’s going on here?

While some people might suggest that it has to do with the quality of their backlinks, the page dwell time, or the website’s design (and they could all be right) I believe that this ranking discrepancy is due to one simple thing.

The click through rate.

In the second example, SEO-Theory uses a simple feature driven title.

“Advanced SEO Techniques for 2017”.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this title, but it lacks the “pizazz” required to convince most readers to click through.

Furthermore, the meta description is a complete jumble of nonsensical sentences pulled from the introduction.

There is no explanation of what the article is about, how it can help the reader, or what solutions they can expect to find.

On the other hand, Neil Patel clearly followed the three step formula that I just shared.

First, he identified the solution that his audience wanted by peeling back the layers and diving deep into the “Why” behind this particular keyword.

Why do people care about advanced SEO?

They probably don’t find it particularly interesting.

They certainly don’t find it entertaining, and it’s unlikely that they are simply googling “Advanced SEO” for the hell of it.

No…

People care about advanced SEO because it allows them to generate more organic traffic which in turn means less paid advertising and more profit.

And Neil clearly states the benefit of reading his content over the competitors with the title “19 Advanced SEO Techniques that Will Double Your Traffic.”

But he doesn’t stop there.

He then uses the meta description to reiterate the benefit that readers can expect by stating “Here are 19 advanced SEO techniques you can implement right away to increase your search traffic.”

If you had no previous experience with either brand, which result would you click on?

I think the answer is pretty clear.

4

User Experience

Another factor that Google is becoming increasingly concerned with is the user experience or UX of your website.

The UX is typically determined by three things:

Let’s dive a little deeper into these three topics so that you understand how to really optimize your website and content for Google and your customers.

Your Website’s Speed

The first, and possibly most important UX factor is your website’s speed.

Here are just a few statistics on how the speed of your website can affect your business (courtesy of Kissmetrics)

  • 73% of mobile internet users say that they’ve encountered a website that was too slow to load.
  • 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less.
  • 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load.
  • A 1 second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions.
  • If an ecommerce site is making $100,000 per day, a 1 second page delay could potentially cost you $2.5 million in lost sales every year

These stats should make it abundantly clear that your website’s speed and performance matter and they matter a lot.

But the question still remains, how do you actually go about increasing your website speed and improving performance?

While I could devote an entire article to the topic of optimizing your website speed, (and maybe I will) these 5 simple steps will account for 80% of your website speed.

Enable Compression
Use Gzip to reduce the size of your CSS, HTML, and JavaScript files that are more than 150 bytes (do not use Gzip for image files)

Minify JavaScript, CSS, and HTML
Optimize your code by removing spaces, commas, and all other unnecessary characters, formatting, and unused code.

Leverage Browser Caching
Allow browsers to cache certain information so that users don’t have to reload your website every time they visit it (for more information go here)

Optimize Your Servers
There is too much to unpackage in this article but I recommend spending some serious time ensuring that your server response times are under 200 ms.

Optimize Images
Resize images to the smallest appropriate size. Use PNG files for graphics and JPEG files for photographs. Also be sure to use CSS sprites for buttons, icons, logos, and other frequently used graphics.

And now we can move on to the next pillar of user experience… Mobile usability.

Mobile Usability and Google’s Mobile First Index

In November of 2016, Google announced that they are transitioning to a “Mobile First Index”.

Meaning that, once the index is launched, Google will consider the mobile version of your website as the “Real” site and it will place a reduced importance on the desktop version of your site.

While the mobile first index has yet to take effect, I can all but guarantee you that we will see (at the very least) a beta version of this index rolling out in 2018 and you need to be prepared when they do.

To get optimize your website for the impending mobile first index I recommend that you:

  1. Transition from a mobile “M.” to a responsive web design (if you have not done so already)
  2. Ensure that all content is visible and accessible to both mobile and desktop users (this should be .. … taken care of if you take action on the above step)
  3. Run several “Mobile Friendly” tests to determine whether or not your responsive design is easy to .. … use and navigate.

With your website running at full speed and fully navigable on mobile devices, there’s only one element of the user experience left to optimize…

Social Proof

I was out at lunch with a friend of mine the other day when he asked me to take a look at his website and give him some feedback on the layout and design.

Overall, the site looked great but, when I read through his top blog post, I noticed one very obvious and pressing issue.

The comments on his site were disabled.

“What’s up with this?” I questioned him as I pointed to the screen. “Oh” he shrugged, “I got tired of moderating haters and paying for spam filters so I just disabled them.”

Bad move…

While this practice sounds good in theory, it is actually very detrimental to your overall SEO success for one simple reason:

Google cares about social queues.

Gone are the days where good content and a decent design can land you on the first page.

Now, Google expects to see your audience engaging with your content, commenting on your posts, and sharing your best work on social media.

This is one of the biggest rookie mistakes that I see out there and it’s an easy fix that can instantly boost your website’s SEO juice.

Enable comments on your blog, make your social profiles clearly accessible, allow readers to share your content directly from your website and you will be golden.

5

Security and Authentication

Another factor that Google has taken a particular interest in recently is the security and authentication of your website.

As more and more transactions take place over the internet, Google wants to ensure that all transactions are fully encrypted and secure.

The simplest way to achieve this goal and appease the search engine gods is to purchase a simple SSL certificate from your hosting provider.

While the prices vary depending on the number of websites you are encrypting and the level of protection that you desire, you should expect to spend about $60/year on this certificate.

In the end, this is a small price to pay for even a marginal increase in your website’s rank and authority.

6

Social Presence

Another often overlooked factor that plays a big role in your SEO success is your presence (or lack thereof) on different social media channels.

This statement might surprise you considering the fact that Matthew Cutts, one of Google’s top employees, released a video clearly stating that social signals and metrics like Facebook and Twitter followers do not affect search rankings.

But you must always remember that there is a very distinct difference between a factor not causing a jump in your search ranking and a factor not correlating to a jump in your ranking.

Here’s what I mean…

Creating an effective social media strategy may not directly increase your social ranking.

For example, Google won’t crawl your website and follow the links to your Facebook page and then say “Holy crap! 100,000 followers? This guy/gal needs a bump in their pagerank”.

But what will happen is this:

When you have 100,000 followers (which is just an arbitrary number selected for simplicity), you will likely have more people viewing content that you share on social media.

You will have more traffic pouring into your website which means, if you’ve done things properly, you will have more engagement, more organic search traffic, and ultimately, more positive search engine signals that Google looks for.

While social media certainly doesn’t hold the same weight that content and backlinks might, it’s still an important factor and something that you should seriously consider moving into 2018.

7

On-Page Optimization

The final (major) factor that Google considers when determining your websites ranking is your on-page optimization.

Although Google’s algorithm is quickly evolving to the point where on-page factors are less important than they once were… They are still important!

Since I don’t have time to go into great detail on the wide variety of on page factors for which you should optimize your site, here are the top 10 most important on-page SEO “hacks” that will help you boost your website’s ranking.

Include Your Keyword in Your Title Tag as Soon as Possible

Whenever possible, try to include your target keyword in the first part of your SEO title tag.

The closer your keyword is to the beginning of the tag, the more heavily it’s weighted by search engines.

For example, if you were writing an article on “How to Become a Copywriter” you would want to write a title like this…

Not this…

Keep Your URLs SEO Friendly

Try to avoid using long clunky URLs whenever and wherever possible.

For example, try using
https://www.outreachmama.com/backlinks

Instead of
https://www.outreachmama.com/11-12-17/article/category-linkbuilding/backlinks

Make Sure that You Are Using H1 Tags for Your Title and H2 Tags for Subheadings

While WordPress will automatically wrap your title in an H1 tag, there are many commonly used website themes that will override this setting without your knowledge.

Double check that all titles are wrapped using H1 tags and, when creating subheadings, always wrap them in an H2 tag.

Invest in a Responsive Design

I’ve already talked about the eminent approach of Google’s “Mobile First Index” and this point is so important that it bears repeating.

If you are not investing in a responsive web design, you will get penalized by Google’s algorithm.

As time goes on, these penalties will become more and more severe so take care of this now before it becomes a real problem.

Include Lots of (Optimized) Visual Content

Images and embedded videos can greatly reduce the bounce rate on your website and increase user engagement, both of which are extremely important factors in ranking your website.

However…

If you aren’t careful this tactic can actually serve to detriment to your SEO strategy.

Non-optimized images and videos will slow down your website’s performance, increase the bounce rate on your website, and decrease the likelihood of earning a return visit.

The most important thing to remember is to always minimize images to the smallest possible size (typically 640 x 457) and always include alt text descriptions containing your target keyword.

Include Social Sharing Buttons on Your Website

Like I said earlier, social signals may not cause an increase in your search rankings, but there is a definite positive correlation .

Include easily accessible social sharing buttons to increase the engagement on your site and the number of eyeballs that are viewing your content.

Pepper in Several Internal and External Links

While many online marketers claim that you should never link to a competitor, most studies on search engine factors and performance say otherwise.

Google uses outbound or external links to determine the subject and relevance of your content and the link building strategy that you deploy is crucial to your overall SEO success.

I recommend that you include at least 2-3 internal links and 3-5 external links per 2,000 word blog post.

Create Great Content

The final, and most important on page factor for which you can optimize is your content.

I cannot stress this enough…

If you aren’t creating incredible, sharable, and valuable content you will NOT see any improvement in your search rankings.

Period.

Content is King.

So get down on one knee and let out a loud “Hail to the King”.

Your business’s future may depend on it.

8

Tips, Tricks, and Important Factors to Consider in Your SEO Strategy

Now that you have a 30,000 foot overview of the most important factors that Google uses to rank your site, I want to take a couple of minutes to discuss some additional tips and tricks that you can use to create a kickass SEO strategy in 2018.

The following 6 tips should be used to compliment the strategy that you have developed from the last section.

While all of these tactics are important, none of them will do you any good if you are not following all of the steps that I have laid out previously in this guide.

But if you have taken action on the previous section?

These simple hacks might provide you with the extra “Juice” that you need to dominate the search engine game in 2018.

Keep an Eye on Voice Search

Despite its increasing prevalence, Google’s voice search feature is still in its infancy.

However, as more and more people begin to enjoy the convenience of “Hands-free searching”, this will become a more and more powerful tactic in your SEO arsenal.

While we might not know much, we do know enough about voice search to successfully optimize your content for it.

  1. Your content must rank on the first page – Duh
  2. Your content should be included in Google’s featured snippet – I will talk about this in just a minute
  3. Your content should clearly and concisely answer your target question – E.g. “Hey Google, how ……many calories do I need to consume to gain muscle” should be answered with an introduction that ……states “To gain one pound of muscle per week, you must consume 3,500 calories more than your ……TDEE”

Like I said, we don’t know a whole lot about voice search at this point in time and this particular feature still has a long way to go.

But if you follow these three simple steps, you might find yourself asking a question to Google, Siri, or Bixby and listening to a response that you wrote.

Focus on Long Tail Keywords

One trend that you have undoubtedly noticed in recent years in the increasing importance that Google is placing on long tail keywords.

At this point in time, there are more than 3,000,000 blog posts being published on a daily basis.

This means that there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of websites and articles that are all competing for the same high volume keywords.

You know the ones…

  • Make money online
  • Start a business
  • Stop eating sugar
  • Lose weight
  • Gain muscle
  • Personal finances
  • SEO Guide
  • Invest in real estate

And the list goes on.

Unfortunately, most bloggers simply don’t have the resources or manpower required to rank their content on the first page for any of these major keywords (although it is possible and I put together a case study to show you how I did it here)

So what is an SEO to do?

Simple…

Go where there’s no competition.

There is an almost endless number of queries that can be entered into Google at any given time.

As an SEO or entrepreneur, it’s your job to identify the long tail keywords that have a high enough search volume to be worth your time but not so high that they’re impossible to rank for.

Accept that Visual Content is Going to be a Primary Driver of Traffic

I am a firm believer that visual content will be the leading driver of traffic and SEO juice in 2018 and beyond.

I know that this might sound like a bold statement, but the data backs it up.

  • YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine (source)
  • More than 55% of all Google searches contain at least one video on the first SERP (source)
  • One third of online activity is spent watching video (source)
  • 51% of marketing professionals consider video marketing to be the most important part of their …..content strategy (source)
  • Social video generates 1200% more shares than text and image based content combined (source)

To put it in Layman’s terms… Video is taking over the world.

And at this point in the SEO game, if you are not actively creating, optimizing, and promoting high quality video content, you will get left behind.

Period.

Luckily, you don’t have to create thousands of hours of video content in order to drive tons of traffic to your content (and eventually convert that traffic to customers).

Because, even though video is a one of the cornerstones of a successful SEO strategy, most marketers are so lazy about creating video content that you can easily create a small handful of high quality videos and generate thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of views per month.

Ideally, you want to focus on short, valuable, and highly shareable content that other influencers in your industry can easily embed and promote to their audiences.

At the end of the day it only takes a handful of videos to generate lasting and substantial results.

Try to Create Unique Data

One of the most prevalent themes that I have noticed when examining SEO data from 2017 is that unique data is one of the biggest drivers of traffic and backlinks… if you pull it off right.

In fact, I believe that unique data can be one of the most important pillars of your entire content marketing strategy.

For example, Buzzsumo compiled data on more than 100 million headlines, analyzing exactly which headlines correlated to virality and which ones didn’t.

And the result?

Since June, that one article has generated nearly 18,000 social shares and it’s not slowing down anytime soon.

“But Ajay!” I can already hear you saying, “I don’t have an awesome software that can analyze 100 million headlines! What am I supposed to do?”

Relax…

You need to remember that, even with a small email list, you can still compile statistically relevant data that provides massive value to your audience.

A simple way to compile data is to use your own company and your own audience as your personal guinea pig.

You could analyze the open rate of your emails over the past 12 months (like Derek Halpern of Social Triggers did here)

You could poll your audience about a particularly important topic to your niche and then share that data on your blog.

Or, if push comes to shove, you can always aggregate the data and information that has already been compiled by other people (Just be sure to cite your sources)

When in Doubt Steal What Your Competition is Doing
(Only Do It Better)

While this subheading might conjure up mental images of hockey masks, purse snatchers, and Ocean’s 11, I assure you that I am not encouraging anyone to engage in illegal, illicit, or otherwise immoral behaviors.

What I am encouraging you to do is to stop making SEO harder than it needs to be.

Many of your competitors have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars developing their strategies and optimizing every nuance of their website for SEO, so why wouldn’t you learn from it?

By leveraging the hard work and effort that others have already done, you can cut your learning curve in half and create a proven SEO strategy faster than you ever thought possible.

But how do you actually go about collecting this competitive intelligence?

The simplest method that I have found requires only two tools (both of which have free versions) and a few hours of research each month.

Here’s what you do.

Identify the Keywords You Want to Target in 2018

Before you can figure out who your main competitors will be in the coming year, you must first know what you are competing for.

In the same way that you wouldn’t start a training program for an sports event without knowing what that sport was, you shouldn’t conduct competitive SEO research without k
nowing what keywords you are trying to target.

So before you do anything else, I want you to pull out a blank word document and identify:

  • 5-6 high search volume/high competition keywords for which you want to rank
  • 10-12 low search volume/low competition keywords that will boost your SEO juice.

Take this step seriously.

Knowing the best keywords to target is 50% of the battle when it comes to SEO and if you execute this step properly, it will make the rest of this process much easier.

Make a List of Your Top 20 Competitors

Next, you need to figure out who your competitors really are.

For our purposes, your “Competitors” are any brand, person, or company whose content currently outranks your own for a given keyword.

Depending on the keyword/phrase in question, your competitors could be anyone from a Fortune 500 company down to a mom and pop blog offering services completely unrelated to your own.

It doesn’t matter what they are selling or who they are marketing to.

What matters is their search engine ranking.

Figure it out, write them down, and get ready to trim your learning curve down to a nub.

Use Buzzsumo.com to Find The Most Shared Content that Your Competitors Have

The next step in this process is to use a tool I’ve already mentioned called Buzzsumo.

Buzzsumo allows you to identify your competitor’s best content and then reverse engineer their success.

Here’s how it works.

First, you are going to go to buzzsumo.com and type in the URL of your competitors.

For the sake of this example, we will be using my site, outreachmama.com

Then click “Go” and you will bring up a results page where you can view the number of social shares, backlinks, and sharers.

While social shares don’t directly cause an increase in your rankings, they are a significant signal to Google that your content is worth ranking.

You can use this information to examine exactly what your competitors are doing well and, more importantly, what you can do better.

Pay careful attention to:

  • The type of content generating shares (articles, videos, infographics)
  • The length of the content
  • The keyword placement and ratio (e.g. Where are they putting keywords and how often)
  • The number of images
  • The style of the content (is it conversational, data drive, professional, etc.)

After you repeat this process a handful of times, you should have a pretty clear picture of what your competitors did to land on the first page.

You should also have plenty of ideas for how you can overtake them in 2018.

While you could end your competitive analysis here, I suggest that you take things one step further and use yet another freemium tool that I’ve become increasingly fond of in recent years.

Use Moz OSE

Moz OSE or open site explorer is an invaluable tool for any entrepreneur looking to leverage link building as part of their SEO strategy.

Although they offer a premium version of their software for insert amount most of you should be able to get by with just the free tool.

First, go to moz.com/researchtools/ose/

Then, input your competitor’s URL into the search bar and click “Go”.

Again, for the sake of this example I will be using my own site, Outreachmama

Once it pulls up the search results, you will be presented with a wide variety of information about your competitor’s backlink profile and their anchor text ratios.

Using the navigation bar on the left, you now have access to just about everything that you will need in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of how your competitor’s are optimizing their content and link building strategy for SEO.

Use Linkio

After years of SEO performed on a site, it’s difficult to gauge, not only what the true backlink profile of a site is, but how healthy it is.

Linkio removes the burden of analysis by reviewing a websites backlink profile, figuring out which links actually “count" and calculating the anchor text percentages.

With this data, it uses an algorithm to guide you on what types of links you should be building next.

It offers a level of automation, intuition, and flexibility not seen in any previous tool.

Try the SEO management tool at Linkio.com.

Optimize Content for Google “Snippets”

Have you ever typed a specific question into Google and been presented with one of the following results?

This is known as a Google snippet and, it turns out, that there is actually a way that you can optimize your content specifically for these types of queries.

What’s amazing about Google snippets is that they automatically bump your content to the top of the SERPs even if your article or video technically ranks lower than the competition.

In the above example, webmd.com actually ranks #4 for that particular query.

However, because their SEO team knew what they were doing (or just dumb luck), they were able to sidestep the rankings and skyrocket their article to the top of Google.

So how do you target Google snippets?

In the same way that you target voice search queries, by providing a very clear answer to a very clear question.

To start, think of a few questions that are commonly asked in your industry or niche.

For my company, I would target queries like, “How Do I Build Backlinks” or “What is link building?”

Then, you want to include the exact query as a subheading in your article, preferably wrapped in an H2 tag.

From here, you either want to clearly answer the question in one or two sentences or provide a simple checklist, both of which are easy for Google’s bots to read.

While Google snippets aren’t a totally reliable way to rank your content on the first page, if you already have content that is performing well, adding in a subheading that is optimized for Google Snippets might provide you with the extra push needed to launch you to the top of the food chain.

Conclusion

There you have it…

This guide has laid out my personal SEO strategy for 2018 and now it’s up to you.

What does your SEO strategy look like in 2018? Will you be focused on building backlinks? Creating epic shareable content? Or will you be doubling down on your on-site optimization?

Let me know in the comments below.

And if this guide helped you in any way, please share it on Facebook or Twitter so that I can help more entrepreneurs and marketers achieve their goals and make 2018 their best year ever!

Thanks!