What do you do to get fit, lose weight or improve your overall health? You snack on fewer candies and munch a few more salads. Maybe even hit the gym. Then you cross your fingers and hope to reap the fruits of your labor.
Us marketers tend to adopt a similar approach when working towards our goals. When we want to optimize our content for search, we may “stuff in a few keywords” and “add some internal and external links” to our website.
Somewhere down the line, we expect to see our website creep up in Google. It may… but it may not. And with all the time we spend crafting thoughtful content to drive our business objectives, what’s the point if NO ONE FINDS IT?
The reality is that we — fitness fanatics, marketers, hell, human beings — assume we know what work is required to achieve our goals. But how can we be sure to get the results we want when our actions are based on what we think works rather than what we know works?
According to Rand Fishkin, co-founder of Inbound.org and self-proclaimed “Wizard of Moz,” the key to achieving results is to run experiments, track our work (not just our progress) and find out what helps get the results we want. And of course, reiterate on the work that brings success.
During his talk at the Call to Action Conference, Rand walked us through five simple SEO experiments that can help us measure the input that creates our desired results. And lucky for you, we walk you through each one below.
So, are you ready to improve your SEO health? On your marks, get set, GO!
Experiment 1: Bolster internal linking
SEO marketers from far and wide recognize that linking to various pages on your website can help improve your Google ranking. Someone lands on your website and will happily delve deeper and deeper through a clever web of internal links, all the while boosting your website’s credibility. Good times… right?
Well, it depends. We can’t just assume that stuffing our webpages willy nilly with internal links will push us up the ranks — even if it seemed to work a dream for someone else. We need to experiment to find out if and how internal linking affects our Google ranking.
Step 1. Choose the webpage you want to rank higher for (a.k.a. your target page). This may be an important page that currently isn’t ranking well. In Rand’s case, he wants his “Keyword research tool” page to rank higher.
Step 2. Decide which term(s) you want your target page to rank for in Google. Then bring up the pages on your website that Google considers to be the most important for this search term by searching in Google for [the term you want your target page to rank for] + [site:] + [website name]. As per Rand’s example, he wants his target page to rank for “keyword research tool”. So he would run a search for [keyword research tool] + [site:] + [moz.com]”, as per:
Step 3. Find out if you’ve already linked to the target page in these pages. If not, add a link:
Step 4. After a predefined amount of time (e.g., two weeks, one month, etc.), track the outcome. Did the target page’s rank drop, improve or stay the same?
If the specific action of adding internal links to your target page positively affects the page’s ranking, repeat the action to boost your other website pages.
Rand’s buddy Shaun Anderson from Hobo Web carried out this experiment over a month. Check out his results:
Just 10 days after he added internal links to his target page, the page shot up the rankings. And when he removed the links later on, it shot back down again.
Experiment 2: Create new content targeting long-tail keywords
Long-tail keywords are the new(ish) kid on the SEO block. They’re keywords of at least three words and are more specific than your regular keyword. Think “soccer boots for kids” rather than a simple “soccer boots”. They’ve also been proven to drive more qualified traffic to websites and therefore increase that all-important conversion rate.
You may have already started optimizing your webpages with these babies (brownie points to you). But it’s now time to start testing out their impact to see if they’re really improving your page rankings.
Step 1. Type in a keyword phrase you want to rank for into a keyword research tool such as Moz’s Keyword Explorer, Uber Suggest or Google Keyword Planner (you’ll need to set up a free account for the latter).
Step 2. Once the results are up, identify long-tail keywords that have low volume, low difficulty and high opportunity. You’re looking for a volume and difficulty level of anything less than around 30, and an opportunity level of 80+. In Rand’s example, “geek gadgets for her” and “cool unique electronic gifts” are good options.
Step 3. Create and publish helpful content that targets your chosen long-tail keywords. Use the keywords in the page headline and make sure your content directly relates to the keywords.
Step 4. Track the outcome over time. Hopefully, a couple of weeks or months down the line, you will see a result as good as this one:
Experiment 3: Turn mentions into links
If you’re doing good business, people are likely to be saying good things about your brand on the web. If these mentions don’t link to your website, you’re missing out on a prime backlinking opportunity, which can help boost your website’s SEO. Let’s see how you can turn simple brand chatter into into fuel for your search engine ranking.
Use Google’s date query ranges to research mentions of your company, brand or product on the web. (You could also invest in a tool like Mention, talkwalker or Moz’s Fresh Web Explorer to receive mention alerts.)
Step 1. In the Google search bar, enter the search terms you want to find mentions for. In his example, Rand searched for “keyword explorer moz”.
Step 2. Next, tell Google how far back you want to search. Either select the date range from the drop down list (shown above), or manually enter the number of days by simply replacing the last number at the end of the URL:
Step 3. In the pages that Google pulls up, look for keyword mentions that don’t link back to your website:
Step 4. This next step requires a bit more creativity. To get that keyword backlinking to your site, you’ll need to contact the mentioner. You could email them or reach out to them on social media and ask them to link back to your website from these pages.
Step 5. Once that backlink has been in place for a few weeks, have a look at your webpage’s ranking. Has it changed?
Experiment 4: Test new titles and headlines
Title element testing has shown to be a rather effective way to optimize web content for clicks. It’s definitely worth experimenting with these short but important nuggets of text. They can be the difference between a user clicking on a webpage or skimming past it, uninterested.
Step 1. Identify the pages of your website that use the templated language for titles and headlines, for example:
Step 2. It’s time to find out: Are people searching for the keywords in the headlines of these pages? Or are there more popular keywords you could use? Use a keyword planner tool to find the most commonly searched keywords related to your page topic.
Step 3. Update the pages in question with your new, more popular keywords.
Step 4. Analyse any changes after a predefined amount of time.
UK-based online marketing agency Distilled did this for their client concerthotels.com. They changed the title and H1 used across a bulk of webpages from:
Title: <<Location>> Hotels, NY | ConcertHotels.com
H1: <<Location>> Hotels
Title: Hotels near <<Location>> Rochester, NY | ConcertHotels.com
H1: Hotels near <<Location>>
As the graph below shows us, they reaped some seriously impressive results:
Experiment 5: Add related keywords to your pages
Think you can rank well for a keyword without any related keywords on the same page? Don’t underestimate the power of context, especially when dealing with Google. When you talk about SEO on your website, Google expects you to mention search engines, ranking, keywords, etc. Try adding some related keywords to your content and the search engine big dog may well thank you by upping your webpage’s ranking.
Step 1. Choose the webpage you want to optimize. Identify what the page is about and decide on the most fitting keyword.
Step 2. Find terms that Google associates with this keyword. Use a tool like nTopic or Moz’s related topics tool to get a list of related keywords.
Step 3. Work these new keywords into your webpage’s content, making sure that they sound natural when you read over the text.
Step 4. As always, make sure you measure your results! Has your webpage climbed the rankings after a few weeks or months?
No-one would deny that classic analytics — analyzing the results of our actions — is totally essential for tracking marketing progress. But when it comes to understanding which marketing actions work, we need a different approach.
We simply must stop assuming we know what work will help us achieve our goals. By not only measuring the results, but also experimenting and measuring the actions that you take, you can figure out exactly what you need to do to move the SEO needle, time and time again.