Keywords are dead in the water. Search engine optimization (SEO) used to be synonymous with keyword optimization, the process of including targeted keywords at a precise frequency in the body of onsite content and as anchor text for external links. A series of Google updates and changes in industry thought have gradually diminished the power of keyword-based strategies, but now they’re practically useless. Thanks to Google’s new semantic search—which analyzes the intent behind a user’s search query instead of the words and phrases that constitute it—stuffing your site or your content with keywords will now net you nothing more than a penalty.
So instead of trying to build your ranks with keywords, try one of these ten keyword-free SEO strategies:
This is usually a simple fix that can subtly improve your rankings. If you haven’t already, make sure your site features SSL encryption (it’s what denotes the HTTPS, rather than the HTTP at the beginning of your URL). That added layer of site security is beneficial for your users, and it also gives you a slight ranking boost. Then, clean up your site speed by consolidating any and all plugins you have, clearing up your caching, and making sure all your onsite images are optimized for speed. There are several free tools online to help improve your site speed, especially for WordPress sites.
Google likes to see sites that update their blog and news sections often. With the sheer volume of content available online, new and interesting content takes priority over older, more detailed content. Simply posting a few times a week rather than once a week can make a drastic difference in your search rankings. It’s also important to use multiple mediums when posting—post blogs, news articles, infographics, images, videos, or anything else that can round out your strategy. Posting in multiple formats will keep your readers engaged and improve your search visibility at the same time.
One of the best content strategies around is proactively answering your users’ questions. Users frequently rely on search results for the answers to their questions, and since Google’s new semantic search algorithm analyzes user intent and populates the best possible results accordingly, providing the answers can get you more visibility for your target audience. Get as specific as possible to cover questions with the least amount of competition, and conduct regular surveys or questionnaires to determine what kinds of questions your users are currently facing. Including images or how-to videos can also help you get higher ranks for these articles.
Your NAP is a group of specific information about your company—its Name, Address, and Phone number. These bits of information are used by Google to consolidate and understand information about your business around the web, so it’s vitally important that all of your NAP information is identical. That means no variations—if it says “Maple Street” on your website, it needs to say “Maple Street” on Yelp—not “Maple St.” Check any instance of your website on the web, including any of your external links, your professional partners, your social media profiles, and your profiles on third-party review sites. Correct any mistakes you find immediately.
After Google’s Pigeon update earlier this year, online reviews have become an important ranking factor. The more reviews you have for your company, and the more positive they are, the higher you’re going to rank for relevant queries. While soliciting and even directly encouraging reviews is a direct violation of most service agreements of third-party review sites like Yelp, there’s nothing stopping you from announcing your listings and subtly suggesting how much you appreciate positive reviews. Just a handful of new reviews every month can accumulate to make a big difference for your ranks.
Press releases have been a great SEO strategy for years, and as long as you’re not using them as shady opportunities to stuff keywords, they are still a fantastic strategy. Write press releases that are actually newsworthy—not just some fluff you’ve thrown together for the press attention. Submit your press releases wherever you can—you never know when you might earn a link from an authoritative national news provider. These links are some of the most powerful you can get, and you can always benefit from the extra visibility and press attention.
While it isn’t completely clear how or why social media signals factor into your ranks, the more frequently you post on social media and the more active your following is, the better you’re going to perform. As a result, you should claim all the social media profiles you can and update them regularly with high-quality content in order to generate a larger following. Keep your audience engaged, post several times a day, and you’ll start earning higher search ranks in addition to the extra social traffic you’ll generate.
Onsite content is still valuable and important, but don’t neglect your offsite strategy. It’s still important to build external links pointing back to your domain in order to improve your authority and increase your chances of ranking for various queries. However, the recent additions to Google’s Penguin update have made the limitations on link authority even stricter. Over the course of your strategy, be sure to include a diverse range of links on a diverse spread of sources, and include non-linked brand mentions as well.
Guest blogging is another strategy that can drastically improve your visibility as well as your domain authority. Attract outside guest bloggers to your blog by making public callouts and attracting influencers with direct messages on social media. You can also find high-quality outlets for your own guest blogs (making sure they are relevant for your industry), and post occasionally with a link or two pointing back to your main site. Do this regularly, but avoid relying on the same sources over and over.
Instead of building all the links yourself, let your audience build the links for you. Use infographics and entertaining videos to engage and inform your audience. They’ll be more likely to share it on their own outlets, and link back to you naturally as the authority. Alternatively, you can sponsor a drawing or a competition that gets people to post testimonials or video reviews of your products—in this case, you’ll simultaneously improve your online reputation on hundreds of external networks and benefit from the links generated by the process.
Today, the bottom line for SEO is user experience. If you give your users a great online experience, you’ll make them happy, and by proxy, you’ll make Google happy and you’ll climb in the ranks accordingly. Keep in mind that no SEO strategy can rocket you to the top of SERPs immediately; it will take weeks or even months before you start to see results, and only after you work consistently and diligently to improve your campaign.