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Keywords, links, and ranking. Explained

By Chad Russell

In order to rank well for a particular keyword, we need to have a good understanding about what Google does to rank one website higher than another for a particular keyword. When a person does a search for a particular keyword, Google performs a multitude of tasks at lightning speed. As soon as the search button is clicked, Google refers to a bunch of factors and its own index to make a decision about what to present to the searcher.

One of the things Google looks at is the On-Page data. This includes the page Title Tags, Meta Descriptions, the <h> tags, any images using alternate text, keywords in the content, etc. On-Page SEO is the easiest work to complete because all it really involves is making sure that the keywords you want to rank fo­r show up in the places we know Google looks for to determine the relevance the keywords have with the content on the page. As long as there is even a basic strategy in place, on-page work is
Link-Cloudalmost foolproof. I say almost because one can get too carried away with “over-optimization” by using too many keywords, or, “keyword stuffing.” Have you ever seen those “link clouds” in the sidebar or footers of some websites? If not done absolutely correctly, a “link cloud” could be interpreted by Google as keyword stuffing and a penalty could be the result. The rule of thumb is to make sure each landing page for a particular keyword only uses that keyword and its variants, i.e. “Plumber in Idaho Falls,” “Idaho Falls Plumber,” etc. Any online marketing agency is capable of performing effective on-page work because it doesn’t vary too much between websites. The only strategy one needs to be aware of is that the pages that are being SEO’d need to be relevant to the keywords being used.

The other place Google looks to for ranking information is your Off-Page work. Unfortunately, Off-Page work is much more difficult to complete in since there is much that one can do that may not have any benefit at all. Off-Page work is all about links. That is all it boils down to.

Do not confuse Off-Page SEO with Social Media. While Social Media is “Off-Page” by the strictest definitions, Social Media is so much more involved and works with your website’s On-Page work in different ways. But I digress.

Let’s talk about links; what links do, what links don’t do, what good links are, what bad links are, and what “Authority” is. The best way to describe a link is to think of the link as an “endorsement” and then apply that thinking to this analogy:

Your website is a book. You are a plumber and you wrote a book about “Plumbing Services in Idaho Falls.” You want this book to sell because you are a plumber in Idaho Falls and you want people to know about your business and you want to become an authority (remember this word, Authority) on the subject matter contained in your book. So you go door to door to sell your book. Door to door selling could be the off-line equivalent of using a service like to promote your website. It’s free, relatively easy to do, and only takes as much time as you want to take. The problem is that there are many people who will not buy your book because they’re not interested in it or they simply don’t even answer the door when you knock. Plus, you’re limited to the immediate neighborhood and your endurance.

But your book is great and you know that it would sell if you could only get it out to more people than what knocking on doors includes. So you go to Barnes and Nobel and you pay for some “book signing” time. You also go out and ask local plumbing companies in the area to put a couple copies of your book on their service counters, for a small fee of course. Now you have greatly expanded your potential customer base by strategically marketing your book to those who would benefit from the information contained within. You are now paying for the book’s promotion but with time the benefits will greatly outweigh the costs for the upgraded campaign. But what happens if you want more exposure? You know that Pocatello, Idaho is a greatly expanding area and the need for plumbers is growing. But how do you get plumbers in Pocatello to know about your book?

Eventually, you are going to need to spend some more money and time getting this book (website) more exposure. But we have to be very careful in where this exposure comes from. You don’t want just anybody promoting your book for you. You shouldn’t use
GoogEndorsementsToys ‘R Us to help sell your plumbing book as nobody would buy a book about plumbing if it were sitting right next to Tickle Me Elmo. But, if your book was on an end-cap of the plumbing section of say, Home Depot, you would probably have a few book sold in a day or two. But Home Depot isn’t just going to give you that expensive real estate especially if they haven’t heard of you (are you still following the website/book analogy?). You see, Home Depot is considered an authority in all things home improvement and that includes plumbing. Toys ‘R Us is not an authority on plumbing and should be avoided so as not to waste time and money marketing a product in a place that is not appropriate for said product. You see, the more places that are relevant to your book (website) and that sell your book for you (thereby endorsing your book) are actually helping your book to become an authority in the subject matter contained within its pages. When you’ve got 5 or 6 local businesses in town selling your book, it’ll be much easier for you to get your book on the shelves in Home Depot because you are proving to them that you are indeed and authority of Plumbing in Idaho Falls. Unless you have a great amount of money to pay Home Depot up front to sell your book for you, you will have to work up to gaining their trust using what you can. As always, money talks and if you have a ton of it you’ll get the results you want as fast as you want. Unfortunately, we live in what is called “real life” and you know that money doesn’t grow on trees. So you must use your funds as smartly as possible.

So we see how links are basically endorsements from other websites who have authority in the same subject matter you’re trying to sell. If a higher authority website links to yours, Google sees it as an “endorsement” and will actually siphon off a small amount of their “authority” (in the online marketing world, we call it “link juice”) and apply it to your website. It would be like putting a gold star on the cover of your book that says “Recommended by Home Depot. More Saving. More Doing.” Cha-Ching!!!

Links do not make your website rank. They simply do not have the power to do that and to assume otherwise is to make the
Authority-is-whatmistake of thinking that quantity is better than quality. Authority is what makes a website rank. When Google sees your website as an authority in a particular subject, your website will become a point of reference for people and companies in your line of work. One link from Home Depot’s website is probably a thousand times more valuable than a thousand links from places like, and the countless other free link websites. So as you can see, just like in real life, your expertise, knowledge, and reputation in your subject matter is what ultimately makes you an authority.

Let’s not forget what this is all about- how to work your keywords into your Off-Page and On-Page work. Your keywords are an integral part of Off-Page work in that they will be used as anchor text for the actual links themselves and they should be used smartly in any content that is posted Off-Page and links to your website. Remember, it’s all about authority and if the page that is linking to your website is not relevant to the subject matter of website, you are wasting your time, money, and resources getting a link that may actually end up hurting your campaign. An example of this would be a “link farm” or any various directory submission websites that have been built for the express purpose of providing back links in quantity. Google is actively de-indexing these types of websites and if you have links in them, you may get penalized.

So what kind of work is beneficial? I have identified three surefire ways to improve your rankings.

1. Blogging

Blogging is one of the fastest growing and legitimate sources of relevant, original, and content-rich links. A good blog is consistent, reads well, and is written for the user. Blogging also takes time to work, it takes lots of work to produce one, and it must be used as much as possible. One blog post per month will not be effective. You will also need an audience. Getting an audience involves guest blogging on other people’s blogs, “friending” your audience in Social Media and engaging with them on a regular basis. A good blog with lots of followers is probably one of the best things you can do to effectively market your website because smart and active blogging encourages natural linking and natural linking is Google’s favorite kind of link building.

2. Social Media

Social Media is ESSENTIAL! Google +1’s and Facebook likes/shares are absolutely necessary to help you grow your authority and user engagement. The more time you spend promoting your brand and services/products in Social Media, the better Google will treat you. But, just like in all marketing, you need to have a strategy in place. Incentivizing Social Media activity is a proven method to get more people to interact and engage with your content and online presence.

3. Links

Getting links from high authority websites is the third way to improve your keyword rankings. I have discussed this above.

Finally, I often get this question: “So how many keywords are you working on?” The only answer that should be given would look something like this: “Only the amount that is needed to get you increased business and profits.” Unfortunately, we live in a world that demands exact answers and figures and because of that, any other answer than the above is often difficult to answer. If you are paying an online marketing agency $1,000 dollars per month to work on 100 different keywords, that figures to about $10 per keyword. What does $10 get you in the online marketing world? Maybe a few Facebook posts using the keyword. Maybe a few Google +1’s on pages with the focus keyword on it. Maybe a blog comment link using that keyword. What kind of progress could you expect for a particular keyword per month when we only spend $10 on it?

Let’s say instead we focus on 10 keywords per month. That would be $100 per keyword. A hundred dollars can go a long way in the marketing world. You could write an entire blog post with graphics, images, links, and over 350 words of content. You could then promote this blog post by pushing it to Facebook and Google+ as well as offer it as a guest post on a higher authority website with links that point back to yours. Boom. You have just become that much more of an authority in your subject matter. And $100 could do most if not all of this. So it is easy to see how strategic keyword planning using the budget we have to work with is highly recommended.

Remember, becoming an authority takes one of two things: lots of money or lots of strategy. Fortunately, the Internet is full of information concerning all of this and it is only a Google search away.

Keywords, links, and ranking. Explained