Do you know what the key to ranking well on Google is? I bet you are thinking it’s links, content and on-page optimization, right?
All of those things do impact your rankings, but over the last 11 years of my SEO life, I’ve learned that creativity is the key to SEO success. Through trial and error, I’ve been able to create a bag of tricks that help me take any site and boost its SEO rankings.
Because I have been an SEO for 11 years, I’m going to share with you 11 strategies from my bag of tricks. Some of these tricks will be easy to implement while others will be time-consuming, but if you take the time to implement a handful of them, your search engine traffic will increase.
So, let’s dive right in…
Trick #1: 404 error pages can lead to more indexed pages
A 404 error page tells you and search engines that a “page is not found.” This happens because you may have changed your URLs over time or removed a few pages when you overhauled your design.
The bigger your site, the more 404 errors you will have. But instead of using a generic 404 error page, you could try to design something that is also entertaining…something like this:
The problem with that is that although the 404 error page above is entertaining, it isn’t helping much with search engine rankings.
To remedy the situation, what I do for big sites is I create custom 404 pages that display a creative image like the one above and also link out to 25 to 50 random internal pages on the website. Each time the 404 error page is loaded, the links automatically change.
By doing this, you can increase the number of pages that get indexed. It’s so effective that when I worked with TechCrunch years ago, I was able to increase its search engine traffic by 9% in a matter of 30 days just because of 404 error pages.
The more indexed pages you have within Google, the more opportunities you have of getting search traffic.
Trick #2: Don’t be afraid to start a fight
Similarly to the concept above with 404 error pages, Zappos implemented its product showdown pages. My buddy created this at Zappos years ago because he was trying to find a way to increase the number of indexed pages to boost company’s search engine traffic.
He had a developer create a product showdown, where products fight against each other. You, as a user, vote for the winning product.
What you may not know is that there really isn’t a winner. The product showdown page continually changes the two products that compete against each other every time the page is loaded. This helps to increase the number of internal pages being indexed.
The end result was an increase in search traffic in excess of 10%.
Trick #3: Does your infographic move?
You already know infographics are an effective form of content marketing, but they just don’t do as well as they used to.
Because they are yesterday’s news. Everyone has already beaten them to death, and topics are now being regurgitated. This doesn’t mean infographics won’t help you get more traffic or backlinks. You just need to be a bit more creative with them.
One of the coolest infographics I’ve seen is this one on cheetahs. What’s cool about it isn’t the data. It’s how the data and visualizations move within the graphic.
So, how successful was this concept? Let’s just say 1,170 websites link to it. Not too bad for one infographic.
If you can’t find someone to create a moving infographic for you, you can always have a designer create a 3D infographic:
The designer of the 3d infographic above quoted me $4,000, which is a bit too expensive for me, but if you have the cash, it’s probably worth it.
Trick #4: The skyscraper technique
Have you ever walked by a tall building and wondered how tall the 8th largest building is? Of course, not!
You’ve probably wondered how tall the tallest building in the world is, but never the second or third tallest.
As humans, we naturally like the biggest and best of things out there.
The skyscraper technique leverages this tendency. In other words, it’s content marketing for link builders.
Here is how you can leverage it:
- Step 1: Find content that other people have already created that got tons of links. You can accomplish this by doing a few Google searches and by using Open Site Explorer.
- Step 2: Copy the concept you found, but you make sure what you create is a lot better. For example, if someone created a content piece called “11 SEO changes that will give you big results” that gained hundreds of natural backlinks, you may then create a content piece titled “101 SEO changes that will give you big results.”
- Step #3: Reach out to the right people. By manually sharing your content with the websites you mentioned within your blog post and by asking people to tweet about it, you’re more likely to get more traffic and backlinks.
A good example of this technique is this blog post: 55 SEO experts reveal their 3 favorite link building tools. It was so effective that the site saw an increase in organic traffic by 348% in 7 days.
You can get great results from the skyscraper technique as long as you are willing to put in the time and effort into creating massive pieces of content. It’s an all-or-nothing type of play because if you push something out that is mediocre, it won’t do well.
Trick #5: Use personas to drive relevant SEO traffic
Bigger isn’t always better! Getting irrelevant SEO traffic is useless because those visitors won’t convert into subscribers, much less to paid customers.
Here is an example. I used to get over 120,000 visitors a month from Google for key phrases related to “how to get more Instagram followers.”
When I lost my rankings for that one web page, the number of email subscribers I was getting on a daily basis stayed the same. My revenue also didn’t drop.
What does that mean? The traffic I was generating from Instagram-related keywords wasn’t converting. Why? It’s because my ideal customer wasn’t searching for those keywords, nor did he or she care about getting more Instagram followers.
To avoid generating useless SEO traffic, you need to first understand your user’s persona. Here is an example of a few personas:
If your ideal customer is a techie, then you want to target people like Mike with your content, with the keywords you use, and with your overall messaging. For example, if Mike was looking for a mobile phone, he probably wouldn’t Google “mobile phone.” Instead, he would perhaps Google “Nokia Lumia camera resolution.” The difference is huge because techies are usually looking for specific information before they make a purchase.
On the other hand, if your ideal customer is someone like cost-conscious Geoff, you would want to target keywords that he would be searching for. For example, if Geoff was buying a mobile phone, he probably wouldn’t search for “Nokia Lumia camera resolution,” but he would search for “discounted smart phones.”
My traffic on Quick Sprout didn’t really start increasing till January 2013. Sure, I invested a lot more time and money into content in 2013 than I have in previous years…but I did make an effort to do similar things in 2012. All of my previous attempts failed because I didn’t understand the persona of a Quick Sprout reader.
In previous years, I used to blog about more generic marketing advice as I thought the persona of my average reader was an online marketer. But from surveying my visitors, I found out that 68.8% of my readers are business owners who want to learn how to market their businesses.
Once I saw that, I changed the way I was writing my content. I started to lay out step-by-step tips that anyone could understand and implement. I also started to write much more tactic-based content, versus theory-based, as that was more beneficial to business owners than my old content.
The end result was a 152.42% increase in traffic and a 259.62% increase in pageviews over the last twelve months.
If you want to start leveraging personas, take the time to understand your ideal customer. Knowing that he or she is an accountant or a marketer is not enough. You have to get as detailed as possible. For example, for KISSmetrics, an ideal persona is:
- a VP of marketing, director of marketing or marketing manager
- someone working at a software-as-a-service or e-commerce company
- someone whose company has revenues in excess of ten million dollars a year
We know that when we target people who fit the criteria above, we end up with prospects who are more likely to pay us and stay on as customers.
Trick #6: Optimize for click-throughs
You know that higher rankings mean more search traffic, so you probably already focus on that. But have you ever focused on your click-through rates?
Just because people see your listing in the search engine results page doesn’t mean they are going to click on it.
Through webmaster tools, you can see your rankings and click through-rates for specific keywords.
By analyzing keywords you are ranking for, your average position, and your click-through rates, you can figure out where you have room for improvement. Typically, if you are getting 30% click-through rates for a particular keyword, you are doing well. If you are getting above 40%, you are doing exceptionally well.
By analyzing 63 Google Webmaster Tools accounts, I’ve found that the most clicked-through words are:
- How to
- [List-related numbers]
- Blog post
By using the words above within your title tags and meta descriptions, you can start running a few A/B tests to try to maximize your click-through rate.
Another way to maximize your click-through rate is through authorship. It used to work a lot better than it does now, but by having your face next to your listing, you are going to stand out from the crowd.
Trick #7: Beg, borrow, or steal
Who says you have to be the one who creates the content to reap the benefits? We noticed a trend on Mashable, where they take other people’s infographics and place them on their site.
They, of course, link back to the original source, but what is interesting is that they get more social shares and traffic for that infographic than the creator does.
We tried a similar concept at KISSmetrics. We borrowed an infographic on landing page design from a company called Formstack. Naturally, we linked back to them and gave them credit. Plus, to avoid any duplicate content issues, we added unique text around the infographic.
Within weeks, we found that our “borrowed” infographic had 1,910 tweets and 1,400 likes. That’s not too bad for content that we didn’t have to create.
When leveraging this strategy, make sure you aren’t taking text-based content as it will cause duplicate content issues. But if you borrow images or video content and you surround it with unique text, you should be able to do well. Just make sure you link back to the original source, or else you may run into copyright issues.
Trick #8: Faster is better
Did you know that the speed with which your website loads affects your Google rankings? Google found that when it ranks slower sites towards the top of the listing pages, people get a poor user experience, which decreases their use of Google as their search engine.
For this reason, Google released Page Speed, which is supposed to help business owners improve their websites’ load times for free.
- When Google experienced a 1/2 second slowdown, its traffic dropped by 20%.
- When Amazon’s site slowed down by 1/10 of a second, it lost 1% of its revenue…which is a lot for a company that does billions of dollars a year.
- When Yahoo’s site slowed down by 2/5 of a second, its traffic went down by 9%.
And it’s not just with the big sites either. Judy’s Book saw an increase in search engine traffic of over 20% after the team replaced their servers with ones that contained more CPU power and memory. Through memory cache, they were able to ensure that web pages load faster for their visitors, which provided them with a 20% plus increase in search traffic within a 30-day period.
If you’re wondering what your load time is and how you can improve it, just enter in your URL here, and you’ll see a list of recommendations on how you can make your website faster.
Trick # 9: Content length affects rankings
Guess how many words an average web page that ranks on page one of Google has?
Maybe 500, 1,000, or even 1,500? It’s actually 2,000 plus words. Now, that’s a lot of content!
When you look at the image above, you’ll notice that the more words a webpage has, the higher it tends to rank on page one.
So, what does this mean for you? Well, two things:
- Instead of just focusing on pushing out thousands of pages of content, you need to focus on putting out quality content pieces: ones that are in-depth, don’t contain much fluff and are evergreen…meaning that they are still valuable to read five or even ten years from now.
- Once you have more detailed content, you should start leveraging the In-Depth Articles algorithm update, which will allow you to be featured in Google’s special area in the search listings page that showcases detailed content.
When we leveraged the In-Depth Article update, we noticed a 13.15% increase in search engine traffic within 30 days.
You can leverage this algorithm update by either following these Schema.org rules or by using this WordPress plugin. What you’ll find is that Google typically only ranks web pages that are on broad keywords. For example, KISSmetrics ranks in the in-depth section for the key phrase “SEO.”
If you don’t have large quantities of content on your site, you won’t see much of a traffic increase. In an ideal scenario, you would need large quantities of detailed content that is over 2,000 words in length for this trick to work.
Trick #10: Responsive designs bring more mobile traffic
Although mobile usage is growing at a much faster rate than desktop usage, I never felt it was that important to leverage it, especially since most of my sites get less than 10% of their traffic from mobile or tablet devices.
It wasn’t until we ran a test on KimberlySnyder.net that I realized the importance of a responsive or mobile-friendly design. By far, most of Kim’s traffic used to come from desktop computers, but when she was doing a redesign, she thought it would be cool to make her design responsive so that it would work on tablets and mobile devices.
Once she launched her responsive design, her mobile and tablet traffic went from being 18% of her overall traffic to 56.7% of her overall traffic. And what’s amazing is that she saw the increase within a 45-day period of launching the responsive design.
If you are looking to get similar results, create a responsive design. It needs to be something that is a stripped-down and faster-loading version of your desktop site as most people do not have fast mobile data connections.
Trick #11: Tools outperform content marketing
What’s the number one way websites are getting links these days? Content marketing, right? And although that’s correct, it doesn’t mean it is the best form of link building.
I’ve found that releasing free tools in the market place generates more backlinks and traffic overtime. In other words, it is a better investment than content marketing.
By releasing a free tool on Quick Sprout, I was able to:
- Increase my pageviews per visitor from 1.8 to 2.35.
- Decrease my bounce rate from 74% to 63%.
- Increase my time on-site from 2 minutes 10 seconds to 3 minutes 10 seconds.
- Increase visitor loyalty.
The key with releasing free tools that generate thousands of visitors and links is for you to create something that is easy to use and is high in demand. The best way to figure out what to release is to see which companies are doing extremely well in your space.
Tools have been so effective for me that within the next two weeks, I am adding a social media and competitor analysis report to the Quick Sprout toolset, all for free.
I hope you like my SEO bag of tricks. The 11 changes I mentioned above may not all be easy to implement for you, but they will provide you with big results.
If you really want to increase your rankings, learn from my mistakes. Copying what everyone else does isn’t the best idea as eventually those tactics get abused and become ineffective.
To do well in today’s search landscape, you have to be creative. By thinking outside the box and going above and beyond, you too can rank highly.
So, what other SEO changes provide big results?