These days it’s increasingly harder to rank for anything if your site can’t demonstrate actual topical authority. Maybe if you’re chasing low-hanging-fruit keywords you can avoid it somewhat, but start going after anything competitive and you’ll find ranking in the top 5 a real barrier.
Google might take you from unranked all the way up to page 1 with a singular piece of really well dialed in material, but you’ll be stuck in positions 6-10 most likely.
It’s like Google saying, “Yeah, I see that this one page does a good job of answering this query, but I’m not sure I trust you in general in this field yet — especially compared to these other sites.”
Here are some things I’ve had to make some definitive pivots on over the last several years that I’ve seen work, and that I wish I were taking more seriously earlier on.
You Have To Answer A Lot Of Questions. More Than Most Websites Do.
Yes, answering common questions that tend to end up being search queries is a well known tactic. But the thing a lot of people miss is that you really need to go well beyond a singular FAQ page, or section on a service page.
Those are good starts, and blogging is a great way to reinforce that. But people also get this idea that you can grab a handful of questions, blast out some quick blog posts answering them, and win.
But to really stand out as a thought leader in that space, where you can reliably rank in the top 5 for a useful variety of queries, it usually takes dozens of well-crafted articles, not a handful.
For instance, if I were working on a home theater website and wanted to build authority there, I’d probably need to create material addressing all of these things (as a start):
- What to look for in a home theater system on a budget
- How to pair satellite speakers to a subwoofer
- Comparisons of top brands of HT receivers and why you’d choose one over another
- How speaker impedance works and how that plays into your choice of amplifier
- Sound bars vs. floorstanding speakers
- What to look for when shopping speaker wires and other home theater cables
- Where to position a subwoofer and how room acoustics affect that
Etc. I’d have to go deeper than that, but you get the idea. No one of these posts on their own proves what I’d really know about home theater systems.
It’s the cumulative effect of comprehensively covering all aspects of home theater systems that would prove I am an expert there.
If it’s an industry with a lot of major categories, grouping material together contextually is a good way to build everything out. For example, if you have a website about bicycles, you’d want to have a wide variety of content on:
- Mountain biking
- Racing bikes
…And I’d need comprehensive explorations of everything people need to know about each one of those segments of the site.
After all, you can’t be an authority on bikes if you only talk about one type of biking, or cover each type of biking superficially.
This is one of the reasons SEO is a long term game.
It’s not simply that Google doesn’t always change its mind about websites overnight. It’s that it can take awhile to chip away at enough of the “necessary stuff” to finally have enough to really move the needle.
Ideally you’ll see incremental gains along the way, but real dominance requires a lot of momentum.
Ways A Lot Of Blog Coverage Creates Power
The only websites I’ve seen rank for competitive niches without an A-game in blogging are obviously buying a ton of links. Sure, links work and I’m not knocking that.
But given the choice, I’d take a blog with 75+ really strong posts over a bunch of backlinks in most cases. Reason being, all it would take is Google making an algo change where certain links aren’t deemed as important and all the latter case rankings fall away, whereas it’s pretty unlikely any algorithm change would singlehandedly invalidate 75+ good blogs.
Maybe a few posts would suffer, but the site would stay strong.
And of course, in reality it’s not an either/or game with writing and getting links.
Each post you write, try to keep these things in mind:
- Think of other posts you’ve written that fall into a similar category, or posts you plan to write after this one that will. Link strategically so the way these pieces relate to and support each other is clear. Over time, the cumulative effect of a whole bunch of related material referring back and forth reinforces core topics and clarifies to Google how thoroughly you’ve covered them.
- Make sure to use more images than just the featured image, where you can. Google likes “rich content” and I’ve seen posts rank better just by adding useful photos to older posts where I’ve edited nothing else that session. Over time, a long series of posts that all contain multiple images gives your site a useful boost via both cumulative alt tags and potential Google Image Searches that lead to your material.
- Keep titles intriguing yet descriptive. Periodically go back to older posts and review for changes. It’s easy to think the title you write as you first publish a post is great, but sometimes reviewing metrics and having specific things in mind you wish the post did better, later, clarifies how things like your title could be stronger.
Treat Every Industry As Though It’s YMYL.
Your money/your life industries, such as medical or financial advice, get scrutinized a lot harder by Google. Google doesn’t want just any website to rank for these questions because those are topics where getting bad advice could really negatively affect someone’s life.
So the burden of demonstrating your legitimacy through credentials, practical experience, and professional accomplishments is crucial to ranking at all.
But I’ve found that it’s a mistake to think that just because you’re working on a website that isn’t a YMYL category you don’t need to lean on credentials.
Use anything you can.
- Have you won any awards or been acknowledged in any public way for your expertise?
- Share specific examples of your work and your successes
- Have you been featured on podcasts or published somewhere that is respected in your industry?
- Do you have certifications or other course work relevant to your field that sets you apart?
And it’s worth pointing out for anyone reading this who is learning, even getting these things absolutely right does not guarantee rankings.
It can certainly help break through rankings plateaus where you keep trying things and can’t progress beyond a certain point, and I’ve seen it work this way many times.
But more often than not, this segment is merely the cost of playing, if you will, to allow everything you’ve done in the previous section to shine. Without this, those posts won’t get the attention they deserve.
With strong and irrefutable credentials but very little content, you’ll have proven you have the background but not that you have anything work ranking.
In Really Competitive Spaces, You Need Links and There’s No Escaping That.
As a writer I’ve always invested a lot more energy into content creation than trying to get links. I really fought not to need links for a long time. But in certain projects I’ve seen the cost of that hyperfocus.
A great example is when I worked with a personal injury law firm in NYC. We crafted a lot of great articles with unique information I didn’t see any of our competitors addressing. In many ways, my client’s site was noticeably more earnest and helpful than those other sites.
But they were bigger firms spending a lot more money on their marketing, and because of their perceived “greater” expertise and loftier backlinks, we hit some roadblocks we struggled to overcome.
I was pretty certain I could’ve overcome them with more time to execute on some of my ideas at that point, but the client didn’t see enough value in SEO longer term and we parted ways.
But had we continued, it was clear that past a certain point more blog posts weren’t going to be the thing that broke us through. It was going to be links. Good links.
And sadly, advice like, “Just write good content and the links will come naturally,” isn’t very helpful. It’s about as useful as the beaten to death, “Content is king!” that everyone used to throw around. Ugh.
The reality is that unless it’s research statistics or some other highly quotable info, most people read and move on.
People don’t link or share articles that often, big picture, and there’s a lot of legitimately good content that goes unseen and un-linked. I find in most cases, if you aren’t doing something to try to build links you probably just don’t get many — particularly early on.