Ranking on the search engines in 2021 is much more challenging than any year before. When you properly determine if a blog post can rank on Google using the right research and apply proper on-page and off-page SEO (search engine optimization), you might just rank in a position that generates traffic to your website.
Here’s my strategy for determining if a blog post can rank on Google.
What is the search volume?
If your website is live and visible to Google, your pages can be indexed. Indexing by Google, simply means that your page is in their database. Where it ranks, however, is another story altogether.
If there is very little search volume and very little competition, you’ll be more likely to rank higher on the SERPs (search engine results pages).
In my experience, search volume at or under 250 US searches per month seems to rank rather quickly regardless of my domain authority.
When your website is new, and domain authority is low (I’ll cover domain authority in a bit), you want lower competition and generally lower search volume as well.
It isn’t about one single metric. It’s the combination.
Here’s an example of a “baby” website. These are the highest-ranking keywords on Google for this new digital marketing website. That doesn’t mean the highest traffic earners, however.
You can have more traffic generated from lower-ranking keywords depending on the search volume. I used Semrush to create this report.
Some people wonder if 0 search volume phrases should be ignored. Not always. Keyword tools aren’t even close to perfect. They are a guess at best. There may be newer keywords that are just beginning to trend that don’t have the search volume yet.
I’m surprised sometimes by the traffic I generate from super low-volume keywords. That being said, sometimes, there isn’t much that comes of it if the volume is low.
Much of content creation and SEO is a gamble.
Using the same “Baby blog” used in the first example, here is a chart of the highest traffic earners to my website from Google.
It’s fascinating to notice that the higher traffic earners are lower in the rankings overall. This fact begs to argue with the first factor in the ranking equation where I suggest targeting lower search volume to rank higher.
One reason that these lower-ranking, higher-volume keywords generate traffic is that for the most part, they are lower in competition.
We’ll get into competition level, now.
The Takeaway: Brand new websites are more likely to rank in higher positions on google if they target lower search volume. That being said, if you do rank for a higher volume (which generally happens with less competitive keywords), then you’ll generate more traffic from those.
What is the Competition Level?
The higher the competition level, the harder it will be for you to rank for a specific term. If you sit down and create an amazing 2000 word blog post, and really cover the topic in-depth, apply on-page SEO, images, rich-media, tools, etc. — you still might not rank if the competition is fierce.
The SEO tool that I use for topic research is Semrush. Semrush has a Keyword difficulty score (KD), which you can see in the examples on this blog post.
This is a metric exclusive to Semrush that helps determine how difficult it will be to rank for that keyword phrase. It’s an unweighted metric which means they don’t take your website factors in to play when creating this score.
Therefore, you’ll need to compare the other top 10 ranking websites with yours to help determine if this keyword difficulty will fluctuate.
For example, if I’m creating a topic with key target phrases, and the keyword difficulty is 80–100, I know that it’s going to be extremely challenging to rank for that keyword. And it’s not just about creating higher-quality content as many people say.
“Just 10X the content”, you’ve probably heard. If your website is not in the same niche, doesn’t have proven authority, and it’s a highly competitive phrase, you could 100 plus your content and still not rank.
It’s about the combination of the factors, not just the content on the page.
Take personalization into account, and it changes even more. Google is more likely to show a website with a location closer to the visitor performing the search if Google believes the location is relevant.
In addition, if the visitor has been on your website before and navigated through the pages a bit, Google may be more likely to show your page to the visitor over another.
The Takeaway: The lower the competition level, the easier it is to rank. The higher the competition level is, the better your content has to be, and the higher your authority, niche, and expertise has to be. It’s not always about “better content”, although that’s essential. Semrush has a keyword difficulty score (KD) that measures the organic competition on Google.
Is The Topic Directly Related To Your Website?
I often talk about choosing a niche, staying on topic, and why it matters. This is true for Podcasts, Youtube Videos, Social Media Channels, and written blogs as well.
The better you are at creating a specific topical website, the better you will do with reaching the right audience and performing better in the algorithms.
For example, this morning, I was browsing topics that I might like to include on my real estate website. My real estate website has a decent amount of authority. It has backlinks and is trusted by Google.
I’m an expert in real estate and in Vegas and can rank appropriate topics when all of the factors add up.
I’m adding a house and home section to the real estate website. This morning, I came across the topic “How to make your mattress softer”, and thought it might be a good fit.
In theory, the keyword data indicate that it would.
According to Semrush, the search volume is 480 which is low enough for this website to rank for, and high enough to have some traffic from the investment. The keyword difficulty score is 68/100 which is in the pocket for sure.
Yet, when I used the SEO Content Template tool to determine how long the content needed to be and what the competition level was, I found (10) page one websites that all had a domain authority of 60 +.
This probably means they all have higher authority backlinks and more volume of them. They may have more aged domains and are trusted by Google.
What’s more, is that all 10 were directly related to mattresses. They weren’t even content-mill style “best of” lists. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that Google is rewarding topical relevance and authority to this keyword phrase.
So when I asked myself: “Can I create a piece of content so good that is likely to bump one of these higher authority websites off of page one?”.
While my answer might be yes, part 2 of this question was no. “Should I create a piece of content that is so good it is likely to bump one of the higher authority websites off page one and give me their place instead?”.
With a cost per click value of only around $1.00, I’m not likely to earn much from ads (with Ezoic for example) or affiliate income from that phrase. Maybe, that’s because it’s not a buyer intent keyword. I would assume someone has already bought their mattress and wants to make it softer, rather than looking to buy a softer mattress.
So, if it’s going to be challenging, and it’s not really a keyword that satisfies my content goals, it’s probably not one I want to publish. Today, anyway.
I may add it to my content calendar to consider down the road as my own domain authority increases. Of course, it might be worth publishing just to add to this case study to see if it goes anywhere.
Takeaways: It’s important to look at the top 10 webpages that are ranking for any particular keyword phrase. I use Semrush and the SEO Content Template for this research. If the top pages are all part of websites focused on a singular topic (like mattresses), than a non-mattress website would probably have a harder time competing even if the keyword difficulty score is low. Add in domain authority (see below), and you get a much truer picture of the competition level.
Are You An Expert?
Google recently rolled out an explanation of E-A-T as part of its search quality guidelines. E-A-T is an acronym for Expertise, Authority, and trust.
While the quality guidelines clearly state that there are many niches and topics where expertise may come into play, Google specifically lists these niches as requiring high-level expertise.
- Medical Advice
- Scientific Topics
- Financial, Legal, and Tax Advice
- Topics that can cost a lot of money, such as home remodeling
- Hobbies (and how-to).
YMYL is an acronym that is short for ‘Your Money Or Your Life’. These are the topics that Google will be seeking expertise in more than others. Anything that is risky, is often a YMYL category. If you are a hobbyist, with no credentials, and want to cover a YMYL topic, you’ll want to bring in an author with the credentials required to establish expertise.
Takeaway: It’s important to have expertise in topics that can be risky, life-threatening, or could cost someone a lot of money. These topics are in the YMYL category (Your Money Or Your Life). If you aren’t an expert on the topic, it’s best to bring in writers that are or bring in experts to comment, validate, answer questions, etc.
Do You Have Domain Authority?
The term domain authority was actually created by Moz.com who created the first domain measuring tool. Once referred to as Page Rank, a term named for its creator Larry Page, a page would be valued based on particular metrics.
These metrics would include domain age, backlinks, and other factors. When a page would rank to another page, part of this page rank would flow to the receiving page.
Google no longer uses “PageRank”, but the principle carried on in the form of domain authority. The main top-level domain has a score, as does each page on the website.
You can measure domain authority, although it may be called something different using tools like Semrush, Ahrefs, and Moz.
It’s important to use the same tool when measuring as to not be confused by each platform’s scoring system. Domain Authority is often used to measure the competition level of a topic. If all things are equal from a content standpoint, domain authority is often going to be the difference-maker.
SEMrush has my Las Vegas real estate website with a domain authority of 43 whereas Moz has it at 34, and Ahrefs at 31. This is why it’s best to choose one tool and use it always. I chose SEMrush as I use the tool for much of my SEO audits, keyword rank tracking, content research, link outreach, etc.
A page on your website that acquires high-quality backlinks from related websites, is more likely to climb in domain authority for that page. Of course, the more quality backlinks your website earns, the more likely the main domain is to climb in authority, therefore giving increasing your odds of ranking.
Remember that these are correlation factors, not an absolute. Those of us that practice SEO spend a lot of time studying correlations.
Takeaway: All domains, including subdomains, have some sort of established authority. Once determined through PageRank, a Google algorithm, most SEO tools now have their own valuations. It’s best to use one tool to always gather these estimates. I like Semrush for mine. Generally, competing against a domain with high authority is going to be more challenging. A new website with a low domain authority score should begin with topics that have competition domains in a similar rank. All keyword tools are purely estimates and we follow correlation data.
Is the Content-Length on Par?
When comparing content when researching how easy or difficult it might be to rank for a particular topic or keyword, it’s best to fall within the content length averages.
Generally, long-form content performs best on page one of Google. Yet if the average content doesn’t require long-form content, as in a product description for an e-commerce store, creating longer content won’t necessarily help you rank.
Do a search for your target phrase. Check the word count average for your top 10 competitors. This average will be a good idea for how in-depth your content should be.
Remember, word count is not a ranking factor. The length of the content has more to do with how deep the topic is and how much could, and should be covered.
We are purely looking at correlation studies here. I use Semrush for these averages. Using the SEO Content template, I can enter a keyword and the Content Template will do the math for me, sharing the average word count. Generally, I will go slightly over, or slightly under.
If the average word count is 2000 words, you creating 10,000 won’t necessarily rank you higher. In fact, it could hurt your chances of ranking. The odds are that you are diluting the main topic covering many subtopics that would be better serviced on their own page.
Google rewards relevance. Keep it laser-targeted and on focus. That’s what the customer wants, therefore, that’s what Google rewards.
In this example, the topic I was researching was “How to lower your power bill”. using Semrush. My target keyword is that exact phrase. The SEO Content Template gave me an average of 1173 words. The only reason that I would ever create content longer than that for this phrase is If I truly can cover the subtopics in a more helpful way.
For example, how much can you say about light bulbs and how they can help with your power bill? If that topic is longer than 500 words, it may justify standing on its own and having its own page.
If I’m building a skyscraper content as in Brian Dean’s Skyscraper Link Building Technique, It may be part of a larger topic altogether (like saving money on your utilities (not just power)), or on creating the most cost-effective home budget.
Takeaway: Its important to create content that is specifically focused on the user intent. If the content requires an in-depth article, the top 10 pages ranking on google will generally be similar creating an average work count. Creating longer content, won’t necessarily help you rank higher, and creating shorter content may mean you don’t cover the topic well enough to satisfy the user’s intent.
Did you include semantically related keywords?
Generally, there is a correlation between the top 10 ranking pages on keywords related to their subtopics and keyword phrases used throughout the blog. I use these semantically related keywords when creating a blog post to ensure that I cover everything important.
Semantically related keywords are not synonyms. They are phrases that are related to the topic in general.
If you are writing a blog on saving money on your power bill, energy-saving tips would most likely include phrases like LED light bulbs, energy costs, and home appliances.
If you can handle the paid tool in your budget, Semrush does a great job of pulling these into the SEO Content Template.
Is it Link-Worthy?
Finally, your content probably won’t rank well in a competitive niche without earning links. These links can be internal links created from other pages on your website, or external links from outbound websites.
When you earn backlinks from websites that are somehow related to yours, and have a decent amount of authority, they can improve your domain authority.
For example, I recently discovered that a related website to my baby blog referenced a graph that I created for one of my webpages. Not only did he link to my page, he also mentioned me by name. His domain authority was higher than mine, coming in at a score of 51.
Create content that is link-worthy. Include infographics, charts, tables, spreadsheets, statistics, tools, etc. that people would want to reference.
Link-Worthy = Referenceable.
Takeaway: Create great content that people want to reference in their own content. Case studies, statistics, and great visuals often earn backlinks and mentions which can improve your domain name and generate traffic to your website.
Creating content that can rank on Google is done by accomplishing more than 1 goal. Generally, the content will rank with similar domain authority websites. Lower competition keywords are easier to rank for while higher search volume keywords with less competitive authority will generate more traffic.
It’s important to create content that is on par with length, but in the best formatting possible. Creating link-worthy content can generate more references, mentions, and backlinks which can improve your domain authority.
Watch out for YMYL topics that are risky and require much more expertise.
If you can afford it, jump into Semrush for amazing tools such as the Backlink Checker, Authority Score, Keyword Tracking, and SEO Content Template.