Sometimes SEO works in mysterious ways. With all of Google’s algorithm changes, and the basic fact that no one really understands all the components of Google’s algorithm, strange things can happen.
People tend to focus on the negative observations, but sure enough, positive ones occur probably just as frequently.
I was faced with one of these positive occurrences, something I came back to after my 8 day vacation overseas (which is why I haven’t been able to respond to your comment or e-mail lately, in case you’re wondering).
This actually blew my mind when I saw it – one of the most competitive keyword phrases, and I’m ranking on page 1 (without even trying to). I decided to turn this startling observation into a case study to see if there’s something we can learn.
Unfortunately, this post is not about my authority site or one of my niche sites, but I’ll take a win when I can get one. I’m actually referring to the ranking of this blog (My4HWW) for a particular keyword.
Sure enough, one of the pages on my blog is now ranking on page 1 for the keyword make money online. The position may vary depending on your location, but when I check it from my IP address, it currently ranks #10. Earlier, I saw it as high as #7, and by the time you read this post, it’s possible I’m not even on page 1 anymore.
There are a lot of competitive keyword phrases out there, and make money online has to be one of the most competitive. The niche on its own is highly saturated, with everything from garbage informational products to really high quality blogs that offer lots of valuable information for free.
According to Google’s keyword tool, this keyword receives 110,000 exact global searches per month, so like most competitive phrases, it receives a lot of traffic.
And it’s not just this one keyword I’m ranking for now – there are a lot of related (competitive) keywords, such as:
- how to make money online (currently ranked #17)
- ways to make money online (currently ranked #12)
- making money online (currently ranked #15)
- how can i make money online (currently ranked #8)
For those who are skeptical and don’t feel like checking, here’s a screenshot from my Market Samurai rank tracker:
The Ranking Page
Before I start trying to figure out why this page is ranking so well, I should probably first share with you the actual page. It’s a post I wrote over a year and a half ago, 142+ Ways to Make Money Online.
It’s a list post that I compiled – nothing too amazing, but something that was very well received (based on the comments and the number of times it was shared). It took me several hours (over a few weeks) to compile, and I did my best to make the list fairly representative of the various ways you can make money online.
Why am I Ranking This Well?
I’m far more interested in why this page is ranking so well than just merely being content with the great ranking.
While you may often find yourself ranking well without doing any SEO for less competitive keywords (this is typical with many long-tail keywords), I believe there’s a lot more to learn when it comes to ranking for a keyword like “make money online.”
We’ll never know for sure the exact reasons why this page is ranking so well, however I’m going to do my best to analyze the potential reasons.
1) Not Trying to Optimize for the Keyword
I list this reason first because I think it’s the most relevant to Google’s recent algorithm changes (in particular, “Penguin”).
This is the most counter-intuitive part of today’s SEO world – after all, the word “optimize” is pretty fundamental to SEO. Obviously, there is a middle ground where you can optimize but not over optimize, which is what Google’s intent was with Penguin.
Here are some observations I have regarding the optimization for this page and the keyword:
- Although the keyword is found within the title, URL, and meta description of the page, it’s part of a larger phrase, which is probably more natural looking.
- According to a keyword density analysis, the exact phrase “make money online” only appears 4 times in the article (for a keyword density of .08%).
- An analysis of the backlink anchor text (see below, provided by Open Site Explorer – I would highly recommend the 30-day free trial just to play around with the various features) seems to show that of the 258 backlinks to the page, there are only 13 linking domains (I’ll explain what this means) and no instances of the exact keyword used as anchor text.
The logical conclusion then is that if you want to rank for a particular keyword, you’re better off optimizing your page and backlink anchor text for various longer-tail keywords that contain your target keyword or a strongly related keyword.
Given the nature of this particular keyword, there are probably literally tens of thousands of sites/pages (maybe more) trying hard to rank for this term. As a result, they probably all hurt themselves with the recent iterations of the Penguin update.
This allowed high quality sites that were relevant, but not completely optimized, rise to the top for the particular keyword.
2) Lots of Internal Linking
After looking through the backlinks to this site, it’s pretty clear to me that there aren’t a ton of domains linking to the page. I received some links back from the blogs I mentioned in the post, but otherwise, there wasn’t a ton of external linking going on.
In fact, most of the links to the post were internal (i.e. me linking to the page from within My 4-Hour Workweek). The site is linked in the following prominent locations:
1) On my sidebar.
Because it’s one of my most popular posts, it has been on my “Popular Posts” sidebar widget for over a year now.
Because of its location on the main page, a lot of the link juice coming to my root domain (my4hrworkweek.com) passes through to the page.
2) In many of my income reports.
Each month within my income reports, I list the most popular blog posts for the past month (based on # of views), and this post frequently makes the list.
3) In various other places via the “Related Posts” widget I use.
This one is pretty self-explanatory.
While internal linking can only get you so far, I believe it may be more powerful now as Google’s algorithm reduces the value of many external links.
3) Social Media “Signals”
It’s taken me awhile to believe that social media “signals” can actually impact a page’s rank within Google, but I’m starting to think that its role is increasing.
Once again, as Google reduces certain ranking factors (such as exact match keyword domains and spammy external links), other factors have to become stronger. Social media “signals” (i.e. Likes, Tweets, Stumbles, Pins, etc.) seem to be one of them.
When I first published the MMO article, it went somewhat viral and was shared many times on several social media platforms:
Not pictured above is the fact that the page was trending for a little while on the front page of Delicious, which sent me a ton of traffic and probably caused the article to go viral in the first place.
While I don’t think social media signals alone will grant your page super high rankings, it probably helps.
4) Lots of Comments (Extra Content)
Some of the best free content you can get on your blog comes from comments – other people are essentially adding to the page’s content, which strengthen’s the page in the eyes of the search engines.
This particular article has 97 comments. It’s substantial, but isn’t too extreme when you consider there are tons of articles online that have 500+ comments.
You can’t really get a lot of comments without the post becoming popular, but you can do a couple significant things to encourage comments:
- Ask a question at the end the article.
- Always respond to comments.
5) Nofollow All the Outbound Links
This isn’t something I typically do, but I’m pointing it out in this case study because it’s something I did with this particular article.
Because the article links to over 140 websites, the page itself wouldn’t retain much link juice if it was spread out among all the linked pages. I’ll confess I don’t know exactly how link juice is passed, but when I’m linking to so many pages, it was important to me that I put the rel=”nofollow” tag on the outbound links. You do it easily with a free plugin like this one.
6) Looking at the Rest of the Top 10 Sites
Finally, this case study wouldn’t be complete without at least briefly examining the other 9 sites that rank on the 1st page of Google for this keyword. Here’s a snapshot of the SEO analysis from Market Samurai:
[Click to enlarge image.]
Overall, the top 10 ranking pages are mostly inner pages of very well-established authority sites (YouTube, Erica.biz, Forbes, Seth Godin’s blog, etc.). Not only are the root domains strong, but the ranking pages themselves, in most cases, have 10,000+ backlinks.
ZZZProfits.com stands out to me as a bit of an outlier here because it’s the only root domain ranking on page 1, and has the least amount of content overall. However, it’s a PR4 site and has a ton of backlinks. The site seems like your typical internet marketing blog with a nice, clean design, however there are some red flags (the most “popular” post on the site only has 17 comments).
PRWeb’s ranking page seems a bit ridiculous to me, but it’s a fairly “fresh” press release that Google probably likes (for now). I can see this one fading off page 1 rather quickly.
The last one is a Blogspot blog that has a ton of content, links, and seems to be regularly updated. Suspiciously, it has over 400,000 backlinks and has been around for 6 years, yet it’s a PR0. Posts don’t seem to receive any comments, which is an indication that the site is more of a content farm than a collection of compelling and valuable content. Glancing through a few of the articles, they seem to be of lower quality.
As you can see, it doesn’t make too much make sense why some of these sites are ranking on page 1 for such a competitive term, but perhaps mine doesn’t either.
The common thing I see (besides well-established sites with a good amount of content and backlinks) is that none of these sites are really optimizing for the keyword. Of the 10 sites, only 2 sites contain “make money online” within the title, URL, description, and heading tag (my article and Seth Godin’s).
The main conclusion I can draw here is that if you really try to rank for a keyword, you won’t rank for it. I guarantee there are hundreds of sites and pages with better “SEO profiles”, but they aren’t ranking here because they tried to rank here.
This makes ranking for a competitive keyword a lot more difficult, because you can’t really control it. Look at me – I’m ranking well without even trying. With the current status of Google’s algorithm, it seems to me that you need to be ultra-sensitive to how much you optimize your site for a particular keyword, and find the right balance.
What to Do Next?
Honestly, there’s a good chance this page loses it’s page 1 ranking much sooner than later (I’m even ready for the potential embarrassment of losing my ranking before this case study goes live).
I’m not going to sit here and plan on ranking well forever without doing anything. In a space this competitive, with an ever-changing ranking algorithm, it’s difficult to say what will happen.
It would probably be smart of me to make some modifications to the page to see if I can actually get it to earn money for me. Although I do have some affiliate links buried within the site, I made it a point to not use affiliate links for most of them.
I have a unique opportunity to cash in on one of the most lucrative keywords that exists, but at the same time, I don’t want to tarnish my reputation or the very reason that the article is ranking well in the first place.
Regardless of what I do with it now, hopefully you were able to learn something about what it takes to rank well in today’s SEO environment. I’m always the first to admit that I’m not an SEO expert, so take the content of this case study as my personal observations and opinions, not actual fact.
What do you think about all of this? Is there anything else you can conclude based on this case study? And if you’re feeling generous, what advice would you have for me as far as what to do with this page? Looking forward to your comments.
[If you found this case study interesting or helpful at all, I’d greatly appreciate you sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, or wherever you like to share things. Thanks! ]