Ranking on Page 1 for “Make Money Online” Without Even Trying [Case Study]

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.

The Keyword

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! :) ]

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43 Responses to “Ranking on Page 1 for “Make Money Online” Without Even Trying [Case Study]”

  1. Awesome stuff Eric! I did a search from Canada and see it pretty high up there on the 2nd page. Looking good. You must be getting some massive traffic from it. Hopefully you can convert some of the traffic into revenue.
    James recently posted… Pros And Cons Of Niche Vs. Authority Sites

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks James – the traffic has been pretty good so far, but the key will be actually getting it to convert.

    [Reply]

    Alex Aguilar Reply:

    Maybe another post highlighting how successful you have been in converting your traffic into revenue? It would be a fascinating case-study…

    [Reply]

  2. congratulations first off Eric.

    I too have noticed several such anomalies over the last couple years (even when SEO was the name of the game) for several pages from some of my sites.

    I have struggled however to boil it down to a case study because I just couldn’t find a common links between them all. some are very well optimized while others are just average. some of the well optimized ones are still ranking high (you would think otherwise especially after seeing your case study).

    such a wide spread plethora of results just leaves you perplexed and wondering. one can almost conclude to stop worrying about anything and everything and simply write – the more you do and put yourself out there the more chance you give yourself to repeat similar results.

    I am not sure this is the answer, and cannot prove it though working on it (one of my really large sites is doing very well without much marketing of it), but I can’t think of a better alternative either.
    Sunil l Expediting Wealth Creation recently posted… Best Ways to Leverage PLR Articles – Your Own Private Label Rights Web Content

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    I completely agree, Sunil. My analysis in this case study is really more because I found the anomaly to be interesting.

    It’s clear that with so many variables in play, most of which are unknown to us, no one’s going to be able to look at this and draw any kind of concrete solutions.

    [Reply]

  3. apologies Eric I forgot to answer your question. one thing I have done to maximize benefit whenever I have seen results like these is to deliberately add more opt ins in those pages.

    this increases the likelihood that I retain as much of the traffic (in many cases these results can fluctuate widely and quickly as you mentioned).

    capturing visitors allows me to stay in touch with them and offer them relevant products and services over time through the systems I have already set up in place.

    our use of social media (especially Twitter) in many ways should be similar in that those platforms while hot today may not even exist tomorrow.

    the key is to retain the readership, whether or not we use it for monetization, the point is to keep/retain visitors.
    Sunil l Expediting Wealth Creation recently posted… Best Ways to Leverage PLR Articles – Your Own Private Label Rights Web Content

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Great suggestion – I’ll need to come up with a good opt-in form that differs from my sidebar one (people searching the general “make money online” may not have any idea about what a backlink tracker, my opt-in magnet, is).

    [Reply]

  4. #6 from my vantage point. Really nice job without even trying!

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks Kevin! It looks as if after this post went live, the page crawled up the ranks a bit more (although I’m 99% sure that it’s just a coincident).

    [Reply]

  5. #6 in Google for me as well (Chicago)…

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Cool, thanks Jeff. Let’s hope it sticks… :P

    [Reply]

  6. Very cool Eric! The one thing I am really interested to learn is, is this actually sending you any real traffic to your site? Glad to see you get some success after all the hurdles you have had to overcome the past few months.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Good question….what kind of traffic are you getting by ranking on the lower half of the 1st page of Google? Any additional ideas on ways to monetize this page while its there?

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    My traffic has picked up quite a bit. And not only from this exact term, but from many related ones too.

    It looks like, so far, the higher ranking is contributing to roughly 300 additional unique visitors per day (so extrapolated over an entire month, probably an additional 9,000 visitors).

    For the people who land on my site from the “make money online” search, they stay on the site for an average of 4 minutes and 3 seconds, and they view an average of 2.47 pages (with a 60.20% bounce rate). ALL of these metrics are better than my site’s overall metrics, so I can at least say the traffic I’ve been receiving is decent (i.e. people aren’t landing and leaving right away).

    Conversion is obviously a different issue. As Sunil mentioned above, my best bet is to put an opt-in form within the post to try and capture some additional subscribers. I do have the sidebar form and a pop-up form that currently exist.

    Right now, the only other way I’ve monetized the page is with affiliate links, but I’ll admit, I wasn’t too aggressive with it. I can probably turn up the “aggressiveness” slightly without hurting the quality of the page.

    [Reply]

  7. GREAT post here! It was very interesting to see how this all unfolded, and how you ranked on page one without even trying. I really think that’s where SEO is headed.. Natural SEO.. SEO without trying to do SEO..

    Again, great information in this case study.. I’m sharing this for sure!

    Thanks again!
    -Alex

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks Alex, glad to see you found it interesting!

    [Reply]

  8. Congrats! Just so you are aware, it is about 16 hours since your post and you are still on the first page. Dont be surprised if all you traffic hops from here to Google now.
    Adam Hathaway recently posted… Calculating Your House as Part of Your Net Wealth, You’re Probably Doing it Wrong

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks Adam – hopefully it continues to last for awhile longer.

    [Reply]

  9. Nice! I actually noticed in my Market Samurai reports that you had snuck up to page 1 for one of the keyword I’m targeting on my site… “ways to make money online”

    My settings are for Australian rankings as my site is about making money from home in Australia (not only online). I just had a look again and you’re position 7. makes sense as “ways to make money online” is in your Title, URL, Description, and Header tag….

    Just wondering, if you’ve ranked for “make money online” term given that the overall content of your site is very much about how to “make money online”… e.g. this particular page isn’t optimised for the term, but the overall “theme” of your site is all about it.

    I’m no SEO expert. And even the “experts” are still guessing about why pages rank now… but that theory makes sense to me…
    Greg recently posted… How to assess the quality of a network marketing compensation plan

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks for the comment, Greg. I do think ranking for the “make money online” term has a lot to do with the fact that it’s very relevant to my site without my site specifically targeting that keyword.

    On the other hand, I can guarantee there are probably dozens (or maybe hundreds) of sites that are similar to mine but have more content, a greater age, and more followers (so there’s a lot more social signals and perceived quality).

    For example, Pat from Smart Passive Income is probably in the top 3 (or maybe #1) of the best internet marketing/make money online sites, yet he isn’t ranking anywhere for this term. And his site is MILES ahead of mine in almost all aspects.

    My guess is that he also doesn’t have a post that specifically focuses on making money online (like my post that is ranking well), and that’s probably why he isn’t anywhere in the top rankings.

    What I think it boils down to is that we really don’t know enough to fully understand why the ranks are happening this way. I’m thinking it’s part luck, part quality, and a sprinkling of optimization.

    [Reply]

  10. Very interesting stuff!

    It looks like the natural links and social sharing has really helped that page rank for a competitive keyword.

    I would be interested in seeing the traffic impact of these recent rankings are?

    Thanks for the post
    Jon recently posted… How To Systematize a Successful Guest Posting Campaign

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks Jon! As I wrote to another commenter above, it seems like the higher ranking is contributing to roughly 300 additional unique visitors per day (so extrapolated over an entire month, probably an additional 9,000 visitors).

    [Reply]

  11. Some interesting ideas you have here.I believe that generic keywords and long tails are just as important as each other as the long tails have less searches but higher conversions whilst the generics have higher search volumes.
    Becca recently posted… Arborists Williamstown

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    I agree, Becca.

    [Reply]

  12. What a great moment to realize you have ranked on page 1 for such a competitive term! Your case study was very through. However, what I would like to know is if this actually brought you much additional traffic. It would be great if you shared your stats (at least percentages). Thanks for the great read!
    Heidi recently posted… Why We’re Putting Less Focus on SEO…

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks Heidi – at its peak, the higher ranking was contributing to roughly 300 additional unique visitors per day (so extrapolated over an entire month, probably an additional 9,000 visitors).

    [Reply]

  13. I found one of my sites that just doing blogging and letting people link to me helps me the most. I’ve started noticing people starting to do that on a blog that I’ve maintained for a few months now and it’s starting to show in my traffic figures. I think that is what you are trying to do as well.

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    That’s right, Mike – it definitely seems like “natural” SEO is more effective now.

    [Reply]

  14. Your blog is doing great. From the rankings you have indicated above it means that you are getting massive traffic to your blog. I have a lot to learn from you.
    Terry Stevens recently posted… http://www.kimkardashian24h.com

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks Terry!

    [Reply]

  15. What do you mean ranking so well, the Google PR for this web page is 0. Anyway, I’ve understood the main reasons why pages get good rankings. Thanks!
    Cristian Stan recently posted… Best Video Baby Monitor Reviews 2012

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    We might be looking at two different things, Cristian. When I say “ranking well,” I mean that the page ranks highly for a particular keyword within Google’s search results.

    PR is a metric used by Google to evaluate the quality and strength of a page, but it’s somewhat arbitrary in how it affects rankings (i.e. you can have a PR 0 site rank on page 1 of Google ahead of pages with higher PRs). I don’t really care about PR as long as I’m ranking well.

    [Reply]

  16. Sh***. You’re right. We weren’t on the same page. Thanks for taking time to explain, Eric. Have a nice weekend!
    Cristian Stan recently posted… Kitchenaid Food Processor

    [Reply]

  17. Hi Eric, been following your four hour work week post either by email or via twitter, and I’ll say this is one of the best articles I’ve read so far. Lest I forget, congrats for your first page ranking hope it stays on for a very long time as that particular post deserves its current ranking. From what I can infer from this article is this- SEO is gradually becoming less relevant as Google is strategising its algo to make it so. Well thanks once again for this wonderful post, just got it retweeted

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks Kris! Hopefully the first page ranking lasts a long time, but I won’t hold my breath. SEO does seem to be becoming more of a mystery, but maybe Google is slowly finding a way to get rid of all the high-ranking spam and garbage.

    [Reply]

  18. First, congratulations on ranking a highly competitive and lucrative keyword. Since you were wondering aloud how best to cash in on it, I’d suggest that you create a much more prominent lead capture form and create a new list dedicated to the people who land on that particular page. That way, you can worry about monetization later and just keep the list warm in the meantime. You might want to consider an entire free email course devoted to making money online that these people can enroll in.

    Just my $0.02. Best of luck to you!

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    That’s a great idea, Chad, and I’ve been considering some form of that (creating a little giveaway eBook for a list specifically targeted at those who land on this page). I do like the idea of an e-mail course, as it might be easier to create in a short period of time. It’s going on my to-do list for this week, so hopefully I do it sooner than later…

    [Reply]

  19. Congrats, Eric!

    I have been your reader since 2010. You have truly built an authority site that it’s fun to read and have honest angle about this business works.

    I have no doubt that Google honors and loves you.

    Hope you are on Google SERP page 1 of “make money online” one day.
    Kent @ Amazon Affiliate Tips recently posted… Happy Thanksgiving 2012

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thank you Kent!

    [Reply]

  20. That’s really a great achievement, Eric. You have certainly done a great job with that. That’s one of the most searched keywords on the web, and you are ranking on the first page of Google for the keyword, that’s just fabulous. Congrats man, keep up the good work :) .
    PrIyAnGsHu recently posted… HostGator Cyber Monday Sale 2012 – 50% Discount on Hosting and Domains for Only $1.95

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thank you! :)

    [Reply]

  21. I think Chris Guthrie might be a bit upset about this one :)
    He was been ranking very well on this for a very long time. (as his blog is actually called make money on the internet / online I believe.

    I think even Shoemoney and John Chow rank high on this :)
    Stumbleopon is a weird traffic generator, in my experience it doesn’t convert well into sales at all… just a spike in traffic which doesn’t really mean much unless it converts into something.

    Good stuff nontheless :)
    Ralph | Niche Websites 101 recently posted… (Video) Long Tail Pro vs Market Samurai Comparison

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    I know, it’s very unusual how these rankings came to be, but I’ll take them. :) Last I checked, I was no longer on page 1 for “make money online” but in fact was on page 1 (#6 or so) for “how to make money online”, which is just as competitive. Let’s hope it sticks a bit longer!

    [Reply]

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