SEO Case Study: When Winning Includes 2nd Place

Let me tell you about a win.

I'm ranked 2nd on Google. 😱

I know, I know amazing stuff.

Actually, no, not impressed?

Well, you should be. See the reason why is because I sort of cheated the system here.

I found terms that are difficult to rank for then outranked the content from huge and successful online magazines who's main job is getting their content read.

Take a look:

What's more?

I achieved this high SEO ranking with zero links.

Zero links, yes zero!!

What this means is that I successfully ranked my content for highly competitive keywords without getting direct backlinks.

Why is that important?

Most businesses can't get many good backlinks. Really, they can't, not the high quality organic backlinks that actually move the needle on SERP rankings.

Instead what they do is maximize getting links anyway they can, and it does improve their search results, but not by much.

That's because these businesses are going about SEO all wrong.

The way businesses should approach SEO is by reverse engineering how Google ranks content and creating content that works in-line with that approach.

My Background in SEO

Who in the world enjoys reverse engineering Google's search algorithm:

Hi, I'm Christian and I was lucky enough to work for the best SEO agency in NY. and learn from the best and brightest in the industry, learn how top experts think about SEO, and apply what I learned about SEO for clients.

I learned how to apply SEO foundations, perform expert keyword research, and technical SEO.

I led SEO projects for successful brand name e-commerce businesses (these clients value their privacy so I can't share their names 😢).

I get my own content to rank too:

My content ranking above Inc, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and McKinsey.

I also taught professional marketers and founders how to create content that ranks in a comprehensive 5-week digital marketing course.

Now that you know my background in SEO, let's walk through how google works.

How does Google rank content?

Search engines rank content in search results through a three step process.

  1. Get your content discovered by search engines
  2. Give search engines the context they need to include your content in search results
  3. Give search engines the user experience results they need to overtake existing content in search rankings

By discovering content online than assessing whether this content looks like the content that already satisfies Google search users.

How do I get my content discovered?

First you get your content discovered by submitting it to Google. You can't directly submit to Google anymore, but you can register your site ownership on Google Search Console, submit your site to Bing.

Secondly, once you've created your content you can link to it via your content that already ranks elsewhere. Google will naturally crawl the web and find new links from content it already indexes in search results.

Third, Google finds your content when it shows up on other webpages that Google has indexed. This includes community websites like Reddit, but doesn't traditionally include websites that require you to login to see content.

That means that social links on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest don't add to your SEO rankings in any substantial way.

However, because Twitter links are easily discovered by Google AND search engine users, they are more valuable than other social links, although social media links are still discounted because it's easier to create fake social media profiles than create fake websites.

How do I give search engines the context they need to get my content included in search results?

Search engines assess your content according to how the information on your webpages is organized.

The process of designing and structuring content is know as information architecture.

How do I give search engines the data they need to improve my place in search results?

This brings us to the next concept we need to understand to get content to rank

Google is Risk Averse

Google doesn't want to bring traffic to websites that people don't enjoy going to.

That's bad for Google's business.

Google wants everyone to use Google for everything. To accomplish that goal, Google's results should be reliable and useful for users. The content it ranks most highly should be the content that's most likely to accomplish its user's goals.

What are search user goals?

Search user goals are why people are using Google in the first place. To find and answer, to find a piece of content, to solve a problem.

But the thing about Google is that fundamentally it's restrained in it's ability to understand our satisfaction in that regard.

Google doesn't know if we're happy.

But Google does know if we come back to search results after clicking on another search result previously.

That's how Google measures the success of its search results.

The primary factors that determine how content moves within search rankings:

  • alternative search result selection
  • median time spent on site before that happens

We can't measure these signals directly, but we can measure two other factors that closely approximate them.

Our website content goals

  • decrease bounce rate
  • maximize time on site