Getting on the first page of Google in organic search is every content marketer’s dream. How can you do that without paying exorbitant pay-per-click fees? There are 7 billion results when you Google ‘How to get on the first page of Google for free?’ I blog about technology product management and mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures. I have always wanted to be on the first page of Google search. So I have spent some time learning about search engine optimization. I decided to conduct an experiment to see if I could get one of my posts on the first or second page of Google. I failed. This post will explore my experiment and its results. To make a long story short, when it comes to Google SEO David can’t beat Goliath.
I have been blogging for over 10 years. Writing is a hobby of mine. I am not very good at it but I enjoy it. 10 years ago I was very lucky and one of my posts ended up on the first page of Google. The post is How to Calculate the Enterprise Value of a Private Company. I have tweaked it a number of times over the years and it still ranks on the first or second page. According to Google’s Keyword Idea planner, people will pay anywhere from $7.20 to $8.55 a click to get a top of page ad for this key phrase. This key phrase is pretty low volume, but it produces a consistent amount of traffic for me as shown in my Google Search Console report:
SEO experts tout long tail keywords as the way to raise your Google rankings. Here is a breakdown of the click thru rates based on your position in the top 20 Google search positions:
While it is hard to rank in the top three positions, you can have decent results if you rank anywhere from 8 to 20. After 20th position your page is basically invisible to the Internet.
Google does not disclose precisely how it determines search engine results rankings. SEO experts have identified around 200 factors that are involved. Here’s a link to great infographic that describes these factors. Moz, a leading SEO tools company, pioneered two metrics – Domain Authority and Page Authority. These are the most common free metrics available today that “predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERPs). A Domain Authority score ranges from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank. Domain Authority is not a metric used by Google in determining search rankings and has no effect on the SERPs.” Domain and Page Authority are great tools you can use to assess your competition and improve your own search engine results rankings.
I decided to conduct an experiment to see if I could get a new post to rank in the top 20 SERPs for a long tail keyword. The long tail keyword I targeted was product management metrics. I knew that if I could rank high for this core term there would be a lot of other related search terms that I could rank for as well. For example my enterprise value post ranks for almost 200 related search terms that generated over 3,000 impressions in the past few months. To see the whole list check out this spreadsheet.
Here is a link to the post I published Product Manager Metrics: Process is as Important as Formulas
The first step is to look at the competition. I reviewed the top 20 SERP for the search term ‘Product Management Metrics’. This was the result:
My website, developmentcorporate.com, has a Moz domain authority of 22 and the home page has a page authority of 22. It seemed like there were two results in the top 20 were potentially vulnerable to displacement.
A critical success factor is to write good content. If your content sucks no SEO tricks can save you. As noted before Google has a very detailed method for ranking webpages. The Google Quality Ratings Guidelines is over 166 pages long. A key aspect is Google’s E-A-T factor. E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. I have some significant expertise in product management metrics. I have been a senior product management executive for three public companies and three private equity backed firms. In looking at the competing pages I decided to focus on the process of building an effective product management metrics process instead of formulas and statistics.
After initially drafting my post, I use the Hemingway Editor, a free service that helps improve your writing. The Hemingway app points out problems with your writing – too many adverbs, passive voice, hard to read sentences, etc. It calculates the readability of your writing. Experts recommend that you target grades 6-9. I find the app helps correct some of the persistent problems in my writing. Here a snapshot from the metrics post:
I decided to leverage the best practices various Internet SEO experts had recommended. The list includes:
Most of the list is self-explanatory. A few topics are not. ‘Key Phrase in Image File Names’ is what it says. Google indexes the file names of images included in your post. By including the keyword phrase in the file name it will juice your rankings in Google Image search. ‘Authority Stealing’ is including a link to a page that ranks very high for your keyword phrase. This might give your post a little juice in the rankings. I included a link to the 5th highest ranked post in the opening paragraph of my post. ‘Structured Data Blocks’ is a relatively new Google search feature. These show up as ‘how to lists’ or FAQs underneath an item in Google Search results. Google decides if and when to display these blocks. If you include one of them in your post you will get a little ranking credit.
Yoast is a SEO plugin for WordPress. My site runs on a WordPress theme from Themify. Yoast offers a free and premium (paid) SEO plugin for WordPress sites. It provides some analytics on how well a post meets various SEO criteria. Here is an example from my post:
Yoast is a good tool that definitely improves the SEO of your work.
I failed to achieve my goal. The post performed poorly. Here is a 2 week Google Analytics snapshot:
Google search console was a little more encouraging. I generated 172 impressions for 24 keywords and 0 clicks. The highest the post ranked was 32nd – the second item on the third page. Where blog post traffic goes to die.
My little David of a post was unable to slay Goliath. I believe the primary challenge I faced was the low Domain Authority score of my site and low Page Authority score of the post.
Gaining SEO traction is a long haul game. It is not something you can do overnight. There are no magic tricks. If you talk to any of the 39 million SEO consultants listed by Google they will promise you great results via their best practices. The reality is that after they apply their best practices and nothing really changes they will make this pitch to you. “Let’s used dome Pay-Per-Click advertising to drive traffic to your website. After 6 months Google will notice the traffic increase and you will start to organically rank higher – maybe even on the first page!”
There are two answers on how to rank on the first page of Google. 1) Build your site up to a high domain authority and page authority or 2) Spend a couple of thousand dollars on pay-per-click ads.
My efforts were not a total bust. I was fortunate to have the posted selected by the Medium curators. Medium was founded by Ev Williams (@ev) the former CEO of Twitter. Medium is the anti-Twitter. It focuses on long form user generated content. It has over 60 million users. It is easy to republish your existing content on Medium. You can even host your own publication on Medium. Mine is called DevelopmentCorporate. One of the benefits of publishing on Medium is that it generates a backlink to your original post. Backlinks help build domain authority. You can also get paid via the Medium Partner Program.
To some extent Medium is like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. People can follow you and get notified of new posts. Having your post curated or published in one of the many Medium publications can dramatically boost your numbers. I have 20 posts on Medium and I have been lucky to have two of them curated by the editors and two posts have been selected to be publsihed in two medium publications. Getting selected by the curators is rare. If your post is selected Medium will recommend it to users and share it via a number of channels like email. Here is a snapshot of my two week numbers for the experiment post:
567 views in 2 weeks doesn’t suck. Medium is not going to solve your SEO problems, but it is a great tool in your SEO war chest.
Also published on Medium.