Apollo Digital is a full-stack digital marketing agency based in Bulgaria. Co-founder Noel Ceta wrote a post, which I’m summarizing below. I encourage you to go check out the original.
This post covers how you:
- Get your website to load faster (with minimal technical know-how)
- Optimize your landing pages to rank for direct intent keywords (driving more qualified leads)
- Create content that ranks every time
- Getting a TON of links to our website with ZERO link-building efforts
- Improve rankings with Surfer SEO
Step #1 – Technical Optimization and On-Page SEO
If you DON’T have a tech team and want a super easy tl;dr, do this:
- Use WP Rocket. It’s a WordPress plugin that optimizes a bunch of stuff on your website, making it run significantly faster.
- Use SMUSH to (losslessly) compress all the images on your website. this usually helps a TON with load speed.
If you’re a bit more tech-savvy, though, read on!
Technical SEO Basics
Sitemap.xml file. A good sitemap shows Google how to easily navigate your website (and how to find all your content!). If your site runs on WordPress, all you have to do is install YoastSEO or Rankmath SEO, and they’ll create a sitemap for you. Otherwise, you can use an online XML Sitemap generation tool.
Proper website architecture. The crawl depth of any page should be lower than 4 (i.e: any given page should be reached with no more than 3 clicks from the homepage). To fix this, you should improve your interlinking (check Step #6 to learn more).
Serve images in next-gen format. Next-gen image formats (JPEG 2000, JPEG XR, and WebP) can be compressed a lot better than JPG or PNG images. Using WordPress? Just use Smush and it’ll do ALL the work for you. Otherwise, you can manually compress all images and re-upload them.
Remove duplicate content. Google hates duplicate content and will penalize you for it. If you have any duplicate pages, just merge them (by doing a 301 redirect) or delete one or the other.
Update your ‘robots.txt’ file. Hide the pages you don’t want Google to index (e.g: non-public, or unimportant pages). If you’re a SaaS, this would be most of your in-app pages. ]
Optimize all your pages by best practice. There’s a bunch of general best practices that Google wants you to follow for your web pages (maintain keyword density, have an adequate # of outbound links, etc.). Install YoastSEO or RankMath and use them to optimize all of your web pages.
If you DON’T have any pages that you don’t want to be displayed on Google, you DON’T need robots.txt.
Advanced Technical SEO
Now, this is where this gets a bit more web-devvy. Other than just optimizing your website for SEO, you should also focus on optimizing your website speed.
Here’s how to do that:
Both for Mobile and PC, your website should load in under 2-3 seconds. While load speed isn’t a DIRECT ranking factor, it does have a very serious impact on your rankings.
After all, if your website doesn’t load for 5 seconds, a bunch of your visitors might drop off.
So, to measure your website speed performance, you can use Pagespeed Insights. Some of the most common issues we have seen clients facing when it comes to website speed and loading time, are the following:
- Images being resized with CSS or JS. This adds extra loading time to your site. Use GTMetrix to find which images need resizing. Use an online tool (there are a ton of free ones) to properly resize images (or Photoshop even), and re-upload them.
- Images not being lazy-loaded. If your pages contain a lot of images, you MUST activate lazy-loading. This allows images that are below the screen, to be loaded only once the visitor scrolls down enough to see the image.
- Gzip compression not enabled. Gzip is a compression method that allows network file transfers to happen a ton faster. In other words, your files like your HTML, CSS, and JS load a ton faster.
- Use Cloudflare + BunnyCDN Why the combo? Why not just Cloudflare? Well, I won’t get into details, I’ve experimented a bit with it, and if you are looking for something cheap and fast this is the best combo. Cloudflare you can opt in for the free account. BunnyCDN on the other hand is on a pay-as-you-go basis, and unless you are getting over 100K+ visits a month, you’ll likely never go above their minimum monthly threshold of $1.
Want to make your life easier AND fix up all these issues and more? Use WP Rocket. The tool basically does all your optimization for you (if you’re using WordPress, of course).
Step #2 – Keyword Research
Once your website is 100% optimized, it’s time to define your SEO strategy.
The best way to get started with this is by doing keyword research.
First off, you want to create a keyword research sheet. This is going to be your main hub for all your content operations.
You can use the sheet to:
- Prioritize content
- Keep track of the publishing process
- Get a top-down view of your web pages
And here’s what it covers:
- Target search phrase. This is the keyword you’re targeting.
- Priority. What’s the priority of this keyword? We usually divide them by 1-2-3…
- Priority 3 – Top priority keywords. These are usually low competition, high traffic, well-converting, or all 3 at the same time.
- Priority 2 – Mid-priority keywords.
- Priority 1 – These are low priority.
- Status. What’s the status of the article? We usually divide them by…
- 1 – Not written
- 2 – Writer has picked up the topic for the week
- 3 – The article is being written
- 4 – The article is in editing phase
- 5 – The article is published on the blog
- Topic cluster. The category that the blog post belongs to.
- Monthly search volume. Self-explanatory. This helps you pick a priority for the keyword.
- CPC (low & high bid). Cost per click for the keyword. Generally, unless you’re planning to run search ads, these are not mandatory. They can, however, help you figure out which of your keywords will convert better. Pro tip: the higher the CPC, the more likely it is for the keyword to convert well.
Now that you have your sheet (and understand how it works), let’s talk about the “how” of keyword research.
How to do Keyword Research
Start off by listing out your top 5 SEO competitors.
The key here is SEO competitors – competing companies that have a strong SEO presence in the same niche.
Not sure who’s a good SEO competitor? Google the top keywords that describe your product and find your top-ranking competitors.
Run them through SEMrush (or your favorite SEO tool), and you’ll see how well, exactly, they’re doing with their SEO.
Once you have a list of 5 competitors, run each of them through “Organic Research” on SEMrush, and you’ll get a complete list of all the keywords they rank on.
Now, go through these keywords one by one and extract all the relevant ones and add them to your sheet.
Once you go through the top SEO competitors, your keyword research should be around 80%+ done.
Now to put some finishing touches on your keyword research, run your top keywords through UberSuggest and let it do its magic. It’s going to give you a bunch of keywords associated with the keywords you input.
Go through all the results it’s going to give you, extract anything that’s relevant, and your keyword research should be 90% done.
At this point, you can call it a day and move on to the next step. Chances are, over time, you’ll uncover new keywords to add to your sheet and get you to that sweet 100%.
Step #3 – Create SEO Landing Pages
Remember how we collected a bunch of landing page keywords in step #2? Now it’s time to build the right page for each of them! This step is a lot more straightforward than you’d think. First off, you create a custom landing page based around the keyword. Depending on your niche, this can be done in 2 ways:
- Create a general template landing page. Pretty much copy-paste your landing page, alter the sub-headings, paraphrase it a bit, and add relevant images to the use-case. You’d go with this option if the keywords you’re targeting are very similar to your main use-case (e.g. “project management software” “project management system”).
- Create a unique landing page for each use-case. You should do this if each use-case is unique. For example, if your software doubles as project management software and workflow management software. In this case, you’ll need two completely new landing pages for each keyword.
Once you have a bunch of these pages ready, you should optimize them for their respective keywords.
You can do this by running the page content through an SEO tool. If you’re using WordPress, you can do this through RankMath or Yoast SEO.
Both tools will give you exact instructions on how to optimize your page for the keyword.
If you’re not using WordPress, you can use SurferSEO. Just copy-paste your web page content, and it’s going to give you instructions on how to optimize it.
Once your new landing pages are live, you need to pick where you want to place them on your website. We usually recommend adding these pages to your website’s navigation menu (header) or footer.
Finally, once you have all these new landing pages up, you might be thinking “Now what? How, and when, are these pages going to rank?”
Generally, landing pages are a tad harder to rank than content. See, with content, quality plays a huge part. Write better, longer, and more informative content than your competition, and you’re going to eventually outrank them even if they have more links.
With landing pages, things aren’t as cut and dry. More often than not, you can’t just “create a better landing page.”
What determines rankings for landing page keywords are backlinks. If your competitors have 400 links on their landing pages, while yours has 40, chances are, you’re not going to outrank them.
Step #4 – Create Blog Content
Now, let’s talk about the other side of the coin: content keywords, and how to create content that ranks.
As we mentioned before, these keywords aren’t direct-intent (the Googler isn’t SPECIFICALLY looking for your product), but they can still convert pretty well. For example, if you’re a digital marketing agency, you could rank on keywords like…
- Lead generation techniques
- SaaS marketing
- SEO content
After all, anyone looking to learn about lead gen techniques might also be willing to pay you to do it for them.
On top of this, blog post keywords are way easier to rank for than your landing pages – you can beat competition simply by creating significantly better content without turning it into a backlink war.In order to create good SEO content, you need to do 2 things right:
- Create a comprehensive content outline
- Get the writing part right
Here’s how each of these work…
How to Create a Content Outline
A content outline is a document that has all the info on what type of information the article should contain Usually, this includes:
- Which headers and subheaders you should use
- What’s the optimal word count
- What information, exactly, should each section of the article cover
- If you’re not using Yoast or Rankmath, you can also mention the SEO optimization requirements (keyword density, # of outbound links, etc.)
Outlines are useful if you’re working with a writing team that isn’t 100% familiar with SEO, allowing them to write content that ranks without any SEO know-how.
At the same time, even if you’re the one doing the writing, an outline can help you get a top-down idea of what you should cover in the article.
So, how do you create an outline? Here’s a simplified step-by-step process…
- Determine the target word count. Rule of thumb: aim for 1.5x – 2x whatever your competitor wrote. You can disregard this if your competition was super comprehensive with their content, and just go for the same length instead.
- Create a similar header structure as your competition. Indicate for the writer which headers should be h2, which ones h3.
- For each header, mention what it’s about. Pro tip – you can borrow ideas from the top 5 ranking articles.
- For each header, explain what, exactly, should the writer mention (in simple words).
- Finally, do some first-hand research on Reddit and Quora. What are the questions your target audience has around your topic? What else could you add to the article that would be super valuable for your customers?
How to Write Well
There’s a lot more to good content than giving an outline to a writer. Sure, they can hit all the right points, but if the writing itself is mediocre, no one’s going to stick around to read your article.
Here are some essential tips you should keep in mind for writing content (or managing a team of writers):
- Write for your audience. Are you a B2B enterprise SaaS? Your blog posts should be more formal and professional. B2C, super-consumer product? Talk in a more casual, relaxed fashion. Sprinkle your content with pop culture references for bonus points!
- Avoid fluff. Every single sentence should have some sort of value (conveying information, cracking a joke, etc.). Avoid beating around the bush, and be as straightforward as possible.
- Keep your audience’s knowledge in mind. For example, if your audience is a bunch of rocket scientists, you don’t have to explain to them how 1+1=2.
- Create a writer guideline (or just steal ours! -> edit: sorry had to remove link due to posting guidelines)
- Use Grammarly and Hemingway. The first is like your personal pocket editor, and the latter helps make your content easier to read.
- Hire the right writers. Chances are, you’re too busy to write your own content. We usually recommend using ProBlogger or Cult of Copy Job Board (Facebook Group) to source top writing talent.
Step #5 – Start Link-Building
Links are essential if you want your content or web pages to rank.
If you’re in a competitive niche, links are going to be the final deciding factor on what ranks and what doesn’t.
In the VPN niche, for example, everyone has good content. That’s just the baseline. The real competition is in the backlinks.
To better illustrate this example, if you Google “best VPN,” you’ll see that all top-ranking content pieces are almost the same thing. They’re all:
- Easy to navigate
- Well-formatted (to enhance UX)
So, the determining factor is links. If you check all the top-ranking articles with the Moz Toolbar Extension, you’ll see that on average, each page has a minimum of 300 links (and some over 100,000!).
Meaning, to compete, you’ll really need to double-down on your link-building effort.
In fact, in the most competitive SEO niches, it’s not uncommon to spend $20,000 per month on link-building efforts alone.
Got scared by the high $$$ some companies spend on link-building? Well, worry not!
Only the most ever-green niches are so competitive. Think VPN, make money online, health and fitness, dating, CBD, gambling, etc. So you know, the usual culprits.
For most other niches, you can rank with minimal links, as long as you have top-tier SEO content.
Now, let’s ask the million-dollar question: “how do you do link-building?”
4 Evergreen Link Building Strategies
There are a TON of different link building strategies on the web. Broken link building, scholarship link building, stealing competitor links, and so on and so on and so on.
We’re not going to list every single link building strategy out there (mainly because Backlinko already did that in their link building guide).
What we are going to do, though, is list out some of our favorite strategies, and link you to resources where you can learn more:
- Broken link building. You find dead pages with a lot of backlinks, reach out to websites that linked to them, and pitch them something like “hey, you linked to this article, but it’s dead. We thought you’d want to fix that. You can use our recent article if you think it’s cool enough.”
- Guest posting. Probably the most popular link building strategy. Find blogs that accept guest posts, and send them a pitch! They usually let you include 1-2 do-follow links back to your website.
- “Linkable asset” link building. A linkable asset is a resource that is so AWESOME that you just can’t help but link to. Think, infographics, online calculators, first-hand studies or research, stuff like that. The tl;dr here is, you create an awesome resource, and promote the hell out of it on the web.
- Skyscraper technique. The skyscraper technique is a term coined by Backlinko. The gist of it is, you find link-worthy content on the web, create something even better, and reach out to the right people.
Most of these strategies work, and you can find a ton of resources on the web if you want to learn more.
However, if you’re looking for something a bit different, oh boy we have a treat for you! We’re going to teach you a link-building strategy that got us around:
- 10,000+ traffic within a week
- 15+ leads
- 50+ links
…And so much more, all through a single blog post.
Link-Building Case Study: SaaS Marketing
Since we specialize in helping SaaS companies acquire new users, we decided to create a mega-authority guide to SaaS marketing (AND try to get it to rank for its respective keyword).
We went through the top-ranking content pieces, and saw that none of them was anything too impressive.
Most of them were about general startup marketing strategies – how to validate your MVP, find a product-market fit, etc.
Pretty “meh,” if you ask us. We believe that the #1 thing founders are looking for when Googling “saas marketing” are practical channels and tactics you can use to acquire new users.
So, it all started off with an idea: create a listicle of the top SaaS marketing tactics out there:
- How to create good content to drive users
- Promote your content
- Rank on Google
- Create viral infographics
- Create a micro-site
…and we ended up covering 41+ different tactics and case studies and hitting around 14k+ words.
Once the article was up, we ran it through some of our clients, friends, and acquaintances, and received some really good feedback.
So, now we knew it was worth promoting the hell out of it.
We came up with a huge list of all online channels that would appreciate this article:
- Hacker News. Tons of founders hang out on HN, so we thought they’d appreciate anything SaaS-related. This netted us around ~200+ upvotes and some awesome feedback (thanks HN!)
- Submit on Growth Hackers, Indie Hackers, and all other online marketing communities. We got a bunch of love on Indie Hackers, the rest were quite inactive.
- Reach out to all personal connects + clients and ask for a share
- Run Facebook/Twitter ads. This didn’t particularly work out too well for us, so we dropped it after 1-2 weeks.
- Run a Quuu promotion. Quuu is a platform that matches people who want their content to be shared with people who want their social media profiles running on 100% autopilot. We also got “meh” results here – tons of shares, next to no likes or link clicks.
- Promoted in SaaS and marketing Facebook groups. This had awesome results both in terms of traffic, as well as making new friends, AND getting new leads.
- Promoted in entrepreneur Slack channels. This worked OK – didn’t net us traffic, but got us some new friends.
- Emailed anyone we mentioned in the article and asked for a share. Since we mentioned too many high profile peeps and not enough non-celebs, this didn’t work out too well
- Emailed influencers that we thought would like the article / give it a share. They didn’t. We were heart-broken.
And accordingly, created a checklist + distribution sheet with all the websites or emails of people we wanted to ping.
Overall, this netted us around 12,000 page views in total, 15+ leads, 6,000 traffic in just 2 promotion days.
As for SEO results, we got a bunch of links.
A lot of these are no-follow from Reddit, HackerNews, and other submission websites, but a lot of them are also pretty authentic.
The cool part about this link-building tactic is that people link to you without even asking. You create awesome content that helps people, and you get rewarded with links, shares, and traffic!
And as for the cherry on top, only 2 months after publishing the article, it’s ranking on position #28. We’re expecting it to get to page 1 within the new few months and top 3 within the year.
Step #6 – Interlink Your Pages
One of Google’s ranking factors is how long your visitors stick around on your website.
So, you need to encourage users reading ONE article, to read, well, the rest of them (or at least browse around your website). This is done through interlinking.
The idea is that each of your web pages should be linked to and from every other relevant page on your site.
Say, an article on “how to make a resume” could link to (and be linked from) “how to include contact info on a resume,” “how to write a cover letter,” “what’s the difference between a CV and a resume,” and so on.
Proper interlinking alone can have a significant impact on your website rankings. NinjaOutreach, for example, managed to improve their organic traffic by 40% through better interlinking alone.
So, how do you do interlinking “right?”
First off, make it a requirement for your writers to link to the rest of your content. Add a clause to your writer guidelines that each article should have 10+ links to your other content pieces.
More often than not, they’ll manage to get 60-70% of interlinking opportunities. To get this to 100%, we usually do bi-annual interlinking runs. Here’s how that works.
Pick an article you want to interlink. Let’s say, for example, an article on ‘business process management’.
The goal here is to find as many existing articles on your blog, where ‘business process management’ is mentioned so that we can add a link to the article.
Firstly, Google the keyword ‘business process management’ by doing a Google search on your domain. You can use the following query:
In our case, that’s:
site:example.com “business process management”
You’ll get a complete list of articles that mention the keyword “business process management.
Now, all you have to do is go through each of these, and make sure that the keyword is hyperlinked to the respective article!
You should also do this for all the synonyms of the keyword for this article. For example, “BPM” is an acronym for business process management, so you’d want to link this article there too.
Step #7 – Track & Improve Your Headline CTRs
Article CTRs play a huge role in determining what ranks or not.
Let’s say your article ranks #4 with a CTR of 15%. Google benchmarks this CTR with the average CTR for the position.
If the average CTR for position #4 is 12%, Google will assume that your article, with a CTR of 15% is of high quality, and will reward you with better rankings.
On the other hand, if the average CTR is 18%, Google will assume that your article isn’t as valuable as other ranking content pieces, and will lower your ranking.
So, it’s important to keep track of your Click Through Rates for all your articles, and when you see something that’s underperforming, you can test different headlines to see if they’ll improve CTR.
Now, you’re probably wondering, how do you figure out what’s the average CTR?
Unfortunately, each search result is different, and there’s no one size fits all formula for average CTR.
Over the past few years, Google has been implementing a bunch of different types of search results – featured snippet, QAs, and a lot of other types of search results.
So, depending on how many of these clutter and the search results for your given keyword, you’ll get different average CTRs by position.
Rule of thumb, you can follow these values:
- 1st position -> ~31.73% CTR
- 2nd pos. -> ~24.71%
- 3rd pos. -> 18.66%
- 4th pos. -> 13.60%
- 5th -> 9.51%
- 6th -> 6.23%
- 7th -> 4.15%
- 8th -> 3.12%
- 9th -> 2.97%
Keep in mind these change a lot depending on your industry, PPC competitiveness, 0-click searches, etc…
Use a scraping tool like Screaming Frog to extract the following data from all your web pages:
- Page title
- Page URL
- Old Headline
Delete all the pages that aren’t meant to rank on Google. Then, head over to Google Search Console and extract the following data for all the web pages:
- CTR (28 Day Range)
- Avg. Position
Add all of this data to a spreadsheet.
Now, check what your competition is doing and use that to come up with new headline ideas. Then, put them in the Title Ideas cell for the respective keyword.
For each keyword, come up with 4-5 different headlines, and implement the (seemingly) best title for each article.
Once you implement the change, insert the date on the Date Implemented column. This will help you keep track of progress.
Then, wait for around 3 – 4 weeks to see what kind of impact this change is going to have on your rankings and CTR.
If the results are not satisfactory, record the results in the respective cells, and implement another test for the following month. Make sure to update the Date Implemented column once again.
Step #8 – Keep Track of Rankings & Make Improvements On-The-Go
You’re never really “done” with SEO – you should always keep track of your rankings and see if there’s any room for improvement.
If you wait for an adequate time-frame after publishing a post (6 months to a year) and you’re still seeing next to no results, then it might be time to investigate.
Here’s what this usually looks like for us:
- Audit the content
- Is your content the adequate word count? Think, 1.5-2x your competitors.
- Is the content well-written?
- Do the images in your article add value? E.g. no stock or irrelevant images.
- Is the content optimized for SEO? Think, keyword density, links to external websites, etc.
- Audit internal links
- Does the content link to an adequate number of your other articles or web pages?
- Is the article linked to from an adequate number of your web pages or blog posts? You can check this on Search Console => Links => Internal Links. Or, if you’re using Yoast or RankMath, you can check the # of internal links a post has in the WordPress Dashboard -> Posts.
- Audit the backlinks
- Do you have as many backlinks as your competitors?
- Are your backlinks from the countries you want to rank in? If you have a bunch of links from India, but you want to rank in the US, you’d need to get more US links.
- Are your links high quality? More often than not, low DA / PA links are not that helpful.
- Did you disown low-quality or spam links?
- Audit web page
- Does the web page load too slow? Think, 4+ seconds.
- Did you enable lazy loading for the images?
- Did you compress all images on the web page?