Almost anyone with a website knows, at least vaguely, that they need SEO in order to be competitive in Google search results. You have to target certain keywords and write good content to rank highly and attract visitors.
But with every new website following the same basic SEO advice, it can be tough to stand out from the competition. If everyone does the same thing, how can anyone get ahead?
We’re here to tell you how to do things differently. Some of the basics won’t change—you still need keyword targets, for example—but you can customize your approach in a way that outwits your competitors at SEO.
Here are 12 ways you can beat the competition and improve your SEO strategy:
Think of Users Before SEO
The best (and easiest) way to outdo your competition at SEO is to not think of SEO first.
It sounds a bit counterintuitive, but thinking about your user before you think about Google can do wonders for your SEO. Search engines, particularly Google, are 100% focused on meeting the user’s needs. If you also are focused on meeting the user’s needs, Google will reward that.
When you get caught up on having a precise keyword density or finding the highest volume keyword, you can lose sight of making sure your content and site experience is actually providing value to your visitors. But with a user-first approach, you’ll find that the other pieces more naturally fall into place.
Target Longtail Keywords
Selecting target keywords typically feels like a numbers game: what terms are the most people searching every single month?
A keyword with thousands of searches per month might seem like a perfect opportunity for tons of traffic, but what’s often overlooked is the intense competition that comes with high volume keywords. Everyone wants to rank for a 50K search term, so breaking into the top 10, let alone the top three will require huge amounts of time, resources, and luck.
Enter longtail keywords. These terms have much lower search volume, but also much lower competition. It’s the difference between optimizing for [mattresses] (823,000 monthly searches) and optimizing for [how to choose a mattress for back pain] (320 monthly searches).
With such a stark difference in search volume, it might seem fruitless to go for the lower volume term. But you’re more likely to rank higher and faster for the longtail term—and its many variations. You’ll see more traffic from ranking on page one for a bunch of lower volume terms than you will from ranking on page two or three for a very high volume term.
Use Paid Search Data to Find Keywords
To further prioritize your list of keywords, utilize paid search data to find the keywords with the highest click-through and conversion rates on your site. Depending on your exact product offerings, site set up, and other factors, your most powerful keywords may not be the same as your competitors. Combining organic search rankings with paid search data can yield powerful insights about where you should focus your SEO efforts to stand out from your competition.
Write Custom Meta Descriptions
We know—meta descriptions aren’t a direct ranking factor for SEO. But engagement metrics like click-through rate and bounce rate are. A custom meta description is a perfect way to entice readers to click on your site instead of a competitor. Since they aren’t a direct ranking factor, many sites just let Google automatically select content to display in this area. By optimizing it for clicks, you’ll convince more searchers to choose you over a competitor.
Optimize Your Top Navigation
Your site navigation is a critical area for SEO optimization, and it’s often underutilized.
Choose three to five of your highest value pages, ideally category pages or service pages, to feature in the top navigation. Instead of clustering them in a drop-down menu, place them across the top with keyword-optimized anchor text. (This is where short, high volume keywords come in handy.)
Setting up your top navigation like this provides stronger SEO signals to the search engines while also making it easier for your visitors to find exactly what they need. Once again, optimizing for the user also optimizes for search engines.
Invest in Longform & “Big” Content
You and your competitors may all be blogging for SEO, but if you’re all churning out the same generic, 1000 word blog posts each week, your content marketing strategy isn’t doing anything to set you apart.
Consider taking the plunge and invest in more robust content assets. This can be long-form content like ultimate guides, how-tos, and other written content that exceeds 3000 words, but if you have the resources, you can dream a little bigger.
Try creating infographics, videos, or interactive tools that go beyond a blog and provide real extra value to your visitors. You’ll end up with more traffic, more backlinks, and more customers who trust you over a competitor.
Here are some examples of smaller sites with bigger and better content to inspire you:
Have Robust Internal Linking
Internal linking strategies provide structure and order to your website. Search engine crawlers use internal links to understand relationships between different pages and can pass link authority from one page to another within your site, just as links between two different sites do.
Develop a thorough internal link plan to capitalize on this. Link to new blog posts from old ones, connect your category and service pages and make good use of links in your header, footer, and sidebar, where applicable.
Many sites start off with a good internal linking strategy but fail to regularly update it. Set aside time each month to update internal links or include it as part of your content creation process to ensure you stay ahead of your competitors.
Focus on Page Speed
Most developers will tell you that improving page speed is a perpetual process—there’s always something you can do to be faster. Because this is a never-ending technical process, most businesses don’t prioritize these efforts. Dedicate some time each month to making small improvements to your page speed to keep up and outpace competing websites.
Use Image Alt Tags
Images are likely an important piece of your content creation process, but are you properly optimizing them? Designate custom image alt tags to provide a better experience for your users while helping search engines better crawl and index them.
By providing a keyword-rich image description as the alt text, visually impaired users will be able to understand your images, and they’ll have a better chance of showing up in image search results, providing another avenue for searchers to find your site.
Create a Custom 404 Page
Nothing increases the bounce rate like a broken page. To minimize the impact of that inevitable broken page on your site—whether it’s due to a mistyped URL or a forgotten 301 redirect—create a custom 404 page that engages users and directs them to the information they might actually be looking for.
Build Links with Guest Posting
If you’ve gone a little deeper with your SEO strategy, you’re likely looking for ways to build authoritative links back to your site. It’s tempting to use get-links-quick schemes like forums, directories, and link wheels, but to get truly powerful links, it’s time to put some energy behind guest posting.
In a guest posting strategy, you create custom articles for relevant content sites in your niche and include a link either within the body of the article or in your author byline. Guest posting is one of the best ways to get high-quality links because search engines have a ton of context—the article in which the link is placed-to understand exactly how and why your site is relevant to particular queries.
It’s a more intensive strategy to be sure, but it’s a great way to stand out in a crowded niche.
Use External Links for Sources
It’s just as important to link out to authoritative sites as it is to persuade them to link back to you. Providing external link sources demonstrates trust because both users and search engines can verify the information you are claiming.
Remember that authority is not simply determined by metrics like domain authority—while these can be a helpful reference, relevance to your industry is also a factor. It’s okay to opt to link to a lower authority site that is directly related to your niche over a more generic or irrelevant site with domain authority in the 90s.
Level Up Your SEO
It takes time, resources, and a lot of patience as you wait to see results. While you’re keeping an eye on your competitor rankings, test out some next-level strategies to outdo them in Google results. Test out longer and more creative content, or build the best internal linking strategy that Google has ever seen. And always remember: optimize for your customer over anything else.