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6 months ago

How to Rank On Google
25-Step Master SEO Checklist
How do you actually rank a webpage using SEO?
In truth, there are 1000s of articles, guides, and tutorials published about SEO every year. Most of these guides are either very introductory or broad, or go to the opposite end of the spectrum and cover a very specific topic.

Virtually none show you how to rank a webpage, start-to-finish.

What's needed is a guide or blueprint. To be helpful, we need a step-by-step checklist for ranking a page starting from an idea, all the way to traffic pouring into your Google Analytics account.

This is that checklist.

It’s meant as a framework for newer SEOs to build their own work on top of. This basic process has helped, in one form or another, 1000s of pages and upwards to millions of keywords to gain higher rankings.

Think of it as an intermediate SEO instruction manual, for beginners.

Level: Beginner to Intermediate
Timeframe: 2 to 12 Weeks
What you need to know: This checklist assumes you have at least a basic understanding of SEO. You can write a title tag, know what a rel=canonical is, and maybe you've even built a link or two.
New Around Here?
If you are completely new to SEO, we suggest reading the Beginners Guide to SEO and browsing our SEO Learning Center.


There are 100s of ways to rank a page in Google, from simply sharing an article on Twitter, to scoring a link from the New York Times. This guide represents only one possible process.

This checklist is meant as an SEO framework. It doesn't cover every scenario in detail, but instead provides you with a basic outline of ranking a webpage from start to finish, so you can build your own process on top of it.
Many other experienced SEOs have their own processes for ranking for desired keywords. Choose carefully who you listen to, and seek out their advice whenever you can.
To rank on Google, here is your master checklist.

Working Smarter, Not Harder
Start With A Mighty Seed
List It Out:
Dream Your Keyword Theme
Leverage The Competition
Finding Diamonds in the Google Rough
Creating Value
Detect Intent: Form & Function
Be The Last Click
Why Completeness Beats Length
Smart Topic Modeling (Without A Computer)
E-A-T Your Authority
CTR Starts Here: Be The First Click
On-Page: Master the Basics
Schema All The Things
Make it Fast, Make it Sing
Over-Optimization: Titles, URLs, Stuffing, and Links
Internal Links, Relevance, & User Engagement
Linking Internally for the Reasonable Surfer
Content Hubs & Category Pages
The 50/50 Rule of Link Building
Don't Create Content Until You Do This First
The Easiest Shortcut to Good Links
Tentpole & Flywheels: Link Building on AutoPilot
A World of Link Building Tactics
Keep It Fresh: Links, Content, & Engagement
Keyword Research Header

  1. Working Smarter, Not Harder
    Here's the secret about this SEO process: we don't want to rank for a single keyword, we want to rank for hundreds or thousands of keywords at the same time. We can do this with the exact same amount of work.

Smarter, not harder.

The magic happens when starting with keyword research. Choosing the right (or wrong) keywords to target at this stage can predict our entire probability of success.

Starting out, you probably have a guess which keywords you want to rank for, but are they the right ones? The biggest mistakes people make at this stage of keyword research are:

Choosing keywords that aren't specific enough (too broad)
Choosing keywords with too much competition
Keywords without enough traffic
Keywords not relevant to your business
Trying to rank for a single keyword at a time
By far, the biggest mistake is trying to rank for a single keyword at a time. People search for the same things in very different ways. Or they search in very specific ways. This represents the long tail of keyword research, and it can represent up to 80% of all search traffic.

You want to capture as much of that long tail as possible, while doing the same amount of work.

Think of it as the difference between fishing with a spear, versus fishing with a net. Fishing with a spear, we might capture a single fish - or none at all if we miss. But fishing with a net might catch dozens of fish with a single throw.

So instead of ranking for a single keyword, let's start with a keyword seed that grows into a theme.

Themed Keywords

  1. Start With A Mighty Seed
    To begin, you want to discover your "Seed Keywords" to grow your keyword theme. Seed keywords are the basic, typically most obvious phrases.

Often, seed keywords are the phrases you "think" you want to rank for. If your shop sells motorcycle lifts, your first seed keyword may then likely be "buy motorcycle lifts."

Finding good keyword seeds is often a mix of brainstorming with a bit of research. A good seed answers the following questions:

What's my website about and/or what do I offer?
What keywords do I think I want to rank for?
What ads would I buy?
Good seeds are typically broad, but not too broad. For example, if you run an ice cream shop, the phrase "ice cream" might seem like a good seed, but it's probably too broad. ("ice cream" can mean many, many things.) A more specific phrase like "ice cream shop" or "ice cream shop Seattle" might work better.

There are typically three good places to find keyword seed.

What keywords does my website already rank for?
What do my competitors rank for?
What do SEO tools reveal about what people search for? (Tools to find seed keywords include Keyword Explorer and Google Keyword Planner)
You need at least 1 keyword seed at this stage, but it doesn't hurt to have more, even dozens or hundreds of seeds if you're planning a larger content strategy.

Finding Keyword Seeds
Want more tips on how to find the best seeds? We've written an entire chapter. Read it here: Finding Keyword Seeds

  1. List It Out: Dream Your Keyword Theme
    Next, we want to grow our keyword seed into a keyword theme, comprised of many related keywords grouped together.

Using keyword themes presents us with much larger opportunities. Instead of ranking for a single Holy Grail keyword, a better goal is to rank for multiple keywords focused around a single idea. Done right, the results are amazing.

Simply put, the more long-tail keywords our webpage ranks for, the more qualified traffic search engines will send it.

Creating lists typically involves using a combination of Google and keyword tools (either free or paid) to find all the related keywords to your keyword seeds.

Typically, your list contains keywords with greater specificity. Your goal at this stage is to find keywords that are not only specific but also relevant to your business and have enough search volume to justify targeting.

For example, if our seed keyword was "motorcycle jacket" we might find the following related keywords.

Seed Keywords
Each of these new keywords supports our seed keyword, and gives us a ton of new content ideas. If the related keywords seem like they can support enough traffic, they may even become new seed keywords themselves.

Here's why this works: by targeting a slightly broader keyword theme comprised of multiple, closely related keywords, our chances of ranking for these keywords actually increases dramatically.

Keyword Lists
Become a keyword list master: How to Create Keyword Lists

  1. Leverage The Competition
    Here's a step many people miss: ranking for the hidden keywords your competition already ranks for.

No matter how smart you are, your competitors have already figured out—either by accident or design—which keywords are the most lucrative.

Instead of finding these lucrative keywords yourself through the long process of trial and error, it's 1000 times easier simply to steal your competitor's intelligence. (Most of the time, stealing is wrong, but we'll let it slide in the case of competitive SEO.)

The basics work like this:

Find the URLs of your competitors that already rank for your target keyword
Find all the other related keywords that URL also ranks for in Google
These other related keywords are gold.

Unfortunately, Google won't directly tell you what your competitors rank for, but a handful of 3rd party SEO tools do exactly that, making the work much easier. Here's what this data looks like in Keyword Explorer.

Ranking Keywords by Site
Competitor Keyword Gap Analysis
We've written the guide on competitor analysis SEO.

Keyword Gap Analysis

  1. Finding Diamonds in the Google Rough
    At this point, we likely have dozens or perhaps hundreds or thousands of potential keywords to work with.

The magic is choosing exactly the right keywords to target and build content around.

Sorting and filtering keywords is an art in and of itself, but the basic requirements we want to meet are roughly:

Does the keyword have sufficient search volume?
Is this keyword relevant to my business?
Can I create compelling content around this keyword that's better than anything else out there?
Can I actually rank for this keyword?
The last question may be the most difficult to answer, but it's also one of the most important. Certain topics, such as medical and financial queries, can be especially challenging to rank for in Google.

One of the easiest ways to find out if you can rank for a keyword is to find the keyword difficulty score of your target keyword. Compare this number to the keywords with the highest difficulty score you already rank. More details here.

Keyword Difficulty

Content Header

  1. Creating Value
    Want to know the absolute worst phrase in marketing?

It's "SEO content."

Far too many people think of content as a commodity: something predictably produced completely separated from the potential value it creates for end users.

Content without value is spam.

If you want to rank—if you really want to rank—you need to understand this question:

How is your content better than the content that currently ranks for your keyword?

Because if your content doesn't satisfy the user in a superior way to content that already exists, why would Google rank you higher?

Starting with your keyword theme, ask first how you can create value.

Value takes many forms. While Google provides clues and guidelines about how they evaluate content, it typically includes a mix of utility, trust, authority, and user experience. In short, you want your website to be the one that most completely satisfies the user for their given keyword.

Making your content the absolute best not only helps satisfy your users, but it also helps build links, improves user engagement, and protects against future algorithmic changes.

How do we create value? We begin by figuring out intent.

  1. Detect Intent: Form & Function
    Here's where a lot of people stumble: You take your keyword and create content around it—maybe you create a blog post, maybe a shopping page—before you really understand what people are looking for with that keyword.

This is known as intent.

Guessing at intent is like gambling. You may think you know what people want, but unless you verify, it's like throwing darts blindfolded.

Google's job is to give people web results that satisfy their questions, so if you don't satisfy intent, you'll likely not rank very well for very long.

Fortunately, there's a dead-simple way of determining keyword intent: search Google for your keyword phrase, and determine:

What kind of pages are already ranking
The common elements of each page, e.g. images, videos, shopping, etc
What Google lists as "related searches"
Google has already tested your keyword across thousands or millions of searches, so they have a pretty good idea of what people are looking for.

For example, if our keyword phrase was "easter hats", we could write another blog post about easter hats, or we could examine what Google currently ranks:

Google Searcher Intent
From this, we see that Google determines the search intent of "easter hats" to be:

Images of Easter hats
Shopping for Easter hats
Related searches about Easter bonnets
If we wanted to rank for this keyword, we would be wise to create content that delivered on these elements. We would learn even more from diving into the individual pages themselves.

But is it enough to simply copy the form of these pages, and deliver answers that are just as good? No, no, no! There is a better way...

  1. Be The Last Click
    Number 8 on the checklist seems like a small thing, but it makes a world of difference.

Be the absolute best result for your keyword query.

Sounds simple in theory, but literally all of your competition is trying to be the best as well, and there can be only one.

What does it mean to be the absolute best result? We'll cover a few techniques, but the ultimate goal is this:

Be the last click.

In other words, make sure when people search for your keyword—and they eventually find you—you are the last result they need to click. You provide such good information, they have no need to go back and click any other result. You may not be the first result they click (although that helps too) but you'll definitely be the last. Let's repeat that.

Be the last click.

Which begs the question, how do you become the last click? The answer varies from query to query, and mixes a little bit of art and science, but to be the last click there are a number of check boxes you want to tick:

Match user intent, in form and style ✔️
Provide more complete information
Be authoritative
Offer a better and/or unique experience, e.g. design, UX, speed
We've touched on user intent, so let's cover completeness.

  1. Why Completeness Beats Length
    "500 words, or 2000 words? That is the question."

Sorry, Shakespeare, that's actually not the question.

The idea of content length arises in SEO quite often. "How long should your content be?"

Part of the reason is that multiple studies over the years consistently show that, on average, longer content tends to perform better in Google than shorter content. But smart SEOs believe that the reason this content performs better is not that it's longer, but because it actually offers more completeness.

What is "complete" content? This is content that:

Completely satisfies a user's search query (again, "be the last click")
Offers supporting evidence
Answers additional related questions to the user's search query
Is authoritative (in other words, gives the user a reason to trust the information)
Provides quality supplemental content to support the main content
From Google's perspective, there are several reasons why more complete content may perform better. We won't dive into all the science and details here, but a simplification may be that:

Google constantly works to figure out what your content is "about." More complete content makes this job easier.
More complete content tends to satisfy users.
To make our content more complete, and to appease the Google gods, we're going to answer all the user's questions. Read on!

  1. Smart Topic Modeling (Without A Computer)
    A huge hunk of Google's job is simply spent trying to figure out what your content is "about." This is easy for humans, but hard for computers. To accomplish this, they employ a lot of advanced techniques like Natural Language Processing (NLP), phrased-based indexing, and machine learning.

Fortunately, you don't need a bank of computers to optimize your content around a particular subject. (Though if you have the budget, there are plenty of good software companies that can deliver this service for you.)

If your aim is to make your content more complete, a basic process to implement might resemble:

Focus on you primary topic (keyword) in your:
Title tag
Page Title
Main Content of the page
Images and/or video
Use the list of your most important secondary topics/keywords from your keyword research and use them to support your main topic. If warranted, these can be used in subheads and/or become their own section.
Similarly, incorporate your most important "related questions" (from your keyword research) into their own content sections.
Be sure to satisfy user intent by incorporating elements and formats of top ranking results, including images and video formats.
Enhance your Main Content with useful Supplemental Content, including additional helpful information in the sidebar and navigation of the page.
If you can't address a deserving topic in the content itself, link out to a resource that does.
On the last note, it's typically ideal to link internally to one of your own pages if you can, but don't be afraid to link to other websites. Remember, you want to be the last click so users don't have to go back to Google. When users get the answer from you (even when it's a link) you become more of an authority.

When done correctly, your research up to this point should help you create a page that thoroughly satisfies a user's query through complete content.

  1. E-A-T Your Authority
    Aside from content itself, Google employs a number of ranking signals to determine how authoritative and trustworthy a site is.

While this is especially true for medical and transactional sites (YMYL - Your Money or Your Life), in general Google holds all sites to certain "quality" standards - including yours!

Google's Search Quality Guidelines are filled with information about how Google wants to judge "quality." Many of these standards are not easy to control when creating your content (e.g. third-party reviews about you on other sites.)

That said, many of these "trust and authority signals" are certainly within your control, including the editorial standards of your writing. For this reason, it's good to review the questions Google has published for website owners in regards to its Panda algorithms and E-A-T guidelines. Questions which include:

Would you trust the information presented in this article?
Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
Is the content free from spelling or stylistic issues?
Was the content produced well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
For what it's worth, most professional SEOs don't believe these questions represent "hard" ranking factors (e.g. Google doesn't have an explicit "authority" score.) One hypothesis is that these qualities are scored and fed into a machine learning model, which then evaluates your content.

Regardless, at this point you have all the tools you need to create high-quality content.

On-Page Optimization Header

  1. CTR Starts Here: Be The First Click
    Remember in step 8 when we said you want to be the last click (that a user needs)? Here, we offer complimentary advice which works hand-in-hand with that tip:

Be the first click, too.

When presented with a page of search results, users make decisions about what to click in milliseconds. You might rank #1, #4, or #7, but you still want to attract as many clicks as possible. This is known as improving your click-through rate (CTR.)

While there's contradictory evidence as to whether or not Google uses clicks in its search results as a ranking factor, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that they do, including a Google patent that explains exactly how they might do it.

But honestly, it doesn't matter if clicks are an actual ranking signal or not, because more clicks means more qualified traffic, one way or another. This is the goal, right?

Google gives you 4-5 primary levers to influence CTR:

Meta Description
Rich Snippets
URLs / Breadcrumbs
In some cases, image and video results
For most sites, titles are typically the most influential factor you can leverage to influence CTR, followed by rich snippets (if you can get them.) Google displays a title for every page, and nearly every searcher at least glances at them before clicking.

Title Tags
We won't cover each element in detail here, but earning as many clicks as possible by optimizing these elements will go a long way. Each of the resources below should help to improve your CTR, and ultimately, your traffic.

Advanced Title Tag Optimization (Webinar)
Google's Rich Snippet Gallery
Meta Description Best Practices
15 Best Practices for URLs

  1. On-Page: Master the Basics
    Entire chapters could be written about on-page optimization (and we have!)

In truth—and this may seem counterintuitive—most of the time, you don't need to sweat the details. Don't get us wrong, on-page SEO is very, very important. But if you've followed the steps up to this point you've already covered most of the basics!

If you're new to SEO, you should absolutely make sure your website is friendly to search robots such as Googlebot. You can do this easily with online tools such as Hubspot's Website Grader or Moz's On-Page Grader, for example.

And if you use Wordpress, plugins such as Rankmath will do a lot of the heavy SEO lifting for you.

We'll cover a few more salient aspects of on-page SEO in this guide, but if you find yourself unfamiliar with this topic, we highly recommend the following resources:

A Visual Guide to Keyword Targeting and On-Page SEO
On-Page SEO for 2019 (and beyond!)
The Web Developer's SEO Cheat Sheet (below)
The SEO Cheat Sheet

  1. Schema All The Things
    We want to take a moment to give schema markup its own callout. If content is king (or preferably, queen) then schema is certainly the crown prince of on-page SEO.

Schema, while it doesn't appear on page for the user, is important for two very significant reasons:

As additional content, it can help Google understand your page, thereby giving you a potential ranking boost in some circumstances.
Schema can help you win a variety of rich snippets, further boosting your CTR
To be clear, schema itself isn't a Google ranking factor. This means that you shouldn't expect a rankings boost simply because you added schema to your page.

That said, schema can help you to rank. Multiple studies have demonstrated this. Think of it as additional content that search engines can read, that also help it understand what your content is about.

At a minimum you should include standard schemas like Article and Local Business (if appropriate), but even more so you should consider schema to help earn your site rich snippets. Chief among these are:

… and more. Check out Google's list.
Rich Snippets Schema
Additional Resources:

Schema Markup Generator
Google's Rich Results Test

  1. Make it Fast, Make it Sing
    Aside from content itself, how the user experiences your page can hugely influence rankings as well. Google calls these official ranking factors page experience signals, and include:

Core Web Vitals (i.e. page speed)
Mobile Friendliness
Safe Browsing
Intrusive Interstitial (i.e. avoid aggressive popups)
Understand that having these qualities won't give you a big boost (for the most part.) Instead, these days they are simply table stakes, or the cost of admission. Having a mobile-friendly website is almost a requirement, and aggressive pop-ups are certain to put your rankings at risk.

The one exception to this is speed. While website speed is admittedly only a minor ranking factor for most sites, it can exert outsized influence on several other factors, and the user experience itself. For example, page speed can significantly impact both bounce rate and conversion rates (even when rankings remain stable.)

When in doubt, make it fast.

Further Reading: Page Speed Optimization: Metrics, Tools, and How to Improve

  1. Over-Optimization: Titles, URLs, Stuffing, and Links
    As SEOs, we like to get "perfect" scores. We like to optimize everything. It's even in our title!

But for newer sites, and sites without a lot of authority, over-optimization can be a real drag.

What exactly is over-optimization?

In short, over-optimization means a lack of diversification in your SEO elements. For example, if your target keyword is "best plumber Seattle", over-optimization might look like:

Your title tag is "best plumber Seattle"
Your url https://best-plumber-seattle.c...
Your H1 is "best plumber Seattle"
You include the phrase "best plumber Seattle" 20-25 times on the page
Most of your internal links (and external too) use "best plumber Seattle" as anchor text
On the web, over-optimization like this doesn't appear naturally, unless an SEO deliberately puts it there. As this can influence rankings, Google typically takes steps to demote pages with over-optimized keywords.

In short, don't over-optimize, diversify instead.

Site Architecture Header

  1. Internal Links, Relevance, & User Engagement
    Here’s the special secret of this SEO checklist: Now that you've made a single page to rank, now you're going to make several more.

This is the SEO magic that makes this process work. In truth, it's incredibly difficult to rank a single page by itself for a handful of keywords - especially if there's any competition at all.

On the other hand, when you create several pages around a central theme, or even an entire site around that theme, the job becomes exponentially easier.

By creating multiple pages that address related (but different) aspects of your topic, you create a web of topical relevance that allows you to:

Interlink related pages...
...with topical anchor text
Improve user engagement by answering more questions
Taken together, this strategy can improve the relevance of your site and pages for multiple queries.

  1. Linking Internally for the Reasonable Surfer
    Since we're now linking our topically related pages together, we now want to make sure to optimize our linking strategy for maximum SEO impact.

Links are a powerful ranking signal, but remember, not all links are equal. Google doesn't "count" all links the same.

How you link can be just as important (or more so) as what you link to. To leverage our links for maximum power, it's best to follow a few linking guidelines with every new page we create.

Link to your most topically related content. The closer in relevance to your main topic, the more likely users will click on the links you provide. It's also widely believed that Google may pass more weight through topically relevant links (through a process known as Topic-Weighted PageRank.)
When possible, try to link within your main content (as opposed to sidebars and navigation.)
Additionally, try to link higher up within your main content, as these links may carry more weight than links further down the page.
Use anchor text with relevant keywords, but vary your anchor text greatly. In other words, don't repeatedly use the same anchor text over and over. Many SEOs recommend avoiding exact match keywords for anchor text, preferring partial match instead.
Finally, after you've created a new page and linked to other pages on your site, you have one more step to go. Now it's time to update your older pages with links to your new page. We recommend not simply adding links to existing text, but adding context around the new links, which can boost both the relevance and the freshness of the new links.

  1. Content Hubs & Category Pages
    Just as we know not all links are equal, not all pages are equal either.

Category and/or hub pages can be incredibly effective tools for ranking all your related pages higher. While it's important to link your topically relevant pages together, it may be even more important to link relevant pages together under the umbrella of a master category (hub) page. There are several reasons for this:

Category pages often have more link equity. They often sit closer to the homepage (or other high authority pages) and often attract external link equity as well.
Category pages often sit higher in a site's architecture hierarchy, meaning they are usually better placed in a site's navigation and breadcrumbs, for example.
These pages often can rank for high-volume head terms (as opposed to lower-volume long tail terms)
Category pages can target broader user intent than individual topic pages, and can serve as a jumping off point into deeper dives for each subject.
Hub pages
The wrong way to create category pages is to simply list your latest posts, or a list of relevant products. The best category pages typically have their own unique content, relevant answers to questions, and links to sub-topics and related pages.

For example, if your site sells 100 different types of hamster wheels, you probably want a broad category page that broadly covers all your hamster wheels.

If such a page doesn't exist, you need to create one.

Link Building Header

  1. The 50/50 Rule of Link Building
    Links are a powerful ranking factor. In fact, they might be the most powerful that we know of. If you want to rank, you almost certainly need links, but you've got to know the rules.

Actually, there are two 50/50 rules of link building:

1. Assume Google ignores 50% of your links, and only 50% of your links are good. In reality, we don't know how many links Google ignores, but it's good to assume this regardless.

Google will ignore or devalue links for many reasons. Among them:

Manipulation (if they believe you've engaged in a pattern of linking that violates Webmaster Guidelines)
Links are marked nofollowed, or possibly "ugc" or "sponsored"
Penalized domains
And more
Earning links can be one of the most challenging jobs in SEO, so early on, it's tempting to go after the "easy" links, i.e. links you pay for, cheap directory links, blogroll links, etc. But as these are exactly the ones most likely to pass the least value, it's worth it to go after something better.

As Google wants to reward high-quality, "natural" links (editorially given) - these are the links you want to pursue. The upper 50%.

Keep these two guidelines in mind:

The harder the link, the more valuable it can be
The easier the link, the more likely it can hurt you

2. When building link-worthy content, spend 50% of your time actually creating the content itself, and 50% of your time promoting it.

"If you build it, they will come."

Sorry. No they won't.

Link building is typically an active endeavor. True, some types of content naturally earn links (and we'll incorporate these into our checklist.) But too many people create content and falsely believe the content is going to do all the work for them.

If you want to rank, you've got to roll up your sleeves and tell people about it.

Outreach is tough for some, but if you want to get better, we highly recommend reading these link building promotion tactics from our friends at Siege Media.

Link Building for Beginners
Want to dive a little deeper? We cover the topic of link building in our Beginner's Guide to SEO.

Link Building

  1. Don't Create Content Until You Do This First
    Many link building campaigns fail, or at least fall short of their goals.

Link building can fail for many reasons: content that doesn't resonate, poor design/layout, not enough outreach, and many other reasons.

That said, one reason for link building failure stands head and tails above the rest: you created content before you knew exactly who was likely to link to it.

Link building needn't be a guessing game. Too often, folks create content and only then go looking for link targets, only to find that very few opportunities actually exist. Wasted effort!

Instead, you want to guarantee your success. Or at least improve your chances.

Fortunately, SEO tools contain a ton of actionable link data. You can find out ahead of time:

What type of content earns the most links
What topics are trending
Exactly the kind of content that journalists/publishers/bloggers are looking for
When you understand these data points ahead of time, you can create content that exactly fills an existing need. You also know who to reach out to—or who your audience is—before investing a ton of work.

Rule: Don't create content until you first know exactly who's likely to link to it.

Further reading: How to Start a Link Building Campaign

  1. The Easiest Shortcut to Good Links
    The same way you can leverage your competition to find the most profitable keywords, some of the easiest link building opportunities you will find will also come directly from your competitors.

In addition to using SEO tools to see who's linking to your competition, and what type of content has earned your competition the most links, it's typically a no-brainer to perform a simple link gap analysis.

Here's one technique for a simple link gap analysis:

See who's ranking in Google for your target keyword
Select 2-3 of the top ranking URLs
Use a link research tool to find pages that link to each of your competitor URLs (but not to you)
Here's what this looks like in Link Explorer:

Link Explorer
When a page links to multiple top ranking pages, it's typically a resource-type page. The barrier to getting a link for yourself from these resource pages is usually far lower than other types of pages (as long as you can show your content is superior!)

Another similar tactic this pairs well with is broken link building. Whatever you choose, be sure to find who is linking to the competition, and earn those links for yourself.

Related Reading: Link Gap Analysis for SEO

Link Gap Analysis for SEO
Want a free template for better link gap analysis? We've got you covered.

Read the Guide

  1. Tentpole & Flywheels: Link Building on AutoPilot
    Link building outreach is cool, but you know what's even cooler? Content that earns links completely on it's own.

No outreach required.

Since this process requires you to create at least one piece of "linkbait" content, it makes sense to create content that earns more and more links over time. This is one type of "Flywheel Marketing."

Consider this scenario: A blogger needs to write about housing costs in Canada. They Google "most expensive small cities CA" and find a data-rich article on the first page. They link to this article, citing it as a source.

This type of "natural" link building happens all the time, thousands of times a day.

The trick to this type of flywheel link building is creating content that is naturally "citable" by bloggers and journalists. These types of content include (with our own examples from Moz):

Studies: 7 Search Ranking Factors Analyzed: A Follow-Up Study
Statistics/Data: How Data-Driven Content Marketing Builds Links and Earns Press Mentions
"How To" Content: How-To Content Isn’t Going Anywhere
Guides: How Search Engines Work
Tools: Domain SEO Analysis Tool
Wikis/Reference: SEO Glossary of Terms
Once these types of content start ranking, they tend to naturally earn more and more links over time, pushing them—and your site—even higher in search results.

That said, don't throw away your manual outreach strategies entirely. For newer and less visible sites, it often takes a fair degree of effort to get your link building flywheel moving. This often means a lot of manual outreach at the beginning, and then momentum to continually carry you forward.

Smarter, not harder.

Related Reading: Building a Marketing Flywheel

  1. A World of Link Building Tactics
    While this checklist gives you a number of link building guidelines, in truth, the greatest success comes when you color outside the lines.

Don't be tied to a single tactic! Link building can be challenging, especially before you get the hang of it, and you often have to try multiple angles before something sticks.

Because all content is different, and so is each audience, the best link building tactic is the one that you invent.

If you need inspiration into the literally 100s of different link building tactics that others have invented previously, check out:

Link Building Tactics (Beginner's Guide to Link Building)
Link Building Strategies: The Complete List
Moz Blog’s Link Building category

  1. Keep It Fresh: Links, Content, & Engagement
    Congrats! You now have a page that ranks.

But can you keep your ranking?

Google constantly shifts rankings based on relevancy. Earning a #1 spot is terrific, but only if you can hold onto it for the long run. This means keeping your SEO fresh.

Many SEOs understand that freshness is a ranking signal, but they mistakenly believe that it only applies to the content itself. E.g. updating the publish date and refreshing the content every couple of years.

In truth, Google looks at several different types of freshness signals, and it's best to keep them all in mind. These may include:

Date last updated
Amount of content updated (significant vs minor)
How often content is updated, i.e. a regular cadence may signal more freshness than updating only occasionally
How often you create new pages on your site
Rate of new link growth (don't let your link building stagnate)
Freshness of traffic and engagement signals (less relevant sites tend to have declining engagement)
So after you do the work of ranking, you have to work to keep it there. Freshness isn't simply about the content itself, but about the entire SEO experience to continually deliver the most relevant result to the user.

Keep it relevant. Keep it fresh.

This is how you rank. Best of luck with your SEO!

Website Ranking Tips Fireside Chat
Get practical insights on ranking higher from our own Cyrus Shepard and Google's John Mueller.