If you’ve been around the world of web design for a while, you’ve heard of the concept of “content first.” In this article, we explore what it is, why it’s so helpful when you’re designing with Webflow CMS, and provide an example of content-first design in action.
What is content-first design?
Content-first represents one of the major philosophical viewpoints on the design process. First advocated (in the world of web design) by A List Apart founder Jeff Zeldman back in 2008, it states that, in order to build the right design for any given project, you have to know what the content is before you start designing.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, an editorial designer doesn’t start laying out a book before the book’s been written. And an architect doesn’t start drawing blueprints until they know what the building’s supposed to be for. For both of these professions, form has to follow function, and for most websites, function is achieved via content.
For example: A marketing site gets people to use a product or service with persuasive copy and visuals that illustrate what the product or service is and who it’s for. A restaurant site gets people in the door by providing info on the cooking style, types of food, and location information. Ecommerce stores offer product details and ways of ordering.
As should be obvious, content is not just copy. Content encompasses a variety of media, including graphics, videos, audio, and, yes, plain-old, super-sexy words.
In short, content-first design is all about knowing what your design’s purpose is, and how it’ll achieve that purpose, before you start designing.
Ideally, you’ll actually have content in hand before you design anything. But you don’t have to — even planning what types of content you’ll need (i.e., designing a content strategy) is better than skipping this step entirely. Plus, I’ll show you some handy tips on how to do it all better (and easier) with Webflow.
Benefits of content-first design
Taking a content-first approach offers several benefits that range from enabling a better overall design vision to catching problems in the design before they become problems.
Content-first design makes it easier to:
Build out a sensible information architecture: When you know what content you have and/or need, it’s easier to define your overall sitemap and build out a logical hierarchy.
Design to optimize the content: If you know your client’s bloggers use quotes a lot, you can design beautiful ways to showcase blockquotes and callouts. If they’re fans of listicles, maybe a card or gallery-based design would work better than a long list of numbered headings?
Create consistency across the site (and lighten your code): If you know your site will have a blog, help center, and marketing pages, you can design your type hierarchy to work across all three areas. That’ll help create a more consistent (and thus, easy to learn) interface and keep you from having to create a bunch of messy combo classes.
Avoid endless rounds of iteration: All too often, when design kicks off without content, the development process devolves into an endless back-and-forth between designer and stakeholders. Which usually means lots of tiny, frustrating text changes that the designer has to update mocks with, then save. (Granted, with Webflow, those changes are much less laborious, but still.)
Plus, if you’re designing with content first in Webflow CMS, you’ll find the process that much faster and easier.
Let’s see how.
Content-first design with Webflow CMS
The first step you’ll take in building a site powered by Webflow CMS is to create a Collection. A Collection is essentially a content type that you’ll define by selecting Fields from the following list:
1. Plain text
2. Rich text
11. Multi-item reference
Most of these fields work independently — you just input whatever content matches the field, and you’re good to go.
But as soon as you create a Reference or Multi-item Reference, you’ll see why content planning is the real first step in designing with Webflow CMS. Because you can’t reference another Collection until you’ve created it.
Confused? I can’t blame you. So let’s ground this discussion with an example, shall we?
Example: Creating a food magazine with Webflow CMS
Let’s say you want to launch your very own food magazine powered by Webflow CMS. You know that recipes will be a key feature, because you’ve got your Grandma Cordello’s family recipe book to mine.
Now, you might be tempted to kick off your design by creating a “Recipe” Collection. So you create a Collection, title it Recipes, and start selecting fields. Naturally, you start thinking through the fields in terms of the visual design of an individual blog post:
Image: a big, bold closeup of the dish for the hero image.
Image: for the thumbnail version of the hero image that’ll display in the blog index.
Plain text: for the article title. You choose plain text for this field because you want titles to display consistently, without styling options on the CMS end.
Plain text: for the cuisine, which will link to a page listing all the recipes for a particular cuisine (and double as a category page)...
… And here’s where you realize you’ll have to create a Cuisines Collection before you can finish up your Recipes Collection. That’s totally fine — you can always tweak a Collection after you create it.
This might seem like a pain. But the benefit is that you’ll start thinking of your sites in terms of their small components — often called “modules” or “atoms” — and in terms of the relationships between those elements.
In other words, you’ll start thinking of your website design work less in terms of pages, and more in terms of systems — a collection of parts that you can combine, recombine, and remix as needed. That’s a useful mode of thinking in the context of the modern web, where content appears in atomic forms across the internet, from various locations on your site to mobile apps to cards on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and elsewhere.
This is also where the concept of content modeling becomes very powerful.
Content modeling for designers
Creating a content model for your site is like creating a sitemap, but focuses not on pages, but content types and their characteristics. It’s incredibly useful in helping you map out content types, their relationships, and requirements, but will also help you develop your site’s overall information architecture.
Content models come in two forms: one macro, and one micro. For your food magazine website, your macro-level content model might look like:
All you’re doing here is defining the content elements you want your site to feature, and indicating how they might link together. With Webflow CMS, you’ll create the links with a Reference or Multi-Reference field.
For the next step, you’ll zoom in to map the content of each of the content types above. The good news is that your map, along with the connections you drew between each, will help determine the content requirements of each block.
To zoom in on the individual content blocks, you might do something like:
In many cases, simply defining the relationships between Collections will define the content of individual pages within Collections. For example, the bulk of the content for each Cuisine page will consist of a Dynamic List of recipes.
Now, as you go back to creating the Collections for your food magazine, it’ll be easy to translate your content model into fields for each Collection. Personally, my favorite thing about content modeling is the way it generates ideas. Just looking at the ways different content types might relate helped me get more creative about what those types might showcase. (It also made me realize there are more links between content types than I originally thought.)
For instance, in adding a history section to cuisines, I’m suddenly struck by the idea of creating an interactive timeline for each cuisine. And that could feature links to ingredients, recipes, and chefs.
Oooh. Chefs. Time to create another Collection!
Of course, that’s just one example: you’ll find this method useful for designing with any kind of content.
Building empathy by designing with real content
The unique thing about designing with a CMS is that you’re designing for two user groups:
1. The content creators who will use the content management systems you set up, and
2. The website’s end users, the people who will consume the content that creators publish
By taking a content-first design approach, you’ll develop a deep understanding of the types of content your creators publish. You’ll learn how they write headlines, how long they like their blogs to be, the types of content that show up regularly, and the outliers and edge cases.
Regular work with the most common content types will help you shape both how you customize the CMS and how you design its output--i.e., how that content appears on the page.
How you customize Webflow CMS
In terms of CMS customization, you’ll rapidly learn what fields your Collections will most often need, how to write the field labels, and how to provide stylistic and technical guidance on input types with help text.
Help text offers a great opportunity to get a content style guide in front of content creators, ensuring that they upload images of the right size, use consistent character counts for headlines and teaser copy, and otherwise encourage high-quality content. This is especially useful for users who haven’t spent years learning the ins-and-outs of the web (e.g., that baker you built a site for last year).
Visually designing dynamic (CMS) content
As Josh Pucketts points out in “Modern Design Tools: Using Real Data,” designing with real content also helps you recognize potential flaws in a site’s visual design. Long article titles might wrap, messing with the heights in your gridded blog index design. Headlines overlaid on photos with light backgrounds might become illegible. Button text might make those tidy CSS buttons you created huge.
Each of these challenges offers you an opportunity to do one or both of the following:
Make the design and/or layout more flexible: a list view might be better for those long headlines, while a text shadow or image overlay might improve legibility for text on photos.
Add an entry to the content style guide, and back that up with CMS functionality: using the character count limit, you could enforce a 3-words-for-button-copy rule, and you could add help text explaining the limitation. Adding explanation will help content creators understand not only the constraints, but the design thinking behind those constraints.
Do you practice content-first design?
If you’re an advocate for designing with content first, we’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences, and especially, your techniques. And if you’ve ever found content-first a challenge, we’d love to hear about that too.
And if your immediate thought on content-first is, “Sounds great. Good luck getting content from clients,” we’ll be following up soon with a post on ways to overcome that problem.
In the meantime, happy designing!
Discover the processes and tools behind high-performing websites.
Anyways, if you're still skeptical, know that what you’re currently reading is entirely built and hosted in Webflow. But again, I could just be biased because I use Webflow — professionally and personally. I’m not saying it’s the only option. I'm just saying be wary of technical SEO if you decide to go with other solutions.
Okay, now that you have a better understanding of technical SEO, let’s get into what really brings in traffic and customers to your website — content!
On-page SEO: why you need to focus on it when creating content
Assuming you have a website that was built cleanly with SEO in mind, let’s move on to the actual content creation side of things. To break it down simply, on-page SEO is concerned with how you create and present content on your website. It’s a practice of making sure pages on your websites are optimized to be easily indexed by Google. This will apply to any page on your website that has content on it — so pretty much every page. But, I’ll primarily explain things in the form of blog posts on a website as it’s probably the easiest way to understand. Again, a lot of assumptions here on my part, but I’m assuming you’re a business that needs visitors and customers, and you’ll definitely need content to persuade people to buy from you.
On-page SEO is extremely important because it’s your opportunity to “give Google what it wants.” Actually with any platform, whether it’s YouTube, Pinterest, or whatever, making sure you understand and play to how algorithms read content is extremely important.
If we take a short trip back to the beginning of this article, I mentioned how Google’s mission is to categorize all the content in the world. Making sure you follow on-page SEO best practices is how you’re going to make sure Google can easily index your content and know what it’s all about. In a lot of cases, you can rank a piece of content on the second or third page of Google simply by following on-page SEO best practices, without much promotion. And if you have a really high domain authority, you can even reach the first page without much promotion — more on that later.
Speaking of rankings in Google, I think at this point you’re dying to just know how to rank content. So, let's go over exactly how to utilize on-page SEO, and other ranking factors, to get your content seen in organic search results.
How to rank your content in Google
Want to hear a secret that most “SEO experts” don’t tell you about ranking content in Google?
Google makes the hardest things to manipulate the most important ranking factors.
Write that down and read it back. Let it soak in.
Knowing this, stop looking for “tactics” and “hacks” to rank your content on Google. I’m talking to you PBN lovers. SEO is a slow and steady game. You don’t want it to be fast and easy. Otherwise, everyone would invest their time into it. If SEO results came fast, you would lose rankings just as fast as you received them. And we would just call SEO viral marketing (yuck).
Google is extremely smart. In fact, a lot smarter than you think. Way smarter than me or you. Don’t try to game it. Instead, focus on the hard stuff. The stuff most businesses aren’t willing to invest in. Because that’s where the real long-term ROI will come to play. Never play the short-term game — that goes for everything beyond just your business.
So, let’s go over some ranking factors that affect how Google decides to rank your content. These will be listed in order of most important to least — but they are all very important regardless. Don’t take the list I'm about to present as hard facts. They are just mere observations on what I believe to be true based on lots of experimentation.
What factors affect your Google rankings?
From most important to least, aka from the hardest to easiest to manipulate, Google cares about:
- Content quality and its relevance to a search query
- Your domain authority
- Backlinks and page authority
- Your on-page SEO
- Keywords in your domain and it’s age
- How many page views you’re receiving at a given time
Now, there’s actually a lot of different ranking factors… so they say. According to Brian Dean of Backlinko, there are over 200 ranking factors.
However, the above 6 or so things I mentioned are probably the top “hardest” things to manipulate — making them outweigh almost any other ranking factor that other sources will tell you about. I know this because I’ve experimented with all of them. So, let me show you how to nail each one for your business.
1. RankBrain: how Google judges content quality and relevance
Throughout the years, Google’s Rankbrain algorithm has been getting smarter and smarter. This is because Google has a shit ton of data — like a lot. Think about it. There are over 63,000 Google searches every second. In the amount of time that it took you to read this sentence, there were over 250,000 searches on Google. All those searches, coupled with over 2 million articles posted each day, allows Google’s machine learning algorithm to know exactly what makes good content. Plus, not everything on Google is a blog post. So there are actually way more data points than I just mentioned.
I don’t consider myself a Google algorithm expert, no one is. Not even Google employees. But I can tell you that the most important thing to Google is to give searchers great content in the least amount of clicks as possible. Google wants users to search for something and have the first link they click on to be the best possible resource for them. Heck, Google cares so much about this that they created featured snippets so people don’t even have to click on anything for some search queries.
This is why you’ll hear some people say, “just create better content” than what's currently ranking in Google if you want to outrank them. But how do you know that your content will be “better?” It’s extremely hard to create amazing content, and that’s exactly why it’s probably the most important thing you should focus on.
I can’t 100% tell you what makes good and bad content, but a rule of thumb is if you search something in Google, and click on the first link, it should answer your problem right away. If you notice that the first link for a certain query/keyword doesn’t give you the answer you think it should, there’s your opportunity to shine. It’s very subjective, I know. But it’s the most honest answer I can give you.
And Google knows this. For example, if you click on an article that ranks number 1, then back out and proceed to click on the article that ranks number 2, it sends Google a signal that the first article you clicked on did not answer what you were looking for. Then, it starts to consider making the second article rank first instead — assuming you didn't keep clicking on different articles after you viewed the second one. Hope that makes sense.
On the same token, relevance to a keyword search is extremely important. To get a better understanding of relevance for certain keywords, just Google something (in an incognito or private window) and see what comes up.
For example, if you search “dog toys” you’ll see a bunch of links that go straight to websites that actually sell physical dog toys. If you write a blog post on dog toys, and try to rank for that keyword, you best believe it’ll never make it to the first page of Google. This is because Google knows people searching for dog toys are looking to buy physical dog toys, not read articles talking about them. So, it will always favor ecommerce stores selling dog toys as it believes that this is the most relevant option to the given search.
On the flip side, if you search for “what are the best dog toys for puppies” you’ll notice that all the top-ranking articles are blog posts talking about the best toys your puppy needs. Again, this is because Google decided that these are the most relevant options for the given search term. So, if you want to rank for that keyword, write a blog post.
Google also looks at things like CTR (click through rate) and TOS (time on site) as ranking factors. We won't get too in-depth on these because they're pretty self-explanatory. To have a high CTR you just want to make sure your title and meta description are appealing to a searcher, and for time on site you want someone to spend as much time on your page as possible. The latter sends Google a signal that your page is interesting and that it should show it to more users as a result.
If there’s something to take away from the first ranking factor it's to create better content and only create content that is relevant to the search. Creating great content is hard because it’s subjective — making it the hardest thing to manipulate. But, if you think you have a unique or better way of explaining things compared to the top-ranking articles, go for it. And creating content that’s relevant to the search is simply a matter of Googling a keyword and seeing the type of content Google likes to rank.
2. Your domain authority
Domain authority is something I pay a lot of attention to, sometimes more than I actually need to. This is because I’ve noticed, in a majority of cases, websites with higher domain authorities tend to rank higher in search results. I’d actually go out and say that domain authority is actually the number one most important ranking factor. But because a high DA (domain authority) is a by-product of great content and a strong brand, we’ll keep it as the second most important ranking factor.
But first off, what is domain authority? I like to think of it as your brand's strength and quality. For example, in a world where soda companies are websites, Coke would have a higher DA compared to Shasta (hope I didn’t offend anyone there).
DA is actually an arbitrary number, from 1-100, created by Moz — not Google. Google would rather you not calculate the strength of a domain based on a number. DA is based on a handful of things, but mainly on the quality of backlinks you have — which essentially means external websites that link to your page. If you’ve ever used any sort of SEO tool, you’ll notice a lot of them rank difficulty based on things like “domain rating,” “domain authority,” or in the case of Ubersuggest, “domain score.”
In the SEO community, domain authority is probably the one most looked at. Whatever SEO tool you use, the ratings will be relative to each other so pick one SEO tool and stick to it. It won’t make sense to compare Moz’s domain authority to Ubersuggest’s domain score as the values are calculated differently.
Personally, I just stick to SEO tools that show the Moz domain authority. I’ll explain more about the specific tools I recommend in a sec, just keep reading.
Now, you might be thinking “how am I going to compete if I’m just starting out?” And that’s a valid point. It’ll be hard to rank for the keyword “best quotes” if you’re a brand new website because all websites on the first page of Google for that keyword have a DA of at least 50. And it will take a good amount of effort and time to reach a DA of 50. But, even if you’re just starting out, you shouldn't let websites with high domain authorities discourage you from trying to compete. It wouldn’t make sense because no website starts out with a high domain authority — it takes time and effort to get there. Instead, you need to be strategic with what type of content you create.
Instead of trying to rank for “best quotes” you can choose a long-tailed keyword like “best quotes from 1917.” Where, at the time of writing this post, there is a website with a DA of 6 ranking on the first page of Google for that term. And getting a DA of 6 is almost as easy as just creating your website and having your social media profiles link to it.
So, understand that building up your domain authority takes time. If you can get links from websites that have really high DAs like Forbes or Inc, then it could help expedite the process.
If your website is brand new, focus on long-tailed keywords with low competition and create great content, something we talked about earlier. As a result, people may share your article and your DA will increase. Of course there will be less search volume for these keywords, but you need to start small in order to grow. Growing to a high DA of something like +50 is not impossible. It just takes effort and time. Again, going back to the concept of making the most important ranking factors the hardest to manipulate.
One thing I usually tell my friends that want to start creating content in a specific niche is to always start with a sub-niche. For example, if you want to create a website that teaches people how to build websites, focus on a small cohort of people trying to build websites. As in, focus on something like people who specifically want to build photography portfolios.
If you can, try diving even deeper. For example, people who want to build photography portfolios specifically in Webflow. Or, people who want to build a photography portfolio for a job interview. The competition will be much less for these topics compared to targeting everyone who wants to build a website. Starting super sub-niche, then branching out broader into your niche later, is how you’re going to slowly build up your website traffic and domain authority as a new website.
Now, how exactly would you grow your DA to help you rank easier for different keywords, and more importantly how would you rank a specific article higher in search results? Well, here are where backlinks come to play.
3. Backlinks and page authority
Backlinks are links from different websites that link back to your website. For example, if you were to share this post in one of your blog posts, you would give this page a backlink. Which if you liked this post, I hope you do because this content is completely free and took me a while to write. Similarly, I could give another page a backlink by linking to it — just like I did right there.
This goes back to Google’s core algorithm, PageRank. Google decides to rank content in its search results based on how many backlinks a website, or article, has. Now, just because you have a lot of backlinks doesn’t mean you rank higher. Backlinks are not created equal.
For example, if you were to search “how to learn python” in Google, the first ranking article has a fraction of the number of backlinks as the second ranking article. At the time of writing this, the first ranking article also has a lower DA (by more than 30) compared to the second ranking article. So why is the first website still ranking higher?
It could be due to a multitude of things, but if I had to quickly guess it would be because that the first article is written a lot better (think back to the first ranking factor) and because the backlinks that the top ranking article has come from quality sources that also have high DAs.
For example, if Forbes were to link to your article it would be a lot more valuable compared to if a niche lifestyle blog were to link to you. This is because Forbes has a strong and reputable brand that has an insanely high DA — 95 at the time of writing this. If Forbes links to you, it gives Google a signal that your website must be valuable to some degree.
However, Google is also now focusing a lot on backlink relevance. This means that the anchor text, and the website you receive a link from, should be relevant when you’re getting a link. For example, in the previous sentence, I linked out to a post that explains what anchor text is. The backlink Moz just received from this post is a highly relevant backlink because we are talking about anchor texts and I linked to an article that explains what it is.
Making sure your backlinks come from relevant anchor texts can help with the quality of your backlinks and help improve the page authority of an article you are trying to rank for. Now, we didn’t get much into what PA (page authority) is but it’s essentially a DA for a specific page.
While DA gives you an overall score of your entire domain, PA gives you a score for an individual page on your website. A high DA will naturally yield a fairly strong PA, but strong backlinks to an article can actually increase your PA past your overall DA in some cases. This is why sometimes websites with lower DAs rank higher. PA can increase from things like backlink quality, social likes/shares, and internal links from other pages on your website.
I hope I explained that in the least confusing way possible, but I’ll show you what I mean visually in the case study section. If you’re a bit confused feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this article and I’ll try to respond.
Anyways, let's get into the next ranking factor, and one I believe to be quite important — on-page SEO.
4. On-page SEO: how to create content on your website
When I think of SEO, I primarily think of on-page SEO. Even though it probably isn’t correct to think this way, I see on-page SEO simply as speaking Google’s indexing language. In a lot of cases where you are doing SEO for another business, optimizing on-page SEO can be the low hanging fruit to go after.
In the example of a business blog, most businesses write just for the sake of writing, so a lot of them have pretty bad on-page SEO. And because this ranking factor is 4th on our list, it’s not insanely hard to do.
This ranking factor can be an entire post on itself but I’ll make sure to only give you what you need to know and nothing of what you don’t.
First, on the technical side of things, you want to make sure your website has an SSL certificate and is secured. Most hosting providers, including Webflow, already come with this as a standard. Just make sure when your website loads it has HTTPS in front of the URL and not HTTP.
Next, you’ll want to make sure your website loads fast. Preferably, you want a page to load in less than 3 seconds. You can test page speed with Pingdom’s speed test. If your website takes longer than 3 seconds to load, consider either finding a new hosting provider or cleaning up the code on your website to speed things up. With Webflow, you should experience load times to be less than 2 seconds, with smaller websites loading in half a second.
Next, you’ll want to make sure your website is responsive. This is extremely important as you should optimize for mobile SEO whenever you can. If your website design doesn’t look right on a mobile device then this could seriously hurt your SEO. Just use Google’s mobile-friendly test tool to check for this.
Okay, now let’s get into how you’re going to optimize your content around a specific keyword. I’ll show you an example from the Webflow Blog in a small case study at the end of this post. But for this part, you need to understand the fundamentals.
First, you want your keyword to appear in your URL. Say you wanted to go after the keyword “best puppy food.” You would want your website URL to look something like:
Both are okay, it doesn’t matter if your post is on the root of your domain or in a folder (name could be different from blog). But the point is your URL slug should include the exact keyword you’re going after.
Next, you want to make sure the keyword “best puppy food” is in your H1 title tag. In the example of a blog post, this means it should be in the main title. If we do a quick relevance check, we can see that Google likes to rank listicle type articles for the keyword “best puppy food.” So an example of a title we could use is:
- 10 best puppy food options in 2020
That probably isn’t the best title, but the idea is that you want your keyword, or some variation of it, in the title. To help you write great titles, try using a headline analyzer. Just Google “headline analyzer” to find a handful of solutions. CTR (click-through rates) are going to matter a lot because it’s how you’ll initially get people to even click on your website. So make sure you title things properly and accurately.
Next, you want to make sure your keyword is in the meta tag, or description, of your post. The meta description is the little paragraph you see under the title when you Google something. It gives you a sneak peek of what the article is about, and you want to make sure that your keyword is somewhere in there. This way when Google crawls and indexes your page, it can quickly figure out what the content is about.
Next, you want to make sure any images you use in your blog post have proper alt text. I won’t get too deep in them, as this post will be longer than it already is. Just Google it.
Another key tip with images is to use proper file names. Don’t have the file name of your images be a random string of letters or numbers. Actually name them properly, as this will increase your chances of having them rank in Google’s image search. It’s also ideal to have any images with transparent backgrounds to be uploaded as PNG's, and ones without transparent backgrounds to be JPEG’s. This is mainly due to image file sizes, as you want your images to load fast. So make sure any images you use are under 300kb. If your images are too big, Google “PNG compressor” or “JPEG compressor” and use a tool to help bring down the file size before you upload them to your site.
Next, you want to have LSI keywords within your content. LSI stands for latent semantic indexing and it’s just a fancy way of saying synonyms or variations of your main keyword — makes me sound smart saying LSI. Use a tool like LSIGraph and type in your main keyword and see what other keywords pop up. In the case of our main keyword being “best puppy foods,” some LSI keywords that pop up are “dry puppy food,” “wet puppy food,” “large breed puppy,” and much more. We want to use some of these keywords within our content about "best puppy foods."
Another great tool you can use, that’s like LSI on steroids, is Clearscope. Clearscope essentially analyzes the first several ranking posts in Google, for a given keyword, and tells you what keywords to have in your content for maximum relevance and reach. It’s a bit pricey, but worth it if you output lots of content.
Alright, that’s about all you need to know about on-page SEO. You can dive deeper if you want by reading more about it elsewhere. But we pretty much went through the fundamentals.
5. Keywords in your domain and its age
The fifth ranking factor on our list is domain age and what your domain name actually is. Now, I won’t get much into domain age because it basically just means how long your website has been live for. If your website is brand new and you start building backlinks to the website quickly, Google may think you're using "tactics" to grow your DA. So take things slow, especially if you use something like a PBN to start growing a website's authority quickly — Google will flag you.
But what's more important is what your domain name actually is. It took me a while to realize this, but it does matter for SEO. For example, go in a private window and search for the keywords “website” or “consulting” and see what the first ranking result is. I rest my case.
But on a serious note, while keywords in your domain do help, it only really matters if you’ve also focused on the above 4 ranking factors. Keywords in your domain are good, but it doesn’t make sense for every website. So don’t worry about it too much.
Last on our list is how much traffic a page is receiving at a given time. This one might make you go, "huh?" I actually didn’t even know this was a thing until I tested it. But it made sense once I realized that Google does rank breaking news articles pretty high in its SERP.
Essentially, when a page is receiving a surge of traffic, it sends Google a signal that it’s “breaking news” or really important, and starts to rank it higher for others to easily find. For example, we had a post ranking in position 8 for a while and it wouldn't move up. So, we sent it in a newsletter to give it a sudden surge of traffic.
After a couple of weeks, the post was ranking number 1. We also tested this with running paid ads to a blog post and it worked just the same. There’s actually a recent blog post by Grow and Convert on this that you should check out to learn more in-depth.
Alright, that about concludes it for the top ranking factors. Again, there may be a few more. But these are the only ones I really pay attention to — at least for now.
Case study: ranking number 1 in Google
As promised a little earlier, here’s a small case study of how we ranked number 1 for the keyword “UX design tips.”
First, we used an SEO tool that showed us Moz’s DA. I’m not going to tell you exactly what tool to use, but for this example I went ahead and used a budget-friendly tool called Keysearch.
We knew we wanted to write an article around “UX design tips” so we typed in the keyword into the tool:
Now, at a quick glance, you can see our article is ranking number 1. But when we initially did our keyword research our article wasn’t there (duh), so ignore the first result. Knowing we had a stronger DA than the first 2 articles made us sure we could rank for this term.
However, the first ranking article (again, ignoring ours) had a lot of backlinks. But, because we knew DA is valued pretty highly, it didn’t scare us away.
Next, we followed all the protocols mentioned in the on-page SEO section of this post — making sure relevant keywords and the content quality was there.
We wrote and published the post and then followed a distribution strategy. Generally, I like to wait until I know a post is indexed in Google before going hard on distribution. It’s important to treat content on your website as a product launch. So making sure you share the article on your social media accounts and email list is important. In some cases, you can even use paid advertising to help boost the promotion of posts. We also followed a link-building strategy by making sure we interlinked any of our previous relevant articles to the post.
After about 3 months the post ranked number 1. And at the time of writing this, it’s been in that position for a while. Voilà!
See, I told you SEO was simple.
Now, you can actually follow this exact process for existing content on your website too, especially if you’re doing SEO and content marketing for a website that already has lots of content. This can be a huge quick win.
A beginner’s guide to republishing posts for an SEO boost
Because SEO is a long term game and it can take a while for content to rank, sometimes over 6 months, updating old posts will yield quicker results compared to creating new ones. This is because if you already have a post ranking in Google, it’s already gone through the long process of Google indexing it.
We did this with one of our old posts that had been on our blog for a couple of years. And this happened…
Talk about a 100% increase in traffic! What happened was we went back, followed all the on-page SEO protocol, republished the post (making sure the date was updated), and followed our distribution strategy again.
And no, this wasn’t a one-off. Here’s one that grew by over 300%:
See, we know what we’re talking about. But seriously, you can do this too. Just make sure to go back and read this post whenever you forget something. Bookmark it so you can refer back at any time. In a future post, I may even explain more on developing an actual content strategy. If I included that here, this post would be twice as long. But, before I give a recap over everything we went over in this post, I want to explain one more thing about republishing.
In some cases, you may have URL slugs that are not on-page SEO friendly. If you want to update a post that is already ranking somewhere on the first page, say between 5-10, don’t worry about changing the URL. You’ll break things, especially if you change the original canonical tag.
However, if you notice a post is on the second, third, or even fourth page, and you want to republish it and follow this protocol, update the URL slug and 301 redirect it to your SEO friendly URL slug. But make sure you keep the original canonical tag. We didn’t get much into canonical tags, but they’re essentially a way of telling Google that this is the original article so you don’t have duplicate content. So, once something is published for the first time, never mess with the canonical tag. If you want to update URLs, just 301 redirect the old page to the new one — while keeping the old canonical. I thought I’d mention this because I’ve broken posts in the past when I didn’t understand this logic.
Anyways, I hope all this helps.
If you made it to the end of this post I salute you. Knowing all of this will put you ahead of the game when it comes to being an SEO master and content marketer. While I don’t consider myself an expert in anything, I am fairly competent when it comes to SEO. But only because I’ve spent a while focusing on it. I wrote this guide for my younger self and I if you even learned one thing from this, I did my job.
Anyways, as a recap, we discussed:
- What website SEO is
- How Google actually works
- What makes SEO special
- Types of SEO: both technical and on-page
- How to rank your content
- All the (important) ranking factors
- A mini case study
- A beginner’s guide to republishing content
It’s also a good idea to check out tools such as:
- Google Analytics
- Google webmaster tools
- Moz, Ubersuggest, or Keysearch
- Clearscope or LSIGraph
- Keywords Everywhere chrome extension
We didn’t get much into the exact tools, besides a few of the ones mentioned above. But what's more important than the tools are the fundamentals, and knowing how to apply them to your research when using any tool you choose to use.
Let us know in the comments below what you thought of this post. If you have any questions we’ll be sure to do our best to respond.
Now go make some awesome content, the world needs it!