The No BS 2021 SEO Strategy for Improved Rankings without a Penalty
What’s your 2021 SEO Strategy? Top organic search rankings on Google is the ultimate goal for any online business. Being found on the top of the results, whether you are an e-commerce store or a local service business, means more website traffic and the opportunity to generate more business.
The top sport remains the most coveted, as more than three out of every ten consumers automatically click on the first result. Even though the top result isn’t always the best, many consumers’ are programmed to automatically assume that — not everyone is internet savvy and understands how the results are generated.
If your website is found off page two you might as well not exist online, as less than one percent of clicks even occur on page two and beyond. You know that SEO is the key to improving your Google rankings, but you may also know that you need to walk a fine line to make noticeable gains without triggering a Google penalty.
The algorithm is always changing, and SEO, in general, has become more transparent in terms of the strategies used to make ranking improvements. There are no top secret tricks or hacks, and ‘secret sauce’ is a thing of the past — fast rankings are still possible and you can deploy an aggressive 2021 SEO strategy while remaining safe and penalty-free.
The trick is to know what strategies and focal points need to be prioritized, as some things simply contribute more to fast results than others. I see so many businesses that are very aggressive when it comes to SEO, which gives me a very good indication of what works at the moment.
You don’t need secret tips or blackhat strategies — you can achieve solid ranking results, and quickly if you understand what Google’s algorithm is currently favoring. I’m going to take the guesswork out of the equation and tell you, point-blank, what is working right now.
Let’s jump in so you can kick start your 2021 SEO Strategy and start increasing your rank on Google’s search results.
Fully Evaluate Your Current Rankings
This is so fundamental, but it’s something that 80% of potential clients we speak with are completely oblivious about. They have no idea where they stand when they come looking for help improving their rankings and improving their 2021 SEO strategy.
“What does your current ranking overview look like? What terms are bringing you the most traffic? What keywords are the most valuable in terms of quality traffic and conversions?”
When they are asked these questions the response is generally, “I’m not sure.”
Without knowing the answers to these questions, an SEO agency can do very little work and show you “increased rankings and traffic” on a report, but it could account for $0 in terms of value for your business.
If you are doing your own SEO, not knowing where you currently stand doesn’t give you a baseline to measure your progress against. Simply seeing more traffic volume than the previous month in Google Analytics doesn’t mean that traffic is quality visitors, if it converts, or if it’s made your business any money.
Hopefully, you have conversion goals set up in Google Analytics already, and you can then break down your SEO in a way that lets you see where you are starting. Using tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush can help you find all of the keywords you are ranking for, and what pages they trigger. From there, your GA data will help you determine what pages are bringing leads, sales, etc. — whatever your conversion goals are.
Take Time to Study the Algorithm and Follow Its Evolution
I feel that I always have a good indication of how Google’s algorithm is currently working because of the number of websites my agency works with, across every niche imaginable. We have multi-million dollar e-commerce brands and blogs to small local businesses as clients.
This gives us a huge sample size to evaluate, and when you see certain trends across such a diverse pool of websites in terms of their size, authority, and niche, you know that it’s not a coincidence — it’s an algorithm adjustment.
The average person, though, doesn’t have access to a massive pool of real-time data, nor the time to try to identify new changes. I tend to publish posts on this blog that are always up-to-date in terms of the current algorithm, so make sure you subscribe so you receive alerts when new content is posted. Aside from this blog, there is a daily reader I would recommend you read, as it’s the best source for Google updates — Search Engine Roundtable.
If you take just 15 minutes a day to read it, you will be ahead of the curve in terms of what the algorithm is currently favoring or penalizing, and something this simple can give you a huge advantage because most other sites are completely oblivious to the frequent algorithm changes.
Track the Correct Data That Leads to Revenue
I touched on this a little in the first point, but it needs its own section because this is an area of SEO that many miss entirely, make it part of your 2021 seo strategy. We are overwhelmed with data these days — every tool, app, plugin, etc. that we use on our websites gives us access to insights, reports, and data — some of it completely useless and some highly valuable.
The key is to know what data is the most important for your business, and there is a simple question you can ask yourself to find these: “Does this lead to revenue for the business?”
Google Analytics data is great, but if you are a local brick and mortar business located in Philadelphia and you only sell to your local market then website traffic from all over the world — or even other areas of the U.S. — is utterly useless.
Sure, seeing 5,000 visitors looks great, but when you remove international traffic and all visitors in the U.S. outside a 50-mile radius of the business it might be 80 visitors instead of 5,000.
The same can be said for website actions — a contact form submit is great, but is it an advertising solicitation or spam? That’s a worthless conversion to track, whereas a lead that downloaded a whitepaper resource or submitted for a discount code that can be tagged in your email marketing software and followed throughout your funnel, is data that leads to revenue.
Fix Any Technical Issues or Link Spam Before Investing Time and Money on Proper SEO
Imagine if you had a building that you wanted to make better, with improvements and additional structure to make it taller. If you just started getting to work without evaluating the progress you might learn that the foundation was rotten and it eventually collapses, wasting all of that time and money. Now you are left with a worthless pile of rubble and building materials.
The cost to clean everything up and try again is too expensive, so the best option would be to just start fresh. The same principle applies to SEO. If you start a campaign on a website with spammy links in its profile or a bunch of technical errors you will not see results come quickly, and you may even see the website disappear from the SERPs entirely.
Screaming Frog is a helpful tool to find broken links, 404 error pages, and also help you optimize each page on your website. This combined with Google Search Console will help you correct all technical problems.
Link discovery tools like Moz, Ahrefs, and SEMrush (along with Google Search Console) can help you identify spammy links you don’t want. Create a working spreadsheet of these low-quality links and reach out manually first, and once that you don’t hear back on can be inputted into a disavow file and submitted via Search Console.
I consider website speed to fall under the technical audit also. Building links to a website that loads slowly is like pissing in the wind — very counterproductive. On-page optimization should be perfected as part of this as well. It’s a very easy technical aspect that cannot be ignored.
I highly recommend getting this part 100% before you go all-in on SEO. While doing this run paid ads — you don’t have to pause operations.
Focus on Consumer-Intent Keywords and Not Search Volume to Appear More Human
One of the reasons that I stress knowing your data so much is because once you stop looking at vanity metrics, and focus on what matters (and makes your business money), you better understand how to approach SEO.
If you just use a keyword search tool and optimize for the terms that have the largest number of monthly searches you may see an uptick in traffic, but not a single additional dollar generated. Why? The terms might be too generic or simply just not what someone looking for the products or service your business offers is going to type into Google.
It’s more beneficial to rank number one for a keyword that has 120 monthly searches, but those searches are performed by people looking to buy what you offer, than ranking number one for a generic term with 5,000 searches.
A business that has 3,500 website visitors a month and generates $20,000 from them is a more valuable business than one that has 100,000 monthly visitors, yet only generates $1,200. People became obsessed with traffic numbers and forgot that revenue is still the definitive factor that lets you know whether or not a business is running a successful SEO campaign.
Write Value-Focused Content for Natural Link Earning (and Something to Fire Paid Links at Safely)
The quality of your content needs to be exceptionally good these days, for all link building effort, both natural and paid. While long-form content is mandatory, the actual “meat” of the content is more important than it’s ever been.
A couple of years ago long-form content stood out based on its length alone, but now every website is publishing longer posts, so you need to provide value to attract natural links and remain safe when buying links. Let me explain.
If you are going manual outreach with the intent of having relevant websites and blogs link to your content it needs to be head and shoulders above anything else out there. In a sea of dozens of pitches, your blog post needs to stand out.
Information, included formats (video, images, infographics, GIFs, etc.), layout, ease of reading, etc. — all of this comes into play. You aren’t going to blow away any editors or website owners and earn links without having truly valuable content.
Also, if you are buying links — everyone that is dominating SEO does it — you need to link to valuable resources so that under a manual audit there won’t be any red flags. For example, if you buy links from Forbes, Entrepreneur, and Mashable, and your website is under a manual review someone needs to see the page being linked to and think, “Ok, this is a great piece of content, no wonder these sites linked to it.”
Buying links can help you rank much faster, but you still have to remain safe and make it look as natural as possible. Linking to strong resources and pieces of content is a simple way to remain under the radar, while also providing you with content that can potentially help you earn additional links — without paying.
Build and Buy the Best Links (Quality over Quantity)
Google’s algorithm is so advanced now thanks to AI, and I am seeing low-quality spam websites disappearing at record-breaking rates. If you want to see how quickly blackhat efforts and spam gets wiped from the SERPs monitor the very shady competitive niches, like weight loss, payday loans, and debt consolidation.
Those results are constantly changing because it’s such a spammy market, and Google’s constantly purging those results. Spam may get them ranking for a day or two, then they are deindexed.
Whether you are buying links or manually reaching out to secure them “naturally,” within your 2021 seo strategy you need to be going after the best links only. I don’t know how many times I’ve said that quality over quantity wins, and it’s still true today and will remain true as long as links are the algorithm’s number one go-to signal.
At the beginning of each year, SEO blogs and gurus all claim to have the top-secret formula to conquering Google’s algorithm, as if something magically changes January first every year. Does SEO change every year? Yes, but it changes all the time — Google executives have been on the record saying that the algorithm updates in real-time, often daily.
If you take a step back and look at all of the tips I outlined above you will see that the most important areas of SEO focus around quality, user experience, and a strong technical base. It’s a long-term play now. No longer can you just throw up a website, fire some links, and rank.
You need to build a strong foundation, keep adding to the structure (content), build great links, make sure that you have a website that provides a great experience and one that’s optimized for conversions, etc.
There are no shortcuts to ranking success these days — you have to be able and willing to put in the work. If you follow my advice above you will not only see improved rank gains, but you will also avoid penalties and slaps that can slow your progress, or even worse, completely knock you out of the SERPs.
If you have any questions about SEO, or anything discussed above, drop a comment below. I will do my best to answer your questions.