How To Earn #1 Rankings in Search: DIY vs Agency (Webinar)

How to Earn #1 Rankings in Organic Search (DIY vs Agency model) - webinar slide

We’ve put together a webinar on how to earn #1 rankings in organic search, which you can watch below.   What makes this video different is a comparison between a DIY approach and working with an Agency.

Following is an edited transcript of the above webinar.  The DIY comparison might be particularly helpful to someone that is searching for “google rankings agency” or “natural search agency.”

In this webinar, we’ll show you the end-to-end process of ranking content in Google search, focusing on how Topic Research helps us create content that is more likely to rank for your target keywords.

In this webinar, we’re going to talk about 1) what content to create, 2) how to create it and 3) how to rank it.

In both the DIY and Agency cases, the driving principles are to create content and build authority.   How you do that is the biggest difference between the DIY and Agency models.

Before we get to the 8 steps, let’s first define content and authority.

What is Content?

  • Blog Posts
  • Videos, both YouTube and embedded on your website
  • Case Studies – a note on case studies – create them based on your services, the verticals you serve and your geographic service area.  The tendency is to create case studies based on a specific client, but no one is searching for that.   So a plumber might create a case study on “commercial pipe repair in Downtown San Diego” in order to rank for that keyword phrase.
  • Geo-Service Pages – these are content-rich pages that combine one of your services with one of your geographic service areas.   You might have a page for accounting services in San Francisco and another for bookkeeping services in San Mateo for instance.
  • Webinars, like this one.

What you create for your site creates value for your audience.   For instance, a semiconductor firm that provides webinars and white papers provides serious value to a big-time prospect like an automotive manufacturer.   

So the lens through which we’re viewing all that great content is how do we get visibility for it in organic search?

That leads us to the question:

What is Authority?

Authority is the value you’ve built online.  This includes building your brand just as you’d do to build a brand offline, including reputation and thought leadership and presence in a local community perhaps.  Authority is only quantitative to a degree, in that Google is a black box and their search algorithm is incredibly sophisticated.   

But there are some basic principles at work here, along with webmaster guidelines and other learning.

The simplest equation here is:  backlinks build authority

A backlink is a link from another site to yours.  How much authority they have, and if they are in a related field to yours factor into this calculation.  More backlinks over time will raise your authority, and its like the tide that lifts all boats: if you have good content on your site, that content will rank better and better, and you’ll be able to increasingly compete for broader keywords.

Also playing a role is Domain Expertise – and by that I mean, what is it in which you are experts or market leaders?  Here’s an example –  we rank well for SEO-related terms because we write about it a lot and have earned backlinks because of it.  Google knows its something in which we have a lot of experience.  That Domain Expertise means we carry more authority on the specific topic that has earned us that authority.  

Next is Longevity – how long have you been around and doing your thing?  All things being equal, a company that’s been around longer is going to rank better.  

The last point here is Freshness: Google is increasingly rewarding sites that have fresh content, both new and freshened up.  We’ve seen really good results by freshening old content, pruning less relevant no-traffic content, focusing on domain expertise and delivering ever more value to potential customers.

Before I share the 8 Steps, let’s put some extra focus on Topic Research. 

For us, Topic Research covers a lot of ground.  It includes identifying what to write about, such that you are demonstrating domain expertise and so forth, and also how to write it once you have your topic.

So let’s briefly look at choosing a topic and then writing about it.  We’ll go deeper on this later.  Briefly:

Search Volume is a number that tells how many unique monthly searches there are on a specific topic.    For instance there are up to 100,000 monthly searches on “instant pot quinoa”.  Good to know for a company like Bob’s Red Mill that sells the quinoa those searchers may put in their instant pot.

Search Intent is an understanding of where someone is in the customer journey.   You can imagine that someone searching to “buy organic quinoa online” is farther along in the customer journey, closer to making a purchase.

Once we’re actively researching our chosen topic, we want to cover that topic comprehensively.  What does that mean.  Well, someone searches for something on Google.  Google generally wants to serve up search results that best answer that query.  How do they know who best answers that query?  If you cover a topic comprehensively, like instant pot quinoa, Google knows that you’ve given the best, most comprehensive answer because they have a billion pages to reference so they know what comprehensive is!  

So that brings us to long-form content, which might be 1,500 words or more.  By necessity, answering a topic comprehensively lends itself to long-form content, and thus it tends to rank pretty great.

So we’ve looked at Content and Authority, and now I want to show you 5 examples of how this can result in #1 rankings for a target keyword phrase.

Each of these examples demonstrate some combination of good content and authority, for both the domain and for the individual page or post.

Example 1: Ranking in Organic Search

First up is a financial services firm. 

They have a blog post specifically researched and written to rank for these search terms.  This gets our client in front of the right audience – startups needing CFO-level help on this accounting question.

An excerpt also appears in the People Also Ask section of search results, which gives them a lot of real estate on this results page and a high share of clicks as a result.

This post is just over 1500 words, and has been kept very up-to-date with fresh content on a regular basis.

Example 2: Ranking in Organic Search

Next is a building supplier, ranking #1 for a keyword phrase that is highly relevant for one of their key B2B verticals.

This page actually outperforms expectations because the site itself doesn’t carry that much authority.  But this post, with over 2,000 words, more than 25 images and regular updates, produces a steady flow of highly-relevant traffic.

Example 3: Ranking in Organic Search

Now we’re going to take a look at our site.  We rank #1 for a really great niche keyword phrase.  There’s a lot of competition for this search from other marketing agencies and from the self storage associations, so we’ve had to write a nearly 6,000 word post updated every 60 days or so in order to stay on top.

This is also a good example of how you create a guide that gets updated each year.  So sometime in December, we’ll update this post to be a guide for 2022.

Example 4: Ranking in Organic Search

Our fourth example is another building supplier.  They rank #2 for a keyword phrase that has allowed them to reach an audience outside of their primary service area in Florida.  They are increasingly shipping nationwide because of this content strategy.

They’ve done this with a well-researched 1200 word post and an embedded YouTube video.  However, they haven’t updated in almost a year, and so they’ve slipped from #1 to #2 in the results, which costs them clicks every day.   Simply adding a couple hundred words to this post could return them to the #1 position.

Example 5: Ranking in Organic Search

Back to our site, we rank #1 with what I call a geo-services page.  This combines a service we offer – SEO – with our key service area, Ventura County.

In order for us to maintain this #1 ranking, we have to update frequently and build backlinks to this page ongoing.  And it works, so we allocate budget to it.

OK, now that you’ve seen some real world examples of combining Content and Authority to achieve top rankings in organic search, we’re going to look at the 8 steps to do this, first from a DIY perspective.

In other words, you can do this yourself, and it will move you ahead of many of your competitors who aren’t doing this stuff.   Following these 8 DIY steps, we’ll then show the Agency view.

In these 8 steps, we’re going to talk about 1) what content to create, 2) how to create it and 3) how to rank it.

We’ve spent years building great process and implementing best practices so that we can consistently provide high-quality work and positive results. But here’s the thing: you can do this yourself, every step.  You’ll have to put in a lot of time and some money, but the DIY approach can absolutely work for you and your site.   

We are going to walk through each of these 8 Steps in more detail.  These steps inform what content to create, how to create it and how it can rank.

We’ll identify keywords and topics with Keyword Research

We’ll outline our content with the Topic Research Roadmap

We’ll write a 2,000 word Blog Post

We’ll optimize it before it’s published with Post SEO

We’ll track the target keywords with a Web Position Report 

We’ll build backlinks to our content with an SEO Campaign

We’ll schedule time to freshen our content on a regular basis

And we’ll diagnose anything that needs improvement with the Page Research Roadmap

Let’s get to it!

Step 1: Keyword Research (DIY)

What we’re looking for here is a sweet spot – keyword phrases that get some search volume but not so competitive you can’t rank for it.  

The sweet spot is pretty heavily dependent on your website’s authority.  The more authority you have, the more you can compete for keywords with higher search volume.  If you have low website authority, you might want to stick to very niche keyword phrases.   

We recommend you use Google Keyword Planner, in Google Ads.  This is a free tool with real-world data from Google.  Focus on a topic that is within your domain expertise, especially if you’re new to creating content, so that Google has a real good idea of who you are and where your expertise lies.

Pick a topic and we’ll move on to researching that topic.

Step 2: Topic Research (DIY)

Here you’re researching the topic, so that your copywriter knows what to write about and include in order to comprehensively answer the topic.  You want to fully explore the topic and answer the questions people are asking about this topic.  The structure of it can be in the form of a term-paper outline, with main sections and sub-sections, so that it flows intuitively.

For DIY, we recommend starting with Google search results, paying close attention to the top results for the search and the People Also Ask section on the results page.  Spend some time at Google Trends as well, which can provide insight on trending topics and geographic variations on the topic.

This outline you create, along with questions to answer, phrases to include and so forth, can be handed over to your copywriter and they can run with it.

Step 3: 2,000 word Blog Post (DIY)

Using the Topic Research, the copywriter can create longform content, which might be 2,000 words or more as we saw in the examples previously. 

The sections of the article can contain header tags, denoting where an H2 or H3 header would go for a section or sub-section.  Again, simply think of header tags as if it were organized like a term-paper outline.

There are a number of ways to create interesting longform content.

Listicles, Buzzfeed-style, are very common.  FAQs can be helpful for products and services alike.   Pull-quotes can add word count quickly and easily.

And structured data can also be helpful.  What is structured data?  Well, here we see Google showing a recipe in search results.  This recipe shows a star rating, # of reviews and how long it takes to make this recipe.  That information comes from data that is marked up – basically, in the code, you’d say time to prepare this recipe: 22 minutes, and Google will pick up on that in the code.   Structured data is often managed by a plugin, so you don’t have to be too technical.

Once you’ve uploaded your post, you’ll want to optimize it before you publish it.   That brings us to

Step 4: New Post SEO (DIY)

A few key things to pay attention to here:

The Permalink should pretty much be your target keyword phrase and that’s about it.   So in our example, that might be instant-pot-quinoa

The Meta Title (also called the SEO Title) should be 56 characters or less including your brand name appended to the end.  

The Meta Description should be 156 characters or less.  You have to be able to edit both the Meta Title and Meta Description for every page and post on your website.  For instance, Yoast SEO for WordPress is practically mandatory these days.  If you’re on another content management system, make sure you can edit these fields.

Images should be sized for the web.  In most cases, 1600 pixels wide, with a file size under 300 kilobytes is about right.   The alt tag, which is an attribute assigned to the image, should be descriptive of the image and can be keyword rich at the same time.

Lastly, the categories and tags you assign to your post help give it context.  The organizational structure of your content, or taxonomy, is a great topic for another webinar.

So go ahead and optimize your post and Publish!  Once published, you can give it some visibility by posting to your social media channels, including it an email newsletter and so on.

Once your post is up and live, you’ll want to track it’s position in the search engines for your target keyword phrases.

Step 5: Web Position Report (DIY)

As this is the DIY version of web position tracking, you’ll have to cobble together a few tools.   First, google “ahrefs keyword rank tracker” and bookmark that tool.  Ahrefs is a platform with a set of SEO tools, and this one is free.  

You’ll want to check rankings on a fairly regular basis, either weekly or monthly.  Record the position in a Google sheet.   You might also use Annotations in Google Analytics, so that you see the direct relationship between landing page traffic and search rankings.

With a focus on Content and Authority, you’ll see changes in rankings and traffic over time. 

Step 6: SEO Campaign (DIY)

What we call an SEO Campaign is the procurement of backlinks to your website.  These backlinks, or links from external sources, are what build authority.   All of the links together comprise a link profile, which needs to look natural to google, as you’re supposed to earn links, not buy them.  To be clear, building links is tough whether you’re a DIY site owner or an agency. 

So start with your distribution channels, such as social media and your email newsletter.  You might also create a series of Google My Business posts, which are super easy to put together – just an image and an excerpt.

Building links to your home page will continue to build your brand and help you maintain a natural link profile.  Here are a couple ways to do that.

  1. Author a guest blog post or article for a publication.  This might be for a blog or a local newspaper or a trade publication.   The author bio would contain a backlink at a minimum.
  2. Look for media and podcast appearances.  We recommend signing up for free to peruse opportunities at helpareporter.com and qwoted.com with a w.

Backlinks accrued over time will build authority and impact search rankings.

It turns out that if you can get your content to rank, you have to work to maintain those rankings.  The best way to do that is: 

Step 7: Freshen Content Management (DIY)

Especially for websites that have been around 10 or 20 years, it’s really common to have previously ranked #1 for a target keyword phrase, and then watch that ranking slip over time until you’re no longer on the first page of results.  That’s painful, right?

Freshening your content can halt and reverse a slide.   There are two key ways we recommend freshening your content.

1) update your content on a regular basis – every 90 to 120 days is generally adequate for all but the most competitive keywords.   Updating means adding 50-100 words or more, building in semantic phrases, answering Questions People Ask from Google results, adding a couple images and generally just making your content better.  This doesn’t have to take long – we can freshen a post in 15 or 20 minutes and reap the benefits from that modest time investment.

2) you can also update your content annually, where your content is positioned as being helpful for 2021, 2022, 2023 and so on.  Change your Meta Title, Meta Description, Page Title and references throughout the post and you’ll be good to go!

Step 8 is Page Research (DIY)

Say your post is not ranking as well as you think it should, or maybe it’s slipped over time.  You’ll need to diagnose the issues causing this. 

If you’re doing this DIY, it can be one of the more challenging steps, but we’ve cobbled together a checklist for you using free tools.

First, check your Meta Title and Meta Description.  Make sure they are within proper character counts and include the Target Keyword Phrase.

Next, make sure the Page Title is correctly marked up as an H1 header tag, and make sure it too reflects the Target Keyword Phrase.  This might require an adjustment to your theme to get this right.

Now, The First Paragraph of your post is really important.  It has to be contextually aligned with your Target Keyword Phrase.  In other words, don’t beat around the bush – get right to the point in your first paragraph.  If its about something other than what you’re ultimately writing about, you very well may not rank as well as you could.

And does your post have an embedded YouTube video related to the topic?   This can help a lot, and it doesn’t need to be your video.   You can embed a related video right in your post, which can increase user engagement and factor into how well you rank.  If you can create a video for your post, even better and highly recommended!

Readability is important – you might find you need to simplify your copy and your sentence structure.  Google this: “flesch kincaid grade” or google “readability tools” and run your page through it to see how you compare to your competitors.  Simplifying your content can help quite a bit.

Next, are you answering questions that google displays in the People Also Ask section of search results?  If no, then do so.  These questions can also make for quick videos uploaded to YouTube and then embedded into your post.  See how these dots are connecting here?

Lastly, do you have any backlinks to this post?  If not, your page very well may not have enough authority to rank.  In fact, something like 95% of all blog posts don’t have any backlinks, so this can be a competitive differentiator for you.

There you go, those are the 8 Steps to #1 rankings done DIY – research, content development, optimization and improvement all factor in to how you can do this for yourself and your site.

Now, how does an Agency approach these 8 Steps?   An Agency is going to have a marketing stack – a set of paid tools that can help with discovery and so forth.  If they’re nice and organized, that Agency will be able to execute on each of these steps and follow-through, such that your content is well-positioned for great rankings.

Let’s peel back the curtain, so you see how we approach each of these 8 Steps and what clients can expect.

Step 1: Keyword Research (Agency)

We first build out Keyword Research as comprehensively as possible, and then iterate as need be, as the client adds new products, services, enters new markets and so on.

We start with raw data based on a small set of keywords our client provides.  This raw data can be many thousands of keywords, which we map to a Google Ads Search Campaign with a dozen or more Ad Groups.   

We then create a set of 50 Priority Keywords, which we’re going to track and watch in a Web Position Report.  There’s much we do at the account-level, and also at the keyword-level for an individual page or post.

We research questions and queries people are asking, we identify negative keywords to keep ad costs down at launch and we build competitor analyses.

All of this research lays the groundwork for choosing great topics each month, and we can do additional research to supplement this.   We top this off with a PDF explainer that walks our clients through every section of their research document.

Next up, how an Agency approaches Topic Research:

Step 2: Topic Research Roadmap (Agency)

We put together a three page PDF with the precise information that you and your copywriter need to write a killer page of content, including the permalink, metadata, outline and how to put it all together.  

In short, your content needs the right context.  When you comprehensively cover a topic, you can rank against huge brands and stiff competition.  Google knows when you are comprehensively covering a topic, because it has a billion pages to reference.

So we help you and your copywriter do that – no guessing involved.   Follow the outline, include the right semantic phrases, format and optimize it, and you’ll be competitive.

And we provide a PDF explainer tying it all together, neat and tidy.  

Now you’ll create the content!

Step 3: 2,000 Word Blog Post (Agency)

Our Topic Research is shovel ready – it makes a copywriter’s job much easier.   We’ve worked to remove the mystery of creating longform content that can be of high value to your target audience.  We develop and procure content for most of our clients, while some have in-house resources. 

As the writer develops the content, they’ll be referencing the Topic Research Roadmap, including the Outline.  The article should reflect this outline with the inclusion of Header Tags, just a bit of text which precedes each section header with an H2 and each subsection header with an H3.  Remember the title of the page is the H1, and the rest of the content flows like a term-paper outline.  

These header tags will be super helpful to your Content Manager who is uploading it to your content management system.   

Step 4: Post SEO (Agency)

This is often referred to as on-page SEO.   The trick here is to optimize the post before it’s published, and particularly the permalink.  You really want to avoid changing the url after it’s published, so as an Agency, we integrate into the content workflow.

We have a 10 point checklist.  We look at the Post Title, the Post Length, the Permalink, the Metadata, images, taxonomy and more.   We’ll make notes for clients, and make adjustments ourselves if we have website access.

Properly formatted and optimized content sends the right signals to Google, and helps your site stay well-indexed.

From here, the content is published and pushed to the client’s distribution channels, including social media and an email newsletter.

Next we track the rankings:

Step 5: Web Position Report (Agency)

Paid software that can manage this is really helpful, so that you have such features as historical data, grouped keywords, competitor data and more.   Did you know that Googlebot for Desktop and Mobile are basically two different search engines?  It can be quite helpful to see results for each of these two separately, and it can inform important adjustments such as site speed and user experience.   So, yes, tracking keywords and how your pages appear in search engine results, also known as web position, is part of the process of ranking content effectively.

Step 6: SEO Campaign (Agency)

This is how we as an Agency approach building authority in your website and your content.   We procure three high-quality backlinks per campaign, and these links often carry very high domain authority.   One of the ways we ensure quality is the requirement that backlinks come from sites that actually get traffic.  

We also closely manage the anchor text, or the text that actually links to our client site, be it “Click Here” or the brand name or something else.  All of these things are part and parcel of maintaining a natural link profile – in other words, what Google would expect to see when a website has great content and earns backlinks as a result.

As an Agency, we have great process and solid reporting for our clients, and we track backlinks over 90 days to ensure they have significant longevity.  The steady acquisition of backlinks over time can have a significant effect on a site’s authority and that of any one particular page.

Step 7: Freshen Content Management (Agency)

Freshening content is where an agency can help a client maintain and improve rankings on existing content.   As we’ve shown in this presentation, a page or post can rank well at one point and then fade over time.   

By adding 50-100 words, incorporating some semantic phrases based on research and adding an image or two, your content can have a lot more staying power in the rankings.

We provide our clients management of this process, tracking key content on the website, and setting up a schedule to update that content at appropriate intervals.   We recommend that most keyword-focused blog posts get updated every 90 days or so, with more frequent updates as competition increases.

For instance, if you maintain a blog on Apple rumors, you might update a page daily or even more frequently, to stay competitive for highly-trafficked, high-value searches.  Setting the right intervals and sticking to a schedule will maximize the work done to maintain a freshened content schedule.

Step 8 is the Page Research Roadmap (Agency)

Where we diagnose why an individual page or post isn’t ranking better than it is.   It takes into account real-world rankings and competitor data to figure out how you can improve a particular post on your site, so the post needs to have been published for a while in order to accumulate data and settle into where it is sitting in the rankings.

An Agency would need to use one or more paid tools to do this work, there’s a lot of unearthing to do here in order to figure out how to improve a page, especially for more competitive target keyword phrases.

On-page SEO, which we did prior to publishing, may need some adjustments, along with the first paragraph of the post, and other key elements which send signals to Google.  

We’ll also pay close attention to the backlink profile of your site and the target page.  You might need an authority boost provided by one or more backlinks, and we show what it might take to push your way back up the rankings.

We look at the Page Research Roadmap through many different lenses, and we deliver this in a lengthy PDF, accompanied by an Explainer, and attainable Next Steps.  

There we go – the 8 Steps an Agency can take to ranking content #1 on search.  We’ve talked about 1) what content to create, 2) how to create it and 3) how to rank it.  

And we’ve shown how you can take a DIY approach or work with an Agency like Tribal Core to maximize the impact of the content you’re creating for your website.

Next, let’s look at what to expect, showing how a focus on Content and Authority produces results.

In the first chart here, we can see a 400% improvement in Organic Search traffic over six months.    This client has posted 1 or 2 posts every month, including a longform post that we’ve researched and produced.  They’ve also run an SEO Campaign with us each month, building backlinks to their homepage and targeted posts. 

In the second image, we see the same client over a shorter 120 day span, with a greater than 200% increase in organic traffic.

With steady attention to creating great content and building site authority, this client has seen steady improvement month after month.  They’re getting leads, phone calls and clients with this strategy.  It’s great to look back and see how far they’ve come and how we’ve built momentum for continued success together.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably a little curious about Tribal Core.

I founded Tribal Core in 2002, after the technology company I was working for was acquired by Vivendi Universal.   We’re a web marketing agency that has always focused on businesses that value social responsibility, community and philanthropy.  

We’ve worked with mom-and-pops and organizations as big as the United Nations.  We currently do a lot of work in higher education, working with four university clients, as well as organic product companies, spiritual organizations and a host of others, including biotech, health and wellness and nutraceuticals.

We also have an online Store, where we offer up content marketing research a la carte, so you can kickstart your business or get ongoing support.

Thanks so much for joining me in learning how you can create content that ranks in search, whether you’re a DIY small business owner or working with an Agency like ours.  

We know we need to earn your trust and confidence every day.  If you’re interested in working with us, get in touch, we’d love to learn more and see if we’re a good fit.   Bye for now!


Last Updated: November 11, 2021

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