Do you ever lie awake at night, thinking “if only I could rank for this keyword, everything would be great.” Alright, maybe you have a less obsessive attitude towards these things than I do, but I’m sure there are some keywords that are really valuable to your business that you’d like to see ranking more highly. While we’ve written before about how fixating on a specific keyword can be a distraction, that doesn’t mean we can’t aim to rank for that keyword eventually. But how? That’s always the big question. How Relevant Content Improves Targeted Search Rankings

Moz’s 2015 ranking factors cite 10 major factors that help sites rank more highly in search results. Moz's 2015 ranking factors Notice how the top three stand above the rest?

  • Domain-Level Link Features
  • Page-Level Link Features
  • Page-Level Keyword and Content Relevance

But what do those words mean, and why do they matter? Let’s take a quick look at them, one-by-one.

Domain-Level Link Features

This is mostly a measure of your Domain Authority (the overall strength of your site). There’s a lot that goes into this, but it’s largely about the volume, quality and critically, the relevance of links to your website. So how does Google determine that your domain is relevant for a given query? Let me show you through a quick example from one of our clients. Last year, we developed a piece for our client PT&C|LWG, a forensic engineering firm, in response to the Heartbleed virus being discovered. Here’s what it looked like:

How LWG's heartbleed infographic increased campaign targeted keyword rankings PTC-LWG's Heartbleed infographic - click to expand

It was featured on a range of sites from Venturebeat and ZDnet to BG Report, earning links from over 100 domains within a few days. After a few weeks, we observed that practically all their rankings were up, but particularly their rankings for “forensic engineering” related keywords - which were highly relevant and competitive, and had jumped from roughly page three of Google’s SERPs to mid-page one. So why did this happen? From what we observed, it looked like the biggest factor was the text surrounding the anchor text linking to our client’s site. We pitched the piece as “an infographic from forensic engineering consultants.” Thus, most of the links the piece earned looked something like this:

“This infographic from forensic engineering firm LWG-PTC consulting…

While over-optimizing the link anchor text itself could have appeared manipulative, the natural proliferation of the terms “forensic engineering” in the surrounding text was rewarded with higher rankings. To be clear - this piece improved rankings for a range of different keywords by improving the site’s overall Domain Authority, but effects were more pronounced on some keywords than others.

Page-Level Link Features

This factor isn’t referring to your Domain Authority so much as a given page’s Page Authority. Once again, the biggest factor here is links. From Moz:

The best way to influence this metric is to improve your overall SEO. In particular, you should focus on your link profile—which influences MozRank and MozTrust—by getting more links from other well-linked-to pages.

However, now we’re starting to get deeper into the intersection of content relevance and targeted rankings. In the example above, our client’s infographic wasn’t ranking for “forensic engineering” - and what’s more, we didn’t want it to. We wanted their service pages to rank for those kinds of terms, and the infographic helped improve the relevance of the entire domain for "forensic engineering." But what if you want a content-driven page to rank for a certain query? That’s where page-level link features are important. Let’s say that we wanted to develop a content piece for this client’s buyer persona, an IT manager at a large firm, so we decided to create an onsite guide to secure web browsing - covering which browsers are best to use, which ad-ons are best, and so on. If the piece were shared by digital security and IT sites, it would help the page rank for targeted keywords like “secure browsing.” So how does Google know that given sites, say the digital security and IT sites linking to our guide, are relevant to given search queries? Let’s say they link to us an article about malware, or about phishing scams. How does Google know that “malware” and “phishing” are related queries to “browser security”? From Buzzsumo:

“Google is focusing on semantics and context. It is getting much better at understanding semantic meaning….Google knows it very likely that the word “car“ is relevant in an article in which the word “bumper“ occurs, while this is not true for the term “refrigerator.“  This is called Co-Occurrence analysis.”

Page-Level Keyword and Content Relevance

This co-occurence analysis affects not only page-level link features, but also Google’s scoring of a given page’s content relevance. What this means is that Google increasingly rewards original, rich and long-form content. For example, Searchmetrics 2014 ranking factors study showed a significant boost from 2013 in terms of average character count by ranking position:

Upward trend of long form content in search rankings from Searchmetrics Searchmetrics content length findings - click to expand

What Does This Mean?

If you’re trying to rank for a given group of keywords, the best way to do so is by creating shareable, topical link building content to improve your rankings, and long-form, relevant onsite content to actually educate, entertain and inform readers when they arrive on your site.