Ever since Google rolled out the Penguin update for its search ranking algorithm in 2012, webmasters have become increasingly cautious when building backlinks. While Google updates its ranking algorithm hundreds of times per year, Penguin was one of the largest and most influential updates in the company's history. It focused on lowering the search rankings for websites that purchased backlinks, engaged in manipulative link schemes or otherwise violated its Webmaster Guidelines.
Although backlinks remain a key ranking signal used by Google, Bing and other search engines, there are ways to achieve a top search ranking for your site without ever building a single backlink.
Target Keywords With Low Competition
You'll have an easier time ranking your site for low-competition keywords than high-competition keywords. So, use a keyword analysis tool like the AdWords Keyword Planner to research prospective target keywords for your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. In addition to having low competition, your target keywords should have a fair amount of search volume and be highly relevant to your site's content.
Publish Detailed, Valuable Content
According to Google, publishing high-quality content is the most important element of a search engine-friendly website. This shouldn't come as a surprise given that high-quality content is the basis on which all successful websites are founded. It attracts visitors and encourages them to engage with your site. Content also provides something for search engines to crawl. When Google crawls your site, it will analyze your content while looking for keyword mentions to determine an appropriate ranking.
Here are some tips for creating high-quality content:
- Create detailed and descriptive content that provides value to visitors
- Avoid the wall of text effect by separating text into several sections with subheadings
- Add photos to compliment text
- Include your target keywords in your content
- Link to other websites as well as other internal pages on your site
- Focus on evergreen content rather than time-sensitive content
Optimize Page Title Tags
The title tag is an essential SEO element that affects a web page's search ranking. Google, Bing and Yahoo use this element to create headlines for their website listings. As a result, including your target keywords in your site's title tags can help you rank for those keywords. If you want to a rank a page for a particular keyword, include it in the page's title tag. However, keep in mind that most search engines only display a maximum of 60 characters for their listings, so stay within this limit.
Evaluate Your Site's Design
Your website's design can affect where and how it's ranked in the search results. If the design is clunky, outdated or poorly coded, it may discourage search engines from crawling it. More importantly, though, you should use a design that's compatible on all devices, including smartphones. Use Google's Mobile-Friendly Test to see if your site is compatible with smartphones. If it fails the test, consider redesigning your site with a responsive theme or template. Known as a responsive web design, this will automatically adapt your site to the browser on which it's viewed, meaning that users on all devices, including smartphones, can easily access and use your site.
Use Keywords in Permalinks
How does your website handle permalinks? Defined as the permalink URL of a web page, permalinks can influence in your site's search ranking. Including your target keywords in your permalinks, for example, will help you rank for them.
Speed It Up
Finally, optimize your site's speed so that it loads more quickly for visitors. Google has used load time as a ranking signal for desktop websites for more than a decade. In January 2018, however, the Mountain View company announced plans to expand this ranking signal to mobile websites as well. Therefore, slow websites will rank lower in Google's desktop and mobile search results than fast websites.
Building backlinks can certainly help your site rank in the search results, but it's not a prerequisite for developing an effective SEO strategy. By following these tips, you can obtain a top ranking without building backlinks. Just remember to create high-quality content. Otherwise, search engines won't deem your site worthy of a top ranking.
In addition to being the editor at designrfix and writing about tech, web and graphic design among other subjects, I love “unplug” and be outdoors hiking and enjoying nature. If you can’t reach me, it’s probably because where I am at doesn’t have cell phone reception.