I've followed SEO “gurus” off and on for a while, but I've noticed they all give different advice. If your advice is the best, wouldn't other folks be saying it, too? Hmmm. It made me think. That's when I started searching for another answer and found Income School on YouTube (affiliate). I loved their non-SEO approach to SEO, and could tell by their subscriber count and video views that they were making waves in the community.
How I Rank on the Front Page of Google Without Using SEO
After binge watching hours and hours of their videos (which, if you know me, I never watch videos!), I signed up for Project 24 to help me build my niche site. I don't usually buy courses, and especially not expensive ones, but I knew these guys were the real deal so I dove in. I'm so glad I did! My only regret is not joining Project 24 sooner.
Anyway, I want to give you all a synopsis of what I've learned over the years from building blogs, as well as what I've learned from Income School and Project 24. This information has helped me more than all of the information I've consumed about SEO from alllll of the “gurus” and big guys. I'm fully convinced the reason they big guys are so hung up on keyword research is the fact that they own the keyword research tools, or are affiliates. Convinced.
NOTE: The title of this post is a bit misleading because even though I didn't do SEO on purpose, SEO is still happening… just by me writing posts how they need to be written and answering questions my audience asks (before they ask them).
Will this post rank on the front page of Google? No. But Google isn't the only traffic source option! Write what you are passionate about. Help people. Be sure you're writing the best of the best on your topic!
The Problems With Keyword Research Tools
While keyword research tools can be helpful, there are a few drawbacks. They should be used as one tool, not seen as the “golden ticket” of keyword research.
SEO tools are expensive!
There are exceptions like Keysearch, which I still look at regularly and there are free keyword tools available, but for the most part they cost a fortune. If you're going to charge me an assload of money, the least you could do is be accurate. Which brings me to my next point:
SEO tools aren't super accurate.
Search tools are telling you how many people search for a specific keyword phrase, but none of these tools have fully accurate data. If someone words it in a different way, they're still searching for the same thing (and may end up on your post if you're ranked well), but they're not showing up in the keyword volume. Also, many people search in Incognito browsers, which are not tracked by keyword tools.
Think about how many different ways you can search for one phrase. Let's use “Slingshot weight” as an example. I want to know how much a Polaris Slingshot weighs, so I type “Slingshot weight” into the search bar. I could also type in “how much does a slingshot weigh”, “how much does a Polaris Slingshot weigh”, “weight of Polaris Slingshot”, and probably a few other ways I didn't think of right off the top of my head.
If I did keyword research on “Slingshot weight” it may show a volume of 30, whereas “weight of Polaris Slingshot” may show a search volume of 300 but I didn't think to do keyword research on that exact phrase.
It's easy to get obsessed with numbers.
Income School talks a lot about how you shouldn't “marry yourself” to any one keyword search tool because you'll be missing so much if you do! If you're hyper-focused on figuring out the best keywords based on your search tools, you may miss the obvious questions or keyword phrases that could deliver massive traffic.
Tips for Ranking Higher in Google Without Paid Tools
So, you want to know HOW to figure out what to write about if I'm telling you not to waste your money on expensive keyword tools, huh? I'm glad you asked! Here are some tips on ranking higher in Google without using paid SEO tools.
Summary: Don't focus on keyword search tools perceived volume so much that you neglect to think about search queries from actual humans. Think about questions you would ask on the topic you're writing about, and answer them thoroughly with 1,500+ word blog posts.
Non-SEO SEO… Huh?
When I told my husband I was working on “non-SEO SEO” he was like “huh?”. I figure you may have the same response, but don't fret! We are still using SEO even when we aren't using the paid tools, we're just doing it in a different – and free! – way.
Search Engine Queries – Manual SEO Research
Using search engines to manually find your keywords is old school, but it works. Google isn't the only search engine, either. You can use Bing, DuckDuckGo, and any other search engine you find to come up with even more ideas for blog post titles.
ABC aka Alphabet Soup Method
You're going to need to grab a pen and paper or pull up a spreadsheet for this one because it will give you a ton of ideas! Head over to Google and start typing your phrase in. I used a phrase for a post I've already published but was wanting to fill out a little more.
Type “keyword phrase + a” and you will see autosuggest pop up with some ideas.
Repeat with every letter of the alphabet.
Then, go to Google and type “a + keyword phrase”.
Repeat with every letter of the alphabet.
Still need ideas? Use words like “what” “why” “how” etc in front of your keyword phrase.
Use these ideas as a JUMPING OFF POINT. Don't just write every post. Combine ideas if possible.
Take it a step further by scrolling down and seeing questions that are asked by Google users. Answer these questions in your posts. In this example, people want to know about lodging, eating, and entertainment near the location. This is easy to add in a subheading! I could even create a post about the Top 10 Restaurants near Two Guns (the town the Apache Death Cave is in).
Word Count of Top Ranking Posts
Does word count matter? Yes and no. While I think every post should be at least 1,000 words, shorter posts can rank on Google if they're answering questions and delivering value. So, I'm going to give you a few examples from my blogs. I'll tell you the word count of each post, and why I think it ranks well – despite having used any keyword research tools before writing them.
#5 on Google, 517 words, 10 photos, travel niche. Keysearch says the search volume for my focus keyword/title is 210 a month, yet I get 5,000+ pageviews EACH MONTH to this one post. It's a 500 word post so you know it's not ranking for a dozen keyword phrases.
The two factors that worked best for me on this post were that I inadvertently used a keyword with higher search volume as well (which happens often when writing naturally), and it has a lot of social proof (tens of thousands of shares). Google sends traffic to this post daily.
#3 on Google, 858 words, 5 photos, weight loss niche. The search volume for this keyword phrase is 1,000 a month. It received 2,585 pageviews this month (a really slow month, too!) – mostly from search. This means I'm getting traffic from Google based on other subheadings used, questions answered in the post, etc.
#7 on Google, 2643 words, 2 photos, parenting niche. The search volume says 20, yet it's the most popular post on my blog. While some traffic comes from social, far more than 20 people show up from search each month.
These examples are to show you that you don't have to worry about the search volume of one or even two keywords. Volume from other keywords will hold your posts up if you write thoroughly and answer your readers' questions before they have to ask them.
Free SEO Tools
If you're set on using SEO tools, start with the free ones. The only paid search tool I use is Keysearch, and it's been massively helpful on my blogging journey, but free tools work similarly.
Get an idea of search volume with Keyword Lookup. I tried a few searches and they showed numbers identical to what the paid tools are showing. The numbers are still inaccurate but do give you an idea of “there are a million searches” or “there are ten searches” so you know where to focus your energy.
While Keyword Lookup has a free Chrome extension, I prefer Keyword Surfer. I was doing some research for World of Caves and found lots of extra helpful information and ideas for the Apache Death Cave post I was working on, which I was super excited about! Definitely try this extension if you haven't.
Keyword research tools are valuable, but far too often new bloggers get caught up in the numbers and feel defeated. I hope this guide has helped you feel confident in doing keyword research without spending a fortune and without feeling overwhelmed.
Learn More About SEO on Easy Blog School
Katie has written extensively about SEO here on EBS. Be sure to check those posts out. I also wrote The Ultimate Guide to Roundups. Roundups help SEO naturally! 😉