Best Ways to Improve SEO Rankings in 2021

Brian Dean

by Brian Dean · Updated Jan. 07, 2021

17 Ways to Improve SEO Rankings

Today you’re going to learn EXACTLY how to improve your site’s ranking in 2021.

In fact, these 17 techniques helped grow my site’s organic traffic by 88.18% over the last year:

Backlinko yearly organic traffic increase

So if you want simple ways to quickly improve SEO rankings, you’ll love this guide.

1. Improve Your Website Loading Speed

How quickly (or slowly) your site loads has a direct impact on your Google rankings.

Using Page Speed in search

According to a study by Neil Patel, pages that rank at the top of Google’s first page tend to load significantly faster compared to pages that rank on the bottom of page 1.

Pages at the top of page one load faster than those at the bottom

So it’s clear that, if you want to rank higher on Google, your site needs to load quickly.

You can get a quick benchmark of how fast your site loads with Google’s PageSpeed Insights.

Google PageSpeed Insights  Backlinko

And if you want to dig even deeper into the factors that are slowing down your site, you can also run a page from your website through

WebPageTest result  Backlinko

These two tools will tell you how you can improve your site’s specific pagespeed issues.

That said, here are a few tips that usually help speed things up.

  • Compress your site’s images
  • Move to a better host (this makes a big difference)
  • Reduce web page file size
  • Delete unnecessary 3rd party scripts

And now you’re ready for our second strategy to help improve your SEO.

Over the last year I’ve got my site to rank in 79 different Featured Snippets.

Like this:

Channel art  Featured snippet

And this:

Keyword research tools  Featured snippet

My secret?

A new strategy called “Snippet Bait”.

Here’s how it works:

First, find a keyword that you already rank for.

Why is this important?

According to Ahrefs, 99.58% of Featured Snippets come from the first page results.

So if you’re on page 2, you have pretty much zero chance of getting in a Featured Snippet.

For example, here’s a page from my site that was ranking on page 1.

Backlinko  Nofollow link

Next, look at the Featured Snippet at the top of the SERPs:

Featured snippet

And identify what TYPE of Featured Snippet you’re looking at:

  • Definition Snippet (“What is content marketing?”)
  • List Snippet (“Top 10 Content Marketing Tools”)
  • Table Snippet (“Content Marketing Tool Prices”)

Finally, add a snippet of content to your page that’s designed to fit inside that Featured Snippet box.

(This is the “Snippet Bait”.)

For example, I wanted to get in the Featured Snippet for the keyword “nofollow links”.

So I wrote a little section that would fit PERFECTLY inside of a Featured Snippet box:

What Are Nofollow Links

And it worked! About 2 weeks later, the section I wrote was at the top of the search results.

Nofollow links  Featured snippet


3. Improve Dwell Time

Is Dwell Time a Google ranking factor?

In my opinion: YES.

After all, if someone quickly bounces from your page, it sends a clear message to Google: people hate that page.

And they’ll quickly downrank it:

Low dwell time  Lower rankings

The opposite is also true: lowering your bounce rate can improve your Google rankings.

The question is:

How do you prevent people from bouncing?

Embed videos on your page.

For example, I recently compared my bounce rate for a sample of pages with and without a video.

And pages with video had an 11.2% better bounce rate than pages without a video:

Embedded videos can decrease bounce rate

That’s why I embed videos in almost every new post that I write.

Sometimes I make the video an entire step or tip:

Discover Untapped Keywords on Reddit step to video

Or as a way for people to learn more about a specific topic:

Boost click-through rate topic to video

Which leads us to…

Last year I decided to make Organic CTR a top priority.

But I quickly ran into a problem:

Besides optimizing your title and description for clicks, how can you push more people to click on your result?


You probably already have sitelinks underneath your result when you search for your brand in Google.

Backlinko  Sitelinks in SERP

As it turns out, you can ALSO get sitelinks on all sorts of pages… from blog posts to ecommerce category pages.

And these sitelinks can make a BIG dent in your click-through-rate.

How do you get sitelinks?

A table of contents.

For example, when I published this post, I added a table of contents with “jump links” to each tip.

(We created this table of contents inside of WordPress. But you can easily set these up with any platform.)

And once my page cracked the top 5, Google hooked me up with sitelinks.

Post sitelinks in Google SERP

As you can see, these sitelinks REALLY help my result stand out.

In fact, sitelinks are one of the reasons my page has a 14.9% CTR.

How to get more YouTube subscribers CTR

5. Create Linkable Assets

Here’s the deal:

People don’t link to “great content”.

They link to sources.

For example, I published this guide to the Google Search Console few years ago.

Backlinko  Google Search Console

And I’m not afraid to say that it qualifies as “high-quality content”.

The post is full of actionable tips:

Google Search Console post content

It even has a custom design:

Google Search Console post  Custom design

Despite being a very solid piece of content, it only has 353 referring domain links:

Ahrefs  Google Search Console  Referring domains

On the other hand, check out this voice search study I published around the same time:

Backlinko  Voice search SEO study

Most people would also call this post “great content”.

But this piece of content has 1.21K referring domain links:

Ahrefs  Voice search SEO study  Referring domains

(That’s 3.4x more backlinks than my GSC guide.)

What’s going on here?

Well, my Google Search Console guide isn’t that easy for someone to link to.

Unless you’re writing about the GSC and want to send someone to a resource to “learn more”, there’s no compelling reason to link to my guide.

On the other hand, my voice search study gives bloggers and journalists data that they can EASILY reference.

Search Engine Journal mention of Backlinko Voice Search study

Which has led to hundreds of high-quality backlinks.

6. Target Keywords With High Commercial Intent

When I first got started with keyword research I’d focus 100% on search volume.

If a keyword got a bunch of searches, I’d say: “that’s good enough for me!”.

Not anymore.

Today, I put A LOT of weight on commercial intent.

(In other words: how much are Google Ads advertisers spending on those clicks?)

For example, a while ago I started targeting keywords like “link building services”.

Backlinko  Link building services

This keyword doesn’t get that many searches:

link building services keyword Search Volume

But with a CPC of $25.00, I know that the traffic is made up of legit buyers:

link building services keyword CPC

(Fun fact: I published this page as a “Ghost Post”. As it turns out, “link building services” is MUCH less competitive than most tools claim.)

Google SERP  Link building services

7. Grab More SERP Real Estate

Found an AWESOME keyword that converts well for you?

Get bonus traffic from that term with a YouTube video.

For example, this post was targeting the keyword “how to get more traffic”.

Backlinko post Increase Website Traffic

Unfortunately, it was stuck in the #4 spot.

Google rankings for how to get more traffic

To make matters worse, I was cramped below 3 video results.

Stuck under video results in Google SERPs

In the meantime, I decided to create a video on that topic.

how to get more traffic YouTube video

And because I optimized my video the right way, it took up valuable real estate at the top of Google’s search results:

Google video results for how to get more traffic

Want to see how I optimized that video? Check out this quick tutorial:

8. Rank for “Topic + Statistics” Keywords

This is the dirty little secret that sites use to get LOTS of backlinks on autopilot.

For example, Student Loan Hero currently has 10.6K links to its “US Student Loan Statistics” page:

Ahrefs  Student loan debt statistics  Backlinks

Here’s how they did it (and why this approach works so well):

First, they identified a topic that bloggers and journalists tend to write about.

(In this case, stats about student loan debt.)

Then, they created a webpage that curated stats from different sources.

Student Loan Debt Statistics page

Finally, they optimized their title tag, meta description and page around the keyword: “Student Loan Debt Statistics”.

Which now ranks on the first page for that term:

Google SERP  Student loans debt statistics

Why does this work so well?

Think about it:

Who searches for “Topic + Statistics” keywords?


Specifically, journalists looking for stats to include in their articles.

And when you rank for that term, you’re going to get linked to like there’s no tomorrow.

Very cool.

9. Optimize Old Content For User Intent

I’ve talked about matching your content to search intent before.

User Intent section from Skyscraper Technique post

But the bottom line is this:

If your site isn’t what searchers want, Google won’t rank it.

(No matter how many backlinks you have.)

But when your page makes Google users happy, you can increase your Google rankings.

For example, I first published this post in 2015:

Old Backlinko post SEO Campaign

As you can probably guess, my target keyword for that page was “SEO Campaign”.

And I quickly carved out a spot on the middle of the first page of Google.

So far so good.

But one day my rankings and organic traffic started to drop.

Google Analytics  Shot of Backlinko traffic drop

This wasn’t a super high-priority keyword. So I just kind of ignored the problem and hoped it would go away.

It didn’t.

That’s when I realized that my content was a HORRIBLE fit for user intent.

Specifically, my post didn’t outline an SEO campaign. Instead, I talked about a single strategy (“Guestographics”):

Snippet about Guestographics from SEO Campaign post

Which was a really bad user experience for anyone that wanted a detailed SEO campaign)

So I went back to the drawing board. And I rewrote the post from scratch.

This time, I made sure to publish something that someone searching for “SEO campaign” would love.

Backlinko  SEO campaign

Sure enough, those changes dramatically improved our search engine ranking. In fact, the new version of the post now ranks in top 3 for that term:

Google SERP  SEO campaign

10. Try Content Partnerships

I’m a BIG fan of Content Partnerships.


Because it makes your content promotion twice as powerful.

Think about it:

When you publish something on your site, you send as many people as you can to your post.

Single-author content has limited reach

But you’re only one person (or company). So your reach is pretty limited.

But when you partner with someone else, BOTH of you send people to your new content:

Content partnerships increase your content039s reach

Which doubles the number of eyeballs, links and social media shares that you get.

For example, last year I partnered with BuzzSumo to create this content marketing study.

Backlinko  Content study

And because we both promoted it to our respective audiences, it got A TON of traffic:

Google Analytics  Traffic for Content Study post

11. Repurpose Content Into Different Formats

In 2019. I realized that I was making a HUGE mistake.

The mistake?

Every time I sat down to write a new blog post, email newsletter or video script… I was starting from scratch.

Which meant it would sometimes take me 14 days to finish a single blog post.

That’s when I realized something…

I already had TONS of content on my YouTube channel. Content that people loved.

So I decided to base my next blog post on a popular video from my channel: a video about getting more YouTube subscribers.

How to Get More YouTube Subscribers  Video

It took some time to turn my video into a blog post.

Conversion of How to get more YouTube subscribers video to post

But it was 10x faster than starting with a blank Google Doc.

The best part?

My post did GREAT.

That post brings in 15,701 search engine visitors per month.

Search engine traffic for how-to-get-youtube-subscribers post

And it currently ranks in the top 3 for my target keyword:

Google SERP  Get more YouTube subscribers

Pretty cool.

I already published a guide to Broken Link Building.

So I’m not going to go over the process again here.

Instead, I’m going to show how I used Broken Link Building to get this sweet backlink:

Time Doctor  Backlink

First, I looked for a piece of content on my site that I KNEW people would want to link to. And I chose this CRO guide:

Backlinko  Conversion rate optimization

Next, I found a site that wrote about content marketing. And popped their homepage URL into Ahrefs.

Time Doctor in Ahrefs

Then I clicked on “Outgoing Links” → “Broken links”:

Ahrefs  Outgoing links  Broken links menu

Which showed me all of that site’s broken external links:

Broken links for Time Doctor in Ahrefs

Once I found a broken link that was similar to my guide, I reached out to the person that runs their blog. I let them know about their broken link and offered my content as a replacement:

Brian039s outreach email to Time Doctor

And because I added value with my outreach, they happily linked to me:

TimeDoctor039s reply to outreach email

That’s all there is to it.

It’s no secret that reverse engineering is a GREAT link building strategy.

But it’s not perfect.

After all, let’s say you find a site that just linked to your competitor.

You have no idea if that site linked to them because they have an existing relationship, they just sent an awesome outreach email… or a million other reasons.

But when you look at who links to MULTIPLE competitors, it takes a lot of the guesswork out of the equation.

(After all, what are the odds that the site has a great relationship with three different sites?)

That’s where Link Intersect comes into play.

To use it, fire up good ol’ Ahrefs and enter three domains into their Link Intersect tool:

Ahrefs  Link intersect homescreen for Moz Ahrefs and SiegeMedia

And make sure to put your site in the “But doesn’t link to” field:

Ahrefs  Link intersect Doesn039t link to homescreen section

And voila!

You’ll see everyone that links to these 3 sites… but doesn’t link to you.

Ahrefs  Link intersection results screen

And if your site publishes better content than your competitors, there’s a really good chance these peeps will link to you too.

14. Target Brand New Keywords

Want to find popular, low-competition keywords?

Of course you do!

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