Top Keyword Rankings are a pinnacle of online business success.
According to a study by Infront Webworks, the first page of Google receives 95 percent of web traffic, with subsequent pages receiving 5 percent or less of total traffic.
I’ve talked to a lot of business owners and managers – newbies and veterans – who have gone crazy trying to unlock the secrets of how to improve Google ranking and performance without incurring penalties.
I was 16 years old when I entered the world of search engine optimization (SEO), and I’ll admit that I was one of those people too.
I wish I could tell you that there’s a magic button to press that ranks your site in the #1 spot without fail.
But the truth is, it takes resourcefulness, dedication, persistence, and creativity. This is especially true because of the constantly-changing nature of Google’s algorithm.
While there’s no magic, there are steps you can take to soar to the top of a search engine results page (SERP).
I learned this the hard way. But luckily, you don’t have to.
I’m going back to basics with on-page SEO to help you understand the new SEO rules, learn how to optimize for both humans and search algorithm crawlers, and to master on-page and off-page SEO.
Here are the steps I will cover in this guide:
1. Measure Your Rankings
The first, and probably the most obvious, place to start is measuring your rankings.
Without having a solid understanding of your baseline keyword performance, you won’t know how far you’ve come and how much you’ve improved.
I’d highly suggest exporting all of this valuable keyword data and keeping it on file to reference in the future.
Some of us may have learned the hard way, but you never know when things will change in any given tool – whether it’s how the data is reported, what information we have access to, etc.
Export keyword data from Google Search Console and landing page traffic (organic and total) from Google Analytics.
Analyzing this data will give you a good idea of:
What your most valuable keywords/landing pages are.
Where the most immediate opportunities for improvement are.
What keywords/landing pages are underperforming.
As far as the top areas for improvement, focus on keywords that are ranking in positions 5 through 15 (where you’re teetering at the bottom of Page 1 or top of Page 2 on Google).
For these terms, ranking at the top of the first page on Google is very likely, and will give you some quick wins to share with your client or boss.
2. Target the Right Keywords
To ensure your keyword targets are aligned with overarching business objectives and offer real value, it’s important that you understand both the search intent behind them and the difficulty of ranking.
While terms have a particular meaning to you, they could take on an entirely different meaning in Google and vice versa.
Knowing the type of intent, whether it’s informational/educational, transactional or navigational, will help you understand what stage users are at in the sales funnel.
Doing a thorough SERP analysis will be essential. Look at what’s currently ranking in the top search result for your core keyword targets including:
Here are some of the key elements that present an opportunity to improve UX and SEO:
Keyword research: Confirm that you’re targeting keywords that have the right search intent and are aligned with the language that your target audiences use.
Page tagging: Ensure page tagging is engaging and encourages clicks to your website (title tags, meta descriptions, main headings).
Content optimization: Keep users on the page and provide them with another logical destination or next step. This involves everything from the navigation to the copy, internal cross-linking, and call-to-actions on your site.
Many of us get so fixated on optimizing content for Google that we forget what the end game is – to reach a highly targeted set of humans.
While search engines and humans have a different way of reading and digesting content, there are certainly commonalities that will help ensure we are creating content with both in mind.
Both robots and humans want us to be:
Be clear and concise.
Provide accurate information.
Cover related subtopics.
This is important to keep in mind from the start of your content creation process.
As we are thinking about ways to make our content easier to read for both users and search engines, header tags are key.
Not only will proper header tags improve the overall readability of your content, but they will also ensure search engines can follow the hierarchy of what is most important on the page.
Images should also be a consideration, as providing more engaging imagery can make all the difference for users. It also presents the opportunity to further optimize for search engines through ALT text and file naming.
Dare I say that title tags are the most important SEO element of a webpage?
Not just because it’s an SEO best practice, but also because it’s the first thing that users see in search results and on social media.
The title tag is your biggest opportunity to catch the eyes of a user and encourage them to click into the page.
Determine the page that you want to rank for the keyword target at hand, and then figure out a way for your title to stand out from all the others.
Yes, the keyword target should be included towards the beginning of the title tag, but how else can you encourage users to click?
BuzzSumo analyzed 100 million headlines and learned that:
Emotional headlines drive interactions.
Curiosity and voyeurism gain engagement.
List posts and the number 10 in headlines are extremely powerful.
While meta descriptions don’t have a direct impact on rankings, they should work closely with your title tags. Incorporate the keyword if possible, as well as a clear call-to-action for users.
The goal of your title tag and meta description should be to explain the benefit to users, provoke emotion, and trigger engagement, all while applying SEO best practices.
7. Stay on Top of Algorithm Updates
Why should you care about Google’s most recent algorithm updates?
Because good SEO professionals stay on top of that stuff. Among many other reasons, it helps ensure your keyword rankings are not only steady, but they’re constantly improving.
Knowing when an algorithm update first hit and when it officially ended is useful for tracking purposes, and will allow you to trace back keyword and traffic fluctuations to the root cause.
This will help you uncover potential reasoning for how/why a site was hit by an update, or certain keyword rankings and pieces of content that may have been impacted by it.
As we have experienced recently, when multiple algorithm updates happen over a short stretch of time, figuring out why certain site changes have occurred and analyzing the impact of a specific update is extremely difficult.
I mention this briefly above, but it’s also important to leverage non-SEO channels in an effort to drive visibility to your assets and support your link building efforts.
The more eyes that you get on your content, the more opportunity you have to:
Generate inbound links.
Drive social media shares.
Gain traction to the piece.
While different promotional tactics may apply to different types of content, creating a checklist is always helpful. This way, when it comes time to promote an asset, you have a list of all possible tactics.
This could include:
Distributing across social media channels.
Pushing out an email to subscribers.
Letting internal team members know to encourage shares.
Reaching out to those mentioned in the asset.
Setting up Google Alerts to monitor conversations around the topic.
Sharing directly with certain experts or influencers.
Answering related questions on Quora, or other forums.
Creating a SlideShare presentation, or repurposing the asset in other forms.
11. Continuously Optimize & Improve Content
It doesn’t stop there. We know that search engine results are constantly changing, and this means that you need to make continuous optimizations and improvements to your content.
For example, just because you’ve gained the Featured Snippet result for a particular keyword or phrase, does not mean that you will stay there.
Refreshing your content will ensure that you’re offering users with the best (and up to date) information, and driving increased keyword visibility.
If content is out of date, you will likely see the associated keyword rankings decline.
On the other hand, if you’re always looking for opportunities to refresh your content and provide users with the best material, you will likely see keyword ranking increases.
Content optimization should never be one-and-done, especially if you aren’t seeing the results that you want. If an asset isn’t ranking, re-optimize it for relevance, search intent, engagement, and readability.
Your goal should be to offer users a piece of content that is better than everything else being displayed for the given query.
The concept that, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” certainly applies here.
For example, if you are ranking in the first position on Google for an extremely competitive and highly searched for keyword, you don’t want to risk losing that.
In that case, I would not recommend changing the title tag or anything that could have a negative impact.
However, there could be opportunities to make the asset that is ranking more conversion-friendly and encourage users to stay on your site.
12.Diagnose and fix your current penalties
Now that you understand your search ranking and have set up tracking for the most important metrics, it’s time to examine your site in detail to see if there are any penalties in effect.
This is fundamental because there is no point in promoting or building links to an unhealthy site.
How link building has changed
Up until 2012, spammy links improved search engine rankings for thousands of people. This Moz case study shows how one site used link schemes to build inbound links.
Recent Google updates changed search algorithm patterns to make sure that link schemes don’t work anymore.
Regardless of on-page SEO, bad links do hurt you. Use them and you’ll incur a penalty rather than your intended goal of working to improve Google rankings.
Analyze links: First, analyze inbound links to your site. There are several link analysis tools you can use to do this:
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that tactics like page tagging and on-page content optimizations aren’t important anymore. But, it’s also essential that SEOs look at the 10,000-foot view of their website.
If you aren’t driving the results you need from certain ranking tactics, it may be time to take a step back and look at your website more holistically.
And, remember, it may take some testing, failing and testing some more to find the tactics that will have the biggest impact on your unique site.
Hopefully, this article has provided you with some new ideas and considerations to help improve your keyword rankings on Google.
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