Right now, someone is doing a Google search to find a new product, service, or solution to their problem, something that your business is uniquely qualified to provide.
Will they end up on your website where they’ll see how you have exactly what they’re looking for?
If your website doesn’t show up on the first page of Google results, the answer is, unfortunately, probably not. That’s for a few reasons.
Firstly, Google dominates the search engine market, with more than 85% of global traffic and 270 million unique visitors in the U.S. alone.
Secondly, 75% of internet users never go beyond the first page of results.
Now consider that 34.36% of all clicks go to the number one search result, and it becomes clear why search engine optimization (SEO) is so important.
But, you already knew that – it’s why you’re reading this article, after all.
You probably also realize that SEO is a marathon, not a sprint.
In Google’s unending quest to provide better results to searchers’ queries, its algorithm is updated thousands of times every year.
And while some of these are so minor most people will never notice them, Google occasionally rolls out an update that significantly impacts search engine results pages (SERPs).
What’s an SEO professional to do?
In the past, the answer was to jam keywords everywhere on your site, with the idea that more is better. Those days are gone.
Google’s algorithm has increased in complexity, which means it is now better able to understand the intent behind queries.
And, this means it values sites that provide better answers to those searches over those that are just packed with relevant words and phrases.
To ensure your website ranks highly, you can’t just focus on what search engines are looking for.
You also need to consider the experiences of visitors to your site. You need to take a holistic view of the value your website provides to users, then optimize your content so that it gets the results you need.
Let’s take a closer look at various ranking factors and discuss how you can more effectively use keywords to drive search traffic.
1. Measure Your Rankings
The first (and probably the most obvious) place to start is measuring your rankings.
Without 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 for future reference. If nothing else, it will show you how much better you’ve gotten at SEO.
Some of us may have learned the hard way, but you never know when things will change with any given tool – whether it’s how 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:
- Your most valuable keywords/landing pages.
- The most immediate opportunities for improvement.
- Keywords/landing pages that are underperforming.
Focus on improving keywords that are ranking in positions five through 15 (where you’re teetering at the bottom of Page 1 or top of Page 2 on Google).
It’s easier to get these terms ranked at the top of the first page on Google, which 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 intent, whether it’s informational/educational, transactional, or navigational, will help you understand which stage of the sales funnel users are at.
Doing a thorough SERP analysis is essential. Look at what’s currently ranking in the top search result for your core keyword targets including:
Knowing what is required to rank for a particular keyword will help you draw conclusions about what content development efforts will be required, as well as come up with a plan for creation.
Semrush’s SEO Content Template is really great for this type of analysis.
You simply enter a keyword, and the tool will analyze what’s showing up in Google’s top results to provide recommendations for SEO-friendly content.
Cross-referencing your organic keyword research with paid advertising data can also help uncover new opportunities and fill gaps.
Don’t ignore long-tail queries. While they may have lower search volume, you could be missing out on extremely targeted audiences that are ready to buy.
3. Clean Up Your Site Structure
The structure of your website plays a big role in SEO. Set a solid foundation for yours by resolving any technical issues that may diminish your organic keyword visibility.
Site pages should be both easily found and navigated by search engines and users.
If your website is difficult for users to navigate and search engines to crawl, your keyword rankings will likely be negatively impacted.
And, vice versa – if your website is intuitive for both users and Google, your rankings are bound to see positive increases.
Make sure that your site has a solid website structure, fix any broken links, and resolve any duplicate content issues.
Conducting a thorough technical SEO audit is necessary to ensure all priority technical issues are addressed.
4. Pay Attention To User Experience Signals
User experience and brand equity are important when it comes to driving organic search visibility.
While user experience may not be a direct responsibility of a search engine marketer, it’s important that user experience and SEO work together – especially considering that Google’s algorithm has consistently taken UX into page rankings
To ensure web visitors are interacting with your website, you should use Google’s Core Web Vitals report.
This monitors the loading time of each page on your site and generates data to show you which pages are providing good experiences and which need work.
Another important UX area you need to consider is the responsiveness of your site.
Mobile web browsing first surpassed desktop in 2017 and now accounts for more than 54% of global traffic.
If your website is not responsive, you will have a higher bounce rate, which in turn will negatively affect your ranking.
Here are some other 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, and 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 calls-to-action on your site.
- Page speed: Give users the content they are requesting quickly and seamlessly across devices. Compress images, be mobile-friendly, clean up your code, and speed up your server.
5. Optimize For Users & Search Engines
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 different ways of reading and digesting content, there are certain 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.
- Avoid jargon.
- 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.
This also presents the opportunity to further optimize for search engines through ALT text and file naming.
6. Create Eye-Catching & Engaging Titles
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 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 each keyword target, 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 keyword and traffic fluctuations back 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.
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.
8. Provide Answers To The Questions People Are Asking
Google seeks to provide users with the best answers to their queries.
Just look at all of the new and increased SERP features we have seen over the past few years:
Optimizing for featured snippet results and rich snippets around your priority keyword targets is now becoming an essential part of SEO strategy.
While there is certainly a great deal of debate over the direct value that ranking in “position zero” of search results offers a business, ultimately, I pose this question:
Would you rather have your competitor rank in the Answer Box for that search query?
As far as we know, the featured snippet result isn’t going away anytime soon, and not ranking in it could mean lost visibility to your competitor, or even your “frenemy” Google.
9. Build Valuable Inbound Links
Start by looking for opportunities on your website to cross-link to assets from keyword-rich anchor text. This will help drive users to relevant content and build keyword associations.
Unfortunately, crafting a strong internal link strategy is only half of the battle.
The other half is generating highly authoritative and valuable inbound links from third-party websites.
This can seem overwhelming, but there are some key tactics to hone in on:
- Create link-worthy content that is based on your keyword research and analysis of what is ranking in top search results to help generate inbound links and improve keyword rankings.
- Monitor mentions of your brand for some quick-win opportunities to gain an inbound link from websites that are already talking about you.
- If you want other websites to link to you, remember to link to other websites. You only get as much as you give.
- Leverage social media to support link building. Interact with your targets beforehand to help build relationships prior to reaching out about a link building opportunity.
These are just a few tactics to get you started. However, there are certainly more advanced link building tactics to be successful in today’s extremely competitive landscape.
10. Promote Your Content Strategically
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:
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.
- Encouraging shares from internal team members.
- 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.
- Advertising on social media.
- Identifying existing internal cross-link opportunities.
- Creating a SlideShare presentation or repurposing the asset in other forms.
11. Continuously Optimize & Improve Content
While there are numerous other factors that are important to SEO, content is still king.
Quality content counts more than anything else when Google is determining how well your site answers a query.
In fact, if you only take one thing away from this piece (and hopefully you’ll take more than that), it should be the importance of high-quality content. Emphasis on “high quality.”
Google’s Search Quality Guidelines explicitly state the importance of E-A-T, that is expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.
Your content should assert to both search engines and visitors that you are a reliable expert on the topics related to your keywords.
But because search engine results are constantly changing, 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 the best (and most up-to-date) information and driving increased keyword visibility.
If the 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, “If it’s not broken, 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 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. Setup & Optimize Your Google Business Profile
Local search has become another important part of SEO.
In addition to driving business to your physical location, it also has an impact on your website’s rankings.
In many cases, Google factors the searcher’s location into SERPs.
Things like photos, reviews, and phone numbers are more likely to include answers to queries than text-only links.
The best way to get in on local searches is to create and optimize your Google Business Profile.
This free service allows you to manage how your business shows up across Google properties, including Maps, Reviews, and Local Pack Listings.
A Google Business Profile improves your visibility and gives users information about you at a glance. It also allows people to review your business on Google.
Not only do these increase your credibility and allow you to control the narrative around your business, but they are also thought to have a significant impact on rankings.
Further, your profile will provide you with insights into your audience that may help you uncover new opportunities and keywords to target.
You get information on which queries are directing searchers to your website, how they are interacting with your posts and how many clicks your website link is generating.
An SEO professional’s work is never done.
And, even if Google someday decides, “You know what? We’ve finally got this algorithm perfect.” (which they never will), your results on SERPs will constantly change as others targeting the same keywords tweak and adjust their own strategies and content.
This means you need to keep working on your website. Just remember, SEO is a marathon, not a sprint.
Just because you don’t see the results you want right away doesn’t mean you’re not on the right track.
And vice versa – don’t assume because you’re highly ranked today that you’ll stay there.
SEO takes a lot of testing. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
You may not always get the top spot, but if you put in the work and follow these SEO best practices, you should see your site climb the rankings.
And that will bring with it the traffic you want.
Featured Image: Jirsak/Shutterstock
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