5 Ways to Boost Your Rank on Google
Everyone with a startup, online business or blog, dreams of dominating the SERPS (search engine results pages) and being flooded with eager visitors with credit cards at the ready for some serious online spending. However with so many sites online these days, not to mention the ever changing rules defined and ultimately enforced by Google, it is getting harder and harder to rank in Google or any other major search engine.
Fortunately with proper planning, research, and a pinch of execution, you can still boost your ranking significantly and get some of that precious search engine traffic… it may not be as easy these days, but SEO is certainly worth the effort!
#1 Do Your Keyword Research
Using the various keyword research tools available, such as Google’s own “Keyword Planner“, you can quickly build a list of relatively low competition and high value search terms related to whatever keyword you started off with. But how exactly does one do keyword research? Here are a few ways..
Wikipedia Keyword Research: everyone knows that Wikipedia is an authoritative site with a huge number of articles on pretty much any topic you can imagine. The nature of Wikipedia means that each article contains numerous links to related articles and each of these links contain an extremely relevant keyword as the “anchor” (the clickable word or phrase in the link). So you can simply search Wikipedia for articles related to your niche and then extract all the keywords from the links and you can click the links to find more pages with yet more relevant keywords!
This is a great method to find a nice big list of quality keywords which may not be as hard to rank as others turned up by other methods such as just using the Google tool for example. You can even find whole new and untapped niches using this simple research system. As a bonus you can also get statistics for Wikipedia showing how many views each page has had in a month, which gives you great data to use for your SEO campaigns – in other words you can see if a specific keyword (ie. an article on Wikipedia) is getting a lot of interest recently and whether interest is rising or falling. Once you have a nice list you can then run them through another tool such as SEMRush for further analysis.
SEMRush: this is a web based keyword research tool which provides masses of data, including how often keywords are searched for, how much businesses are bidding on them for advertising, who is ranking for them and much much more. Even better, it can be used for free, up to a point, so you can do lots of research without spending any money. If your needs grow you can upgrade to a paid plan which is of course even better and well worth the cost for anyone serious about dominating the SERPS. So for example, say you were looking for data on “spanners” you would simply type that in the search box on SEMRush and it will quickly present you with a page full of stats including search volume and others.
It will also show you what sites currently rank for that word and in fact Wikipedia is the number one site as I write this. You can then drill down to get data on that specific page on Wikipedia – it will now show you the top organic keywords which that page ranks for and the position in ranks. In this case it ranks for words such as spanner, spanners, spanner tool etc. But that’s not all – you can drill down even further and get backlink data! This means you can see how many backlinks (links to that page from other sites/pages) that page has and in fact it has just 8 at the moment. You can even see where those backlinks come from which allows you to potentially get your own backlinks in the same places so you could quickly outrank your competitors. Such competitor research is highly useful when you are trying to get your pages to rank higher and SEMRush dishes out that data for you.
Google Keyword Planner: this is of course based on their own internal data and who would know best about that data but Google? However it is in fact based on and aimed at advertising through their Adwords platform. Despite this it is still one of the most widely used tools for keyword research and it is fully free but does require you to register for an Adwords account first.
Womplify: yes, this one also includes keyword research tools and in fact it automates the Wikipedia keyword research process mentioned above and automatically combines it with data from SEMRush and several other sources which can save you lots of time. In addition to the Wikipedia system, there is also a social research function which you can use to find existing articles matching your keywords and see how many shares they got on a range of social networks. Why would you want to do this? Well the reason is simple – you can see what is popular and then you can produce your own content based on that knowledge. Employing this simple tactic hugely increases the chances of your content also succeeding on the social networks.
Once you have picked your gems from the above methods (and/or others) you can use them for step 2..
#2 Create Great Content Around Your Keywords
Articles, pictures, videos, infographics, slideshows, podcasts, anything you can think of. Fresh, unique and high quality content, created for human consumption, is what Google loves and if you keep churning that out, you will soon become an authority site in their eyes which will help you quickly dominate any keyword you target. When you write an article, it often helps to include other media such as video which you could host on YouTube from where it could link back to your article as well and of course by publishing related content across multiple platforms you get actual people coming to view your content and your site, not just links.
Actually creating content is not terribly difficult, particularly when you have already done your keyword research. Starting with the humble article, probably the simplest and most fundamental form of web site content, all you need to do is basically sit down and start writing! More specifically though, there are a number of tactics you can use to simplify the article writing process and improve efficiency and quality. So here in a nutshell is how to write an article:
Know What to Write
Naturally you first know what to write about which you should know based on your keyword research as mentioned above. The social network research should provide you with a very good idea of what to write about. Next you should look for similar articles to help provide you with ideas – just go to Google and do a ‘site search’ on one of the many article directories such as ezinearticles, along with your primary keywords. For example: “site:ezinearticles.com spanners“. Now just go look at 5 or 6 of the relevant results and jot down some ideas inspired by each of those. Do the same with the top results (ie. most shared articles) found in the social network research method mentioned in part 1. Now you should have a decent list of topics or sub-topics to include in your article. You can simply use each as a sub-heading in your article and then just go and write a paragraph or two (or three) for each and before you know it, you have your article done! It is important to understand that the idea is to be inspired by the existing articles, not to just copy them as that would quickly get you a bad reputation and also negatively affect your ranking.
Numbered list based posts (such as this very article, not to mention also 27 Forms of Content that Get Shared) are also a good one to go for as they are relatively easy to write and they seem to get shared far more often for some reason. List posts also lend themselves easily to “content repurposing” or in other words creating another form of content from the article, in particular slideshows (on slideshare) are a breeze to produce from a list article.
What’s in a Name?
Pro Tip: pay very close attention to the title you choose for your articles as a good title can really help it go viral and in fact certain well known viral content sites are known to create multiple versions of titles for each article and even split test performance of each before finally choosing one to run with. A quick way to do such A/B testing of titles is to use Twitter ads and post the titles as paid tweets. Ryan Biddulph writes about this subject on his blog and has some great tips (not to mention pics!) to help you write intoxicating titles.
If writing articles is just not your thing or you don’t have the time for it you can of course just outsource to people who do it professionally. If going down this route though you must make sure to fully explain what you expect from the writer. Provide links to relevant sources, tell them which keywords to focus on, what format the article should be in, the writing style and voice to use and anything else you can think of – the more information and guidelines you provide to the writer, the more likely you will get back an article that matches your expectations.
You may have to try a few writers before you find one that produces work to the quality you expect so it is worth creating some small test projects to send to several writers before hiring any for the real articles.
Creating slideshows is also quite easy to do and the platform most commonly used for that is Slideshare. As I said previously, list based posts are a no-brainer when it comes to re-purposing as a slideshow. Just strip out the fluff and focus on the key points for each slide. Throw in some photos or graphics and add and intro and conclusion slide, perhaps pad it with some transition slides, and you’re done. Tools commonly used are Google Docs and PowerPoint (or opensource equivalents).
When you create a presentation using Google Docs you can just import it straight to Slideshare where it automagically becomes a slideshow and is published there. Also if you save your slides/presentation as a PDF is can then be imported to Slideshare and then it doesn’t matter what application or platform you are using to create it. Of course you don’t have to just re-purpose your articles to make slideshows, you can also post your presentations/talks as slideshows or even just create whole new content specifically for this platform. Whatever you do, make sure to emphasize the salient points and the include some eye-catching photos or graphics to help hold the viewers attention and also include an appropriate call to action and/or link back to your site!
Always Be Photographing
Speaking of pictures, you should always be taking photographs wherever you go – not just selfies! Add all your photos to your own personal content library and you never know when one of those pics will be perfect for some content you are working on. Whether it be a crack in the pavement or a funny cat you came across on your travels (the interwebs can never have too many funny cat pics!) you should collect them all and then you have fresh and unique content always to hand.
If you don’t have a camera or the inclination to photograph everything or you just can’t find something suitable for the content you are creating, there are online sources of photographs you can go to, including free ones such as Pixabay – just be careful of the licensing terms for anything you find online.
Another form of graphical content is the Infographic. These are great for acquiring backlinks and traffic as they are very shareable, as long as they look nice and contain some useful data. There are many tutorials to be found online for creating infographics (tip: everything published by Neil Patel is officially “good stuff” and should be studied and implemented) but if you are artistically challenged you may want to outsource this to a designer, you could even get something half decent made on Fiverr if you’re on a tight budget, just don’t expect it to be a unique design. There are also a few online services that help you create nice looking infographics using your data and their premade graphic components and templates.
#3 Optimize Your Content with On-Page SEO
Even when you create amazing content, you also need to optimize it for the keywords or topic you are targeting. This is called On-page SEO or sometimes On-site SEO and is a critical part of the SEO process. Failure to correctly optimize your pages and content will significantly hinder your chances of ranking well on the search engines. Fortunately much of it is very easy to do and there are many guides online which cover the fundamentals of on-page SEO. Use appropriate meta tags, write a good summary for the description, use H1 for the primary keywords, H2 for secondary, etc. Don’t go crazy with keyword stuffing or you will suffer the penalty – keep your keyword density fairly low (the precise figure is much debated but almost certainly under 5%).
Of course before you can optimize an article you must know what the primary focus of that article actually is, or in other words the main keyword. Assuming you do by now, you need to make sure to use that keyword in the url for your article, for example if your article is about “on-page SEO” and that is your primary keyword, then your url should be something like: http://yourdomain.com/on-page-seo – this is often referred to as a “search engine friendly url” which just means it is relatively short and doesn’t contain a query string (a query string is what you see tagged on to the end of urls, after a ? character, which contain additional data to ensure the dynamically generated page shows the content required, for example when searching Google you might see the query string with “q=your+search+term” amongst others, or also for tracking purposes) and so is easy for the search spiders to understand and crawl.
Besides the URL, it is also essential that the keyword be in the article title and this title should be in the title tags. Title tags are in the header section of the HTML for your page and not visible when viewing the page itself in a browser, although it does show in the browser tab and of course in the search results.
Staying in the header section – there is the “meta description” tag which naturally should contain a concise description of the content of the article and the primary keyword should of course be included. Another common meta tag is “keywords” but this is less important these days and in fact many recommend not using it at all for various reasons including that it tends to make it very obvious to your competitors which keywords you are targeting! Of course they can still easily see your primary keyword, and even calculate keyword density for all words on the page, and there’s nothing you can do about that so it’s arguable whether or not this reason holds much weight.
Moving on to the content itself, the visible part which shows in the browser, the visible title of the article should be enclosed in H1 tags (you can use H2, H3 etc for sub headings). If you’re worried that the default H1 tags look ugly, well you’d be right but it’s not a problem because you can use simple CSS to style them to look as fancy as you want. Once the body of the article begins you should include the keyword in the first paragraph if possible or at least very early in the article, near the top.
When including media in the article, pictures for example, you should name the files appropriately, for example if it is a photograph of an apple, call the file apple.jpg not banana.jpg! Use alt tags for your images as well, again they should be appropriate for the content of the image and the picture should be relevant to the article.
While a big part of SEO is “backlinks” (ie. links back to your site) which is covered in more detail below, another key aspect is linking out from your site to so called “authority sites“. These authority sites are just sites which are considered by Google to be an authority in their field, generally these are relatively big sites with masses of content and traffic and which frequently rank highly. A link from an authority site is great for you but simply linking to such sites is also very beneficial for you. Such links should be contextually relevant of course and the longer your article, the more such links you should have to various authority sites. It should also be noted that linking out to other sites is a great way to “win friends and influence people” – basically by linking generously to other people and otherwise connecting with them, there is a good chance they will link back to you at some point.
Go Faster Stripes
Nobody likes a slow loading site and Google is well aware of this which is why it is essential to make your site load as fast as possible. This can be achieved in a number of ways such as by using a stronger server, optimizing code and database selects, using various caching systems such as memcached, varnish or squid and if using WordPress for your site there are a few php accelerator plugins you can use as well. Depending how technical you are and how much traffic you expect, you may use one or more of these techniques. However a really simple way to speed up a site is to use a CDN (content delivery network) such as Cloudflare.
Go Even Faster Stripes
Using Cloudflare, all your frequently accessed content is distributed and cached all around the world, closer to your visitors, which means it loads much faster for them and in fact a large part of the heavy processing work is then removed from your site once it is cached in Cloudflare. This allows it to effortlessly handle massive traffic surges which can be expected if, for example, your site hits the front page of Reddit! Such surges are typically quite rare and investing huge amounts of money and effort in building/installing hardware to cope with these non-typical days is wasteful. Far better to just let Cloudflare handle the load for you. As a bonus, they also help protect your site and servers from DDOS attacks and even web application vulnerabilities. In fact this blog is also using Cloudflare. If all that wasn’t enough to convince you, Cloudflare is actually free!
When creating your content you can’t just rely on one keyword or phrase as you run the risk of being penalized for keyword stuffing if you use the same keyword too frequently and this risk is particularly high when the overall word count is low, so for example if you used your keyword 10 times in a 100 word article you have a 10% keyword density which is way too high, whereas if the article contained 1000 words then the density is only 1% which is much more reasonable. However there is a better way to do things and that is by using synonyms or LSI (latent semantic indexing) words – in other words contextually similar or related words. This helps Google better understand the true meaning of your content while at the same time providing you with lots of long-tail ranking possibilities – in other words you can get extra traffic from people searching for all sorts of related keywords that you may otherwise not have been targeting.
Finding all these synonyms and LSI words is not as difficult as you might think – first of all you can just go lookup your primary keyword in any thesaurus and get loads of synonyms back. Another method is to search for your primary term in Google and then scroll down to the end where you will see a list of related search terms – take note of these! Yet another handy method is to use Wikipedia to find related keywords as mentioned above in item #1.
There’s a lot of evidence around now which suggests that longer articles rank better in Google. Why they rank better is open to debate but likely reasons include: that longer articles typically contain more keywords, LSI words and synonyms and all manner of long-tail keywords, that longer articles are typically of better quality compared to the standard 500 word fill content churned out by the thousands each day, that longer articles present more opportunities to link out, that they often include more related media and that users actually prefer long articles packed with useful data which answers their questions or satisfies whatever need they had at that moment. All of this combined results in lower bounce rates and ultimately higher rank.
Don’t Be Bouncy
Bounce rates are quite important to consider as if your site has a high rate this implies people don’t like what they see when they reach your site from a Google search and so they bounce back immediately. Google sees this activity and thus will give other sites with lower bounce rates a higher rank. Clearly you have to make an effort to minimize your bounce rate and you can do this by making sure when a visitor arrives they immediately are drawn in by your content – you need to wow them somehow! This can be with nice graphics or video, a long article matching exactly the topic title and keyword they searched for and even just by adding internal links of some kind near the top of the article, above the fold, so that they are encouraged to either stick around to read your article or quickly click through to see some other content on your site.
Make Sharing Easy
People like to share but they are also busy (or just lazy!) so you need to make it easy for them to share your content on the social networks, even though at the moment Google doesn’t count so called “social signals” in their ranking algorithm, or so they say, but naturally having your content shared widely will result in you getting more exposure and ultimately more backlinks to your content and that certainly does count. Make sure your content is actually worth sharing and then add some sharing buttons for the relevant social sites – according to research by Neil Patel, the optimum number of social sharing buttons is three so choose the three (or four if you insist) most relevant to your content. You can add sharing buttons easily using a plugin or widget for WordPress and on any type of site, services such as Flare will provide you with some simple code to paste in to your page.
Have you ever searched for a product review and seen some results have yellow rating stars showing right there in the Google result? It grabs your attention, right? Google displays stars for some sites because those sites added some extra markup code to their pages which helps Google and others understand what the page is about and what the various parts of it are. You can specify that the article is a review, that it has a 4 star rating, which image to use, which parts of the page contain the actual review text, who the author is and much more.
In addition to the above mentioned search engine friendly urls, you should also create a sitemap which helps the spiders find and index all your content, in other words it helps make it more crawlable. A sitemap is generally just an XML file (although HTML sitemaps can also be used) which sits in the root folder of your website, something like http://yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml, but it is not something you or any human visitor ever needs to see. You also don’t have to manually create such a file and whichever CMS system you use to build your site and create new pages, should include a way to automatically generate the sitemaps, either built-in or with an easily installable plugin.
Another important issue with crawlability is to ensure you do not unintentionally block spiders through use of robots exclusion directives in the header of your pages (near the other meta tags) or in a robots.txt file. These things generally are not created/updated by default so it is unlikely you will have such a block in place unless someone intentionally created exclusion rules and perhaps made an error with the syntax which inadvertently blocked Googlebot and others. So while unlikely, it is worth remembering if you find your pages are not being indexed and can’t find any other reason for that.
#4 Get QUALITY Backlinks
Unless you are targeting a keyword with absolutely no competition in the SERPs you will need to get links from other sites leading back to your pages or articles. Google uses these backlinks, along with other criteria, to judge the value of your site and pages – it is important to note that you need backlinks to every page on your site which you want ranked, don’t just aim all your links at your domain’s index page unless that is the only page you want ranked and even then it is still worth getting links to other pages which can then link internally to the index page or any other that you want to rank.
There are many tactics you can use to build these links, for example linkbaiting, guest posting, social network activity and others. However link building is an ongoing process, if you build a bunch of links and then stop, your pages will eventually start to drop in the SERPs and your competitors will be doing all they can to steal your position.
Is it Worth a Link?
Of course before going out looking for links you need content which is worth linking to and by that I mean that other people think it is worth linking to, not just you or your mum! This process begins with proper research as covered in the steps above – find the right topics, find what sort of content gets shared the most, make something great. Once you’ve done all that, you’ve done the research, you’ve created your content and you’ve optimized it properly for on-page seo, then you’re finally ready for getting links.
Above all you should be focusing on links from relevant sites as they carry the most weight as well as being most natural looking, after all why would a site on cream cheese be linking to your site about bike spanners? Clearly they would not and Google knows this so they carry less value and too many like that could cause problems.
Finding Link Sources
Finding relevant link sources can be done with a simple Google search – look for resource pages or list posts for example which frequently will contain many links to relevant resources. Then just send them an email suggesting your content would be a good match for their great page. It goes without saying that if your content looks like the dogs dinner then they will not be too inclined to link to you know matter how nicely you ask.
Check the Competition
Your competitors are also a good place to look for links – not from them of course but by analyzing their backlinks you can then approach those sites and request a link to your site as well, if appropriate. You can use tools such as ahrefs.com to find the existing links to any site and Matthew Woodward has written a great tutorial which covers this backlink acquisition method in depth.
Guest posts are a time honoured way to get backlinks but they are controversial these days since Google began cracking down on abuse of this tactic. It still works great if done properly though and that means your content needs to be top notch and the site you post it on needs to be a relevant authority and not a site that just lets anyone post an article for a fee/trade. Good quality, ethical guest posting works and no doubt always will.
Share & Amplify
If you’ve done your research on social sharing then your content should also be shareable so get it out there, seed it on the relevant networks to begin the process and if it does get shared widely you will acquire links naturally. When you’re unknown and not well connected it is hard to get your content noticed on the social networks amongst all the noise, but you can give it a kick start with paid amplification – in other words pay Twitter, Facebook, Outbrain etc. to show your post to lots of interested people which will hopefully then allow it to get some traction and take on a life of its own.
Another way to help with amplification on social networks, and with outreach to ask for links, is to make social connections with relevant people in advance, key influencers in your target market. You can do this for example by commenting on their blog posts (quality comments), sharing their articles on your social networks, retweeting their tweets and other similar things. Basically you are getting on their radar so that when the time comes to reach out and ask for a link or a share, they will know you, to some extent, and therefore be more willing to agree. They will see you as someone that also gives them value and in fact has already given them value, instead of just some anonymous person spamming everyone to ask for a link.
Keep it Fresh
Once you have been through this whole process of creating content and building links, you don’t have to stop there – you can keep updating the content over time to keep it fresh, then resharing the updates and reaching out for more links. Gradually in this way, your content becomes more and more authoritative, ticks more boxes for Google approval and rises further to dominate the ranks.
There is much more that could be written on the subject of acquiring backlinks but pretty much all you need to know has been written in this article by Brian Dean of backlinko.com who is widely seen as something of a guru on this topic.
#5 Internal Links
An often overlooked part of SEO is building links between pages on your site. It is an easy mistake to build pages on your site which eventually become orphaned with no way of reaching them from within your site. This is obviously a bad situation so make sure to create and maintain valid links to every page and for particularly important pages you should create links from multiple pages on your site. Don’t forget also you should also create an XML sitemap which will list every page and which will help Google and other bots to find and index all your pages.
If you have a big site with many pages or one that has been online for many years it may not be as simple as it should be to actually find all those pages, long after they have been created and published, however there are a few ways you can do it. First of all if you are using a CMS such as WordPress it is an easy matter to browse all your existing content. If you have thousands of pages though this is not too efficient, but as you will no doubt have noticed when you add a new link to an article in WordPress it brings up a box where you can browse and filter the list of pages by keyword so you can quickly find a contextually relevant page on your site to link to.
When not using WordPress or a CMS with such a feature you can call upon the services of Google – assuming your site is well indexed already. Simply do a site search along with the keyword you wish to find matches for, something like this: site:yourdomain.com keyword which will find you anything suitable for internal linking.
Another way (although not really recommended) if you know a little SQL and have access to the database is simply to lookup directly in the database tables. Either an FTS (full text search) or a simple select .. like.. query. Remember though, never mess with the database if you’ve been drinking or have trouble hitting the right keys on your keyboard. 😉
Yet another quick and dirty way to find existing pages is just to ‘grep’ your sitemaps – usually these will be somewhere like http://yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml or you can look in your robots.txt file which will often list the location of the sitemap. This will be a long list of urls and assuming you’ve used descriptive search engine friendly urls you can use whatever ‘find’ functionality you have to locate a likely linking target or source. It’s not the best way but if all else fails..
Now Do It Backwards
Note that you can also do these methods in reverse, by which I mean instead of looking for pages to link to, you look for pages to link from instead. An advantage of doing it this way is that you can pick pages with higher authority, probably a page which has existed for much longer and has decent backlinks of its own already, to link from which will help channel that authority to the page you are linking to. Just use one of the many SEO tools which give data about Page Authority, such as of course Moz, to help you find these gems on your site.
To learn more about internal links you can read the guide by Moz here.
#6 Bonus – Get Social
There is much debate over what effect “social signals” have on your search engine rank, but it generally doesn’t hurt to have people talking about your product or service. Word of Mouth is very powerful and can generate huge traffic, but all that talk and sharing of your link can also result in lots of backlinks to your site by people who hear about you on the various social networks they frequent. This effect can be particularly pronounced if you can get so called influencers to share your link with their legions of followers. Both social marketing and influencer marketing can be aided with the use of tools such as Womplify.
The above 6 steps to boost your rank may seem like a lot and in fact it is quite a lot when done properly but none of it is particularly difficult, however it has to be done otherwise you are basically leaving money on the table by not doing effective SEO on your content which you’ve spent so much time and effort creating.
While there is much more SEO which can be done if you have the time and resources, by working your way through all the above 5 fundamental tactics methodically and thoroughly, you should see success on Google, Bing and others before too long.